Sarah and Bob are leaders in the congregation. Sarah has served as a Sunday school teacher for years. She is beloved by the younger children of the church. Middle-school-age kids seek Sarah out to ask her advice. Bob enjoys leading adult Bible studies. He is regarded as the kind of person to whom you can turn when in trouble. For both Sarah and Bob, their church has always been a place of encouragement and felt like home.
Recently, their high-school-age son, Sam, told Sarah and Bob that he is gay. While Sarah and Bob never had broached the possibility with Sam, the news comes as no great surprise. He is Sam. They love him and that is that.
But what has changed are their feelings when in church. They aren’t as comfortable as they used to be. They are worried for their son. While they know their denomination has changed its policies regarding welcoming and affirming LGBT people, not all members of their church affirm the change. In fact, if truth be told, the majority of the church’s members are still a little homophobic, some more so than others. Sarah and Bob are worried about what might be said to their son. They are worried Sam might be hurt and feel rejected.
Does this story sound familiar to you? Is your church facing something like this right now?
Often parents of LGBT children seek their pastor’s advice and support when they are worried whether their child will be accepted and loved within their church. They worry whether their child will be affirmed for being who they are.
In my experience as a pastor (and proud father of a gay son), the most helpful thing we can do for the parents of LGBT children is simply to listen to them voice their fears. Give them the gift of an un-anxious presence that listens and builds their confidence that God’s love will tip the balance in their church. Offer the kind of pastoral presence that is confident that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
In this spirit, I offer three gifts we can give to parents of LGBT children.
Everyone Belongs Here
The first gift we can give to parents of LGBT children is to be welcoming and encouraging in their presence and affirm God’s love for their children and all children of God. As pastors and friends, we need not add to a parent’s worries by reinforcing their fears. Instead, we can remind them how love transforms perceptions. Love casts out fears. In the case of LGBT children, love is the acceptance that God creates some differently and loves all children of God unconditionally. We will need to build and sometimes restore confidence in God’s sovereign love that all are welcome in this place.
Stand With Those Being Hurt
The second gift we can give the parents of LGBT children is to share the clarity of our conviction that we stand with Jesus Christ when we stand with those who are being hurt and not with those who are doing the hurting. The parents of LGBT children need to hear what Thomas Merton taught about the love of God. That love does not do injury to another, especially in the case of an LGBT child, by judging them or rejecting them because of their sexual constitution. LGBT parents need to hear that a Presbyterian church is a space for grace grounded in the clear conviction and practice that the hating and the bigotry ends here. Church is God’s safe place for everyone.
Empower Parents to Engage and Educate
When “opening up” a church and making it a safe place for all, nothing is more powerful and credible than the witness of parents of LGBT children expressing their love and hope for their children. In my experience, parents of LGBT children command a listening ear when pastors and policies cannot.
Empower these parents as leaders. Join your local PFLAG chapter (Parents, Family, Friends and Allies United with LGBTQ People). Assist parents of LGBT children in drawing upon the rich resources available from the More Light Presbyterian website or the Covenant Network website.
Break the silence by opening up a space for conversation that leads to mutuality and love. Find creative, down-to-earth, relationship-building ways within the culture of your church to engage non-accepting members while placing them in the company of LGBT persons (table fellowship works wonderfully).
It is my hope that these gifts will allow for all to feel welcome in our churches and create space for us to be together.
Rev. Wayne C. Peck, senior pastor of Community House Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, has been an ordained Presbyterian minister for over 35 years.