When your Christian family rejects you because you’re gay
November 23, 2013 By John Shore
I get what invariably strikes me as a baffling amount of criticism for being “too divisive.” “It divides the body of Christ!”, for instance, is/was Complaint #1 about The NALT Christians Project (which I co-founded). If I’ve had a Christian “instruct” me that I’m being too divisive one time, I’ve heard it from more Christians than you could swat with a ruler.
I can only assume that the Christians who feel that I help foster division within the church are not terribly familiar with such stories as the one below, emailed to me Friday. It must be nice to live in a world where such moral transgressions, such wounding bigotry, such egregious negation of love and humanity—such abominable uses of the infinite love of Jesus Christ—don’t occur.
Seriously, man: How much are tickets to live in that place? Cuz I’ll dig deeply to afford that cost. But until I can afford it—until I understand how any Christian at all can live there—I’m afraid I’m stuck in the world where this pain is a whole lot more real than, as far as I know, any Christian should be willing to accept:
I just discovered your blog. I’m in awe. Where did you come from?! As an openly gay man in my 40’s I have spent the last 25 years feeling as if I jumped from one closet to another. How can I believe in God and most of what I was taught by the Catholic Church and be gay? It’s been a constant struggle in my life. The simple act of walking into a church makes me cringe. I stay away at all costs. I feel that my relationship with God is personal, and I don’t need a church to “teach” me how to manage it. Being around “devout” Christians makes me uncomfortable. I feel shame simply by being in a room with them. Of course I would never admit that to one of “them” but it’s true. I do. I have “unfriended” people on Facebook because I can’t stand to read the biblical quotes and see them “praise” God. It makes my stomach turn. I hate that feeling. Your blog is like a ray of light! Thank you!!!!
As wonderful as your blog is, and despite the feelings I have described above, that is not my reason for writing you. I’m sure you hear this sort of thing over and over—I am hesitant to write at all—but something is telling me to do it. Perhaps you can offer me some advice/perspective.
I have a second cousin that is more like an aunt to me. She and her husband have always been “aunt and uncle” to me, and they have always said that I am a son to them—that I’m their fourth child. Their three daughters are the sisters I never had. I love them with all with all of my heart. I love my aunt and uncle unconditionally, and I would do anything to show my love and support for them. They are also devout born-again Christians. My aunt feels as if the Bible speaks to her, and she believes everything that she reads in it to be literal. It has been a source of constant struggle with the girls and me, dealing with their parents near fanatical belief in their version of Christianity. I have always accepted it for what it was. They have never made me feel unwelcome.
I was married in 2004 when SF opened same-sex marriage. We had a large reception with all of our family and friends a few months later. The girls were there—but my aunt and uncle were not. In fact—despite the fact that she is wedding planner—my aunt felt so strongly about not supporting my marriage that she refused to so much as help me get discounts on invitations. Still, I accepted it, and let it go. I had to. After all, these were two people that, at my very lowest point in life, literally swooped me up, took me home with them, and nurtured a very broken soul. (That’s another story for another day. Suffice it to say my 20’s weren’t so great.) So, although it was hard, I accepted their absence at the celebration of my happiness. My husband and I weren’t permitted to sleep in their home (not in the same room, anyway: we could, however, sleep in our trailer in their driveway), but, except for the sleeping thing, they never made him feel unwelcomed, and accepted him as part of our family.
Fast-forward to 2008, before proposition 8 embarrassingly passed in California. My then husband and I had adopted a 16-year-old girl from the State foster care system in 2006, and we sensed that we should marry again, because our 2004 marriage had been annulled by the court. We wanted to legalize our marriage, both for ourselves and for our daughter. We had a lovely ceremony in our backyard with our daughter officiating. Again, my aunt and uncle were absent. And, again, I accepted that for what it was. This time it hurt more though.
The following Christmas I sat down with my aunt. She was reluctant, because she thought I was going to try to make her wrong. I did just the opposite. I simply told her how I felt, and said that I would always love her and accept her, but that I did not understand. I asked her to explain to me how it was that between her three daughters there had been six marriages, all of which she had attended when she fully disagreed with their divorces—and yet she could not attend my marriage. For that she had no answer. I needed her to know that it mattered a lot to me that they had refused to celebrate my happiness. I told her that her prayers had been answered: that I was okay and I was happy; that I had a full, rich life, and felt truly blessed. I told her that just because God didn’t answer her prayers the way she wanted or thought he should didn’t mean that he hadn’t answered them. We both walked away from that conversation feeling respected and understood—sort of.
Well, my “happiness” didn’t last much longer. I found out that my husband had been doing things with other men that put my life at risk. We amicably split.
Then I met him—the one—and everything changed. My whole life turned upside down. I felt love like I had never felt it before. I loved more than I ever knew I could love. I would have done anything for him. He wasn’t out yet. He was tormented—tortured—and he fell deeply in love with me, too. Technically I was still married, as was he (to a woman for 25 years). His ex-wife decided to out him. That’s when we both realized how blessed we were. His family (strict Portuguese Catholics) embraced us both. His children also embraced us; heck, even his ex-wife’s family embraced us. His family—my family—it really was like something out of a Lifetime movie! My aunt and uncle adored him as well.
Then he proposed. I was thrilled. Everyone was thrilled. Everyone, that is, with the exception of my aunt and uncle. I expected that. I had, after all, been through it before. But it was different this time. I chose to hold out hope that this time they would see the difference. Everyone else did. How could they not see how this man—this love—had changed me and my life for the better?
We decided on a simple ceremony at City Hall with just his kids. It was wonderful (and the best birthday I had ever had!) That was on July 1st. Rather than having a big fancy wedding(ish) party, we decided on something more casual. We rented a campground and invited all of our family and friends to bring their RVs and tents. We barbequed a whole pig (!). We intentionally stayed away from anything “wedding”-like, because we wanted the focus to be on family and friends and all who had supported us throughout our journey.
My beloved aunt and uncle did not come. Their daughters and their grandchildren did. This time they at least sent a response card, declining to come, but saying they “loved us.” This time—again—it hurt more. This time I was devastated. It was such a wonderful day for me: but there was a giant hole right in the middle of it. They couldn’t even come to a family BBQ to celebrate my happiness. My Catholic godparents came, for Pete’s sake!
This time, I just can’t turn the other cheek, and I’m stuck. I don’t know what to do. I just can’t get passed it. Yesterday my aunt sent me a text: “Hi – I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. I hope you’re ok. I LOVE YOU!” I didn’t respond. I couldn’t. I just can’t pretend that everything is okay. I consider myself to be Christian, and I believe in forgiveness. I’ve thought of writing them a letter, but I wouldn’t even know what to say. I feel rejected and judged. I love this man with every fiber of my being. I would die for him. I get it now. To them, though, we are just “friends.” We are not worthy of marriage. Our marriage means nothing to them, and I just don’t think I can go on pretending that that’s somehow “okay.” It’s not.
I believe that God made me who I am and how I am. I believe that God brought my husband to me—and me to him—at the exact moment in both of our lives that we needed God the most. How can I possibly understand or make room for a system of beliefs that doesn’t recognize me as a whole person? The problem I’m facing is that my love for my aunt and uncle is so strong that my natural instinct is to see past it and accept. This time, though, I’m genuinely stuck. When I got my aunt’s text I wasn’t happy to hear from her. I felt pain. I felt rejection.
This time I just don’t know how to agree to disagree. To be honest, it is this relationship that has kept me from going to church.
I think this is what Oprah calls an “ah ha” moment. As I’m typing this I’m realizing that is exactly why I have been so estranged from any form of organized religion.
Anyway – this email has turned into a small book already so I won’t take any more of your time. Any advice you can give me on how to handle this would be greatly appreciated. And thank you again for your wonderful blog
Advice-wise, I guess I’d say this:
Friend. Tell your aunt and uncle to come read what you’ve written here. Tell them to read and listen to this. But mostly ask them to read this letter from you.
If they could possibly choose their aberrant, widely discredited, manifestly destructive version of Christianity over you—if they could actually remain unchanged and unmoved by this letter of yours—then … then all we can do is pray for the poor people. Because the pain they are suffering—each of them, individually—is surely more than even the suffering they are causing you.