The Religious Right hates it when we point out that their teachings are directly related to the problems of bullying,depression, self-loathing and suicide. We don’t point this out to be mean, or as a smear. We point it out because it’s true, but we also understand that many run-of-the-mill Fundamentalists truly believe they’re doing the right thing when it comes to society, the LGBT community and their own children. This is the disconnect in messaging, because, aside from from Religious Right leaders who actually do know better, yet are motivated by obscene anti-gay animus and thus continue to lie, many religious people are hurting their own families and they don’t know it. Sometimes the results are tragic.
On a blog called FreedHearts, the writer shares a Facebook post from a Christian mother she knows personally, describing a journey that started when her twelve-year old son came out to her, and ended tragically just when she and her husband were finally starting to “get it.” She describes mistakes she made, led by her beliefs, which ultimately contributed to her son’s self-loathing. It’s such a sad story, because you can tell from reading it that she and her husband truly thought they were acting in love. This is a story that every Conservative Christian parent needs to read, and understand that yes, it can happen to you.
The mother describes what happened when her son came out to her over instant messenger, and what came afterward. I’m excerpting a lot, because it’s important. All emphasis is mine:
We were completely shocked. Not that we didn’t know and love gay people – my only brother had come out to us several years before, and we adored him. But Ryan? He was unafraid of anything, tough as nails, and ALL boy. We had not seen this coming, and the emotion that overwhelmed us, kept us awake at night and, sadly, influenced all of our reactions over the next six years, was FEAR. We said all the things that we thought loving Christian parents who believed the Bible to be the Word of God should say:
We love you. We will ALWAYS love you. And this is hard. REALLY hard. But we know what God says about this, and so you are going to have to make some really difficult choices.
We love you. But there are other men who have faced this same struggle, and God has worked in them to change their desires. We’ll get you their books…you can listen to their testimonies. And we will trust God with this.
We love you. But you are young, and your sexual orientation is still developing. The feelings you’ve had for other guys don’t make you gay. So please don’t tell anyone that you ARE gay. You don’t know who you are yet. Your identity is not that you are gay – it is that you are a child of God.
We love you. We will ALWAYS love you. But if you are going to follow Jesus, holiness is your only option. You are going to have to choose to follow Jesus, no matter what. And since you know what the Bible says, and since you want to follow God, embracing your sexuality is NOT an option.
Basically, we told our son that he had to choose between Jesus and his sexuality. We forced him to make a choice between God and being a sexual person. Choosing God, practically, meant living a lifetime of loneliness (never to fall in love, have his first kiss, hold hands, share intimacy companionship, experience romance), but it also meant the abundant life, perfect peace and eternal rewards. So, for the first six years, he tried to choose Jesus. Like so many others before him, he pleaded with God to help him be attracted to girls. He memorized Scripture, met with his youth pastor weekly, enthusiastically participated in all the church youth group events and Bible Studies, got baptized, read all the books that claimed to know where his gay feelings came from, dove into counseling to further discover the “why’s” of his unwanted attraction to other guys, worked through painful conflict resolution with my husband and I, and built strong friendships with other guys – straight guys – just like he was told to. He even came out to his entire youth group, giving his testimony of how God had rescued him from the traps of the enemy, and sharing – by memory – verse after verse that God had used to draw Ryan to Himself.
But nothing changed. God didn’t answer his prayer – or ours – though we were all believing with faith that the God of the Universe – the God for whom NOTHING is impossible – could easily make Ryan straight. But He did not.
Though our hearts may have been good (we truly thought what we were doing was loving), we did not even give Ryan a chance to wrestle with God, to figure out what HE believed God was telling him through scripture about his sexuality. We had believed firmly in giving each of our four children the space to question Christianity, to decide for themselves if they wanted to follow Jesus, to truly OWN their own faith. But we were too afraid to give Ryan that room when it came to his sexuality, for fear that he’d make the wrong choice.
And so, just before his 18th birthday, Ryan, depressed, suicidal, disillusioned and convinced that he would never be able to be loved by God, made a new choice. He decided to throw out his Bible and his faith at the same time, and to try searching for what he desperately wanted – peace – another way. And the way he chose to try first was drugs.
We had – unintentionally – taught Ryan to hate his sexuality. And since sexuality cannot be separated from the self, we had taught Ryan to hate himself.
These are the wages of listening to Linda Harvey. These are the wages of listening to Porno Pete. Tony Perkins. Bryan Fischer. Maggie Gallagher. Brian Brown. Run of the mill Christian pastors who preach against the evils of homosexuality. This is where that can and does lead.
Ryan is now dead. Having fallen into addiction and then moved into recovery, he made the mistake of meeting up with his old addict friends, thinking he would be okay. He was not, and now this family has to suffer every day without their son.
They thought they were being loving, but they had listened to religious leaders who told them that homosexuality was a grave sin; they had listened to the lies of the “ex-gay” industry and its professional salesmen in the Religious Right, believing that Ryan’s homosexuality could be “overcome”; they believed that the warped fundamentalist version of “holiness” was more important than “wholeness”; and in all likelihood, the people surrounding them in their church community reinforced the idea that what they were doing was right.
My heart breaks for this family. In the comments section at the source blog, I see a few comments from out gay people who are expressing anger at this mother. I would suggest that that is misdirected. She’s as much a victim of this ideology as her son was. No, please, direct your anger at the religious leaders of the world who would deny reality for the sake of their backwards religious beliefs, indoctrinating their followers to the point that it makes sense to let a family fall apart and to teach an innocent kid to hate himself simply for knowing the truth about who he is. They, who style themselves as “pro-family,” are the ones destroying lives, and it has to stop.
If you know Christian parents, send them this story. Even if those parents are already supportive, they might know parents who aren’t. This kind of spiritual torture has to stop.