A reader writes ...
A reader writes ...
My wife and I enjoy your books because we were both raised as fundamentalists, and you know what that’s like. We have been active in church since we were tiny children. We met in a Sunday School class. Before we married, we decided to take tithing seriously as a couple. About 15 years ago, when we moved into our current location, our children were preschool aged, and we threw ourselves and our kids into our new church with abandon. We served on countless committees and boards, participated in ministries, taught classes, etc. My wife and children are artistically gifted, and they were involved in the music program. My wife started a Fine Arts Ministry to welcome beautiful music, visual art, interpretive dance, etc. into our church.
When our son was in high school, he was in both the youth band and the praise band. Then, he came out as being gay. We made the decision right away to love and support him, but at church excuses were soon made to kick him off both bands. The pastor was aware of this, and when we confronted the pastor, he said, “[Your son] shouldn’t have been so open about it.”
About this time, A New Kind of Christianity was published. I had never heard of you, but I was interested. The book opened a whole new universe of religious ideas for me. Not only did it help me find a place beyond a lot of the fundamentalist teachings, but it gave me a spiritual framework for thinking about my relationship with my son. I ended up reading it three times, making a detailed outline, and teaching it in a small home-based class that lasted a year. At the end, my wife and I wondered if you would advise us to leave the church over what happened to our son. We decided that you would advise us to stay as witnesses for Christian parents who support their gay and lesbian children.
We joined PFLAG and reconciling ministries. Our next step was to teach This I Know, a brilliant study to which you contributed, which deals constructively with this very issue. Our home study went well, but when we approached the pastor about leading the study at church, he turned us down. He said it would never happen. He used you as an example. He said you were, “…such a nice guy nobody would suspect how dangerous his ideas are.”
We were close to quitting at that point, when the church started performing audits on all of its ministries, to see if the ministries were fulfilling the church’s mission. They soon took aim at my wife’s Fine Arts Ministry, requiring detailed documentation on how many souls it had brought to Jesus and how many members it had brought to the church. This was it--we quit.
This was one of the most agonizing decisions we ever made. Neither of us had ever quit a church before, unless we were moving to a different town. My wife went into a clinical depression that lasted for months. I became bitter, thinking about how many thousands of hours we had given to that church and how faithfully we had tithed, only to be told that the church didn’t need our family anymore.
When Naked Spirituality was announced, I was among the first to pre-order. I have found that practicing the twelve words has kept me connected to a life with God during all of this. My wife identified with the season of Perplexity, and it helped ease her pain. I would not say that the book is a substitute for church, but for me it has been an alternative path for spiritual deepening.
Currently, we have been drifting from church to church, sometimes not going at all. Our son is now in college in another state and singing in the choir of an accepting church. My wife has started an art-related business. I am now going back to your earlier books. I’ve started A Generous Orthodoxy, hoping that it will help me deal with all of the bitterness and cynicism.
My comment is this: Brian, I thank God for your books. I have no doubt that God led us to them as well as to This I Know, each at the right moment. They helped us during some really difficult times. I recommend your work as often as I can. Please accept my gratitude.
As you can imagine, encouragement like this means so much to me. Your story reminds me of something the former leader of a well-respected Evangelical denomination told me after he announced his retirement. "The most painful thing about this job," he said, "has been hearing from the parents and grandparents of gay children. Our churches are warm and loving places ... until their kids come out. Then the community that was such a source of support becomes a constant source of pain." He wished he could help his denomination change, but it just wasn't ready. Hearing from sincere and good-hearted people like you all will, I think, be key contributors to helping churches live up to their ideals of compassion, understanding, and growth. As the saying goes, "It gets better." But that only applies to the big picture and long view. For so many families like yours and mine with gay family members (which is, statistically, a very large number), the best solution is to simply find an accepting community like the one your son has now found. I hope you'll be able to find one as well. Thanks so much for writing.