EDITOR’S NOTE: This monthly column about the issue of homosexuality by various authors is a partnership between Baptist Press and the Southern Baptist Convention Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals. This month’s columnist is Bob Stith, the SBC’s National Strategist for Gender Issues.
SOUTHLAKE, Texas (BP)–“Could I talk to you?”
Those who have served in the booth for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals have heard this question many times. This year’s annual meeting was no exception.
In fact, during this year’s meeting in Louisville, we heard this not only from those who stumbled upon our booth, but also from those who came to the exhibit hall looking specifically for us.
The question comes from mothers, fathers, wives, husbands and friends. Sometimes it is the heartbroken cry of a parent who has just been told of a child’s struggle. Sometimes that parent is a pastor.
Sometimes a messenger will tell of a personal battle. Sometimes that messenger is on staff at an SBC church. Occasionally a seminary student will hesitantly tell of his confusion at having to deal with this issue and of his fear that if anyone knew, he might be disciplined even though he isn’t acting on his impulses.
Over and over we’ve heard “I’m so glad you’re here. I just had to talk to someone.” I’ve often wished that all Southern Baptists could hear the despair in these voices, for it is easy to overlook the fact that when homosexuality hits home, the struggler is not the only one who is impacted.
Many of the calls I get are from parents who’ve just had a child disclose same-sex attractions. These situations often reveal why it is so important to train Southern Baptists to respond in a loving way. I’m aware of two recent conversations that vividly illustrate this need.
In one, a father forcefully “warned” his son that “you’re going to hell if you don’t stop this.” At that point it wasn’t even clear that his son had ever acted on his feelings. In the other situation a father was much calmer. He simply sat his son down and read the Scripture passages dealing with homosexuality.
While these responses may be understandable they are equally ineffective. They also create barriers to effective ministry to the child. I’ve talked to many men and women in recovery ministries who still remember the devastation they experienced when they disclosed their struggle to their parents. And parents have told me they would do anything to have the opportunity to “re-do” that situation.
Does this mean you shouldn’t give a warning or quote the Bible? The reality is that the child more than likely already knows both what the Bible says and what the parents think about the issue. What the struggler needs to know at that moment is “Do you still love me? How will this impact our relationship?”
Occasionally I’ll hear from a parent who has been told that they should break off their relationship with an unrepentant child. I once addressed this in an article and heard from an angry grandmother who informed me that this is exactly what she would do if her children or grandchildren disclosed this problem to her.
Jerry Falwell was asked what he would do if he had a child disclose this struggle to him. Among other things he said that he would love that child even more and assure him that he always had a place in their home.
In that moment it is important to reassure your son or daughter of your love. You must reassure them that you will be there for them. This moment will forever be fixed in their memory. It has been said that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, and it is certainly true in this situation.
But what if your child makes it clear that they have no desire to fight these attractions? What if they tell you they are convinced that this is who they are and they fully intend to embrace this identity?
The Bible assures us that “God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Not only does He love us while we are still in rebellion against Him, He loves us even if we reject that love. Should we love our children any less?
Certainly at some point you should talk with your child about consequences, but this should not be your first response. And this, too, should be done as lovingly and non-judgmentally as possible. This situation did not develop overnight, and it won’t be dealt with in one meeting.
Neither is there a one-size-fits-all “fix” for your child.
The conversations at the Task Force booth clearly demonstrate both the need and the rightness of Southern Baptists’ efforts to minister to strugglers and their families. My prayer is that more of our churches will see the need to offer training to their members in dealing with one of the most critical issues facing our nation.
Bob Stith is the SBC’s National Strategist for Gender Issues. For more information about the SBC’s outreach to homosexuals or to contact Bob about a speaking engagement or interview, visit www.sbcthewayout.com.