Into The Second Closet: Christian Parents With Gay Children

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“If these young people, in moments of exhaustion or anger or complete desperation, do share that deepest of secrets with their Christian parents, and even if those parents do choose not to disown them or expel them, something else happens almost instantly; the whole family goes into the closet together; into a second hiding.”

We have met and worked with so many parents and families who are living in the “second closet” – hiding from other family members, hiding from their church.

It is an awful, soul wrenching place to be – for the parents and their LGBTQ child. It’s time to help them come out.

I am thrilled to share with you an article about the second closet from John Pavlovitz.

Enjoy…

A funny thing happens when you’re a Christian pastor, and gay Christian students or their Christian parents find out that you aren’t going to treat them the way Christian pastors have normally treated them: They start talking.

They reach out to you.
They confide in you.
They cry to you.

Over the past 18 years, I’ve come to hear scores of stories of these families, and of their horrific years spent living in The Second Closet.

You see, when students are both gay and Christian, (and yes, you can be both), they live knowing that they have to hide everything, all the time. They become experts at concealing attraction, at hiding visual cues, at steering conversations away from potentially awkward moments, especially in the Church.

It isn’t like they haven’t been warned.

They’ve sat through the worship services, and have heard all the sermons, and know all the Scripture passages, and they’ve seen all the protests. They realize that in most cases, coming out is simply not an option… and so they stay hidden in the closet; alone, isolated, suffocated.

And even when they do come out, they don’t get out.

If these young people, in moments of exhaustion or anger or complete desperation, do share that deepest of secrets with their Christian parents, and even if those parents do choose not to disown them or expel them, something else happens almost instantly; the whole family goes into the closet together; into a second hiding.

Once they learn the truth, (or have the long-feared truth verbalized to them), parents so often realize that they’ve inherited the stigma of their children’s sexuality.

It’s as if they discovered that their son or daughter had some contagious illness, and now they’re basically quarantined along with them; corporate victims of the devastating distance that the Church has so easily and willingly created with individuals in the LGBTQ community.

Families in the Second Closet share similar patterns: they begin to skip church outings, they stop attending small group meetings, they more frequently opt-out of Sunday services; not because they no longer want those things, and not because they don’t have a hunger for deep community and spiritual nurturing, but because they fear that they no longer belong.

A child’s sexuality often makes the entire nuclear family, feel like discarded orphans in their spiritual family.

The emotional toll on those in the Second Closet is incalculable, especially the gay students themselves. Not only do they bear the burden of their own personal secret, but they get strapped with the additional millstone of guilt, for shoving their parents and siblings into the shadows as well.

One of the saddest things of all, is that I know many Christians reading this couldn’t care less.

I know that you’re skimming through these words without any real concern or compassion. You’re preparing your go-to Scripture passages and your religious justifications against LGBTQ teens, and if you’re doing that, well you’re completely missing the point.

The point is not to debate Biblical interpretations of sexuality.

The point, or more accurately, the prayer; is that heterosexual Christians with seemingly heterosexual children, will understand the reality of those Christian families who live in secret shame and who have been told, not in so many words (or sometimes, in so many words), that their silence is a prerequisite for participation in the Church.

Nothing healthy grows in the darkness, ever.

Faith communities where all members aren’t able or welcome to be fully authentic, still haven’t been saturated enough with Jesus yet. He talked about knowing the truth that “sets you free”. We need churches where all people can speak truth, too. That sets them free in a very different way, but one that is often the road to redemptive faith.

If you’re a Christian, I may not be able to change your mind on how to treat teens and preteens who are LGBTQ or their families, but at least I’ll have peace, knowing that I’ve shared the reality that these families are there; maybe in your Sunday School class, or in the row in front of you in worship, or in your small group.

More likely though, they used to be in all those places, but no longer are.

Now, they’re all living together in the Second Closet.

But they don’t have to be.

Click here to read John’s original post.

11 thoughts on “Into The Second Closet: Christian Parents With Gay Children

  1. Wow! This is our family. When our son came out at 13 in April we felt that we would never be viewed the same again at church. We sometimes stay in that closet and other times venture out. So many in the church do not understand and really don’t want to. We have drifted from church and our fellowship with other believers is somewhat shallow. We hate it. I am not about to blame the church. It us as well. We don’t want to push our gay son as a cause anymore than pushing our straight children in church. Why can’t our son just be accepted as he is? Why can’t he be seen as a creation of God and not some pervert? Why can’t we be seen as a family with the same desires, wants and needs as any other family in the church?

    We too have been more open and accepting of others in the church who may not be the best Christian representation. We are even more sympathetic to those who are down trodden in our society. Didn’t Jesus come for those who are lost and sick? That includes ALL. That includes gay and straight. That includes me, you and our neighbor.

  2. Exactly why I am interested on getting more and more involved on sharing Gods unconditional love and acceptance. I have always walked to the beat of my own drummer and many have seen me as odd and “different” and I spent many years feeling rejected, alone and horribly wrong for doing so. I do not want my bi-sexual daughter to be shunned and hurt like I was. I try to understand the double standards that so many churches and Christians have but non the less it grieves my heart. I will stand by my daughter and so many others I love and help to give them the love and acceptance they need and that Jesus died to give us.

  3. this is a great post, Susan. I really like the 2 comments above. I had been in music ministry at the church I used to go to, that some of my family still goes to. I could no longer play my instrument or stay at the church… this issue has gone way beyond my gay son for me– there is a group of people that are being told LGBTQ is sin, that they are wrong…. I can’t stay. I felt like a hypocrite there…. This is just me- I know some people who are able to stay, I just cannot and I (finally) have my husband’s blessing thanks to some great counsel. My son is welcome there, but doesn’t want to go there any longer either- there is a church he wants to check out and I am happy to go with him when he’s ready. It’s hard to be told after sharing with my pastor where I stand, to hear him say ok for you- please don’t cause division or be vocal about your shift in perspective… sad. I cannot be myself there, and our family has to be “quiet” about this… I stayed for over a year and am finally in a place to leave, it’s been 5 weeks now. I am at peace for the most part, slowly visiting churches and pastors, finding communities who are affirming and loving of all. And some weeks I just stay home and I let myself “be still”…. I know God knows even better than I do where I am, where my son is on this journey. It is a very new thing for me to do this! Sorting it all out, staying close to God… I am blessed to have friends who are supporting me along the journey. I appreciate your perspective and your words always. I appreciate your understanding, courage and love for the LGBTQ community and for us as their parents. Thank you for your support and love. Keep up the great work you do and your husband Rob when he writes as well!

    • Thank you, Kim. So glad about how much God has shown you on this journey. So… thinking aloud here… is it necessary not to share your views to avoid causing division? If A pedophile were discovered in the church, with the pastor also like you to be quiet to avoid division? I promise, unless your church has under 10 people in it (I’m just picking a random small number), you are not the only family in this situation. I’m not saying to have that conversation – I’m just asking the question. 🙂

  4. I am right in the middle of this situation, belonging to a conservative church but having evolved in my beliefs to much more liberal views. I love my church family and would grieve deeply if I need to worship elsewhere. But I find myself more and more marginalized, unable to share what is on my heart and mind. As I lose transparency and openness, small group discussions are painful and irrelevant. Even sharing my beliefs (and not disclosing my family connection to the LGBT community) may cause judgement, condemnation, etc. Fortunately, I can find a few safe individuals with whom I can share part or all of my story and my evolving beliefs. I am working on finding the courage to share appropriately, believing this will free myself and others. After I’ve done so, I’ve had people almost whisper to me that they don’t take every word of the Bible literally, like that was completely unacceptable in our church culture. We are imprisioning ourselves by being silent, but it is taking me painful baby steps and progress is slow. I’ve read Greg Boyd’s book Repenting from Religion which is a big help. Unconditional love and judgement really are opposites, something many Christians don’t seem to understand. At the same time, I don’t want to judge others who are in a different place in their faith journey, even if they are judging me!

  5. Wow, this post really connected with me. I would add another group to the 2nd closet. Not as deep and dark certainly, but there none the less. That is the one I’m in where I no longer feel that I belong within my circles, that I am judged and rejected for simply being an ally and saying that we should love and have compassion for those whose walk is so much more difficult than we could ever imagine. Knowing the pain of the comparatively minor rejection that I’ve experienced, it moves me to anguish at the heavy burden that rejection must be to my LGBT brothers and sisters and their families. Lord Jesus, how much longer until you move in the hearts of all your children? May their hearts be broken for what breaks yours.

    • Angie, it’s true. Our circles get shuffled around when we come out as allies. And like you, I am so grateful for the compassion and empathy that has come from rejection. But thank God that you are hearing God and responding. Love to you. ❤

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