“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.
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.