MINISTRY TO FAMILIES with GAY PARENTS
by Ginger Haan –
Why such a controversial topic? How likely is this to happen in your church? Any church?
My interest in this subject began some years ago. My husband Don and I both had Pentecostal backgrounds, having been raised in Assemblies of God churches and meeting each other in an Assemblies of God college. He became a licensed minister with the Assemblies.
During our fourteenth year of marriage I found evidence that he was involved in a homosexual relationship. I was shocked! It was like a tight fist had been jammed into my stomach. I fell in a heap, sobbing.
I confronted Don. He shared about childhood sexual abuse by a neighbor and, as a teen, cried out to God to take away his same-sex attractions. He thought marriage would cure him but didn’t dare tell me. After hours of talking, he made it clear that he loved me, that he didn’t want our marriage to end, and that he would get help. I waited. Months later, seeing no progress, I yelled at God in anger: “Why don’t You just zap Don!” I expected him to fall under God’s power and change completely.
God used truth to build a buttress of grace into my life by responding to my ridiculous request. I could barely comprehend His words: “Don’s sins are no worse than yours.” I honestly could not think what sins God was referring to. Okay, anger, but at least I wasn’t unfaithful. Over weeks and months God revealed how my pride had spawned a long list of sins, from unforgiveness to self-righteousness.
In God’s eyes, my “sins of the heart,” which no one saw but God and me, were as ugly to Him as Don’s sins of the flesh. What a revelation! By the way, didn’t Jesus make that clear to the Pharisees who brought the prostitute to Him to be stoned? Thankfully, God eventually rescued Don (long story). Though he repented and was in the midst of a process of restoration, the consequences of his choices became apparent when he tested HIV-Positive.
Our church people surrounded our family with acceptance, love, and the practical aspect of helps, caring for Don in his last stages and showering us with cooked meals, yard work and housecleaning. They were vigilant with prayer and stood with us through his death from AIDS; then followed up on us for care and support.
What we believe.
Don and I had the same belief system when he passed away: “Homosexuality … runs contrary to the divine plan, purpose, and will of God who created us in His image (Genesis 1:27)…”[i] We understood and proclaimed Romans 1:21-32 and I Corinthians 6:9-10 which both list what the unrighteous will naturally do when they have exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worship the creature rather than the Creator.
I believe I Corinthians 6:11 must be included as a capstone, if you will, making it clear that all these sins can be washed away. “And such were some of you. But you were washed … sanctified…”
As our culture continues to show more acceptance on this issue, it is important that we uphold Scriptural truth with grace toward our fellow man. The Bible admonishes us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Jesus was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Should we be less? Remember that you can’t give undeserved favor to people unless they don’t deserve it.
There are no doubt people in your church with same-sex attractions. In his book, Homosexuality and the Christian, Dr. Mark A. Yarhouse distinguishes two types of strugglers: “The sincere struggler is the believer who is genuinely trying to live faithfully before God with his/her sexuality.” Then there is the assertive struggler: “This is the Christian sexual minority who advocates for a change in Christian doctrine about sexuality and sexual behavior.”[ii] This is where the line must be drawn. See sidebar for further help.
One church’s experience.
A large suburban church in Sacramento, California has a special needs ministry for children who have autism and other physical disabilities. One of the children in this special needs ministry has two fathers.
At first, this gay couple dropped off their son each Sunday, returning to pick him up a couple hours later. At the gracious, insistent invitation of the teacher, they finally decided to attend the worship service. They were pleasantly surprised. Everyone was friendly, the atmosphere was warm and inviting, and they enjoyed the lively worship and the spoken word from the pastor.
After connecting with the pastor and explaining their family situation, they apologized for their presence in this conservative church. The pastor welcomed them, asked them to keep an open mind, allowing God to speak to them. And he promised to do his part: “Let’s keeping walking this out.”
There are other gay couples in this same church. They come quietly and appear to be sincere. Pastor explains, “We are walking with them caringly and lovingly. We’re not seeking to be a gay-friendly church. But if gay-identified people feel we’re friendly toward them, then we are making progress.”
This suburban Assemblies of God church is Capital Christian Center; the senior pastor is Rick Cole. Some years ago a man in the church asked if he would help him leave a homosexual lifestyle. Pastor Rick admitted he knew little about the whole issue but promised to meet weekly with the sincere man and help in his walk with God. That experience eventually opened other opportunities for him to extend grace to a community who has often felt shunned by the conservative church.
Interestingly, the church that showed such love and caring to Don and our family some years ago was this same church, pastored then by Rick Cole’s father, Glen Cole (now deceased).
How prevalent are gay-parented families?
The 2000 U.S. Census Bureau counted 601,209 same-sex unmarried partner households in the United States. That was a 314 percent increase from 1990.[iii]
Adoption by gay couples has been rising since the 2000 Census. The New York Times took a poll in 2010 that indicated 16% of same-sex households include children; by 2012, 110,000 children live with gay parents.[iv] Other estimates say over one million children have one or two same-sex parents.
The Princeton Survey Research Associates International conducted a poll in 2008 to gauge public support for gay adoption. Results: 53% supported it, 39% opposed it, and 8% were unsure.[v]
An example would be my cousin Tom. He and his partner Karl have been in a committed relationship for 20 years. They regularly attend a mainline denominational church in San Francisco where they and their 13 and 14-year-old sons are involved in the music program. They adopted the boys before their 2nd birthday. Their single mother was homeless and addicted to drugs. Tom and Karl have provided a loving, caring home.
Not all gay-parented families move to San Francisco. The geographical diversity of where they are living is striking. From big cities to small farming towns, from the Deep South to the Pacific Northwest, gay and lesbian families are part of the American landscape. The Urban Institute estimates that the total U.S. gay and lesbian population over 18 years of age is at 5 percent (over 10 million).[vi]
Where do these families go to church?
Dr. Yarhouse writes, “The gay community admits they have failed to embrace sexual minority Christians, and few churches are welcoming them, so where do they go?”[vii]
However, many people who are part of the gay community grew up in a Baptist or Assemblies of God or other conservative church. Their roots pull them back to what is familiar. Are we willing to accept them? Billy Graham’s favorite altar call song has been, “Just as I am without one plea…” Will we say, “Come, just as you are”? Will we walk with them on this amazing journey of salvation, discipleship and Christlikeness?
Pastor Rick Cole believes we’ve targeted this group of people with a negative approach and our message has become, “You are not welcome here.” However, we have reached out to drug addicts and said, “Come; we’ll help you.” We say, “There’s grace for you” to heterosexuals who live outside of God’s boundaries. He concludes, “It is inconsistent with the heart of God and the balance of Scripture to not welcome the gay-identified individual.”
How responsible are we?
Gateway Church in Austin, Texas, welcomes gay and lesbian folks. In an e-mail, Kenny Conley, the Next Gen Pastor, stated: “Our hope is that anyone who comes to Gateway, regardless of their beliefs or sexual orientation, would begin connecting to God in a personal way and experience community with other Christ followers. It’s not our agenda to change anyone, but to connect people to God. When He gets a hold of our hearts, changes in behavior follow.”
Rosaria Butterfield knows that all too well. As a leftist lesbian professor, she despised Christians. She concluded they were stupid, pointless, menacing. She was fervent for the worldviews of Freud, Hegel, Marx and Darwin. She went so far as to prove how wrong Christians were by interviewing a minister and studying their most important book, the Bible.
Little did Rosaria know that the minister she interviewed, Pastor Ken and his wife Floy, would become her friends. How? “They entered my world. They met my friends. We did book exchanges. When we ate together, Ken prayed in a way I had never heard before.” Ken was patient. Several years later, on an ordinary day, Rosaria recalls, “I came to Jesus, openhanded and naked. In the war of worldviews, Ken was there. Floy was there. The church that had been praying for me for years was there…. I weakly believed that if Jesus could conquer death, He could make right my world.”[x]
I asked Rosaria (via e-mail) how her conversion impacted her sexual identity. She expressed the difficulty. “No one just tosses off one identity for another. But, for me, my lesbianism was rooted in an anti-Biblical worldview. Once I became submitted to Christ, He changed my desires and my feelings. This is, I believe, the doctrine of sanctification at work.”
Mike Clarensau, Director of Healthy Church Network, General Council of the Assemblies of God, echoes the transformation that can happen to an individual who is invited to belong, even before believing and behaving. His recent book entitled From Belonging to Becoming — Learning to Love the Way Jesus Did, outlines the steps he learned as a pastor.
This passage from his book is compelling: Some people believe, “’If you welcome those people and don’t confront their sin, you’re condoning their lifestyle.’ Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God like it was a place you’d want to run to. He aimed His ‘generation of vipers’ speeches at a different group than we do.”[xi]
How does the church affirm God’s love for gay or lesbian parents and their children? One simple word – Balance! Jesus spoke truth to the prostitute: “Go and sin no more.” But His words of grace were spoken first: “Neither do I condemn you” – which cushioned truth and made it easy for her to obey Him (John 8:3-11). I believe we can maintain that same balance in ministry to these couples and their families.
How does the church integrate children into the family of God?
The church my cousin Tom attends is apparently gay-friendly, meaning grace and truth are out of balance. Apparently homosexuality is never mentioned. Tom states: “We made sure everyone knew who we were and they were fine with it. This church community has so much love for everybody. They ask how our kids are doing. We are treated no differently than a heterosexual family.” I believe Assemblies of God churches can speak truth from the pulpit but still maintain this kind of love.
Let’s look at possible problems. Children who appear weak, vulnerable or different are targets for bullies. A first grader expresses how it feels to be different: “Last year my teacher found out. She saw both of my moms at PTA night. I didn’t want her to know because I wanted her to think of me the same as the other children.”[xii]
Christian staff should make sure they do not use words that threaten or put down children or peers; all our words should be seasoned with grace. We need to make sure we do everything in our power to stop others from bullying through words or actions. The Christian education director should make sure there are policies and discipline in place to counter bullying.
Teens need special care. Even though our culture shows more acceptance of homosexuality, there are areas where this is not so. Listen to the sadness in this 16-year-old boy’s voice: “I don’t talk to anyone at school about my mom…there is some cover-up that kids of lesbians have to do because otherwise you are accused of being gay yourself. If I came out and said my mother was gay, I’d be treated like an alien.” [xiii]
In my story, our sons were affected by their father’s choices. They were teenagers when they found out about his lifestyle, and they desired to see things “the way they used to be.” That was disrupted, changing the story of who their dad was and upturning some of their perspectives of him. I talked with my sons recently. Both agree that the urgent need for children is to know their parents love them.
Youth workers should connect with students from gay-parented families in a loving, private way and simply ask from time to time, “How are you doing? I’m available to talk any time.” It will be helpful for the leaders to have an understanding of same-sex attraction. Many gay-identified people truly believe they were born that way. If the teen believes that about his/her parents, be respectful. Listen to their heart, ask questions, and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance in the words you say. By listening to their story, we gain compassion and understanding.
Pastors, have an on-going dialogue with your children’s and teen’s pastors and workers. Be sensitive to your staff and volunteers by asking, “How’s it going? Are the children (of gay parents) integrating and connecting with the other children?”
Further dialogue is needed for sticky situations. If the daughter of a traditional family makes friends with a girl from a gay-parented family, both parents want healthy relationships for their children. They may come to the pastor or associate for help. Lead in with questions so you can see how comfortable they are with the friendship.
And in conclusion…
We make distinctions, classifying people as “us” – the normal ones – and “them” – abnormal, not part of “us.” However, once we get to know “them,” the distinctions fade. Ask God to help you look at gays and lesbians as our people. Remember, it is the goodness of God that leads people to repentance (Romans 2:4).
Lastly, an important fact: Many of them feel shame (feeling bad for who they are), not good enough, and may not really feel part of us. By offering them a vision for what it means to be Christlike, and with the help of the Holy Spirit working in their lives, that vision places them squarely in the middle of the Christian community. They become us.[xiv]
[i] Assemblies of God position paper “Homosexuality” approved by the General Council of the Assemblies of God in 1979.
[ii] Mark A. Yarhouse, PsyD, Homosexuality and the Christian, (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2010), page 158
[iii] David M. Smith, Gary Gates, Gay and Lesbian Families in the United States, Urban Institute Research of Record, (Washington DC, the Urban Institute, August 22, 2001)
[vi] Smith, Gates, Gay and Lesbian Families, Urban Institute, August 22, 2001
[vii] Mark A. Yarhouse, PsyD, Homosexuality and the Christian, page 157
[xi] Mike Clarensau, From Belonging to Becoming – The Power of Loving People Like Jesus Did. (Springfield, MO, Influential Resources, 2011), Page 34
[xii] Paul Cameron, Children of Homosexual Parents Report Childhood Difficulties, L. Rafkin, Different mothers: sons and daughters of lesbians talk about their lives. (San Francisco: Cleis Press, 1990) (Colorado Springs, CO: Family Research Institute, Inc.), http://www.familyresearchinst.org. Accessed Feb. 2013
[xiii] Cameron, Children of Homosexual Parents, Family Research Institute, Inc. Accessed Feb. 2013
[xiv] Mark A. Yarhouse, PsyD, Homosexuality and the Christian, page 157