How Can I Love My LGBT Family Member?

Glenn T. Stanton
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Typically our home and church are places of love, hope, and joy. Our family and church friends support and comfort us, and hopefully we give them comfort and support as well. In the midst of these places of refuge, it is quite possible family members and church guests will enter who have also entered the homosexual community. How do we respond to them?

Home is one of the toughest places to know how to engage a gay or lesbian family member in grace and truth because it’s in our families where we tend to have the longest, closest, and most emotionally intense—for good or ill—relationships in our lives. Home is where we need acceptance the most. Home is where we have the highest expectations of others. Home is really where we are stuck with each other, and gratefully so. Many families deal with these issues of sexual difference in very intimate ways, with siblings, children, cousins, aunts, uncles, and even parents who announce their homosexuality or desire for a sex change later in life. It can be a bomb that’s dropped in the middle of a family. That’s why the “coming-out” process and experience is such a big and often terrifying experience for those who do it.

Let’s address some of the major questions that family members have about their gay loved ones.

1. How should I love my gay child?

For many years, Focus on the Family ran conferences around the nation every year, helping thousands of families learn how to address this in their homes in truthful and gracious ways. We would get the most heart-wrenching letters from attendees on how the conference had helped them in what seemed like, at that time, a hopeless situation. It was very humbling, and the people who actually did the hands-on work were tremendously gifted with deep hearts for those we were reaching. One comment we got back, from a mother whose son came out to their family in the last year, was a remarkably painful comment for the team, even though it was good news. She told a group of us after the conference, “Thank you for giving me permission to love my gay son!”

I felt a sharp emotional stab right through my gut. And I felt immediate compassion for her. Why that reaction? I thought, “Oh my goodness, where did you ever get the idea that you couldn’t love your gay child? Who influenced you with such a horrible lie?”

“We cannot fully see someone as a divine and God-loved image-bearer if we see them only as a sales prospect for evangelism efforts.”

But there are many instances of parent/child relationships that don’t turn out like this one. I cannot imagine how any parent could respond this way, but many young adult children who have come out to their parents are told, “You are no longer our child and we hope you have a good life.” Boom. Done. Out!

Too often Christian parents do this, but it is also frequently just run-of-the-mill parents who cannot accept, much less continue to love, such a child. That’s your child!

To say it is shameful is an understatement. In fact, I am hard-pressed to find the appropriate words to denounce such a course of action by any family member.

So should you continue to love your gay child? For the Christian parent, there is only one answer. Did the waiting father Jesus told us about in His parable continue to love his wayward son? The whole point of Jesus’ parable was that this father’s love for his son was lavish. His joy was in that his son returned and repented of his waywardness!

You might think this story has nothing to do with your situation because your son or daughter has not repented and doesn’t seem anywhere close to doing so. Well, there’s more to the story here. Read it in its fullness in Luke 15. On the return of the prodigal son to his father’s house, we read: And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son’” (vv. 20–21).

Do you note something important here? It’s in the order of events. It begins, “But while he was a long way off. . . .”

Two things here. First, his father spotted him at a distance. The father had most likely been looking constantly at the horizon, probably many times a day for the hope of his son’s return. Second, the main action of the story happened while the son “was still a long way off.” This marks something key about the story, but seldom appreciated. Jesus tells us plainly what that is: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”

With the son so far off, the father couldn’t know why the son was returning. Was he coming home with hat in hand, remorseful for his sins, to get more “stuff,” or just to come back home because his fun ran out? Apparently the father didn’t care, only that he was returning. And the sight of his son immediately filled his heart with compassion and joy regardless of why he was returning.

So this wealthy nobleman pulled up the front of his robe for speed and ran to his son. He didn’t wait for the son to get to him. He ran to him. Men of such social stature did not run. They didn’t exert any such energy. They had others do it for them. But the return of his son essentially caused him to lose all mindfulness of his social status and the expectations associated with it. He only cared about one thing: his son who was now back home.

But the son was repentant of his sins and said he was not even worthy to be his son any longer and asked if he could be taken back as a hired hand. And while repentance is essential for our Father’s forgiveness and redemption, it is not a requirement for His deep love for us. That has always existed and always will, regardless of what we do. And we, as Christian parents, are to follow the same example the best we can in our limited ways.

How should we love our gay children? Lavishly and unconditionally, because they are our children. To do so is not to compromise our Christian faith, by no means, but to fulfill it.

But as we will see, there is a difference between lovingly and passionately accepting our children and accepting or winking at their sin. We are not allowed to wink at anyone’s sin, including our own or our loved ones’. Is this unfair or hard to do? Not really, for if we will take notice of it, we do this with people all the time, for no friends, family members, or loved ones agree on every all-important and consequential things or live sinless lives. We accept others as loved ones while also disagreeing with particular parts of their lives. Uncle Buck sleeps with different women regularly. We don’t like it. We don’t think it’s good or right. But he’s still Uncle Buck. He’s ours.

This is a part of all relationships and certainly not any kind of moral compromise. Uncle Buck knows how you feel about his sexual habits. You might talk to him about it from time to time, but there’s no reason to make it a dividing line between you. And there is no reason to bring it up nearly every time you see him. People who do such things are what everyone would call a “pest.” Isn’t it true that we hope others will love us in spite of the things we do that they don’t agree with? Otherwise we would only have friends and loved ones who agree perfectly with us on all-important issues. There are two words to describe people with such expectations: lonely and pharisaical.

2. What about her/his partner?

So we might think, “I will always love my son or daughter, but I don’t have to love that person they are doing heaven knows what with!” Should you love this person? Of course, the answer is yes! Christians are called to genuinely love everyone. But do you have to like them? Well, that depends, doesn’t it? Are they likeable? Considerate, thoughtful, enjoyable to be around? Would you enjoy having them at your Thanksgiving dinner table? So we evaluate these folks largely the same way we would any other person who has newly come into our lives. We are free to like them if we find them likeable, but we are not required to like them. But we are required to love them.

However, they might be very rude and selfish. They might have personal values, attitudes, or behaviors that you can’t accept. It is fine to say, “You know, I just don’t care for that person very much” if you have good reason not to care. We should start out wanting to like everyone—even loving them as much as possible—until we are given strong and consistent enough reason not to.

“But this guy who is taking my son deeper into homosexuality is clearly not a nice man because of what he’s doing,” you might say. Yes, but it also makes your son not a very nice guy. You have to come to terms with the fact that that ship has sailed and make the necessary adjustments as so many parents must do on all kinds of issues.

But how does one do this in the proper balance of grace and truth? Well, it comes down to a very important and critical clarification. It requires us to make a distinction between the person and this particular relationship they are in. You cannot approve of the relationship if it is sexual. But this is about the person, your child’s partner. You see, we all evaluate people—and whether we like them or not—based on who they are. And to a large degree, that is our call. We all get to pick our own friends and those we like and care for, don’t we? And this situation is no different.

It is no moral compromise to decide that you indeed like your child’s partner as a person. This has nothing to do with your convictions about the relationship itself, but about the person even though you have very strong disagreements.

3. But my son says I can’t love him if I can’t accept his partner.

This is a response that is sadly too common in these kinds of situations and no one should fall for it, frankly. We can love our children and not particularly like their friends or partners. The two are very different things. This is your child. That is your son’s partner. Your love for the first is not contingent on your love for the other. And it is unfair—and actually manipulative—to put someone in the position of demanding that your love for them must include anyone else that is important to them. The world just doesn’t work that way, and it doesn’t and shouldn’t here.

The proper and healthy answer to such a statement is simply, “Well, I’m sorry you feel that way.”

But you must also ask, as in all situations, why you find yourself not caring for a particular person, whether or not you have really given this person a fair shake. What is it in you that might keep you from being able to like them? Is there something there that you need to come to terms with? Don’t let the nature of their relationship keep you from seeing this person as God sees them and giving them a fair chance to be liked by you.

You must prayerfully search your own heart and let God expose things there that need exposing. No one is required to like everyone, but we are called to love everyone as much as we can and treat them as graciously and patiently as possible. Because your child’s partner is a human being, they deserve your general kindness, regardless of what you think of him or her.

4. They want my blessing—what do I do?

Now this question is quite different from the issues addressed in the previous few questions because it is not about people, but particular types of relationships. God is very clear in that we must love others, regardless of their stories. But this does not mean that we have to like or bless what they do.

Every relationship that we ever have has to navigate such parameters for a whole host of reasons. All of us have the experience of not liking or approving of everything our friends do. And we are free not to. And they are free not to approve of what we do. This is no test of our relationship. Love and approval are two very different things.

No one, loving parents included, can give—or be expected to give —their blessing to something that goes contrary to their beliefs and convictions. And they shouldn’t be shamed or demeaned for not doing so, and certainly not by their son or daughter.

It is like your cohabiting son or daughter’s relationship. You might like their partner very much but not approve of their living arrangement. Knowing how you feel about such relationships, it is actually inconsiderate for them to ask you to bless such a relationship. You simply answered the question you were asked. And your gay or lesbian child, as well as your cohabiting child, should be able to respect that and not push you on it. It puts you in a difficult place and good people don’t do that to one another.

5. What about the sleepover?

Your child brings her lesbian partner home from San Diego for both of them to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with you. You have met her many times before as they’ve been together for nearly two years and she’s very nice. You genuinely enjoy seeing her every time you have the chance. They will be staying four nights with you. This is an interesting situation that you never imagined you’d be in. How to arrange the accommodations?

Do you insist they stay in different rooms or allow them to sleep together, as they have been together for nearly two years? Sleeping together at your house is not going encourage them to sleep together more, as if they were teenagers or college students. It is not even likely to make them think that you know and approve of their sexuality and living situation, giving them a long-awaited green light from Mom and Dad. It’s just staying over a few nights. So do you let them?

Bottom line: It’s your house, your call. You should not feel forced to have something in your house you are not comfortable with, regardless of what it is. And the guest must follow your wishes. That is just basic manners. And the traffic goes the other way. When in their house, they make the rules. They don’t want you smoking in their house. Guess what? It would be rude and more than thoughtless to demand you be able to light up.

And you shouldn’t feel bad about this. I wouldn’t bring a rack of ribs to a dinner party at my vegan sister’s house. If she asked me to, or said it was perfectly all right, that would be one thing. But to just expect it would be okay because that’s what I want, or thinking she needs to come to terms with the fact there are meat eaters out there and she’d better face it, is not being considerate of her. She wouldn’t want such a thing in her kitchen, dripping on her cutting board, staining her knives, sizzling on her grill. If I can’t understand why this would be a problem, that’s my problem.

Your house, your rules. Their house, their rules. That’s how it works. And it’s basic politeness to respect that. No debate.

But if possible, it’s important you talk about these things before the trip, again, just as if it was your son and his girlfriend. They need to know ahead of time that there will be separate sleeping arrangements, just in case they were expecting something different. It is likely that they could call you and give you a “heads-up” on what their plans are and expect you to be cool with it. No one gets to tell another what their own house rules are going to be, even if they tell you in advance. It doesn’t matter. Nor does it matter if they are legally married. That is not a license to ask you to disregard your convictions.

And if they cannot abide by that, they can stay at a hotel nearby, or not come together. Such a request from the host is more reasonable than the demand from the guest that you ignore your own personal convictions in your own house.

Ask for Help

As you work through your own decisions in these matters, ask a number of Christians whose maturity and discernment you trust. Determine what is wise in their advice and apply it to your particular situation. Of course, give it a great deal of prayer.

For Further Reading:

Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor

by Glenn T. Stanton

Ever feel like we’re just fumbling through the LGBT conversation, always asking but never really finding answers to questions like: What...

book cover for Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor