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How do you like me now? When a child, parent, spouse, or sibling says they're gay
2016 / 88 minutes
The powerful, aggressive, LGBTQ lobby has been very successful in its efforts to normalize the homosexual lifestyle in our society. In our Reformed circles we read and hear about these efforts, but for most of us homosexuality is still an issue “out there,” that’s not all that relevant to us or anyone we know. We associate the gay lifestyle with gay bars and the many annual pride parades that take place around the country. So we know, for example, that the city of Toronto hosts one of the largest gay pride parades in the world, and that on a day in early July it is best to avoid the downtown core of Toronto if you don’t want to be stuck in the middle of what’s happening there.
That’s easily done, which is why, for most of us, homosexuality is far removed from our daily lives. We’d also like to keep it that way, preferring to avoid the confrontation.
This avoidance approach can work for a time…right up until your child, or one of your siblings, or a parent, or a close friend comes to you and says, “I’m gay.”
What he’s been going through
All of a sudden your world changes. Now homosexuality is right here – in your face, in your life. You can’t avoid this issue any longer. What do you say? How do you react? What do you actually know about this?
It’s all very confusing. You love this person deeply, but how do you deal with this?
One of the problems that can easily frustrate the conversation is that this is an all-of-a-sudden experience for you. The same is not true for the other person. By the time he1 is ready to tell you “I’m gay,” he has already struggled with many conflicting emotions and questions, and has come to some answers for himself. But you are just at the very beginning of this process.
If this is someone from our Reformed churches, then it is likely he has quietly wrestled with same-sex attraction for quite a while already, feeling desperately confused and insecure. He will have tried to ignore or deny the feelings he knows he is not supposed to give in to, and tried to resist attractions he does not want to have. It is such a lonely journey. The fear of rejection is strong. He may think he knows how his family, his friends and the church community are going to respond, because he’s heard the casually disparaging remarks they’ve sometimes made about homosexuals.
How to begin
When he’s ready to share the outcome of his struggle, he may well follow his declaration with a question: “How do you like me now?”
But this is just one of the questions running through your head. There are so many unknowns, and you want to know more. Where can you search for answers? Which books? What articles? And who can you talk to about this? Are there others in our churches who have gone through this before? Or are you the only ones?
Your child (or sibling, or parent, or friend) has already gone through his struggles, and he may already be settled in his thinking. He might tell you, “I am finally ready to accept myself as I am.” He has come to conclusions that he is (more or less) okay with: “I am gay. This is who I am. I know what you think and feel, but I expect you to accept this.”
That is a rough conversation starter. How should you respond?
The worst thing you can say at that moment is something like, “Oh, don’t worry too much, dear. We can fix this. We will find you a good Christian counsellor who can help you to get out of this.”
Don’t worry? This approach isn’t comforting, but dismissive – he has been worrying about these confusing emotions for years now! Start the conversation this way and it may end quickly – “You just don’t get it, mom.”
A better beginning would be to give him a big hug. Hold him tight, tell him you love him, and that you will always love him.
Yes – you will have to make clear that you do not agree with his sinful choices. But there is a time for everything, and right then and there, it is a time for long, tight hugs.
Homosexuality is a temptation in the Church too
It will never be easy when a person you love dearly tells you, “I am gay.” But I’m convinced that in the Church we are well past the time that we can comfortably ignore this topic, or think that a one-line wholesale condemnation is enough. The LGBTQ community has become mainstream in virtually all aspects of our culture. It’s everywhere today – in arts and entertainment, politics, sports, education, business, commercials, the media2 and even in some churches. This prominent visibility all around us is going to have an impact on us as well, on our families, and our young people. And those who struggle with same-sex attraction will feel the pressure from this permissive culture more and more, and at an ever younger age.
So there is an urgent need to talk with one another about homosexuality. How can we help each other? How can we educate ourselves to have those conversations?
We could go to Google. Type in some keywords and do a search: it's easy enough. But, without any guidance, this is not the most helpful way, and can easily leave you overwhelmed and confused.
It is too much for this review article to analyze relevant Bible passages, like Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:21-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-11. Though many do dispute it, it really is beyond dispute that nowhere in the Bible is anything positive to said about same-sex relations.3
But how exactly can we explain to our son or daughter that, while we disapprove of their choices, we continue to love them? And, how do we then put our words into practice?
A great resource
One good source for answers to these questions can be found with the documentary How Do You Like Me Now? The subtitle introduces the content: “When a child, parent, spouse or sibling says they’re gay.”
This film includes a number of interviews with parents, spouses, siblings, and children of someone who has declared themselves gay. The cover of the DVD says that Joe Dallas leads the discussion. But this is not a “discussion” in the sense of a debate, and I think that is a good thing. A debate would distract from the impact of the testimonies of the interviewees. Dallas does act as discussion leader in the background. He appears between the interviews and provides the connecting lines as he summarizes and comments on what is being said in each interview.
Some might wonder about the lack of any homosexuals being interviewed – wouldn’t it be good to hear from them about their struggles, and about their experiences with their families and their church communities? Yes, we do need to hear their voices too. It is crucial that we listen to them in our families and our churches, and that we do so carefully and lovingly. Thankfully there is also material out there that can help us to do so.4
But here the focus is on the family and friends who are impacted when someone says, “I am gay.” It is good and helpful for us to hear about the role of their Christian faith as these parents, and others, struggle to come to grips with the homosexuality of a loved one.
If you have gone through this yourself, you will be able to relate to the experiences and emotions these parents, siblings, spouses and children are sharing: the initial shock, the confusion and pain, and often the utter helplessness or even the tendency to blame oneself: What did I miss? Did we do something wrong?’
The documentary's purpose is to help friends and family find a way forward. As someone said, “I wish we would have had the opportunity to watch this earlier, before we had our own struggles with one of our children.”
Now, when you interview a significant number of people you are going to get a variety of responses. Reactions are, of course, very personal. This means different viewers will find different interviews stronger and more compelling than others. That only makes sense. And it certainly doesn’t take away from the value of watching this. On the contrary! What connects these testimonies is that they come from the hearts of people who have struggled to understand their straying loved one. This leads to some moving moments, which is understandable when you are asked to talk about someone who is so close to you and whom you love so deeply.
A father or mother, a brother or sister, a husband or wife, a son or daughter will all have their own, unique relationship with the person who comes out as gay or lesbian. And thus each one will seek the best way to deal with this in his or her life. But though they all have very different things to say, all express their enduring love for their same-sex attracted family member or friend.
No false guarantees
A few of the interviewees suggest that there must be a link between the homosexuality of their loved one and traumatic experiences in his youth, like sexual abuse or growing up in a dysfunctional family. But this suggestion does not dominate the conversation, and it is not the message of the film.
I am grateful for this, because I believe we should be careful here. Perhaps traumatic childhood experiences may have led some to feel same-sex attraction and self-identify as gay or lesbian. But it is not a given. And one can definitely not turn it around and conclude that every gay or lesbian must have had a horrible youth.
We should keep something similar in mind when it comes to the view that proper counseling and professional therapy can change someone’s sexual orientation. Joe Dallas, the discussion leader in the background, whose comments connect the interviews, is actively involved in what is called “reparative therapy” or Christian “conversion therapy.” He is also the author of a number of books on this topic.
But again – although there are hints – this opinion does not dominate the discourse at all, and it is definitely not the message of the documentary. And here, too, I am grateful for this because I believe we should be careful here.
Is it possible for someone’s same-sex attraction to completely change and disappear? Yes, it has happened. Can proper counseling and professional therapy help to bring about change? Possibly. God’s children know that God can work miracles – He can do things we do not expect or find hard to imagine. But there are also reports that “reparative therapy” is often ineffective. Despite much counseling, and intense prayer, many Christians do not feel any lessening in their same-sex attraction.
Several of the people that are interviewed emphasize how important it is to repent from sinful and harmful choices, and to turn to Jesus Christ. However, such repentance does not come with a promise or guarantee that feelings of same-sex attraction will then disappear. That’s why I appreciate that the film does not really get involved in this discussion.
The most important thing
Much more important than a change in sexual attraction is a turning to Jesus Christ as Saviour, so that our true identity is more and more in Him alone. Then it is no longer my sexuality, or whatever else, that determines my self-identification. Then Jesus Christ alone rules my life. He determines who I am, what my priorities are, and what my choices ought to be. He determines what I am to do with my life, which includes my sexual life. This is true not only for the homosexual but also for the heterosexual. It is true for each and every one of us.
One of the best parts of the DVD is a special feature: an interview with Stephen Arterburn. Arterburn is the founder of New Life Ministries, a host of counseling talk shows on radio and TV, a public speaker, and the author of a number of books on (among other topics) sexual issues, such as Every Man’s Battle.
In the interview on this DVD he shares the story of his brother, who lived the gay lifestyle. At some point Stephen says to him, “I don’t agree with what you do, but I love you without judging who you are.” This is basically the whole message of this DVD in one sentence: reject someone’s choice for the homosexual lifestyle, but make it very clear that you do not deny the way he feels, or the same-sex attraction he experiences, and that these things do not stop you from loving him.
Later on his brother turned to Christ and broke with the gay life. But this repentance did not change his brother’s homosexual feelings. He continued to struggle with same-sex attraction, but regretted the bad choices he made, and now wants to warn others about the destructive consequences of living the gay life.
To sum it all up, in these interviews we meet a good number of people. They are all different, of course, and so are their circumstances. That’s why you can expect that some viewers will relate more to one person or one scenario than to another. This also means that you will not get answers to all the questions you may be struggling with.
But that should not stop anyone. The whole DVD is worth watching for everyone. And don’t hesitate to include your young teens. It may make a good conversation starter between you and your 10 or 12 years old. You might think that he is too young for this. But remember: the LGBTQ groups don’t think he is too young for their propaganda!
I recommend this film and DVD as a helpful tool for those who are having their own struggles with a child, a sibling, a spouse or a parent who has come out to tell that she is a lesbian.
Actually… I hope that it will also end up in the hands of people, also young people, who have not (or not yet….) experienced the issues this documentary deals with. Watch it before you are confronted with this in your own family, or among your friends, or in your church.
For one day you probably will be.
You can order the DVD at Christianbooks.com here.
1 Throughout this article I will use the pronoun “he” in place of “he or she.” It makes for tiresome reading to see constantly he/she or herself/himself. But it is good to remember that this issue affect males and females alike.
2 Recently a Reformed Christian was elected as MPP for the Conservatives in Ontario. When the journalists came out, one would expect them to ask this rookie MPP a range of questions to find out where he stands on the political issues of the day. However, never mind the great variety of topics parliamentarians are supposed to be busy with, the most important question was apparently: “Do you believe that homosexuality is a sin?” It was asked time and again, and made all the newspaper headlines.
3 For reliable study material about homosexuality and the Bible, see the website of Dr. Robert Gagnon, Associate Professor of NT at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, www.robgagnon.net. See also: DeYoung, Kevin, What does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality, Wheaton. Illinois: Crossway, 2015.
4 Recommended reading: Butterfield, Rosaria Champagne, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Pittsburgh, Pa: Crown & Covenant Publications, 2012, and Hill, Wesley, Washed and Waiting, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.
Rev. Jan DeGelder is the minister emeritus for the Flamborough Canadian Reformed Church. This review first appeared in 2017....