From time to time I hear about Christian parents disowning, cutting off, or permanently shunning a son or daughter who adopts a gay lifestyle. Is that the right thing to do? Is this a requirement of biblical faithfulness?
I believe the basic answer is “no.” It is not the biblical and right thing to do. And I believe that’s the case whether or not the son or daughter professes to be a Christian.
To be clear, I believe the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin. And a person who chooses to pursue homosexual activity cannot remain in good standing in a local church, as with anyone living in any significant and unrepentant sin.
But God established one set of institutions for all creation, and another set for his new covenant people. And these separate institutions impose separate obligations on those of us who belong to each. The parent-child bond, like the husband-wife bond, God established for all humanity, whether or not one belongs to a church. And these obligations subsist irrespective of church membership. Our church relations depend upon the promises of the new covenant and the authorization of the keys of the kingdom. Here we find a different set of duties and obligations, and each set of obligations—creation and new creation—needs to be respected for its own sake.
Whether or not a gay son, daughter, or other family member calls him or herself a Christian, Christians should love them as family members, even as we lovingly deny them membership in a church, should they want it.
AN ILLUSTRATION BORROWED FROM MARRIAGE
Think of Paul’s command to a woman who becomes a Christian with reference to her unbelieving husband: “if any woman has an unbelieving husband and he is willing to live with her, she must not leave her husband” (1 Cor. 7:13; see also 1 Peter 3:1-4). You might say that this wife has certain obligations to her unbelieving husband by virtue of the creation institution of marriage, even if he does not share in the new covenant institution of the church with her. In a sense, this is the whole point of 1 Corinthians 7: the new society of relationships that we share in the local church do not abrogate all other stations, situations, and stewardships in life.
So try switching up the scenario that Paul has in mind in 1 Corinthians 7:13. Suppose both husband and wife are professing Christians and members of the same church, and then the husband is excommunicated. Should the wife continue to live with her husband if he is willing? One might wonder since, just two chapters earlier, Paul tells Christians “not even to eat” with someone who continues to call him or herself a “Christian” after being excommunicated. Should the wife stop eating with the husband, or being his wife generally? Of course not. She should remain his wife, which includes sharing meals with him. Paul is not addressing this explicitly in 7:13, but I take it as a pretty clear implication.
The command not to eat forbids Christian fellowship. That at least includes the Lord’s Supper and church membership, but probably also any kind of fellowship that risks affirming someone as a fellow Christian. And the wife of an excommunicated husband needs to do just this: to make sure that she doesn’t treat her husband in a way that makes him think that she thinks that he’s a Christian. So, yes, share the Thanksgiving turkey; but no, don’t ask him to pray over it. Yes, continue to fulfill all the obligations of marriage; but no, don’t do anything to insinuate that he’s “fine with God,” or that the church was “probably overreacting in its decision.” A wife of an excommunicated husband wants him to know that she loves him utterly and that she supports the church’s decision to exclude him. Striking this balance will prove difficult, to be sure. It’s a narrow path with canyons on both sides. But that’s her path. And I have seen women lovingly take this path.
BUY BIRTHDAY PRESENTS, NOT WEDDING PRESENTS
It is this same assignment that belongs to Christian parents with a son or daughter who adopts a gay or other forms of an immoral lifestyle. The parents must both love the child utterly and do nothing to affirm or support the lifestyle, financially or otherwise. They must care and provide for him or her as parents (as appropriate to their season of life—one thing for a minor, another thing for a major) and warn him or her about the coming Day of Judgment. They should buy birthday presents and explain why they cannot buy a wedding present, should it come to that.
No doubt, there will be many specific moral dilemmas that the parent of a gay individual will have to wrestle through. Do you let the gay son bring his partner home from Christmas? There’s no way I can address the endless variety of such dilemmas here. Furthermore, I can imagine instances in life when a parent might evict a child from the home (imagine an alcoholic twenty year old who gets violent toward younger siblings or a mother). Generally speaking, however, a parent faced with any host of situational dilemmas surrounding homosexuality must work to fulfill these two principles at once: affirm that that son or daughter is loved and don’t do anything to support or affirm the sin. How that will look in any given moment might depend upon a variety of factors, and Christians should consult their pastors or elders for counsel. Also, if the son or daughter self-describes as a Christian, a Christian parent should take care not to affirm that self-understanding.
But amidst all the situational grays I hope this much is black and white: parents have a special responsibility to search for ways to care for and embrace their children, especially minors, even when they fail us morally. It strikes me that God, after cursing Cain as a wanderer for murdering his brother, still provided the means for protecting him (Gen. 4:15).
A MORE PROFOUND LOVE
The balance I am advocating might sound double-minded to our culture. How many movies have we seen where the parent says something like, “I just want my son/daughter to be happy,” which then translates in the plot as granting moral approval to the son or daughter in all their decisions. It’s a Hollywood cliché, and about as morally sophisticated as Hollywood.
Does the parent of the pedophile or child abuser speak this way? Of course not. A loving parent responds, “Because I love you, I want you to stop.” I’m not equating homosexuality with pedophilia or abuse; I’m illustrating the point that unconditional love does not mean unconditional moral acceptance. Only a morally childish culture equates these two things, like the spoiled thirteen year old who insists on getting his way as a sign of love. The Bible doesn’t separate love and truth, or love and obedience, even if our world does.
It’s particularly immature and manipulative, then, when so many progressive writers—both those who do and don’t represent themselves as Christians—accuse Christian parents of being responsible for depression and patterns of self-harm that develop in gay children. The accusations exacerbate the conflict and affirm our culture’s preference for idolatrous, immature, and self-centered conceptions of love, like encouraging a child to keep throwing a temper tantrum if he doesn’t get his candy bar: “Your dad will give you that candy if he loves you.” If an adolescent is given to self-harm, I’m inclined to think that either something is wrong inside the youth irrespective of the parent, or that that parent has not done a good job of loving the child for years in a host of other ways. After all, the basic patterns of love and trust between a parent and child are well established by the angst-ridden years of adolescence when questions of sexual desire and identity most often arise. It’s not like an eleven-year old who feels completely confident in mom and dad’s love turns twelve or thirteen, tells mom and dad he’s gay, listens to them object morally but experiences their continued affirmation of him otherwise, will then decide that they don’t in fact love him and try to hurt himself.
Yet the progressive mind cannot see this because it defines love as a journey of self-expression and self-realization. “If you love me, you must agree with me. You must give me what I want. You must never challenge me. You must encourage my self-discovery and self expression above all things.” The Bible, however, calls this idolatry. True love does not delight in wrongdoing, it rejoices in the truth.
Christian parents, furthermore, should teach their children that their humanity goes deeper than their sexuality, as important as our sexuality is. Our sexuality, at least in its present form, will not last into eternity, where Jesus says there will be no giving or receiving in marriage. So, no, I will not teach my daughters to identify themselves most fundamentally by their sexual desires or marriage partners, whether they are making good decisions or bad. Sex and marriage are not their very life. How cruel to teach them that they are. You know where the Bible says they will find life, right?
Also, Christian parental love is more merciful and profound than what the world offers. It doesn’t renounce or reshape God’s law. Rather, it teaches God’s law and then continues giving itself even when God’s law is broken. It is not the same thing as the divine Father’s love for the divine Son, but it is a common grace symbol and pointer to it: “This is my beloved Son.”
NEITHER DENY THE CHILD NOR THE LAW
The progressive parent denies God’s law, while the fundamentalist parent denies the child. And so both fail to love. The progressive parent teaches the child that his or her desires are bigger and more important than God himself, since God must conform to those desires. The fundamentalist parent fails to love like God loves, because God chose to love and sustain creation even when it rebelled against him (Gen. 9).
But Christian parental love denies neither the child nor God’s law. It insists on loving both child and God’s law, which may be the hardest challenge of all, requiring strength, flexibility, tenacity, resilience, hope, faith. Such love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor. 13:7).
So, love your gay child as your child—unconditionally. And then love him or her most of all by calling for repentance and faith, because true life will only be found in Christ, not in the satisfaction of any of this world’s desires.
This post originally published at 9Marks.org