Rob and Linda Robertson thought of themselves as Good Christians, and found themselves tested when, at age 12, their son Ryan told them he was gay. Oh, they told him they loved him, but they also told him that he had to change, and entered him into reparative therapy, made him meet regularly with their pastor, put him in Bible study and church youth groups because they believed, as they’d been taught through their church, that homosexuality is a sin and that its wrong.
But nothing changed; six years and nothing changed. Except that Ryan, at age eighteen was still gay, and more miserable than ever. He cut off from his parents and his faith, and started taking drugs, and in 2009, he died of an overdose.
Now, too late for their own child, Rob and Linda Robertson have come to the conclusions that they were “wrongly taught.” Rob Robertson says the church, through its programs of reparative therapies, and its emphasis on homosexuality being wrong and curable, have made a “horrible, horrible mistake.”
But they chose to stay with their faith, though they switched to a non-denominational church, and began working to inspire other Christians with gay children to do the same. The Robertson’s no longer want the church to try and change gay children, they want the churches to change and become more understanding, more tolerant, and more, for lack of a better word, Christ-like.
“Parents don’t have anyone on their journey to reconcile their faith and their love for their child. They either reject their child and hold onto their faith, or they reject their faith and hold onto their child. Rob and I think you can do both: be fully affirming of your faith and fully hold onto your child.” — Linda Robertson
And they know they have a tough road ahead of them; Evangelicals tend to dismiss fellow believers who accept same-sex relationships as no longer being “real” Christians, but the Robertson’s, and other parents of gay children, have begun seeking one another out online and through faith-oriented organizations for the LGBT community, like the Gay Christian Network, The Reformation Project and The Marin Foundation.
Linda Robertson, who blogs about Ryan at JustBecauseHeBreathes, also created a private Facebook page she started for evangelical mothers of gays that has more than 300 members. And others are also following …
The good news is that support for these so-called “reparative therapies” is falling; Alan Chambers, the leader of Exodus International, a ministry that tried to “help” Christians repress same-sex attraction, has apologized for the suffering the group caused and then shut the ministry down.
Sadly, though, while some strides have been made, Linda Robertson says some of the mothers who contact her through her Facebook page aren’t ready to completely accept their gay sons and daughters, and instead still believe that sexual orientation can be changed. Still others are moving away from the traditional evangelical view of how parents should respond when their children come out.
“I got a lot of emails from parents who said, ‘I don’t know one other parent of a gay child. I feel like in my community, I don’t have permission to love my child,’ They have a lot of questions. But then they’re going back to their churches and speaking to their pastors, speaking to their elders and speaking to their friends, saying, ‘We have a gay child. We love them and we don’t want to kick them out. How do we go forward?’” — Linda Robertson
I feel for parents like the Robertson’s, so coerced into believing their children are somehow wrong, or less than, or even deviant, by their faith. I feel for those parents who try and force their children to change their orientation, and do it so stridently, and so rabidly, that their children either completely cut them out of their lives, or take their own lives to end the suffering of thinking their parents don’t love them.
I am not a fan of organized religion, for those very reasons, but if there can be a rebirth of sorts, within the churches, and without the churches, by people of faith who choose to believe that God created us all in Hs … or Her … image, and that we are all worthy of loving who we love and being loved by our families, then this is a good thing.
Too bad Ryan had to die before his parents could see what harm religion can do, and before they realized that they, not their son, needed to change.
Photo Credit: Elaine Thompson, AP