10 Things Christian Parents Can Do When Their Kids Come Out

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You have a gay child.

I know that it may be nearly impossible to say or understand or even believe, but you do.

Christian Mom and Dad, remember everything you did before your child was born; all the advice you solicited, the books you read, the preparations you made, the prayers you prayed, the beautiful dreams you composed in your head for how their lives would unfold?

I’m pretty sure this wasn’t on your radar. I know this wasn’t what you signed-up for.

Right now your mind is probably a swirling, dizzying storm of questions, fears, worry, doubt, anger, grief, and disbelief, and it probably feels like you’re drowning right now; so over your head as a parent that you’re desperately gasping for some precious breaths of air.

Let me try to throw you a lifeline.

I’m not going to preach to you, or tell you what to do, and I certainly can’t give you any words that will magically reset your family back to the way it was in your earlier dreams, but maybe I can help you build a new dream.

As a pastor and parent, let me give you some suggestions to hopefully help still the waters, and give you a place to begin this uncharted course for you and your child.

1. Breathe.
Rest for a moment in the presence of God. Let your heart rate slow, let your mind still, and lean on what you believe about His character and goodness. As with every struggle you have ever faced, know and trust that God is big enough to carry you through this; that He has enough wisdom and love for you, for your child, and for the questions you have and the questions to come.

God is not surprised by your child’s sexuality, by the challenge it is for you, or by anything that is coming. God doesn’t just have a plan of for you and your child, God has you.

2. Fix your heart securely to your sleeve.
Make no mistake: awkward, messy, tearful, painful conversations with your child are probably ahead, but fully commit to having them. The greatest gift you can give your son or daughter right now is to offer them the same soul-baring honesty they have given you. Show them the great humility and vulnerability of admitting what you don’t understand, but the deep compassion of wanting to understand.

Come clean about your questions, your discomfort, your inability to grasp so much about this, but be relentless in reminding your child that they are loved, and that because of this love, you want to walk alongside them.

3. Pray bigger prayers.
Right now you might be tempted to simply and solely pray that God will fix or change your child; that He emphatically and immediately removes this very difficult reality from your family. You are certainly entitled to this prayer, however from my 18 years of experience as a pastor counseling and serving families of LGBT teens, I would caution against this, as the odds are extremely slim. I do want you to pray big prayers, though. I want you to pray honestly and fervently and continually, that God will be present to you and your family in this journey. Pray that He will work in and around and through you all, as you navigate this as a family in a way that blesses and grows you; one that reflects the character of Christ to each another.

Instead of praying for answers or solutions, simply pray for God’s presence in the unknowing, and welcome it. Allow God to surprise you with provision.

4. Become a student.
Learn everything you can; about sexuality, about the human body, about faith, about the Bible, about the culture; and most importantly about your child. As with all LGBT people, this is not a statistic or a cause, this is your precious son or daughter, one whose story is as beautifully unique as they are. Realize that as much as you feel like this is your crisis, this is their story, first. One of the most difficult parts of our lives as parents is admitting when we’re at the limit of what we know and understand. Chances are, you already have some ideas about LGBT people; even very specific, passionate ones. Some are a product of your upbringing, of your understanding of Scripture, of your faith tradition, or simply of the life you’ve lived and the experiences you’ve had. Most of these ideas, regardless of where they come from, have probably been formed from a distance. Things are closer now, and different now. Do your best to put aside those old assumptions and become a learner and a listener again. Find social media peer groups of families who are living in the tension of faith and sexuality, and have the humility to seek the wisdom there.

Ask difficult questions from all sorts of people, and don’t seek the answers you think you already have, but to learn things you don’t yet know. Don’t be afraid to seek the truth.

5. Realize that you’ll be in or out of the closet as a family.
One of the most difficult decisions you’ll make as this journey unfolds (one you should make with your child), is who to share this news with. It’s incredibly difficult and stressful to choose who you can trust with this sensitive and intimate part of your lives, but know this: You will make this decision and experience the fallout together. If you decide to be “out” with your child’s sexuality, you will be “out” as a family. You’ll inherit the stigma of that sexuality, and you’ll face the same judgment, discrimination, and pushback that they do.

Likewise, if you choose to keep you child’s sexual identity hidden, you too will experience the strain of keeping part of you hidden, and the internal struggle of partial honesty with people around you.

6. Remember who you are to your kids.
Your child might look a bit different to you as a result of what they’ve shared about their sexuality, but it’s important to realize that they haven’t changed, and as importantly, they haven’t changed their perception of you. You are still Mom or Dad. You’re still the most influential people in their lives; the ones they look up to and turn to and seek approval from and refuge in. Now, more than ever, they need your steady love to form the bedrock of their lives, in a world that is and will be extremely unstable. More than a friend or a pastor or church or social group, you owe it to your child to put them first.

In the middle of your own doubts and difficulties and questions, passionately pursue your kids, and do every thing you can to assure them of the unwavering love that you have for them. This is where the rubber meets the bumpy road, Mom and Dad.

7. Play this movie until the end.
Right now it can be so easy to look at what seems like a confusing mess in front of you and lose hope. I know that it all seems quite impossible, and that you can’t really see beyond today, but I can promise you that the way things are right now, is not always the way things will be. Just like any painful, difficult event, there is no substitute for time. You will grow and learn and come to understand things. The rawness and urgency of these days will fade, and the jagged edges of uncertainty will soften, though it won’t happen in a moment, but over a million moments strung together; so start.

There’s no way around this thing. You simply have to do the difficult, sometimes uncomfortable work of getting up every day and living and choosing as well as you can, but as you do, a surprisingly beautiful road may open up. Most great films have an amazing plot twist. Yours will too.

8. Let yourself off the hook.
Mom and Dad: You didn’t cause this. I know you’d like to take responsibility right now; to blame yourself for what your child has shared, because as heartbreaking as that would be, at least you’d have a fixed place to direct any anger or sadness you may have, but it wouldn’t be at all fair. Your child’s sexuality is not your responsibility. There were likely no magic words you did or didn’t say, no duty as a parent that you failed to perform, no love that you withheld or failed to express that could have prevented it.

This is so much bigger than you anyway, so do yourself a favor and take your child’s sexuality off of your shoulders. You were never in charge of carrying it.

9. Act natural.
Continue parenting as normally. Do all the things that you did before you discovered your child’s hidden reality: spend time with them, attend their games, help with their homework, pester them to clean their rooms and eat their vegetables and get off the computer. Go on vacations, go out to dinner, go shopping, laugh together, argue with one another. Continue to be a family in as many normal, ordinary, routine ways as you can, because the wonderful reality is that you are still a family. Your kids are still learning real-time lessons from you about love, faith, adversity, and goodness. Don’t postpone your home life or your family’s future or your parental joy, until you reach some imagined decision or get some hoped-for clarity at a later date.

Your kids are growing-up now, and the precious, fleeting days you have with them are happening as we speak. Go, be a family.

10. Trust God.
It may seem like a trite religious platitude right now, but it’s the heart of truth in this or any day for you. God, if He’s God, is bigger than this, and outside of it all, and capable of revealing His character through it all. Give God you and your decisions; your children, your future, and every single unanswered or unanswerable question that you have, and believe that you and your kids already have everything you need together.

Sift the advice of others; the words of authors, parents, pastors, and bloggers whose opinions you trust. Read, and as importantly, study Scripture, and prayerfully seek the wisdom in all of it; but also know that none of them compare with quieting yourself and letting God speak to you about your child.


Mom and Dad, this may feel like an end of a dream for you, and in many ways it is, b
ut it’s also the beginning of a new dream, and it’s a reality that can be so worth walking into.

Your child is a blessing, so cherish them as such.

Your calling as the shepherd of their lives, is the greatest one you can ever have, so honor it with the best of yourself.

Today as much as any other day: Be encouraged.

(Christian Parents, if you need counsel, a listening ear, or to be connected with Parent Groups or Christian ministries who are lovingly living in the difficult intersection of faith and sexuality, please message me, and I will happily to connect you to those resources.

A version of this piece appears in The Parents Project).

32 thoughts on “10 Things Christian Parents Can Do When Their Kids Come Out

  1. I’ve got at least 10 years before i have to worry about my son’s sexuality but if he were to come out I hope I remember your advice. It’s a shame your advice tends to get drowned out by louder less understanding voices.

  2. Well done! I would also add, 11. Remember that if you did not know your child as well as you thought, you may not know other things as well as you thought. Learning is what Love and Truth do well! See all the above for guidance. 🙂

  3. And you will find out that a whole lot of people don’t know what they thought they knew about all that is happening when someone comes out.

  4. Pingback: 10 Things Christian Parents Can Do When Their Kids Come Out | called.loved.kept

  5. Thanks for your blog, John. My middle son is gay, and came out to us last year just when he turned 13. It was an adjustment, and continues to be, but we were not surprised. We know our son and know that God made him just as he is.

    You are right that it is important to rest in the knowledge that God is greater than we can possibly imagine, and that He already knows the path that my whole family will take. My prayer for my son hasn’t changed, that he will love God with his whole heart and find a place to serve Him. I know he can do that as a gay man, and I am believing God that he can change the Christian community’s mind about gays and God. Thank you for being a part of that change.

  6. John,

    I couldn’t find any of your writings about the soul, but wanted to write to you about a new book I saw today at Barnes & Noble. The title is “The Soul Fallacy”. It purports to show scientific ‘proof’ that the soul does not exist. As far as I know, science has no instrument to detect consciousness. It can detect brain activity, but that is a facet of our biological body, not our soul consciousness. Trying to prove or disprove the existence of a soul with scientic instruments (or lack thereof) is like a witch doctor trying to detect nuclear radiation by throwing chicken bones and ‘reading’ the pattern they fall in.

    Those of us fortunate enough to have had an out-of-the-body spiritual experience KNOW we exist as soul consciousness. No amount of human rationality or theory can change that. Absence of (scientific) proof is NOT proof of absence (of the soul).

    I hope you will write one of yor wonderful blogs on this subject.

    • You are right Dwane. The scientific method as it normally operates cannot test a negative hypothesis. For example, there is no scientific test you can run to test a “God does not exist” hypothesis. No one needs to write a long post on this subject. If this is what your soul guy is doing—witch doctor. And you are right absence of evidence is not evidence of absence in science. Atoms existed for billions of years before anyone became aware of their existence and what they are. Billions of years of absence of evidence did not preclude their existence.

  7. Thank you so much for this post. My only hope is that this softens the “blow” for other parents like mine, giving them a guide and steps they can take from the very beginning, rather than feeling lost and alone in a strange world where they can’t even turn to their church for help without outing themselves as “parents of a gay”…

  8. Excellent article John. I sincerely hope people will take your advice.

    Parents need to know that their current religious tradition and church may need to change because it may go out of its way to make the parent’s lives as miserable as possible and may work even harder to make your child’s life as miserable as possible—with child suicide being a very clear and present danger—as Tom Clancy would say.

    If you were a good parent when your child was small, you watched over their every move like a hawk because you knew that a small child could wander away in just seconds and drown in the fish pool in the flower garden. You never let them play too close to your street where cars whoosh by—and even fenced the yard to keep them away from the street. You always set the brake on their stroller so it would not roll away. You were careful not to buy baby furniture that was on a safety recall list. I could list 100 other things you did—things that most parents do—to protect their babies.

    Well. I have news for you. Your child may be age 12, 13, 14, or15 now, but they are still your baby, and you still have that old responsibility to protect your baby—because that big body still is your baby. That small child, all of his small child memories, and all of his small child thoughts still live and breathe inside that maturing young man. Protection is still up to you and you alone.

    If you attend a Christian fundamentalist church or a Christian evangelical church such as a Southern Baptist Convention church—you need to take your LGBT child into your arms and flee that church just as Mary and Joseph took Jesus into their arms and departed into Egypt to protect him from murderous King Herod.

    You may say to yourself, “Oh, but I have kind friends in that church that go back 20 years—I think they will understand.” No, they will not understand because their religious system does not allow them to understand LGBT people. Enormous social pressure will be put on you and your child, and your so-called friends will quickly become little King Herods—and your child’s life will be in danger and possibly yours too. As one person said in an article I was reading last night, “They say love the sinner and hate the sin—but the actions that the church staff and members nearly always take ends up as being hate the sinner and his sin.”

    FLEE!!! There are other churches out there that are centered on Jesus, that understand LGBT issues, and that will love both you and your LGBT son or daughter. FLEE!!! Save your baby now.

  9. Thank-you. Our child has told us it is not our place to ‘out’ them as transgender. We agree completely and respect that. My husband did tell his sister before we were aware of the etiquette. I need someone to talk to so bad but must remain anonymous out of respect for our child. Can anyone point me in the direction of an online support group?

  10. I’ll go away for a while now, but I would like to leave a song behind for the bigots in the bigot churches—a song about what you do to the lives of other people who just need a little bit of your love rather than that coldness or that sneer on your face:

  11. Right on John. My son happens to be gay and it is a very small part of who he is. He is a college student who got a full ride scholarship all the way through grad school…tuition, books, room, board and spending money. He is extremely funny and sarcastic. He is on the board of FTK, which is a group of guys and girls who raise money in all kinds of ways from their dance marithon to dog washes, and then give it to families who are living with pediatric cancer. He works as a peer mentor for his college and goes to bible study. He is a great friend, brother, and son. He is studying for his CPA, and already has landed a job with one of the “Big Four” accounting firms in the world. I had to pull him out of the closet because he did not want to disappoint me. I had suspected he was gay, but never knew for sure until I ask him straight out. His response, “Does it matter?” was my answer. I told him I loved him unconditionally, which I do. I cried some tears and had to rearrange in my mind what I had envisioned to be his future. I know it is a struggle for so many, but ultimately the decision for me was easy. No way was I going reject my wonderful son because he happens to be gay. He is out, although he does not wear it his sleeve. As I said, it is a very small part of who he is. I am out of the “family closet” that you write about. I refuse to be ashamed or apologetic for one of the greatest sons any parents could want. My other son who happens to be straight, is fabulous as well. Thank you for the work you are doing for LGBT people. I really detest the “Christians” who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Throwing stones and refusing to see their own sin, but ready to point out the perceived sins of others. Keep up the good work, John. I am going to make monthly pledge so that you can continue standing up for all of God’s children!

  12. Thank you. This is the most helpful thing I have come across. I have been told some rather dreadful opinions including those from a Christian counselor .

  13. Thank you so much john. Your blog is a breath of fresh air. We have a gay daughter and the issue of coming out together is very complicated. We are so proud of her and thankful that she has she’d light on our own prejudices and bias. We no longer attend church because we cannot dare to go to the place where she felt condemned growing up. She now attends house of all sinners and saints in Denver and is so at home there. We feel so alone in our struggle. Who can you recommend in Denver? My gay friends want me to join pflag and I probably but I would love to meet other Christians who have struggled with this and come full circle.

  14. Reblogged this on Charissa's Grace Notes and commented:
    Constance, I am reblogging my blog-brother John’s article on what you can do if you are the parent of a child who comes out as gay…and you are a christian. As always it is a great piece of thought and writing. John is speaking to parents…but I would like to ask you to do something more: why not consider things from John’s point of view regardless of whether you have kids coming out as gay? There is a lot of wisdom and practical common sense in his words, and I think you would benefit. And it is a certainty that any LGTBQ people in your life will be the better off if you were to take John’s advice.

    Thanks, John, as always, and much love from Jane and I…
    Charissa Grace

  15. Love your message, as usual. My older brother is gay and my parents set a beautiful example of acceptance at a time when it was far from the norm (mid-70s.) We didn’t talk about it openly, but there wasn’t a single instance when they gave the impression they disapproved.

    When my then 16 year old daughter came out to me, she knew we would all envelope her with love and support. In fact, she was asked to be groom’s maid of honor at the wedding of my brother and his partner of 33 years. BTW, it was in an Episcopalian Church, performed by a minister and legal and binding in the state of Minnesota. Yeah!

    Blessings, Linda

  16. John, I emailed you awhile ago…I have four children, three are gay. I don’t know if you kept my email address or not, but PLEASE pass it on to any parents who are struggling with their children coming out and their “religion”. I would be more than happy to send support and suggestions of books, films, etc. that might help them in their journey. LOVE! LOVE! LOVE! You never go wrong with LOVE!

  17. Thank you John for your gentle, loving, and straightforward blog. God does not turn his back on us even though we are sinners. So if you as a Christian parent think your child is a “sinner” for being gay, just remember and follow God’s example to all of us. Never turn your back on your children or on anyone else whom you think is a “sinner.” It’s not our job to judge or try to change people, out job is just to love people- no matter what.

  18. Pingback: Coffee with a Christian | Michael Anthony Goodman

  19. My son, who recently came out to my wife and me, talked with me about our reaction. He is grateful we are supportive and loving. But he has asked why we are doing so much reading, studying, etc. He asked me, “Why can’t you just love me and let that be enough?” He was not suggesting that we didn’t love him, he was suggesting that was all we needed to do.

    I appreciate your list and agree. But I have thought about what he said, too. I need to make sure my first act is to love him and everything else is secondary.

  20. Thank you for your wisdom.
    I find it so upsetting that people who self-define as Christian are so terribly judgemental – especially parents. (really liked the comment above that pointed out the difference between being Xtn and being Christ-like). Letting go of one’s small perspective and expectation/s……it’s what we need to do to love others as G-D loves us. Who are we to expect others to fit our small model when G-D’s is so all-encompassing and marvell-ous? We are all made in the image of G-D not just those of us who fit some “norm”. Who are we to judge? Yes, it’s highly likely this loving will crucify us, perhaps in many ways – our Xtn clique might reject us; our friends turn away and we could be shunned, but this is the loving that brings fullness of life, the losing of our own smallness to find ourselves in the life of G-D and, as with Jesus, grants us resurrection.

  21. Thank you dear John. A beautiful post, full of wisdom love and truth. As one who has made the journey out of homosexuality and as the parent of one who is still journeying, I wish to emphasise that this issue is emphatically a journey and frequently a very long one.
    When my wife and I were struggling with one of our children and blaming ourselves big time for our “defective parenting” my wife said “I feel so ashamed of our child.” Straight away the LORD chirped up “I’m not ashamed of your children.”
    That single thought hit us like a thunderbolt and completely changed everything. We realised that we had to journey with our children and continue to love them normally whatever. For me as a father, the LORD simply said “I waited for you, now it is your time to wait for your children.”
    A whole load fell off my shoulders that day and though we would go through many trials with our children in the years that followed, those two revelations, one to me and one to my wife, have never left us.
    I encourage all parents of kids who struggle with deep issues to ask the LORD to enable you both to see your children through his eyes. Don’t ever give up on this request, but keep on pressing in. The results will surprise and bless you deeply. He is the author of life and he delights to bring that life into every aspect of every relationship that we have.
    Shalom my dear friend and sincere thanks. Chris.

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