Then I saw this account of a mother whose son came out to her and her husband, only to have them tell him that "since you know what the Bible says, and since you want to follow God, embracing your sexuality is not an option." As Linda Robertson writes:
We thought we understood the magnitude of the sacrifice that we -- and God -- were asking for. And this sacrifice, we knew, would lead to an abundant life, perfect peace and eternal rewards. Ryan had always felt intensely drawn to spiritual things; He desired to please God above all else. So, for the first six years, he tried to choose Jesus. Like so many others before him, he pleaded with God to help him be attracted to girls. He memorized Scripture, met with his youth pastor weekly, enthusiastically participated in all the church youth group events and Bible Studies and got baptized. He read all the books that claimed to know where his gay feelings came from, dove into counseling to further discover the whys of his unwanted attraction to other guys, worked through painful conflict resolution with my husband and me and built strong friendships with other guys -- straight guys -- just like the reparative therapy experts advised. He even came out to his entire youth group, giving his testimony of how God had rescued him from the traps of the enemy, and sharing, by memory, verse after verse that God had used to draw Ryan to Him.The story doesn't end well, I'm sorry to say, although reconciliation takes place. Ryan ended up relapsing after 10 months of sobriety, and he died.
But nothing changed. God didn't answer his prayer, or ours, though we were all believing with faith that the God of the Universe, the God for whom nothing is impossible, could easily make Ryan straight. But He did not.
Though our hearts may have been good (we truly thought what we were doing was loving), we did not even give Ryan a chance to wrestle with God, to figure out what he believed God was telling him through scripture about his sexuality. We had believed firmly in giving each of our four children the space to question Christianity, to decide for themselves if they wanted to follow Jesus, to truly own their own faith. But we were too afraid to give Ryan that room when it came to his sexuality, for fear that he'd make the wrong choice.
Basically, we told our son that he had to choose between Jesus and his sexuality. We forced him to make a choice between God and being a sexual person. Choosing God, practically, meant living a lifetime condemned to being alone. He would never have the chance to fall in love, have his first kiss, hold hands, share intimacy and companionship or experience romance.
And so, just before his 18th birthday, Ryan, depressed, suicidal, disillusioned and convinced that he would never be able to be loved by God, made a new choice. He decided to throw out his Bible and his faith at the same time and try searching for what he desperately wanted -- peace -- another way. And the way he chose to try first was drugs.
We had unintentionally taught Ryan to hate his sexuality. And since sexuality cannot be separated from the self, we had taught Ryan to hate himself. So as he began to use drugs, he did so with a recklessness and a lack of caution for his own safety that was alarming to everyone who knew him.
I don't have children; I don't have a Ryan in my life.
But, long ago, when I was a well-intentioned, if naive, student living in Manhattan for the first time, my girlfriend had two roommates, gay men who shared a bedroom in her apartment. They were very much a part of the club scene, and I was very much not, so I felt a little off balance with them. Still, they tried to be friendly to me, and I spent most nights at the apartment rather than in the dorms. One night, I got home before my girlfriend did, and was alone in the apartment. The buzzer rang three times in succession in quick panicked jags, and when I answered, I barely recognized the voice of one of the roommates, distorted by pain and weeping. I let him in, and met him on the stairwell. He had been beaten up on the street just for being gay, and, bleeding, sobbing staggered back into his home. I helped him clean himself up a bit, and, fortunately he wasn't seriously hurt. Physically, that is.
I was never quite as naive again.
The social stigmas we put on people for being different led to the cruelty my roommate suffered that night. They seeped into the souls of Ryan's parents, and led them to instill a death-watch beetle into their own son, so that, even as they loved him, they undermined his ability to find a path of self-acceptance, of integrity.
I may be wrong about a lot of issues theologically, but I am sure of this: God does not want us to sacrifice our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, on an altar--any altar!--of our own piety. God wants each and every one of us to live into his or her full integrity and potential, and to be her best self, his best self, our best selves.
This too: When we arrogate to ourselves the prerogative of judging others' we take a very dangerous step. Because errors of judgment cost lives.
Just ask Linda Robertson.