“Understanding and responding to families of LGBT people”

Report on a workshop facilitated by Bruce Kent,  FFLAG (Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)

Bruce Kent,
Bruce Kent, presenting his workshop

Bruce began his workshop by reminding the educators present that there are no “goodies and baddies” despite our cultural and natural inclination to see conflicts in this light.  From watching films about cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers to Star Wars and Harry Potter, media propaganda moulds a willing population into seeing in terms of “us and them”.  He said that, in his ignorance in the past, he once saw gay people as subversives who were trying to indoctrinate our children into becoming homosexuals and he felt antagonistic towards them.  However, now that he understood how foolish that was and that we are all made in God’s image, equally precious in our diversity, there is a danger now of seeing the religious fundamentalists as “the baddies”.  But we should have an attitude of compassion towards them (because they are bound by their exclusivist beliefs) and be willing to help them, whenever they are willing, to learn the truth that will set them free.

Bruce spoke of the need for church leaders to be aware of the stresses felt by the LGBT individual’s immediate family members in their congregations, particularly in a non-inclusive church environment, so that they might give the support and counsel so very needed on an ongoing basis.

He illustrated this throughout with examples taken from his own personal experiences.  He was an Assemblies of God pastor with five children (two girls and three boys) when he learned that one of his sons was gay.  This was a major factor in his resignation from active ministry and later dissociation from the denomination.

He described his own son’s lonely struggle, before coming out, as he slowly came to accepting his sexual orientation and his heartfelt prayers for God to change him, his many tears and depression as he faced this agony alone, fearing that he would be despised if he “came out” to family and church.

He then talked about his own struggles, as a father, with overcoming the triple barriers of erroneous biblical understanding and church teaching and also his own emotional negativity to homosexuality.   All these take time to work through and without support this can be an even more extended process.

Parents may move from initial denial and disbelief through to guilt, to anger, to grief and a sense of loss, to gradual acceptance and perhaps even to championing their LGBT offspring.  Some never get beyond those first stages and these folk need support too and advice about how to lovingly remain true to their sincerely held beliefs whilst not alienating their loved ones.  We are all on a journey and no-one has yet fully arrived.  Continuing open, honest communication can be difficult but is so helpful to breaking down barriers, clearing up misunderstandings and fostering deeper mutual love and appreciation.

For both LGBT folk and their families there is so often no-one they feel they can talk to who will be impartial yet understanding and wise.  Church leaders of the future need to be aware of that struggling one member of the flock, even while the ninety nine are happy in the fold.

The initial crisis of “coming out” to parents is addressed by FFLAG through two free booklets with advice for both offspring and parents respectively.   (For offspring, there can be many bad occasions and few good ones to come out to Mum and Dad.  Big sister’s wedding day is a bad one – even though people will assume that Mum is crying because of the wedding.)  For Christian parents, it can be a traumatic shock and they can easily say words in haste that they regret deeply later on.  Ongoing crises for parents can occur later when there is the need to tell additional members of the family, friends and acquaintances etc.   There can be fears about potential homophobic incidents, AIDS or growing old alone.  Further heart searching can transpire when a new boyfriend/girlfriend is introduced or wants to stay for the night.

Parents can be continually “coming out” themselves.  Johnny may have happily gone off to university, leaving a “Mum and Dad, I’m gay” note on the kitchen table.  But Mum is bound to meet a longstanding church member in the supermarket who says, “How’s your Johnny, has he got himself a girlfriend yet?”  It can take a long time before she is free to say, “No, but he’s got a lovely boyfriend!”

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The educators present at the workshop responded with a heart-warming and enthusiastic debate about how the churches can begin to care for our LGBT brothers and sisters and their families and put right some of the wrongs of the past and heal the wounds inflicted in ignorance.  A lot of progress was recognised as having been made in the UK in recent years but there is still a long way to go.

Bruce is a trustee of FFLAG (Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), a national charity with associated local groups, a telephone helpline and web site.  He talked about the wonderful resource that FFLAG can be to pastoral leaders to help them understand the issues better themselves and so pass on the support their people need.  Enquiries can be made via the web site www.fflag.org.uk   or the National Helpline (0845 652 0311).

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