One does not have to be a parent to sense the love and heartache behind this question, but of course being a parent certainly adds a depth to the emotion. When a child comes out as gay or lesbian it can be a traumatic experience for everyone, both parent and child. Thinking carefully about how to continue to demonstrate love to that child, whose lifestyle you might disagree with, is important and shows real maturity. While you may not presently be in the situation of the person asking this question, realize that if your children are young that there may come a day when you are forced to ask this question. We can never know what the future holds; thinking carefully about this issue now may help you greatly in the future.
There’s no simple way to answer this question. The heart of the question is surely asking for some nitty-gritty details, the practical outwork of love in a difficult relationship. I hope to answer some of that, but I want to begin simply by saying that we ought to love a gay child with sincerity. What do I mean? I mean that your gay child is still your child. Yes, you may disagree with their lifestyle but that does not change the nature of who they are in relation to you. They are not, then, a project. They are not your enemy. They are not “doing this to hurt” you. They are your child, and like all children they want to know that their parents love them no matter what. Let sincerity of love be your starting place.
A positive example is found for us in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The story Jesus tells recounts a young man who takes his inheritance early – essentially saying to his father, “I wish you were dead” – and running off to spend it on his own lavish and sinful lifestyle. When the young man “comes to his senses” (v. 17), he returns home. Glenn Stanton very helpful articulates how this parable can apply to our present topic, he writes:
You might think this story has nothing to do with your situation because your son or daughter has not repented and doesn’t seem anywhere close to doing so. Well, there’s more to the story here. Read it in its fullness in Luke 15. On the return of the prodigal son to his father’s house, we read: “And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son’” (vv. 20-21). Do you notice something important here? It’s in the order of events. It begins, “But while he was a long way off…” (Loving My LGBT Neighbor, 141)
Stanton points out that the father has no idea why the son is returning and his compassion and acceptance well up long before the son can express such repentance. The father loves his son regardless of whether he was returning home in sorrow, or for more money, or simply because his fun ran out. The father loves the son regardless of what his return represents. That’s sincere love. It’s the love expressed to all of us in the gospel.
The gospel testifies to this kind of sincerity regardless of results. Paul teaches us that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). God didn’t say, “If they repent, then I will send Jesus.” No, God “so loved the world that He gave His only son” while we were still sinners. Friend, you are free to love your gay child because of the gospel. Heaven forbid that any Christian parent feel as though their child’s sinful choices prohibits them from expressing sincere, genuine love! And shame on teachers, pastors, and counselors who ever implied otherwise.
Practically this is, however, going to require lots of conversation and careful thought. There is a difference between expressing love to a gay child and accepting their lifestyle. There are a number of points of tension, then, that we ought to consider. Most of these issues will revolve around their relationships to other gay men or lesbian women.
You do not have to accept their lifestyle. Be frank, honest, and sensitive about your disapproval of their relationships. Often a child will tell his parents, “If you can’t approve of my lifestyle then you don’t really love me” (or something to that effect). This is manipulation. The reality is we all have all sorts of friends with whom we don’t agree about a host of issues, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still genuinely love each other. In return, if they can’t accept your faith and its expressions it does not mean that they can’t genuinely love you. We don’t have to accept their relationships to love them, but there’s a caveat that we need to consider here. While don’t want to endorse a sinful relationship that should not keep us from seeking to love our child’s partner as well.
Stanton helps his readers make the distinction between loving an individual and loving the relationship they are in. You do not have to approve of your son or daughter’s relationships, but you might find that their partner is a genuinely wonderful person and you can express real love to them. Stanton writes:
It is no moral compromise to decide that you indeed like your child’s partner as a person. This has nothing to do with your convictions about the relationship itself, but about the person, even though you have very strong disagreements. (144)
Stanton gives real insight when he points out that this is the way all relationships work. We disagree with people all the time over their choices and yet are able to maintain genuine relationships. He writes:
This is part of all relationships and certainly not any kind of moral compromise. Uncle Buck knows how you feel about his [promiscuity]. You might talk to him about it from time to time, but there’s no reason to make it a diving line between you. And there is no reason to bring it up nearly every time you see him. People who do such things are what everyone would call a “pest.” Isn’t it true that we hope others will love us in spite of the things we do that they don’t agree with? Otherwise we would only have friends and loved ones who agree perfectly with us on all important issues. There are two words to describe people with such expectations: lonely and pharisaical. (143)
You do not have to give your blessing on a sinful relationship. You do not have to allow inappropriate sleep-overs when your child stays at your home. You do not have to approve of their sin. But you may still genuinely love your child and their partner.
Navigating this relationship will be, no doubt, difficult. Emotions run high in intimate relationships. Sometimes we will make mistakes in how we respond, and we should ask for forgiveness when we do. Other times your child’s expectations will be unfair and unreasonable and you should have that conversation with them in love. But, no matter what you do or what they say, you should always express your commitment to love your child. The gospel frees you to and even demands that you express love to your gay child.