Am I Betraying My Kid If I Stay at a Non-Affirming Church?


Am I Betraying My Kid If I Stay at a Non-Affirming Church?

by Austen Hartke

Hi! About 6 months ago, my son came out to our family. I’m fine with this news and suspected for a long time, but now he doesn’t want to go to the church we have attended his whole life because most people there aren’t accepting of LGBT people. We’ve been going there for over a decade and I love my friends and community there. Is it ok if I keep going, or is that betraying my son?
— Anonymous

Austen Says:

Wow, what a thoughtful question! Thank you for, first of all, respecting your son’s decision to stay home from church for the time being, and secondly for considering how your continued attendance might feel for your kid as he’s coming out.

I remember when I was coming out as bisexual when I was about fourteen. Every Sunday morning my dad would come and try to drag me out of bed and get me to go to church with the rest of my family. At the time I was out to my friends at school, but not to my parents. I felt like there was no way I could tell him that I didn’t want to go to church because, as far as I understood it, the church didn’t want me there. When I was at church I felt like I had to keep a mask on and not share too much about who I really was. Sitting through a service felt like navigating a minefield—you never knew when someone was going to say something negative about LGBTQ people, and each time it happened I felt like a bomb exploded in my chest.

I’m so glad that your son felt safe enough to tell you who he is, and supported enough to tell you he doesn’t want to attend church right now. That really speaks to the strength of your relationship.

So, should you keep attending this church, even if your son says he no longer feels safe or supported there? Well, I think that depends on a few other questions. You might consider asking yourself the following:

  • “Will my friends at church continue supporting me if they know I have a kid that identifies within the LGBTQ community?”

  • “Is this community one I can be totally open with about my life and my struggles, or do I have to hide parts of myself away in order to be accepted?”

  • “Is it important to me that our family go to church together? Is it so important that I’d be willing to go to a different, affirming church?”

  • “Are there other LGBTQ affirming churches in my area that I might want to visit, to see how it feels?” (You can find maps of affirming churches here and here.)

  • “If I stay at this non-affirming church, am I making it more difficult for my kid to come back when he’s ready?”

  • “Do I feel like I might be able to make some positive changes in the community by staying at my current church? Could I help people work toward a more affirming viewpoint by sharing my life and experiences?”

This Clash-like question (“should I stay or should I go?”) is one that LGBTQ Christians and their families have been navigating for a really long time, so you’re definitely not alone in asking. (There might even be a support group for Christian parents near you!)

One Bible story that I’ve found helpful in navigating this question comes from Matthew 14:22-33. In this story, Jesus’ disciples are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, and a storm whips up. Jesus comes to the disciples walking on the water, and good old Peter—the one who always leaps before looking—tries to walk out on the water to meet his teacher.

Those of us in non-affirming churches sometimes feel like the disciples in the boat—we could stay here, and wait for Jesus to get to us, or we could step out of the boat toward Jesus and risk sinking. I don’t think there’s any right answer that covers all scenarios.

When it comes to your specific situation, I think the right thing to do is to talk with your son. Ask him, how does he feel about your continuing to go to this non-affirming church? Does he feel like you’re taking their side, and if so, is there a way to come to a better understanding so he knows that you aren’t choosing them over him? If you plan to do work in this community to move them toward a more affirming stance, share that with your son—I’m sure he’ll understand if that’s the case! Maybe take a Sunday morning off from services and instead go out to breakfast with your kid and have a talk. The gift of your time will mean so much.

Good luck!

Austen Hartke is the creator of the YouTube series “Transgender and Christian,” which seeks to understand, interpret, and share parts of the Bible that relate to gender identity and the lives of transgender individuals. Austen is a bisexual transgender guy, and a 2014 graduate of Luther Seminary’s Master of Arts program in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible Studies. You can order Austen’s book "Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians" on Amazon now, and find it in stores everywhere beginning April 7th, 2018.