On the night I came out, my mom didn’t sleep. She stayed up all night long, crying and praying to God, begging God that what I had said wasn’t true, and if it was, for God to show her some way forward. She waited desperately for a divine word to fall upon her like manna. When it didn’t, when the morning light came and her world was still warped, she got out of bed to go searching for her Lord. She figured God would be at the Christian bookstore.
She worked the aisles for an hour, flipping through books, setting them down, moving from one section to the next. When she found nothing remotely related to this, she started to panic. A store employee passed behind her and she grabbed her arm — asked her where the books on homosexuality were.
The girl gave her a puzzled look and then said:
“Oh. I’m sorry. But we don’t carry books like that here.”
My mom’s eyes blurred with tears. She nodded.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” She muttered as the girl walked away.
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
On the drive back, she heard the girls’ answer twist and reshape in her mind:
Mothers like you with sons like that don’t belong here.
This past weekend, my mom and I recalled those early days as we walked down the streets of Portland, Ore. We had just finished up the final session at the annual Gay Christian Network Conference, and as we walked to our hotel to pack up our things, we felt at the strange seam stitching us from there to here: From hopeless and alone, to three years later sitting palms-raised, on the receiving end of so much hope and blessing and life from a gathering of Jesus-crazy LGBTQ outsiders. Through all the mess along the way, we managed to press on together, as a family.
And we weren’t the only ones. Among the 1,500 GCN attendees, there were plenty of other families trying to figure out how to navigate these waters.
All the families looked different, as families do. There were the gay couples, walking through the lobby, hand in hand, in love and unashamed. There were the parents pinning on buttons of “Free Mom Hugs!” and “Free Dad Hugs!” to offer rejected children. There were the transgender teens, parents standing proudly at their side. On the open mic night, a night set aside for attendees to share their life stories, a young girl stood before the conference and gave a thank-you speech to her mom. She smiled through the tears streaming down and thanked her for being the most loving and supportive person in her life, from the beginning of her journey to this very moment.
But not everyone was so lucky.
There were also fractured families and fractured people — fractured hearts spilling out everywhere.
For most of the open mic night, I was wrecked. I sat with my head in my hands sobbing as one kid after another said to the crowd: “You are my family now. I just pray my parents will one day be with us, too.” I got actual chest pain as parents confessed to rejecting their children, and now, in the light of all they learned from this conference, wanted to make it right. “I want a mulligan” one mom said. After her son came out, she had disowned him and hasn’t seen him in years. She came to this conference seeking God’s direction and walked away with a new heart and a desperation to rewrite history.
Justin Lee, the usually poised founder of GCN, made a point to speak directly about parents of LGBTQ kids. After a few minutes, he fell completely apart as he mentioned the transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn, who took her own life and blamed her parents lack of acceptance in her suicide letter.
“She should be here,” he wept. “Her parents should’ve been here.”
And I couldn’t help but see the pattern to the pain. The string weaving through the lives of Leelah and her parents, the orphaned kids telling their stories of loss, the parents crying into the microphone to kids who could no longer hear them — they were all, at one point, standing in that same Christian bookstore with my mom. In that same situation all of us encountered. The moment we turned to our faith community for support and found a door quickly closing.
There’s a message to this silence. One that has long invaded and choked out the lives of so many families, so many children of God:
People like you don’t exist.
You don’t belong in our pews, in our families, or on our shelves.
You do not exist.
There were fifteen hundred people in Portland. There were 46 states and 14 countries represented. There were major cultural leaders speaking as keynotes. There were remarkable moments, like when Justin Lee announced his plans to meet with the president of Focus on the Family to discuss LGBTQ youth homeless rates.
Yet none of the major Christian media outlets covered the conference. None of them told our story. None of them bothered to show. And in their silence was their declaration: You do not exist.
And there’s the damage. There’s problem.
As long as we LGBTQ Christians are shoved into the shadows of this faith community, no evangelical parent with a closeted child is going to know of another way until it’s too late to take it. No LGBTQ child is going to have hope that there is place they belong. As long as we are unseen, families will continue to fall apart. Beautiful lives will continue to disappear.
The church will miss out on the gospel of grace for the people willing to reconcile with the community that destroyed their lives. The body will remain incomplete. Prophetic voices will not be heard. Serving hands will not be touched. Churches will be missing a vital chord to their music. The gospel will remain stained by the bigotry of its believers. As long as we remain unseen, the hope of a more whole and holy church will remain a flicker off on the horizon.
As long as we are unseen, nothing will ever change.
But there is hope for us yet. I believe this in my bones to be true. For the God we serve is the God of the unseen, of the outsiders and the ignored, of the Gentiles of the day.
In a dark conference hall, amongst 1,500 unseen souls, I saw God. I felt God. I wept in the face of God.
Perhaps, one day, all evangelicals will come and see God here, too.
Ben Moberg is a brother to four siblings, the youngest son, the very best uncle, a world traveler, and a painfully slow writer. He writes at Registered Runaway — his personal blog, and at Deeper Story — an online collaborative of storytellers. You can keep up with his work by following him on Facebook and Twitter.
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