We have a son, Mark, who is gay and was a confessing member of the Christian Reformed Church.
Rev. Veenema, from your picture and reading between the lines of your article “Where Is My Son Welcome?” (The Banner, May 2009), I assume that you are somewhat younger than my wife and I. When I think back on the time we learned about our son’s sexual orientation, 15 years ago, the pain resurfaces with all its side-effects. It is still there, and it is still raw. But we can and do pray for Mark, his partner, and our family.
I think of the time when Mark was in high school and he came home late one evening from what turned out to be his last date with a girl. He was devastated, crying in agony. Little did we know at the time that Mark had realized in anguish the affirmation of his fears: yes, he was gay. We will never understand how that feels. He would never realize his biggest wish: to be straight, to have a wife and children, as he told his pastor, who did not reject him.
Things changed rapidly. Being a professing member of the CRC and very involved in church matters, Mark taught catechism and was a dedicated, contributing member of a well-functioning small group that included a senior couple who were heterosexual and others who were of same-sex orientation.
But once this group asked to meet at the church to support each other and possibly reach out to others of same-sex orientation, and it became known at council that members of the group (called “AWARE,” As We Are) were gay, the door closed. It became impossible for them to function within the local Christian Reformed church.
I am sure that in their youthful idealism they did not always act with tact. But the rejection hurt and angered Mark so much that he told me, “I will never set foot in the CRC again.”
My son is very aware of the synodical reports of 1973, 1993, and 2003. He says, “The church has not even started to follow up on the recommendations from Synod.”
As time went on, Mark went into business as a home renovator. He became quite successful and lives an exemplary life. We are proud of the way he conducts his business; his ethics are beyond reproach. But being a people person, Mark needs a companion, and that he has. He met a very likeable young man, and finally they were joined in a civil union. We attended the ceremony and the festivities afterward, though with pain in our hearts. Mark said to us, “I know that you do not agree with this, but we are very happy.” Not coming to the ceremony would have hurt him deeply. He is a very good son and a wonderful brother to his siblings.
It pains us when we look at their picture and we see a young man instead of a young woman as Mark’s soulmate. It is difficult for me to speak about this, and as a rule I avoid getting into a long conversation about homosexuality out of fear of losing my composure. Writing is a little easier. My wife is the stronger in this matter. It is her words that gave me some peace: “We have done our work; we showed Mark the way, and now we must leave it up to our heavenly Father.”
Yet the agony is still there.
We visit Mark and Paul regularly, and for the past number of years they have hosted Christmas dinner for the whole family, which most attend if they have no other family commitments. Both Mark and Paul come to our house just as often as most of our other children and their families. They were instrumental in organizing our 50th wedding anniversary, an evening to which all our children contributed. We truly experienced the blessings that our heavenly Father has bestowed on us.
At our church this winter we studied the book What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey. Chapter 13, which talks about people who are generally not accepted, mentions the experience of Yancey’s closest friend, Mel, who realized he was gay. It brought tears to my eyes to read how Yancey supported his friend, who was married and who was a lay preacher in the church. Mel divorced his wife, convinced that he had to do so. I quote from the book, which shows the attitude of most people:
His former colleagues and employers, famous Christians whom he had hosted, who traveled with him, and who made hundreds of thousands of dollars off his work, suddenly turned away. In an airport Mel walked up to a leading Christian statesman he knew well and held out his hand. The man scowled, turned his back and would not even speak.
Mel was ostracized by many, and Yancey received his own share of criticism for standing by his friend.
The question “Where is my son welcome?” is partially answered in that book: many will not want to associate with your son. Some will, but will not want to broach the Subject. Most of Mark and Paul’s friends are gay; several are professionals, not many are CRC members.
Your son may meet someone with whom he will establish a monogamous relationship. My advice is this: love your son very much. More than any of your other children? No, not more—differently. Support him whenever possible, and don’t be ashamed of him. Pray continually to God for wisdom and his compassion.
I leave you with another quote from the book, this one about Rev. Ed Dobson from Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., who does not agree with the position of the gay community but has reached out to many:
In time Ed Dobson won the trust from the gay community. One gay person said, “We understand where you stand, and know that you do not agree with us, but you still show the love of Jesus and we are drawn to that.” Ed said to me [Yancey], “If I die and someone stands up at my funeral and says nothing but ‘Ed Dobson loved homosexuals,’ I would feel proud.”
I could go on. We have experienced some of the above, but Mark has been ostracized by the church community. Many people accept him for who he is, but members of the CRC are not in the majority. I could go on, but it would serve no additional purpose. One thing remains: the church I’ve served and love has no place for our son.
I hope that this letter means something to you. You are not alone with your question. Suggest to your son, “Live as God would want you to live.” And never lose your faith. God is compassionate.
In all of this the hurt remains, but the love never fades.