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“Mom and Dad, we need to talk.” Sensing the gravity of the conversation, Mom suggested they sit down. Then came the words their son had been holding back for five years: “Mom and Dad, I’m gay.” In stunned silence, conservative-to-the-core Monte and Tammie paused and simply responded, “We love you.”

None could have anticipated the journey those three words set in motion. That moment was the first step on a long and often painful road of showing their son the meaning of those three words. If loving God is obeying his commands (John 14:21), how were they to love their son without compromising their love for Jesus? They are not alone in their struggle. A growing number in our conservative congregations are walking a similar road. For them, convictions regarding human sexuality are not merely a position to hold but a life to live of harnessing grace and truth to pull hard in the same direction. Monte, Tammie, and others like them are proving it is possible to love with grace without compromising truth.

The Change in Them Starts with the Change in Me

It’s been said that when kids come out of the closet, their parents crawl into it. Some parents may feel shame or question their parenting. Feeling like a failure can be isolating. Fear of what others might think woos us into a lonely existence. But we cannot love those who have come out of the closet if we insist on retreating into one ourselves.

Monte and Tammie are learning to bring those emotions to the cross, where they see Jesus—naked, shamed, and alone. There, Christ takes their shame, anger, guilt, and fear upon himself and exchanges it for his truth and grace. Until we bring our dark feelings into the light of the cross, it’s unlikely we will be able to join Jesus “outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore” (Heb. 13:13). We cannot give grace unless we have first received it. We cannot teach the truth until we have first learned it. The change we pray for in them begins with a change in me. Tammie says through tears, “When I see myself and all that Christ has done for my sins, how can I not have compassion for my son and his partner in theirs?”

Hospitality Is More Effective Than a Hammer

The conservative impulse might be to beef up on Bible verses to support the traditional position on human sexuality. But Monte and Tammie are modeling an important principle—grace and truth are communicated more clearly through hospitality than a hammer, over dinner rather than in a debate.

At its core, the gospel is cosmic hospitality, an extraordinary display of God’s love for strangers. Paul says we were once “foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Yet because of God’s great love, we who “were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). Is it any wonder that so much of Jesus’ earthly ministry took place around a meal? Whether inviting himself to the home of the despised tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) or allowing himself to be blessed by a woman whose sordid reputation was known by the whole town (Luke 7:37), Jesus loved sinners through hospitality. In doing so, he wasn’t condoning the woman’s sins or Zaccheaus’ selfish greed. On the contrary, God’s kindness was meant to lead them to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Over the dinner table, Monte and Tammie remind their beloved son, “Just because we aren’t saying something doesn’t mean we are OKing something.”

Getting Comfortable With Being Misunderstood

Balancing grace and truth demands courage to accept the risk of being misunderstood. Won’t my friends think I am affirming sin if we have dinner with our son and his partner? Possibly, but does it matter? As a friend of sinners, Jesus was often misunderstood. The Pharisees and the scribes grumbled when Jesus offered and accepted the invitations of known sinners (Luke 15:2). “Here is a glutton and drunkard,” they shouted, wagging their fingers, “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matt. 11:19). Monte and Tammie are learning it is far better to risk being accused of going soft on sin with Jesus than preferring the company of Pharisees without him.

Ask Questions and Be Prepared

Have you noticed that when engaging with people, Jesus asked questions? To the disciples more afraid of the sea than their Savior, he asked, “Why are you so afraid?” (Mark 4:40). Of sightless Bartimaeus, he asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10: 51). Humbling himself before the woman who had had five husbands, he asked, “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:7). Surely, he who knows people’s thoughts (Ps. 94:11) wasn’t fact finding. He did not need to become man in order for him to be our empathic High Priest (Heb. 4:15). Might the Master be teaching us something about engaging with grace and truth? Monte and Tammie think so. Unlike Christ, they have no way to empathize with their son unless they ask to learn and to understand.

Nonetheless, like Jesus, who did not fail to tell the thirsty woman what truly satisfies and Bartimaeus how to see by faith and the disciples about who calms the storm, Tammie says, “When God opens a door, we go through it!” She and Monte are modeling Peter’s advice to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15).

Hold Fast to the Promises of God

In teary-eyed desperation, Tammie randomly opened her Bible. God gave her a promise she’s clung to ever since. She read, “My words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever” (Isa. 59:21). Looking beyond their son’s sexual sins to his soul, these parents are holding fast to this promise as they wait patiently on the Lord.

Tammie recalls that after they told their son they loved him, he cried and said, “I thought for sure you were going to tell me I could never come home.” That response has since taken on a deeper meaning.

“In the beginning of all this,” Tammie confesses, “I was the older brother in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son: Resentful. Bitter. Angry. Lately, I feel a bit like the father, waiting and longing for my son to come home.”

All his life, Monte and Tammie’s son has heard the truth about the love of the Father that saves us from our sin and compels us to no longer live for ourselves, but for him who died and was raised again (2 Cor. 5:14-15). Perhaps now more than ever, he is experiencing this love through his mom and dad.

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