My son came out to us (his parents) a little over a year ago. My wife and I, for some blessed reason, were able to rapidly traverse the landmine ridden, 180 degree, whiplash inducing evolution from Prop 8 campaigners to supportive, loving parents of a gay young man. The catalyst was our son, Jordan; but the medium of our transformation was simply Christ-like love. The hand of the Lord was present before Jordan came out, shaping our thoughts and preparing us. Since then, we have been guided and led from time to time, but the Lord is definitely letting us learn and grow by experience. We have also felt his hand in the new and wonderful relationships we have with many, many LGBT friends.
We have found that our journey is not typical. As we have become fully aware of the journey and circumstances of many others, we have begun to appreciate the hardship and difficulty of the LGBT experience. In addition, we have begun to realize the complexity of understanding homosexuality and all its facets.
Shortly after Jordan came out to us, Wendy and I began reaching out to family members and friends. We met with our Bishop. We began meeting one by one with Jordan’s youth leaders, some school leaders and generally people we felt would be understanding and in a position to help. We were looking for acceptance and support for Jordan as well as for ourselves.
By and large our family and community have been wonderful. Within our ward, there is a lot of genuine love and affection for Jordan. To their credit, all of our family members have been more than just kind and have treated Jordan no differently than before. Many would find this to be unparalleled success. And to be sure, it is success; but Wendy and I have found ourselves wanting more.
Is acceptance the same as support? Jordan does very well in most social and Church environments, but definitely the more “gay” his mannerisms, the more uncomfortable and cool his acceptance gets. When we are more vocal about our advocacy for inclusion of LGBT people in say, the Boy Scouts, we are often met with an uncommitted and profound silence. Not from those that actively oppose such things, but from many of those who profess support. I have termed our status with most of our friends and family as a Cool Tolerance.
Cool Tolerance consists of friends, family and others who have bucked the more obvious homophobia and hate of previous generations, but still find it too uncomfortable to deal directly with real LGBT individuals or actually vocalize support. Most are loving people who largely have no experience with LGBT issues or people, and honestly prefer life that way.
Cool Tolerance within religious circles is tolerance that you are “suffering” with a tremendous challenge, but there is really no compromise on perceived cultural threats (ie – Gay marriage threatens the sanctity of marriage). There is pity and sorrow and some sympathy, but most real support is hindered by an unwillingness to consider accepting choices another person makes that are contrary to official teachings. For example, with regard to sexual expression, some well-meaning individuals casually suggest that celibacy is a reasonable solution for another, but would never consider such a path for themselves and have never truly explored the real implications of celibacy. And because they have never traveled down these theological avenues, many default to either keeping a safe distance or just ignoring you. Both are, in essence, equivalent to shunning.
For LGBT individuals, their parents, straight allies and many others, being on the receiving end of cool tolerance can be rough. You are accepted on the surface, but only as long as you stay within certain parameters. For example, Jordan will have all his qualifications for Eagle within the year. I have brought up the issue with Boy Scout leaders, our Bishop and our Stake President. We are met with cool tolerance. Everyone acknowledges that Jordan has earned and deserves his Eagle and that it would be a tragedy if he were refused (acceptance), but no one is advocating for him (support). When we link national articles via Facebook and email to family and friends about an issue directly relevant to Jordan, there are no replies of support. Here and there, some of our “supporters” have asked to not be contacted with such information or at least to be blind copied so as to not be associated with a group that could possibly support such things.
For those of you who find that the definition of Cool Tolerance might include you, please understand that this is not support. While your acceptance is clearly appreciated, its conditional nature is actually hurtful. Your silence is isolating. Your discomfort and disapproval is felt and hurtful.
So what is the solution to Cool Tolerance? It is unreasonable to expect that most people can just flip a switch and their perspective changes overnight. Cultural trends that have existed for decades take time to turn around. It can be like changing the course of a glacier.
My open hearted plea to all those who find themselves expressing cool tolerance to a gay loved one or their family is to take Christ at his word and just love them. Suspend the urge to judge or explain or turn the theological argument this way and that in order to make it OK. Remember, Christ came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable! Don’t sit there with the scriptures or some general authorities talk and try to justify marginalizing another. I literally had a stake leader say to my wife, “I can’t have that influence in my life” as a justification to shun a gay relative. None of these justifications excuse us from the Lord’s command to love one another as He loves us.
Don’t feel like you have to get anyone’s permission to love a gay person. Christ has already given it to you!
You don’t need to have it all figured out. No one has. But Christ will never fault you for putting your arms around a gay person and unconditionally loving him or her. We have been given a higher law. Put your cool tolerance on the shelf and trust the simplest and highest message in Christianity, “Love One Another (John 13:34).” Christ will figure out the rest – and help us to do so as well.