The Mama Bear Story Project is a collection of portraits and autobiographical essays from members of Serendipitydodah for Moms – a private Facebook group for open minded Christian moms of LGBTQ kids.
On April 8, 2014 my life was changed forever. That day marked the beginning of a painful journey my family would be forced to travel. It is only now that I can honestly say it was a journey worth taking, and it took a long time to come to this realization.
My husband was approaching his 10th anniversary of ministry in our current church, as a Southern Baptist Pastor. We were in the middle of revival services and he called me at work to ask me out for lunch. I always love a lunch date with my husband, but when he asked during such a busy week, I knew something was up. When I pressed him, he told me that our youngest son, Addison, had told some kids in the youth group that he is gay. When I heard those words, my heart sank. I felt true panic. I couldn’t breathe. I was terrified.
Although it was a shock, I must admit it really came as no surprise. We had suspected this for most of Addison’s life, yet we dared not speak of it. But now it was real. The one thing I had dreaded and feared most for my son. He had spoken the words we would have never ever said ourselves. He said, “I’m gay.” The news had already spread to other parents and church staff, leaving us no option to handle this privately as a family. We were forced to deal with it immediately, and there was much more to consider than just our son, even though he was, by far, most important. We were a Southern Baptist minister’s family and I knew what that meant for us. Fear overtook me as I imagined what lay ahead for my family.
I used what little time I had that afternoon to research, “How to talk to your kid about being gay.” I didn’t find much, but I did come across these statistics. 40% of homeless youth are LGBT. 30% of gay youth attempt suicide near the age of 15. Almost half of gay and lesbian teens have attempted suicide more than once. Upon learning this, my mind raced back to when Addison was 14 years old. He went through the normal awkward teenager stage just as his brothers did before him, but it was more than just that. He was angry, and he seemed to hate everything about his life. One night, I caught him on his way upstairs to his bedroom, carrying a ziplock bag of pills. It was a mixture of Advil and Tylenol. His excuse was that he wanted to keep medicine upstairs for convenience whenever he had a headache. The youth minister revealed to us shortly after, that in a youth group meeting, Addison shared having suicidal thoughts. Around that same time, he came to us wanting to be re- baptized. He said he just didn’t feel like he had been saved before. We were very puzzled by this, but Scott counseled him and he prayed to receive Christ, followed by baptism in our church. We watched him very closely during that time, and things eventually got better. But looking back, I realized what my precious son must have been going through years earlier and it scared me to death!
That night, after an emotional wait, we finally had the opportunity to talk with Addison. We approached the conversation with an undeniable love for our son on one hand, and our deeply imbedded conservative theology on the other. When we confronted him, he admitted to telling his friends. He had participated in an “honest hour” online where people can ask questions and you must answer honestly. Someone asked if he was gay and he simply said, “Yes”. He did not intend to come out that way, it just happened. I never will forget hearing Scott tell him how disappointed we were that he had made this choice, and then seeing the look on my son’s face when he said, “Dad, this is not my choice! Why would anyone choose this? If I could choose anything, I would choose not to be this way!” He said he had prayed every night for years for God to change him, only to wake up the next morning, still the same. He had always heard from us that being gay is a sin. He heard his dad preach it from the pulpit, and he heard me say it at home. We had unknowingly created in him such a fear of rejection that he was too afraid to talk to us about it. He said he believed what the Bible said, but he couldn’t understand why God would say it’s wrong and still create him like that. It was at that moment I began to wonder the same thing, as I sat there with my heart breaking for him. Scott ended the conversation that night by making a deal with Addison. They both agreed to make it a matter of serious prayer and seek God’s direction concerning this. Scott told him if they both did that, he was convinced God would change one of them. I began praying too. I desperately wanted to pray for my son not to be gay, but instead I just prayed for answers. I had so many questions! Could it be that my son really was born gay? If so, why would God’s word clearly condemn homosexuality when it’s not a choice? Why would God give us a gay son, knowing it meant the “death penalty” for a Southern Baptist minister? We couldn’t reject our son, but were we wrong to accept him? How could anything good come from this? It felt like a curse!
For the next several days, well…actually weeks, I grieved. It took a conscious effort to even breathe as I merely went through the motions of my daily routine. I finally came to terms with the fact that this was real. It was not going away. I grieved the loss of my hopes and dreams I had for my son. The dream that one day he would marry one of those pretty girls he hung out with. The hope of him giving me grandchildren. I looked back at my son’s life and wondered where I went wrong. What could I have done differently? Did I mother him too closely? I guess I had a full blown pity party. Then one day I realized that this wasn’t really about me. It wasn’t about me at all. My son was gay. What did this mean for him? It meant that he would have to face prejudice throughout his entire life. Prejudice from people just like me who saw this as a sinful choice. A prejudice that could cost him family, friendships, employment, safety and basic civil rights. A prejudice that could leave him exiled from the church, and even worse, could cause him to leave his faith behind. This was my son. My son. MY SON! And then suddenly, I felt myself go quickly from “poor pitiful me” to “protective Mama Bear!” I went from, “Oh my God my son is gay!” to, “Yeah, my son is gay, what have you got to say about that?!” That’s when I realized God was changing me.
Meanwhile, my husband was devoting every spare minute he had to research, desperately searching for answers to reconcile our faith with our reality. He plowed through the Hebrew and Greek, researched Biblical culture, and read every book he could find on the subject. The more he read, the more he began to understand the scripture like he never had before. God was changing him too. I remembered the deal that Scott made with Addison that night in our bedroom, and I realized it wasn’t our son that God wanted to change. It was us.
I wish I could say that everything was easy from that point on, but actually, that’s when things began to get worse. Not only Scott’s job, but his career was hanging by a thread. We knew that if he left the church because of this, no other Southern Baptist Church would want him. What would happen to our family? Would we have to sell our house? How would we pay the bills? Were we facing bankruptcy? We hoped and prayed for the best, but tried to prepare ourselves for the worst, while keeping these worries from our son as best we could. Scott began looking for other job opportunities, but with no success. Ministry was the only thing Scott knew and he had poured his heart into nothing else for over 30 years. We feared for our family’s future, but we wanted to honor God with our actions. I knew it would be difficult to hold back words as our family went under attack, but Scott and I made a conscious decision to treat the church with the
same grace we desired for our family. We were convinced that God would protect us somehow if we trusted Him through this.
People were beginning to gossip in the church. Imagine that! Scott tackled it head on, meeting with the deacons to address all their concerns. He shared deeply from his heart. He told them he was studying to find answers and he didn’t know how it would affect his theology. He assured them that if and when he found himself in conflict with SBC doctrine, he would resign. The deacons said they were in 100% support of Scott, but they had some conditions. They wanted him to take three weeks off “to deal with our family crisis.” (Our family was just fine; the only crisis was with them.) They also wanted assurance that Addison wouldn’t try to “sway” any of the other young people to become gay (yes, really!) and prohibited him from talking about himself or doing anything “gay” on church property. And they wanted Scott to address the church when he returned, announcing to everyone that our son is gay, but that he did not support him and still firmly held to his beliefs according to Southern Baptist doctrine.
Scott did take a couple of weeks off. He honestly needed the break from the deacons! He used that time to research everything he could get his hands on, and we prayed for guidance on how to handle conflict with the church. Our son was our main priority, but we loved our church and we desperately wanted to protect it too. Scott decided against making a church-wide announcement. He met with the deacons when he returned and explained that for him to make a public announcement about our family’s personal affairs would be no different from them announcing all their family secrets. Were they willing to line up behind him to make their announcements as well? Nothing more was said concerning an announcement, but it made me wonder why all the attention was on our son, when all he did was go to school and come straight home to a few chores and homework every day. He had no social life. He wasn’t “doing” anything.
As time went on, the tension only grew as rumors were spread, private meetings were held, Scott’s sermons were picked apart, our parenting was criticized, and our family was put under the microscope like never before. Adults were even stalking Addison on social media, forcing him to close his Facebook account. We pulled him out of the youth group his senior year to protect him from the adult youth leaders, whom we no longer trusted. I was the Women’s Ministry Leader and very involved with the ladies of the church. Those that knew of our situation began avoiding me like a plague. I lost a best friend in the church who just couldn’t support me through this. Another close friend asked me, “Does Addison think he can still be a Christian now that he’s decided to be gay?” One of the ladies suggested my son had a disease and she was sorry we didn’t know about it soon enough to get him help. Another said, “I just want you to know I love your boys, AND Addison.”
Those words hurt me deeply, but what hurt most was the silence from the staff and leadership of the church, who knew our family was hurting. They did nothing to support us or minister to us. Maybe they just didn’t know how. I realized the vast majority of members were not even aware of the issue, and we tried very hard to keep it that way. But I felt so completely alone and isolated. It was a struggle to continue, putting on my smile week after week, as if nothing was wrong. As much as we tried to protect him, Addison became aware that some of the adults didn’t want him to be there. I’ll never forget him saying to me, “Mom, if they don’t want me at church, I can just stay home and Dad can have church without me there.” I told my son, “The day you stay home, I’ll be staying home with you!” My heart ached for him, and there was absolutely no one that could understand.
Friendships were lost, but God was so gracious. I prayed for people I could talk to, people who had been where we were. I was randomly searching the internet one day and landed on The Gay Christian Network (GCN). There, I found a wonderful support group of Christian people, but not like the Christians I was surrounded by at church. These people knew what it was like to be judged by other Christians and exiled from their churches. These people were gay Christians, and they became my new best friends. They were patient and understanding, even though they knew I saw them as sinners. They traveled my journey with me, treating me with unconditional love and compassion as they watched God change me right before their eyes.
Another life saver for me was a private Facebook group of moms that I found. You name it; these moms have been through it, from being outcast from their churches, losing their jobs, having their spouse leave, being disowned by family, and some even losing their gay child to suicide. I’ve cried with these women and they have cried with me. Although I may never meet most of them in person, they are my true friends.
Out of all our church members, God blessed us with two great couples that stood by us and loved our family through the fire. I realize the courage it took to support us, and the cost to them was great. Scott and I desperately needed them when others betrayed us, and I’m so thankful for their friendship.
With Addison’s permission, we told our family about his news early on. His brothers said they had known all along, and they both agreed that he is their brother and they will love him no matter what. Aaron, his oldest brother, said, “If anyone gives Addison a hard time about it they’ll only do it once!” It made me happy to know his brothers had his back. My sister offered her shoulder for me to cry on, and I used it often. That’s what sisters are for, and I’m thankful she was willing to listen. Scott agonized over telling his mom, but when he finally did, she said, “Well I could’ve told you that young man was gay years ago but it wasn’t for me to say!” My mother was supportive as well, although neither mom really understands what it means to be gay. They both think Addison could change his mind someday and they’re holding onto the hope that a pretty girl might turn his head.
As time went on, God continued to reconstruct our faith. One day Scott said to me, “I’ve changed and I don’t think the church can handle me anymore.” He had come to the place where he could no longer continue to pastor the church with integrity. It wasn’t even about our son anymore. My husband was not the same person he had been a year earlier, and there was no going back. He’s always been one to follow God’s call even when it doesn’t make sense, and even when there is no safety net. In May of 2015 he met with our personnel team leader to share his plans to resign, without another job waiting. Our prayer for the past year had been for God to show us if and when to close that door. Now we had to pray for Him to open a new one, quickly! God answered that prayer when a Chaplain from Hospice of West Alabama contacted Scott, asking him to submit a resume. God rewarded my husband’s faith by providing a fulfilling job where he could minister to families and make a real difference. Although this position created a substantial pay cut, we knew it was God’s answer to our specific prayer for provision. He announced his resignation to the church, and was able to leave under the best of circumstances; yet, it was by far the hardest thing we’ve ever done in ministry. We’ve left churches before, but this move was different from all the others. Not only were we leaving an 11-year pastorate, we were leaving our denomination behind. Thirty-two years of ministry as we had known it was now over.
We’ve considered visiting to find a new church home, but for me personally, the risk is just too great. I will never subject my family, particularly my gay son, to abuse by another church, ever. After the church family we loved and gave so much of ourselves to for eleven years chose not to support us, I can’t imagine how a new church, with no connection to us would fully accept our family. We no longer consider ourselves Southern Baptists. We’re just Jesus followers. And I must say, it feels good!
We’ve been accused of compromising our beliefs to accommodate our son, but nothing could be further from the truth. I believe God gifted us with a gay son and used him to bring about much needed change. Sometimes it takes something huge to get us to reconsider our lifelong interpretation of God’s Word. Our son’s life was important enough to search for the truth. And it was in our search that we discovered having a gay son was not the problem, but rather the means to finding the solution!
Our journey has been difficult to say the least. But God showed His grace to our family by offering protection, provision, and now healing.
What once seemed like a curse has turned into the biggest blessing of my life! I have changed and I would never want to go back to the way I was before. I am learning more and more every day what it means to REALLY love people like Jesus. To lay judgement aside, to show grace and understanding, and to walk a few steps in another’s shoes.
I’ve taught Addison all his life to love everyone, and to never put himself above another person. But in the last year, I’ve learned that more from him than I could have ever taught. I’m so proud of him. My son is brave, loving, smart, funny, creative, sensitive, caring, sooo handsome, …and oh yeah, he’s GAY! His two brothers are pretty amazing too!
One of my friends from GCN sent me these words that I have hung onto. “There is a difference between acting like a Christian and acting like Jesus. When you act like a Christian everyone at church will praise you and reward you. But Heaven help the Christian who starts acting like Jesus. When believers act like Jesus there is a price to pay. You won’t be understood and the church won’t be very happy. But the end result is a relationship with the living God that is real, and honest and loving. It is full of grace.”
These days my focus is pretty simple. I just want to act like Jesus.
Jackie’s husband, Scott McQueen, a former Southern Baptist pastor of 31 years, has written Reasonable Doubt: A Case for LGBTQ Inclusion in the Institutions of Marriage and Church. The book is being published by CanyonWalker Press and will be available through Amazon and other outlets in paperback and e-book in January, 2018.
Serendipitydodah for Moms is a private Facebook group for moms of LGBTQ kids. Our official motto is “We Are Better Together” and our nickname is “Mama Bears” The group is set up so that only members can see who is in the group and what is posted there. It was started in June 2014 and presently has more than 2,000 members. For more info email firstname.lastname@example.org