One Small Change: Helping to Bridge Gaps

I had the opportunity to meet Benjamin Moberg of Registered Runaway last winter at a Prodigal Magazine meet and greet, and I’m still not over the fact that we became friends just before he moved away from Minnesota. He is a kind, brave, necessary voice in the blogosphere, and I love the grace with which he shares his story. So honored to have him here today.

Photo credit - puliarf at Creative Commons
Photo credit – puliarf at Creative Commons

Three things you should know about me:

One: I am a believer in a God that gets weak at the knees when he spots me bumbling around here on earth. He likes me. He loves me. It’s an embarrassing, head over heels kind of affection.

Two: I am gay. I’ve known this since I was little, but I only came out two years ago. The journey to this place of being Out was painful; the walk ever since has been holy.

Three: One and Two are not an odd coupling. “Gay Christian” is no oxymoron. Accepting my sexuality has transformed my faith more than anything else before. Coming face to face with my different, accepting that I am accepted and embracing the power of perspective I bring to the Body has made my faith a beautiful, thriving thing. I am gay and I am beloved and I am fully devoted to God.

When I came out to my parents, they never stopped loving me nor did they reject me, but they couldn’t deny that this was more than a little difficult, it was heartbreaking.

And they were sad for a while.

Part of me got it. Parents think they know their kids best, inside and out, more than anyone else in the world, even themselves. And there’s something incredibly painful about going from filling in an oval for traditional marriage to your boy coming out to you in a flood of tears. They believed that the Bible condemned gay people, they knew that the church certainly did, and they were struggling to hold onto me and the scriptures and the church all at once.

But another part of me wanted them to snap out of it. After all, I came out! A stone heavy secret that had been sucking the life right out of me for years- a decade- had finally been relieved, I was free of it. My heart was showing on the outside for the very first time. I could breathe. I was whole. And I thought it was time to celebrate. I thought it was time to move forward.

I gave them grace, but it was a colder kind. A quiet, distant kind.  A distance that eventually changed our conversations into passive aggressive talking points. I’d note something I read that was affirming of gays in the church and they’d share a testimonial of a person healed by God and made straight. I’d refer to myself as “gay” and one of them would clear their throat, correct me with, “same-sex attracted. Not gay.” And on and on we went.

I never equated their sadness with grief, one that would require the five stages of losing a loved one. They had to watch the future they had planned for me die, again and again and again. No wife, no kids, no traditional family for me. And I didn’t know that this grief would take time nor did I know that my grace was so limited.

And we grew quieter. The distance expanding more every day. We couldn’t figure out how to bridge this gap without hurting one another. I couldn’t make them understand and they couldn’t express how they truly felt and in the end, the killer was silence, and our inability to break it.

father son shadow - andrechinn
Photo Credit: andrechinn, Creative Commons

It was around this time that Andrew Marin came into our lives with his book, Love is an Orientation. The book broke our boundaries and pulled us into a shared space. It was one of the best things that happened that year. It changed everything.

Andrew is a straight man who describes himself as “a former Bible-banging homophobe”, a guy that used words like gay, faggot, and homo as insults, as weapons, utterly unaware that his three lifelong best friends would all come out to him in college.

In the aftermath of their news, he went on his knees before God, asking him what the hell was going on. God told him to go find out for himself.

Andrew moved into Chicago’s gay community, Boystown, with his best friends and spent a year immersing himself in gay culture. Today, over a decade later, he runs the Marin Foundation, a group that works to build bridges between the gay community and the conservative evangelical community.

What Andrew did, essentially, in my family, was become a translator. He took the collective themes of his gay friends’ lives and expressed them in a way that my parents and my friends could understand. Something I couldn’t communicate even when I tried.

Amazingly enough, my parents now see my sexuality as a blessing, as a gift. A tremor in our family that in the end, after a lot of growth, landed us closer than we ever thought we could be.

The work the Marin Foundation does is far and wide, but there is one thing in particular that makes me very enthusiastic.

They’re creating a Parent Resource Initiative, because they’ve received hundreds of calls from parents like mine who do not know how to be or think or handle the fact that their boy is gay. They don’t know how to handle a church that is cold to him, they want to know how to better protect him. They want to get our place of close, but they don’t know how.

And this initiative is so incredibly important. While we came close to falling apart, families are doing it all the time after a child comes out. Parents, often in the name of God, kick their kids out of the house; we have significantly higher numbers of LGBTQ homeless youth than of their straight peers, entirely new shelters have been assigned to address this population alone.

And I understand that there are those that disagree with same-sex marriage. Good and Godly people can end up in different corners on this. After all, we’re still looking through this glass darkly, still holding this wild sea of scripture in our hands, and we won’t always agree and we don’t really have to. But on this side of heaven, I think we can love one another better. Give out more grace than usual.

And I think we can all agree that saving kids from homelessness, educating parents on how to be better, is a call that we ought to respond to. Those areas of agreement are rare for us and when we find them, we seize them, because that is how Kingdom Comes. When we’re able to do something together.

And that is why I give $25 dollars a month to the Marin Foundation, because they are trying to make the family a safer place for everyone. They are working to build bridges within the church. They are giving hope to every child taking those terrifying steps up to their parents bedroom, pointing a way forward for parents stunned and heartbroken and wanting to be love. They are doing such good things.

And in the end, my one small change is more like repaying a debt. But maybe all one small changes are. Maybe, our one small change is our one gift back for the blessings we have received. Our own small bridge bringing good to a world that’s waiting for it.

*

Ben has graciously offered to give away a copy of Love is an Orientation — at his own expense — to one commenter here. I read this book several years ago — freshly out of Christian college, brand new to a graduate program filled with beautiful LGBTQ people that I had no idea how to relate to. I love Andrew Marin’s book for its gentleness and humility. He never pretends that this is not hard or complicated. He never really takes a “side.” But he offers a glimpse at what it could look like if we chose Love over everything else.

To be entered for a chance to win this book, simply leave a comment. (As usual, I require zero brilliance. You can even just say, “I’d like this book!” and it counts.)

I do ask that you keep in mind the purpose of this post — to talk about the distance between many parents and their LGBTQ children, and to highlight one beautiful thing being done to bridge that gap. Please do not hijack the comments to argue for or against same-sex marriage. That is an entirely different conversation than the one Ben has initiated here today, and I hope you’ll walk gently on this hallowed, broken ground.

I’ll use the random generator on Friday morning and announce the winner on Facebook. Don’t follow me there? You can fix that now!

*

benjamin mobergBen is a twenty-something young man from Saint Paul, Minnesota who authors the site The Registered Runaway, a blog about Life, Faith, and Sexuality.

Besides immersing himself in the online community, he enjoys working to build bridges within his local church, re-reading all of Brennan Manning’s books, and being a new Uncle to his little nephew Wyatt.

57 thoughts on “One Small Change: Helping to Bridge Gaps

  1. Ben, you are brave. Thank you for telling your beautiful story. I would love to read and share this book.

  2. FIrst of all, thank you so much for inviting Ben to write in this place, Addie. I had read a piece of his through a link a while back, and, didn’t bookmark it, so couldn’t find him. He spoke to my heart in that other piece about his coming out and his family. We have been through a situation, similar yet different. I need to read this book of Andrew Marin’s, and look hopefully to checking out the Parent Initiative. To anyone here who would try to turn the conversation into something else, well, the old adage don’t judge til you have walked a mile in someone else’s shoes applies. I will say that God has lovingly led me through places I never thought I would be going in this life, and taught me how much I don’t know. His patience and grace with me is amazing.
    Thank you, Ben for your openness, and thank your family, for being willing to open themselves up to the hard places of healing we families have to go. You guys provide hope.

  3. I grew up pretty conservative, then as I got into college and grad school I have found (for now) my place is somewhere in the middle on most issues. I dont agree with homosexuality personally; however, I see no reason not to love anyone. I have been friends with coworkers who were gay. And yes, one was a teenager who was thrown out of her conservative household. It tore me up inside. It was just wrong. In grad school one of our professors told us once that sometimes the right way is the harder way. I take that to heart on a lot of issues, so I feel I can disagree but that doesn’t mean I am able to deny my responsibility to love my neighbor as myself.

    And this actually confuses people, because they then do not know whether or be ok with your or like you.. bu then they would be just as guilty as me if I disliked or hated them as well because they think differently from myself. As far as gay marriage goes – I dont see any reason why the (secular) government can deny it. Since the government is not supposed to discriminate based on a whole host of things, I think orientation is one of those. However, personally I do not believe it is the best intention in the kingdom of God. Still, divorce is not the best either and it is allowed. That makes me think.

    And yeah, a free book is always awesome! 🙂

  4. I’d love a copy of this book. I think we need to do a better job of building bridges to love and reach out to people who are different than us.

  5. I’d be really interested in reading the book; thanks for the opportunity to win.

  6. Ben, thank you for this insightful post. I can relate to so many of the things you shared about the relationship between you and your parents after coming out to them. This is the first time I’ve ever read anyone mention the 5 stages of grief in this context, but I definitely agree. I’m curious to know at what point in this journey that you realized this. May God bless you as you continue to serve Him and try to bridge the gap for those of us who don’t know how to do it by ourselves.

    1. Hi Cheri!

      I remember my mom had spoken to another mom of a gay son and this woman had been going to therapy where her therapist said that there was a necessary grieving process to go through. A lot of my parents’ grief was that they thought they knew me inside and out! So knowing the pain of my secret was a hard for them to hear.

      It’s all very complicated with how emotional this topic is, but after she heard from that other mom, my mom said she knew she had to grieve as well. Her and my dad both did. They grieved more for me, and the target I’d have on my back as a gay christian man, and also over how life shifted abruptly beneath her feet and their faith became a bit more messy.

      Today, they’re actively involved with lgbtq community at our church and it’s been such a privilege watching them go!

  7. I have some friends that happen to be gay. When the father of my newborn twin boys flaked out and couldn’t handle being a Dad they were the ones who stepped in. We joked that with some children “it takes a village” but in our case it took the Village People!!
    My boys are 12 now. We attend church regularly. I am bringing up my boys to love God. However, I will never teach them that being gay is against God. It is impossible to say out of one side of my mouth, “God is a loving God.” and out of the other side, “God hates gays.”

  8. “And we grew quieter. The distance expanding more every day. We couldn’t
    figure out how to bridge this gap without hurting one another.” I need to read this book; thanks for posting.

  9. Thanks for sharing your story here, Ben. Your blog has become one of my regular internet stops 🙂 I’m so glad there’s a resource for families navigating this particular territory, and also glad to know you and your family have gotten back to that close place you described. What a hopeful story.

  10. This is something I never expected to read on your site, Addie . . . I appreciate the honesty of this writer and there is no doubt that his journey was difficult for him. But I’m just confused . . . More and more Christians are abandoning the truth. We all know what God says about homosexuality. And I’m not even going to get into that because we all know and it’s time we stop pretending like we don’t. Aside from that, God does love Ben, He loves him beyond comprehension! He loves every single human being with an undying passion. In fact, He loves each of us enough to not leave us just the way we are. His desire is to see us transformed, whatever it is that we are battling with. But that transformation begins with us: do we want God to peel the layers or do we want to stay the way we are. Ultimately it’s our own choice.

    1. Zhanna,

      I’m sorry that you were disappointed to see this content here. I know I haven’t covered topics like this before. It’s mostly because I feel like my deep subject here at the blog is something a little different — redefining faith instead of throwing it away. I have no interest in fighting the “culture wars,” and it’s not the work I feel “called” to do (to use the cliche. ;-))

      However, this post is not really about what we understand the Bible to say about homosexuality. It’s about building bridges and restoring families. And that IS something that I want this blog to be about. Restoration. Reconciliation. Ripping off Jesus-Bandaids and getting rid of easy, cliched answers to get to the complicated, messy, beautiful heart of faith.

      I asked Ben to share here because I love his heart and I love the book that Andrew Marin wrote. As I said above, the book does not take sides on the issue. It simply helps us understand. To extend mercy, grace, empathy…and above all Love. And wherever we land on the issues, I think we could all stand to love one another better, don’t you think?

  11. I love this post, and the Marin Foundation. What a great way to start the morning!

  12. I would love to read this book! I read “Torn” by Justin Lee, and it was amazing. I would love to read this one too. I used to be very anti-gay, firmly believing it was a sin issue. Then I started struggling with condemning an issue I knew nothing about. My eyes were opened when I read RHE’s interview with Justin, “Ask a Gay Christian.” It completely changed my heart! I consider myself an LGBT ally now, and I want to do what I can to show love and grace to all.

  13. This is such important work and is a subject dear to me. Awareness and love are crucial, and many small voices for them can change the world. Thank you for your story and this post, Ben.

  14. I grapple with sexual orientation because of my personal Christian beliefs, but I can’t stand to see people treated so terribly. God loves all, no matter what. It’s our job to love like Christ and leave the judgement up to him. I would like this book to try and gain some insight on how to relate to LGBT community while maintaining my beliefs.

  15. This is something that I needed to read. Two years ago my oldest brother, my best friend came out and it completely rocked my world, and my parents world. The metaphor of building a bridge is beautiful and one that I wish I could communicate to my parents who have only distanced themselves more and more from their eldest son. Thank you for your gentle words and honesty!

  16. “The journey to this place of being Out was painful; the walk ever since has been holy.”

    ^Seriously, that is one of the most beautiful sentences I’ve ever read. This whole post is incredible, Ben. So much of my beliefs about this issue have changed in the last few years and are still changing. Your voice and your story have meant so much to me as I walk through that, Ben. I’ve known about Andrew Marin for awhile but have yet to read this book. Whether or not I win the giveaway I’m determined to read it asap.

    1. Thank you so much Bethany. Yes, please read it! I would love to discuss it with you, it’s such a phenomenal book. I am glad you are exploring this issue, no matter where you “end up”, i think that whenever we wrestle with God, we draw nearer to Him.

  17. Ah, these comments are making my day! I am so grateful for all of your kind words, thank you so much.

    Just to put in a little defense of my parents (against my OWN post!)- I want to reiterate that they
    were unbelievably graceful. Above and beyond. In the early months our family held tight to one
    another and there was so much love and freedom for us. It was absolutely beautiful.

    What I was getting at, and was maybe unsuccessful on, was that when it came to the hard
    questions of scripture and church, we lost our balance a bit. There was a distance, an inability to communicate what we were feeling, and it was difficult. That is why Andrew’s book was so very important. In all the ways I couldn’t express how I felt, he did, and he did so, powerfully.

    It is so encouraging seeing all these voices of support and interest here on my post! There is much we have to learn from one another and I’m grateful for every single one of you!

  18. The family is the building block of society. Any organization that is attempting to repair broken relationships within families is not only helping those families, but is helping society as a whole. As we learn to love and respect truly, within families, that love can only be spilled out all over society. Love is always the answer.

  19. Ben, your post brought tears to my eyes. Raised in a conservative evangelical home, I still struggle to bridge the gap between what i was taught was a sin and the facts of biology. I have two young children, and not only do I want to raise them to love and respect every single one of God’s children, but I also want to be equipped to handle whatever surprises their lives might bring. I would love to read Andrew’s book and intend to do so whether I win this giveaway or not.

  20. Thank you for this beautiful post. I gulped down every word. I’ve always been uncomfortable with how the church handles LGBTQ issues, but never felt equipped (ha! look at my evangelical talk) to handle it. Thankfully I found a church near where I live that is brave enough to wrestle with the issue and preach acceptance from the pulpit. That has made living and being proud of my Faith much easier.

  21. I would LOVE to read a copy of this!

    Also, I love what Ben says about how “Good and Godly people can end up in different corners on this.” He’s so gracious. If only we all were.

  22. Thank you so much for this post! I have many friends that have come out to me in the last few years and feel like this is such an important conversation to have. I would love to read this book.

  23. We also discovered the Marin Foundation during a similar difficult time in our family. I found Love is an Orientation quite by accident, as I was casting around for help… looking for anything that would enable us to navigate this totally foreign landscape. There was precious little help available! This book made a huge difference for us! I started to see the glimmer of our path forward — one that sacrificed neither God nor our son. We took part in the Parent Resource Initiative, wanting to ease the journey for parents who follow. I had the pleasure of going to Chicago last July to give Andrew Marin a big hug and tell him how much he had done for my family!! I buy Love is an Orientation by the dozen and give them away. Blessings to you, Ben! I’ll keep reading!

  24. Benjamin, beautiful as always! I love how you show here that even in the hard things grace can win.

  25. Love seeing you over here, Ben! I’ve heard Andrew Marin’s name but wasn’t very familiar with what the Marin Foundation actually does. Good to hear they’re putting together this resource- I can only imagine how many people will be helped by it.

  26. Ben, the patience, grace, and love shown in stories like yours has been critical for my journey as I emerged from a place of empathy-free ignorance, to where I am at now. Thanks so much for being willing to share.

  27. Oh… Would I ever love this book. For more reasons than I can or want to recount in this small space of the world. Thank you.

  28. Ben,

    The church has been too hard on gays. I’m sorry for the jokes and insults and the parents who expel their kids from the house when they admit they are gay. And I think the Westboro church crazies are worse heretics than any pro-gay church group.

    But what would you say to people like me who think same-sex behavior is falling short of God’s ideal — not the unforgivable sin, not the worst of sins, but still a sin.

    1. Thanks for the gentle way you approached this question, Steve. I agree, it’s a totally valid question, and it’s one that the book Love is an Orientation addresses so well. I think Ben said it well too — Good and Godly people land on both side of the issue.

      I’d like to try to keep this thread from turning into a back-and-forth about homosexuality. Maybe Ben could dialogue with you about this via email. At any rate, the book is a great place to start. It’s not a book that sets out to convince you why homosexuality is not a sin. Instead, it gently explores the stories of the people Marin has interacted with and helps the reader to understand both sides of the issues. I came away from it not so much with a changed mind, but rather with a changed heart.

      I don’t mean to shut down good conversation…I just know how potentially incendiary this topic is, and I think that blog comments are not the ideal place to offer one another grace, love and a listening ear. Thanks for understanding.

  29. I would really like to read this book. I’ve heard about it before but I had no idea the author started such a great foundation. This is very encouraging to hear. Indeed, “Christian gay” is not an oxymoron and it seems this organization is one way to let this be known and help people coming from all directions process this through. Thank you for sharing a bit of your story Ben!

  30. Posting!

    Okay, I’ll put in a little more effort. But I’m definitely interested in a copy of the book. Good post!

  31. Addie and Ben – as a parent, I am thrilled to witness your bravery and love. The world needs more of both! When I read thoughts like these, I feel hopeful about the future, both for me and for my children.

  32. I already have the book so please don’t include me in the random number give away.

    That being said, one thing many Christians do not realize is that the same dynamic between parents and children also affect those, like myself, who are gay (same sex attracted, if you prefer) but have chosen celibacy because of our beliefs. In fact, to some extent, those parent whose kids come out gay affirming (I don’t know what other term to use so I’m sorry if “gay affirming” doesn’t fit) get over the barrier in communication faster than those who, like my parents, have celibate kids. If the child is gay affirming then the parents are forced to find a way to deal with the issue. for parents whose kid is gay but celibate, homosexuality simply remains a permanent elephant in the room – it never goes away and never gets talked about.

    So for any that are upset about this topic, please keep in mind it is not about behavior. Regardless of what the child decides to do with his or her attractions, the experience for the parents is still very much the same. And I appreciate the Marin foundation for doing what they can to help parents adjust and learn to communicate with their kids.

    So thank you for this post. It is appropriate and necessary for Christians to read and think about.

    1. Matt, sorry that your parents don’t want to communicate. I’d think parents would be encouraged if a child admits to same-sex attraction but chooses to remain celibate — I know I would.

      1. Except, don’t forget that for parents of gay kids “celibate” = “fixed” or “healed.” It is very difficult for them to face the fact that a celibate gay kid experienced teasing just like any other gay kid and got beat up sometimes just like any other gay kid and felt the same shame and self-hate that every other gay kid felt. To face that would mean facing the fact the Church has failed us and that “celibate” does not mean “cured.” So there is a lot of pressure to leave the questions unasked and to pretend everything is OK.

        And for those of us who have chosen celibacy, there is a lot of pressure to “give a positive witness.” To be open about how the Church often made us feel ashamed and lonely feels like being disloyal to Christ. So we tend to keep our mouths shut except around one another.

        So, from both sides, it’s just easier not to have the conversation.

        1. I see. In my mind this relates to the big theme of Addie’s book, how evangelicalism is prone to thinking that when you pray the right prayers and go to the right church, Jesus will take all your big problems away.

          Personally, I remember learning in the 70s how some people experienced same-sex desire, were Christians yet were not instantly healed of this desire. Your post makes me think this awareness could be rather rare in evangelical circles.

          I smirk ironically at “give a positive witness.” Like David did in Psalm 22. There is a place for lamenting in worship — to say i am broken in the midst of a broken people, but I hope in Jesus is a genuine positive witness. But a lot of people do think that way — sorry that you’re alone in the midst of them.

  33. Addie, I can’t overestimate just how important it is to have a space where voices like this one can be heard. Sometimes we become so focused on being “right” that we lose sight of what really matters: our connection to God and each other. Ben, thank you for sharing your story. God knew I needed to read that (and the book which I am buying immediately). It is one thing to discuss these matters from a safe distance, using selected verses to deflect any arguments, never stopping to actually see the person behind the label. It is quite another to live with them every day. I don’t claim to have definitive answers but for the sake of people I love who live in this space, LGBTQ AND Christian, I want to stay connected. Blessings to you both.

  34. I have four copies, all of which I have loaned, so don’t enter me in the drawing. Just want to share the loving insight I have gained from this book and during my weekend I spent earlier this year at Marin Institute. Much Love, indeed. dogtorbill.wordpress.com

  35. I would love a copy of the book, too. I am just on the fringe of being totally open with my friends – though all of my family knows. My parents are both deceased, so to me, it was coming out to my children and stepkids (all adults). Still a scary place to be. I finally found some peace last fall – and feel like God wants me to help bridge the gap between gays and the church. I hope to find my place in serving – and will be moving to NC this summer to meet some of my new FB friends there.

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