We're continuing to share reflections on the spirituality of parenting. Why? Because all of us, whether or not we're parents, have been parented, and it is one of the most familiar metaphors for God. So there must be much for us to learn and gather from this theme.
I grew up as a well-indoctrinated, fourth-generation Seventh-day Adventist, living in Adventist “ghettos” with my parents who worked at hospitals in Takoma Park, Paradise Valley and Loma Linda, as lab tech and nurse. I married a theology major at La Sierra and we spent ten years pastoring in Southeastern California, then in departmental work in Hawaii, Singapore (Southeast Asia Union/Far Eastern Division), Takoma Park (General Conference), and finally Washington Conference in the North Pacific Union, having three fine sons along the way. That is my official church background.
I had a good, if somewhat narrow, education in Adventist schools through college, but I was never taught to think for myself. Unfortunately, I turned out to be a rather self-righteous, judgmental, works-oriented pastor’s wife, raising my children to be good examples for others. But God changed me, through the most traumatic event of my life.
Our youngest (I’ll call him Danny) was a loveable little three-year-old who made friends with everyone when we arrived at the Southeast Asia Union compound. If I hadn’t grown up in such sheltered communities, I might have recognized a few signs, even back then in the early 70s when homosexuality wasn’t something you talked about. But I was very naïve, and just saw him as a special, unique child who loved the same things I did – music, poetry, art, crafts. He was always very spiritually-oriented, too; he loved Sabbath School and even started his own little branch Sabbath School for the children in the neighboring kampong. After revival meetings held at the College Church, he earnestly wanted to be baptized when he was nine years old. I think even then he may have realized he was “different” and worried that he might not be “saved.”
After Danny graduated from Far Eastern Academy, we returned home to work at the General Conference, while he attended Pacific Union College. To our surprise and concern, he became engaged during his freshman year. He later told us his major goal in college was to find a girl to marry. It was near the end of his junior year that we learned he had broken his engagement. And suddenly, all the little signs that I had buried in my subconscious over the years rose to the surface and seemed to point in one direction. Afraid to ask him, in case I was wrong, I called the college church pastor, to whom I knew he and his fiancee had gone for counseling. After a long silence, he told me my suspicions were right. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. I hung up and stumbled through the house, screaming and pounding on the wall.
That was the beginning of my education and of God working to change my life. Even though I knew next to nothing about homosexuality, I had absorbed the general attitude of condemnation. Yet I knew my son was not “like that.” We assured him that we loved him dearly, no matter what. As I began studying everything I could find on the subject, God started to open my mind. My uninformed attitude of fear and disgust gradually changed to love and understanding of the difficulty, pain, and confusion young homosexuals face as they try to understand why they are different from their friends. We learned that Danny had considered suicide as an option in his teens, as do so many gays and lesbians.
The big question that haunted me was, Why would God allow Danny, and so many others, to be born with this difference, but tell them it was a sin? It just didn’t seem fair. I had heard about Sodom and Gomorrah in connection with homosexuality, but as I studied, I learned about the six “clobber texts” traditionally used to bash gays and lesbians. Eventually I discovered that, following the new awareness of homosexuals in society, considerable new biblical scholarship had re-examined these verses and concluded that in their historical and textual context they referred to homosexual acts in connection with rape, idolatry, and prostitution. It took several years before I could bring myself to read some of these books, but when I did, it really helped make sense to me.
In trying to understand the problem of God allowing people to be born attracted to the same sex, but telling them this was a sin, I became aware of other questions I had not allowed myself, as a good Adventist pastor’s wife, to recognize. I had to re-examine everything I had been taught to believe since childhood. Did it support the concept of a God of love, or not? Over time, I came to accept the beliefs that made sense to me, and that were based on the God of love portrayed in the Bible. The sense of fear that was part of my religion for so much of my life disappeared, and I no longer dread God’s judgment. I am thankful that God is our judge, because I know he is fair and just, and He knows more about us than we ourselves can know. This whole experience has made me more tolerant, less judgmental, and more loving. I can see so many ways God has changed me for the better.
I was moved to write a book about our family’s experience, My Son, Beloved Stranger. When I let a good friend from Singapore read the manuscript, she said, “Carrol, God is going to lead you into a ministry through this.” And He did! I had always been a rather shy, behind-the-scenes person, but God opened doors and pushed me through them! I published a newsletter for other families for ten years, spoke at many meetings, started a website (www.someone-to-talk-to.net ), had a booth for my ministry at ten large conventions, and as my understanding changed and grew, I became a strong advocate for changing the way we treat gays and lesbians in our churches.
And Danny? After living with a Catholic young man for nine years and becoming a Catholic himself, working for a Catholic foundation and entering a Carmelite monastery, leaving the monastery and spending four years in reparative therapy trying to change his orientation, he decided he had learned how to suppress his feelings and after a year of dating, found a woman who was his soulmate and they were married. They live near us and have three adorable little boys. We pray every day that their marriage will last, although we know all too well how many such marriages end. Danny finds happiness with his family and in the choir he conducts at church. We are thankful to have a good relationship with him. And I feel confident that, despite our theological differences, we will all be together in heaven.
Carrol Grady lives in Snohomish, Washington, where she is busy making quilts for 15 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, reading stacks of books, writing a family history, and is active with her ministry for families of gays and lesbians.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5378