Pat Bills, welcoming guests from all over the country to the CenterPeace “e3” Conference at Highland Oaks in Dallas, October 2016
Our last post of the summer series with parents comes from my pastor, Pat Bills, from the Highland Oaks Church in Dallas. Pat truly cares for the LGBTQ community and our families, particularly families who don’t yet have a voice. In this post, Pat shares his heart for church leaders who are parents of LGBTQ children.
Let me begin with a confession: I love the vocation of preaching.
In fact, being a leader (in the “stand up in front of people” kinda way) is the greatest thing ever. I enjoy dealing with people. I welcome the challenge of those who disagree with me. I don’t even mind meetings… even with a bunch of older guys who might read the Bible differently than I do.
Like I said, I love my little role in the kingdom.
And one of the greatest privileges I choose to share in this vocation is speaking up for those who have no one else to speak. You know, those people who feel like they are on the margins, fighting for their spiritual vitality, and their “thing” is the one “thing” no one wants to talk about?
Yes. I need to speak a word for them and to the churches which they call home.
I need to speak up for the leaders, the very ones who share my vocation and joy of local leadership, and don’t feel permission to say out loud: “My child is gay…help.”
I’m writing to and for the leaders who have gay kids and feel all alone.
First, I want to acknowledge that I have no idea how you feel. Though I have four sons, none of them has confided in me about their deep pain of identifying as gay, transgender, queer, or ______________. So, I confess that I do not get it. I don’t pretend to know the hours you have spent weeping for your children as you listened to their journey of incredible loneliness. I don’t understand the roller coaster you have been on as you had to push through all kinds of emotions and feelings to make it to Sunday. You had to “fake it so you could make it.” And this must be awful.
Yet, I want you to know this is not how the church ought to be. The church should be a place of safety, refuge, and grace for anyone who has something to share. Our churches, YOUR church, should be a place of welcome for anyone who has anything from anywhere.
And the frustrating thing?
This is what you have called the church to be week in and week out. You are wonderful pastors, wise guides, and gentle shepherds. You have been present with us to listen without judgment and offer words of mercy, forgiveness, and “I love you no matter what.” But the ugly irony is though you embody this posture for us, we seem to be unwilling and unable to create the same safe place for you and your secrets.
Shame on us.
Shame on us for expecting you to offer something that we are so afraid to give back. The church ought to be for you what you have been for us: a safe place to reveal anything even if it is about your own precious child and their journey of same sex attraction.
I wish I had a better word but the only appropriate one that comes to mind is, “We are sorry that we have not been what you need us to be.”
What you need is support. What we have given is silent shame.
What you need is unconditional love. What we have given is nonverbal hurtful glances.
What you need is a safe place for confession. What we have given is a messy web of gossip and “prayer requests.”
What you need is someone to walk alongside of you and listen. What we have given is a group of “accountability partners” who tell you how to be a better father and leader.
What you need is a church who embodies the hope of the resurrected Christ. What we have given is a church who holds up the cross as the penalty for your child’s “sin.”
We’ve got to do better for you. We can do better. Forgive us for not being better listeners and people who truly accept you as a human being, just like us. You are a person not a position. And though we listen to you and are honored by your leadership, we ought to love you back without judgment or expectation.
And to those reading this, much like me, who have not experienced their child coming to them and unloading this journey… can I give you a word?
Be the person your preacher, elder, or leader can come to.
Be the person of deep love who has no stone to throw or trite scripture to quote.
Be the person who creates a space for holy listening.
Be the person who shows up and shuts up.
Take a posture of mercy– this is what Jesus said to do when you see someone in the ditch. And that someone might just be the one you listen to or follow each week. Inside they are dying and need someone to talk to. Though there is fear and incredible anxiety, community can be worth the risk. It should be worth the risk. After all, we love our little role in the kingdom. But I need you to be present with my brothers – my partners in this gospel – who are desperate for you to be a pastor to them.
So, the ministry of CenterPeace is all about “creating safe places” for those who experience same-sex attraction. But the need for a safe place to talk, to express feelings, to learn more, extends to the whole family. And the fathers in our midst, who happen to be some of our best leaders, are waiting for the church to create that safe place.