Susan Adrian McClung
A Christian mother’s story of a gay son and a faith lost and then found.
“I think you have something you need to tell me.”
I breathed out a weighted sigh, tried to suppress a slightly giddy smile, and waited for my son to respond to my question by telling me he was gay. Why the smile? I knew he had no clue what was coming. He couldn’t imagine that he would be instantly wrapped in love and acceptance from me, his Bible believing, church going, conservative, Evangelical mother.
It was a sweet and tender moment etched in my memory now, but only because years earlier I had been presented with a choice. A choice to either stumble over the Gospel and be broken to bits or let that stone of grace fall on me and crush everything I had ever believed in. Either way I, and the theology I held onto like a golden cow, was going down. It was painful but worth it for just this moment.
My husband and I raised our children the way our parents raised us—in the living, breathing, life giving Word of God and the community of believers known as the Church of the Nazarene. Our parents lived out the true meaning of salvation as did their parents before them. We were legacy members of the Kingdom. The faith we passed on to our children was true and good. It was transformational for every generation that it touched. Eventually we moved on to a non-denominational congregation, but the truth was the same.
My children were dedicated to the Lord as babies. They attended Sunday School each week, participated in every Christmas program, memorized scripture, went to VBS in the summertime. They each professed Jesus as their Savior at a young age, were baptized in a swimming pool, and earned the highest awards in Bible Quizzing. As teens they attended youth camps and sang and played in worship bands. They prayed for the sick, witnessed to their friends, loved their neighbors—they checked every box. My son, my pride and joy, was saved, sanctified and as I suspected: gay.
Why? Why was my perfect Christian boy gay? What did I do wrong as a parent? How had I failed him? Did I pray too little? Was it public school, TV, friends? Did I love him too little or too much? Oh, why did I let him try on my high heels when he was 3! Long before our tender moment of truth, I spent many sleepless nights with these thoughts.
Contemplating these questions, along with a string of other unfortunate and puzzling events led me to that fateful night when God and I wrestled. December 2017—I woke up in the middle of the night and suddenly didn’t believe in God. Not because I was angry or confused, but it was as if a switch flipped and I was now an unwilling atheist. Nothing made sense, and I felt like a fool for believing the things I did. But I also desperately wanted to return to my state of naive ignorance before the switch went haywire. For months I swirled in a tailspin of cognitive dissonance and a process that I later found out is called “deconstructing”. It was unbelievably painful, but good—just like the God I didn’t believe in.
Over the course of a couple of years, through good counsel and even better counseling with a licensed therapist, I worked my way back to God, but not the God I left. The God I left was a mere fragment of the God I was facing now. He was the same, but how I viewed Him was different; better; bigger. I became less certain of who He is but more willing to walk with Him anyway. His Word, the Bible, was the same, but now I viewed it totally different as well. It didn’t feel inerrant anymore, but it became a lifeline of truth. The stone that the builders rejected was the same, but now I could stop fighting it, stumbling over it, and its grace. I let it fall on me and crush me to dust. Once again, painful, but good. God could then sprinkle me with His Holy Spirit, and mold me into a vessel that would effectively pour out the grace that Jesus bought.
And pour it out, I did! My gay son, who certainly knows the Bible better than most who use it to condemn him, could stand in the grace of Jesus, alone. He could be who he was, fearfully and wonderfully made, as a Christian gay man, and I could openly love him. It was freeing. It felt like the true Gospel. I now knew the truth and it did set me free.
I could love my other son and his female fiancé who both identify as bisexual and are proud to be a queer couple. I could love all my children’s queer friends. I could just accept them and love them and tell them how much they are loved by God just as they are. I could even take it a step beyond and proclaim myself an ally to the queer community. I could fight for the rights that we expect, to be open to them as well, just like I imagine Jesus would.
When others question this “cheap grace” as it is often called, it’s easy to get into a debate of nonsense. Nonsense, because I am not a theologian. I can’t usually go toe to toe with those who know the Greek, and the Hebrew and spent years studying the ins and outs of the translated Bible. I’m not a Pharisee or a Sadducee. I’m just a mother, who loves God and loves her children and has read the Bible cover to cover over 20 times.
And in those readings, I recall Paul having to contend with the Jewish believers to bring the message of salvation through Jesus to the Gentiles. The argument against, rested on the clarity of their known scriptures in relation to the Gentiles and the Chosen people of Israel and the need for circumcision and adherence to the Law to be a true follower of Jesus. Sounds familiar. How often I hear, “But, the Bible is very clear about homosexuality!” It was also very clear about the Gentiles, until Peter saw a sheet full of unclean animals and God called them clean. Paul then carried the torch to the Gentiles, and it spread like wildfire among those that were once not God’s people but now were.
God did a seemingly new thing by extending His grace to the Gentiles. In fact, His grace was always big enough. He needed the Jewish believers to see that. I wonder if His grace is still big enough to include the LGBTQIA+ community. Could He be doing a new thing now? Could He be coaxing us to join Him in welcoming in a whole new people group to His Kingdom? He has always wanted them. He has always fought for them. He just needs us to see it. Let’s stop calling a beautiful group of people unclean!
So now, here I am, preparing for my son’s wedding this Spring—my son’s gay wedding. Two grooms, no Bridezilla. I’m thrilled. Most of my Christian friends, who loved me and my children through the years, will not be attending. Most of my family will not be attending. My pastor will not come. But, it’s ok. I know Jesus will be there. He’s the first one we invited. Maybe He’ll even turn the water into wine. My husband and I will pray a blessing over the new couple and it will be wonderful.
To any parents of queer children: I give you permission to love and celebrate them, unapologetically. I give you permission to speak openly about them at church and to your Christian friends. My two boys are no longer part of a Christian community. They have been hurt too badly. I pray often for them to return. But more than that, I pray for the church to which they will return. May it be a church that truly lives out the Gospel for all people. May it be a church that embodies every tribe, every tongue, every nation. May it see the LGBTQIA+ community as a unique member of the body of Christ and let them take up their rightful place within God’s glorious Kingdom. May it be home to people who have been homeless in their faith for far too long.
Susan McClung is a mother to three grown children and a 10 year old still at home. She graduated from Southern Nazarene University in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in Nursing and from Baylor College of Medicine in 2000 with a master’s degree in Midwifery. She met her husband, Dennis at SNU and will be celebrating 30 years of marriage this fall. Her father and mother were both Nazarene pastors. She currently attends a non-denominational church in Tacoma, Washington and is active in teaching children’s Sunday School. She also volunteers at Carenet, a pregnancy and family resource center, by teaching a program to high schoolers about Sex Trafficking Awareness.