I'm happily married, with two great kids. Our daughter is 21 and both mentally and physically disabled. Our son is 16 and the light of our life. About a month ago, he told us he is gay. We'd had a feeling all along about this, and my husband and I are supportive. I think we've handled this revelation well, as have family and friends. The problem is my in-laws. They're very religious and attend Catholic Mass seven days a week, which is fine. Because of their religious beliefs, however, they have a problem with my son's being gay. They always have something to say about this issue - not to me - but to my husband, their son. In their last conversation, they told my husband our son is not going to heaven. I was hurt . . . and then angered. Our son is talented, smart, handsome and a good kid. I don't define him as just being "gay." Any advice? My in-laws, of course, will listen only to someone "In The Church."
- D., Long Island, via e-mail
I receive lots of letters in which some members of a family proclaim that other members of the family are "going to hell" or, in a slightly more gentle version of your in-laws' opinion, are "not going to heaven." My personal view is that I'm in sales, not management, and God's ways are above my pay grade. This is the source of my humility (such as it is). I know what the Bible says. I just don't always know with the same certainty what the Bible means. The Bible condemns homosexuality categorically in Leviticus 18:22: "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman. It is an abomination." (Score 1 for your in-laws.)
However, it's not clear that the Bible is referring here to homosexuality as a sexual orientation. It may be that this verse is not about homosexuality but rather about homosexual prostitution.
Also, the same condemnation made of homosexuality is also made for heterosexual sex that is not procreative. (Score 1 for your son.)
Also, there's not a single reference to lesbians in the Bible.
The theological debate over such matters will continue forever.
There are good arguments on both sides. Your challenge is in helping your family learn how to disagree while still loving each other. There are several ways I might suggest to improve your family's chances of keeping love alive. The first move is one your husband must make. He must tell his parents that while he respects their right to believe homosexuality is a sin, they cannot bring that belief into family gatherings because it's cruel to their gay grandson. If he keeps telling you about his folks' opinions on this issue, tell him also to button it. You already know his parents don't approve.
The next move is one you and your son (if he knows about Grandpa and Grandma's beliefs) must make. There's a kind of self-centered arrogance we're all guilty of at times when we try to describe those who disagree with us in a fair-minded way - but end up painting them in overly extreme, harmful stereotypes. Our task in the never-ending journey to compassion and truth is to try to understand the stories of others that don't mesh with our story but still have something important to teach us.
The story of your in-laws is based on biblically rooted ancient wisdom filled with clear ideas about many things, among them how we ought to express our sexuality. The fact that these beliefs were formed millennia ago makes them old but not necessarily irrelevant.
Sexual urges are not necessarily a justification for sexual activity.
In the story of your in-laws, male- female bonding, both physical and spiritual, is not just good for them, it's also good for families and for civilization and for God. That's their story, and it's wrong to expect them to simply discard it because they're suddenly presented with a gay grandson. I would hope for a healing process in which their love of your son is strong enough for them to overcome their religious beliefs just enough to hug him sincerely. I also pray that your son's love for them will be strong enough for him to overcome his disappointment in them and hug them in return.
You have two stories in your family now. May you have patience and love sufficient to get you to that day, that place and that time when God will finally explain to us how all our stories can be loved equally.