Other than telling Atticus that we were voting for his future, we did not talk to him much about the election. He saw political ads sometimes, and he and I counted signs in the neighborhood. He knows who the president is (Obama!) and the president’s best friend (Joe Biden!), but he was too little to know more than that. We took him with us to vote, and he pushed the button to submit Mike’s ballot. I resisted the urge to tell him that it was the most important election of his lifetime.
Earlier in the fall, I read an article that gave some tips for talking to your children about the election on some parenting blog I read. (I like to plan ahead.) One thing it said was that some of the social issues such as marriage equality and abortion might be too much to explain to your child. And while I don’t look forward to the day when I have to explain abortion to Atticus, I don’t think discussing marriage equality is in the same sphere at all. Our LGBT friends will continue to be part of our lives and their relationships are not something we plan to hide from him (or that we would be able to). The idea that we should protect the children from discussions of marriage equality was something that troubled me, seemed old-fashioned and not tied to reality. Especially troubling is the lingering idea that when we talk about marriage equality, what we are talking about is sex. We should be talking about love and commitment and families and relationships and civil rights.
As a parent and as someone who works in a middle school, I have thought a lot about LGBT teenagers and the church. Last week, I read two books on that topic: The Kingdom by Tom Hardin and Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate by Justin Lee.
Tom Hardin is a friend of mine, and he self-published his novel The Kingdom. It’s the story of Matthew, a conservative pastor, and his son Nathaniel. Nathaniel is about to graduate high school and be trained in the ministry to take over his dad’s church, but he also has a big secret (spoiler: he’s gay) (just kidding, that’s not really a spoiler). I heard Tom speak about the book on Sunday at a signing event, and it is clear that the description of Nathaniel’s feelings of shame and uncertainty came from a very real place and resonated with a lot of the audience. Parts of the book were from Nathaniel’s perspective, and I loved reading his thoughts as a nice kid who didn’t have anyone to talk to about what he was experiencing. Tom said that the second half of the book was the hardest part for him to write, because it dealt more with theology and psychology, but I thought those were the strongest parts of the book. While I was reading, I wondered if some of the descriptions of the conservative characters weren’t a little bit of a caricature, but Tom addressed that on Sunday, pointing out how ugly the discourse was this spring when our state was voting on amendment one. What I enjoyed the most was that the character of Matthew started out at one extreme, but he did not end up at the other extreme. At the end of the book, he was still learning.
Justin Lee also lives here in North Carolina. He founded The Gay Christian Network, an organization that supports LGBT Christians and their friends and families. Torn is a memoir of Justin’s experiences growing up in the church and realizing that he is gay. Not because he had a bad childhood or because he was abused or because of his parents. Not because he chose to be gay. Just because he is attracted to people of the same gender. Justin’s book goes through his coming out to his family, his experiences with “ex-gay” ministries, and his work with the GCN. It also talks movingly about his teenage confusion and how he did not have a lot of places to turn, which is one big reason he created the GCN. While Tom’s book does talk about scripture, Justin’s book, as non-fiction, digs deeper in to what the Bible says about same-sex relationships (with, I would say, a fairly conservative view of the Bible). He makes an important distinction between feelings and actions. He has a gentle, patient, persistent voice that brings you into his story. He elevates the level of discourse by showing grace throughout the discussion while standing firm in his convictions. If you have questions about how someone can be gay and be a Christian, this is the book for you. If you have felt frustrated with the ways that Christians and the LGBT community are pitted against each other in the media, this is also the book for you.
There has been a lot in the news lately about the man who wrote a book about pretending to be gay for a year, but if that story interests you, I would recommend either of these books instead. Let the members of the LGBT community speak for themselves about their experiences. They are in our schools, in our workplaces, in our churches, and in our neighborhoods. They are our family members. They are not the “other” that we need to hide our children from.
I paid for both of these books with my own money because I am interested in this topic. My opinions are my own.
I had to work really hard not to title this post HIDE YO KIDS.