When my son was six I walked down the street to see his first grade teacher. He loved her. He was fortunate to have had her for two years in a row and this was the typical spring meeting to learn how he was doing. As excited as he was about her, I was excited to hear how overjoyed she was of him. Having already known her, I was set for more good news. I thought we’d discuss how well he plays with others and shares. I thought I’d hear he was reading well and able to cut along the lines with good accuracy you know those kinds of things…. I thought I’d hear the typical things a mother of a six year old hears.
But this was not the case.
Soon after I arrived and we were sitting at a small round table in the classroom she looked at me and blurted, “I think your son is a homosexual.” I looked at her realizing then that she saw what I had already secretly known but did not talk about. I stared at her and she suddenly shuffled some papers in front of her and said, “I have been praying for your family and I have talked with my pastor about this and he said I should tell you,’ leaning towards me while lowering her voice …’is anyone molesting your son? How about your husband? Surely he needs to spend more time with him? Although I just don’t think this is the case, my pastor told me the only way a child could be gay is if he was being molested or didn’t have a male role model in his life. Aren’t you and your husband together any longer?”
I sat there speechless…I didn’t know what to do. I thought I was coming to hear how well he played with others, how well he was reading; how well he cuts along the lines but no. Instead, I heard this and really did not know what to say to her…. I felt small. I felt the room closing in around me and I wanted to run, but where? I thought, if she is accusing us of something here…. what is she going to do? This is insane! Oh my, I don’t know what to do.
What’s more…oh, she sees it too. If she sees it, others see it too. He is gay. I have been telling myself it’s not true, I am mistaken. He may not be. Sure he seems different, a little odd but it is just a phase. He’ll grow out of it…but here I am faced with someone else seeing what I see…and she is naming it.
Sitting there looking at her I said, “Well…What am I to do? He is a good boy. He is my son. We don’t really know if he is gay or not. We shouldn’t decide something like that. Only time will tell. I would rather we talk about how he is doing than what you think he is and certainly, what your pastor has told you about it. As for my husband he is a great father, I do not know what you are talking about. This deeply offends me.”
Knowing I needed to have something more to talk to my son about than what she says of him. After all, he is waiting until I get home to hear about all the great things she says of him. I can’t tell him this. Knowing this I asked, … “How is he doing?”
These words came hard. I felt like I was swallowing a rock. I took a deep breath and continued… “You know he just loves you. He talks about how nice you are and helpful….”
This was painful. I wanted to take a swing at her. Inside I was seething with fear and anger towards her and this pastor she was talking about… Who does he think he is? By what authority does he have anything to say about this… and they’re talking about my son? About my family? Who do they think they are?
I was deeply hurt and yet, struggled because I knew my son adored her and would continue to see her the rest of the year. I thought to myself, “Does she treat him different because she thinks these things?” We finished up rather fast after that and I ran home. I ran as fast as I could go. The entire four blocks, sprinting with anger and fear…I wanted to get as far away as possible from her, from that conversation all the while, I knew I needed to prepare myself for home.
When I arrived, there was my son. He was finishing up a show with his brother and sister. The babysitter had given them their afternoon snack and I walked in to see his shining little face beaming at me. I looked at him and instantly said, “You are an excellent student Tyler. You are doing so well. You are reading well, sharing well and your teacher loves you.” He ran over, hugged me and we hung the papers she gave me on the refrigerator so everyone could see how well he was doing. As he skipped off to play with the other kids, I went to my room and started to cry. I cried and cried and cried.
- I cried because of her words, her insults.
- I cried because this may be just the beginning and I don’t know what to do.
- I cried because she saw what I have seen in him since he was a toddler.
- I cried because he is such a great kid, people are going to be mean, make judgments and maybe even hurt him.
- I cried because that pastor was so out of line; he does not know my family at all.
- I cried because the church is never a place I would want to take him. I knew then and swore to God… I will never raise him in church.
Here I am now… some 20 years later. I am now finishing Seminary and ready to be ordained. My children are grown, happy and well loved. They are all successful, educated and we are a close family.
I think my story is here to bear witness to the ways the church can disappoint and hurt and to the hope and reality that God is not done with church. No, not the church of yesterday but the church for today — one where people are free to be who they are, free to question and free to worship in new ways.
God has called me into ministry, knowing where I have come and what I have gone through. My story is to help others who feel outside, lost or rejected. My story is to tell of another way. I think that pastor (and the church he served at) stood for everything church is not. I also see this as an important message..to pastors. We are responsible for the stuff that comes out of our mouths. How we speak of God and for who we depict God to be.
Where church is to be open, welcoming and serving any and all, that church was closed, exclusive and divisive. You see, with a family like mine, we need a church that accepts all of us equally, not some of us prayerfully. So my hope is to be the light of God’s love and grace for any mother feeling and thinking she better not bring her child to church because of what they might do and say. My hope is for the church to love like Jesus, swinging open the doors, letting everyone in.
You know, some years later I ran into that teacher again. You see, I never did go for another parent-teacher meeting with her. So when I did see her again, I was surprised. Of all the things she could have said in that moment, she told me how she didn’t go to that church anymore.
She never asked me about my son, only cared to tell me that she stopped going there. It seems they were not happy that she and her husband divorced and I could only think… “well maybe she too has decided she will not raise her family in ‘that’ church.” You know, even with me getting ordained and all…I don’t blame her. I wouldn’t go to that church either.