Before saying anything else, we want to assure you that our thoughts and prayers go out to you in the midst of this painful situation. The emotional ups and downs you describe are normal and to be expected under the circumstances. So don’t beat yourself up for feeling confused, and don’t assume responsibility for your son’s feelings or any of the decisions he’s made as an autonomous young adult. He’s old enough to be his own person. Carrying a burden of false, debilitating guilt will only hinder you from showing him God’s love in the most effective way.
There’s no quick and easy solution to your dilemma. All you can do is lean into Jesus and His deep abiding love for both you and your son. On a practical level, we can’t presume to advise you without knowing a great deal more about the details of the case. We can tell you that the ministry of Focus on the Family has always believed and taught that homosexual behavior is inconsistent with God’s design for human sexuality as set forth in the pages of Scripture; and that, for this reason, we understand and have natural sympathies with your concerns about doing anything that might be interpreted as “condoning” or “endorsing” homosexual activity or your son’s viewpoints regarding a gay identity.
Perhaps the point you need to settle in your own mind is whether the choice you’re facing is as cut-and-dried as your question seems to imply. Is allowing him to reside with you (at least at this point) really a matter of “endorsing” or not “endorsing” a gay identity or lifestyle? It’s easy to assume that allowing another adult to reside in your home as a tenant (especially a family member) means you “approve” of their choices. While that line of thought is understandable, we’d advise you not to jump to that conclusion too quickly. In actuality, the situation may allow for a great deal more nuance, grace, and individual customization than you suppose. It all depends on a number of interrelated factors concerning yourself, your son, and the nature of the relationship you share with him at this time in his life and personal development. Before moving forward, you need to evaluate your natural inclinations and your feelings about the situation – whether that means keeping him in your home or asking him to leave-and take an honest look at your own motives.
Healthy relationships between parents and grown children leave room for the adult child’s autonomy and right of self-determination. If in your heart of hearts you realize that you’re reluctant to see your son leave home because you need to control his destiny, or that you’re holding on to him out of a desire to manipulate his behavior (or to “change” him), you need to re-evaluate your approach. Although fear and anxiety concerning our adult children is a normal reaction, it’s not a good idea to let those emotions dictate your life and interactions. In this case, it’s probably more constructive to let him walk away and find other living arrangements if he’s so inclined. It might even be advisable to encourage him to do so. It’s not that your concerns are invalid. It’s just that there’s a very good chance that any redemptive influence you still have in his life will be enhanced by allowing him to graduate into the full free-will independence that God allows for all of His children. If you can reach this developmental milestone in your relationship, the result will be a new emotional freedom for all parties concerned, and that’s bound to be beneficial. It might even be worth discussing ways of accomplishing this task (both emotionally and practically) with a trained family counselor.
If, on the other hand, you feel compelled to “bottom line” the matter and make your point by kicking him out of the house, this too is worth carefully evaluating. We don’t recommend any knee-jerk reactions. While this may seem to draw a clear “line in the sand,” consider whether or not you’re inclined to take this approach simply because you don’t want to face certain confusing or anxiety-provoking topics, or because you aren’t willing to do the hard work required to come to a mutual or workable understanding. If so, it might be wise to hit the “pause” button. Remember that all of your interactions with your son should be guided by two overarching goals: 1) to maintain the relationship and 2) to maintain a godly influence in his life. Sometimes that entails a willingness to proceed slowly and with ample measures of grace and careful conversation, even as you hold to convictions and truth.
With that in mind, here’s what we would propose as a very broad and general plan of action. First, make sure you and your spouse are on the same page. Then let your son know that the two of you are personally committed to what you regard as a biblical standard of sexual morality. Tell him that, as far as you are concerned, this is a matter of personal conscience. Point out that your conscience does not allow you to bless or condone homosexual activity. Make it clear that you will be expecting him to honor and abide by that moral standard – if only out of respect for you – as long as he remains under your roof. You can say something like, “We love you, but at the same time we don’t want to violate our sense of personal integrity. As you know, we don’t approve of the direction your life is taking, but we’re willing to let you live here for the time being while we all learn to relate to one another as best we can in light of this important matter in your life. That’s assuming that living in our home at this particular juncture is still an arrangement you want to make work. You are, of course, free to look for other living quarters if that’s what you’d prefer. Above all, we want you to know that we care more about you than about any label you may choose to give yourself or your experience of same-sex attractions.” Remind yourselves and your son that love and approval aren’t necessarily the same thing.
It might be helpful to include your most basic requests and stipulations in a formal, written shared-living arrangement document that you can all sign in solidarity. In the process of drawing up this statement of understanding, explain that while you consider your son a full-fledged adult, you also have a responsibility to maintain certain boundaries within your own household. Point out that this may require periodic reviews to determine what sort of living arrangement might be most conducive to the preservation of workable and loving relationships in the family. This last point is especially important if you have younger children in the home. Your son needs to understand that you, as parents, have a very real responsibility to guide and protect his minor siblings – especially if you detect anything you regard as a negative influence. You should also clarify that as long as he remains with you, he will be expected to treat other members of the family with respect and to make some kind of tangible contribution to the general welfare of the household – for example, by paying rent, cleaning the house, and supportively attending to other shared functions that you determine appropriate at this stage in your family’s life. This is simply the “good citizenship” that characterizes all functional families and communities. Everyone has a role and contributes in ways that are agreed upon beforehand. Don’t fuss or argue about any of this. Just help your son understand that the choice is his to make and that you are not looking for reasons to make him leave.
A final important consideration is that of your son’s personal belief system and faith-commitment. Does he consider himself a Christian? It should be obvious that the answer to this question will have a significant impact upon the nature of your conversations. If he does think of himself as a believer, urge him to examine his faith convictions with great care and to give them priority over every other consideration. Make it clear that, as far as you are concerned, it would be wise to give greater weight to biblical values than to feelings of same-sex attraction. Underscore the thought that attraction, behavior, and identity are three separate areas; that one need not be determined by the others; and that behavior and identity, unlike attraction, are matters of conscious, willful choice. End by saying, “We want you to know that we will be reading and learning about this topic because we care about you. If you’re willing, maybe we could read and learn together.”
Meanwhile, arrange a meeting with the other members of the immediate family. If you have younger children, use age-appropriate language to explain that their older brother is going through a difficult time. Details should be made available only on a need-to-know basis. Acknowledge and empathize with your children’s emotional reactions to the situation, remembering that each one of them may need help sorting out his or her feelings. Tell the kids that while you remain committed to biblical standards of morality, you cannot possibly stop loving your son. Ask the other children to join you in your efforts to treat him with love and respect and in praying for him.
In closing, we can’t overemphasize the importance of enlisting the help of a professional counselor. Here at Focus on the Family we have a staff of trained family therapists available to provide you with sound advice and practical assistance over the phone. If you’d like to speak with one of them, you can call our Counseling department for a free consultation. Our counselors can also provide you with references to reputable Christian therapists practicing in your area.
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.
Homosexuality (resource list)
Waiting Room Ministry