Shari Johnson, her daughter Cholene, and husband James.
Op-ed: Confession of an Evangelical Mom

By Shari Johnson

Originally published on Advocate.com June 13 2012 10:01 AM ET

It is no more possible for one person to apologize for the hurt caused by millions of people than it is for one person to forgive on behalf of the millions who have been hurt — but I can, and do, apologize to you and humbly ask you to forgive me for my part in the pain you have suffered.

Ten years ago I went to pieces when my 37-year-old daughter called and told me she was gay. As an evangelical Christian, I had, as one of my grandsons is fond of saying, “drunk the Kool-Aid.” I had bought into the whole “It’s a choice; it’s a sin — an abomination to God” thing.

During our phone call, I told Cholene that I loved her and that would never change. She pressed me to tell her the rest of it when she said, “But?” (She knows me well.)

After a long pause I knew I had to be honest; I said, “It’s wrong.”

I have agonized over that. I would do anything to live that moment over and do it differently. However, that is where I was at the time. Cholene had known since she was a child that she was attracted to girls. It had taken her until the age of 37 to come to terms with it. In the length of one phone call, I couldn’t change my thinking from 30 years of teaching along this line.

It took a while, but I have gone from devastation to a grudging acceptance to full-on joy. I don’t “accept” my daughter; I embrace her for who she is. Cholene pointed out to me that when we “accept” someone, we are putting ourselves in a superior position — we are “more than” and they are “less than.” That is the last thing I want to do.

I didn’t get to this wonderful place by myself. God nudged me every step of the way. He let me know that he was not happy with my lack of love. The issue of Cholene’s homosexuality never came up, but he had a lot to say about my judging others. I hope you aren’t uncomfortable with this, but it is who I am, and when I say that God spoke to me or told me something, it isn’t in a thundering voice — it is a thought that I wouldn’t have come up with on my own. (Too often I line up with the “other guy,” if you get my drift.)

I know that many of you reading this probably come from rejecting (or ejecting) homes where religion of all types played a huge part in that. At the urging of my daughter and her spouse, I wrote my story from the night I received my daughter’s call to the present. It has been a work in progress (I was the “work in progress”) for six years. My thinking from when I began writing in 2006 to the present has changed dramatically — and I thank God for that. One of the main purposes of the book is to help reconcile families that have been torn apart needlessly. I hope that, in reading my story, other parents will wonder if perhaps they also have been wrong.

I often say this is something that will change one heart at a time. I was a real hard-nose, and if God could change my cold heart (that I was so convinced was overflowing with Christian love), then he can do that for anyone. There is definitely hope that your loved ones will change as well. Don’t give up.

 

SHARI JOHNSON is author of Above All Things.