by Kelly Mattingly
I used to think I knew what it meant to be a Christian. All I had to do was go to church every week, follow the Golden Rule, be of service to others, and love my neighbor. Right? Simple enough. But this simplistic view of how to live came into question the day my son McKay came out to me his senior year of high school. In that one evening – that one moment – my world seemed to shatter. My heart felt like it was left in pieces.
You see, I was raised in (and taught to participate in) a conservative religion. In this religion I had been raised to believe that being gay was a sin. I had internalized the idea that there was something wrong with being LGBTQ. It didn’t seem like being LGBTQ was part of God’s plan. How was I to reconcile those teachings….with my amazing son whom I loved fiercely? Did I need to choose between my religion and my child? Did I need to condemn his behavior just to remain in good standing with my church? Is that what God wanted me to do?
McKay had always been such an easy child to love and raise. He followed the rules, did his homework without fuss and never caused an ounce of trouble. So I certainly never expected him to be the source of so much pain! Not my McKay. Plus, I had so many unwritten expectations of who he was supposed to be and what his future life should look like. Now, I had to give all that up?
When I finally emerged from the fetal position and realized this was NOT about me, I began a long, and sometimes painful, period of self-reflection. As a parent, what do I really desire for my child? Did I truly want him to stay firm in a church that wouldn’t support him marrying or being with the one he loves? At the same time, how could I possibly support him leaving our religion of origin that had been so central to the core of who I am?
The seemingly most unlikely people to help me through this were McKay and his partner, Parker. They were both amazingly kind, patient and understanding with me while I took the necessary time I needed to process this change. From the beginning, McKay had always said that he was open and willing to talk about anything I wanted or needed to discuss. He very wisely stated, “I’ve had 18 years to come to terms with the fact that I’m gay. You’ve only had a few months.” So we talked. A lot! Through this profound self-evaluation, I discovered some incredible things about myself and what I now feel it means to be a Christian.
In my own hometown of Salt Lake City, 40% of the homeless youth on the streets are LGBTQ.. This community is predominantly made up of the same conservative religion to which I belonged. Let that sink in. Christian parents are kicking their own children out onto the streets because of their sexual orientation. That means that on a Monday these parents love and cherish their child….while on Tuesday, after their child has come out, their child becomes expendable. All the love and resources that went into raising their precious child means nothing now. Is that what it means to be a true Christian?
I had thought that when the Savior said, “Love thy neighbor,” it meant just that. Not “Love thy neighbor….unless they are gay.” I would not, nor could I, conditionally love my child. I would love McKay always, no matter what. That means accepting his true self. That means accepting his partner-now-husband, Parker. It means becoming his fierce ally.
I have no idea why one person is heterosexual and another homosexual. With all the internal struggling I have done over the past 11 years, I have come to the same conclusion over and over again. I am not his judge. I leave that up to a God who I believe created McKay and loves and understands him more than I ever will. Therefore, my responsibility as a mother AND a Christian is to love, accept, and honor who he is, unconditionally, just like I do his brother, who happens to be heterosexual. My role as a Christian is to love and accept any marginalized human, regardless of what society (or religion) believes about them. McKay and I respect each other’s values and differences, and I have learned the most important lesson in life – to be a true Christian I must not judge others. I must love everyone, even if – heaven forbid – we might see or experience things differently. I must do as Christ would do. Not in theory only, but in practicality. If I am judged by my God for loving and accepting another one of His children, then so be it.
McKay and Parker just celebrated their third anniversary. Their wedding was spectacular. Would you expect anything less from two gay men?! I couldn’t have asked for a better son-in-law and life partner for my son. I realize now that my world was never really shattered and my heart was never truly broken. I just had to learn how to be a true Christian. And McKay taught me how.