“Mom, I’m Gay” | Reflections & Notes

Susan Cottrell. “Mom, I’m Gay”: Loving Your LGBTQ Child and Strengthening Your Faith. Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. (177 pages)


One of the major dividing elements in the current theological/ecclesiological debate on human sexuality is the overarching tension of “hermeneutical priority.” Should/does experience inform how we interpret scripture, or should scripture inform how we govern our experiences? I recognize this summation is severely lacking, as there are myriads of nuances needed to explicate what is really going on in this contemporary debate. However, for the sake of distilling down to categories, this is a decent starting point.

In a commitment to the former way, (that our experience should inform our interpretation of scripture) Cottrell’s plea, guidance, and advice to parents of LGBTQ+ children is of great importance. Nothing in this book will robustly address one’s theology, but everything in this book should help to awaken a family’s soul to empathy. Cottrell prods us to understand what our children are experiencing, and implores us to absolutely ensure that they first, foremost, and always experience from us unconditional love. To that, there is no counter-argument. For that reason, this book is a gift.



Whoever you are, whatever you are going through right now, know that you are not alone. (xii)


1. The Outing

2. It’s Not about You

This is not something your child did to you. (8)

If your expectation lie shattered at your feet, then they are your expectations. Let God replace your vision for your child with God’s. (8)

Studies show no correlation between childhood trauma and being gay. (9)

3. You Didn’t Cause This

4. The Power of Denial

This denial, or cognitive dissonance, appears in many forms. Severing relationship with your child and calling it love; denying people civil liberties and calling it religious freedom; throwing people out of church and calling it discipline–these are only a few of the ways we use denial to engage in the most unlovely and un-Christlike behavior. (16)

If you push off accepting your son as transgender, you fracture your relationship. That is a crushing (and completely unchristian) blow to someone whom you are called as a parent to love unconditionally. In the end, ongoing denial appeases only you but places a crushing weight on those whose reality you deny. 917)

| Let me encourage you (put courage into you) to embrace your child and set aside the pieces you don’t understand. If you’re worried about what God will think of you, just cling mightily to the first and foremost command to love, love with all your heart, and let God reveal and heal the rest. Heal the foundational relationships God has given you, and the rest will take care of it self. I promise. (17)

FreedHearts Work

Many Christians have been taught that emotions are unpredictable and unsafe, so they are afraid to experience the full range of their emotions. But God gave us emotions to help us navigate a vast world more richly and safely. Jesus wept, yelled in anger, felt sad, was moved to compassion, and grieved. We can too. Identify your array of emotions surrounding your LGBTQ child. How has denial played a role in your response? (17)

5. The Power of Anger

The purpose of anger is to notify us that something is not right in order to spur us into helpful action. (19)

Instead, let your anger press you to seek out better understanding. (20)

6. Praying Away the Gay–the Impossible Dream

Has anyone prayed themselves straight? The truth is that I don’t know a single story like that, although I know some who have suppressed themselves. But we know that countless LGBTQ people have prayed, done everything right, followed every suggestion, gone to support groups, and poured themselves wholeheartedly into being straight, only to sink into self-loathing when the promised change didn’t come. (25)

7. Hoping for Change Can Hurt


8. “You’re Not Gay, You’re Just Confused”

By the time your child comes out to you, they are pretty sure of what they’re saying. They did not rush out to tell you first thing. … By the time your child comes out to you, they know what they are talking about. (34)

| Do not ask them if they are sure, if maybe they want to take a little time and see what happens. Instead, consider the journey they have been through. …tell them you are grateful that they are including you in their journey and that they no longer have to go through this alone. Even if they are saying they are not sure, that’s okay. This is still the l ifs-giving response. (34)

Then give yourself time to process. (34)

9. Terrified to Tell You

The risk is real. Gay teens have been shamed, banished, threatened, beaten, and shunned. They are on the street, turned out by their parents. Some 40 percent of homeless teens in Los Angeles are gay or lesbian, 68 percent of those have experienced family rejection, and 54 parent have experienced abuse in their family. They know that once they say it, they cannot unsay it. Don’t think our k ids don’t weigh that risk every day. (38)

Even someone who considers same-sex relationships sinful (38) has no justification from God to withdraw love like this. None. (39)

FreedHearts Work

Take a good long look at the courage your child had to come out to you. Consider the courage it takes to stand for who you are, especially the you’ve fought against it, prayed against it, and denied it all long as you could, and (40) now you choose to stand–especially when others who do not like it can make life so miserable for you because of it. (41)

10. What Not to Say, Part 1

“I can’t approve of ‘the gay lifestyle.'”

“It’s a choice.”

“The parts don’t fit.”

“They’re an abomination.”

“They exchanged the truth for a lie.”

“I’m just telling you what the Bible clearly says. It’s not me saying it, it’s God.”

FreedHearts Work

Can you hear how these words would be received? Can you hear how they are not neutral but harmful? Are you willing to lay them down and let God lead, let God speak on this? Are you willing to speak up when you hear these words spoken instead of letting them go? In this way we can bear one another’s burdens and treat our children as we ourselves would want to be treated. (46)

11. What Not to Say, Part 2

I’m not sure where the life of a Christ-follower became about correcting others instead of loving others, but I suspect it’s all about the human desire to be in charge. (47)

Some people find fault like there’s a reward for it. – Zig Ziglar

My daughter Hannah told me she easily preferred her theater group to youth group, because in theater, she could be who she was, but in youth group, unspoken expectations just hung over her head. (47)

“Being gay is like any other sin.”

No one seriously argues that being on a drunken bender is a good thing. The addiction is a distortion of who someone is; being clean and sober is the authentic expression of who that person is. (48)

“Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

“Go and sin no more.”

What hope do we have if I’m talking to her, but TBN is answering back? If you sound like your pastor or FOX News or TBN, you probably are not thinking for yourself but repeating what you’ve heard. You’re probably not seeking to understand. (50)

[via: ouch!]

12. Beyond the Binary

“God create them male and female.”

…this verse does not refer to the (51) full breadth of humanity. Most may be male and female, but not all. | In fact, God created some both male and female, and some neither male nor female. (52)

Gender identity is not orientation; transgender does not mean gay. Gender identity is who you are; sexual orientation is who you love. (53)

…instead of telling others how they are or who they should be, let’s allow others to tell us who they are. Let’s humble ourselves to consider that God’s creation is not as simple as we may have thought. (54)

13. “He’s Wearing a Dress!”

14. The Masculinity Myth

Parents must squarely recognize their own disdain and seek to dislodge it, so as not to communicate shame to their LGBTQ children, and to their gay sons in particular. (60)

| You did not form your understanding of masculinity and neither did your son. It came as part of the package of living here. Don’t punish your son for not measuring up to the culture’s idea of manhood. Instead, challenge the cultural idea of manhood. (60)

Similarly, don’t hold your daughter to a certain view of women. Instead, challenge that view. (60)

Parents have a keen responsibility to protect their children from external forces that would shame them and teach the to quiet the voices of shame from within. We have the power, by loving and accepting our children as they are, to counteract the cruelty they may experience outside of our homes. (61)


15. Embrace Your Child

Life is ephemeral, beyond our control, easy to snuff out. Put first things first. You have a beautiful child. Do not let this issue overshadow that truth. Ask God whatever you need to, and let God guide you through this maze. But do not let anything diminish the blessed gift your child is and their place in your family. Now is the perfect time to embrace, kiss, encourage, affirm, and love your child. (67)

16. Where’s the Love?

…we never outgrow our need to love and be loved, and the world is infinitely sweeter when our parents are among those who embrace us. (69)

| Shall I tell you a secret of the so-called “Gay Agenda”? It is to be loved and accepted as is, just like anyone else, without having to change or be changed. There, it’s out. (69)

Sometimes we find it easier to bolster our beliefs with conspiracy theories and imagined threats than to sit with uncomfortable ideas and re-evaluate what we’ve long thought of as true. (70)

17. Don’t Shame Your Child

…to quash someone else–our children–for our own comfort is the height of self-absorption. (76)

Shame prohibits acceptance, love, and belonging, because shame says something is fundamentally wrong with us. That’s the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is about something we’ve done. Shame is about who we are. (76)

18. What Are the Conditions of Your Unconditional Love?

What is love anyway? Love means to accept someone exactly as they are and to give room for who they might become. (80)

If God is grieved it’s because the beautiful, incomparable message of redemption and grace, the sweet peace of a loving relationship, has been truncated, rerouted into a message of behavior-modification and sin-management. (81)

19. Surrender Control

I don’t know why we say we’d give up our lives for our kids, when we won’t even give up our point of view. I think we are more selfish than we want to admit. – Vicky

Remnants of adaptive-behavior-turned-maladaptive behavior hurt rather than help, but because we are so used to these things we do, we have a hard time seeing them, much less surrendering them. (84)

We say we would take a bullet for our kids, and we want to believe it, but a parent is seldom required to take a bullet for their child. (84)

| Yet we are asked something that, judging by our reaction, is much, much harder. We’re asked to take a good cold look at our own beliefs, our own areas of comfort, our own areas of fear. After that good long look, we are asked to abandon maladaptive behavior; we are asked to change our point of view; we are asked to surrender control. (84)

The Bible’s encouragement to “train up a child in the way they should go” literally means “train them up according to their bent,” according to the particular way that God designed them. (85)

20. Let Go of Your Plans

Don’t waste another minute to bless your child, love your child, and set your child free. (89)

21. Bear Their Burdens

What you don’t need right now is others’ uninformed opinions. You need real empathy and support. You need truly affirming friends. (93)

Talk with your child as much as they want, but not more. As they navigate the rest of their world, be their safe haven. (93)

FreedHearts Work

Remember that if your child is still breathing, it’s never too late to express your love. (94)


22. Don’t Destroy Your Child’s Faith

My Christianity had died the death of a thousand nicks and cuts. – Bart Campolo

Many parents who’ve come around are worried about their children’s faith. I encourage them to let go and love them. Let them breathe and stretch into the love they’ve needed. Let God handle their faith. If you are concerned about your child’s faith, let go the requirements and let God be God. (98)

23. You Don’t Have to Protect God

Many Christians have their faith upside down. They want to protect God from sin. (103)

Isn’t (103) God much better positioned to comfort us than we are to comfort God? Then we can comfort others with that same comfort God has given us. (104)

When we focus on sin, we live in fear. (104)

24. God’s Got This

Consider that straight was not God’s plan for your child–if it were, your child would be straight. Have faith that God has got your child, even if your child hasn’t got God. (109)

FreedHearts Work

Extraordinary circumstances are often the best cutter to open the box we put God in. (109)

25. The Ultimate Fear: Hell

I do not seek to uproot your theology; I seek to give you permission to follow your heart where the Spirit leads. … I offer this alternative view so that you don’t have to live in torment over the idea of eternal damnation. (122)

[via: This is in many ways a “[seeking] to uproot theology.” Also, on p. 113, Cottrell references the “dump called Gehenna, which burned outside the city day and night,” which is false.]

…even if you staunchly believe in hell, the Bible does not say anyone will go to hell for being LGBTQ. It’s just not there. Be at peace, and rest. And let God reveal to you whatever you need to know. (113)

26. The Slippery Slope of Sin

Let’s consider that Jesus in fact encourages the slippery slope. He accepts the lowest of the low. He embraces the very ones the religious elite reject. He goes from bad to worse as he breaks down every barrier those religious leaders put up to keep out “sinners.” He scandalously lets a “sinful woman” wash his feet with her voluptuously unfastened hair. He daringly eats dinner in the house of a tax extortionist. Out of control, he breaks the Sabbath laws by healing, of all things. (116)

Then Jesus takes that slippery slope plunge all the way down to the bottom, as he describes God in unthinkable terms–as a father lifting his skirts to run to embrace his errant son, as a man who throws a wedding feast that nobody attends, as a (gasp) woman who searches high and low for her lost coin. Then, worst of all, Jesus compares himself to God. (116)

It’s true that accepting others is a slippery slope. But it’s not a treacherous slip into the sewer. No. It is instead an exhilarating bobsled ride out onto the level ground where all are welcome, where all are in the family. The real slippery slope–that Jesus is on and invites us on–is the slide into inclusion of all God’s family, because all are created in God’s image. (117)

27. The “Clobber Passages” (Old Testament)

28. The “Clobber Passages” (New Testament)

[via: The previous two chapters were not well done, but this is a gentle critique as I understand Cottrell to be summarizing and greatly distilling the work from other theologians, etc. I will assess, however, that calling out the lack of contextualization in the “clobber” passages is inconsistent with proof-texting Galatians 3:10 to support a contrarian point.]

29. Please, No Child Sacrifice

[via: The concept of “child sacrifice” was a really powerful phraseology, consistent with the history of human sacrifice.]

30. Speak the Truth

But the truth is that the conflict is not between your heart and God’s heart–the conflict is between your heart and the teaching too many churches have been repeating. (134)


31. You Need Support Too

…as a parent of a marginalized child, you need to have your wits about you and your feet under you. (139)

As you embrace your child, you will find yourself in your own process of coming out. (139)

32. Ignore the Naysayers

Our job as a church is to love and encourage each other, but instead, we manage each other’s behavior–because of fear. (144)

If we can’t say in our hearts that our children are more important than others’ opinions, it’s time to restore our priorities. (145)

33. Words That Hurt, Words That Heal

34. Does Your Church Tell Good News…or Bad News?

35. The Church in Crisis…or the Church in Chrysalis?

We finally left our church of fifteen years for an affirming, Jesus-centered church. We had no idea how bound we were by others’ opinions until we found a place we’re free of them! What surprised us is that we have grown closer to God on this journey than we ever were. – Mark

Change brings bountiful opportunity, but it also disrupts. (156)

The church may appear to be in crisis. But what if the church is in chrysalis? To say crisis is to seek a way back; to say chrysalis is to seek a way forward. (156)

36. Your Kid Will Be Fine

Your child is gay. Don’t be afraid; it’s going to be all right. In fact, it will be amazing. (159)

Be proud. Rejoice. You’ve raised a great kid. (160)

About VIA


One comment

  1. HAT

    Kevin, thanks for sharing this – it sounds like a great, very honest, book.

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