Bob Freeman: “O What Needless Pain We Bear”

Bob and Andrew Freeman

The school year was coming to a close and my son Andrew’s sixth grade class was scheduled for an all day field trip. But when we got to school, Andrew announced he was not going and refused to get out of the car. I was on my way to work and was not ready for a discussion.

“Andrew, you have to go to school. Get out of the car!” I insisted.

But Andrew has never been one to be easily persuaded. As we sat in a stalemate, a teacher passed by and joined the discussion. She showed more patience and asked a question I should have asked, “Andrew it’s going to be lots of fun. Why don’t you want to go?”

By this point Andrew was in tears. “I’ll just be spending all of my time with Paul and the other kids are calling us gay.”

“Oh Andrew, don’t worry” the teacher consoled, “you are not gay! It will be OK.”

She had the right initial question, and she got Andrew out of the car, but I wasn’t so sure I liked her response. “How do we know he is not gay?” I thought. “And what if he is?” Somehow I knew we had lost a teachable moment. It was a missed opportunity.

Fifteen years after that morning in the middle school parking lot, my wife and I sat in our kitchen one night and listened as Andrew told us he is gay. For fifteen years we hadn’t mentioned that morning, while Andrew struggled in silence and solitude. Was there something that could have been said that morning that would have been an opening for conversation earlier? This is the question I continue to wrestle with. I don’t have all the answers, but I can think of at least three things I know with certainty, three things I wish I had communicated sooner.

First, I have no idea why some of us are straight and some of us are gay, but I do believe that no one can choose to be gay just like you can’t choose your gender. You do not choose it, and you cannot change it.

Second, to those who are gay: it’s not your fault. There is no blame in being gay. There is no sin in being gay. It’s not your fault, it’s not anyone’s fault. It’s not a matter of fault; it is a matter of gift. It’s not an illness; it is by God’s design.

Lastly, as a parent I have to say, “It’s OK if you are gay. We love and support you, unconditionally.” Our family and our home will be a safe place for anyone who is gay, whether they are our children or our children’s friends.

If I had said those things years ago, maybe I could have spared Andrew some of the pain of finding his identity. Yet this is a conversation we should have with all our children, gay or straight. If they are gay, this might just save their life. If they are straight, they might not be the one to bully the gay person over the edge or might just be that one that befriends someone with the word, “It’s OK. I accept you as you are.” We cannot afford more missed opportunities.

This may be easy for me to say now because we have a gay child, but we also have three straight children who have not turned their back on their brother. I cannot say that I am proud of my son for being gay – he did nothing, he had no choice. But I can say that I am very proud of the way he has taken this challenge head on with honesty and dignity. And I am also proud of my family that has stood by Andrew.

As I said, I have no idea why some of us are straight and some of us are gay, but I also have no idea why some of us are so homophobic and some of us are so perfectly comfortable with accepting him as he is. Homosexuality is not a choice, but homophobia is. Since the start of this blog, many people who used to ask, “how is Andrew?” have stopped asking about him. I don’t know if they think we are uncomfortable talking about him or if they are uncomfortable talking about him. But they have stopped talking, and that is not the right choice.

I am not uncomfortable talking about my son, because I love my son. Do I wish he wasn’t gay? That is such a small part of who he is, but the pieces of the fabric of who he is are so interwoven that if I pulled that one piece out I have no idea what else of Andrew I would lose. Would he still be able to preach with the same intensity? Would his piano playing still have the same feeling? The Andrew I know and love has always been gay, but I’ve only known for a year.

This “issue” is not going to simply go away, and not talking about it is not an acceptable answer. Much of the pain and anguish that LGBT children in our churches bear is needlessly borne alone and in silence. The saying goes, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” Homophobia is a problem. Will you be part of the solution? If so, we need to talk.

  • Casey Pick

    “Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer!
    In his arms he’ll take and shield thee;
    thou wilt find a solace there.”

    Perfect hymn for so many of our LGBT friends who would visit this site. Thank you for invoking it, and for being a really good father. Andrew is lucky to have you.

  • Carol Peterson

    Thank you for sharing, Bob!  I admire your family and I feel fortunate to have been able to receive some excellent parenting advice from you and Bev over the years.  

  • Devriesj10

    Thank you for sharing, Bob. I know Jesus would not have us hate or ridicule our gay brothers and sisters but show them love.

  • Jim Anderson

    Superbly written, Bob, but even more, superbly lived. How fortunate Andrew is to have a dad who not only loves and cares for him but openly takes a stand on his behalf. Must say, too, Bob, that I’m proud to have known you for a long time, and to know that the stand  you take today shows the loving person who expressed that love to our family 40 years ago and more.

  • Katy Fink-Johnson

    Bob, the four children that you and Bev have raised together are a testament to the love and support and you have always given them.  You cannot go back and change those moments in time, but you can go forward, just as you have here, and share what you have learned with others.  You have many more teachable moments to come.  I love the Freeman clan and am proud to call you family.

    Katy Fink-Johnson

  • Beautiful, Bob.  I can see where Andrew came from in you.  How blessed you both are to have each other.  Thank you for sharing this.

  • Dale Johnson

    What a brother you are! And what a nephew Andrew is!  We love you all.

  • Cfransson

    The pieces of the fabric are so interwoven I have no idea what else of Andrew I would lose…if he gave up the part of being gay. So true! Who knows who we would be without this dimension? And all it has brought us?

  • Mike Plugh

    Really beautiful and important words. Thank you.

  • Wilmajohnsong

    Bob, Thank you for sharing your experience and showing your abiding love for your child no matter what. I agree that God created each of us in his image – we each have a soul which I believe is a reflection of the spirit of God. When it comes to who we are as individuals God’s design has an infinite range of unique and beautiful variations. He certainly did not create any junk!

    I am glad to see many Covenanters willing to stand up for what is right, as I believe Christ’s most important message is to love each other It supercedes all else.

  • Ablg67

    I am wondering where any Scripture is quoted in this article or any of the comments regarding homosexuality as a “gift” from God. The Bible does not say anywhere that sexual orientation towards the same sex is a sin.  It does, however, consistently say that sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage is a sin.  All sins are equal in God’s eyes per the Bible.

    I grew up in the Evangelical Covenant Church. I was taught that there possibly was no Hell…that it did not exist.  This is heresy.

    Please, Covenant Church, stand on the truths of the Bible!!!  Do not take the words of hymns as biblical truths.  Whether on is born gay or is gay because of early childhood experiences (or it is a “choice” as Martina N., the tennis player has said she has chosen), then this is something that the person has to deal with in life.  There are things in my life that are will always be a part of my “person” that I cannot change.  I need to try to live my life 100% surrendered to Christ and the teachings of the Bible and to “go on” even though life is very difficult.