Nancy Carlson: My Story

Carlson Family: (seated) Nancy and Al, (standing L-R) Pam, Cindy & Jim

I am a mother of a son who is gay.  I would like to tell you my story.  I was brought up in a Christian home and have attended the same Evangelical Covenant Church all of my life.  My grandfather was a founder of our local church in the late 1800’s.  I met my husband there.  We have three grown children:  two daughters and a son.  Our involvement at church has always been an important part of our lives and it still is.  We both sing in the choir and have served in many different capacities.  It was 19 years ago when our son, Jim, moved into his own home that he had just built.  I began to notice that he seemed lonely, sad and distant.  Of course, I was praying that he would meet a nice Christian girl.  He had many girlfriends but, one by one, they were getting married.

As a mother, you know your child.  I knew that Jim was deeply unhappy.  I mentioned to my daughters that I was concerned.  For the first time, I began to question Jim’s sexual orientation.   One night, I was so concerned for Jim that I could not sleep.  I went into the den and knelt down and cried out to God.  First of all, I prayed for Jim, asking God to surround him with His love.  Then I prayed that God would restore Jim’s sense of peace and joy.  Finally, I prayed for myself.  If Jim was gay, how could we accept this?  I was taught when I was growing up that the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin.  How would our church handle this?  What would our friends and family think and say?

It was 4:00 in the morning and I could not sleep, so I put on the television.  As I was flipping through the stations, by “chance” I heard a woman’s voice saying, “If you have a son or daughter and they tell you that they are gay, love and pray for them.”  I could not believe it!  Here, at 4 a.m., God had intervened.  There was a woman speaking right to my pain and deepest fears.  I felt that the message was intended to reach me exactly at that moment.  I learned later that the woman was Barbara Johnson, a well known Christian author and speaker, who also had a son who was gay.  I was in such an emotional state that I did not hear everything she had to say but I did remember the most important thing:  Love and pray for your children.

Somehow, I knew that Jim was gay.  I decided to contact Barbara Johnson because I needed to talk to someone who could understand.  I called a phone number in California and she answered!  She advised me to share this with someone else that I could trust, but I explained that I could not do that because Jim had not confirmed to us that he was gay.  She had a ministry to parents of gay and lesbian children and sent me materials each month including stories like mine.  Someone else was feeling the same way I was feeling!  It was so all-consuming that knowing others were experiencing the same things was a great comfort.

A few weeks later, Jim came for dinner.  That evening, he told us he was gay.  We shed many tears.  We told him we loved him unconditionally and knew that he was a Christian.  I remember feeling badly that Jim had kept the truth to himself and had to be alone in his struggle.  Jim seemed so relieved!  We all knew that life would change and there would be difficulties but that together we could get through them.  When our friends at church began to hear that Jim was gay, at first they seemed supportive.  Soon after, though, it became clear that some members could not accept that he was gay.  He was asked to step down as children’s church leader and to give up all of his leadership roles teaching and serving at church.  I should mention that he is a teacher by profession in the public school system, where he is well-liked and accepted by the community and his peers.  It was devastating to Jim and all of our family to know that some members of our church family could not accept him and he was made to feel unwelcome in the church he had been a part of all of his life.  I lost some of my closest friends in the church and it was terribly painful.

It has been many years now and some friendships have healed and we feel totally accepted.  I know this experience has humbled me and has increased my faith.  God has been with me every step of the way.  Jim has a partner, Kevin, who is a wonderful caring man.  They are both very happy and no longer lonely.  Our family is closer than ever, although my husband and I are the only members who remained at our church.  My daughters and their families felt that they could not stay because of the way Jim was treated.  It breaks my heart that we can no longer worship as a family and that three generations of our family have left the Covenant.  Our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are greatly missed and we have been impacted by this loss.  My husband and I remained at our church, determined to hold our ground and stay because of our faith and love for the Covenant.  Time does heal and I am glad that we did not leave our church.  The positive side is that relationships have been healed.  Every day is new and I know we all will continue to change.  My hope is that the Covenant will become more inclusive and people will learn to be more compassionate and less judgmental.

In my own journey, I have learned so much about homosexuality and Christianity.  I am convinced that being gay is not a choice and that sexual orientation is determined at birth.  I think it is most important that we love and care for each other the way God loves and cares for us.  I know God simply loves us as we are and his will is for us to do the same.

  • Lorian

    Nancy, what a sad but beautiful comment. Your unconditional and uninterrupted love and acceptance of your son is such a wonderful gift. I am probably a little older than your son, and I remember how painful and difficult and depressing it was trying to come to grips with my sexual orientation. It was a terrible time in my life, and the only way to make it better was to pass through it and find love and acceptance where I could. How wonderful that your son could turn to you.

    It is so sad to hear of churches who not only push out people who need their love and support, but that such churches deprive their membership of the gifts and talents such people (like your son) have to offer. How sad that such a hasty and ill-considered action should result in the church losing the gift of your children, your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren.

    Blessings to you for being such a loving and supportive mother.

  • Lisa

    What a beautiful testimony this is, Mrs. Carlson. Thank you so much for opening your heart to share your story with others. I know first hand, what a wonderful family you are, and the love and support you have for one another is precious. I, too, believe that sexual orientation is determined at birth, and God choses our path in life, and no human being has the right to determine which path any of us should take..

  • Laura M

    Mrs. Carlson, thank you for sharing your story. How sad that you lost friends, and the Covenant lost a talented, caring teacher for its children. I hope that these discussions on this site can open people’s minds and hearts for change. I love how you posted a photo of your family, sharing a happy moment together. Your family is beautiful.

  • Sam

    Thank you for sharing your story Mrs. Carlson. Perhaps it will help some rethink this issue.

    I was especially struck by your last paragraph:

    “In my own journey, I have learned so much about homosexuality and Christianity. I am convinced that being gay is not a choice and that sexual orientation is determined at birth. I think it is most important that we love and care for each other the way God loves and cares for us. I know God simply loves us as we are and his will is for us to do the same.”

    I agree. If orientation is not a choice, choosing to treat gay members of the body of Christ differently than other members of the body is a huge mistake, as I think it will come to be seen in coming days. We must “love and care for each other the way God loves and cares for us.” You are a mother who really does understand!

  • Bethany

    Nancy, I am so honored to be a member of your family! Erik told me you posted here and I raced to the site to read it. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Ssjoblad

    Ones’ sexual orientation does not make them any less effective as a leader in the church or less capable of bringing people closer to Christ. The Covenant lost a wonderful leader when Jim left. All who interacted with him during his tenure in the Covenant were blessed. Jim impacted my walk with Christ in a very positive way I’m pretty sure God is smiling because that happened.

    • missioncov

      The issue is not orientation – the issue is behavior. I recognize this is an unpopular position that I’m sure will be very quickly dismissed on this site but the issue was not simply homosexuality but the responsibility and accountability of a person in a position of leadership in the church. As much as we would like it to be – it isn’t simply a matter of how you or I feel about the issue, it is what we understand Scripture requires of leaders in the church.

      • Anonymous

        missioncov – “Ouch” to your comment that your point of view will be dismissed on this site. I am not dismissing it – even though I disagree with it.

        It seems to me that the key issue for us is not that we disagree but how do we tolerate disagreement? The answer that I find in scripture is – with Grace and Love.

      • First, I believe that one’s sexuality is not a choice, as I have witnessed in growing up with Jim and another close Christian friend, and I do not believe that homosexuality is a sin. As SSjoblad stated above, sexual orientation does not effect one’s ability to share the gospel and show the LOVE of Christ to others.

        missioncov: I do feel compelled to reply to your statement about “the accountability of a person in a position of leadership in the church” I wanted to clarify this statement as I’m sure this isn’t what you meant to say, but for a moment I thought you made it sound like church leaders are without sin.

        My experiences in two different churches, one the beloved Covenant church of my youth and one in another denomination, have shown me one thing, “That we are ALL sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God”. Surely proudness, hatred, lying and gossip, etc, are sins our elected church leaders should not have, but yet these are just what I have seen some fervent church leaders possess, especially in dealing with the issue of homosexuality! And this breaks my heart……………..

        I am thankful for this forum and pray that it may help people of the Covenant come to a better understanding of homosexualityand open new avenues for the denomination.

        • missioncov

          Thanks Linnea. I am not intending to say that leaders in the church are without sin – but I am saying that according to Scripture leaders in the church (teaching is certainly one of these positions) automatically places those who lead under a higher level of accountability. (James 3:1)

  • Depends on your definition of love, missioncov. Is it possible to believe in segregation of people of other races and still claim that you love them? Is it possible to believe that women are inherently inferior to men and should obey their husbands in all things, and still claim that you are behaving lovingly towards women?

    Personally, I find the concept of ostracizing or punishing people for an innate, inborn characteristic, extremely unloving. And claiming that it is loving to demand that someone live a life of unnatural loneliness and the permanent lack of loving, intimate, committed companionship, is incomprehensible to me.

    I understand that you have qualms regarding whether homosexual persons were made so by God and whether their marital relationships can be blessed by God and holy in the same way that heterosexual marital relationships are. Perhaps you could start by taking their word for it when they tell you that they have prayed and sought God’s guidance and are certain of God’s love for them, God’s acceptance of them and God’s blessing on their loving, committed relationships. It’s a place to start, anyway.

    • missioncov

      I think you are reading way to much into my statement Babaroni. I am simply pointing out that dialogue took place and while the outcome was not what the family may have wished for – there was dialogue and prayerfully considered decisions. To suggest otherwise is simply untrue and paints those of differing opinion in an unnecessarily uncharitable light.

  • Nancy Carlson

    I would like to respond to missioncov by saying that we were in Florida when the meeting and open dialogue took place at our church in February of that year. Jim called me to say that the meeting went great! He and others thought it was a good discussion and they were happy with the outcome. He said that at the end, everyone clapped and many hugs were exchanged. Jim felt very supported and loved. In the weeks that followed, a certain small group banded together and went to the Pastor . After they met, Jim was asked to step down. This occured in May three month after the meeting. Kevin (Jim’s Partner) had completed all requirements to join our church but instead they both felt unwelcome and made the decision to leave. Nancy Carlson.

  • Brenda

    “Since sexual orientation is innate, not a choice, but rather something that is a natural part of the human condition (animal, too), just like hand-dominance, hair color, eye color and other physical traits, it is reasonable to believe that it is also God-ordained — that God made each of us with a plan for our lives and who we are, who we love. Nothing in the Bible says anything about committed, monogamous, loving, covenantal relationships between two people of the same sex”

    The point could be made that all sin is innate. The Bible talks about how “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12). This includes idolaters, adulterers, male prostitues, homosexual offenders, slanderers, swindlers (1 Cor. 6: 9-10). We all stuggle with different sins, and we are born with them. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to act on these sins, or rejoice when we fall. We all fail when fighting against sin, that’s why we need Jesus. And you’re right, I don’t understand what that is like to struggle with being born a homosexual, and unfortunately it is seen as a “worse” sin when it’s not. I struggle with many sins, and hope that no one starts to tell me that I can justify my sin because I’m born with it.

    Would it be okay if a single heterosexual slept around because she couldn’t deny her desires for a sexual relationship?

    Also I have heard many times people say that the Bible doesn’t talk about homosexuality as a sin, but I wonder what people read when they read Romans 1: 26-27. I’m not saying this does not mean supporting them and loving them, but how can you react to people who slander and gossip in a negative way, if they are born with that sin, because you can just read away every passage in the Bible that points out sinful behaviour. Couldn’t you do that with every passage you didn’t like?
    .

    • Mella

      idolaters, adulterers, male prostitues, homosexual offenders, slanderers, swindlers

      Okay, well, wow. Let’s break this down here.

      Let’s talk about the common denominator of sin. Something that is destructive to self or other, versus loving and caring to self or other.

      I’m with you on these…adultery? Destructive towards relationships. Slanders? Destructive towards the individual. Arrogance? Destructive towards others. Murder, thievery, greed. Those are pretty clear cut on the “destruction versus building love” scale.

      However, I would posit that a committed, monogamous, loving homosexual relationship between two consenting adults is not destructive to anyone (individuals involved or relationships) but those who fear the “other”. Just as a committed, monogamous, loving heterosexual relationship is not destructive. Both types of relationships multiply love and caring in the context of community, not destruction. Therefore, I would not group a committed, monogamous same-sex relationship into the same category as these others that you’ve mentioned. And if you had the blessed opportunity to live next to a committed, monogamous, same-sex Christian couple, you would see the same devotion, the grace, and the caring that you would wish for any opposite-sex couple.

      How would I interpret Cor. 6:9-10? I would say it is complicated. Knowing what I do about the strict gender separation culture of the Middle East, and how there are still problems with men (single or in straight marriages) using young boys/young men as sexual playthings and for social status when they are denied ready access to women, I would wonder about our contemporary and oversimplistic interpretation of some of these passages of the Bible that could be akin to admonitions to not eat shellfish or to not mix fibers in clothing. The predatory nature of bacha bazi or using prostitutes (male or female) is still all too common today and IS destructive. Would I equate a committed gay relationship with bacha bazi or a man using a male prostitute? If I did, I would have to equate a straight marriage with pedophilia or using a female prostitute. And I don’t. It would be insulting to both the same sex couple AND the homosexual couple who are committed to each other and seek to live in grace, peace and love in their community.

  • missioncov

    Lorian – not sure where you get that I’m saying only my “rhetoric or rhetoric agreeing with” me – I’m simply pointing out that I asked a non-rhetorical quesiton and was immediately characterized as one who wanted to segregate anyone different from me.

    My question is genuine – What are the qualifications for leadership in the church? Nathan posted his argument for belonging first – but does belonging necessarily mean leadership? Does leadership in the church demand a higher level of accountability or not?

  • missioncov

    Mella,

    Not intended to be defensive – but the impression was given that there was no discussion or thoughtful consideration given to the issue in the church. I simply wanted to point out that there was meaningful dialogue…

    • Mella

      But it sounds like the meaningful dialogue was then thrown out in favor of a closed door meeting with the pastor and a select group of congregants. While the intention for meaningful dialogue was wonderful, it is a shame that it was negated by dysfunctional “cabal” behavior of a few.

  • Djohnson

    Thanks, Nancy, for sharing your story here! I read something you wrote in the “Covenant Companion” awhile back, and I’ve had some conversation with your nephew, Mark, about how this experience with Jim’s sexual orientation has affected your family, but the way you fill out so beautifully here is wonderful! What a journey you’ve been on. You are, indeed, a pioneer in this area for our denomination. God bless you!

    Dan Johnson (remember me? Mark’s roommate from North Park? “Uncle Dan” from Camp Squanto?)

  • Mdtolic

    Nancy, what a wonderful post. Warmest regards to you, Al, Jimmy and the whole Carlson family. Peace and Blessings – Matthew Tolic

  • roberta digiorno

    I was pointed in your direction from your daughter Pam,I work with her and my son has recently told me he is gay(he is turning 18 ).Although it wasn’t a surprise to me my heart still aches for him.His father and I are divorced (since he was 3) he has always told me he was different from other boys(since he was around 11) i told him yes you are but thats ok i am your mother and i will always love you and never judge you,on the other hand my ex-husband is very much involved in the church so my son is very much involved also so this is where the problem lies because my son feels like he is letting the church down because it isn’t excepted.I loved reading your story and i am going to pass this site on to my ex and hopefully he will use it(even though he keeps saying our son is not gay just confused).I believe it is going to take some time with him(he’s a little thick headed)but knowing there are other christian people out there dealing with the same issues this might help him.I also have 3 other boys my oldest is turning 21 and the others are 12 and 10,i have told my oldest but the little ones i’m going to wait,my oldest is very much involved in the church also but is very open minded and him and i have talked about this for a while.He knows it isn’t going to be easy but he is still his brother.                    

       Thank you,
        Roberta