Rob and Linda Robertson did what they believed was expected of them as good Christians.
When their 12-year-old son Ryan said he was gay, they told him they loved him, but he had to change. He entered “reparative therapy,” met regularly with his pastor and immersed himself in Bible study and his church youth group.
After six years, nothing changed. A despondent Ryan cut off from his parents and his faith, started taking drugs and in 2009, died of an overdose.
“Now we realize we were so wrongly taught,” said Rob Robertson, a firefighter for more than 30 years who lives in Redmond, Washington. “It’s a horrible, horrible mistake the church has made.”
The tragedy could have easily driven the Robertsons from the church. But instead of breaking with evangelicalism – as many parents in similar circumstances have done – the couple is taking a different approach, and they’re inspiring other Christians with gay children to do the same.
They are staying in the church and, in protesting what they see as the demonization of their sons and daughters, presenting a new challenge to Christian leaders trying to hold off growing acceptance of same-sex relationships.
“Parents don’t have anyone on their journey to reconcile their faith and their love for their child,” said Linda Robertson, who with Rob attends a nondenominational evangelical church. “They either reject their child and hold onto their faith, or they reject their faith and hold onto their child. Rob and I think you can do both: be fully affirming of your faith and fully hold onto your child.”
It’s not clear how much of an impact these parents can have. Evangelicals tend to dismiss fellow believers who accept same-sex relationships as no longer Christian. The parents have only recently started finding each other online and through faith-oriented organizations for gays and lesbians such as the Gay Christian Network, The Reformation Project and The Marin Foundation.
And in the last few years, high-profile cases of prominent Christian parents embracing their gay children indicate a change is occurring beyond a few isolated families.