Mark Yarhouse and Olya Zaporozhets, When Children Come Out: A Guide For Christian Parents (IVP Academic, 2022)
You are not alone.
This is the core message of When Children Come Out, repeated in every chapter – that whatever your experience as a Christian parent of a child who has come out as gay or transgender, however you are processing this emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and relationally, you are not alone.
In my time as a youth worker, I’ve spoken to a good number of parents whose children have begun to identify as gay or transgender. Simply knowing that they are not alone in their questions and experiences is a powerful thing. I suspect that if you are a parent in the same boat, you will find this book both validating and enlightening.
Strengths or Weaknesses?
The book is a research-informed look at the process parents go through after their child comes out. The authors are psychologists and professors who draw from their own research projects in this area – you get the sense that you’re in safe hands. The book constantly acknowledges the differing and nuanced experiences their readers will have. ‘Christian parents don’t all share a single story, and we don’t mean to imply that they do by writing a book on the subject’ (p.x). In acknowledgement of this, the voices of many Christian parents are included in every chapter, sharing their own stories and offering advice. There’s also an encouragement in every chapter for you to think about what you’ve read and how it applies to your own specific circumstances, with questions to help you do this.
However, it's these strengths that are also the book’s weaknesses.
The amount of research referenced means it does just read like a research report at times, often quoting stats and summarising data.
While the broad range of advice acknowledges that no two stories are the same, and that what’s right for someone else’s family might not be right for yours, the shortage of specific direction means you could easily be left with just as many questions as before.
The repetitive nature extends beyond the core refrain of ‘you are not alone’ and I struggled with the book at the editing level. Ideas are often repeated unnecessarily, and the thread of thought is at times hard to follow, looping back on itself instead of progressing linearly.
On balance, these things remain strengths more often than they become weaknesses. I would be more likely to recommend the book than not.
What Does It Cover?
The book begins with a look at different ways parents become aware of their child’s experience of sexuality or gender, and different responses that parents might have. It stresses that this is the start of a journey. Both the child and their parent will have things to process, work through, question, and wrestle with.
The rest of the book keeps going on that journey. In chapter 2, time is given to ways that parents seek help, and the battle with shame that’s common, particularly in conservative or evangelical Christian families.
Chapters 3 and 4 look at how parents maintain and care for the changing relationship with their child. Consideration is given to some ‘complicating circumstances’ such as ‘worldview conflicts, advice parents receive from others, or particular factors of a child’s experience, including their age, whether they have a partner, and whether they are sexually active’ (p.43). Again, the constant refrain is present here – whatever you’re experiencing, you are not alone.
That refrain continues in chapter 5, which explores how parents’ faith can be impacted and maybe altered by their own questions and experiences. ‘If you are a parent who is questioning God, struggling with God, or bewildered by what God is doing in this moment, you are not alone’ (p.90). I, and many of my colleagues at Living Out, have often commented on how our same-sex attraction has positively impacted our faith. It has drawn us into a deeper dependence on God, and into total surrender to him. This chapter helpfully had me considering how diverse experiences of sexuality and gender can also positively impact the faith of our parents, and indeed of all those closest to us. It can also draw them into deeper dependence on God as they seek answers and help.
Chapter 6 continues to explore how parents adjust to their new ‘reality’ cognitively, emotionally, and spiritually, and then the book comes in to land with chapter 7, a compilation of thoughts from parents on how the church can help and support LGBT+ children and teens, as well as their parents. Again, there is helpful advice – ‘Churches would do well to journey with these parents through their questions rather than simply declaring stances from a relational distance’ (p.140). But there are also some painful stories and sobering statements. ‘Many of our parents don’t trust churches and have been hurt by their church’ (p.150).
While this is billed as a book for Christian parents, it would be good for any Christian to read, to help them understand what the parents in our churches might be going through and how we can love and support them well.