Mission Friends for Inclusion



Feb 2016


by Eva Sullivan Knoff


The first time Bea came out to us, she was in high school and I was serving as an associate pastor in a church. We had wondered if she was gay, but somehow we were still surprised to hear it. So I told her, “Why don’t you pray and live with it for a while, and see if it still rings true.” I genuinely meant that, and at the same time, John and I didn’t really want this to be her reality nor did we want it to be ours either. We greatly love both of our kids, Andrew and Bea, and have sought to consistently show them. We had just envisioned life going differently.

Because my relationship with God matters most to me, I intensely sought God, reading, praying, and talking with godly people whom I loved and respected. I asked myself as much as God, What do I do with this? I wanted to honor God. What I loved was Bea’s confidence of God’s love for her was solid throughout. She said to me, “Why wouldn’t it be okay for me to be gay, if God made me this way?”

While I loved that, I confess I spent too much time being afraid of losing my pastoral position. I knew my denomination’s position on human sexuality and wondered what it would mean to them or to my church if they knew Bea was gay. So I asked her to talk with supportive friends, but not to talk about it openly at church. I regret that now. I let my fear get in the way of what was best for Bea.

I continued to seek God from the depths of my being. As I did, I felt the Lord direct me to just love and accept her. He showed me what mattered was to love my child as He did. That was the bottom line. That was the turning point for me. It allowed me to let go of my fear and to just love her. I was filled with God’s peace.

Around this time, Bea went to a Christian conference. She was listening to the speaker challenge teens to take off their masks. She was texting me from the service, telling me that she couldn’t live behind masks anymore. She needed to be free to be who she was. I affirmed that and told her that she did need to be free. She was worried about my job, and I told her it didn’t matter anymore. What mattered most was her.

When she came home, I asked her if I had made her carry my stuff – and the secrecy I had asked her to live in because I was afraid of losing my pastoral position. She was quiet, and I knew her answer without her saying it. With tears in her eyes, my heart broke. I told her I was sorrier than I could ever express, and she forgave me. I told her that if she needed me to, I would leave the pastorate because she mattered more.

While this part of the story is filled with pain, it was also met with grace – God’s grace and Bea’s grace. I was deeply changed through their grace. This journey has not only deepened my relationship with Bea, it has sensitized me to others on this journey. However, it doesn’t end there. That part of our story was seven years ago and our story has continued to expand.

Bea came out to us as a transgender person just over two years ago. I began to suspect a year beforehand, which I believe was God trying to prepare me for it. When she came out to us I felt an inner confirmation because there had been many moments throughout her life when I would notice something – little things that don’t even make sense unless it is your own child – and I would wonder about it. When she finally came out to us, it made complete sense. It seemed congruent with who she genuinely was and is as a person.

And even though God may have been preparing me for this, for my daughter to “take off her mask,” I remember seeing a transgender woman a couple of years earlier and struggling with that. God brought all of this back to my memory when Bea opened up to us. I then confessed my sin to God.

You see, with God’s help, I have come to see all of these moments differently through the grace of God. Transgender persons are people of integrity. They are living on the outside what is on the inside. That takes more honesty than most of us are able to express, and it takes greater courage than we will ever know because the discrimination, the hatred, and the violence towards them are astounding given the number of homicides each year.

Think about that for a moment. It is hard enough to come out, but to come out knowing what they will be met with, hatred and discrimination by society, loved ones, and most gravely the church, for just being who they are. Tragically, 41% attempt suicide.

Statistics show what helps transgender persons survive the most is the love and support of their parents. Bea experienced God in a profound way when she embraced the truth to herself that she was indeed “she.” She experienced God’s blessing on her as God’s beloved daughter. It was a re-birth into her true identity. John and I put together a renaming ceremony to mark this life-changing event, and invited those closest to her. It was meaningful to celebrate with her in this way, as we worshipped God and blessed our daughter.

John and I deeply love both our kids and it has become a mission and priority to not only show them, but all who are on a similar journey like Bea, that they are loved and that they matter for just being who they are.

We have all heard the stories of LGBTQ persons whom have pleaded with God to change them, and it didn’t happen. We have heard the news stories about kids who commit suicide because there was no one to love and support them, or because they were bullied. What is astounding is that there are many kids living on the streets who have been kicked out of the house because they are gay. I believe that breaks God’s heart and it breaks John’s and mine.

God created us all in God’s own image, no matter what gender or orientation we claim. God deeply loves each one of us and invites each of us to the table as the beloved of God. I am deeply saddened by the way parts of the church at large have communicated the opposite, not only judging but excluding them as well. I believe this breaks God’s heart too. When we deny LGBTQ persons who are beloved by God, from being a part of the church, then we are denying part of the Body of Christ from being in the church. How can we turn away from Christ Himself?

We as the whole church need to genuinely listen and to be a loving, welcoming, safe place, just like the God who calls us each by name as His beloved.

I am grateful to those who have been a part of my transformational process and for God’s ongoing work within me. I had to quiet my fear in order to hear. It freed me to love as I have been loved and to extend grace as I have received it. In the stillness I heard God’s great call to love and to trust God with all else.
Sometimes it takes quieting ourselves so we can hear, and trusting God so we can let go of our fears. As we do, peace and transformation come. We are then free to love as we have been loved and to embrace all who are made in God’s image.

This post originally appeared on Stillness and Peace.

Leave a comment