Susan Cottrell is the prominent voice for faith parents of LGBTQ children, as a national speaker, teacher and theologian.
Here is the full text of Susan’s talk titled “Why I Chose My LGBTQ Daughter Over the Evangelical Church” at TEDxMileHigh.
Susan Cottrell – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT
I come from a large, wounded family. By the time I was 24, both of my parents and three of my brothers had died.
And even though I still had two sisters, I felt abandoned and alone. I remember watching The Sound of Music with all those kids lined up in a row; it was like the family I never had. I couldn’t wait to be a mother. Life would be perfect, or so I thought.
I met Rob when I was 26, he wrote me a love song, and we were married three months later. It was a really good love song!
A year after that, we had our first child and then, four more. When Chris was just two weeks old, we ventured out to the local market. An older woman there took one look at him, so tiny, bundled up in his bright blue baby blanket. She said, “God bless him,” and I burst into tears. One day, you’re a regular, rational person; the next, you’re a mom. You have this amazing responsibility to protect your children, to prepare them for the world. You love them more than anything, and all you want to do is dress them in matching colors.
Here we are at a church camp near Colorado Springs. Our younger son may be wearing a girl’s shirt. As a mother of five, you just do the best you can. We figured out pretty quickly that one thing you want when you’re raising kids is community. For us, that was the church. We were at church a lot.
We led Bible studies in small groups, Rob was a worship leader and I sang on the praise team. And we homeschooled all five kids who basically had the run of the place. Here’s Annie, leading a Bible study for her dolls. Life was good! Our amazing children grew into amazing adults, and we had our trusted community. Then one day, the phone rang, and everything changed.
It was Annie calling from college, she was 20. I was wiping down the white-tiled counter in my bathroom when Annie says, “Mom, I got something to tell you. I’m attracted to girls. I think I’m bisexual. I prayed about it, mom, I’ve resisted it, but it won’t go away.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re hoping I whipped out a rainbow flag and said, “Annie, that’s totally fine, we accept you just the way you are.” But that’s not quite what happened.
See, I had nothing against LGBTQ people, really, but after 20 years in the Evangelical Church, I believed that being gay was somehow wrong. (Sigh) I love my daughter, and I thought I had to protect her.
So I said, “Annie, don’t give in, we’ll support you. How can I help?”
As I hung up the phone, my heart sank. I knew we’d never be the same in the church again. Later, at Bible study, I shared with some of my closest friends, hoping they’d give me some wisdom. Instead, they just went straight to the rules.
They said, “Being gay is a sin and you can’t accept it.” Not accept my daughter? What does that even mean? I was devastated. I realized I was being asked to choose between the two most important parts of my life: my child and my church. I chose my child. Thank you.
What else was I going to do? I chose Annie. And we left the church, we lost our community. And eight years later, half of our family still doesn’t speak to us. My faith was fraying at the edges. I needed to understand this.
And what does the Bible even really say about it anyway? I needed to understand, and I began to read everything I could. I even went to a seminary. And I learned that most Christians do accept LGBTQ people. Yeah.
And I also realized that I had become extremely judgemental. That was a really hard realization. But I began a deep process of deconstructing that judgement. Meanwhile, Annie called from New York. She said, “Mom, I’m dating women now, and I am more at peace with God than I’ve ever been.” That was all I needed to know.
Rob and I came to complete peace about Annie. Three years passed, things were good, Annie came home for a visit. We were in the kitchen making salads for lunch, and she said, “Mom, are you sure you won’t change your mind and reject me, you and dad?”
I was like, “Sweetie, I am sure we will not reject you. But why are you asking?” Then she told me about her friend Alison. When Alison came out, her mother threw her down the stairs and threw dishes at her.
That was a real wake-up call.
It wasn’t just about our little family, it was about countless other families. Around that same time, I went to a Christian women’s gathering where the speaker was saying, “You’ve got to do what God calls you to do, no matter how uncomfortable, no matter how unexpected. If God calls you, you’ve got to do it.”
So I went to her at the break, and I said, “As you were speaking, God was telling me to serve the gay community.” It’s not what she expected.