An Evangelical Mom’s Change of Heart
July 6, 2012 by Sharon Groves, Director, Religion and Faith Program
When her daughter Cholene called her to tell her she was gay at age 37, Shari Johnson did not react well.
She also wasn’t thrilled two years later when Cholene called to tell her that she was getting married. Johnson recalls her thoughts on her drive to work after hearing the news: “'What event could a parent be asked to attend that could be worse than this?’ The answer came to my mind quickly: ‘A funeral.' I knew exactly where the answer had come from, and it shook me to my core.”
For Johnson, that answer had come from God. Her book, Above All Things, chronicles her journey with God in moving toward the embrace and unconditional love of her daughter. Johnson explains the title of the book, saying “Above all things, there is love. It ranks above teachings, sermons, biases, bigotry, hate, politics, and judging one another.”
"One of the main purposes of the book is to help reconcile families that have been torn apart needlessly," Johnson tells The Advocate. She hopes that by reading her story, “other parents will wonder if perhaps they also have been wrong.”
Johnson is right to advocate for a more accepting attitude by Christian parents. Acceptance by family and by religious communities (and the two are undeniably linked) are extremely important to the well-being of LGBT individuals.
Rev. Dr. Cindi Love, the executive director of Soulforce and a member of HRC’s Religion Council, notes the importance of the loving attitude that Johnson came to embrace, saying, “Without safe spaces and supportive parents, the rates of mental illness, substance abuse, and suicide escalate dramatically among LGBT youth and adults.” She hails the transformative power of Above All Things: “This book turns the tables on religious patriarchy with the notion that deeply held religious beliefs should lead parents to full acceptance of their LGBT children, rather than to rejection of them.”
Above All Things is a wonderful resource for Christian parents who are struggling with reconciling what they have been taught by their churches and what their LGBT children have shared with them.
Johnson’s daughter Cholene addresses those struggling with the coming out of a family member in the Afterword, saying, “I hope those of you with a gay loved one will realize that we simply want to belong, to serve, to contribute, and to love in whatever capacity and with whatever gifts we have. We want a relationship with you and with God. We want to be embraced.”
In Above All Things, Shari Johnson provides a model of how to embody that kind of embrace.
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