A devout Christian dad has made it his life’s mission to advocate for the LGBTI community, after his daughter came out as a lesbian.
Robert Cottrell, who has five children with his wife, Susan, is sharing his story online in the hope that he inspires other parents who are struggling with their faith after their children have come out.
In an open letter posted on Freedhearts, the website he and Susan now run in support of parents of LGBTI children, he describes the journey he took after he refused to abandon neither his child nor his faith.
‘Having a gay child is an absolute blessing from God,’ he posted.
‘Some parents abandon their child for their faith. And some parents abandon their faith for their child.
‘Either decision is gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, soul-shattering—and either will have horrible, tragic consequences.
‘There is a third choice. But to make it, you have to be willing to take a journey.’
The journey, Cottrell says, involved revisiting his entrenched religious beliefs, reevaluating what he knew to be true, and finding a new version of his faith.
Speaking to Gay Star News, Cottrell explained what prompted his shift in attitude.
‘When my daughter came out, I realized that I was now part of ’the others’ within the church, and my eyes were opened to the church’s tragic oppression and marginalization of the entire LGBT community,’ he said.
‘Most of the hurt and pain experienced by the LGBT community comes from parents and others who inflict that damage ‘in Jesus’ name’.
‘Full love, acceptance, affirmation and inclusion of my daughter and others like her is actually consistent with my faith. This reveals how off-track the part of the church is: it’s become behavior-focused, religious, and anti-gay.
‘This conflict I felt, between my love for my daughter and my faith – was fuelled by the church but is in no way an accurate representation of the truth, love and teachings of Jesus.
‘I know there are many other parents out there who feel the same conflict, and my wife and I had to speak.’
Now, he explained, he and his wife are full time allies and advocates for the LGBTI community, alongside their all-consuming job of being loving parents.
He added: ‘The pews and pulpits are filled with people just looking for permission to be affirming.’
‘Their hearts are being touched and things are changing.’
Read the letter in full below:
Five years ago, my daughter came out. I love her. Nothing will ever change that. Nothing. I stand with her. I defend her. I believe in her. I protect her.
And my life’s work is now to advocate for her and for all those in the LGBTQ community.
Maybe you have a gay son, or a lesbian daughter, or a bisexual, transgender or queer child. And maybe this is not what you hoped for—what you dreamed of. But regardless of the labels placed on our kids by others, they are still our children, and their dreams are still very much alive!
If you are willing to take an often difficult and scary journey with me, it will impact your heart and your life in ways more wonderful than you can imagine.
Having a gay child is an absolute blessing from God.
I never had a conflict between my unconditional love for my child and my faith…until my daughter came out. What?!?
The source of that conflict could not be my love for my child.
My love for my child is pure, holy, God-given, true, right, and everything good in this world. So I knew the source of the conflict had to be somewhere in my faith beliefs.
That was the key moment.
That realization was the decision point, and probably one of the most important decisions of my life and my child’s life. How I as a parent reacted and responded to that impacted both of our lives forever.
Some parents abandon their child for their faith. And some parents abandon their faith for their child. Either decision is gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, soul-shattering—and either will have horrible, tragic consequences.
There is a third choice. But to make it, you have to be willing to take a journey.
If the source of the conflict can only be somewhere in your faith, then you have to open the box you are in and honestly examine your beliefs. And when you do that, God will reveal truth to you about God’s heart and unconditional love, not only for your child, but for you, too.
When you take that journey and step outside of the box of behavior-focused Christianity, it can be scary—but the freedom, peace and truth you discover along the journey is exquisite, life-giving, and deeply satisfying to your heart and soul.
I plead with you to hear my heart.
My relationship with my daughter has never been better, and my relationship with God has never been deeper.
To get there, I had to step away from religion, fundamentalism, legalism, and anything else that was part of behavior-focused, expectation-driven, Christianity. As I stepped away from that, I realized I was stepping into the very life Jesus taught and showed us.
I learned that unconditional love, affirmation and acceptance of my LGBTQ child is actually consistent with a faith that follows Jesus.
Your precious child holds your heart like no other. And you hold their heart in your hands like no one ever will.
What you do, how you react, and the words you say will have a greater impact—for good or bad—than you know.
I am just a dad; there is nothing special about me.
All I did was refuse to abandon my child, and I refused to abandon my faith. I decided to begin a journey—a blessed and beautiful journey.
One step at a time.
Will you join me?
If you are a parent looking for support, you can contact the Cottrells via the site.