Photo by Marco Secchi on Unsplash

They Call Themselves Mama Bears. Churches that Mess with their LGBTQ Kids Should Listen Up.

There’s a movement growing among the mothers of LGBTQ+ kids from churches that make their lives miserable. They call themselves mama bears and they are quietly organizing. Emily Swan and I are connected to about 3,000 of these moms who belong to a secret FB community. Last year it was 2,000. It started in 2014 with a handful. Similar groups are forming and will continue to grow. A public blog called Serendipitydodah for Moms tells one such story.

These moms are mostly from conservative churches — many of which shush women to begin with, and promote policies that stigmatize their kids. Just to be clear: such churches represent the vast majority on the current Christian landscape. If that changes, it will be in no small part due to the mama bears finding each other, sharing their stories, learning together how to support their kids, and at long last, finding their voice. That process is well underway.

I’ve heard many of their stories and they are remarkably similar. They involve a beloved church, then a child who gains the courage to come out to them — provoking a time of heart-rending, then soul-searching, followed by a fierce determination to stand by their young, which puts them at odds with their church community. They stay, often at a distance, or leave their church (often at great social cost and with tears), but they stick with their kids. And in due time, they get mad on behalf of their children. There is no purer anger than the one that proceeds from a tender heart.

Early in the process, these moms often gather enough nerve to meet with the pastor of the church they are leaving or hope will change. In large churches, they may go up a few chain-of-command layers, until they are sitting in the office with the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, telling their story. They are met with warmth and sympathy from the pastor, the offer of prayers — but nearly always, the session ends with an institution-friendly refusal to change the policies that tell their kids they are defective. These are the policies that promote the stigma and shame that do great harm to their children.

Often these moms feel outmatched, out-talked, and out Bible-ed by their pastors. But they go home and they find their way to one of these support groups and they get their bearings. They do their homework. They learn there is a small but growing uprising within their conservative church world — with minority opinions emerging, insisting their Bibles have been misread. Take Romans 1, the chief clobber text used against their kids. Whatever the author (St. Paul) meant, it cannot apply to people it doesn’t in any way describe — their LGBTQ+ kids. Some of these moms do a deep dive and learn about prevailing practices of the Greco-Roman world: pederasty, slave sex, phallic-celebratory orgy sex, and temple prostitution. Practices that have nothing to do with what their kids are dealing with.

Their study — which spreads within their online support community — fuels a steady-burning righteous anger at the unnecessary suffering endured by their children. The moms have had a their own taste of suffering as they stand with their kids, over and against a beloved faith-community which is only great if you’re straight. What comes of their tender hearts — made more tender by hearing the stories of other moms — combined with this steady anger, has yet to be revealed. But it’s not going away and those who spend any time with these moms understand that these women will prevail.

As their numbers increase so will their nerve and their creativity and their love. Increasingly, they won’t go to talk to their pastors alone or with a similarly intimidated spouse. They will go in twos and threes, with friends in the waiting area praying, armed with a reading of the Bible that insists, “Love your neighbor as yourself — THIS is the Bible,” and “Love does no harm to the neighbor.” Some of them will know the New Testament Greek words mistranslated “homosexual offender” and the like, better than will their pastors. But mainly they will come with their fierce love.

I’m guessing that conferences will spring up for these moms — to hear them, to help them empower each other, to spread their growing body of wisdom. As they gather, they will feel the power resident among them.

Increasingly, perspectives offered in secret online communities will be shouted from the rooftops, as the bearer of good news, himself, predicted. When a church claims to be “welcoming” and pops up on a google search as “gay-friendly” while hiding its stigmatizing policies, these moms will object, tell their friends, leave clarifying comments.

Some of these moms, mark my words, will start their own churches, and they will not be deterred just because it’s a bear market for churches these days. A bear market, indeed. Conditions are ripe for the mama bears to rise up.


Ken Wilson and Emily Swan are co-pastors of Blue Ocean Faith, Ann Arbor, a Jesus-centered, inclusive church. Visit us at solusjesus.com