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Risking Grace by Dave & Neta Jackson

A father's story

Risking Grace

by Dave Jackson  

Copyright © 2016 by Dave Jackson


When Dave Jackson approached me to write the Foreword for Risking Grace, I was sure he had the wrong person. For sixteen years I co-hosted a talk show on the Moody Radio Network. That’s certainly not the profile of someone who might be interested in having their name attached to a book like this.

     I grew up in a system and culture that was, as a friend of mine says, addicted to certainty. I was a Baptist minister’s daughter who went to a conservative Christian high school and a more conservative Christian college. As a woman in that culture, I was regularly asked to believe what I was told and not to question. I did that for about forty years and then my marriage fell apart. Life moved from certain to uncertain and even to unstable. As I began thinking for myself, with the help of the Holy Spirit, something significant happened. I began to see the pain and hurt in the world. I began to feel the pain and hurt in my own life. And my view of God began to expand. I went from certainty about everything to a willingness to accept that not all things are black and white. I had to learn about grace. Grace for others and even grace for myself.

     A couple of years before leaving my radio gig, my co-host was hosting the program alone with the topic focused on how to build bridges to the homosexual community. Evangelicals hadn’t exactly been doing a great job of that, and we wanted to move the dialog forward. I knew this program topic was risky for us, yet important. We opened the phone lines and my co-host asked, “If you are gay and listening, give us a call.” All available lines lit up. I was surprised at the number of gay listeners who regularly listened and also financially supported the radio network. But what deeply troubled me was the volume of email we received from people who were incensed that we would put these homosexual callers on the air.

     Our team got pretty beat up because of that program. I was deeply saddened at how Christians acted toward other Christians. Equally unsettling is how those claiming Christ act toward those outside of the faith.

     I have to be honest; I haven’t settled my own views on this topic. What Dave talks about in Risking Grace is compelling. I believe this book is important reading for all who claim to know Christ. Risking Grace challenged me in countless ways and I will be re-reading it.

     There will always be points of disagreement among Christians. At the very least, can we extend more grace and mercy to those we disagree with? A friend gave me this thought that I’ve been chewing on for months: “God is great and the limits of his mercy have not been set.”

     Dave has been thoughtful and thorough in his approach to this complex issue. As he challenged me to think more deeply, I was forced to ask myself whether or not I was willing to “risk grace” at the expense of the “certainty of being right” so many of us are unwilling to abandon. I believe God wants us to be all about Risking Grace!


—Anita Lustrea, author and producer of Faith Connections podcasts,

former co-host of Moody Radio’s Midday Connection




Why I’m writing this book

     As the nurse placed the towel-wrapped bundle in my arms and said, “It’s a girl!” tears streamed down my cheeks while the doctor finished caring for Neta.

     Leah, [1] long awaited and already deeply loved, had finally arrived. Six years earlier, when our son was born, I had no idea what I was getting into, and when we went home and he lay squalling on the middle of our bed, I blurted, “What have we done?” But this time, we were ready and oh so eager! And a girl—how blessed we were!

     I was fiercely protective of her, which kicked in big time twenty-five years later when she told us she was gay. The news triggered a tumble of emotions, but the biggest was my fear of the pain that lay before her, and I had no idea how to protect her.

     Much of that pain has come from the church and the attitudes of well-meaning Christians who hoped to dissuade her from what they believed was a bad decision—like the woman who said, “I’d rather find my son at the bottom of a pool than have him tell me he’s gay!”

     Think about that for a minute.

     If a mother could say that about her own son, how could Leah hear anything other than that this woman thought she’d be better off dead too?

     Most of us cringed when we heard the late Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church chanting, “God hates fags.” But I began hearing comments that were far more “polite” and “acceptable” in evangelical circles through my daughter’s ears. Some were personal jabs, others were stated as aloof, theological “truths” that could not be compromised even though they rejected and condemned gay people. I used to think “Love the sinner, and hate the sin articulated a compassionate but accurate balance that gay people ought to welcome—“Oh, how nice. They love me.” But like most gay people, Leah believes her orientation is as immutable as her skin color, so hatred of her orientation is inevitably hatred of her.

     And when in a Christian bookstore I saw the title, Can You Be Gay and Christian? [2] I tried to imagine alternate questions: “Can you be a white male and Christian?” “Can you be overweight and Christian?” Or “. . . divorced and Christian?”

     As devastated as we were over Leah’s announcement, Neta and I began to realize how ineffective and damaging the evangelical church had become in relating to gay people—a far more serious gap than exists with any other demographic. Most troubling was a frequent distortion of the basic gospel message that we are “saved by grace through faith” alone by effectively adding a “works” requirement for gay people.

     In the middle of all this, we still had the typical questions: Have gay people chosen to be gay? Could they change if they were seriously committed to the Lord? What does it mean if they don’t change? Are they likely to encourage straight people—especially the young and impressionable—to become gay? Are they likely to molest children? Are they mounting a culture war against biblical truth? And one of the most haunting questions: What have I, as a parent, done to cause this?

     Our journey was a lonely one, but I don’t want that to be the case for you. And that is why I’m writing this book.


Where I’m coming from

     Maybe we share a similar spiritual history with you. My wife and I were both raised in conservative, Bible-believing churches, decided to follow Jesus at an early age, trained at Multnomah University (then called Multnomah School of the Bible), Judson University, and Wheaton College. We worked for years as editors for prominent evangelical publishers and have written more books than we care to count for most of the other major evangelical publishers.

     We believe “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16, nkjv). But because of our family’s personal journey, we realized we needed to look more closely at the subject of same-sex attraction than we previously had. We were already aware that not every Scripture supposedly dealing with the subject was as simple as we’d once thought. And we knew reexamining a long-held interpretation was not the same as questioning the Source anymore now than when the church reexamined the widespread interpretation that the Bible taught the earth was the center of the universe or justified slavery. We were desperate to search the Scriptures with other believers who took the Bible as seriously as we did.

     For a long time, we felt alone. There seemed to be only two camps: “traditionalists” who weren’t about to reconsider any interpretation and “liberals” who dismissed passages they didn’t like as though God had not inspired the whole Bible. Instead, we wanted to be like the Bereans, who “were of more noble character . . . for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).

     I don’t discount anyone’s personal story. If someone reported with reasonable evidence that God changed him or her from gay to straight, I’d celebrate the miracle. We have a miracle-working God, who raises the dead. But in all my years, I have not met one “ex-gay” person whose same-sex orientation has genuinely changed. So, though I initially suggested “reparative therapy” to my daughter, I could not promise it as a panacea.

     The Apostle Paul pleaded with the Lord three times to remove his “thorn in the flesh,” but God said, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Many gay people have prayed longer and harder than Paul did (whatever his “thorn” may have been) only to receive a similar answer: “My grace is sufficient.”

     So how can we facilitate that all-sufficient grace? What does it look like?

     I still have many questions, and the answers I’ve come to may not be final, which leaves me feeling vulnerable and also in great need of God’s grace myself. It would be easier to just keep quiet, love my daughter, and avoid the public discourse . . . but the stakes are too high. As I watched what happened to her and numerous other LGBT people, I knew there was something terribly wrong with how we have applied the gospel to gay people, particularly the church’s own children who gave their hearts to Jesus, grew up in the faith, learned the Word, dedicated themselves to service, and in many cases, prayed and agonized for years that God would change their same-sex orientation . . . only to have our churches virtually disown them when they “came out.” Not all evangelical churches behave that way, but the attitudes prevail, attitudes I once helped disseminate . . . but I’ll explain that later.



     People have a right to be known by terms they choose. And while “gay” as I use it, is not a precise term, it’s generally accepted as a generic term among most of the LGBTQ [3] community. Unless otherwise noted, my use of “gay” indicates a person’s orientation (i.e., same-sex attracted), not necessarily the person’s sexual behavior. For instance, the fact that I am straight (opposite-sex attracted) doesn’t mean I am sexually involved with or lusting after all women. So, if a friend or family member comes out and says they are gay, I don’t presume they are sleeping with someone.

     There are some gay people who are sex-crazed, follow the party circuit, flaunt their bodies, “hook up,” pursue serial sexual partners, use drugs, or participate in orgies, and try to lure other people into the same behavior. This is what many of us thought of as the “homosexual lifestyle,” and we characterized all gay people with that stereotype. But such behavior is just as prevalent among straight people. Do we call that the “heterosexual lifestyle”? Would we like others to presume those are our standards? So I try to avoid the term “homosexual lifestyle.” It’s useless, presumptive, and often hurtful.

     I struggled with what terms to use in identifying various viewpoints concerning same-sex orientation and finally settled on these three:

·      Traditional—Believes the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality, both the act and the inclination. Same-sex orientation is thought to result from trauma or deprivation combined with the individual’s choices. Therefore, it can be “repaired” through healing therapy that includes sincere repentance, persistent faith and discipline, and counseling.

·      Neo-traditional—Acknowledges genuine orientation change is rare and, therefore, should not be prescribed as normative. Also acknowledges that temptation to sin is not in itself sin. Therefore, gay people should be welcomed and supported in the church provided they commit themselves to living a celibate life (avoiding physical homosexual relations). “Falls” are sin, but genuine repentance restores.

·      Inclusive—Accepts that God made some people with same-sex orientation. Therefore, we need to accept gay people on the same basis we accept straight people. Furthermore, the church can support the fulfillment of that orientation in committed relationships when the courtship and marriage conform to the same standards of sexual faithfulness expected of straight believers. But an “inclusive” church also respects and supports gay people called to remain celibate. [4]


An invitation

     Perhaps you, like I, have wondered why God gave us loved ones who are gay. Life would be so much simpler if they were straight. But maybe it’s not about us, but about our loved ones and the multitude of gay people who have been confused and hurt by the church. Maybe God chose us because he knew we loved them enough to care, to listen, to change, and to risk extending his grace. Not that we are anything special, but as the Apostle James reminds us, “The cries of the [oppressed] have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty” (5:4), and he does send deliverance.

     Maybe God has called you to join with others in bringing that deliverance through gentle correction to a church that’s gone tragically awry.

     If so, then in this book you will find a safe place to own the questions that arise as you walk alongside your gay son or daughter or friend or neighbor whom you love, a safe place to agree or disagree with various perspectives and interpretations as together we seek God’s heart. Please join me and the many others who are risking grace.



Chapter 1
The Phone Call

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay

Close by me forever, and love me, I pray;

Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,

And fit us for Heaven to live with Thee there.


     “Away in a Manger”

     William J. Kirkpatrick, 1895, verse 3


My mom died on November 3, 2000, one day before she would have turned eighty-seven. It was also my daughter’s twenty-fifth birthday. Leah thought of her grandmother as her “birthday buddy,” even though their birthdays were one day apart. The last months—years, actually—had been rough as the scourge of Alzheimer’s took Mom as we knew her even while her body lingered. She and Dad lived in southern California while we lived in Chicago, which meant lots of grueling trips and a perpetual sense of helplessness over how to assist them.

     That may have been a lesson God was trying to teach me and my wife, Neta, in preparation for a challenge much greater and longer than my mother’s decline.

     It came by phone two weeks before Christmas and before we’d finished grieving Mom’s passing. We took the call in the living room, Neta on one extension and I on the other, as Leah tearfully read a letter to us saying her marriage of nearly six years to Robert was ending. My male fix-it mind quickly grasped for the give-it-more-time straw, the counseling straw, and the faith-in-God’s-healing straw, anything . . .

     Until she added, “I . . . I can’t continue in a heterosexual relationship.”

     Neta stammered, “What are you trying to say?”

     I was more blunt. “Are you saying you’re gay?”

     More tears. A pause. Then . . . “Yes.”

     Time froze. At that moment, we would have given anything to turn back the clock, to un-hear what she’d just said. But the word rang in our ears like a gunshot.

     Leah tried to soften our shock by assuring us she still considered Robert her best friend and they wanted to parent our almost five-year-old granddaughter together and had agreed to work everything out amicably. But I was hardly hearing her. I sucked air like a drowning man and sobbed with my hand over the receiver, hoping she couldn’t hear. I didn’t want to make this all about me because I was fearful for her, her future, her relationship with God, even her salvation if she didn’t repent.

     But I felt helpless, and in that sense, it became about me and what I believed regarding the spiritual implications of her decision . . . or what I thought was a decision. Certainly she had decided to end the marriage, which was painful enough, but if she had made a choice about her sexual orientation, the wrong choice, that seemed even more dangerous, a choice that would destroy everything. We loved her and didn’t want that to happen, but what could we do? How could I fix it?

     Once we’d hung up, I let it go, wailing without restraint, so loudly Neta couldn’t stay in the room. When I finally quit weeping, she said she had to get out of the house, needed to go for a walk, even though darkness had fallen. I couldn’t let her go alone, so we walked in silence through the frozen streets of a Chicago winter until we were numb, not from the cold, just numb.

     Neta later described her feelings that night as “all my worst fears rolled into one broadside—the breakup of my daughter’s marriage, my granddaughter growing up without her parents together, not having that model to shape her life . . . and something I never feared, something so remote, my daughter, my own precious daughter, who I thought I knew, saying she was gay.”

     For us both, it cut through the heart of some of our most precious foundations in life, gifts of God: commitment in marriage, the gift of family life, kids growing up with both their parents, women and men in healthy relationships with one another—“In the image of God he created them; male and female God created them” (Genesis 1:27). How would our granddaughter ever come to a balanced view of men and women, marriage, and God’s plan for a happy family?

     When we finally returned to the house—it no longer felt like homeNeta turned out the Christmas tree lights, the icicle lights on the porch, all the window candles. The Christmas cheer was gone. Why pretend? Then she turned off all the rest of the lights in the house. Indeed, it seemed all the light had gone out of our lives.

     We didn’t sleep that night. In fact, we couldn’t even stay in bed. Instead, we sat in the dark living room, each of us alone with our private thoughts and feelings, until Neta fell to the floor and cried and cried.

     The next day, our son called. Leah had told him about her situation earlier, and he helped Neta and me to begin talking to one another. Finally, we prayed and broke the ice of our pain.


* * * *


Thirteen years before the phone call from our daughter, I’d coauthored a book titled Overcoming Homosexuality with Ed Hurst, who claimed ten years of experience in helping people change their homosexual orientation through a ministry then associated with Exodus International. At the time, I knew next to nothing about homosexuality, but Neta and I had begun our own writing business by offering our services to Christian publishers to coauthor books with expert resource people—people who had an important message but needed the help of a writer. Working on many of those books had been like graduate courses in new subjects. This project was no exception. I became thoroughly familiar with the traditional Christian interpretations of Scripture on homosexuality and the theories popular at that time about its causes and supposed cures.

     However, homosexuality was such a touchy subject, I made sure Neta’s name appeared with mine on the cover even though I did most of the research and the initial writing. I didn’t want any readers to get the wrong idea about my orientation.

     Ed said when he became a Christian in 1974, he’d never heard of anyone overcoming homosexuality. “This disturbed me greatly,” he said. “My other sins—drinking, smoking, taking drugs, lying, etc.—were all things I did, but homosexuality was different; it described who I was. No other facet of my life equaled homosexuality in prominence. It had been with me for as long as I could remember.” [5] But at the time of writing the book, Ed claimed to have been “out of the lifestyle,” as he put it, for twelve years.

     I took that claim at face value insofar as he no longer frequented gay bars, pursued lovers, or identified with the gay community. But Ed still exhibited many of the stereotypic trappings in his flamboyant dress and effeminate speech and gestures (characteristics that don’t in themselves make one gay). Nevertheless, he was honest enough to admit that he still had same-sex attractions. But he believed no one was born gay and wrote, “Homosexuality is a learned condition and can therefore be unlearned.” [6] The causes, he thought, arose from some combination of the individual’s own choices, the environment, and how the person chose to respond to his or her environment. By environment, Ed focused on the family experience and put a lot of stock in the opinions of Gerard Van Den Aardweg, Leanne Payne, and Elizabeth Moberly. Moberly, in particular, suggested the most common environmental issue was a broken relationship with a parent at a young age and the child’s response to “defensive detachment.” [7] Van Den Aardweg and Payne added self-pity and identity conflicts as common responses. All in all, everyone shared in the guilt.

     In our case, those theories meant Neta and I must have failed to provide the kind of parenting—the love, support, protection, closeness, and moral instruction—that would protect Leah, and in response to our deficiencies, she had made choices that entangled her in homosexuality. In essence, we represented the same question the disciples put to Jesus about the blind man: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). At the time, of course, we were so overwhelmed with our daughter’s news that we heard nothing of Jesus’ exonerating answer: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me.”

     But the day after Leah’s phone call, neither Neta nor I could work. In fact, it took a long time before the work of God was displayed in our lives. We were exhausted from the stress and a night without sleep and could do no more than busy ourselves shopping for groceries and running mundane errands. I thought I was getting sick, but I didn’t, and somehow the day passed.

     At some point, it dawned on me that Leah must be hurting too. She’d been crying through most of the phone call as she’d read her letter to us, maybe because she knew she was causing us pain, but she had to be going through a great deal of pain and disappointment herself. And Robert must be devastated too.

     We liked—loved—Robert. He’d been like the boy next door all through junior high and high school, Leah’s best friend in our church’s youth group. They got married at nineteen and our granddaughter was born just over a year later. But during the summer before Leah’s call, we had noticed they were struggling. It had been tempting to get involved, jump in with answers even though we didn’t know the questions, but they hadn’t asked for our help, and now we knew we’d have only complicated things. Still, couldn’t we have done something?

     Maybe. I don’t know. But there was one thing I could do now. I picked up the phone and called my daughter. “Leah, I want you to know that we love you . . . no matter what.”


* * * *


The next day, Neta wrote the following in her prayer journal:


     O God, what do we do now? I don’t believe it for a minute! I don’t believe Leah is gay. SATAN IS A LIAR!!! He has found a vulnerable, weak, wounded part in Leah’s spirit and is deceiving her.

     I AM ANGRY! Angry at our culture, our times, our society, even certain movements that fan sexual confusion and say, “homosexuality is really okay!”

     Satan, beware! I am not going to let you have my daughter without a fight!”


     When we shared our situation with our small group from church, one of the members suggested Leah might be under a “spirit of homosexuality.” Years before, our group had included two women who later came out as gay (though they were not involved with each other). At times they had cared for Leah when she was little. Nothing inappropriate ever happened, but could they have somehow “infected” her with a “spirit of homosexuality”? Whatever that meant. We were desperate.

     I grasped at other straws. Maybe it was Robert’s fault. Certainly if he’d been the husband he should have been, Leah couldn’t have come to this conclusion. But that’s not what Ed Hurst’s book said or the “experts” he’d cited. The responsibility—no, the guilt—pointed closer to home.

     And it piled higher and higher, but without any specific focus. For several years Neta and I had worked as the editors of Marriage and Family Products for a major Christian publisher. We edited books and articles by several of the most respected authors in the field. We knew what a good Christian marriage and family life looked like. And while we weren’t perfect, we knew we had one, and there were people from our church in our home all the time who could attest to that fact. But . . . we must’ve failed somewhere. Maybe I should’ve read Leah more stories when she was little. Or maybe Neta should’ve worked harder to resolve the standoffs she and Leah got into when she was nine years old. But we’d just held the course and trusted the stage would pass, and it had. In fact, our family life was far more pleasant than a lot of families who raised whole tribes of straight kids. Leah went through normal teenage struggles, but she hadn’t exhibited unusual “self-pity,” “identity conflict,” or “defensive detachment.” But supposedly those were the roots of homosexuality Ed Hurst and other theorists had identified as negative responses to a “hurtful” environment.

     Where had we gone wrong?


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[1] The names of all individuals have been changed except for people who have expressed their views publicly by speaking, publishing, or heading organizations.

[2] Michael L. Brown, Can You Be Gay and Christian? Responding with Love and Truth to Questions About Homosexuality (Lake Mary, FL: Frontline, an imprint of Charisma House, 2014). Brown says, “If you say [you are] a practicing homosexual . . . and following Jesus at the same time, I say, no. According to the scriptures, the two are mutually incompatible” (

[3] The acronym LGBTQ stands for: L=lesbian, G=gay men, B=bisexual, T=transgender, Q=questioning (or sometimes queer). This book does not address bisexual or transgender issues.

[4] I wanted descriptive, nonpejorative terms. Twenty years ago most evangelicals were “traditionalists.” Today, many are becoming “neo-traditionalists.” Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network uses the commendably neutral “Side A” and “Side B” terminology. (Side A people accept the possibility of same-sex marriage while Side B feels celibacy is required for gay Christians.) The common term “affirming” accurately describes approval of Side A, but I wanted to go further by using “inclusive” to describe active support for both Side A and Side B as I explain more fully in Chapter 16. According to my terminology, the Gay Christian Network is inclusive.

[5] Ed Hurst with Dave and Neta Jackson, Overcoming Homosexuality (Elgin, IL: David C. Cook Publishing Co., 1987), 7.

[6] Ibid., 102.

[7] At The Colossian Forum’s “Christian Faith and Human Sexuality” colloquium in Grand Rapids, MI, on August 14, 2014, I spoke privately with Elizabeth Moberly’s brother, Walter, and asked him if Elizabeth had changed her views on the origins of homosexuality over the past thirty years. He said, “I don’t know that she has, but she no longer wants to have anything to do with the subject.” Walter Moberly is Professor of Theology and Biblical Interpretation at Durham University.


Risking Grace sample

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