A daughter’s coming out, a father’s faith shaken
Photo credit: Bobby Johnson
February 26th, 2013
09:08 AM ET

A daughter’s coming out, a father’s faith shaken

Programming note: Learn more about Kelby’s story and see how she and her dad have overcome prejudice and bullying in the AC360° documentary “The Bully Effect” on Thursday, February 28 at 10 p.m. ET and March 3 and 9 at 8 p.m. ET.

Bobby Johnson’s daughter Kelby came out of the closet at age 14. The reaction from their church, he says, was immediate. “The pastor’s response was, ‘you can come here but you can no longer teach, you can no longer hold any position of authority or power within the church because that’s a part of our bylaws,” says Johnson, adding, “since that day … we have not been back.”

It was a defining moment for a man raised in a deeply religious household, and was the beginning of a journey of introspection of his faith.

“As I began to see the hate, the anger, the intolerance that came out in the community with Kelby, that really made me reflect on what I was taught,” he said.

“One of the things that is always driven into your head growing up in Christianity is that God, being the personification of love, there is no greater love than God. So now as a parent, I look at my child and I think of my unconditional love for my child … I could never sentence my child to an eternity to what Christianity calls Hell,” said Johnson, adding, “I no longer believe in the concept of Hell as it’s taught in modern Christianity.”

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Johnson and his wife Londa were not just congregation members of their Baptist church but also helped found it. “The church actually started at the local high school … then after we raised enough money to build the building, between the time we were meeting in the high school and the time the new building was ready, Londa and I actually took over the youth group and ran that out of our house. So on Sunday evenings all the youth would gather at our house.”

The treatment from their church was compounded by the reaction to Kelby from their small Oklahoma town, as a whole.

“The gay lifestyle in this area in the country … it’s so frowned upon, and so shunned, and so disliked,” said Johnson, adding, “It’s not an exaggeration to say we lost all of our friends, I mean it’s literal – we have no friends left in the community.”

Kelby says she also faced bullying so relentless at her high school, her father began to fear for her safety. “My dad actually made the decision of ‘something needs to be done. I can’t let you go into that school knowing whether or not you’re going to come home.’ So my junior year we actually decided to take me out of school and I went and got my GED.”

While Kelby anticipated some animosity from the rest of her community, she thought their church would be their sanctuary. “This is where you’re supposed to be accepted. You’re supposed to be loved. This is supposed to be a haven for people to come and that wasn’t the case. And that shocked me,” she said. “Because of all that has happened to me, I am now atheist.”

For her father, watching Kelby struggle with her spirituality has been difficult but because of the lesson he was taught, he gives his children room to find their own path.

“You got to be open to questioning what it is you believe. You know you’re taught one thing growing up, but when you begin to see evidence that leads you down a different path to me you are going against everything that means to be a human being to not question that,” said Bobby.

“I think Western Christianity has really chosen to be selective about what they believe and don’t believe in regards to what the Bible says and what they are going to enforce,” he said. “You can walk into any church around here and how many … sitting in that church are divorced? They all know what the Bible says about divorce, but that’s OK. Gambling, alcohol, sexual addiction, those are all lines that are OK for us to cross. We’re going to draw that line on homosexuality.”

Bobby continues to look for a new church that better fits his much different outlook on religion but so far has been unsuccessful. While his faith in humanity is shaken, his faith in God remains.

“I will never doubt my belief in a creator,” he said. “My understanding of that God has changed completely, however, because of this situation.”

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soundoff (148 Responses)
  1. Pat

    Baptists are not know for their tolerance; their minds are too closed. Try a more loving church like the United Methodist or Unitarian Universalist. I know that at the Methodist church they have open hearts and open minds. They will not judge or condem you for how you (or your daughter) was born.

    March 8, 2013 at 11:47 am |
  2. Elizabeth

    What about the people in the church and their values. I don't think they hate the sinner, but the sin. This girl and her parents need to understand others feelings as well.

    March 7, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
    • David

      I think they have a problem with them seeing being gay as a sin, where it's their – and most of the educated world's – opinion that being gay is not a lifestyle choice it's how they're wired.

      March 8, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • Lee

      Elizabeth: who are these congregants to stand in judgement of another ? If God still loves this young woman, are these other humans too good or too holy to do the same ? At a time when she needs compassion most, the people who should be kind to her have (I assume) turned their backs ??
      I don't know any of these people, but I would bet you anything that the hypocrites are leading the charge...........it is usually that way.

      Too bad for them and this family.

      March 8, 2013 at 11:53 am |
  3. Terri

    Whether you believe in the bible or God or not, there is something to be learned by Christ saying...

    He who goes without sin, cast the first stone.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
  4. Janet

    As someone who grew up in a religous home I was always taught right from wrong, good and bad. Even though the church (whether it be Catholic or Mennonite or whatever) teaches that homosexuality is wrong, I can only disagree. If my child came to me today and "came out", could I love him any less. I love him today and I will tomorrow. I will love him and be happy that he felt secure enough to come out. It's time we stopped all this hatred and accepted people for who they are. How would be feel if the roles were reversed. No one can tell me who to fall in love with or not to.

    That father should be praised for not falling the sheep and show his daughter that love is love.

    March 7, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
  5. Michele

    I watched and experienced so much hypocricy in my church growing up, that by age 12 I knew I didn't belong there. Organized religion (all of them) are indeed focused on the organization and rules and not true spirituality. They are about power, not God. One thing I do remind you...even the bible was written by men. Who really knows their motivation for what they wrote, how much of it was true history vs a political statement, etc...and why certain views and writings were picked to be included and others left out. To put out "faith" in anything created by humans will lead us to disappointment every time.

    March 7, 2013 at 10:24 am |
  6. Judy

    Sad when people calling themselves christians behave this way and shun someone for being who they are. Also a shame this young women lost all faith in God instead of just in that particular organized religion.

    March 7, 2013 at 10:13 am |
  7. belinda

    I really admire parents that support their Gay children. We should always be there for our children. This does not end when they grow up.

    March 6, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
  8. Dorris Geddes

    Churches are run by man and man will always let you down. You cannot let the church destroy your relationship with God... There is God and there are the man that run the church.... And sometimes they do a terrible job at it..
    It is a real shame that this has happened to your daughter.. To be treated so bad....
    The grief that some pastors cause is so deep that massive damage is done.. So much so that she has turned her back on God.... Hope one day she will understand that God has never turned His back on her... And His Love for her will never change...

    March 6, 2013 at 8:21 am |
  9. Thomas

    Forgot the church, girl. Follow Jesus.

    March 6, 2013 at 3:45 am |
    • lee henry


      March 6, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
    • lee henry

      your are absolutely true re;Jesus

      March 6, 2013 at 11:11 pm |
    • Terri

      Amen to that!

      March 7, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
  10. Christopher

    Why am I still surprised that every religion sells the notion that they have the inside track to God, Heaven and Univeral Truth?

    The FACT is nobody, and I mean NOBODY knows as a indisputable fact if there is a God, heaven etc. It's based on faith.Faith offers no answers and discourages all questions.

    March 5, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
  11. Darrell

    Organized religion is about the organization NOT the religion. The church and it's pastor played to stereo types and hate to strengthen their hold on members while ignoring the words in red (the teachings of Christ)

    March 5, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
  12. magyart

    Lots of interesting comments here, regarding the Bible, Jesus and chuurches. Jesus the son of God, lived a short life and tried to teach us to love one another. As the son of God, he knew his time here was limited. I assume he taught us important lessons about living a Christian life, know his time with us was limited.

    IMO, he spoke about the most important aspect of being Christian. I pretty sure he spoke of loving our neighbors.

    What did Jesus tell us about homosexual life style ? Did he speak of the univerese being created in six days ?

    If it was important for Christians to denouce homosexuals, wouldn't Christ have preached this ?

    If it was important to know the universe was made in only six days, wouldn't he have told us about the speed at which his father created the universe and implored us to spread this word ? Creation may have been six days or six billion years, it's not important.

    I don't think one chooses to be homosexual. I don't remember choosing to be hetersexual, I suspect we are simply born with a certain sexuality. We are all created in the image of God. God doesn't make mistakes.

    I'll just try to love my neighbor, regardless of color, sex, race, religion, education, riches (or not). Let God judge me for how I treat my neighbor and abide by the ten commandments.

    March 5, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • CJohns

      Magyart, if I were a churchgoing person, you're exactly the kind of person I would want in church with me. You sound like you think and reason beyond the dogma and are a good example of what a christian ought to be.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  13. Frank

    While I feel compassion for your story, I suspect you should be thanking God that your daughter turned out to be gay, and helped you realize the hatred out there for gays/lesbians!
    However, I believe that had your daughter been straight, you would still be a hater among other haters, and condemn us to hell. You would not have been open to the change you now experience.

    March 5, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
    • Brian

      Well said Frank. And I agree wholeheartedly. The family gets absolutely 0 sympathy from me. Were it not for their amazingly brave daughter, I am sure these people would not even have contemplated the change that has been forced upon them.

      March 6, 2013 at 11:07 am |
      • mike124

        No need to be so judgmental of the family. They learned and were transformed by the experience; others may not have been supportive. Kudos to the young woman AND her family.

        March 7, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • mike124

      This is one of the most judgmental things I've ever read. How do you presume to speak for these people? This is why the world turns so slowly. Best be glad they changed, whatever the impetus.

      March 7, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
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