From my earliest memories I was taught God loved me, but somewhere over those years, that message got lost. I went to a very conservative evangelical Christian school growing up that gave me views about my faith, my humanity, and my sexuality that were very toxic. Being gay was something I could never openly be at school. Mainly because they erased that being an option for people.
“Gay” wasn’t something innate to you, it was a choice you made and it was a choice that could be reversed.
It wasn’t until junior year of high school when I started to realize I was different. I thought I liked a girl but when someone told me that attraction was important in a relationship, I stopped dead in my tracks and thought, “I’m not attracted to her. But I *am* attracted to that guy over there.”
I stuffed that thought right away. I was a good Christian boy, after all, a model student, how could I be gay? From then on and for years after, it would come up in my prayers late at night, in the most hushed tones, I would ask God to take my sexuality away. I was deeply afraid someone would eventually figure me out. In many ways, I feel my high school robbed me of my ability to be myself. Fully and completely myself. It wasn’t fair. And to this day, they do this to students. They’ve even doubled down.
I gradated from that school and went on with my life. After some major mental health challenges in 2013, I was forced to take a hard look at my life, my viewpoints, and my faith. This marked the beginning of a seven year journey that lead me to where I am today. I started softening my positions, I started listening to fellow members of the LGBTQ community. Their words continued to inspire me. With each passing year, my prayers began to change from, “God take this away” to “God, will this be the year I come out?”
2016 was that year. When the attack on Pulse nightclub happened, I remember staring at the TV in horror. I cried hard that night and I made a promise to myself that over the course of the next few months, I would come out to those closest to me and ultimately, maybe come out publicly.
By that October, I was out to everyone. And I was happy to identify as a gay Christian.
But a few events that year and the years following shook my faith more than anything ever had.
For starters, soon after I came out, a former high school teacher of mine sent me and all my friends an article by someone claiming to be “ex-gay.” This article was dripping with homophobia, condescension, and hate. The God this person was describing did not sound like the God I knew. This former teacher of mine wrecked my faith that night and I spent a long time away from the church because of it.
At one point, though, I went back and was actually thriving in church again.
But one night, I was at an elders meeting after my former pastor had left. The meeting was centered around how the church would go forward. During this time, diversity and inclusion were brought up and someone asked a question about the church being more accepting to the LGBTQ community. I was sitting there, inspired by this person’s words. I was proud someone was finally saying something. Maybe, just maybe, I would be accepted. Of course, I thought I already was, but getting them on the record would just codify that. Maybe things would change. When this person finished their question, one of the elders spoke up.
He said that, while LGBTQ people are welcome to attend, they cannot serve, and they especially cannot serve with children because they could “influence” the kids in negative ways.
I still don’t know what that means, but I can take some guesses.
What happened next broke my heart. The congregation gave the elder a round of applause for his “bold” answer. I sat there, arms crossed and horrified. I was about to cry. I realized in that moment, a large part of who I was would never be accepted here in this church.
A bit more about this: Clarity is important. You can’t say “all are welcome” and put an asterisks on it. You can’t say “come as you are” and then expect people to change who they are. I’ve seen too many people in the LGBTQ community, myself included, crushed by churches they thought were accepting, but in a moment like my elder meeting story, find out they were anything but all along.
Fearfully and Wonderfully Made
It’s now 2020, and I’m still a Christian, but it looks far different, and frankly, a lot more colorful than it used to. I hold my faith very lightly these days. I strive to embrace all the uniqueness of people, those like me and unlike me. My faith has to be affirming and inclusive of everyone. I mean, why would God create all this diversity if everyone had to be the same? I’ve reconciled my past and my faith with my sexuality. They now sing the same tune.
I’m proud of the person I’m becoming. I’m more myself than I ever was before.
To put it another way, as I look at the life I’ve created, I say that it is all very good.