Navigating the Confusion

I am an out and proud Christian who happens to be married to a woman. I guess you could call me a gay Christian. It feels commonplace to say that now, but there was a time those two words couldn’t coexist in my world.

I knew I was different by the time I was 8-years-old. I didn’t have the vocabulary for it, but I just knew. Once I understood my difference, I realized I could never share this with anyone else. It would have to be a secret that I took to my grave. Do you know what happens to someone who feels they have to keep secrets?

Shame and self-hatred happens.

My journey to accepting my sexual orientation has been excruciating. Thankfully, I am now at the place where I’m no longer shackled by shame and self-hatred. I have a full life – wife, child, church family, and career.

Oftentimes, persons who are struggling in the midst of this journey of self-acceptance – whether as ex-gay, celibate gay Christians, or affirming gay Christians – will ask me for advice on how to reconcile faith and sexual orientation.

So, here is my advice for those on this difficult, soul wrenching journey.

Beloved,

The journey you are now on is one that takes incredible courage. At times, you will experience confusion, doubt, anger and a whole host of other emotions. You may feel anger at God for your pain. “Why isn’t God taking away my attractions when I’ve begged?” You may be confused about why others seem so sure of their beliefs and you can’t seem to get there. There may be moments where the pain and confusion become unbearable, and you begin contemplating suicide. If you get to that point, please reach out for help. There are wonderful resources that can help you. (I will provide these resources at the end of the post). Even if it seems like you are alone, your Creator is with you. Even if you can’t feel God’s presence, God is with you!

First of all, God loves you so much! Let’s get that cleared up. No matter where you land on how you believe God wants you to live out your sexuality, God’s love for you will NEVER change.

I can’t give you THE ANSWER. Sure, I wholeheartedly believe God blesses same sex relationships and that homosexuality is a natural God-created variant in creation. Yes, I think all the ‘evidence’ points to this conclusion. But, I know that my telling you what to think just adds to the multitude of voices that are telling you what to believe. I know it gets confusing with all those outside voices. It may seem that everyone on both sides (affirming and non-affirming) is so sure of the answer. It can feel overwhelming! Yes, study Scripture and read books, but take the time to listen to your own inner voice and to the Holy Spirit.

One of the best pieces of advice given to me came from a spiritual director. Realizing that I was drowning in confusion, she challenged me to always “go toward what brings life.” So for me, twenty-five years of believing God condemned homosexuality and my sexual orientation needed changing brought me anxiety, shame, depression, self-hatred, and suicidal thoughts. This is not life! I would challenge you to pursue what “brings you life.” And if accepting yourself as gay but celibate because you believe God doesn’t affirm same sex relationships brings you life, then I say go live it to the fullest!

Don’t hesitate to see a good therapist. By good, I mean someone who believes you have the right to determine what’s best for you. I caution you to avoid any counselor who practices reparative therapy or conversion therapy, which seeks to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It has been rejected by EVERY mainstream medical and mental health organization. It’s dangerous; research suggests it can worsen feelings of self-hatred and anxiety.

During therapy be willing to confront any internalized homophobia and/or church-related spiritual trauma. It’s almost certain that you’ve encountered these things, even if you don’t realize it yet.

My final advice is to reach out to people like us – who understand what you are experiencing. There are many wonderful groups of LGBTQ Christians who are more than willing to provide support. Some include: Q Christian Fellowship, Revoice, Reformation Project, Spiritual Friendship, The Christian Closet, LOVEboldly and many more.

As I end this, I want to stress that God loves you no matter what! I believe it’s impossible to accept ourselves if we don’t truly grasp God’s love for us. I challenge you to ask God to show you how much you are loved in a way that touches the deepest parts of your heart.

My prayer for you is that “God gives you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner self, and I pray that Christ will make  his home in your heart through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. May you come to know his love and so be completely filled with the very nature of God.”

Although you may feel overwhelmed, you will emerge from this struggle. There will be a day where you will be comfortable in your skin and go on to live a fulfilling life. You are deeply loved!

 

 

Resources if you struggling with suicide:

Trevor Project   1-866-488-7386 (also has text and chat)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  1-800-273-8255 (also has chat)

Seeking a Church While Gay

I’m trying to find a Christian faith community where I can worship, serve, and grow in my faith. I have always loved being a part of the church. I’ve never had trouble finding one where I felt I belonged.

 

Until now.

 

For the first time in my life, I am experiencing the anxiety and dread of visiting churches. My heart beats rapidly and my stomach is in knots every single time I walk into a church.

 

Every.Single.Time.

 

It’s difficult this time because I cannot just think of myself when searching for a church. Soon, I will be married and starting a family. Will we be accepted? Will our future children be told that their parents are abominations? Will the church we attend allow us to join? To serve? Will they gladly take our tithes and offerings but only allow us to be spectators in the pews? Will we be able to teach Sunday School? Will we be merely tolerated?

 

I want a place where my spouse and I will be encouraged and guided in our marriage. I want a place where my children will learn about and experience the love of the Triune God and seek to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I want accountability in how I treat my partner and raise my children.

 

There is a church that we have been attending for a few months. We both like it and believe in its mission. Every morning, I write down ’email pastor to set up a meeting’ on my to-do list. So far, it has not been crossed off my list at the end of the day. I constantly think about competing this task. My heart starts to race. My stomach twists in knots.

 

I decide not to do it.

 

I am too afraid of the possibility of rejection.

How a Transgender Lady Helped Me Not Walk Away from my Christian Faith

Six years ago I entered seminary, pursuing  a Master’s of Divinity with the hope of ministering within the United Methodist Church. Attending theological school was a dream come true. When  asked, “what would you do if money wasn’t an issue,” I answered with ‘attend seminary.’ I loved attending classes and reading the many, many books required for each of those classes. Sitting in lectures and soaking up the knowledge from my professors was my idea of a great time.

I was a conservative, evangelical who specifically chose to attend a seminary that taught homosexuality as sin. I  chose this school over another one only because the latter gave benefits to same sex couples. I viewed myself as ex-gay and usually spouted the jargon (lifestyle, gay agenda, etc.) when asked my views of this topic. Additionally, I refused to read other books or listen to scholars who didn’t share my same views. I did not want my thoughts challenged. (Deep down, I think I was afraid to have them challenged).

Two years into my program, I found myself depressed and broken. Aware of the numerous questions bubbling up within me concerning everything I had been taught about homosexuality, I tried to dismiss them and plunged myself further into my studies. But, you can hold a beach ball under water only for so long before it blasts its way to the surface. Although I still maintained the public facade of being ex-gay, my inner world was engulfed with turmoil and cognitive dissonance.

And I was afraid to tell anyone.

I couldn’t share my many questions at school; I didn’t want to be branded an outcast or even worse, a heretic. I still believed in the Trinity, the full humanity and divinity of Christ, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that Jesus will return one day. I still believed everything that is in the Apostles’ Creed. My belief in those foundational Christian doctrines were solid. However, I didn’t know what to believe about the sinfulness of homosexuality anymore. Contrary to what others may think, my questioning wasn’t the result of my wanting to enter into a same sex relationship. That has never been my reasoning.

Those days were lonely and frightening.

Even after 10 years of therapy, conferences, and support groups, I knew I was still gay. My worldview and environment couldn’t support the notion that one could be gay and Christian. So, I began to believe that I had no choice but to walk away from Christianity. Heartbroken over this decision, I begged God to forgive me and to know that I truly loved and wanted to live for Him. I told Him how sorry I was that I failed to overcome homosexuality. I stopped allowing myself to take Holy Communion and slowly stopped attending church. The only prayer I could utter was “please have mercy on me, a sinner.” I stopped my ordination process and decided that I was going to withdraw from my theological studies.

I found myself lost and afraid.

You know, I think God uses shocking and interesting ways to show His radical love for us. A couple of months after thinking that I had no choice but to leave my Christian faith, I found myself serving as a Fellow at the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, DC. While  there, I heard a presentation on being transgender from a woman named Allyson Robinson who worked at HRC.

I must admit I was prejudiced against the transgender community. I didn’t understand and assumed they were were all just confused. I had bought into the rhetoric spoken by Focus on the Family concerning this topic. Instead of compassion or even wanting to understand, I treated them with judgement and disdain.

During Allyson’s presentation, I found myself intrigued when she mentioned her Christian faith. I noticed that she spoke of her faith in the present tense. How could a transgender person still claim to be a Christian? I knew right then I had to talk more with her. Since I was too afraid to approach her in person, I emailed asking if we could have lunch together.

I’m so thankful she agreed.

For an hour, I listened as she shared her story of coming to terms with her faith and gender identity. I was amazed she went to seminary at Baylor and had served as a Baptist preacher. She listened as I shared my journey and how I was struggling. I learned we shared the same belief that the Bible was more than a book of literature. She told me I didn’t have to disregard Scripture. It was obvious she was a woman of vibrant, deep Christian faith.

Hope entered my life again. I was overwhelmed with God’s presence and tangibly felt His love wash over me. My life changed that day, and I began my journey of reconciling my faith and sexual orientation, whatever that would look like.

Because of the seed of hope Allyson planted in my heart, I went back to church, began taking Holy Communion and prayed again. I went on to finish seminary with my Master’s of Divinity.

I didn’t walk away from my faith.

To my transgender brothers and sisters: I’m sorry for being a prejudiced A@#hole. I have a tender spot in my heart for this community, and you have an ally for life! God passionately loves you, period! There is nothing wrong with you, and you are NOT broken!

To Allyson: Thank you!

 

Note: Allyson is now the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, DC.

To hear more of her story, check out http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/watch/is-this-the-most-radical-preacher-in-america-335687235881#

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anxiety Bites!

Like most people at this time of the year, I have been thinking about my new year’s resolutions. Of course, I always resolve to change the usual: weight loss, exercise, healthy eating, debt reduction, spiritual disciplines, and productivity. But there is something else weighing on my mind that I would like to see addressed in the upcoming year.

Years ago, I played both basketball and softball. I excelled at these two activities, playing both during college. I even had many opportunities to play these sports in three different countries. During childhood, I loved playing anything involving athletics. It wasn’t unusual for me to spend hours shooting baskets, playing catch with my father, or throwing tennis balls against our shed. I fearlessly dove for baseballs and willingly sacrificed my body taking charges during competitive events.

However, things started changing as I progressed through high school. I began noticing that the thought of actually competing in basketball and softball games caused me to experience anxious feelings. I had no clue from where these new-found thoughts and feelings were coming. Every possible scenario of disaster bombarded my mind as I tried to play the games. For example, rapid thoughts about all the possible mistakes I could make filled my head as I waited for each pitch from my field position during softball games. Also, I would constantly worry that my knee would ‘give out’ as I played defense or dribbled a basketball during a game. Can you imagine how difficult it is to think about the game strategy when you are battling these persistent irrational thoughts?

In order to cope with this anxiety, I developed several rituals that helped me to think about the task at hand, rather than the possible failures. I thought that I could avoid certain disaster if I did little things the same way between each play. It wasn’t obvious, but I would mumble the same phrase over and over again under my breath. If I didn’t say it right, then I thought I would mess up or be injured. In softball, I would lick my index finger and wipe my shirt in a certain way. (Crazy and irrational, huh? At that time in my life, it wasn’t to me.)

I tell you all this because my anxiety became so great that I stopped playing any type of sport. The very activities I loved became sources of mental torment. After a year of playing Division I basketball, I quit and transferred to another college, never playing on a basketball team again. I played softball at my new school but soon found my anxiety growing worse everyday. The rituals that once gave me some solace became useless against the panic and dread that threatened to overtake me. Thus, I did not play my senior year of collegiate eligibility. Each time I quit these teams, I was told that I would regret my decision.

And honestly, I haven’t. It was wonderful not having to deal with overwhelming anxiety on a regular basis. I was tired and wanted peace. I don’t regret quitting the teams so that I could focus on my well-being during those years.

However, I do regret that I have allowed anxiety to continue to rule my life in this area until this very day. Even now, the thought of playing competitively stirs up anxious feelings. I regret refusing to play catch with my nephew or shooting basketballs with friends because I am fearful. I regret not participating in my graduate school’s intramural sports league while attending classes because I was afraid.

It’s been over ten years since I gave up the sports that I truly loved and enjoyed. My simple New Year’s resolution is to take the steps in confronting and overcoming this obstacle. I refuse to allow these irrational fears to continue ruling my life!

My resolution includes picking up my glove and playing a simple game of catch, playing pick-up basketball games with trusted friends, and maybe even joining a sports league.

May you all have a blessed New Year, and ask me to play catch or shoot some hoops with you if you see me around!