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)

LGBTQ in Obion County – Haley

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Haley Riggs, 21, Bisexual

What was it like for you to live in a rural community? I’ve always been secretive about my sexual orientation, only ever talking about my sexual preferences to people that identify or are accepting of LGBT

What do you love best about the area? The trees

What would you like for local residents to know about the LGBTQ community? Just that its not a sin and its not a “choice”

What advice would you give to those in the area who may feel alone? Online communities are a good source for support and UTM (even if they’re not a student) has a great LGBT club called Spectrum. Great way to meet people.

Photo/Essay project highlighting the LGBTQ and Ally Community in Obion County (a rural area in TN). Some participants still live in the area, while others have moved away after growing up there.

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.

LGBTQ in Obion County – Bekah

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Bekah Bowlin, age 36, Ally

What do you love best about this area? It’s a safe place to raise children. I also love the scenery. It’s a better view of God’s creation than the concrete streets of the city. (I also love the city for what it has to offer)

What is it like living in this area as LGBTQ or as an ally? It can be challenging to advocate for the LGBTQ community here because people are so driven by their faith. It usually leads to unfriendly debate so there are times I avoid it. Also, I can’t discuss it at times when I really want to. For example, at work – I’m the HR person and shouldn’t participate in any discussions regarding religion or politics.

What would you like for local residents to know about the LGBTQ community? They’re harmless! Homosexuality and trans is not contagious. My LGBTQ friends will not try to coax you to be gay nor will they molest your child. They’re just people who are different than most, and they’re looking for acceptance like anyone else in this world. Your devotion to your faith will not be compromised by befriending or accepting an LGBTQ person. In fact, it will bring you closer to God as you will be more Christ-like in doing so. Isn’t it Jesus who shows compassion, acceptance, and loves everyone? EVERYONE.

And anything else you would like us to know…. It is not required to understand ones lifestyle in order to show them compassion or accept them.

One last thing: Teach your children the same principles about acceptance and compassion. It will serve them well and it will make the world a better place.

Photo/Essay project highlighting the LGBTQ and Ally Community in Obion County (a rural area in TN). Some participants still live in the area, while others have moved away after growing up there.

LGBTQ in Obion County – Jared

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Jared Hamlin, 35, Gay

What is it like for you to live in a rural community? Some days I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Other days I want to get out of here as fast as I can. It’s hard to be different here, but I can take it. I stay so someone is here that can take it. In my own way I do it to shield the ones that can’t.

What do you love best about the area? I actually love so much about it here. The history, my family, my friends, and the fact that in about 2 hours I can be in one of many larger cities.

 What would you like for local residents to know about the LGBTQ community? We are the same as the rest of the community. We work. We live. We love. We really aren’t different from the rest of the world. And for the record I loathe the fact that we have to have a label and can’t exist.

What advice would you give to those in the area who may feel alone? First off, you aren’t alone. We are here to be with you through whatever you are going through. Take a deep breath and hold on. It gets better. It takes time, but it does happen. We have to deal with the negative parts of life so we can appreciate the positive ones when they happen.

Photo/Essay project highlighting the LGBTQ and Ally Community in Obion County (a rural area in TN). Some participants still live in the area, while others have moved away after growing up there.

LGBTQ in Obion County Project

For the next several weeks, I will be featuring a project that is near and dear to my heart. I recently moved back to my hometown in rural Tennessee for 3 months in order to take care of my grandmother.

 

Honestly, I was fearful to go back. I haven’t stayed in the area for a significant amount of time since I graduated from college in 2003. I’m not bashing the area; the people are beautiful, and the southern hospitality is wonderful. People go out of their way to say hello there. My fear came from the fact that I am publicly out as gay. Not a little out, but ‘I’m engaged to marry a woman this year’ out.

 

As I was growing up in my hometown, I felt alone. I thought I was the only person that was struggling with my sexual orientation. I’ve come to realize that I was never alone. There were others just like me; we even went to school together. I wonder what it would have been like if we all had known that there were others around us struggling with the same thing.

 

This project will highlight people from my hometown who have found the courage to live authentically and want others to know that they are not alone. Allies have also been included to let others know that they are there in the area, supporting the LGBTQ community. Some participants still live in the area, while others have moved to other areas.

 

May this project find its way to those who need to know that they are not alone.

 

You Are Loved

Recently, I cleaned up the files on my computer and came across the manuscript for a talk I gave in a chapel service at a Christian university. I decided to share it here on my blog.

 

I am a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, who happens to be gay (which means I am emotionally, mentally, romantically, and physically attracted to women).
I’m one of those people who can say that I have been a part of the Church for my entire life, even within my mother’s womb. I cannot remember a time when I haven’t known who Jesus is. I publicly accepted Christ as Lord and Savior at a young age and was baptized shortly. I was the kid in kindergarten who took gospel magazines to school with the intent of handing them out at recess. I loved going to church every moment that I could.

 
BUT

 
I understand what it feels like to love Jesus but realize that you are beginning to identify with those ‘types’ of people being preached against on any given Sunday. I understand how it feels when you think (know) there is no one you can talk to about these feelings. You are afraid of being embarrassed or rejected by those you love. So, you struggle silently. I understand how you have to sort through the turmoil all by yourself, wondering if God is disappointed in you because you cannot control your same sex feelings. Every night you beg God before going to sleep to take away your feelings and make you normal so that He will not send you to hell. I understand how it feels to feel hopeless, deficient, and condemned. You always seem to live in fear that your friends, family, and church are going to figure out your secret. This causes you to refuse any type of physical touch as well as leads you to put up walls so that no one truly knows the real you. Sometimes, you wonder if suicide would finally give you some peace.

 
Although I was a Christian, I realized that I was not experiencing sexual and affectional attraction like my female peers. I became desperate for answers (this was before Ellen, the Internet, and Will and Grace) but did not feel safe talking about it with anyone. Instead, I found the answers from watching talk shows. One these shows people who had the same attractions as me said that they were gay. I finally had the answer… I’m gay. This answer briefly silenced the inner confusion; however, the peace I felt soon dissolved into terror. I had often heard the verbal slurs coming from the church. I knew what Christians thought about homosexuals.

 
I did not want these feelings. I thought there was no hope for me. So, I was afraid to come near God. I loved and wanted to serve Jesus, but I couldn’t stop my thoughts and feelings. I read my Bible and prayed fervently, thinking that trying harder could help me stop being gay. But it didn’t work.

 
I thought God was disappointed in me. I continued going to church but thought I could only serve him from a distance. I tried to do good things with the intention that maybe God would see that I wanted to be a good Christian. I did not dare to tell anyone.
All of this burden took a heavy toll on me. I wanted to die so that I could feel peace. I could not think about my future because I did not want to live to see adulthood. I felt alone and afraid.

 
I kept my secret to myself until I finally told someone else at age 19.
I am now in my thirties, and this journey of reconciling my faith and sexual orientation has been difficult. I spent a few years in ex-gay ministry. I was fortunate to attend a group whose leaders were healthy and unconditionally loving. My years in that group were positive and I was able to work on areas of my life that has made me a better person today. Things like setting healthy boundaries, forgiveness, and becoming closer to God. I’m fortunate that I had a positive experience because there are many out there who had horrible ones and are still trying to heal from the damage inflicted upon them.
However, although my experience was positive, my sexual orientation wasn’t changing. After realizing I was still the same, I became frustrated and angry. I was angry with myself and angry with God.

 
But, I couldn’t walk away from my faith. My beliefs concerning Jesus Christ were secure, but I began questioning what I had been told concerning homosexuality. I was tired of hearing what everyone’s opinions were on this topic. I only wanted to hear what God thought of it. I immersed myself in learning Greek and Hebrew so that I could read for myself what Scriptures says about it.
During those years of questioning, there were moments of darkness where I felt I couldn’t see any glimpse of light. I lost loved ones who couldn’t handle my questioning. I felt rejected.

 

BUT

 

There were also moments of great joy, peace, and comfort. I learned that God isn’t angry with my questions. The depth of my relationship with God is deeper than it has ever been in my life thus far. I’m no longer afraid to express my love to God, and I know without a doubt that he loves me

 

To those reading this who:

  •  Find yourselves attracted to the same sex and feel alone, afraid to tell anyone for fear of rejection.
  •  Find yourselves attracted to the same sex and open about it. Maybe you have embraced celibacy. You feel frustrated when the straight people around you callously tell you that Jesus is all you need after you had just shared that you are lonely and long for companionship. They tell you this right before they go to a movie with their significant other and don’t think twice about holding his/her hand.
  • Find yourselves frustrated when you hear people say that they love you but they don’t support your ‘lifestyle,’ as if gay people have one lifestyle that we share or that out whole life is structured around sex.
  • Find yourselves deeply hurt when you hear your Christina friends share gay jokes and call each other ‘fags’ or say things like ‘that’s gay.’
  • Find yourselves feeling like you have been kicked in the stomach after seeing your social media feeds with hurtful posts from those you love
  • Find yourselves feeling that God couldn’t possibly love you because you’re ‘different.’
  • Find yourselves believing that suicide is the best option.

 

 

I want to tell you that you are the beloved of God. Let that truth sink in. God loves you. God loves you.
You are not broken. You are not the nasty slurs. You are not what some members of the church have called you.

 

You are beautiful!
You are deeply and unconditionally loved!

Am I choosing sex over God?

Since starting this blog about my journey of reconciling my Christian faith and sexual orientation, I have received my fair share of praise and criticism. I had expected it, and it really doesn’t bother me.

The most common question asked and comment posed relates to the commenter’s  assumption that I’ve have chosen sex over my relationship with God. This usually comes from a straight person who has never even had to think about these things. I received one of these comments again this week.

I know this may come as a shock to people, but sexual orientation means more than just having sex. When I say I’m gay, it means that I am emotionally, mentally, and physically drawn to women. It tells you NOTHING of my sexual practices or behavior.

LGBTQ people are often accused of always thinking about sex, but it often seems that straight Christians are the ones reducing us LGBTQ folks to sexual acts.

So, am I choosing sex over God?

Absolutely not! As a Christian, I strive  to place my life under the lordship of Christ, even my sexuality. So, what does this mean for me? At this moment in my life, I am trying to discern whether or not I am called to the vocation of celibacy. Please, please don’t run with that last line and say that I think that all LGB people must either marry someone from the opposite sex or live a life of celibacy. I don’t believe that at all! I affirm monogamous, committed same sex relationships.

But for me, I am trying to figure out whether I’m called to celibacy. Is God truly calling me or am I scared of intimacy due to my rape?

Regardless, I believe sexual intimacy is reserved for a marriage relationship. So, if I do not pursue celibacy, I won’t be having sex until I marry a spouse. Guess what? There are many other LGB Christians who are waiting to have sex within marriage.

As you can see, I’m not having sex. Coming out as lesbian had nothing to do with my wanting to choose sex over God. It had to do with wanting to live an authentic life and not hiding significant parts of myself.

Straight Christian, please stop assuming that we are choosing sex over God when we tell you we are LGBTQ. Honestly, look around you. Our televisions, radios,magazines,and computers are saturated with heterosexual sex.

Maybe, us LGBTQ Christians should be asking you, “Are you choosing sex over God?”

 

 

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#

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life After Rape

Time has passed since the night I was raped.

The physical wounds have disappeared.

Sleep comes easily again.

Life marches on.

Yet,

Random things remind me what happened.

A billboard that shows where my perpetrator worked

Hearing music that played in the background

A rude comment from a customer at my place of employment

Small, innocent things unexpectedly transport me back to that night.

A suffocating knot forms in my chest

My breathing becomes shallow

Panic and fear coarse through me

Breathe deeply.

Exhale.

Repeat.

Calm myself and bring my mind back to the present.

This is my new normal.

Note: Although this is my new normal, I have the support of loved ones, great therapy, and my faith in Christ that sustain me in my recovery. If you have been raped, please know that you do not have to go through this alone. There are great resources available to you. If you need help finding resources, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I would be more than happy to journey with you!