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 – Craig

Craig R. Lewis, 35, Gay

(Pictured with husband, David and children, Knox & Kruz)

Where do you live now? Gardner, Kansas

What was it like for you to live in a rural community? I really enjoyed living in the country, five miles outside of Hornbeak, Tennessee. I came from a very large family that fulfilled me with love, guidance, and most of all God’s word. Challenges started for me at the age of 6 that something was different about me.

What do you love best about the area? I am country… I am a man and I still at the age of 35 now like to wake up and go take a piss outside with no worry of getting a ticket for indecency exposure….lol

What would you like for local residents to know about the LGBTQ community? This is a powerful questions…. kinda like the layers of an onion…. the more you pull the layers of skin away the more I cry… ummm but I guess the adult answer would be, being apart of this organization save me because more than I care to say wanted to end the battle that I had inside of me.

People of the community that I do love very much needs to understand that God’s love is ALWAYS UNCONDITIONAL. So unless you have walked in my shoes, have been disowned by your family, or any negatively what so ever about who you are and how you live your life to be happy…. my suggestion is to just shut the fuck up…. because today I have the family I dreamed of for a very long time. David and I are great people and have 2 beautiful children that will never have to go through what I had to… my love for everyone is unconditional. .. just like my Heavenly Father…

What advice would you give to those in the area who may feel alone? We are all made in the image of God. You have a purpose in this life, you may not see it at the moment but everyone does. Be patient and lesson to that still voice inside of you for leadership and guidance. I’m not saying it going to be easy…. but my friend you are not alone… and you have purpose.

Never give up on your dreams… because God is alive and well and knows all things with each of us…. even the numbers of hairs on your head…

Hold your head high! Because you too are a blank canvass that needs colorful stokes to paint your future… it is there for you as long as you stay true to yourself.

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.

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#

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unexpected Restoration

Earlier this year, I found myself on the verge of burnout. I help with a nonprofit that works at the intersection of the LGBTQ and traditionally-minded Christian communities, and I noticed feelings and emotions within me I’ve never really experienced before in this work.

Anger. Bitterness. Hatred of the ‘other.’

This work is hard and isn’t for the faint of heart. Verbal slurs and emails telling you how wrong you are are a common occurrence (both sides of the ‘culture war’ I should say). Personal attacks about my character abound just because I’m gay, even though those who pass judgement do not even know me. Getting emails from LGBTQ people who were open to exploring the Christian faith telling me they aren’t willing anymore due to seeing how Christians responded to the World Vision debacle. Talking with people considering suicide because of the belief that God can’t love them because of a sexual orientation they did not choose. Receiving emails from closeted Christian youth afraid to share with their youth groups and/or parents because they are afraid that they will forced to leave their homes or be rejected by those they love.

It weighs on me.

Instead of responding from a place of love and compassion, I found myself reacting with anger and sarcasm. And I didn’t like who I was becoming.

I needed a change. I needed Jesus.

I made a decision to take a short break from my duties at the nonprofit and pursue ministry in a different context. I found an open position for a summer chaplain at an organization that works in Appalachia, and it intrigued me. As I browsed the organization’s website, I noticed a non-discrimination policy that included sexual orientation. I thought it was too good to be true. It’s not common to see a Christian ministry include sexual orientation in its non-discrimination policy, especially in the South.

I applied and found myself serving as a chaplain from May to August to college students.

In all honesty, this new adventure terrified me. What if I couldn’t connect with them? What if I was a lousy minister? Underneath all these questions was my biggest fear: What if they find out I’m gay and reject me? It’s hard to admit that I still have this fear, but I do. Every time I attend a new church, volunteer to serve at a ministry event or lead a Bible study, this fear is there.

The anxiety I had over this deep-seated fear threatened to overtake me the first evening I began this summer job. I even began to pack my bags and drive home. Thankfully, I called a friend who helped me calm down and embrace this challenge.

I’m so glad I stayed that night and the rest of the summer.

Who would have thought God would use 130 college kids as a healing balm for my soul? I watched as a group of young men and women who have different political, moral, and theolgical views come together to serve communities in Appalachia. Not only were they able to work together, I watched them grow to embrace and love each other.

And they embraced me. They could have cared less that I’m gay. They didn’t even question whether or not I could be a Christian because I’m not straight. They weren’t afraid to hug me.

This was the first time I have ever worked in a Christian organization where I did not have to hide certain parts of my identity.

It was beautiful and healing.

To the young men and women I chaplained this summer:

Thank you for allowing me into your lives and embracing me. God has used your love to restore some broken areas in my life, and I am forever grateful to you all. I love you!

asp my boys          turtle save asp

Some Questions I Would LIke Answered

You know me.

You know my character.

You know my love for people.

You know I would go out of my way to help someone in need.

 

You see my desire to please God above all else.

You see I love Jesus and seek to place my entire life under His lordship.

You see how I’ve dedicated my life to ministry.

You see me worship God and striving for a life of holiness.

 

Yet,

 

Your once good thoughts of me change the moment you learn of my sexual orientation.

Your speech to me changes from friendly conversations to  Bible verses as a way to show me the error of my way.

You now claim to love me but not my gay lifestyle.

You tell me that I’m no longer a Christian.

 

You think I’m trying to destroy America and the traditional family.

You say I’m promoting the ‘gay agenda.’

You say I am godless.

You have ‘special church meetings’ to discuss whether I’m allowed to serve in your church.

 

Please, I beg you to enlighten me…

 

What exactly is the ‘gay lifestyle’ you say I live?

How does my sexual orientation exclude me from the grace of God?

What is the gay agenda I’m promoting?

Why do you now look at me with disgust?  (Make no mistake…I see it on your face).

What Am I Promoting?

When I began this blog last September, my purpose was to give voice to those of us who are struggling to reconcile our Christian faith and sexual orientation. I even answered the question “Do I believe homosexuality is sin” here. I haven’t shied away from saying that I am currently seeking God’s heart on how I am to live as a Christian who happens to be gay, however that may ultimately look.

I’m not going to pretend that I am some kind of expert or authority on this topic because I’m not; but I am actually living it! I don’t have the luxury to just form an opinion and forget about it. This is my reality.

It has come to my attention that some of my readers are concerned about what I’m promoting through this blog. So, this post is my answer to this concern.

Honestly, I never thought of myself promoting anything. I’m just telling my stories so that the ones who relate may gain some hope. Living in the tension of not yet knowing how to reconcile your faith and sexual orientation is a lonely place. I just want to bring comfort to those who are experiencing this. I want them to know that God is with us. He loves us and has not abandoned us, even in the times we cannot feel His presence.

I’m NOT promoting what path one should ultimately take in his/her own journey. I believe that’s between God and the person. Who am I to question what God is doing in someone’s life.

Since I want to be completely honest in my posts, I will share how I am currently living in this ‘in-between’ state. At this stage in my life, I have embraced celibacy. This doesn’t mean that I think LGBT persons of faith are required to be celibate! Please don’t assume that at all! My journey has included spending some time in an ex-gay ministry as well as involvement in a long-term relationship with someone I still adore and count as a dear friend. I decided to embrace celibacy at this point in my journey so that I can focus on my relationship with Christ without bringing someone else into my ‘mess.’ I don’t think it is fair to date or enter into a relationship with someone if my ‘not knowing’ would bring emotional pain and confusion to her.

I am searching! My thoughts may be different next month, but this is where I am now.