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)

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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 – BJ

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BJ Cook, 33, Gay

Where do you live now? Memphis, TN

What was it like for you to live in a rural community? Living in obion county while gay and in the closet was hard, especially with the uber religious vibe the entire area gives off, but I’ve realized that most of the people I went to high school with wouldn’t have cared if I was out.

What do you love best about the area? I do miss the small town feel. Running into people you know, and knowing someone who knows someone who can fix that, or help with this.

What advice would you give to those in the area who may feel alone? There are places you can go, irl and on the Internet, to talk to people like you that have been through what you’re going through.

Be you, but be safe. Don’t come out if it may get you thrown out of your house or hurt. Connect with someone you can vent to.

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 – Tasha

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Jillian and Tasha Bowman with Riley and Justice Bell.

My name is Tasha Bowman. I’m 37 years old. This is our family on our wedding day! 2/12/16. My children are very supportive of our relationship. Jillian has been “out” since she was 13 and I came out in 2013. My children have had to face the judgment of some adults and friends. I have had to face judgement by several of my church members. Yes, I’m a Christian. I’m a Christian without a church home because of judgement. My family and friends have all stood by my side. I’m very proud of them for that. I want people to know that regardless of who I love, I am the same person. Actually, I may be more compassionate than I was before. That’s not only because of my situation but because of my amazing wife with her huge heart and my very compassionate children.

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 – Jae

Jae (Jessica) Kennedy, 35

 I identify as Jae – the silly, fun, determined and driven gal who longs to make a difference and loves to help people. As for sexuality, I’m a woman who’s married to a woman (who happens to be my soul mate). I’ve never been a fan of labels, but if one must categorize me, I’d be considered, what they call “lesbian” 😜

Where do you live now? I live in Las Vegas, Nevada – the home of diversity.

What was it like for you to live in a rural community? There were pros and cons living in small town Tennessee. The subtle discrimination (what they call “concerned” or “loving” nudges) was and is my least favorite part of a rural community. That being said, I loved living in a town that had a big sense of community that was mostly loving and always there for the neighbors.

What do you love best about the area? Being away now for several years, it’s funny how some of the things I disliked most are now some of the things that I miss most about living in Obion County. I love that I would run into someone I know no matter where I went in town. I loved the southern hospitality. I loved the parades, church events and Christmas tree lighting events at the courthouse (do they still do that?). I loved that friends were TRUE friends in small town Tennessee and not just acquaintances who like to get together only for parties. I loved the bonfires and the accountability a small town gives you.

What would you like for local residents to know about the LGBTQ community? We are not different. We shop at the same places, eat the same foods, worship the same god and care about the same needy people and animals that most of you do. The majority of the LGBTQ community doesn’t even like saying or typing all of those letters to “identify” ourselves. We have no interest or motive in harming your way of life – or your core beliefs. We are very happy that your families are growing, happy and healthy. Please practice what is preached… and let God be the judge.

What advice would you give to those in the area who may feel alone? You’re not alone. You are not sinful. You are not wrong. And you are loved. And you’ll see more and more of this truth as time goes on. In Christian rural areas where generation after generation are born and raised, it’s “natural” for some to see the LGBTQ community as “different” or “sinful”. Evolution of mind and heart, however, is happening. You can be ahead of the game in your area!

There’s nothing that kills negative thoughts and actions more than Love. Find that peace within YOU. Find the peaceful center. We’ve found, in our lives (both coming from small Tennessee towns), that when we walk into a room of straight “normal” people with full confidence and peace within ourselves… everyone wants to learn more about this light we shine. Be the light. Don’t even think about your sexuality and how others may perceive you. Just perceive them. See them. Don’t see them see you. It’ll change you and it’ll change them.

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.

Sticks and Stones…

 

Our words (spoken and written) matter! One simple word contains the power to shape another’s life for good or bad. Even the Bible seems to say a lot about the power of words.

Some examples from Scripture include:

Proverbs 18:22: Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

 

Proverbs 12:18: There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

I could go on-and-on with biblical references concerning the use of words. I bet all of us could testify to the truth of this matter within our own lives. I know I can. The old saying “stick and stones may break my bones, but words never hurt” just isn’t true.

 

 

Careless words spoken in my church during my formative years significantly traumatized my early experiences with God. My earliest memory of this comes from Vacation Bible School at the age of 8. While making a craft after one of our lessons, the teacher casually asked us if we knew why God destroyed the cities Sodom and Gomorrah. Blank stares met his question. We had no idea what he was talking about. Seeing that no one had an answer, he proceeded to tell us that “God destroyed them because they were all homosexuals.” His wife told him to be quiet because we were all too young to know what that meant. All of my peers went back to working on their crafts, not even giving what he had said a second thought. However, I couldn’t get what he said out of my mind. By this age, I had already begun to feel different from the other kids. I cannot adequately express the horror I felt when I realized that maybe I was one of those people. My young mind thought that God must have had to be really mad at them to destroy their whole cities. I became afraid, and I didn’t want God mad at me like that.

 

 

This man’s careless words that evening set in motion a pattern of my desperately trying to prove to God that I wanted to be good and not be one of those people. From the age of 8 into my mid-twenties, I diligently begged God every night to change my gay feelings. I constantly read my bible, even carrying it in my backpack to read when I finished my work at school. At one point, I even gave up secular music and threw away over 200 CD’s  thinking that God would see that I was serious about not wanting to be gay. But no matter how much I did and begged God to change me, nothing changed. I wanted someone to hold me and tell me that it was all going to be ok, but I never told anyone. I was too afraid.

 

There are many other negative examples I could share to further illustrate this point, but I’m not going to dwell on them. Thankfully, at this point in my life, I can honestly say that there have been far more positive words spoken into my life that far outweigh the negative slurs I heard growing up.

 

Words such as “beloved, beautiful, funny and daughter of God” have replaced “disgusting, dyke, fag, and pervert” in the way that I see myself.

 

 

The most healing words to me came from God Himself. I can’t say that they were audible, but they had a profound effect on me nonetheless. While I was in the throes of emotional distress over the tension between my sexual orientation and Christian faith one day, the simple words “I love you” permeated my heart and peace began to flow within me. I know that it was God speaking to my heart because at that point in my life, I would not have thought that myself. I didn’t think it was possible that he could love someone like me.

 

 

Those three words changed my life.