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.

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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.

Finally….

Before I began blogging, I carefully crafted a message to send to members of my extended family who count among my Facebook friends. I thought it would be appropriate to tell them myself that I am gay, as opposed to learning this through my posts. Plus, I am helping to create a nonprofit, LOVEboldly, that seeks to create safe spaces to discuss faith and sexual orientation. (For more info., check out http://www.loveboldly.net). Posts and status updates about LOVEboldly’s events cover my Facebook wall. Unless they were not paying any attention, there was no way that they would have not found out about me. I love my family, and I wanted to show respect by telling them myself.

Honestly, this whole ‘coming out’ scared me. Most of my family members attend church and commit themselves to the Christian faith. Plus, they know that I just graduated seminary, and I knew that they would probably be shocked that a Christian can have a gay orientation. Where I grew up, the words ‘Christian’ and ‘gay’ do not belong together. As I assumed, some seemed concerned about my salvation. I don’t necessarily consider this response as unloving. Although I would have preferred not to get these messages, I know that they came from a place of love. Still, others chose not to respond. Surprisingly, many more embraced me and told me that their love will never change for me, no matter what. I cannot begin to express just how much that meant and still means to me.

My close family members (grandmother and sisters) have known for some time, and they have been an amazing support system. But there has been one person who I have avoided telling, my mother. Now, I don’t want to give you the wrong idea about her. She is an amazing person! I have known all along that I would never have to worry about being disowned or kicked out of my home if she ever found out. (Others are not so fortunate.) Not wanting to share this with her stems from my own issues. I don’t really know why I avoided this conversation, but I have an idea. At age 20, I did tell her that I struggled with same-sex attractions but that I was going to fight the urges and pray that God would make me straight. She simply said, “ok.” Nothing else has been said since that time.

Eleven years have passed, and I still have the same sexual orientation as I did then. I think that maybe she would see me as a failure if she knew this. I had told her that I was going to undergo all the therapy I could to become normal, and I think subconsciously that I failed her. I don’t know why I thought she would see me as a failure. She isn’t religious, and she has always supported me in my endeavors. Again, I knew she would see and love me the same.
Yesterday (Oct. 11), the LGBT community celebrated National Coming Out Day. If you are not familiar with it, National Coming Out Day is observed annually to celebrate coming out and to raise awareness of the LGBT community and civil rights movement. Some use this specific day to finally come out to loved ones. I thought that the time to tell my mom was now or never. I know she reads my blog posts and sees the LOVEboldly updates. She isn’t stupid; it’s safe to assume that she already knows.

So, I emailed her a long message telling her the truth. I ended with saying that I am sorry if she is embarrassed about having a lesbian daughter (people from my hometown now know about me). Knots formed in my stomach right after I pushed the send button. I tried to avoid checking Facebook because I was afraid to see a reply. Sure enough, I saw that I had a message awaiting and hesitatingly clicked it. After my long message, she wrote six simple words….

“I am not embarrassed by you.”

That simple sentence lifted a huge burden off my shoulders.

Thanks, Mom! I love you, too!