growing up gay in church: a living contradiction

Stories have a remarkable ability to shape and transform our world. They are a vehicle for communicating meaning and truth in a way that impacts our lives and allows us to see a world, a truth, beyond our own.

The immense power that stories have is revealed in the fact that this is the method by which God has consistently chosen to reveal Himself to humanity. From the creation narrative in Genesis to Jesus’ parables of the Kingdom, God has revealed the truth of who He is and who we are made to be through telling a story. This story, this metanarrative of creation and redemption, draws up our own stories into itself, and weaves them into the fabric of God’s work throughout time.

I would like to share with you part of my story, and how I think it fits in the larger narrative being woven throughout history.

My uncle recently told me that it’s much easier to understand someone’s perspective when you know their story, so I share mine not to persuade you to agree with everything I believe and stand for, but simply to let you see the narrative that has made me who I am today, in the hope that it provides a foundation of understanding upon which further relationship and discussion can be built.

So, I invite you into my story, and pray God will use it to His glory.


a good foundation

Early in my childhood, I lived at church.

Literally.

My parents were the youth and children’s ministers at our church, so we lived in a house on the church property, connected on either side to the junior high and high school rooms.

This epitomizes how central Jesus, God, and Church were to my life since childhood; a legacy of faith I inherited from a vast extended family. This strong foundation is a blessing I am forever grateful for, because it has sustained me in the darkest and loneliest places of my journey.

I said the words and prayed the prayer at the innocent age of five, asking Jesus to come into my heart. I could never have imagined how hard I would have to fight for the faith I had claimed.

My life continued in this fashion for a number of years, filled with Sunday school and evening devotions, AWANA and church plays. Some would say I was on the path to becoming the “perfect Christian man,” but I never quite fit in. I knew deep down that there was something different about me, though it would be years before I would figure out what that was, let alone admit it to myself.

the terrible realization

There comes a time in the life of every child who has grown up in the church when they must decide if they will make the faith of their parents their own. This process began the summer before my 8th grade year, as one night at summer camp I was suddenly overwhelmed with the reality of Christ’s love for me, and the theme of the week became a truth that made a difference in my life: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

How tightly I would hold onto that truth for years to come, for while the truth of God’s power and love in my life was being revealed, another truth, hidden deep inside my soul, was making itself known as well.

The growing knowledge of this truth reveals itself in cryptic entries in my journals from those years, references to a “struggle” I was too ashamed to name even there, in my most private moments of reflection. You see, I had grown up in the church, so I had heard the story of Sodom and Gomorrah countless times. I had learned how God punished the abomination of homosexuality, and while cities might no longer be destroyed in fire and brimstone, I knew the homosexuals would not inherit the Kingdom of God.[1]

So, I could not name this struggle I was experiencing, because there is power in a name, and to name it would be to make it real. It could not be real. Not for me. I was a Christian, I loved God and wanted to follow his commands, so I could not, would not be…. you know.

I continued to learn about this God who “so loved the world,” diving deeper into the life of Church, serving and worshiping, seeing God work in my life and the lives of my friends in powerful ways. Yet this struggle I worked so hard to ignore also continued to grow in the recesses of my mind, bringing with it a profound sense of shame and quiet desperation to never let anyone in, lest they see what I thought was the darkest secret a person could have.

So, I buried it down, poured the cement, and prayed that I would soon discover this cancer had been miraculously excised from my soul.

you can only hide for so long

Whatever you do, don’t think about an elephant in a tutu.

No, seriously, don’t.

You’re thinking about it, aren’t you?

It’s funny how when you try not to think of something, that’s all you can think about.

No matter how hard I tried to pretend that I was like everyone else, tried to ignore the the disparity between who I was and who I made myself out to be, I was faced with the growing certainty that this struggle was not going away.

One moment I would be joyfully jumping around, singing with my friends,

Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes yes Lord!

Waves of mercy waves of grace…

“Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” – Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

…and in the next I would be on my knees, crushed by the weight of the shame and despair that came from knowing that this secret I kept was the worst thing that could possibly be true of me. My eternal soul was in peril, and I had no idea what to do.

Unspoken secrets burn; they’re like clothes soaked in acid. Though they are a constant source of torment, leaving scars that will likely last for years. We are terrified to take them off, lest our nakedness be revealed and the truth of who we are made known. Eventually however, the pain becomes unbearable, and to leave the clothes on any longer risks destroying us completely.

I reached that point at the age of 16, while on a summer camp trip with my church.

It was a cool night after our evening program had wrapped up, and I knew that I had to tell someone, because ignoring the problem had not worked and I had no idea what to do. I hesitantly asked a youth leader I had grown to like, and perhaps trust, If we could talk.

My nervous fingernails carved the proof of my fear and trepidation into the sturdy timber stage I was perched on, every minute an hour as I labored to bring the words I had buried so long to the surface. My ability to chip away at the wood diminished as the tremors that began in my fingers made manifest in my body the conflict raging in my heart and mind. By the time I had wrestled the words to my lips, the tremors had spread up from my fingers and coursed throughout my body. Slowly, and all at once, the cracks in the concrete I had been pouring for so many years split wide and the truth I had been running from flowed with the tears in four simple words:

“I’m attracted to guys.”

I don’t remember what he said to me that night, and I’m sure some of the things he said contributed to my continued shame and attempts to be “normal,” but that’s not what stands out from that evening.

It was the fierce, compassionate embrace.

It was the assurance that I was still loved by him, and by God.

It was him sharing the dark and difficult parts of his life.

For that, I will forever be thankful.

I hope and pray this is the only response people will give when a deeply-held secret is revealed: regardless of agreeing with someone’s theology or decisions, Love should always be our first response.

I wish I could say this was it, the moment everything turned around and I was able to accept myself and let others see me for who I was, but I can’t. There were still many years yet to come of wrestling with the pervasive message that there was something wrong with me because I liked boys instead of girls.

Lord, take this cup from me

This conversation led to an appointment with one of the counseling pastors at my church, a meeting I was both apprehensive and excited about. Finally, there was someone who could help me figure out what to do with these attractions I wanted nothing to do with.

I entered the church offices with my heart in my throat, anxious I would run into someone I knew who would instantly deduce why I was there. Settled uneasily on the couch in his office, every muscle taut as a rubber band at its snapping point, I began to hesitantly divulge my dark secret. To his credit, and my gratitude, he did not show any contempt or disgust, listening intently and asking questions. When he asked what I thought caused my same-sex attraction, I expressed my frustration that I could not identify any childhood trauma or parental failure that would lead to these feelings, which was met with reassurance we would examine my life to determine a cause, and thereby a solution.

The next week I went back, ready to start the process of ridding myself of my same-sex attractions, but when I arrived for my scheduled appointment the pastor wasn’t in his office.

His secretary said he was golfing, and would be back tomorrow.

As those words settled into my heart, I was crushed by feelings of shock, confusion, anger, and disappointment.

But really, I was just a kid, hurt deeply because this person who had said they would help wasn’t there when I needed them.

I don’t know the circumstances surrounding that day; perhaps there had been a miscommunication. Perhaps, being human, he simply forgot. Either way, I never went back.

In hindsight, I am incredibly thankful that I did not continue on the path of reparative therapy. Countless stories have been told by those who have pursued the message that they could change their orientation. They describe the deep wounds they have received from being told they are disordered, that their lack of change is indicative of a personal and moral failure. This harm is evident in many places, not least of which is the fact that LGBT young people who experience the rejection associated with being sent to reparative therapy are 8 times more likely to attempt suicide, and 6 times more likely to report high levels of depression, compared to their LGBT peers who are accepted by their families. Then you have those who convince themselves the therapy has worked and marry someone of the opposite gender, only to have their family life implode years later as they can no longer sustain the illusion of heterosexuality, causing devastation to their spouse, children, and themselves.[2]

While I would continue to believe for the next few years that my orientation could be changed, and prayed for this outcome, I am grateful to have avoided the additional layer of wounds this type of therapy would have inflicted on me.

I was saved by a round of golf.

Though this experience was painful, it did nothing to dissuade my desire that God would make me “normal.” Instead, it actually provided some hope that this was a possibility.

In that first meeting the pastor introduced me to Exodus International, at that time the largest “ex-gay” ministry in the world. Their message was that orientation change through prayer and therapy was possible, and they held up a number of shining examples of their “successes” in leading people from homosexuality into heterosexuality.

Here I had found what I was looking for: proof that these unwanted attractions were not permanent; that through prayer and hard work God would make me straight. I finally had some hope that my prayers might be answered.[3]

So, I redoubled my efforts. I threw myself into life at church: missions trips, worship, leadership teams. I read Scripture and prayed constantly, begging God to “take this cup from me,” trusting in the promises I had heard throughout my life:

ask, and you shall receive

if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation

I will deliver you from evil

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me

However, time went on, and the feelings had not gone away, but rather had gotten stronger. Who was to blame? Was God ignoring my prayers, or was my faith too small? Was I not praying hard enough? Did I not really want to change?

20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” – Matthew 17:20

Of course it couldn’t be God, so it must be me. I knew God was looking at me like Jesus looked at his disciples, saying “oh you of little faith.” Cue the shame, discouragement, and despair.

Still I refused to give up.

“…shame is important because no other affect is more disturbing to the self, none more central for the sense of identity. In the context of normal development, shame is the source of low self-esteem, diminished self image, poor self concept, and deficient body-image. Shame itself produces self-doubt and disrupts both security and confidence. It can become an impediment to the experience of belonging and to shared intimacy….It is the experiential ground from which conscience and identity inevitably evolve. In the context of pathological development, shame is central to the emergence of alienation, loneliness, inferiority and perfectionism.”[4]

in which I am a heterosexual. sort of.

People say that if you want to change, or develop a particular character trait in yourself, you sometimes have to “fake it ’till you make it,” so this is exactly what I did.

If I was going to be a heterosexual (and I sincerely believed God would make this happen), then, along with the prayer, I would have to live my life like I was heterosexual. So, I did what every good heterosexual should do: I found a nice girl to date.

She was smart, funny, and pretty. We’d been good friends since seventh grade, and our mutual friends had all expected us to “get together” at some point, which we finally did in the Spring of our junior year.

I had always dreamed of having a family: a spouse, children, and a dog or two. Of course, the image of “spouse” I had grown up with was a wife, as that was the only paradigm I knew and believed acceptable. If I wanted my dream to someday come true, the first step was to date this girl

I didn’t think I was being dishonest, or leading her on, as I knew that I could love her, and God would change my attractions so I would feel something for her physically.

That belief was not substantiated. Some months later in our relationship I found myself in bed sobbing, begging God to allow me to feel about her the way I thought I should.

As my friends at the time can attest, I treated her more like a friend I occasionally held hands with than someone I was romantically involved with.

One fall evening our group of friends settled into a spacious couch to begin the film that was that night’s entertainment. I took my seat and the evening continued, unaware of the quizzical looks from my friends and the mounting frustration and anger from the young woman sitting at the other end of the couch.

It hadn’t occurred to me that, when choosing a place to sit, I should have chosen the open spot next to my girlfriend, rather than a seat as far from her as possible.

I eventually ended this untenable relationship under the (partial) pretense of rapidly approaching departures to universities in different states. It was an amicable end that regrettably left open future possibilities of returning to the relationship: a mistake I would make twice over the next couple years, holding on to that hope of a family in the only form I knew.

I thought I was doing what was right, what God expected of me. Instead, I wasted this wonderful young woman’s time and heart on someone who would never be able to love her like she deserved. Someone who didn’t love her enough to even sit next to her on the couch.

How much of this façade was wishful thinking, and how much just trying to hide the truth of who I was, I do not know. What I do know is this: putting on this façade, living an unauthentic life pretending to be someone I was not, was harmful to myself, my relationships with people, and my relationship with God.

“Why must I feel as though I am not all together, that there are parts of me that just aren’t right? I feel like I am living a lie sometimes, I feel like who I am and who people see is different. I can’t show people the me on the inside, the one that is struggling because I fear. I fear how they will react, I fear how they will treat me, I fear they will stop loving me.” Journal: January 2007

I finished high school, for all appearances on top of the world, with the respect of friends and ministry leaders, headed to a Christian university on a trajectory to enter full-time ministry as a youth pastor.

But appearances, as is often said, can be deceiving, and my façade of tranquil heterosexuality was certainly deceptive. At this point only five people knew of my secret, and I was in complete denial over the conflict this would bring to my desired future of romance and ministry. However, by the time I got to college, I could no longer deny the conflict inside of me, and the profound impact it was having on my life. All I had left was the false identity I labored under, leaving me with intense feelings of shame, isolation, and distance from God as my lack of integrity slowly chipped away at my sense of self-worth. And yet, despite the turmoil this lie brought, I continued to live under it in fear, shackled to this dark secret.

in which God renovates the foundation

While I spent so much time feeling lost and alone in those first years of college, God was carefully preparing me for a fully integrated life, free from fear and despair.

My theological worldview before college developed in the rather conservative bubble of my family and church environment, and as such, my inherited worldview was likewise quite conservative. While I do not want to disparage those who brought me up in this tradition, as I know their hearts are truly seeking God, I have to acknowledge the way this theological inheritance informed my view of my self and the feelings I was experiencing. While this theology certainly influenced my understanding of homosexuality, the greatest impact of this worldview on my life came from its philosophy of truth and certainty.

This was a “one-truth” environment in which certainty was valued, and expected. There was always a single “right answer” to how a Biblical passage should be interpreted, and there was certainly no ambiguity, or potentiality for multiple possible interpretations.[5]

The Divine Mystery was systematized for human understanding.

Scripture and theology were neatly packaged in agreed-upon doctrines that would never necessitate reevaluation.

Then I exited this bubble, and my exposure to a diversity of theology and tradition at Azusa Pacific University began to pull down the wall of dogma I had imagined I was safe behind.

Imagine my surprise to discover that what the Bible literally says isn’t always what it means for us, but that it must be interpreted in light of the historical, cultural, and textual context within which the passage is located.

Then, imagine my confusion when I studied the doctrines of free-will and predestination and saw that there are instances of opposing views both having strong support from Scripture and tradition.

Things I had once thought simple were now complicated. Issues the Bible was once “clear” on, were now muddied.[6]

Except homosexuality. This was one issue I still assumed was clear in Scripture, and therefore continued believing I had a defect that needed to be fixed.

In my second year of college I joined an on-campus discipleship group for men who “struggle with same-sex attractions.” I experienced a deep sense of relief as I discovered that I was not as alone as I had once thought: there were others with this shared experience of same-sex attractions they did not want. The group was led by the university Dean of Students and a professor who had “left the gay lifestyle.” In this man I saw everything I wanted. He was kind, engaging, and respected in his faith and profession. Most of all, he was married to a woman he loved and had a child on the way. As he shared about the love he had for his wife, he also shared the ways his wife has been supportive as they navigate their relationship, as well as the continual struggle to say no to his attraction to men. He had everything I wanted.

Yet all I could think of was that beautiful young woman who’s time in high school I so wasted, and the college relationship that ended as it began when we both realized it would never work, no matter how “perfect for each other” we were.

The future I wanted had appeared in front of me, and that vision began to crumble as the disquiet in my heart grew and I began to discern that there was something very wrong with that dream.

Then, I learned something that turned my life completely upside down.

I was working my way through a self-inventory paper for one of my youth ministry classes when my heart dropped at the next question I had to answer:

What weaknesses do you have that will impact your ministry?

I found myself before a fork in the road. Would I continue to delude myself and those around me with the facade of heterosexuality, describing some shallow “weakness” that did not truly reflect what was in my heart; or, would I be vulnerable for a moment and tell the truth of who I was?

A deep breath as I typed honest words for the first time in my life.

Another deep breath in a futile attempt to calm my racing heart as I turned in an unfamiliar attempt at authenticity.

Then, my heart stopping when my paper was not passed back alongside my classmates’.

When my professor returned my paper after class, I was relieved as she thanked me for my honesty, then nervous and intrigued when she expressed a desire to meet later and talk about what I had written.

Expecting the same “orientation-change or celibacy” perspective at that meeting, I was shocked at the words that came out of her mouth:

It’s going to be difficult to find a church that will hire a gay youth pastor.

Wait.

Back up.

Hold on.

This is a possibility??

My sexuality and my faith/vocation are reconcilable? I don’t have to hold on to this secret that has weighed me down for so many years?

My mind reeled with the possibility, as it was something I had never considered.

But, I knew what Scripture said.

I knew that God didn’t want me to be gay.

I would not conform to the world.

I would not let my desires rewrite Scripture in my own image.

Yet a new perspective was before me, and I knew I had to learn more about it. Also, as my prayers to be changed had not been answered, I came to realize that I would have to figure out how to address my orientation both personally and in ministry.

So, I dove into the scholarship on homosexuality: psychology, sociology, theology, Biblical studies. Now that I knew I wasn’t alone, I sought out the stories of those who had gone before me. I engaged in conversations with those I respected and looked up to in faith. Most of the papers I wrote from then on were on the topic of homosexuality.

Though through this intensive study I held onto the belief that homosexual relationships were sinful, I had made a profound leap, the importance of which I did not realize at the time: I no longer believed a homosexual orientation was inherently sinful, and therefore was not something that had to change, or even could change.

“I feel like that ship, buffeted by the waves, floundering in the dark while desperately trying to hold on to you. Sometimes the sun breaks through, and the sea is at peace, but it soon returns to the raging torrent. But I thank you God for remaining with me in the midst of the storm. I praise you for your steadfast love and faithfulness.” Journal: June 9, 2010

Slowly, the research, conversations, and prayer had chipped away at the walls of dogma that had been constructed around my mind and heart, I had finally begun to accept myself; integrating these pieces of my identity that had for so long maintained a toxic divisiveness.

Then one day I was shocked by the thought that went through my mind: “I’m glad God made me gay.”

I had experienced a moment of sudden clarity, seeing the good fruits that had grown through my “outsider” identity and the struggle in coming to terms with my orientation. These experiences had developed in me a deep capacity for compassion; an openness to new ideas and ways of thinking; a heart for the neglected, lonely and oppressed; an understanding of the brokenness in people; and a deep appreciation for the Grace of Jesus and our call to give that grace back to others.

It was an incredible relief to realize I no longer hated this part of who I was, but was actually thankful for it.

While this began to heal the deep sense of shame I had carried with me for so many years, the loneliness and despair from believing the family I had always dreamed of, to love and be loved by another in the way only marriage begets, was forever beyond my grasp.

finding redemption in a hermeneutic of love

Yet a deep, esoteric disquiet remained in my soul, as I questioned whether this belief harmonized with a hermeneutic of Love.[7]

37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:37-40

Every teaching, every doctrine should be examined through these, the greatest of all commandments, and I had a hard time seeing the conservative church teaching on homosexuality as one of Love.

I have seen this lack of love from Christians throughout my life: sitting through sermons in which I am called “abomination;” scrolling through internet comments citing Scripture in support of exterminating “the homosexuals;” being told I can no longer perform with a Christian arts company because I am “living in sin” just by being gay; demeaning jokes from friends and acquaintances; the vehemence with which employment and housing protections for LGBT individuals have been opposed; high-profile church leaders telling parents to alienate their gay children; friends being told they are no longer welcome at their churches.

This is not the Church. This is not who we are called to be as the Body of Christ.

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

So I kept coming back to the question: is the conservative response to homosexuality loving? I began to ask the same question of the Scripture passages commonly used to address homosexuality: what do these passages look like in the light of correct context and a hermeneutic of Love? Slowly, the answers I received began to contradict the views I had inherited and held to so tightly.

My years in university and beyond had systematically dismantled all theological certainty I had, and left me with the task of reassembling the pieces.

“How do I know when you are speaking to me God? I have gone back and forth so much with this issue, deciding to give up my own desires in relationship and sexuality, then deciding I can reconcile my call to ministry with my sexuality, then going back again! How do I know which voice in my head is yours?”Journal: July 4, 2010

After graduating from college I began to spend even more time in prayer, reading scripture and as many books on the topic as I could get my hands on.

I didn’t know what to believe now.

I was so afraid that I was rationalizing the pursuit of my own desires at the expense of Truth, that I vacillated between an affirming and non-affirming perspective for nearly two years.

The more time I spent in prayer and study, the more the likelihood that I had been wrong all these years grew apparent, as did the fear of realizing this would mean I would finally have to let everyone in, to reconcile the disparate parts of my identity for all to see.

Then I was introduced to the Gay Christian Network, and the love and support I found in that incredible community enabled me to find the freedom through Christ I had been searching for for my whole life: my orientation was not a barrier to God, but a gift to be used for His will.

As I began attending events with GCN, I was awestruck at the difference in my life, faith, and worship as I was, for the first time, able to come before God in community as a whole person, no longer held back by the rift in my identity. Slowly but surely, the residual shame began to fall away, as I experienced Christ’s love for me in my full identity, not just the parts I thought he approved of.

“I can’t keep this side of myself in the dark. Life eventually withers and dies when left in the dark, and if part of my heart is left in the dark, it isn’t just that part that is affected. The whole heart becomes infected with this insidious darkness, suffocating whatever light is there. I want my light to shine. I want my heart to be whole and healthy. Otherwise, how could I possibly give it away to another person?”Journal: February 25, 2013

The fear, however, was still there. Fear of how those I love would react if I were to live authentically. And I knew I had to live authentically. I couldn’t keep all I had learned and how I had grown inside.

So, I began gradually mending the break in my soul as I invited more people in to see me as the whole person I was, not the incomplete phantom I had been. This was a slow process, spanning my college years up to the last few months, as I gained the courage to share the truth with close friends and family.

Yet, this was not enough. I still felt incomplete, unfinished. This disconnect from God I had experienced for so long was being healed, but had not gone completely, and I knew why. It doesn’t matter if the lie you are living is only in certain areas of life: it is still a lie, and I could lie no more.

The final push came from the Gay Christian Network’s annual conference I attended for the first time in the beginning of January this year. Those few events and meetings I had attended previously had been but a foretaste of the joy and freedom that I found in that weekend.

“This was The Church, as true and raw and desperate for God as I’ve ever experienced it.” John Pavlovitz on the 2015 GCN Conference

To be surrounded by nearly 1,500 people – a diversity of orientation, gender identity, and theological perspective – and worship as one unified Body was a glimpse of the Heavenly Ecstasy that awaits all who hope and trust in His Name.

This eschatological vision of the Church was the final motivation for me to take action on the desire to live faithfully to myself and my LORD. It was a reminder of the ministry to which I had been called: to be a voice of reconciliation in a Church divided, to provide hope and compassion to those who experience the kind of loss and pain that I have felt. But above all, to be used by God for His Glory.

I could not fulfill this calling from the darkness of the closet. If I was to be able to step into the closets of others and help them into the light of freedom and grace that comes through Jesus Christ, I would need to leave my own behind, shutting the door for good.

I now know that God has given me a love that is good and can be brought into the sanctifying covenant that is marriage. As I have stepped out of the darkness and into the light of living in truth, I am freed to love not only my future husband, but the rest of the people God places in my life, and to live out the purpose which He has planned for my life.

I have learned a few things in the last few weeks as I have completed the process of coming out, first to my family, then to everyone else in my life.

Firstly, all things are perfect in God’s timing. As I have gone through this process, I have been astounded to discover that all the fear and trepidation that had been holding me back were largely unfounded, as I have only received positive love and support from my family and friends. Not to say that everyone agrees with my views regarding homosexuality and Scripture, but they love me as I am, and want to understand my journey and perspective (hence the mini-novel you are almost finished with!). The conversations that my leap of authenticity have begun are exciting and a blessing.

Secondly, you will know the quality of a teaching and a life by its fruits.

16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. – Matthew 7:16-18

When I lived by the teaching that my orientation could change, or I would at least have to remain celibate the rest of my life, the fruits were shame, despair, and distance from God. As I have stepped out in authenticity, telling the truth about who I am and knowing that the love I share is blessed by God, I have seen the fruits of peace, joy, deepened relationships, and a renewed sense of communion with my Father. A bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

Finally, I have learned that freedom is good.

…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. – John 8:37

Going forward from here, I don’t know the future God has planned for me, but that’s the way it’s meant to be; we only get light enough to see the step directly in front of us. However, I know that I am called to learn to do good; seek justice, and correct oppression (Isaiah 1:17); to be a voice of reconciliation in the Church, calling us to the unity of One Body for which we are meant.

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21


Footnotes

[1] This interpretation of the Sodom and Gomorrah story has been rejected by most Biblical scholars. See my post on Genesis 16-20 for more information.

[2] The residual damage of reparative therapy has been described in a number of sources including the book Torn by Justin Leethis article in Time, and stories from many friends. It’s practice has also been denounced by all major psychology organizations, and its use on minors has been banned in California, New Jersey, and Washington D.C., with similar legislation being considered in 9 other states.

[3] If I only I had known that Exodus International would close its doors in 2013, publicly apologizing for the damage they had done by telling LGBT people they could change their orientation, citing a 99.9% failure rate in orientation change.

[4] Gershen Kaufman, The psychology of shame: theory and treatment of shame-based syndromes. 2 edition. (New York: Springer Publishing, 1996), xvi.

[5] I want to clarify that this doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in Truth, or that I am a pluralist when it comes to Biblical interpretation. What I mean is that our understanding of the Perfect Truth that comes from God is imperfect, and therefore we should be cautious in saying what we believe is absolute truth, but should rather come to discussions of truth with humility, holding your interpretations of Scripture with an open hand.

[6] There are many things the Bible was once “clear” on. See this post by Rachel Held Evans for some sobering examples. Or look up how Christians treated the Jews pre-WWII.

[7] Hermeneutic: n. a method or theory of interpretation


For a further look at at what it means to grow up LGBT in the church see Katherine Hickey’s excellent master’s thesis: “Experiences of Christian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Queer Emerging Adults: Perceptions of Family Upbringing, Identity Reconciliation, and Meaning-Making

And finally, a huge thank you to my wonderful editors who helped me shape my story into something worth reading. You are very dear to me 🙂

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6 thoughts on “growing up gay in church: a living contradiction

  1. ohhh Karl… your openness and honesty here are valuable! This journey that we call life is still in its process until we are with our amazing God face to face! It is amazing to see how God is doing incredible things in His LGBT children to bless the church, to help the church, to love the church in this journey that is not easy but it is needed!
    🙂 God is with us… God is with us …. and all these difficult years of fears, doubts, tears, … have prepared us to something great!
    It was great to meet you at #GCNconf this year 🙂
    jäcob 🙂
    a big hug

  2. Thank you so much for sharing!!!
    I’ve been struggling with my orientation a lot lately but when I read about the good fruits you are experiencing living out of the closet accepting yourself vs the bad fruits when you were trying to change really resonated with me!! Your story has encouraged me to be more accepting and loving towards myself and my orientation so I can live more fully for God. Thank you!

  3. Karl,
    Never have I read such a well-written, intensely personal and touching account of one’s journey. I am so touched by what you’ve shared. Thank you for taking the time to put your story out for others to read. It is stories like yours, Justin Lee’s and other friends who have brought me from a place of judgment to a place of understanding, acceptance and deep LOVE for the LGBT community. I want every single person I know to read your story. I, too, am an APU alumnus. With alumni like you out there, we’re giving our school a name and reputation to be proud of! Please keep writing. I know for a fact it is giving hope to many.
    ~ Miriam

  4. I am a Christian bisexual. I have rarely had anyone react badly to my orientation; not birth family, not my husband. But, though my church is pretty liberal, my denomination is not, and it grieves me that I want to hide something about my self from them. I cannot not be a pastor in my home state or parent organization, the larger body would not want me on church committees, either. I am meeting such *mild* church discrimination compared to others, and even so, I feel real grief over the duplicity. Thank God that this writer and many like him are becoming strong in themselves!

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this! This is such an important story for us to hear. As someone who grew up in the church as a bisexual, I had constant fear and pain associated with sharing my story. I am encouraged by the many incredible people of faith and authenticity that are sharing theirs. Thank you and bless you.

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