I have a vision for the world, and this ain’t it.
Last Wednesday started and ended for me on positive notes. First thing in the morning, I got some kind and uplifting words of encouragement from a group of previous students. And that night my volleyball team won a hard-fought match against a team that’s beaten us twice before. I love playing, I love playing well, and I love winning! But in between these two positive bookends, I felt like crap*.
People who know me know that I’m not one to use coarse language loosely, just for the sake of it. But that word is the best I can come up with to describe how I felt through most of the day. I could write fancier words – disheartened, defeated, despondent, wretched – but in the end, those four letters say it all.
It took me a while to figure out what had brought me to that emotional state. When I first recognized how I was feeling, I couldn’t quite trace the path that got me there. So I let my mind wander, and it just kept settling back on the same thing: World Vision’s reversal on accepting gay married employees. I’m gay, and I disagree with their decision, so naturally I’d be expected to feel disappointed, disillusioned, or even rejected. But this was more than that. It felt so raw, so personal. Why? A little of my history to explain.
It’s my senior year in college, and things are going great. I loved my college years – the classes, my friends, a newly budding sense of purpose. I had joined a Christian student group on campus my freshman year, and I became part of the leadership team for the next three years. This “ministry” part of my college life felt like the most significant thing I had ever experienced. It seemed like God had reached out to me, and had been working in me and through me in ways that made me feel, well, as if I mattered. I had been on two life-changing short-term missions trips, and during my senior year I attended my second Urbana student missions conference, where I had made a commitment to take steps toward becoming a full-time missionary. I had identified a missions agency that seemed like a perfect fit, and so I started the application process. (I should clarify at this point that it wasn’t World Vision, but another major missions agency.)
As I filled out the application, I had a moment of trepidation when I saw the following question:
Have you ever struggled with homosexual temptation? If yes, please explain.
By this point, I had already “confessed my sin” to a couple of close friends and a campus youth leader, and I had “asked for prayer” and arranged for “accountability partners.” And it had always gone better than I had expected. Nobody had rejected me or cut off our friendship. I hadn’t been asked to leave leadership of the Christian group. People’s response had typically been something like “good for you, struggling with this terrible burden, yet committed to remain pure!” So I tried to answer the question on the missions application succinctly and honestly.
I have struggled with both heterosexual and homosexual temptation, but in both, I strive to remain pure. I am committed to a Biblical understanding of sexuality, and I trust that God will heal me or continue to grant me the strength to bear the struggle.
I finished up the application and sent if off in the mail, proud that I had answered such a tough question so honestly. I got back to student life and waited for a response, figuring I would be heading off to training after graduation.
A couple of weeks later I got a response from someone at the missions agency, indicating that they wanted me to call and speak to them about my application. Again, I was a little bit nervous, but still confident that we would work through this little problem, so I waited for a time when no one was home (this was in the days of land-line phones), and I made the call. I was patched through to a lady in the counseling department.
Hi Greg – thank you for calling back, and for your application to serve with us.
Sure – you’re welcome.
First of all, I wanted to thank you for your candor on the application. You’ve written about some difficult things, and we appreciate your honesty.
We wanted to talk with you further about one question, though – the one that asked about your history with homosexual temptation.
(Heart racing, stomach drops) OK…
We’ve worked with many missionaries on the field for many years, and in our experience, we feel it would be best for you to withdraw your application at this point. We recommend that you seek counseling with a qualified counselor – I can send you a list of counselors in your area we could recommend. And perhaps someday after you’ve worked through some of these issues, you might resubmit your application.
I’m not quite sure how the conversation went after that. I think it probably ended pretty quickly and I got off the phone, feeling crushed, defeated, rejected. Suddenly my future didn’t make sense. There was nothing else I wanted to be but a missionary, and now I’d been told – by this organization that I respected so much – that maybe I wasn’t cut out to be used by God in that way.
I quickly tried to convince myself that it was all OK. God would use this to strengthen me, to challenge me, and I would come through it stronger. His mysterious but undeniable workings in my life over the past three years had taught me to trust in His goodness and His power. So I think the emotional impact of that moment didn’t last long in the short run. But as a rock tossed into a pond sends out ripples across the entire surface of the pond, I think this event sent ripples of emotion across years of my life, rising and falling, even to today.
This post is already getting long, so in the interest of brevity, I’ll blow by the next few years quickly. I contacted a counselor from the list they sent and dutifully went through the process. I worked a few odd jobs after graduation and eventually started through the training program for that same missions agency. And after two years of preparation and training, growing close to a group of other young people who were all on a path to becoming missionaries, I submitted my application again. And again, I was asked to withdraw my application. “We don’t feel the timing is right.” So much more painful this time, as I had given two more years of my life toward this goal, and all of my closest friends from this period were moving on in the process. But not me. They didn’t want me. Their years of experience placing missionaries all over the world had told them that people like me were dangerous.
So last week, when World Vision announced that it would begin accepting gay married couples for employment, for a brief moment I had a vision of living in a world where that wouldn’t happen any more. Where sincere young men who wanted to serve God wouldn’t be excluded because of their nature. I had a moment of hope that Christians had surpassed me – learning to accept gay people, while I still struggled to accept myself as gay. For me it was wonderful, healing news.
And then the backlash came, and we all heard the message loud and clear from American Christians:
We hate gays! We hate them so much that we’d rather see children starve than to allow our money to flow through an organization that tolerates their presence among their ranks. Gays are a cancer to our precious church, and we won’t rest until we can excise them all!
That’s the message I heard, anyway. And it made me feel like crap.