christian

This is my story

I’ve been writing this blog now for almost three years, and it’s been nearly four since my coming out 2.0. Just yesterday I returned from the GCN Conference 2017, so I’ve been reflecting on my journey so far, re-reading old posts, and taking stock of where I am today. After reading the coming-out story of a new friend, I was inspired to start fresh and write my story from scratch.

Gay, Christian, and Out 1.0

I grew up the youngest of six children in a Christian household with loving parents and a large extended family. I can picture little five-year old Greg sitting with my dad as he shared with me the message that Jesus loved me. How wonderful! With simple child-like trust, I felt the flood of God’s love as I asked Jesus to come into my heart. I was nothing if not sincere as a child. Throughout my childhood, I always strove to be good, wanting to please my parents and God.

In retrospect, I’ve known I was gay since childhood – well before I ever experienced any feelings I would identify as sexual. But I never would have used the term ‘gay’ to describe myself. In my family, my church, my social surroundings, there just wasn’t any connection between what I was feeling and the word “gay” – a word that described really bad people who hated God and did disgusting things.

But nevertheless, from about fourth grade onward, I had the growing sense that there was something different about me, and as puberty approached it became clear what it was. I was attracted to guys, and not girls. I remember in fifth grade finding a Playboy magazine (in a church parking lot, of all places…), and wondering what the other boys were feeling and why they were so interested in the pictures. And then about a year later stumbling across a Playgirl… aha! I started to understand.

But as I said, all that I knew about gay people was that were bad and disgusting and definitely didn’t love God, so I couldn’t be that. So how could make sense of what I was feeling throughout my teen years? My church provided me with a framework to understand it: Satan must be tempting me with these homosexual feelings, and so clearly I had to resist with all my might.

I graduated from high school and went off to college, where I got involved with InterVarsity – an interdenominational Christian campus ministry. I suppose college is a common time for faith transitions, and for me that meant a renewed fervor, a deeper personal commitment, and a growing faith in God. I got involved in leadership, and for my remaining college years, IV was the home of my faith development.

It was in this context that I “came out” for the first time.  Of course I could never have uttered the words “I’m gay” at that time (hence the scare quotes), and the extent of my boldness was to highlight passages dealing with “homosexual temptation” in a book on Christian sexual ethics, and then giving it to my staff worker. It doesn’t feel quite right to call it “coming out,” so I’ve taken to calling it Out 1.0. But nevertheless, it led to further conversation with my staff worker, and then subsequently to my coming out (still “1.0”) to several others – my closest friends, my parents, my sister, and eventually, my future wife. All were loving and supportive in their responses. But of course all of them also reaffirmed my own internalized belief that the only good response was to fight against these temptations.

Naive, Hopeful, and in Love

When my wife and I first met, we were both deeply committed to our faith, confident that God could do anything, and hopelessly naive. As I mentioned above, I was out (1.0) to her before we even started dating, and both of us were convinced that same-sex attraction was a temptation to be resisted at all costs. So we entered into our relationship cautiously, but optimistic that God would use our sincere love for one another as a part of my future “healing.” We dated, married, and started our family together.

Disillusioned and back in the Closet

Throughout all the years of our marriage, and especially in those early years, most things were pretty good. We had four beautiful, healthy children, a nice home, good jobs, and the love and support of our families. In most areas I was happy with how my life was unfolding. But my attraction to men never diminished, and my attraction to women never increased. As the years went by and it became clear that God wasn’t “healing” me, I began to lose hope. I internalized an unarticulated but persistent feeling that there must be something monstrously wrong with me. I still had every confidence that God could do anything, so if He wasn’t doing this thing for me, it must either be because He didn’t love me enough, or else I was SO inherently wicked that I stood in the way of my own healing. Too broken to be fixed. I experienced repeated bouts of depression over many years, and became withdrawn from friends and family. On the outside I tried my hardest to put on a happy facade, wanting to forestall any probing questions about why I might be feeling sad. But on the inside I felt alone, unloved, and unlovable.

Still Gay, Desperate, and Out 2.0

I spent too many years hiding and merely surviving. Moving from  Gay 1.0 (recognizing that I was attracted to guys ) to Gay 2.0 (accepting that I am gay) took over thirty years. Moving from Out 1.0 (“I struggle with homosexual temptation”) to Out 2.0 (“I. AM. GAY.”) took a couple more after that.  Maybe I’m just a slow learner… But I eventually got there. It’s been a little over five years since I first uttered those three small but powerful words to myself. I am gay. I am gay. I am gay! 

But dammit! what lousy timing to finally arrive at Gay 2.0! My wife and I were approaching our 20th anniversary, we had four kids, and I was working for a non-affirming religious organization. And so it took me another year before I was finally ready to come out to my wife. We sat on the floor of our living room in front of the fireplace, and tears flowed freely as twenty years of pain and loneliness came pouring out. The depth of her love for me was revealed that day in that her tears were genuinely for me. She was profoundly sad that I had felt such condemnation and unworthiness for so many years, and especially that I had suffered alone. She told me she loved me just as I am. And I was undone.

While coming out to my wife marked the end of my suffering alone, it also marked the beginning of a period of pain and questioning for her. Has he ever really loved me? What do I mean to him? Has our entire marriage been a sham? How could I not have known? Why would God do this to us? 

Slow Progress

Change has not come quickly in the four years since I came out to my wife, but it has come in fits and starts. We started out by reading everything we could find on mixed-orientation marriages, learning a whole new domain of vocabulary. We’ve discovered a surprisingly large community of couples in similar situations, and among them a wide range or paths forward. We’ve been in counseling, both together and individually, and I started this blog as another place to process my thoughts and feelings. I’ve come out to a dozen or so other people, including close friends and family, and most significantly to our four children (read about When I Told my Kids I’m Gay). I’ve also attended two conferences for LGBTQ people and allies, focusing on faith issues and advocacy in the church. Even without the content of the conferences, the experience of being surrounded by so many LGBTQ people – amazing, beautiful, kind, and compassionate LGBTQ people – has been transformative.

Even as I write this, I can remember on an intellectual level how my sexuality at one time inspired such fear and self-loathing. But by and large, the emotional power has been broken. I can feel sad for that person (the younger Greg), but the thoughts and attitudes that caused him so much pain are being continually exorcised. Most days, most of the time, I can look in the mirror and say “I’m Greg. I’m gay. And I’m really glad that I am!

Get the hell out (with love 💕)

Last week it happened again. A prominent Christian organization drew their line in the sand against the apparently looming threat of homosexuality. If you didn’t catch the news, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, “an inter-denominational, evangelical Christian campus… working with students and faculty on U.S. college and university campuses,” announced that they will fire any of their staff workers who hold affirming views of LGBTQ relationships (first reported in Time Magazine).

When I heard the news, I took to Twitter to express the pain I was feeling. I must have struck a nerve, as the subsequent thread generated over 35,000 hits – this from a guy whose typical tweet attracts two or three courtesy ‘likes.’ 😅 I’m reproducing it here in serial form:

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InterVarsity responded the Twitter backlash with a series of tweets to quell the response, claiming that the Times article was inaccurate (it wasn’t), lamenting the pain LGBTQ people have experienced at the hands of Christians (you think?), but doubling down on their insistence that their non-affirming stance is the only one that is scriptural. The coup de grace – referring to LGBTQ people who agree with their theology, as if that’s the end of the story.

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Well, not for me. Seriously – are they implying that those who DON’T embrace their theology are somehow taking the easy way out?

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My InterVarsity staff worker was the first person I “came out” to – scare quotes because it wasn’t exactly “I’m gay,” but rather “I struggle with homosexual temptation” (the “struggle” phrasing apparently was a common trope). His response was compassionate, reassuring, but ultimately conditional based on me embracing their LGBT ideology. As long as I toed the line, they were happy to have me. I served as a small group leader and in several leadership positions, including chapter president, during my undergraduate years, and after graduating committed myself to pursuing full-time Christian work. And while that didn’t go so well (as detailed in My World Vision), I did nevertheless end up married, with kids, and working full-time for a Christian organization. So I think from their perspective, they would say that “things worked out.”

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It’s ironic. One of the main things that drew me to InterVarsity in the first place was its broadly ecumenical nature. Having grown up in a particular strand of evangelicalism, it was eye-opening for me to meet Catholics, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, and generally Christians of many different faith traditions that agreed on one thing at the core: we loved Jesus and wanted to be transformed by knowing him. It didn’t matter that we disagreed on a whole host of theological points; what we had in common was more important.

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Somehow THIS has become their test of orthodoxy. Not views on war or life or charity or compassion; but only what you think of gay people. How did it come to this?

The Bible is Not…

The Bible

Susan Cottrell of Freed Hearts reposted a Facebook post by Jim Rigby, pastor at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin TX. From Jim’s post (emphasis mine):

I love the Bible and study it most days, but the Bible is not intended to be a substitute for a functioning human brain or heart.

I do not believe the sun rotates around the earth just because the Bible says that Joshua stopped the sun. I do not believe the mustard seed is the smallest seed even though Jesus said that it was.

The stories of the Bible can give communities a common vocabulary to talk about what it means a human being in the cosmos, but the Bible is not a reliable guide for science, or for history, or sometimes even for ethics.

The Bible says we are responsible for our own actions, which means we are also responsible for our own thinking. If the Bible can be wrong about astronomy and horticulture, it can also be wrong about slavery, evolution, women and homosexuality.

As the Bible itself warns, if anything (including our interpretation of the Bible) makes us loving, it is right; but if anything (including our interpretation of the Bible) makes us cruel, it is wrong.

See Susan’s post A Warning Label For The Bible.

Roster of Love

Roster of Love

After my earlier post Roster of Hate, about prominent fundevangelicals who attacked the supreme court ruling on same sex marriage, it occurred to me that there are also many prominent Christians who have expressed love and support, celebrating the victory. So here is my roster of LOVE – gay Christians and straight allies who celebrated the victory for LGBT people. Many of these people have positively impacted me (and I’m sure many others) through their writing and activism. There are MANY more, but I’ve just chosen a few that come to mind.

Roster of Hate

Roster of Hate

Thanks to R.L. Stollar for calling out prominent fundamentalists and evangelicals who have promoted Doug Wilson’s odious rant in which he argues that  supporting same sex marriage is a far more serious problem” than supporting SLAVERY. Yes, you read that correctly. Let’s bring back the good old days of slavery, as long as we don’t have to put up with two men getting married. It’s crap like this that gives me so little hope for the church, or at least fundevangelicalism. The list:

  • Doug Wilson, apologist for slavery and child abuse
  • Joe Carter, Gospel Coalition
  • Eric Teetsel, Manhattan Declaration
  • Justin Taylor, Crossway
  • Mindy Belz, World Magazine
  • John Stonestreet, Summit Ministries
  • Brian Broderson, Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa
  • John Lindell, James River Church
  • Bart Gingerich, Evangelical Channel at Patheos
  • James Patrick Riley

Read Stollar’s excellent post at Everyone Who Promoted Doug Wilson’s “Gay Marriage is a Far More Serious Problem Than Slavery” Article.

Pick and Choose

A couple of great posts by Fred Clark about the mental gymnastics some people go through to live as they please, condemn who they want, and back it all up with the Bible. As one example, these people want to read certain passages from Leviticus and apply them to (or rather against) gay people, yet it would be inconvenient to have to abide by the adjoining passages. So they come up with an explanation: “Jesus abolished the ceremonial law of the Old Testament, but the moral law remains in full force.” BOOM! Take that gaybies! “The moral law against sex between two men or two women is constant and eternal. But we’re no longer bound by those silly ceremonial laws about not eating pork and the death penalty for adultery.”

Clark doesn’t buy it (and neither do I):

The problem is that this distinction between ceremonial and moral law in Leviticus isn’t actually a thing. It doesn’t come from Leviticus, but can only be retroactively imposed back onto it. And the text itself doesn’t welcome such an imposition.

The people who first wrote and compiled and read the Hebrew scriptures didn’t make such a distinction. Nor did first-century Jews, such as Jesus and Paul. The categories of “clean” and “unclean” in the Hebrew scriptures don’t really allow for this distinction either. It won’t let us treat those categories as merely “ceremonial” and somehow divorced from the matter of morality.

This problem becomes more acute when we actually try to apply this anachronistic distinction. The first step is, of course, to classify all the dietary stuff as “ceremonial” law and all the sex stuff as “moral” law. (Thus, shrimp is OK, but butt-secks is still bad.) But then it turns out we don’t want to keep all of the sex stuff, just some of it. So we have to sift through the sex bits, reclassifying the laws involving menstruation as “ceremonial” while still keeping many of the adjoining sex laws as moral.

Clark is writing in response to an earlier post by Tim Keller, who tries another tack: “Christ changed how we worship,” he writes, “but not how we live.” Clark responds:

That seems promising — until you start to look at the laws he consigns to the realm of worship rather than “how we live.” Eating shrimp? That’s worship. Menstruation? Worship. Promoting the welfare and prosperity of ethnic outsiders? Worship.

I love the tone of Clark’s piece, as well as the logical clarity with which he dismantles Keller. Read Clark’s entire piece at ‘Ceremonial law’ folklore is no substitute for an actual hermeneutic. His earlier post is also available at ‘God hates shrimp’: Picking and choosing among abominations.

B*got vs. F@ggot

Bigot v FaggotFor more on Catholic Vote’s obnoxious video, read this excellent post entitled B*got vs. F@ggot by Domenick Scudera. Much more thoughtful than my own emotional reaction, Scudera spells out exactly why Catholic Vote’s video is offensive. Among the reasons:

  • “You are not a victim. Appropriating the language of victimhood is not the same as being a victim…”
  • “Your claims of loving gay people are hollow. If you truly cared about your gay friends, you would never compare your fake oppression to their genuine suffering and persecution…”
  • “Your opinion is a choice. Being gay is innate. Your video is cleverly edited to make it appear as if you are ‘coming out.’ “ Not in the least analogous to the experience of a gay person coming out.

Read the rest at Huffington Post.

Culture of shame

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Recently I’ve been noticing shame as a topic on some of the blogs I read, perhaps because I’ve been feeling an abundance of shame myself. Two great examples come from the same blog, Vincible Ignorance.  The more recent post, titled Porn Shaming gives this:

Within purity culture, porn is to men what premarital sex is to women – it’s how we become “ruined.” It becomes yet another arbitrary standard that nearly no one meets and is used to shame and control people. I’ve seen too many very good boys and men, who are shamed into thinking they are dirty, perverted, terrible people because they view or have viewed pornography.

An earlier post titled Purity Culture gives this:

Ethics is more than sex. Sex should be weighted 1-6% of Christian moral teaching, but it’s the overriding issue. It’s why one can violate Catholic teaching on just wages, caring for the poor, or being hospitable to immigrants and it’s not the end of the world – but even so much as think the wrong thing about sex and you’re in a state of mortal sin. That’s too much power given to sex. I say, let’s stop letting sex have all of the power in moral discourse. It’s not that sex isn’t powerful – it can be spiritual, communicative, bonding – and, it can also be a biological release of endorphins, a stress reliever, or just pure physical pleasure. There are so many aspects to life, but only sex is framed as ruining one’s “pure” state by just one act. No Christian would say that one has lost their innocence once and for all with one lie, one miscommunication, or overeating. Let’s stick to an ethic of love, compassion, non-violence, consent, and health, and include sex in our application of that ethic.

Beautifully said. Readers, what are your thoughts on the church and shame?

Religious counseling makes things worse

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I’ve been in therapy a number of times in my life. The first time was when I was in college, at the strong recommendation of the missions organization that had just rejected me for experiencing “homosexual temptation.” The referred me to a good Christian counselor in my area who probed my relationship with my father, and with my mother, and my feelings of inadequacy. Blehhh!

The second time was when I went away to graduate school. I was stressed about living in a bigger, progressive city, and fearful that I might falter in the “progress” I had made in my fight against the aforementioned temptation. Well, I call it “the second time,” but it probably really shouldn’t count. I went to just one appointment at the university counseling center, and quite logically and eloquently (I’m sure…) explained how and why I was experiencing these errant impulses. When my counselor revealed that he was gay, I elected not to return.

And more recently, since my second coming out to my wife, I’ve been working with a good individual therapist. So I was quite distressed (though not surprised) to hear of a recent study assessing the efficacy of mental health treatment in reducing the risk of suicide among LGBTQ people.

The study finds that seeking treatment from a mental health or medical provider did not reduce the odds of a suicide attempt. Respondents who sought mental health or medical treatment at some time prior to their suicide attempt (or, among those who did not attempt suicide, prior to the age when suicide might have been attempted) were as likely as respondents who did not seek any mental health treatment to have a suicide attempt or serious suicide attempt after this time. However, counseling from a religious or spiritual advisor was associated with worse outcomes. Compared with individuals who did not seek help at all, those who sought help from a religious or spiritual advisor were more likely later to attempt suicide.

“The findings are troubling because seeking treatment is a recommended suicide prevention strategy and this study’s results show no more positive effect for people who sought treatment. More troubling is the finding that individuals who sought religious or spiritual treatment had higher odds of later attempting suicide than those who did not seek treatment at all,” said co-author Ilan H. Meyer, Ph.D., Williams Senior Scholar of Public Policy. See more at: williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu

Did you catch that? Seeking help from religious or spiritual advisors actually increased the risk of suicide for LGBTQ people. Shocking, right? As I said, not surprising based on my own personal experiences, but nevertheless so very disappointing.

Signs of progress, though. Exodus International, one of the leading organizations advocating faith-based reparative therapy for gay people recently disbanded and issued an apology for the harm they have caused.  And a group of former leaders of the ex-gay conversion therapy movement have joined together and come out against conversion therapy.

If you are depressed, please don’t suffer alone. Reach out for help – but be careful who you reach out to!

The Church and Left-Handers (or, “Babes, p2”)

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After my conversation with my 12-year-old son (see post), I felt emboldened to have a conversation with my daughter, age 15. So last night we were out running errands, talking about anything and everything. Conversation flowed pretty easily to me mentioning something about one of her uncles who is gay. And then I asked her directly: “What do you think the church should do about gay people?”

<…long pause…> I could tell she was struggling. When she finally found her voice, she said “‘Do’? What do you mean, ‘do’? The church shouldn’t do anything!”

Such a GREAT response! The truth is, during that momentary pause, from the look on her face, it was as if she was trying to understand what the question even meant. As if I had asked “What should the church do about left-handed people?” “What should the church do about black people?” “What should the church do about redheads?” “What should the church do about people who prefer peas instead of corn?” She was truly at a loss to understand why the church would do anything at all ‘about’ gay people. Why should the church treat gay people any differently than anyone else?

Oh, preach it sister! (or rather, “daughter!”)

At this point she really was a bit shocked and confused, so I felt I had to give her a little context. I explained to her how historically, many churches have viewed being gay as a choice and as a sin. Many churches have excluded gay people and insisted that they either change who they are attracted to, or live without expressing affection toward those they may love. How even today, gay people feel like second-class citizens at many churches (or perhaps not even ‘citizens’ at all).

She was flabbergasted. Appalled. Vexed. She launched into “I can’t believe that! Why would they say or even think that? Boy, some people really push my buttons…”

My little girl really made me feel proud!