evangelicalism

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!

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GCN Conference 2017

Later this week I’ll be attending my first GCN conference – an annual meeting organized by the Gay Christian Network. As with any conference there’s a full slate of speakers and break out sessions, and I’m sure they will be good. But even more, I’m looking forward to meeting with other gay people who haven’t yet given up on organized religion. I honestly don’t know where my personal beliefs will land, only that I’ve thrown off so many layers of crap I’d been taught by the church that had been weighing me down through most of my life. Of course, excising bad doctrine isn’t an easy, straightforward thing. It’s not like the “bad” doctrine resides in its own little drawer, to be neatly removed and replaced with “good” doctrine. No – it’s all much more organic than that. Beliefs – good and bad, right and wrong – are mashed up with feelings, thoughts, and habits. The process of cutting out deeply ingrained beliefs is messy and painful. So part of the reason I’m looking forward to the conference is the chance to meet other Christians who have gone through and are going through some of the same things.

There will even be a sub-group of people who, just like me, are in mixed-orientation marriages. I’ve interacted with some of these people online, so it will be good to meet them face-to-face.

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?

Not good to be alone

Adam and Eve

Photo Credit: brockit.com

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner. (Genesis 2:18, NRSV)

For some Christians, the account of the creation of man and woman in Genesis chapter 2 is foundational to their understanding of sexual ethics. “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!”  OK, sometimes they’re not quite so impudent, but that’s the general idea. The account in Genesis is taken as normative for sexual relationships, and since it involved one man and one woman, that’s how every sexual relationships should be. If that’s your perspective, this post is for you.

And my purpose is NOT to try to convince you that you’re wrong. (While I do, in fact, believe that way of thinking is wrong, I’ll save that for another post). For now I’m content to say that you’re entitled to read and interpret the passage in accordance with your knowledge and beliefs.

But I would like you to own up to the repercussions of this belief, especially in the context of the passage quoted. Chapter 1 of Genesis includes a series of mini-creations, all punctuated with the assessment “and God saw that it was good…” Then we work through chapter 2 down to verse 18, where for the first time, God notes “it is NOT good…,” in particular, not good for the man to be alone. That’s why God made a partner for Adam.

Is it relevant that God made a woman as a partner? I guess one reading of this passage might be that it was the creation of another person that was significant. Adam was no longer alone, because there was now another person. If you read the passage that way, you might take it to just mean that we need relationships with other people to be healthy. In that case, then it wouldn’t seem that the passage was saying anything about sexual relationships at all, but rather just about relationships in general.

On the other hand, maybe Eve’s gender was relevant to the story, and I think many Christians assume that to be the case. God created a sexual partner, a mate for Adam. But why? Because it was not good for him to be alone. In this case, it is a passage about a special kind of relationship – a sexual relationship. And from that we would conclude that sexuality is by default a pretty important thing for human beings.

So do you see the problem? If sex was an important part of the equation when God made Eve to address Adam’s need, then what does the church have to say to gay people? “God admits that it’s not good for us to be alone, but in your case we’ll make an exception”? “God provides a way for us straight people to have a special bond of intimacy with another human, but not for you gays”?  It doesn’t exactly convey “God loves you!”

And granted, plenty of straight people may not have such a partner in their lives, in some cases for a season, in others for entire lifetimes. But “wait” and “someday if” are very different from “never” and “even if.”  That’s a heavy burden to place on someone.

Shallow Understanding

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It’s not his fault. I mean, at least he’s trying. I think. If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, you know that I’ve come out to several close friends. One of them in particular has been trying hard to understand. He’s more than willing to listen; he initiates often; and I know that in his own way, he cares about me. But sometimes his attempts at understanding are more painful than the plain-spoken hatred of homophobes.

My being gay is not analogous to your experiencing lust

I’m a little surprised how common this thinking is among evangelical Christians. Have they really not thought it through? “You know, I see women all the time that I think are sexy, but I choose not to act on it.” So, if straight guys occasionally have to curtail their sexual appetite, that’s somehow equivalent to gay people forsaking their sexuality altogether? It feels a bit like someone saying “Oh, you’re not allowed to eat food, ever? Well, I know just how you feel! One time I had to say ‘no’ to a second bowl of ice cream.”

There’s a huge difference between being told there should be some limits on your sexual expression somewhere, and being told that any expression of your sexual desire would be wrong, in every context. Matthias Roberts writes about this way of thinking in his post Stop Comparing Your Lust to My Sexual Orientation.

Your six months of studying can’t compare to my years of lived experience

This one was especially frustrating. My friend wants to discuss with me what the Bible has to say about gay sex. As far as I can tell, it’s not in a Bible-bashy kind of way – I think he’s genuinely curious about how my beliefs have evolved over time. I used to believe the standard evangelical line, and now I don’t.

The problem is that I’m not willing to engage the issue on a purely academic level. Don’t get me wrong – I’m more than capable of defending my beliefs. But for me it’s not ONLY academic. It’s personal! And if it’s personal for me, I want it to be personal for him. Get to know gay people. Listen to their stories. Hear firsthand the pain that Christians have caused, and continue to cause, to LGBT people.

In response he said that he was very invested, and that he had spent significant time praying about the issue and studying the scriptures. When I pressed for details, he elaborated that a few years ago, he and his wife thought that one of their children might be gay. So they had studied the Bible long and hard to find out what it had to say, and in the end weren’t convinced of anything other than the “traditional” view they had already held.

But where in that process did they get to know any gay people? What sources did they study? What experts did they consult? I’m with Kevin Garcia when he says I Don’t Need Another Straight Pastor to Tell My Story. If you want to engage in a conversation about gay people, make sure you START BY LISTENING TO GAY PEOPLE!

Imposed lifelong celibacy is an incredibly heavy burden

OK. I understand that in the end, not everyone will agree with me. People will reach their own conclusions. I hope that people will at least get to know gay people before deciding what they believe about the ethics of gay relationships, but even then, they still may reach different conclusions than I have. But whatever you choose to believe about the ethics of gay relationships, don’t minimize the weight of the burden of imposed celibacy. Speaking about the religious leaders of his day, Jesus said “They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden” (Matthew 23:4). It’s one thing to reach the conclusion that gay sex is wrong, and that consequently gay people should choose celibacy. It’s quite another to pretend that for them to do so is not excruciatingly difficult. And then, as some Christians do, to add the implication that if a gay person chooses another path, it’s somehow indicative of a lack of self-control.

Don’t underestimate the damage done by attitudes like yours

It’s relatively easy to discount the bile spewed by obnoxious haters. It’s much harder to reconcile the emotional dissonance caused when someone who seems to love you nevertheless embraces beliefs that deny your basic personhood. And that’s what it feels like to me.

 

January 2016 Update

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Well it’s been a long time since I’ve posted, and with the new year, I figured it’s time for an update. Way back in January of last year, I posted about coming out to a friend. In the year since then, I’ve come out to  two other friends, and just a few of weeks ago, my wife shared our situation with a close friend of hers. So, progress, I guess. No resolution; no major turning points; but incremental progress nonetheless.

So where do we stand? I’m still gay, my wife is still straight, and we’re still married. I’m still celibate. I still love my wife. I’m still confused. And I’m still afraid for the future. I’m out now to five friends – the five people I would consider my closest friends. My wife, a friend from high school, a college roommate, a graduate school buddy, and my writer friend. In the process of coming out over the past couple of years I’ve gain a few small insights.

Acceptance is a low bar

Four of the five people I’ve come out to already knew some of the story. Like my wife, they’re all people that I confided in early in our relationships. They all shared the same evangelical understanding that I embraced at that time – specifically that being “same-sex attracted” wasn’t a sin, but “acting on it” was (see Not Chipper). So with each of these friends, early in our relationships, there was a “round one” coming out. Not “I’m gay,” but rather “I struggle with homosexual temptation.” And I remember clearly what a relief it was when they accepted me anyway!

It now strikes me as sad that I felt like that was at stake. I trusted them enough to confide in them, but not enough that I had any confidence in their response.

Judgment is a two-way street

So from my teen years onward, I’ve had a group of friends who supported me as a “same-sex attracted” guy striving to live an “evangelical-approved” straight lifestyle. When I myself bought into that mindset, it was great to have such support; but as my own views changed, it just turned into a new and different closet. “Sure they like me now, but if they only knew…” Keeping Secrets is exhausting.

And so I feared their judgment if they were to find out. But it struck me recently that I had been guilty of judging them in the same way that I only feared that they would judge me. If they found out that I had become gay-affirming in my beliefs, I was afraid that they would reject me. But in truth, if they had been gay-affirming in the first place, I probably would have never pursued a relationship.

I need more gay friends

One constant throughout the years has been the perpetual sense of isolation. It certainly helps to be out to my closest friends (I’m no longer alone with my thoughts), but then again it can be isolating in a different way. For most of them, I’m their one gay friend. Pretty poor exemplar, wouldn’t you say? When I was fully in the closet, being gay was nothing in my life. Then as I came out, it suddenly became the most salient thing. But when I’m with other gay people, it feels like it’s no longer nothing, and it’s also not everything; it can just be something – a part of who I am.

I LOVE gay people! But…

I love gay people but

Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism writes about how evangelicals are adjusting their rhetoric about LGBT people. What she writes rings so true to me – I’ve known many people who believe they are sincere when they say “I love gay people,” and yet their actions are not in the least loving.

Evangelicals like [O. Alan] Noble want everyone to believe that they don’t harbor any ill will toward gay people. More than that, they assure everyone that they love gay people! They simply believe that having gay sex is a sin. This rhetoric is still fairly new. Before society became more accepting of gay and lesbian individuals, evangelicals were not interested in assuring everyone that they don’t hate or harbor ill feelings toward gay people. No indeed. This is evangelicals’ last minute mad scramble to avoid the label “bigot.”

The trouble, of course, is that Noble himself describes same-sex marriages as “fundamentally sinful” in this same article. My mind is called to a lesbian couple I know, raising their son together.  They’ve been together for nearly two decades, supporting each other through painful family reactions, the death of a family member, and the challenges of raising a small child. Their love, their relationship, is beautiful. Noble would describe it as “fundamentally sinful,” and at the same time claim that he does not feel any contempt, disgust, or hatred for either of them.

I’m sorry, but no. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t call same-sex marriages “fundamentally sinful” and then act like this is somehow totally separate from the “contempt, disgust, and hatred” so many Americans still feel for gay and lesbian individuals. It’s not. You can’t call same-sex marriages “fundamentally sinful” and then insist that you love gay and lesbian individuals when the consequences of your belief is that they should be deprived of the love and support of a life partner or have their relationships treated as deviant and even evil.

– See more at “Some Responsibility”: Evangelicals’ Shifting LGBT Rhetoric

This totally reminds me of a great analogy I saw recently from Jason J at jasonjdotbiz. Jason was responding to those who say “Just because I am for traditional marriage doesn’t mean I am anti-gay.”

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Deeply–Held Religious Bullsh!t

Deeply Held Relgious Bullshit

THE BEST THING I have read on this topic. April Kelsey is amazing. In a guest post at Unfundamentalist Christian entitled Your “Deeply Held Religious Belief” Isn’t Biblical, she dismembers the sloppy (or malicious) thinking behind fundevangelicals’ defense for violating the constitutionally-guaranteed civil rights of LGBT people. (Or forget about civil rights; how about just treating people in a civil manner?)

The deplorable fundie thinking goes something like this:

The Bible commands us not to approve of sin, and selling a pink cupcake to a gay man would be approving of his “lifestyle,” so in order to be true to my faith, I demand the freedom to refuse to serve him!”

Bullshit! I found it very worthwhile to read April Kelsey’s entire piece. But here are the basics.

The verse that nearly all of these Christians cite in support of their behavior is Romans 1:32, claiming that it says God not only judges people who sin, but also those who simply approve of sin.

First of all, there is absolutely nothing in the Bible that says selling someone a product in the course of legal business shows approval of the buyer’s lifestyle or behavior. Nothing.

Second, that’s not what the scripture even says… <see original for more details>

So Romans 1 is about hypocritical judgment, not “passive approval.”

From an irreligious, purely commonsense perspective, it seems absurd to claim that selling someone a pastry equates to “approving of their lifestyle.” Are these people really willing to say that they DO APPROVE of everything their other customers do? And from a Biblical perspective, it’s even worse. It is the exact opposite of what Jesus commands. Again, from Kelsey:

For those still inclined to argue, I point to Matthew 5, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. This is the same passage wherein Christ mandates love for enemies. But it’s the preceding few verses that really demand attention:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”— Matthew 5:38-42 NIV (emphasis added)

So if giving someone something that they ask for shows approval for their sin, then Jesus just commanded his followers to approve of extortion, abuse and kidnapping.

Alleluia Amen! You go girl! (Hmmm, can I really pull that off? I’ve never actually said it in real life… but then again, I AM gay…)

When I started hearing of the county clerks who were refusing to issue marriage licenses because of the “deeply held religious beliefs,” my only thought was this: I have a deeply-held religious belief that people who don’t do the work they are hired to do should be fired.

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.