As a follower of Jesus, I believe deeply that we are called to love our gay brothers and sisters. I also believe that love is patient and kind, that love pulls up a chair and listens. Today, that’s what I’m doing.
Today is National Coming Out Day. I refuse to see this day, these people, as an “issue”. They are my brothers and sisters. They are my friends.
These are their stories:
I came out twice within my spiritual life.
The first time when I was 15 or 16 and realized I was attracted to members of the same sex. Having grown up as the son of a Southern Baptist pastor, I knew what I was feeling was wrong so I went to my parents, confessed what I was experiencing and we set about healing me. Through prayer, fasting, accountability, purging and tears I was committed to being Straight.
In my early 20′s, having endured great depression, isolation and oppressive suicidal thoughts, I discovered a memoir: The Truth Shall Set You Free. I read through the book in two days and realized that I wasn’t alone. Which led me to Coming Out for the second time at 23, this time as a Gay man who knew that I was created perfectly.
What I’ve heard from the Christian community has ranged from the occasional words of love and acceptance to the more common, brutal, crushing rejection. Overall I’ve been both praised and persecuted. People I’ve known for years have said that I was no longer welcome in their home and then reached out to other friends admonishing them to burn anything I touched, especially the bedding, while staying with them or visiting. I was called an abomination and a sodomite – because the word “gay” was too “soft” and was being used by a liberal media to try and sell a deviant lifestyle to the public. I was called dirty, broken, empty, evil, wrong, misguided and lost – those names are just some of what I called myself.
What I choose to hold closer to my heart is what I experienced in the crux of my Coming Out when, after a harsh and hurtful phone conversation with my family that would ultimately put me in the emergency room, I finally touched the sacred anger that had been buried for so long. I let the hurt and pain go as a Straight guy friend hugged me. I wept and I remember hitting him as he held onto me. But he wouldn’t let me go. In that moment, I felt the earthly arms of my spiritual Creator. I exhaled and in the silence that followed knew that I was created to be the Jason I was always meant to be and I let it go. I also hold the conversations with friends of faith who have said, “help me understand” and have allowed me to give voice to my journey and other moments when I’ve been able to sing surrounded by other Gays who are also people of Faith. I also take joy from…time. Time has been the great healer as it has run its course and allowed my life to unfold and others have witnessed me being me. The names I call myself now: holy, perfect, honest, real, deep, true.
When I was first Coming Out I used to say, how could being Gay be a choice – who would choose this experience of rejection? Now, I can say, if being Gay was a choice I would choose it. My life has been enriched and emblazoned with love.
I know that that isn’t really because I’m Gay. It is because I’m living life fully and it is…finally…a honest life.
“I have a question for you, have you ever been attracted to men?” my pastor asked me nonchalantly.
I nearly collapsed in shock. Where did this come from? I had been working so hard to hide it for YEARS! One minute we were discussing Sunday’s worship service, and suddenly this?
“Umm, how did you know?”
“I have been around for quite a while, this is more common than you think…so here are the songs I thought about for Sunday…”
That was the end of it. From that point on though, I suddenly realized I didn’t have to worry about people finding out. There were good people out there.
“I am furious with your stupidity. As far as I’m concerned, by coming out you’ve just told me you don’t care about me anymore. And if you don’t want us, then we don’t want you.” – a family member when I publicly came out early this year.
I could write about my former assistant pastor who told me in an email that we had different presuppositions and thus would never agree, before suggesting I read, “Washed and Waiting.” Or I could tell about the campus pastor with a well-known national student ministry who sat down and listened to me but made me feel like a project. Both those discussions. though, were ones where I was on the offensive, challenging things that they had written.
The overwhelming response to my coming out was silence. Perhaps that is partly my fault in that I came out via Facebook post to avoid making a big deal of it, but only a handful of people said anything, positive or negative. Silence is a void. It’s not acceptance, it’s not rejection, it’s nothingness. I can work with people telling me that I’m wrong — I appreciate the people who respected me enough to say that, we were able to at least discuss things — but how do you work with silence?
Silence does not allow for resolution. Are they silently judging me? Or does the silence mean things are no different than before I came out? I don’t know. Unless I decide to force the issue, I’m just going to have to be content with living in the ambiguity.
Mrs. H. was a woman in her seventies and a member of my church. She had taught me Sunday School, sung in our choir, directed countless Christmas pageants, visited hospitals and nursing homes as a pastoral visitor, served in outreach and led Bible Study. I looked up to her as the epitome of everything holy and Christ-like. When I came out as a seminary student, and word got back to my church community, the only person whose response I worried about was Mrs. H. For me, Mrs. H. “was” the church. Would she be horrified? Would she be disappointed?
I was so fearful of her rejection that when I went to church with my family on Christmas Eve, I avoided her completely. When she walked past my pew in the choir procession, I did not look up and carefully avoided eye contact with the choir throughout the service. At the end of the service, as the choir walked back down the aisle past my pew, she handed me her bulletin, on which she’s scribbled a note. As the congregation sang “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, I unfolded the note and read: “Dearest Danny, I have a great deal to learn about gay people and how this all fits with my faith. I hope you’ll be able to help me with that. But I do know a few things: God is love. God loves you. And perfect love casts out fear. So never be afraid to love or be afraid that I’ll stop loving you. Merry Christmas to you, your family and if there’s anyone special….him too.”
Had it not been for that little hastily scribbled note, I may not have remained in the church, much less become an ordained minister – but Love made a place for me – as Love always does.
When I couldn’t live a lie anymore, and had to live honestly, I came to talk to you, my pastor, the person I desperately hoped would at the least walk some part of this journey with me, because I had no clue what I was doing. Instead, when you read the words “I’m gay” in the letter I handed you, I could see it in your eyes. I became the “issue” that you preached against and warned your congregation to vote against, and I ceased to be a human.
You said that this part of who I am, this reality that I’ve agonized over for decades trying to rid myself of, this was simply “an overabundance of lust”, and that I could not continue to fellowship with the church family I loved so much. You crushed me.
My mom called me and asked me to verify the rumors she’d been hearing. I explained to her that I considered myself a gay man and that I was dating a guy. For the next hour she talked at me, quoting Bible verses and sharing her fear that I would get AIDS and die. Then she prayed for me, crying. In the 19 months since then, I have not been allowed to visit home, and almost all of the very minimal communication has been about her hoping and praying that I’ll listen to God’s voice and come back to Him.
The second hardest one was my best friend. We were like brothers. Though we lived states away, he’d call every Tuesday night and we’d talk for an hour or two. I would run ideas past him and ask his advice. When I told him that I had come out, he told me, “I’m sorry, but we can’t have fellowship like before.” I’ve only spoken to him a few times since, and I always initiate the conversation. I really really miss him.
My sister recently joined an new church congregation. My sister, a blank slate, unchurched, unschooled in Scripture. In my cynical eyes, a sitting duck. I’m not the most trusting soul when it comes to religion and my own kind. And in particular, my terror at how we were perceived by this particular denomination sent me into a tailspin – this was my closest sibling, about to be indoctrinated into something that, frankly, scared the bejeezus out of me. So I decided that I needed to put her pastor to a test. I gave her the harshest piece of apologetics against homosexuality that I could find (how our sin is an affront, how we’re not to be condoned, etc.). And asked her to have her pastor explain himself and the views of his denomination. TO ME. It was all about me.
Her response floored me. “He said to tell you that his brother is gay and is a pastor for a wonderful ministry to the community near here as well. He told me to tell you that you are loved, exactly as you are, exactly as you were created. And that if anyone tells you any differently, then they’re lying to you. Did you want to have me ask him anything else?”
Maybe the most surprising part about coming out to my friends is how they take it like a gift. A few of them have gotten teary. One friend, the most recent one I told, reflected my own feelings about our relationship in a letter, feelings that I had had about every relationship in my life when I was closeted.
“I always felt like there was something missing here between us. I didn’t know if you were holding back or what it was, but now, man, our friendship feels like it’s on a whole other level.”
I’ve heard variations of this over and over. Bringing them in lets them know they matter to me. That I trust them. That I see them as safe. They’ll call me with questions, curiosities and they always make a point to check in with me. Make sure I’m alright. Make sure I know how much I matter to them.
Coming out has been the best thing that’s happened to me. And I know it now to be like a holy offering, a gift of letting those I love know I love them.
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