2019: My year of truth. And truth is, I’m gay.
In John 15:13 Jesus says, “There is no greater love than this, that someone lay his life down for his friends.” For a long time I related to that verse by saying I will lay down my life by locking myself in the closest, hidden, so that I would be able to be a missionary and tell students, whom I love, about the love of God. But what I just realized is that my interpretation of this verse was far more self-protecting than it was sacrificing. I realized today that laying down my life for my friends actually looks like, coming out of the closet, forfeiting my “good” reputation with “church” people so that I can fully tell students, whom I love, about both the extreme love of God and also about the way God radically frees us from shame.
Last week I sat on campus with a few students who identify as LGBTQ+. I explained to them that I wanted to create a space for LGBTQ+ students to safely read and study the Bible on campus because historically LGBTQ+ people have been kicked out of the church and told that God doesn’t love them. My heart broke as I saw every one of them nod with understanding and and personal experience. I then listened as one girl explained to me that she is completely terrified of God and simply doesn’t know if she even cares to know Him because of the way “His people” treated her and other LGBTQ+ people. My heart broke and I cried out to God, ‘Why is this the reality of so many of my students? And Lord how would you have me be your hands and feet to them?’ My heart aches because I want all people to have the opportunity to know God, but it also aches because I have very personal and first hand experience with a community that treated LGBTQ+ people with little respect and little love and honestly none of Jesus.
I grew up in a conservative Christian community which, in many ways, shaped me and molded me for good. To look at this community as only a negative would be selling short a lot of wonderful things God did (the world is not black and white). However, the way I was taught to interact with the LGBTQ+ community was horrendous. In the world I grew up in the word “gay” was simply an insult, never a way to describe a child of God. I will never forget the day in 9th grade when a friend of mine came out as Bi-sexual. He was physically beaten in the back of the classroom during class hours. It was a girl throwing the punches and he wasn’t fighting back, so the teacher decided it was all in fun and pretended not to see it happening. The boys in the class called him a fag and laughed at the perceived “weakness” of letting a girl beat him up. In telling this story, I cannot sit high and mighty, because even though I was terrified to the core of my stomach knowing that what he was showing was anything but weakness, I, too, chose to laugh along with my classmates and even videotaped the experience to further his shame. This was my friend, and I abandoned him. I have to live with that sin.
On that day, I clearly received the message from both the authority and my peers that Queer people are absolutely not wanted or welcome. The message sent was not simply “hate the sin, but love the sinner” as some would say, but it was entirely hate. That friend left our small Christian school and I never saw him again. I went home that day and cried, as I realized that if I was ever honest about the things I’d been feeling that I would also be rejected from my community. I don’t remember the exact time I learned this, but from a very young age, far before I had any understanding of my own sexuality, I was under the impression that gay people chose to be gay as a direct offense to God.
As high school went on and I began to understand my own sexuality more, I grew more and more confused. I loved God with all my heart and soul and wanted nothing more than to serve Him, so how could I be attracted to women? I began to hate myself, believing deeply that I must have done something wrong to deserve this. But still, by the grace of God, I was completely in love with the person of Jesus. So what was I to do? Just stay quiet.
When I was a senior in high school I was a youth group leader for middle schoolers. I loved Wednesday nights more than anything else because I loved ministry and seeing these kids fall in love with Jesus, as I had. But one day a student held me back, after group and confessed to me that she was gay. Out of sheer fear for her safety, I blurted out, “No your are not. That is not of God, you are confused and making it up, don’t tell anyone else.” This conversation still holds as the biggest regret of my life. People who I know love me deeply, and feared for my safety would say these exact same words to me, three years later when I started to come out— and it was only then that I realized how absolutely devastating they are.
I grieve deeply for both of these people whom I, myself, have participated in hurting under the name of Jesus. And I thank God for His mercy daily, because in both these situations I was unquestionably the sinner.
Now, at 24 years old and still mostly in the closet, I work with students almost everyday who have been through similar experiences and I am wholly convicted that I must stand up and call for it to stop. The most effective way for me to do that is to come out, to tell my story, so here I am. I am gay. I recognize with extreme clarity the risk in this, as I still work for an extremely conservative ministry and am fully financially dependent on the grace of the Church and it’s people. But it is worth the risk, not despite of my ministry, but because of it. I tell students everyday about the Love of God, and His grace and the covering of our sins, but do I really believe it for myself, if I still hide and shake at the thought of people knowing my story? How am I to ask my students to realize the full safety and assurance they have in Christ if I still hide? I believe that no matter who reads this that I am a child of God. And that truth is enough for me. Telling my story is worth the risk if even one person reads it and realizes that we are not scary, that I am not an abomination, that LGBTQ+ people have the same ability to serve God with there life as any heterosexual would, that God loves me, and so he also loves my LGBTQ+ students and friends.
Lastly, It is worth the risk because, I survived my conservative up bringing as a gay Christian by staying quiet and pretending— but not all of us have survived. LGBTQ+ youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth, and within that LGBTQ+ youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times more likely to have attempted suicide as LGBTQ+ peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection. We have to face the grave truth: the church’s rejection of recognizing sexual minorities is actually killing children. If we are going to fight for the lives of unborn children, we also have to fight for the lives of born, sexual minorities in our churches. I, myself, have contemplated taking my own life, because the idea of coming out and the rejection that would accompany it, felt more scary than the idea of death itself. I didn’t think that my life, solely because of my attraction to women, was worth living.
Some of you reading this today, are financially supporting my ministry to college students, I want to say a quick note: My ministry is not effected or changed by my sexuality- other than that I am uniquely and specifically equipped to give LGBTQ+ students (one of the most unreached people groups in our country) the opportunity to know God as their personal Savior. In fact for the sake of my ministry I am celibate. But I do understand that some of you may have questions or even may feel that you no longer want to affiliate with me. If that is the case, I thank you immensely for the support thus far and only ask that going forward you would remember that I am the same Jesus loving person I was before you read this, and that God has used me ministry. Meaning that God can and does use LGBTQ+ people for His good. I only ask that you remember that. But if you do have questions please feel all the freedom to ask me, I am willing and able to tell you more or further explain. Some have asked, why would you come out now? Why not leave your ministry job, and disconnect from the conservative church so that you can come out without question or criticism? The truth is I love the church I grew up in, I love the organization I work for, I love the people who support my ministry in prayer and finances, and I am choosing to come out now because I believe that God had uniquely positioned me to be an agent of change. I desire to be a bridge for the conservative church and the LGBTQ+ community as I am someone who strongly and even proudly identifies with both. As a child, and teenager I thought I was completely alone in the world, and it wasn’t until brave people came out before me paved the way, that I was able to start processing my own sexuality. I believe that there are people, adults and children, today that are still hiding within our church and communities. If that is you, please hear me say, you are not alone. You are loved by the Creator of the world and if no one else will tell you that, ask me. I will tell you over and over.
Today, I felt a conviction, stronger than almost ever before, second only to the conviction that cause me to turn my life over to Christ in the first place. That conviction is to stand up. I am privileged and blessed by God to have a dad and mom and brother and sister-in-law who love me deeply, to be in an economic position to have access to health care that has helped me work through a lot of this shame, and to have a community of friends who support me. But not all, and in fact many, LGBTQ+ people are not so privileged. Today, I am convicted to lay down my life, just as Jesus calls us to do for our friend, and stand up for them. Especially my brothers and sisters of color, those who do not live in a free country, and those who are not old enough to make it on their own. I am safe tonight, but so many others are not, and I cannot go another day without using my life and my story to petition the church: we MUST love with the love of Christ, and that means loving our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters.
Thank you for reading and feel free to share.