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Finding Where I Belong

photo courtesy of flickr creative commons, user -Marlith-

 

“They said oh, we could love you

But we are not yet what you want

Because oh, anyone could love you

You’ve got to find where you belong”

-A Fine Frenzy, Riversong

Gay. It’s a loaded word. As it registers in your brain, chemical reactions instantaneously fire in your body. An emotion or a flurry of emotions tie directly to this word. You have your own emotional definition. Depending on what you believe and what you have experienced in your journey of life, you will have a unique subjective reaction. Words convey meaning.

I try to be mindful of the power of language when I express myself as gay. It’s a word that needs to be modified when used among conservative Christians. Justin Lee from the Gay Christian Network explained this so well in this video that was recently published on GCN:
Christians and society are not speaking the same language. For the world outside the church, “gay” means attraction to the same sex. It says nothing of one’s actual sexual behaviors or beliefs about gay sex. The church is frankly using an antiquated definition that damages the ongoing discussion of sexual ethics and same-sex attraction.

Even if we can agree on a common definition for the word “gay,” the issue still remains that the conservative church feels uneasy about Christians choosing to identify with their sexual orientation. Aren’t we more than our attractions and feelings? I certainly hope so! I want to ensure that each piece of my identity carries its own weight in forming my personhood, especially my identity as a Christian. In other words, the fact that I am a man, a son, a brother, a friend, a Caucasian, an Alabamian, an Auburn football fan (War Eagle!), a lover of literature, indie music (etc.), all play important roles in defining me who I am. The pieces come with different privileges and disadvantages in society and/or the church. Saying that I am a sexual minority doesn’t trump the rest of who I am, but it does say something monumental about how I relate to both men and women. It impacts how I make choices that impact my life.

Until last year, I didn’t express my sexual orientation with language. I thought it was weakness to label myself with words. People can have power over you when you reduce a complex life experience to a single syllable. You can’t control how other people react, nor their preconceived beliefs and prejudices. In addition, during most of my early twenties I wanted to know I was different. I wasn’t one of them. But as time passed, the gospel changed my heart. I realized this ridiculous “us versus them” dualism was wrong. I developed friendships with gay people. And then something amazing happened: I realized these people were my people, just as Christians are my people. We had gone through similar struggles, similar pain. I resonated with their stories. I felt at home. I no longer needed to distance myself from them, because I had been one of them all long, separated only by language.

By expressing part of my identity as gay, I am declaring something far greater than sex. My identity as a gay man is a relational construct, not a sexual one. I choose to express my experience as a sexual minority in solidarity with my brothers and sisters in the gay community, especially those who share my love for Jesus. As for the term “gay Christian,” Brent Bailey from Odd Man Out offers this helpful note while discussing an article by Wes Hill:

I don’t think Wes or many other gay Christians, regardless of their theology, would primarily identify themselves as a “gay Christian” instead of just a “Christian,” as if “gay Christian” were some new category of person or “Gay Christianity” were a distinct branch of practice. I know that’s the case for me: Only rarely will I actually say the phrase “gay Christian,” since in most cases I’m either talking about myself as Christian or as a gay person. The phrase “gay Christian” is merely a means of suggesting the two realities aren’t mutually exclusive.”¹

So by articulating my experience as a gay Christian man, I’m using language to express my unique needs and concerns in the body of Christ. It clarifies how I’m different from heterosexual Christians, offering a framework to help assist the majority in the church recognize the existence and struggles of LGBTs in their own congregations, families, and workplaces. While we have differences, I’m still a Christian with more in common with my straight brother and sisters in Christ than what makes us different. Maybe it helps to frame it like the differences between Caucasian, African-American, or Hispanic Christians. Hopefully by dialoguing about LGBTQ concerns, the church can begin to wrap their minds around the experience of thousands of Christians like myself. It’s a starting point that will evolve as we have the willingness to listen and minister.

If you still don’t like the word “gay,” that’s fine. I think Christians are trying to redeem the word and as Andrew Marin says, “elevate the conversation.” But I do understand your hesitancy. All the same, words like sexual minority and LGBTQ are being used whether the church likes it or not. Please don’t let semantics be a stumbling block for the continuation of the discussion. Agree to disagree and keep the relationship going.

The winding journey I’ve taken these past 26 years have led me to different places in how I frame my identity. I still have a long way to go. But through the loneliness, isolation, and frustration, I have found where I belong. It’s somewhere between the church I grew up in and LGBTQ community that calls me to be God’s (imperfect) representative. Some days it feels like no man’s land, but there are other days that I see good happening; I see shalom flourishing. I have two families who don’t get along, but I love both of them. And I intend to give my life in ministry, doing my part in mediating this conflict.

 

¹Brent Bailey, “In Response to Wes Hill’s ‘Once More'”

Romans 12

Introduction

 photo by Krist Adams at creationswap

 

My name is Seth. And I have no idea how to begin this introduction.

I have lived my entire life in a war ravaged country.  I didn’t grow up in the chaos of the Middle East or Africa, but in the state of Alabama in the heart of the Bible belt and SEC football. I was born into the sub-subculture of a Christian denomination with an incredibly unfortunate name (fingers crossed, but that’s probably not changing in my lifetime…). I viewed the world around me from a sheltered lens. My parents home schooled me from first grade to my high school graduation. We went to a small church filled with mostly older members–I didn’t really have a friend beside my four younger siblings until I was in my late teens. I lived in a bubble. But eventually puberty hit and changed everything I knew.

I suddenly felt attraction toward other guys. I had never heard this narrative. I never knew it was possible for a guy to feels things for another guy. I had never comprehended words like homosexuality or gay.

God wove through the first threads of my memories, a relationship as real as my parents. I came to know Him through Bible stories, A capella hymns, and sovereign grace sermons-my head lying against soft, but firm upholstered pews as the preacher spoke about words that glided over my comprehension. Or I would draw with Crayons, listening and imagining. I would sometimes pretend to preach sermons about Noah and Jesus to my stuffed animals, all lined up in their invisible pews. I publicly became a Christian when I was six years old. I walked down the aisle at the preacher’s invitation with my four year old sister. We told the church we believed in Jesus and wanted to become members of the church. I was so innocent and oblivious. That six-year-old little boy had no clue the struggle he would experience years later. He would come to learn about shame, secrets, and isolation. He would come to know the monsters of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. 

I have now lived more years post-puberty than before my experience with same-sex attraction. The journey has been long and painful. But there have been moments of beauty revealing God’s faithfulness and unfailing, tender compassion. I am often asked why I am still a Christian through everything I have endured. I often feel like Peter when Jesus asked the apostles if they too would leave Him like the multitudes who couldn’t bear his difficult teachings. Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). My experience with God and the church has been tumultuous, broken, and bitter. I have been hurt and hurt others. And while scripture often feels like a bazooka that preachers wield to intimidate and shame, there are many times I’m reminded that this ancient text is God’s love letter to me.

So yes, I am a gay man. I am also a devout Christian. When I place these two identity labels side-by-side, I feel defensive. I feel the need to prove my faith as if this were a courtroom. Some will say I lost faith in God’s miraculous abilities. Others who have heard about ex-gay or reparative therapy may think I gave up too soon. I’m not saying either are necessarily wrong, but my attempt through this blog is to be open about my faith journey. This is where I’m at. This is an invitation for you to walk with me through the questions, through the loneliness, through the grief, but also through incandescent joy and persevering hope.

I don’t know where this will lead. This may be a major flop. But I have lived so much of my life invisible and silent.  It’s time to be brave. It’s time to take a risk, to dream. If I fail, I fail a stronger man than I was before.

I stand in a battlefield that has been raging long before I was born. I’m building bridges. I’m indebted to Andrew Marin for this imagery. He refers to it a lot in his work at the Marin Foundation, a peace-making organization that works with LGBTs and the conservative church. If you asked him, I know he would agree that when you build in the middle of a vehement ideological war, you will get shot sometimes. I anticipate tough criticism. I expect people will doubt my faith. But if I can help a gay teenager find hope in her despair, if I can help a straight Christian learn how to love his buddy who has just shook his paradigm, it will all be worth it.

So regardless where you stand, I’ll close with this thought from Sarah Bessey:

“Let’s sit here in hard truth and easy beauty, in the tensions of the Now and Not Yet of the Kingdom of God, and let us discover how we can disagree beautifully.”¹

¹Sarah Bessey, Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women (New York: Howard Books, 2013), 2.