Self-Care When the Newest Christian Celebrity Comes Out as Affirming

relaxing in the water

Social media chaos tends to erupt whenever a popular Christian reveals to the world they have come to the conclusion that God affirms same-sex marriage and love. We’ve felt it twice this year as Jen Hatmaker shared with Jonathan Merritt her changing views on biblical sexual ethics, and just yesterday Merritt published a similar interview with Eugene Peterson, the writer of The Message, a popular paraphrase of the Bible. Peterson told Merritt he believes LGBTQ Christians have equally good spiritual lives, and he would be willing to perform a same-sex wedding. Both instances led to a swarm of tweets, posts, and articles as traditional and progressive Christians both rushed to add their voices to the debate.

 

I don’t know about you, but in these moments I can feel like a child sitting at the table while the adults argue—invisible, unheard, and unnoticed. And like many other Christian sexual minorities, I carry the emotional scars of religious traumas that can resurface and trigger as Christians debate our legitimacy in the church without much thought of sensitivity or compassion.

 

As I’m just at the beginning stages of my dissertation on religious trauma with Christian sexual minorities, I’m drawn to our collective experience of wounds inflicted by the people we loved and trusted. Some of these people taught us about a loving God, but perhaps out of their fear for our salvation or their need to be a spokesperson for God, they used faith to instill shame and anxiety, and left many of us questioning our worthiness and lovability in God’s eyes. Repeated messages of condemnation and hell could trigger panic attacks and generalized anxiety to the point that life became unmanageable and unbearable, and for many, jettisoning Christianity became the only viable solution to cleanse their minds of suicidal ideation, while others eventually committed suicide when hope had finally been extinguished by their faith communities. Our pain as a subculture runs deep.

 

Yesterday Rachel Held Evans asked LGBTQ Christians what they needed on days when prominent straight Christians become openly affirming. After reflecting on this question more this morning, here are a couple suggestions to nurture your soul and prepare you for the emotional impact:

 

Shut off the computer or phone. There are plenty of other people who share your perspective and will advocate for your dignity and your right to belong in the fold of God. You don’t have to enter every argument. When family and friends send you articles and ask for your opinion, you’re not obligated to give them an answer. Don’t fight every battle; take opportunities to rest in the peace and comfort of Christ. Speak up when you’re ready, preferably on a day when everyone isn’t activated by the latest controverisal story.

 

Reach out. Hopefully you’ve identified safe Christians who can minister to your aching soul. Don’t carry the emotions alone. Share with someone who will remind you how much God adores you and wants to be in relationship with you. Don’t waste your energy on Christians who make your faith toxic and shameful. Spend time with Christians who motivate you to love more deeply, and see your love as good and beautiful and needed.

 

Take a mental health day. Hopefully you know the activities that lower your heart rate and silence the ruminating thoughts of fear and depression. If not, try out some new things. Incorporate physical activity, like lifting weights, running, swimming, or dancing. Get outdoors and take in the sun and the sounds and sights of nature. Go see a new movie, take an art class, try a new restaurant, or take a long, warm bath. Remind yourself of the beauty and gift of living.

 

Consider professional help. As a developing clinical psychologist, I strongly believe in the effectiveness of therapy, especially if you don’t have social supports currently in your life and you don’t know where to begin. Maybe nothing is helping assuage the worries or cut through the fog of sadness. There are so many research-supported treatment options for anxiety and depression, and if money is an issue, ask about sliding fee scales. Find someone who can be a witness to your pain and can help you navigate the tough questions so you can begin finding congruence in how you want to live out your faith and sexual identity.

 

Find role models and resources. As minorities, it can be tough when there’s no one like us at church and we haven’t seen anyone live out an example of being gay and Christian in a way that demonstrates increasing spiritual maturity. We don’t know what it looks like to thrive as complete human beings. But if you’re reading this post, then you’re already taking a step toward listening to how one gay dude is trying to navigate his own spiritual and sexual journey. Find the voices that resonate with you and better represent your story and your struggles. Remember, you’re not in this alone. The Gay Christian Network and The Reformation Project have annual conferences around the country where LGBTQ Christians can connect, and GCN also has multiple Facebook groups to foster community for different age ranges, and even for different demographics, such as females or Side B/traditional LGBTQs. Additionally, the Episcopalian church has been awesome about supporting the LGBTQ community if you want to find some potential safe friendships and spiritual mentors.

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Overall, remember God’s love is steadfast for you, no matter the chaos of whichever Christian celebrity creates an uproar and renews the debate about the dignity of our lives. Find God in the stillness and pursue him in the mystery of faith, believing he is merciful, good, and loving, and that he will never leave or forsake you no matter how badly you screw up or how convicted other Christians are that you have no part in his kingdom. His voice is ultimately the only one that matters, so cling to him and don’t let him go. You’re going to make it, and God is ever at work redeeming your life.

 

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  • Jeremy

    Thank you so much for this wisdom. It is peace amidst the storm! And in the absence of physical mentorship it is like a raft to a drowning man. I really appreciate what you are doing here in this blog. It is a life-saver.

    • Seth Crocker

      I’m glad it’s been a help to you! Thanks for reading!

    • Steve Williams

      What a great analogy about the raft. I completely agree!

  • Buddy Abernathy

    Seth, you have made it clear that you
    do not want to communicate with me so this will be my last correspondence. I have tried to be kind and reasonable and I assure you that I’m not angry or upset at all. Furthermore if i were talking to you in person i would not be disrespectful at all. You write long blog posts expressing your thoughts about this issue and allow for comments. Therefore, I don’t understand why you have a problem with me commenting. I thought you wanted to “build bridges”. To do so both sides should be able to express themselves. Here’s my question. I’m sure you agree that in order to be a follower of Christ (a Christian), we need to believe and obey what Jesus taught. The Bible contains the teachings of Jesus. Jesus taught that, in the beginning God “made them male and female, and said, for this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh”. Jesus is clear on the matter. He confirmed Gods original design: male for female not male for male or female for female. How can we be a Christian (a follower of Jesus) if we don’t want to follow his teachings?

    • Seth Crocker

      Hey Pastor Abernathy, I appreciate your desire to approach this conversation from a spirit of kindness and logic. I feel like this is a conversation that would need to happen over time and through relationship, which I actually get to experience in my graduate program at a Christian university with differing beliefs among the faculty and students. I’m afraid I don’t have the emotional energy to discuss biblical perspectives on this issue with all the people who would like to know how I see scripture. I hope it is reassuring that I make space in my life for a few Christians who uphold a traditional sexual ethic, and it’s a topic we process occasionally as I’m ever working to integrate my life and submit to what I believe God is calling me to. If you would like to learn more, I think you might appreciate some of the works my mentor Dr. Mark Yarhouse has written. He is a conservative Christian with a pastoral approach, and even as he and I see things differently, I have learned a lot from him.

  • Steve Williams

    I think your last paragraph is incredibly encouraging and it reminds me that whilst obedience to God’s Word and expectations is critical (for example, I am truly convicted by the Holy Spirit that a homosexual lifestyle or relationship is sinful), he is there to pick us up when we fall, forgive and restore us because of what Jesus’s death achieved on the cross. I may never understand this side of heaven why I have such painful thorns in my side or such seemingly never-ending battles with the flesh, but it keeps my eyes focused on heaven and what is still unseen, and not get caught up in the trappings of this fallen world. For me, though, the church could do so much more to integrate us and help us to receive the love we crave. One church which a friend goes to recently appointed a ‘Families Minister’ which, although well meaning, causes inadvertent pain to those of us who don’t ‘fit in’ – we feel further ostracized.