When It’s Time to Write a New Chapter

man looking out at the water

 

I thought my life was over when I buried my dreams in the ground. They weren’t just dreams, but a cultural paradigm. Good Christians get married, have kids, and impact the kingdom; the rest of us are just sitting around, waiting to participate in the action. …Or something like that.

 

Every time I contemplated a life of intentional singleness I’d laugh. Who does that? I’d never seen celibacy modeled. I had no idea what a celibate vocation looked like. I didn’t even know if a celibate could be genuinely happy. Near the end of 2013, I realized I’d run out of options. Celibacy was the only solution that made sense for me. It allowed me to embrace the theology I just couldn’t abandon and it provided the freedom to accept my sexual orientation with grace and without shame, somehow believing God could use my experience to sanctify and redeem my soul.

 

So I went back to the blogs that saved my faith a few years ago. Brent Bailey mostly, but then I began to re-read Julie Rodgers with an openness I hadn’t given her before. I hungered for hope in my bitterness and sorrow, and Julie presented a fabulous feast of joy and inspiration. Suddenly the idea hit me. What if I started a blog? What if I gave my life to love and serve LGBTQs like me? I needed to rediscover meaning in my life and to process what I was experiencing. So I wrote my first blog post February 1st, 2014 and began applying to Regent’s clinical psychology program that summer. The experience broke me, revealing all my deeply rooted insecurities. But God strengthened my spirit through the encouragement of a wide community of family and friends—friends from Bryan College, from local churches in my hometown of Gadsden, from coworkers, and many readers I still haven’t met in person. I stepped out in faith and every time I stumbled, my support system came to my aid. I’m convinced a community is the only way you survive a controversial blog and grad school applications.

 

So here I am, already starting a new adventure. I was just beginning to see what transparent community life could look like in Gadsden, and now I can go further and invest my time and energy into community here in Virginia Beach for the next four years. No secrets, no hiding. My story is part of me and part of how I connect to you. We thrive through storytelling.

 

A few months ago I was burned out with blogging and announced on Facebook and Twitter I would no longer publish posts once I began grad school. Public life had been hard, dealing with criticism from both sides of Christianity while never feeling like I “arrived” as a gay Christian writer after all those hours writing and editing posts, trying to network, and reading everything I could find on the craft of writing (all while working a full-time job and trying to get into a doctoral program). As much as I believed I was writing for the art form and ministry to LGBTQ Christians, I discovered how much I wanted the attention I’d never possessed before. I couldn’t enjoy my blog until I learned to appreciate the writing process more than the response I received. Sometimes a post went viral and received a couple thousand views (ok, just the one…) and then some of my favorites received less than a hundred views. It took awhile to realize page views are a fickle and unreliable measure of my worth. Tim Keller wrote a short but excellent book called The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness that helped me a lot this summer. He exhorted me not to care what others may think of me, even to let go of what I think of myself (both my self-hatred and self-esteem). All that matters is how God sees me through Christ: beloved. Rather than worrying if people like me, my only responsibility is to faithfully love others to the best of my ability. It took awhile to apply and embrace Keller’s insight to my craft as a writer, but it was liberating once I could let go of my need for validation from both gay Christian and faith writers (though some did notice my work and liked it). I’m learning not to care so much about “fame,” but to love the people God brings in my life, whether a few close friends or multitudes who receive emotional and spiritual nourishment from my written words. God simply asks me to be faithful in loving people well with whatever influence he gives me, not to magnify Seth Crocker, but Jesus, the Savior of the world.

 

I don’t know what the next chapter will look like for this blog. I may try writing during school breaks or perhaps publish a post every month or two depending on how much I can handle. I don’t have expectations. To borrow some of my favorite terms from Andrew Marin, there are plenty more bridges to be built between conservative churches and the LGBTQ community and many more conversations that need to be elevated above the gay sex question. I’m hopeful I’ll find all kinds of inspiration as I live transparently in community as a celibate gay Christian, as I study sexual identity in Dr. Yarhouse’s research team (fingers crossed I get in), and pursue opportunities to interact and befriend sexual and gender minorities on campus and in the area.

 

So for now, thank you readers for journeying with me, whether in agreement or disagreement or a mixture of both. I’ve appreciated your willingness to listen to my story and the needs of LGBTQs in the church. This is an ongoing conversation and I hope you will continue to listen and dialogue. And most of all, I’ve been honored to hear your stories. I’ve cried and laughed with you and shared your frustrations. You’ve validated my desire to minister to LGBTQs by becoming a clinical psychologist. Thank you for your trust, your many kind words and encouragements, and for your challenging questions.

 

I look forward to seeing what God has in store for the years ahead.

 

Much love, friends.

 

Seth

ocean waves at the beach

Image Credits

A Blended Family

glasses

 

“This is like needing glasses,”

 

Dr. Erica Hahn shares in a vulnerable moment of Grey’s Anatomy. Erica discovers the truth—she’s gay.

 

“When I was a kid I would get these headaches, so I went to the doctor and they said I needed glasses. I didn’t understand that; it didn’t make sense because I could see fine. And then I get the glasses and put them on, and I’m in the car. Suddenly I yell,”

 

Erica pauses as the emotions kick in.

 

“Because the big green blobs I’ve been staring at my whole life—they weren’t big green blobs! They were leaves. I didn’t even know I was missing the leaves; I didn’t know that leaves existed. And then… Leaves!”

 

With tears in her eyes, Erica looks to her friend, now lover, Dr. Callie Torres.

 

“You are glasses.”1

 

~         ~         ~

 

 

Erica’s sentiment resonates with my experience on a broader scale beyond just a night of awesome sex (I can’t say I know much about that, sorry). You see, these last few years have been a season of reframing for me, or in context of Erica’s story, of seeing the world—and myself—more clearly. It’s been a process of discovering my family.

 

I’ve always known my family of origin, the church. I grew up in the little subculture of the Primitive Baptist denomination, a world without musical instruments or Sunday school; a people of rich hospitality and sincere love for Jesus. The Primitive Baptist faith gave me a distinctive identity. As I’ve grown more nondenominational over the years, Christianity continues to matter because of its heart centered in relationship with a holy, yet loving Creator. While I can’t justify or explain all scripture’s paradoxes and complexities, I find peace knowing God welcomes my attempts to struggle and grow through my questions and doubts.

 

Christianity has been my home for as long as I can remember. And yet, the church has been an incomplete home.

 

After college, my spiritual growth hit a rough stage. I knew I was never going to be straight, nor was I going to entertain the thought of marrying a woman ever again. I waded cautiously into the void of the unknown, entering this stage of transformation by myself. I shut out nearly every friend and acquaintance, afraid, I think, that they couldn’t handle the questions on my heart or the answers I was determined to find.

 

So I introduced myself to the gay community.

 

I really didn’t know where to begin or what to say. Gay people had always been “out there,” always out of reach. So I chose less than appropriate means to meet other sexual minorities (primarily dating and hook-up apps). Yeah, I was a tad bit naïve, and I didn’t always have the best or purest motives either. But I had come a long way from the opinionated reformed fundamentalist with an answer for every question. I began listening to stories. The stories I heard weren’t always from Christians. Nearly every gay guy I met had a background in Christianity and a story of pain associated with the church. Several gay guys I befriended held varying degrees of interest and devotion to the Christian faith. I clung to their words, every explanation of why they believed God blessed gay sexuality. Repeatedly I found myself infatuated with my new friends, desperately wanting to express love and be loved in return. I wore my heart on my sleeve and eventually guys only interacted when I initiated. When I stopped communicating and gave them space, it was too late. The friendships ended. These unhealthy cycles only deepened my insecurities and sense of worthlessness.

 

Something remarkable happened through one of those short-lived friendships though. The first gay Christian I crushed on introduced me to Brent Bailey’s blog Odd Man Out and Andrew Marin’s book Love is an Orientation. I was falling apart, possibly on a course away from my faith, frustrated and lost. Brent and Andrew revealed a new path. Reading Brent’s words filled me with hope—somewhere out in this would there were people like me, gay people who want to take their faith seriously. Whenever I brought up faith around my gay friends, they would shut down; they wouldn’t respond to my texts. Reading Odd Man Out brought tears to my eyes. Someone got it.

 

And suddenly I got it. Church wasn’t complete because it hadn’t represented the full diversity of Christ’s body. There was a reason I felt different. Everyone in the church seemed to have the same general story; everyone had the same major life events. They were all a bunch of middle class, Republican, white, straight, married Americans. No wonder church felt stifling and lonely.

 

I’ve been running from church for a very long time. I’m honestly not sure how to do church anymore. I really don’t want to play the role of the out and proud gay dude 24/7. I’m so much more than my sexual orientation. But I don’t want to feel trapped in the closet again either, waiting for some arbitrary time to come out once again. Some days I wonder if I have enough patience and grace to invest in another faith community. Let’s face it, families and couples are at an advantage in seeking out new churches. They have someone to lean on for support amid the process. Last year I thought I finally had made the transition to a mainstream church, just to realize how lonely I felt sitting in a row alone month after month, in a worship and preaching style far outside my comfort zone. Everyone seemed too evangelical and conservative to let me enter their lives. A church home felt more like a fantasy or a crushed dream.

 

But something pretty amazing happened this last Sunday. I met my friend Logan last year while spending a week in Tennessee catching up with some of my old college friends and brainstorming the concept of this blog. I had followed Logan’s blog over the past year and since I was already in a risk-taking, adventurous spirit, I asked if we could have coffee. Thankfully he said yes and what followed was one of my very favorite, cherished conversations. A year later, I had a request. I asked Logan if I could go with him to church. I had never worshipped with another gay person before, and I wondered what it would feel like. Logan was cool with me tagging along, so we caught up in a coffee shop where the church also happened to be located. It may have been the best church service I ever attended (awesome things seem to happen around Logan, just saying). The service was hip with its blend of liturgy and folksy contemporary worship, coffee and skinny jeans, but it was far more than  “sexy Christianity” as Kyle Donn has put it. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel alone in church, I wasn’t an isolated, individual sexual minority in a sea of heterosexuals. While I barely know Logan, it was really special to share such a symbolic moment. In that moment we were brothers united in one common love of our Savior. Sitting next to Logan allowed me to lower my walls, silence my inner critic, and worship. I didn’t know if I’d ever sincerely engage in church again, but for one Sunday I did. And it was awesome.

 

As God is maturing, sanctifying, and integrating every piece of my life, I’m slowly understanding what Dr. Hahn was saying about the glasses. Same-sex attraction used to be the dark issue that I shoved away in a closet as far from my consciousness as I could keep it. That proved as easy as holding a beach ball under water. When I finally ventured into the unknown of my sexuality, it took me a few years to find a path. I crossed physical and emotional boundaries I never should have approached. I was selfish, needy, and insecure, but through my sins and mistakes, God has revealed his tender mercies and redemptive love. I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. There’s peace in interacting with other gay people now as equals, whether online or in person. Not in pride, not desperately clawing for attention, but aware of just how beloved I am in my Father’s eyes. I also have a passionate desire to express Christ’s love to His people (gay or straight).

 

Self-identifying as gay begins internally as we recognize our differences from the world around us. But sexual identity isn’t so much an act of naval gazing for me. It’s about kinship with those who have shared similar experiences and suffered all kinds of indignities from the church and society. Christian sexual minorities struggle with questions and fears that privileged straight Christians will never have to stress about. Every option before us comes with great sacrifices and heartache. I call myself gay because I am part of a community, regardless of our differing views on sexual ethics. I am a brother to my LGBTQ family; they have my unconditional love until the end of my days.

 

I freely admit I could be wrong on so many things. But I’m certain of two things. I have one awesome Savior and one awesome family—a diverse, blended family of ethnicities, genders, political positions, varying socioeconomic classes, ages, and heck yes, sexual orientations.

 

My gay friends are my glasses. They make this world, and the church, a much more beautiful and welcoming place.

 

  1. Grey’s Anatomy, Season 5: Episode 6, “Life During Wartime.”

 

Photo courtesy of flickr creative commons, user Filly Jones

Seth Crocker

And The Walls Came Tumbling Down

It was cold outside. At least I think it was cold. My body shook as I tried to form sentences, to express what my mouth had never uttered. My best friend and I had stepped outside of church, a storefront sandwiched between a Christian bookstore and a store that sold shoes. We sat on a nearby bench next to the street as cars passed by. It took me awhile to get to the point. Every time a pedestrian walked by I’d stop talking and examine my fingernails or my shoes. I made little eye contact as I spoke, occasionally glancing at my friend to study his expression. “Is he getting it? What is he thinking?” His face looked serious with concern and concentration, nodding every now and then. I inhaled deeply.

 

I struggle with same-sex attraction. I’m drawn to guys the way other guys are drawn to girls.

 

My stomach was in knots saying those words. Roots of shame ran deep in my heart. I was suffocating. I was tired of the conversations about girls; how my heartbeat quickened from the lies. I was tired of having to remember to stick my hands in my pockets so I wouldn’t wave them around and look so, well, gay; tired of remembering to deepen my voice, a silly paranoia for a baritone.

 

How do normal people react when you share something taboo? Growing up, churches never talked about homosexuality. They honestly never talked about sexuality at all. I learned that Christians saw sexuality as something dirty and inappropriate to talk about in public. And that made me feel dirty. Everyone else seemed so pure; no apparent signs of sexual brokenness, while I cycled through gay porn, shame, depression, and suicidal ideation. How could God look at me? And how could He still love me? Sure, we’re all broken. But maybe some of us are too broken for God to repair.

 

I felt helpless confessing my secret for the first time. The air left my lungs, formed into distinct sounds by my tongue and lips, and registered in my friend’s brain as language. Those words could never go back; they could never be forgotten. This was my only close friendship at the time and I risked dashing it to pieces with the truth.

 

But God was gracious to me. Many of my brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community have been deeply wounded when they risked this level of vulnerability and transparency. It damaged their perception of God and they walked away with heavy baggage.

 

Many Christians are quick to fill the tension with words of biblical counsel and admonition. They feel a need to speak scriptural truth and make their positions known (like it’s some kind of surprise to us gay folks). In these moments, intimate relationships are often severed. We wanted you to listen, to let us process our feelings and convictions with you, to let us know we’re safe to ask questions and think aloud in your presence. If you rob us of that opportunity, we may never let you in again.

 

But my best friend didn’t rush to speak or vehemently reject me. His response was short and simple. “I don’t know what to say, Seth.” But that was alright because he continued to be my friend. He’s journeyed with me, despite sharp disagreements that have arisen over the years. He’s been an example of Christ in flesh for me. And that coming out experience strengthened me to continue taking more risks. It was a defining moment that likely saved my faith and quite possibly my life.

 

It was a moment of shackles loosening and new abundant life forming.

 

A slow death of negative self-talk and self-hatred; a slow building of confidence in Christ at work in my life.

 

A process of emotional walls tumbling down.

 

~          ~          ~

 

Today is National Coming Out Day, a holiday celebrated by the LGBTQ+ community to encourage the “closeted” to open up about their lives and experience freedom in the attempt to live life honestly and with integrity. I think it’s a beautiful concept for the church to embrace in a Christian subculture of smiling, perfect facades, especially here in the Bible Belt. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for being white washed tombs; nice to look at it on the outside but full of rotting corpses and bones on the inside. I believe Christian sexual minorities are in a unique place to call others to a better way of living, a way we as the church may have forgotten. We’re inviting the church to join us in the light, in the freedom of the gospel, in the knowledge that the cross covers all our sins and rejects no one. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28, ESV). We find rest when we stop investing our energy in perpetuating lies—to others, to God, and especially to ourselves. God can work mightily when we open every door of our heart to the truth. That’s where sanctification happens. That’s where shalom begins.

 

But some Christians will still ask, “Why come out? Why is it so important?”

 

Chris Damian wrote at Spiritual Friendship,

 

Some people argue that sexuality is something that shouldn’t be discussed publicly, especially for gay people. This point comes up especially in Christian circles, where critics remark that gay people shouldn’t be so ‘out and proud’ but rather discreet, while at the same time making sweeping remarks about my experiences that are anything but discreet. They would insist on talking about my sexuality, while also insisting that I cannot talk about it myself.

 

This really speaks to the heart of the issue. Gay people are more than a controversial issue; we’re people who breathe, think, and feel. We’re made in the Image of God. We have dignity as fellow human beings. Homosexuality is in many ways the defining issue of our time, and it’s unfair for the church to leave out its own members who experience same-sex attraction and have stories that should be weighed in the discussion. The other extreme is when churches choose to ignore the issue altogether. They bury their heads in the sand like ostriches or stick fingers in their ears and scream “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” But the honest truth is that LGBTQ people aren’t a demonic, militant group somewhere out there in New York City or San Francisco—we’re in your churches, we’re in your families. We’re people you know and love. Maybe we’re just waiting to see if you reveal a little grace in your heart. Maybe we’re looking to see if there’s safety in your eyes.

 

Brent Bailey wrote for The Marin Foundation,

 

I want the people in my community of faith to know I’m gay, then, because I want them to know me. I want to welcome them into the reality of my experience of the world to enable them to walk with me, to support me, to challenge me, to confront me, and more than anything, to love me, but these all remain idealistic principles until an environment of fearless vulnerability makes them tangible realities. It’s much more difficult to do justice to the profundity of God’s work in my life if I’m only letting others see a portion of my life. At the same time, of course, I want to know them in the same way, and I shouldn’t always be so surprised when my openness inspires similar openness from others, as it often does. In that context, gay pride is not about asserting my sexuality; it’s about our shared humanity, our mutual giving and receiving love, our need to know and be known. In other words, it involves sharing how I’m different in order to remind us how much we all share in common, beginning with our shared reception of God’s overwhelming love.

 

Last year for National Coming Out Day, Julie Rodgers wrote:

 

When I first began sharing more vulnerably with those who knew me (because that’s essentially what coming out is), it was often received as a declaration that I was an entirely different person than the one they thought they knew so well. But I wasn’t a different person and I hadn’t been living a lie; they just hadn’t previously been invited into some of these deeper areas of my life because I hadn’t felt safe enough to invite them. I was still the same person: still the Jesus-loving-gypsy who grew up homeschooling and reading Great Books on rooftops for thrills. I hadn’t departed from the faith, declared a new identity, shined light on dark secrets—I had simply invited those I loved into a vulnerable part of my life. Especially in those early days, it was an expression of courage personally, and trust in those I loved, because I was finally confident enough in the Lord, my community, and my own sense of self to risk being known and believing I’d still be loved.

 

These resonating themes of vulnerability, transparency, honesty, openness, and intimacy speak forcibly to the church. I can only humbly ask that you will listen with compassion and curiosity; there is much to learn for us all. We need you, and I’m bold to say you need us. Together we are the body of Christ.

 

~          ~          ~

 

A lot can change in a year.

 

Last year I thought it would be pretty sweet to start a blog on National Coming Out Day. But my parents weren’t comfortable with the idea of me writing publicly. They worried I would get hurt and they didn’t know if they agreed with how I expressed myself as gay. I had moved ahead in processing my sexuality over the years, and they still needed time to sort it out. A language barrier separated us. I believe in respecting my parents, so I tucked the dream away. Life continued aimlessly until I just couldn’t take it any longer. A new year approached and I didn’t want to surrender another year to fear and procrastination.

 

So I wrote.

 

I shared it with people mostly outside my parent’s sphere of influence. I kept my name a secret and that worked for the most part. But I just didn’t like the feeling of writing anonymously. I’m not ashamed of my words or what God is doing in my life. My voice is just as legitimate as the opinions of Straight Christians. I’m certainly not one of the best Gay Christian thinkers or writers, but that doesn’t disqualify me from speaking either. For every sexual minority who courageously speaks up, many more are encouraged and reminded they aren’t alone and there’s a community waiting for them if they will fight for it. As we speak up, the church learns more about us; it learns about our unique needs and struggles. The church can more effectively minister to all its members when it realizes cookie cutter solutions don’t apply to all of us, and in fact do great harm in alienating minorities from the Body.

 

This summer I shared my blog with my Mom and later my Dad. I invited them to see that ministry to LGBTQs is my life passion. Opportunities began opening up through the blog; opportunities that required identifying myself. I didn’t want to wait until graduate school anymore to open up. And my parents listened; they understood me, and perhaps after all the writing I’ve done this year I could better articulate the jumble of thoughts and feelings inside my head.

 

And they said ok.

 

So from now on, I’m writing openly. There will be risk of emotional and physical harm; I’ll probably run into plenty of trolls and gate keepers; I’ll likely experience a whole new level of insecurity. With God’s grace and the support of awesome friends and family, I know I’ll get through it. I believe an open, unfettered life is the only life worth living.

 

So hello World. My name is Seth Crocker. I’m a Christian, an Alabamian, a lover of people and stories, and an openly gay man. I’m a sinner saved by God’s mercy and I look forward to a time that N. T. Wright calls “life after life after death.”

 

I intend to give all the love that’s within me and participate in God’s redemptive story.

 

Seth Crocker