When You Don’t Have to be Extraordinary

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The world around us seems to give one consistent message: be extraordinary.  Post amazing pictures from super cool locations on Facebook or Instagram, mingle with powerful and influential people to boost your own public image, do crazy hard things to change the world or your life may not matter. Be charismatic, witty, and attractive so you can be universally adored.

It’s not a sustainable way to do life, but man, the pressure weighs on us.

When I graduated from undergrad I stumbled across writers like Julie Rodgers, Brent Bailey, and Wesley Hill who reframed my life narrative. They didn’t present their sexualities as shameful or unwanted, but either had integrated their sexuality into their identities, or at least they were making a brave attempt to find congruence between their faith and sexuality. Their words revealed the importance of my own story, and for a shy dude who had spent his life avoiding intimacy and feeling crushed with loneliness, I was hungry to share my life with as many people who would listen. Essentially, I wanted to be Julie, Brent, and Wesley, because if my life looked like theirs, then my life could mean something. And man, was I disappointed when that didn’t work for me.  So many of my LGBTQ Christian acquaintances went viral and were recognized in both the broader faith community or the LGBTQ Christian community. But for me, writing felt like an exhausting treadmill that would sometimes lead to broader attention, but mostly my words went ignored. I wrote less as it became a soul-crushing endeavor.

But even as I shifted from a blogging identity into the role of a clinical psychologist in training, I found this pattern continuing in my life. I met a gay Christian psychologist and in my hunger for direction and validation, I incorporated his interests as my own and wanted to craft my training to look like his. I processed this dynamic with one of my professors two semesters ago, and she encouraged me not to become this psychologist I idolized, but to live out my own story in my clinical training. The world already had his story, she told me, and what the world needed was my unique contribution and voice. That would only come by pursuing my own interests and developing my own personality that I’d spent a lifetime trying to hide from people.

Possibly the best cure for all the strivings of social media, public platforms, and fame is found within community. These past two years at Regent have been some of the most transformative years of my life as I’ve attempted to live transparently and vulnerably with the folks who entered this program with me, and the upperclassmen and faculty who have mentored, supported, and befriended me in the process. I’ve felt loved as I am, even when I felt so much needed to be changed in me to be accepted. They’ve taught me that my story doesn’t have to look like any of my role models, and my narrative is more authentic and meaningful when it’s being told and lived through my own words and actions.

But perhaps one of the most profound discoveries was realizing how much I can help others by swapping places and becoming the audience to my clients’ life stories. Unless my clients Google me or have a pretty decent gaydar, they don’t know I’m gay, and in this context, that’s not what matters. So much of my life I’ve needed other people’s approval and validation to reassure me I’m all right. I’ve been unsure if my love had any significance or whether people actually wanted to be loved by me. Maybe all I could hope for was the pity of others. I wasn’t sure if I could ever be an equal, and certainly not a mentor or vessel of grace and redemption to others. Becoming a student clinician has added depth to how I see myself in my calling. I can matter in a context where the focus isn’t on me, and I have seen lives transformed in both radical and small ways that provide confirmation that my presence and warmth is both wanted and desperately needed.

I may not be a public figure who writes consistently popular posts, or receives hundreds of likes on my social media accounts, but fame isn’t the goal in vocation.  Anyone who receives fame has worked through insecurity and failure, and is by no means universally adored. They do have the privilege of making a profound influence on so many people, but for those of us with far less influence, our contributions to God’s redemptive plan are just as significant. I would argue there is greater redemptive impact by the investments we make in a few people, as we reveal the love of our Heavenly Father by consistently showing up and remaining in relationship with people through the good and the bad, by maintaining healthy boundaries and modeling lives of vulnerability and humility. These characteristics create thriving therapy alliances between therapists and clients, but they also form life-giving relationships between friends and families.

So if you’re feeling exhausted and depressed scrolling through your social media accounts, remember that recognition and influence are fleeting. What endures is your love for others—given from your unique calling and voice. Whoever you’re comparing yourself to, whatever you think you must accomplish to feel like you’re enough or worthy of love, rest in your lovability as the unique human God has shaped you to be. Strive to accomplish great things as an expression of the love you already possess, because you are already deemed beloved, worthy, and enough.

You may not be adored by the masses, but I believe you will find freedom and peace by living the story God has given you. I also believe you will find an audience who both supports you and needs to hear your story to navigate their own life narratives. Life can be extraordinary not in our potential for greatness, power, and fame, but in our capacity to be vulnerably known in such a way that fosters redemption in both our lives and others.

In a world full of people who compromise the beauty of their identities to obtain attention and fame, walk in the freedom and integrity of your vulnerable self.

That’s actually pretty extraordinary.

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The Stories We Live

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Growing up as a homeschooled teenager without real-life friends I turned to online message boards to find some sense of connection—some way to feel less alone. As a hardcore Calvinist, I could be offensive, unyielding, and closed-minded. I cared about people with other beliefs, but I wanted them to know what I thought and hoped God would work in them to see “the truth” just as I saw it. When my message board friends and I discussed homosexuality after years of talking, I opened up that God had healed me of same-sex attraction. I knew it wasn’t the truth; I had probably looked at gay porn the day before. But I believed change would happen. God couldn’t possibly keep me this way.

 

One story.

 

As an undergrad, I realized my sexual orientation hadn’t changed. People told me to keep praying, maintain faith, and God would just zap me with straightness one day. I didn’t buy it anymore. If God didn’t hold out hope of healing for all kinds of other sad conditions, why should homosexuality be any different? I saw my sexuality as broken, as my thorn in the flesh that I had to endure. If I couldn’t marry a man, perhaps I could marry a woman and have a relationship primarily built on friendship. I could sacrifice my yearnings for sexual and emotional intimacy with a man to do what I believed to be right. All the while I distanced myself from developing meaningful female friendships because I would panic, fearing I was talking to “the one.” I wasn’t ready. I began to wonder if I ever would be.

 

Another story.

 

I felt lost after college. I hadn’t moved on to grad school as planned. Life seemed overwhelming, so I moved home. Friends dated and married while my future seemed hopeless. My faith fell apart and I didn’t know if I believed Christianity anymore. I made my first acquaintances with other gay men and listened to their stories with ravenous curiosity. How did they learn to embrace their sexual orientation? How did they deal with the shame and guilt and the anxiety and depression? How could I stop feeling like my insides were going to rip apart? I developed my first infatuations and felt the repeated sting of rejection as some distanced themselves and ignored me while others redirected me to friendship. I also discovered Gay Christian bloggers who showed me I could hold onto two realities—that I could be gay and Christian and experience peace within that tension. I found myself returning to God, unsure how this was going to work.

 

One more story.

 

As I returned to God, I couldn’t shake the anxiety I felt in prayer, reading scripture, or sitting in church. I felt condemned and disobedient. I was a healthy adult, yet my blood pressure became hypertensive because of anxieties of Hell. I had started reading celibate gay Christian writers like Wesley Hill and Julie Rodgers, but I just didn’t want a life of celibacy—not because sex was that important to me, but because I didn’t want a lifetime of coming home alone at the end of every day. But I couldn’t assuage the worry, no matter how many affirming books or blogs I read. If I wanted sanity, something had to go. So I gradually embraced celibacy as part of my identity. I decided I would find my purpose by becoming a clinical psychologist and sitting with others in their suffering, just as I had known suffering.

 

And many of you have witnessed that story.

 

And now I’m beginning another chapter I never expected I would live. I can’t say I’m fully convinced of revisionist theology. There is too much gray for me to have complete confidence about my beliefs. But rather than feeling weighed down with anxiety, I find assurance in grace. As I have listened to hundreds of stories over the years from sexual minorities with all kinds of convictions about sexual ethics, I’ve taken a step back. My theological background emphasized sin and brokenness and upheld a fairly pessimistic portrait of human beings. While I certainly believe humanity is fallen, I have learned to trust in redemption and hope. Each human maintains some trace of goodness that reflects God’s image. With each progression I’ve made, I’ve seen this more clearly in the LGBTQ community. So many times I’ve seen breathtaking glimpses of the gospel in the lives of sexual and gender minorities. Regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, we’re all screwed up, imperfect, struggling to be our best selves and yet falling so short of the goal.

 

But there’s grace and redemption in Christ.

 

When Christ starts a good work in us, he doesn’t let go.

 

Faith means holding on to that promise.

 

My story has been all over the map, through basically every option a religious sexual minority can consider to find congruence between faith and sexual identity. As a clinical psychologist in training, it’s a reminder to affirm the stories people are living. We’re born with different genetics, raised in different environments, and God works in us differently. No two stories look alike, and rather than fearing these disparities, we can stay in relationship amid the dissonance with respect and kindness. You can disagree with me if you can treat me like a human being—not as project to be fixed or trash that needs to be put in its place, but as a friend to journey with throughout life regardless of how time and experience transforms us.

 

Through this process we live out gorgeous and raw narratives of grit, resilience, and redemption. We have so much to learn from each other. There are so many ways to be challenged and grow; so many ways our hearts can expand, break, and repair again.

 

So sit around the fire and share your stories, friends. Recount your hilarious moments that make us laugh until our sides hurt. Be brave and vulnerable and share your heartbreaks that bring tears to our eyes and connect soul to soul. Or maybe say nothing at all, knowing your presence is wanted and you belong just as you are.

 

Beloved one, your story matters. Live it well.

When Jesus Redefines Masculinity

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Since coming out you might notice I cross my legs. When I’m animated or struggling to find words, I wave my hands around. I communicate primarily through my facial expressions, and when I do share my thoughts, my voice tends to be tentative and soft. I’m passionate about relational and artistic subjects like social politics, theology, psychological and spiritual flourishing, literature, spiritual memoirs, the craft of writing, film, and music. Culturally speaking, I’m no man’s man. By many churches’ standards, I’m a failure as a Christian.

 

I’m not a biblical man.

 

Or am I?

 

One of the many aspects I enjoy about blogging is the opportunity to interact with other writers. Over the past year I’ve become somewhat acquainted with Pastor Nate Pyle after he shared a lovely post with me about his intention to stay in the LGBTQ conversation. Nate recently published a book on masculinity called Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood. I despise most books on biblical masculinity and gender roles, but Nate’s message resonated with me.

 

Man Enough by Nate Pyle

 

Nate stresses multiple times throughout his book that there isn’t one single biblical definition for masculinity, but multiple ones. Rather than restricting men to a narrow definition of manliness, Nate offers a far more liberating, countercultural perspective:

 

“It is time to stop defining masculinity by what men do and start defining it by who men are. It is time to stop pushing men to fulfill a role and start focusing on helping men become human. Rather than focusing on making men breadwinners, warriors, or even better husbands, it is time to focus on encouraging men to be fully human and alive. If men can learn to be courageous—and not a ‘run into a burning house’ courageous but a ‘be authentic about who you are’ courageous—then men will be better husbands, better fathers, better coworkers, better neighbors, better friends. Better humans. Embodying characteristics such as vulnerability, integrity, gentleness, and courage will serve men far better in a changing world than forcing them to accept some predetermined role.”¹

 

At first, Nate’s message felt obvious for me. I’m nearly 30, and I’ve journeyed far enough in my story to care little about how others perceive me. I’m never going to be the guy who likes sports or hunting or understands the mechanics of a car. I’m never going to date a girl, get married, and have kids. But truth be told, I feel pressure to act more masculine. I lift weights most weeks and in my early twenties I trained myself to say “Man” and “Dude.” If I want to be recognized as a writer, speaker, and activist in a heteronormative culture, then I’m going to feel pressured to act “normal,” meaning masculine. Gay culture, even Gay Christian subculture, values masculinity in gay males. It’s seen as more attractive, confident, and strong. I once pursued a guy I liked during my brief Side A experience. He told me I was cute but not enough of a “bro” to be his boyfriend. I wasn’t good enough; I wasn’t man enough.

 

What I appreciated most about Nate’s message in Man Enough was his call for men to become authentic human beings. It’s a message that doesn’t bash masculinity or femininity, but recognizes of our unique personalities that suffocate under rigid gender role designations. Nate offers a strong warning: “Using the gospel to reinforce gender roles and ideals redirects our attention away from its central goal: that men and women will become like Jesus.”² This goal of developing Christ-like qualities lays the foundation of Nate’s argument. Popular culture and even church culture divides our humanity, esteeming some characteristics while minimizing others. But in Jesus we see complete humanity. We see a man who experiences righteous fury in the temple but also weeps when a friend dies. We see a man willing to face death, but is also comfortable when John lays his head on his chest. We can see great might and courage in Jesus’ personality, but also countercultural tenderness and intimacy.

 

The queer community has a lot to offer the church. Sure, it means pushing people outside of their comfort zones, but why is that such a bad thing? When the church can esteem my masculinity for who I am in Christ, not for my ability to perform certain cultural expectations, the entire church benefits. Straight men are given freedom to be Christ-like without being seen as pathetic and women are elevated as equal image bearers of God and not seen as inferior or a symbol of weakness. I cannot, and will never fit within any kind of biblical masculinity mold, and I don’t have to. God intends for my life to reflect his son, not some hollow macho ideal I could never attain.

 

Most days I don’t worry how masculine or effeminate I appear to the world around me. It’s subjective and not worth my time or energy. Grace establishes the foundation for the Christian faith. It’s not what I do, but what Christ has done. As Ephesians 2 notes, salvation is not of works lest we should boast. So I don’t need bulging muscles, sporty cars, wilderness survival skills, or an impressive career to matter. I’m thankful for Nate’s reminder that I’m man enough right now and I don’t need to prove anything to God or to the world. I’m free to be vulnerable and I can rest knowing who I am: a beloved son of God.

 

  1. Nate Pyle, Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, p. 61.
  2. Ibid, p. 157.

When God Uses the Gay to Redeem the World

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They are not of this world, Jesus said of us during his high priestly prayer in John 17. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. But before we could be sent, we had to be consecrated—set apart. In Ephesians 2, Paul tells us of a time when we were dead in our sins and following the course of this world with the rest of the human race. That is, until our Heavenly Father intervened. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.

 

Once dead in sin, but now made alive because of Yahweh’s compassion and unmerited favor.

 

No longer of this world, but commissioned back into the world to finish what Christ started.

 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. How do we know God’s will? How do we determine if our beliefs and actions are good, acceptable, and perfect? Jesus prayed the Father would sanctify his people in truth. Where in this universe can we find truth? Your word is truth. God’s words spoken in human history provide the foundation of living. God’s words teach us where we came from, what went wrong, the sacrifice he made to set everything right, and our role to play in the redemption of creation. We are not to be conformed to this world because we are in the process of restoring the creation to its former edenic glory.

 

So where does my sexual orientation come into the picture? What does scripture have to say about sexual and gender minorities? What role do we play in redemptive history with the rest of the church?

 

It’s personally helpful for me to look back at the beginning. God creates man and woman as two complementary parts who together manifest his image to the creation. As far as I can tell, this lifelong, monogamous union of man and woman remains God established design for sexuality throughout scripture. Man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife as one flesh. God blesses the man and woman to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth for God’s glory. Yet the heroes of our faith, God’s covenanted people, so often fail to submit to this sexual framework. Sometimes they don’t even seem realize their error, but God remains faithful and gracious to his children because of his steadfast love.

 

When I look at my sexual orientation in light of scripture, I understand my same-sex attraction to be a byproduct of the fall. My voice joins the groans of creation as we suffer together under this weight of bondage, as Paul describes in Romans 8. I await our emancipation and redemption in hope for God to set all things right. In the meantime, there is brokenness, but I am not more broken than any other Christian. All of us, straight Christians, LGBTQ Christians—even the Christians we’re quick to demonize like those experiencing pedophilia—experience sexual brokenness in some sense and we all stand in need of the same grace and same Savior. God works within the brokenness of this world, sending us out to bring healing and restoration to the creation—not quarantining his people in a bubble to rapture away while the world burns. Jesus taught us to pray that God’s kingdom would come and his will would be done in earth as in heaven. Do we really believe him?

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How does God redeem my sexual brokenness as a sexual minority? Many conservative Christians point to 1 Corinthians 6 as proof I shouldn’t identify as gay; that I should be undergoing some sort of process of becoming less attracted to men and more attracted to women or maybe even more asexual—emotionally castrating myself so I’m no longer drawn to men. Now, 1 Corinthians 6 is a difficult passage for me to interpret, but when Paul states “and such were some of you,” I think we often take this verse too far. When God’s Spirit washes, sanctifies, and justifies our lives, that doesn’t mean he wipes away a sexual minority’s gay orientation. In my case, I became a Christian when I was six years old—a couple of years before puberty and the realization I liked guys. Sanctification is a pretty key word here. Is this really a process of going from gay/lesbian to bisexual to straight? Or transgender to cisgender? Or is this a lifetime of pursuing Jesus and becoming more transformed into his image as we daily die to our selfishness and pride to esteem God and others as more important than our own lives?

 

I’ve discovered immeasurable purpose and hope in looking at my experience as a sexual minority through a disability or “differently abled” perspective (mainly due to an excellent article by Spiritual Friendship contributor Chris Damian). C. S. Lewis took this approach when writing to Sheldon Vanauken about homosexuality:

 

First, to map out the boundaries within which all discussion must go on, I take it for certain that the physical satisfaction of homosexual desires is sin. This leaves the homosexual no worse off than any normal person who is, for whatever reason, prevented from marrying. Second, our speculations on the cause of the abnormality are not what matters and we must be content with ignorance. The disciples were not told why (in terms of efficient cause) the man was born blind (John 9:1-3): only the final cause, that the works of God should be made manifest in him. This suggests that in homosexuality, as in every other tribulation, those works can be made manifest: i.e. that every disability conceals a vocation, if only we can find it, which will “turn the necessity to glorious gain.”1

 

While homosexuality was not part of God’s original plan, that doesn’t mean my sexual orientation threw God off his game. “Oh, snap. Seth’s gay. What the heck do I now?!?” Lewis compares me to the blind man in John 9. Now you wouldn’t tell a blind man “Dude, don’t call yourself blind. God created Adam and Eve with perfect vision, so surely he wants you to have the ability to see. Just keep praying and believing and someday you’ll regain your vision.” That’s crazy talk, right? I’m not denying God can heal people—we serve a God of miracles. But does he usually heal people? Does he usually remove the pain, discomfort, and challenges that result from the fall? No. It’s debatable whether God predestines our difficulties and heartaches to make us better Christians (I personally think this view takes God’s sovereignty too far), but I sincerely believe Romans 8:28: We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. God is powerful enough to take whatever crap this life throws at us and transform and redeem it into something good. In Christ is life and the life is the light of mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it, as John tells us in the beginning of his gospel. So our challenge, Lewis points out, is to find the vocation concealed within our disability or difficult situation.

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Growing up in the evangelical church, everyone in my little bubble framed my gay orientation as a struggle, a thorn in the flesh, and a curse. I didn’t see anything positive about my situation. Why would I want to identify with something so utterly broken? Something so… ugly?

 

C. S. Lewis continues in his letter to Vanauken and offers a compelling question:

 

Of course, the first step must be to accept any privations, which, if so disabled, we can’t lawfully get. The homosexual has to accept sexual abstinence just as the poor man has to forego otherwise lawful pleasures because he would be unjust to his wife and children if he took them. That is merely a negative condition. What should the positive life of the homosexual be?2

 

This is the question the church should be asking. As Eve Tushnet has written multiple times, “You can’t have a vocation of no.” You can’t build a thriving spiritual life off a negative foundation of “Don’t have gay sex.” The church’s lack of imagination creates a logical dead-end for many sexual and gender minorities, deepening their shame and despair, and driving many of them away from Christ to find purpose and hope that we neglected to give them amid the reality of their situation. You can’t create an illusion of heaven on earth for straight Christians while the rest of us are suffering in hell. If you dare stand up for traditional marriage, you (as individuals and corporately as the church) better be prepared to provide the love you’re denying to thousands of sexual minorities. You better be the family you tell us we cannot have.

 

Maybe my favorite answer to what a positive life might look like for LGBTQ individuals comes from Wesley Hill in his recent book Spiritual Friendship:

 

Perhaps celibate gay and lesbian Christians, precisely in and out of their celibacy, are called to express, rather than simply renounce and deny, same-sex love. And perhaps this is where, for all potential trials and temptations that come with this way of thinking, same-sex friendship represents one way for gay Christians who wish to be celibate to say: “I am embracing a positive calling. I am, along with every other Christian, called to love and be loved.”3

 

This could be why I’m uncomfortable calling myself same-sex attracted or why I feel phrases like “I struggle with same-sex attraction” fail to capture everything God is doing in my life. Yes, I experience same-sex attraction because of the fall, but God is using my situation as a means of grace and an opportunity to share the Gospel. Gay encompasses so much more than mere same-sex attraction. It’s an identity of kinship with those who have shared my experiences, borne my sufferings and struggles, and have found a home—“a sense of peace and belonging … around others whose relationship to the world was the same kind of different as mine,” Julie Rodgers wrote nearly a year ago on her blog. She entitled the post “Can the Gay be a Good?” Because I believe in a God of redemption, the Rewriter of broken stories my answer will always be a resounding yes! God can use the gay to turn the world upside down for his glory, to teach the straight majority about their own sexuality and what it means to live in the kingdom. Everything belongs to God, including my sexual orientation.

 

“How can you be gay without feeling ashamed?” readers have asked me since the very beginning of my blog. We internalize so much homophobia from the church, don’t we? We hear so many Christians like Jon from the film C. O. G. telling us we’re sick, mentally ill, demon-possessed, rebellious, attention-seeking, reprobate… It’s exhausting, right? But there’s so much freedom in accepting what we cannot change. There’s power in owning our stories and telling them honestly. I don’t personally believe accepting my sexual orientation means I’m meant to marry a man, but it does mean I’m liberated from a futile pursuit of straightness or an attempt to appear straight in church. These words from Rob Bell’s Sex God are everything:

 

You can’t be connected with God until you’re at peace with who you are. If you’re still upset that God gave you this body or this life or this family or these circumstances, you will never be able to connect with God in a healthy, thriving, sustainable sort of way. You’ll be at odds with your maker. And if you can’t come to terms with who you are and the life you’ve been given, you’ll never be able to accept others and how they were made and the lives they’ve been given. And until you’re at peace with God and those around you, you will continue to struggle with your role on the planet, your part to play in the ongoing creation of the universe. You will continue to struggle and resist and fail to connect.4

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Thinking back, LGBTQ people used to scare me when I struggled in vain to become straight. I’d never met anyone like me and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the risk. What if they brainwashed me into becoming gay? When I accepted my sexual orientation as an unchanging part of my personhood, I began to discover compassion for other sexual minorities. As God opened my heart to the LGBTQ community, I started to see my life’s calling. I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, and insecurity my whole life, but suddenly I had a purpose pulling me outside of my self-obsession and self-hatred. God is transforming me into a less self-centered man because of my experience as a sexual minority.

 

As I’ve chosen to live a transparent and vulnerable life, I’ve found greater strength in battling my personal demons like lust, pornography, and hooking up. I’m free to talk about my experience with my friends and family and can ask for accountability and prayer when I need it. I’m able to encourage other Christians who feel called to celibacy and I have the privilege of loving other LGBTQs who disagree with my theology. I’m learning to thrive in community and become truly human.

 

LGBTQ is how our culture articulates sexual and gender minority experience. It’s just our attempt to be authentic and honest with you—how we act based off our experiences is a different conversation. Paul told the Corinthians “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” As a self-identified gay man, I have opportunities to share Christ’s love with the marginalized that many in the church will never have. It’s not my aim to convert gays and lesbians to celibacy, but to encourage sexual minorities to know and pursue Christ. Their path may not look like mine. I am not the Holy Spirit; he is quite capable of doing his own job. It’s my job to journey with the people God brings into my life; to listen and learn; to love and live out my faith.

 

To tell you the truth, I’m not a fan of the term gay Christian, though I often use it for convenience’s sake. I’m not a different kind of Christian, somehow separate from the rest of Christ’s body. I’m just a Christian who happens to be gay. I believe in the Apostle’s Creed. I love talking about Jesus and I’m still developing a love for talking to Jesus (work in progress, folks). As much as the church frustrates and hurts me, I keep returning to her. Of all the pieces of my personality and identity, my faith takes preeminence. It’s my faith that informs my sexuality, establishing an ethical foundation to build my life on. My sexual orientation has taught me to ask questions, pursue truth, and love the suffering and outliers.

 

God calls all kinds of people to participate in his redemptive narrative. He sets us apart and sends us back in our broken world with a message of good news: Aslan is moving; the winter will come to an end.

 

All will be made right.

 

And we will live happily ever after.

~         ~         ~

 

  1. Quote copied from Ron Belgau’s post C. S. Lewis to Sheldon Vanauken on Homosexuality from Spiritual Friendship.
  2. See note 1.
  3. Wesley Hill, Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2015, 76.
  4. Rob Bell, Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007, 46.

Little Lion Man: A Bryan College Story

young man standing leaning against a ledge on a city rooftop

 

LGBTQ Christians have a variety of reasons why they ended up at Christian universities. Some were forced by controlling, concerned parents. Others burned with zeal to take part in the shifting evangelical landscape. Some craved an authentic community with open-minded Christians. However, those weren’t my reasons. I needed to survive, clinging to the shattered, irreparable pieces of my worldview. I didn’t want to be gay.

 

My parents expected I would transfer to a cheaper state school. That wasn’t happening. Atheist professors would probably brainwash me and I’d likely make dumb decisions with hot guys. That would be it. I’d be gay. No sir, we had to nip this in the bud. As a teenager, I had discovered the ex-gay movement as Mom daily listened to Focus on the Family. Finally someone was talking about my situation from a Christian perspective. I dug deeper and found The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) and Exodus International. They told me change was possible. Change. What an intoxicating thought. I could be normal and ordinary. I can fix this. I laid out my case for a Christian college to my parents, bought a thick book published by The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, and then examined the possibilities. Bryan seemed like a good choice; it was conservative, close to home, and as I browsed through the chapels recordings, I discovered had recently invited an ex-gay speaker. Heck yes. This was it.

 

While waiting to transfer, I spent six months working with Adam, my therapist. I wanted every gay part of me expunged and forgotten. But therapy didn’t feel all that ex-gay (reconnecting with Adam this summer revealed I was right, thankfully). Adam kept coming back to my anxiety and the negative mental script playing on repeat in my head. Obviously he was missing the point. If I could just like girls then I wouldn’t hate myself. Somehow every flaw would fade away with the gay. Same-sex attraction, I assumed, barred me from living the life I wanted.

 

August eventually arrived. My heart pounded driving up to Tennessee. Could I keep my secret? Would I find a wife? How was I going to adjust away from home after home schooling and community college?

 

I latched onto my core friend group within my first week. Kyle, one of my roommates, Patrick, a guy in my orientation group, and Nathan, Patrick’s roommate. They became my people when I didn’t have the emotional strength to branch out to others. Much of my free time was spent alone in my dorm room, my place of security after all the day’s awkward failures and social growing pains. My friends often interfered with those attempts to hide; they drew me out, made me talk. They convinced me to do silly things like create dance-off videos and play hours of scum, a card game that probably wasn’t great for our self-esteem. On the weekends we often gathered late at night and worshipped in the chapel foyer; the building echoed with the strums of Patrick’s guitar and the sound of our voices.

 

Bryan was a tiny school; I’m sure many people knew of me, but I didn’t allow many people to know me. I didn’t think most people would take the truth well, so I kept my distance. It didn’t matter anyway, I told myself. My purpose was to learn everything psychology and theology could teach me about homosexuality and maybe, just maybe, I’d find the answer. I’d be straight–then I could fit in and belong. But my emotional longing to connect would often get the better of my defensive mechanisms. I couldn’t help blurting out the truth if someone told me about a gay family member or asked why I was so interested in gay people. I gave presentations, wrote research papers and short stories that often related to homosexuality. Let’s face it, for a guy trying to hide a secret, I was doing pretty lousy job.

 

And then there were the girls. As a male psychology major, I was a minority in a sea of women. Growing up, my friendships had always been with guys. My friends talked about the girls they liked and SEC Football, but they also peer-pressured me into reading and liking Jane Austen. I kinda had it good for a gay boy. In our tiny marriage-happy denomination, talking to girls implied things and we tended to segregate to our own sex, so I stuck with the guys. It was fine with me, I liked being a guy. But at Bryan it surprised me how easily I could talk to women. I would find myself sitting more and more often with them and feel completely comfortable, sometimes even animated in ways I wouldn’t be around men. That bothered me. How does this look to other people? If a particular friendship with a girl got a little too close, I’d start to panic. What if she gets the wrong impression? Sure, I eventually wanted a relationship and a wife… But. Not. Freaking. Right. Now.

 

The ex-gay narrative began to unravel my last year at Bryan. After years of pushing myself, I realized I was no more attracted to women than when I started. The research didn’t back it, and Christian psychologists couldn’t even guarantee absolute cessation of same-sex attraction for everyone who tried. All the anecdotal stories of “change” began to be outweighed by stories of failure and trauma, while Christians rebuked the latter for being too emotionally weak or just flat-out bad Christians. I felt like Linus in the pumpkin patch on Halloween, believing and awaiting the arrival of The Great Pumpkin year after year, only to be disappointed again. Just you wait, Charlie Brown. Just wait ‘til next year. But I was tired of waiting, tired of fighting a force that wouldn’t budge. I took a mock assessment in my abnormal psychology class that measured personality and psychopathology; my professor picked up on the depression and suicidal ideation that had resurfaced from my inner struggle. He encouraged me to see the college counselor. Everything seemed to be telling me to move on. But to what? I didn’t believe in same-sex marriage. And celibacy? Who the heck does that?

 

My last semester at Bryan I asked a girl if I could pursue her, being the I Kissed Dating Goodbye kinda guy I was at the time. I liked her. I didn’t feel infatuated, but I was happy around her. She always took the opportunity to affirm my existence. She was beautiful, ridiculously talented, and funny. I felt comfortable around her. Maybe it could work; maybe it was enough. So one day we talked and I told her what was on my heart (minus the same-sex attraction part, I figured we could get to that eventually). Thankfully, she turned me down (but with grace and compassion). It crushed me, even without the butterflies. I had never found the courage to ask a girl to consider a relationship, and what if I never found it again? What would happen to me then? I apologized for putting her in an awkward situation. “It doesn’t have to be awkward” she replied kindly as we continued walking. I avoided her afterwards, too mortified to keep pursuing her friendship. It’s one of those moments I wish could be redone. Rather than asking to court her, I could have shared a moment of authentic connection—an open door to an awesome friendship. But it is what it is, I guess.

 

But I did find rare moments of courage to open up. The first time I came out at Bryan was in my psychology advisor’s office. I was adjusting to the increased difficulty of my classes and failing the first half of his physiological psychology class. He intimidated me at the time, but for some reason I didn’t care that day. I broke down and told him why I wanted a future as a psychologist and my fear that I had made a terrible mistake. My advisor responded with kindness and openness, encouraging me to keep going and to work harder. Eventually I opened up to my other professor in the psychology program. While I hid from most of the campus, I spent hours in my professors’ offices talking about theology, psychology, and sexuality. They became my second fathers away from home, mentoring and challenging me to become the man God was calling me to be. My senior year, I finally found the courage to share the missing piece of my story with Kyle, Patrick, and Nathan. Each initial disclosure was like jumping off a cliff blindfolded–exhilarating and terrifying–no telling what would result once I landed. I have many defensive mechanisms to help me bear the loneliness and isolation, but even today I haven’t found a healthy way to cope with rejection. Well, other than time. To my relief, none of my close friends abandoned me. Some people have become distant through my emotional and spiritual growth (which may have nothing to do with my sexual orientation), but my buddies stuck with me through the years, no matter how many miles apart.

 

My story began with a falsehood. I can change my sexual orientation if I work hard enough. The ex-gay movement reduced the gospel into a pursuit of straightness. I wasn’t accepted unless I had a wife or was at least working towards that outcome. As I learned to let go, some Christians chastised me for giving up. Keep praying; homosexuality isn’t God’s intent for your life. But what kind of life is that? There’s kingdom work to be done, other people who need the love and grace of Christ. The ex-gay approach is terribly self-centered. Healing comes from without, out in the light and out in the open. Trying to change our sexual orientation shames us from embracing intimate, authentic community as we currently find ourselves. We desperately need the redemptive love of the church to touch our lives, but many gay Christians choose to suffocate in isolation because they can’t meet the unfair and callous demands of the evangelical church. The church needs to be clear: life is happening now, and abundant life is available to all who seek it. Life doesn’t wait for marriage, and isn’t limited to the heterosexual.

 

When I realized nothing was going to change, I thought mixed orientation was my only option, a marriage lacking sexual attraction. Gay men and women who hold a traditional sexual ethic can be happy and thrive in mixed-orientation marriages if transparency, honesty, and sacrificial love characterize the relationship. But when I became honest with myself I realized the truth: I just didn’t want it. Since I have a choice in the matter, I’d rather just have a woman’s friendship. I don’t think I’m a better or worse Christian for that. It took a couple of years vacillating between affirming theology and the traditional perspective, but celibacy is how I eventually and personally reconciled my convictions with the circumstances I found myself in.

 

My sexual orientation remains a part of me, a part I didn’t choose or even want. It’s kinda funny, I became the man I worked so hard not to become. I’m gay, and I’ve gained a broader perspective of what that means beyond sexual behavior and lust. I wish the old Seth could see the freedom it offers. My focus isn’t on my works, my ability to make myself straight. It’s not even a life waiting around for God to zap me with straightness so He and the church can accept me. I am acceptable as I am, covered in the blood of Christ. I am beloved because of my Heavenly Father’s unmerited favor and generous, steadfast love. No ignorant Christian can take away the rest and peace of the gospel from me.

 

/ / /

 

Bryan College has had more than its fair share of conflicts since I graduated. The controversial clarification statement on man’s origins and evolution has torn a community of students, faculty, administration, and alumni. I can imagine Bryan currently feels like a scary, uncertain place for its sexual minority students. When Christians tighten the leash on orthodoxy, the marginalized and misunderstood often feel the impact. People forget to acknowledge our humanity and reduce us to political issues. It’s isolating and dehumanizing. For all sexual minorities on Christian campuses, I’m so sorry you bear that burden on top of all the normal stresses of college. When I was a student at Bryan I thought I was alone, the only one like me. Blogging has revealed that wasn’t the case. I’ve connected with old acquaintances and found shared experiences and struggles. I suspect you aren’t the only one either. I also believe you’ll find safe allies among your fellow students and faculty. Allies who will gladly journey with you through your frustrations, sorrows, and loneliness. You aren’t meant to carry this alone, brothers and sisters, so please don’t.

 

Bryan was a crucial part of my spiritual growth. I’m not happy with many of the decisions my alma mater has made recently, but I’m thankful for the people who touched my life and continue to encourage me. Some of my closest friendships have developed after graduation when I reconnected and opened up. This blog has also helped me reestablish ties to many of my former acquaintances, and while I regret the opportunities lost, I’m thankful for the chance to build relationships from where we find ourselves now. We serve a God of second chances, a God who redeems our stories.

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

shoes rainy pavement

When I Suck at Celibacy

I spend a lot of time trying to stress in my writing that sexual orientation is more than sex. I like the word gay because it doesn’t contain the word “sex” to describe itself (like homoSEXual or same-SEX attracted, or even SEXUAL minority). “Gay” does a better job of expressing a vocation apart from sex, at least I think so.

 

I compartmentalize the discussion of sexual orientation so much that I tend to avoid talking about sex itself. I can almost make myself sound asexual or a spectator in the discussion. In actuality, this conversation affects my life just as much as the lives of the Christian LGBTs I write about.

 

So why hide the fact that I’m just as much a sexual being as any other gay man, or for that matter, pretty much any other human being? It’s safe, I guess. I don’t like to admit that I struggle maintaining my purity. I don’t like to admit that I’m occasionally a screw up.

 

Good Christians just don’t talk about that.

 

Secrets fetter us. A gay friend once told me that Satan holds power over the things we keep in the dark. It’s only when we bring our secrets to the light that we find freedom in Christ. …But it’s still frightening. When I admit I struggle with lust, pornography, and hooking up, I’m saying I don’t always do a good job of living out what I believe.

 

I’m saying I’m a hypocrite.

 

And sometimes I’m ashamed to talk about sexuality because it reveals some of my ugly insecurities. I’m not attractive enough. I need a man to affirm that I am handsome and valuable and loveable. Sometimes I wonder if I’m more comfortable with celibacy because I have an excuse to be “just the friend.” I can beat rejection to the punch. And that’s a really lame excuse for such a rigorous and beautiful vocation.

 

Confession is hard. We want people to think we have it all together. We don’t want others to see the dysfunction and the messiness. We want love and respect. Choosing vulnerability can strip us of the friendships we treasure. …But if they’ll stick with you, you will find a way of living that’s abundant, life-sustaining, and healing.

 

~             ~             ~

 

To state the obvious, lust feels great. Our brains reward us with all these lovely feel-good neurotransmitters that keep us coming back again and again. It doesn’t matter that we have our nice, organized biblical sexual ethics. Or that we know nothing good will likely come from another eight minutes of stupidity. Lust is a drug and a darn addictive one at that.

 

Sometimes we don’t want to be accountable because we’re not quite ready to give up the high. We’re hesitant to say no to instant gratification.

 

One of my favorite books on Christian sexuality continues to be Lauren Winner’s Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity. Winner had difficulty embracing the biblical sexual ethic of chastity until marriage after she converted to the Christian faith.

 

There’s this quote I love as Winner describes her progression of thought about scripture and sexuality. She writes about a confessional with an Episcopalian priest:

 

I was there to confess a long litany of sins, not just sexual sins—lies I’d told, ways I’d screwed up friendships, a whole host of mistakes and missteps. Somewhere in the middle of confession I came to the sexual sin, and my confessor said, gently but firmly (which are the two adverbs I believe should apply to Christian rebuke),

 

“Well, Lauren, that’s sin.”¹

 

Sin’s not one of my favorite vocabulary words. It makes me uncomfortable. And that’s the point—it’s a word that reveals I’m not perfect. It reveals my dependency on Christ to make things right. It’s God’s grace working in me to will and do of His good pleasure. I’m not really interested in becoming a Bible Thumper. And maybe that’s my issue with this three letter s-word. I’m accustomed to hearing the harsh judgmentalism from the pulpit. I expect prejudiced, gossipy, and unmerciful remarks from Christians. Sin sounds like a word they would say. It’s Aramaic or Hebrew translation seems foreign on Jesus’s lips.

 

But when I read Winner’s view of confronting sin, I see something a bit different. After all, it was Jesus who said not only to forsake adultery, but also lust. Jesus came to the world to reconcile us to God and emancipate us from the slavery of evil. Sin is a serious problem with the world; it’s a serious problem in my own heart. It’s definitely not a light issue. This freedom that the Messiah purchased for us leads to the restoration of the original creation, and that starts in me as I battle my selfishness with God’s aid. And yes, sometimes we need gentle but firm reminders from good Christian friends when our ways are out of alignment with God’s awesome design for His kingdom.

 

So what is this design that God has crafted for our sexuality? Stephen Long recently published a post that included one of my favorite quotes from James Brownson’s book Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships. It offers amazing insight into this discussion.

 

We cannot say with our bodies what we will not say with the rest of our lives. Bodies are not indifferent, and what we do with our bodies is not indifferent. Sexual union is deeply metaphorical, and when we strip sexual union of the wider metaphorical kinship meaning intended by Genesis 2:24, we cease to live in the ‘real world’ governed by God’s purposes and decrees.²

 

Scripturally, marriage is the only place where God blesses sexual intercourse, though we may differ on how to define marriage. Brownson writes from a perspective that affirms same-sex marriage and critiques gay culture through the lens of scripture. There just isn’t a theological case for promiscuity, and Brownson believes that’s an area that needs to be sanctified through marriage. As gay believers, we can’t just accept everything that gay men do and tack on the label “Christian” to justify our behavior. God’s Word must take preeminence.

 

But if premarital sex is consensual, why does scripture condemn it? Brownson points out that our bodies manifest striking symbolism. Sex is a sacred act—an act of culmination that symbolizes the joining of two separate people as one unit in the work of God’s kingdom.

 

The Apostle Paul writes,

 

“…Do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:16-20 ESV)

 

As a single Christian man, my body belongs to God. The Spirit dwells in my body as an instrument of grace to minister to others; to be Christ in flesh to my brothers and sisters and continue the work of the incarnation. But when I’m hooking up with some random dude, more stuff is going on than just sex itself. Obviously I can’t minister to this guy when I’m sexually objectifying him and using him for my own pleasure (and vice versa). You can’t seriously and explicitly share the good news of the gospel in a promiscuous lifestyle. And you can’t implicitly live out the gospel either, which is more often my style for sharing Christ.

 

Rather than advancing shalom in the world, I’m resisting it, particularly in my own sanctification. Love is giving and transformative. Lust is destructive and selfish. In both marriage and celibacy we learn to kill our selfish desires and put others before ourselves. Promiscuity promotes destructive self-love that characterizes many marriages in our culture, even in our own churches. You must please me, rather than I am called to serve you. Which sounds like a better way to glorify God with our bodies?

 

~             ~             ~

 lost man

photo courtesy of flickr creative commons, user Vincepal

 

So I suck at this celibacy thing. But it remains my personal conviction for how I should navigate this journey of faith and sexuality. I have friends (gay and straight) who feel the biblical prohibitions against premarital sex are antiquated—and I still love and respect them. I have gay friends who are trying to live out Brownson’s vision of chastity until marriage. They seem to do an impressive job without some or all the support that straight Christians have available. Ultimately I’m not the final judge; that’s between the individual and God. I’ve long given up determining my view on Hell. It joined a long list of other theological subjects that if asked I will politely respond “I don’t know.” I know my calling to love God and my neighbor and that’s hard enough.

 

Christians tend to fuss about Hell more than the emphasis of scripture itself. Sure, you can find plenty of passages about it, I won’t deny that, but sometimes we make it sound like the whole point of Christianity is the avoidance of eternal punishment. We make a big deal about when we got “saved.” But saved to what? Surely there’s a bigger story in the Bible than an escape plan from Hell.

 

There’s one book that I think should be mandatory reading for every Christian. You must read N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope. It’s one of the best articulations of the kingdom of God. And it’s one of the best motivations to go to battle with lust day in and day out. Our personal salvation and sanctification is a piece of a greater puzzle. By choosing chastity, I’m choosing life and affirming true love. I’m creating shalom. That’s partly how we make God’s will done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

 

~             ~             ~

 

When I screw up, grace and redemption restores me. Gentle but firm people walk alongside me and encourage me to try again. And courage says to speak when I’d rather hide in my shame.

 

 

Come everyone who thirsts

Come to the waters

and he who has no money

Come buy wine and milk

Without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread

and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good

and delight yourselves in rich food.

Isaiah 55:1-2

 

Come, love. There is healing here. Your Father is making all things new. You can always begin again.

 

Featured photo by Laura Merchant at Creationswap

 

1. Lauren Winner, Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005, 13.

2. James V. Brownson, Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2013, 102.

lit candles

A Reignited Faith

There was a time I doubted God’s goodness. The flames of my love for Christ had burned out. I still maintained a Christian worldview, as I was drilled at church and Bryan College. But after too many unanswered questions and masks worn to hide my doubts and frustrations, I drifted from Christ. All my spirituality had become a set of routine practices. Go to church. Read the Bible. Pray. It’s what I was supposed to do, so I kept up the façade because I knew I should.

 

But I really didn’t want to.

 

Eventually I didn’t go to church most Sundays. I usually worked late Saturday nights, and I made excuses on Sunday morning. I stopped reading my Bible. I filled my schedule with anything to avoid it. I prayed once before going to bed, and usually I fell asleep before I could finish it.

 

I. just. didn’t. care.

 

I could relate to Jonathan Merritt when he wrote, “My heart was hardened, clogged by the traditions of religion and the cardboard God I had created. As a result, church attendance became a feast on a stale cracker: dry and unfulfilling.”1

 

I was angry and stressed all the time. I felt alienated from God and the church. I had eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. My eyes had been opened to what the church did not see. There was no going back to Eden.

 

But the Good Shepherd never stops pursuing His sheep.

 

God brought people and circumstances in my life that softened my heart. Over a couple months before I started this blog I could slowly feel my perspective changing. I stopped worrying that my life would be a failure and I took a risk. I wrote.

 

Gradually my faith reignited as I found purpose for my life.

 

“Is it possible that the God who created me is better than the God I’ve created?

 

Could it be that the true God—that Jesus—is better than I imagined?”2

 

I honestly hadn’t heard of Jonathan Merritt before March. Christianity Today released an incredible excerpt from his new book Jesus is Better Than You Imagined that went viral, flooding my Facebook and Twitter feeds. When I read “A Thread Called Grace,” I was so moved by Jonathan’s emphasis on grace after being sexually abused as a child and after being outed by a gay blogger. Jonathan revealed a powerful gift for storytelling, for redemptively narrating the trauma and shame he had experienced while pointing to the Savior who continued to restore shalom in his life.

 

 jesus is better than you imagined by jonathan merritt

 

Merritt spoke of a Savior who takes the broken pieces of our lives and recreates us into beautiful vessels of service for His kingdom. Vessels that are even more valuable and useful because of the suffering they’ve endured.

 

I pre-ordered Jonathan’s book as soon as I finished the excerpt.

 

Jesus is Better proclaims the truth that I need to hear at this point in my journey with Christ. The book begins with Jonathan’s longing for something more. His faith languishes from a narrow view of God’s character and how the Heavenly Father interacts with His children. Chapter by chapter, Jonathan points to ways Jesus became real and alive through various life lessons. He found Jesus in silence at a monastery, while being held by bandits at gunpoint while doing relief work in Haiti, amid losing a friend to a random disease, in being outed to the world, and yes, even in church with other imperfect saints.

 

I’ve spent years trying to make my old theology work. But it doesn’t fit anymore. And I don’t have to feel guilty because my perspective of God and scripture has changed. I still believe the essentials; I can affirm documents like the Apostle’s Creed. And all the questions and doubts can remain unanswered as I pursue an intimate relationship with Christ. The more I know who I am, the easier it is to be around the Christian subculture I grew up in. It deepens my appreciation of the diversity within the church body.

 

Looking back, it’s not too surprising that my faith burned out. I carried a heavy burden. I felt like I needed answers for every question. I thought I needed to become the perfect straight Christian. I had a Messiah complex around my gay and/or liberal friends.

 

You can rest in my provision, Seth, God’s Spirit whispered to my heart.

 

I fell in love with this quote from Jesus is Better:

 

“Jesus is better than I imagined because He shatters my strivings for sterility with a radical invitation to live free. Free from sinful patterns, but also free from moralism, free from legalism, and free from condemnation. Free to love the unlovable, to use your gifts to serve those in need, to share the great story of redemption through Christ with others. Jesus liberates me from the ball and chain of religion and releases me from a cold life of moralistic perfectionism. This kind of God is almost too incredible to accept, and yet there He stands nonetheless.3

 

Christianity sometimes doesn’t feel very liberating. I love that Merritt points out what God has both freed us from and what this liberty opens us up to. This is the gospel. This is good news. This kind of perspective allows love in and creates community and intimacy with our Heavenly Father and the people around us. This freedom sustains us, frees us from shame, and allows us to rest in our Savior amid all the injustices and suffering in our fallen world.

 

~          ~          ~

 

I was initially drawn to Jesus is Better after discovering that I could relate to Jonathan’s story as a sexual minority. But interestingly, he refrained from self-labeling himself by his sexual orientation.

 

“When people today ask me how I identify myself, I never quite know how to answer. It doesn’t feel authentic to label the whole of my being by feelings and attractions, and my experience has been that those parts of me tend to be somewhat fluid. One day I may feel more one way than another, and the next I feel a little differently. I am far more than my feelings, so I don’t answer that question. Not because I want to evade others but because I want to stay true to myself.

The essence of who I am is far more shaped, influenced, and guided by my spirituality than by my sexuality. I am wholly wrapped up in my pursuit of Christ and His amazing grace.”4

 

[And if you haven’t read the excerpt, you should go back and finish that last paragraph. I tear up every time.]

 

While I have chosen to identify a part of my experience as a gay man, I have so much respect for Jonathan’s choice to not self-label. Either way, we both have the responsibility to place Christ first in our hearts. My sexuality doesn’t dictate my spiritually, but rather my faith informs and channels my sexual orientation. I am so thankful for all the sexual minority voices that I have discovered over the last few years who take scripture seriously. They come to different conclusions, but they also have a unifying desire to glorify Christ in all facets of their lives.

 

~          ~          ~

 

I really needed to read this book. It was encouraging, insightful, and hopeful. I felt like something fell into place as I read Jonathan’s words.

 

I feel a desire to do something, to devour scripture, to pursue community in church, to keep writing even when it feels discouraging. I have a reignited faith that I appreciate so much more after all I’ve seen and learned and experienced. Jesus feels more real than ever.

 

And Jesus is better, far better, than I ever imagined.

 

____________________________________________

 

Jonathan Merritt writes at http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/

 

  1.       Jonathan Merritt, Jesus is Better Than You Imagined (New York: FaithWords, 2014), 11.
  2.       Ibid, 14.
  3.       Ibid, 144.
  4.       Ibid, 96.

 

photo courtesy of flickr creative commons, user Pasukaru76