When We Come Out of Our Closets

Man standing in the sunshine

Image Credit

“Everyone has a closet,” Jamal Lyons croons in the television show Empire as he contemplates whether to reveal his sexual orientation to the world or remain silent to appease his homophobic father who funds his comfortable life. But Jamal’s right; we have our own closets, LGBTQ or straight. We hold our secrets close fearing we’d lose the people who matter most if we told the truth.

 

It’s been a year since I “officially” came out to the world on my blog for National Coming Out Day. Finding the courage to be transparent and vulnerable took a 10-year process of repeated self-disclosures with family and trusted friends as I learned to trust people. There are few things more liberating than sharing pieces of your identity you’ve repressed and buried, discovering you don’t have to hide to avoid hurt and rejection. The only way you’ll truly connect and belong is to take off the mask and risk everything because you are determined to believe there’s grace and redemption for you too in God’s story.

 

I think we should be cautious of appropriating language, imagery, and other unique features of a specific culture. Some Christians take coming out language from the LGBTQ community without thinking of the significance, suggesting that a disclosure of faith in certain situations is just as anxiety-producing and difficult as the teenager harboring shame and fearing that her parents might kick her out of the house if they find out the truth. Unless you’re talking about Christians under real threats like ISIS, we might roll our eyes at you, just sayin’.

 

And yet, we humans have unifying themes that resonate person to person. In a broken world, we all have secrets. We all have a sin nature constantly at war with God’s redeeming work in our lives. If we’re self-aware, we have places in our heart we don’t want to take anyone. Yes, we all have a closet, to borrow that image from the LGBTQ community. We fester and we hurt and we wonder if we’re truly worthy of love and grace.

 

Have you ever had to see a doctor for something that embarrassed you? You put it off, hoping it would go away on its own, but eventually you had to schedule the appointment and let your doctor look at the issue. You brought the distressing matter to the light so you could be healed.

 

God made us for community. Secrets cause us to hold back, to avoid fully participating in our lives with the people who matter. Our secrets disconnect us from each other. We feel ashamed, assuming there’s no way people would still accept us if they knew the conflicts in our stories. But closets have a way of opening whether we’re ready or not—God’s too merciful to let us suffer alone forever. Light finds its way into the darkness.

 

Healing can’t come until you acknowledge or become aware of the problem. Once you’ve identified your demon, you need a community of safe people to journey with you into the darkness. I like how Rachel Held Evans contrasts healing with curing in Searching for Sunday. There probably isn’t a cure for the things that distress us about ourselves, but there is healing. As I’ve walked through same-sex attraction with the people I care about, I’ve seen God sanctify and redeem parts of my sexuality. I’ve moved past shame and fear to embrace life as a Christian who also happens to be gay. This part of my identity that some might call ashes has been transformed into beauty for God’s glory.

 

Not everyone needs to tell their secrets to the world. Honestly, it’s best to keep some things to trusted confidants. But it takes courage to make that first step and come out to someone. Maybe your secrets aren’t as weighty as my same-sex attraction, maybe they are far more broken. Regardless, freedom comes in speaking the truth so others can join you in God’s work of restoration. I can’t promise everyone will respond well, or that your transparency will make life easier—in fact, I promise you the opposite. But I believe God calls you his beloved and he will ensure at least one person in this world will stand by you as you see seek redemption and wholeness. No one is outside God’s grace and there will be people who joyfully reflect his love into your life.

 

So no more hiding. Come out and bask in the warmth of the sun, my friend.

When Friendship Feels Like a Fairytale

depressed man

 

I don’t really believe in friendship.

 

Those were the words echoing in my mind as I wrote draft after draft responding to Wesley Hill’s new book Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian. Don’t get me wrong, Wesley’s written a beautiful, brilliant book. The church needs to read it. But parts of Wesley’s book felt too good to be true, more fairytale than reality. Maybe the best thing we can hope for in our busy lives is just friendly acquaintances—moments of connection to get us by. Maybe we should just take the advice of a song in The Phantom of the Opera: learn to be lonely.

 

I tell myself I’m good with the solitude. I’m not a great communicator; sometimes when I’m around people I feel clingy, awkward, unwanted. Whatever. I’ve lived most of my life emotionally alone. I generally accept complacency and apathy over risk and disappointment. Who cares anyway?

 

Apparently I did.

 

After college I developed a bad habit of flirting with guys to feel wanted and seen. I craved being the center of someone’s attention, even if I knew it wouldn’t last for more than a few days. Over the years I’ve tried to make social media and long distance “text-pals” replace the adventures and face-to-face conversations I was missing in real life, often because I avoided vulnerability with the people I knew locally. I’ve sent out too many texts and Facebook messages at existential low points and received far too many I’m sorry, buddy and Praying for you responses to last me a lifetime. They did little to assuage the hurt.

 

This is not enough.

 

I’ve had some great friends over the years (and still keep up with many of them), but as a gay celibate, there never seems to be anything permanent and immutable about friendship. Friends move on to new priorities and new rhythms of life; they marry and have kids, they move up social ladders, and they move away. Nothing stays the same. Can I really bear the losses again and again? Is life just a cycle of inevitable abandonment?

 

Perhaps it depends on the relationship.

 

Wesley discusses two kinds of relationships from Catholic writer Maggie Gallagher in Spiritual Friendship.1 “You’re mine because I love you” and, “I love you because you’re mine.” The first doesn’t include any serious attachments or commitments; convenience and feelings of endearment are all that bind the relationship together. Either person could walk away when the friendship is no longer easy, comfortable, or uncomplicated. But Wesley elaborates on the more hopeful alternative:

 

“In this latter type of friendship, my love for you isn’t the basis of our connection. It’s the other way around: we are bound to each other, and therefore I love you. You may still bore me or wound me or otherwise become unattractive to me, but that doesn’t mean I’ll walk away. You’re not mine because I love you; I love you because you’re—already, and always—mine. We’ve made promises to each other; we’ve committed to each other, in the sight of our families and our churches, and in the strength of those vows, I will, God willing, go on loving you.”2

 

Christians expect this level of commitment from husbands and wives, but Wesley offers a compelling question: what if friendships could contain some level of this fidelity and structure? What would that look like?

 

Maybe we’d see more nontraditional homes—families practicing communal living with other families or with singles like me. Maybe we would be more intentional about extending hospitality and creating regular routines to hang out. Maybe we wouldn’t be so quick to shrug our shoulders and put old friendships in the rearview mirror when people move away; maybe we would make more sacrifices to keep investing in the people who matter.

 

Yet it’s these same sentiments that feel so unrealistic and hollow. Of course it sounds great, but right now I find myself caught somewhere between neediness and reticence—never able to find a happy balance. It hurts too much to hope for more.

 

See, I can embrace a life of service to others, that’s not a problem. It’s not hard for me to show kindness to everyone while keeping them at arm’s length. But accepting another person’s love? That’s terrifying; the risks are so great. It’s easier to remain closed off to everyone around me. True, no one can hurt me, but to paraphrase C. S. Lewis, a life without love is just a living Hell. Christ came so we could experience abundant life—including the ability to experience intimacy and belong to a spiritual family. Unfortunately, the abundant life doesn’t liberate us from the crosses we must bear to walk with Jesus. In order to thrive, we’re going to suffer like Jesus did. No prosperity gospel can shield us from a broken world. Maybe loneliness is my thorn in the flesh I will bear to the end of my days. Perhaps God is teaching me to see his power made perfect in my weakness, in my emotional pain. Maybe an insecure guy like me can find strength to persevere another day, knowing it isn’t only me, but Christ working in me to will and do of his good pleasure. My Heavenly Father promises his grace is somehow sufficient. I freely confess I don’t know what that means, but I have to believe I’m going to be ok.

 

~         ~         ~

 

I flipped through Spiritual Friendship again and discovered Wesley had already anticipated a response like mine. He knew his words would come across hollow to those who had not tasted the richness of intimate companionship or those who had lost close friendships. But I think Wesley had people like me in mind too, people with beautiful friendships that occasionally dig deeper into the things that matter, yet people who still feel the sting of dissatisfaction. The sting feels especially potent when the best form of connection some of us can attain most days is through texting, email, or social media. But at friendship’s best, even marriage’s best, there’s no way to escape the pain of loneliness. No one will ever feel fully understood or like they completely belong. I love this quote from Wesley:

 

“Friendship … doesn’t solve the problem of loneliness so much as it shifts its coordinates. Just as marriage isn’t a magic bullet for the pain of loneliness, neither is friendship. It does, we hope, pull us out of ourselves, orienting our vision to our neighbors. But no, … it’s not enough. It’s never enough.”3

 

This is where the Gospel steps in to redeem our stories. Yes, the fall severed the perfect unity we experienced in Eden with each other and God, but Christ came to restore all things, and that includes our relationships. We still face conflict and misunderstandings, we get busy and neglect the people God has entrusted us to love and nurture, but God is still redeeming his people and still building his kingdom. One day the work will end, all will be made right, and all our suffering will cease—including our loneliness.

 

In the meantime we need faith—faith God will accomplish all he has promised and will provide for our emotional needs. Faith supplies the motivation to risk disappointment and heartbreak to develop and maintain intimate friendships in order to thrive as social beings. It takes a lot of faith not to become cynical when attempt after attempt has only resulted in rejection. And it takes faith to keep digging with patience when those attempts have only led to superficial acquaintances—while trying not to stifle the potential friendship.

 

Friendship requires a delicate balance. As the Christian boy band Plus One sang, “If you need love / Take the time and be love / Breathe it out create love / See how things can turn.” Sometimes we need to be more intentional about loving others and proactively pursuing their friendships. But sometimes we have to realize we’ve done all we can do; love can’t be one-sided. We have to step away and give people space believing some will return. And believe me, I know how scary that is when you’re convinced people will forget your existence if you don’t consistently remind them. God help my unbelief, I guess.

 

I don’t pretend to have this all figured out, nor do I present myself as some poster child for celibate gay Christians. Celibacy sucks, but I think there’s beauty in the pain, any form of pain, when our suffering drives us to each other and to our Savior. There’s something so powerful when we can say, “Hey, me too.” Rachel Held Evans says church should look more like an A. A. meeting than a country club, and I think we’d be far healthier and more joyful if we’d all take more risks and show more vulnerability rather than trying to impress others and pretending like we have our you-know-what together. I feel a sense of connection when Rachel Held Evans talks about her doubts on her blog, when my friend Addie Zierman writes about the darkness of her depression, or when several of my local friends share their struggle to hold onto God’s goodness in their infertility. The loneliness doesn’t hurt so badly when we hurt together.

 

Most days friendship feels like a fairytale. But you know what? I still choose to embrace Wesley’s vision of friendship in faith. I still believe it’s a model the church needs to rediscover for the benefit of the entire Body. Jesus said not to be anxious about the future, and for me that means not worrying if I’ll end up old and alone because I chose celibacy to reconcile my faith and sexuality. God will provide. Life will never be perfect, but God will never stop offering little reminders to smile and remember how much he loves me. Those reminders often come from the people in my life. Yes, I am scared of disappointment and rejection, but I will continue pursuing friendships until my last day because I intend to thrive.

 

 

  1. Wesley Hill, Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2015, 41-42.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid, 98.

When Church Becomes a War Zone

man alone in church

 

 

Once upon a time I took church for granted. My roots ran deep in Christian subculture, specifically a sub-subculture that most Christians have never heard of. But it was home and never seemed all that dangerous. At worst, I ended up in the emergency room after roughhousing with the other little boys and busting my forehead open on the end of a pew. Ouch. But church functioned as a normal part of my family’s weekly rhythm. I drew pictures with crayons during the sermons and picked up on bits and pieces of theology here and there. At home I often played church with my collection of stuffed animals and told them stories of my favorite biblical characters. Mom thought I was destined to become a preacher, but life has a funny way of surprising us, doesn’t it?

 

My life tends to cycle. I hit phases where I’m on fire for God, generally when I experience a perspective shift—ex-gay to gay-relationship affirming to celibate. I’m silly enough to think I’ve arrived with all the answers, but with each turn of the cycle, the old doubts creep back in, along with the depression, loneliness, and anxiety.

 

Church has never been a hospitable place during the cycles and the doubts. Friends would tell me it’s ok to question, but eventually I needed to come to some conclusions—be one of them or find somewhere else. During the Gay Christian Network’s conference this year, Vicky Beeching spoke about doubt. Christians tend to view doubt as a sign of spiritual immaturity, but Vicky firmly believed that these seasons of intellectual and emotional wrestling can—and absolutely do—produce a beautifully mature and vibrant faith.

 

When my ex-gay story unraveled, Pandora’s box opened and shook the foundations of my solid reformed theology and conservative political ideology. Passive-aggressiveness defined my relationship with the church, while my conversations with God transformed into profanity-laden rants. The latter healed with time and space, primarily from interactions with gay Christians who trusted in God’s extravagant love and grace, thoughts I had never imagined. But my relationship with the church hasn’t reconciled as easily.

 

I live in Alabama, if you didn’t know by now. This isn’t the best area for a gay boy to find a church home. I’m a few years shy of 30 and really haven’t figured out the best way to deal with my sexual orientation in church. Oh yes, I hear you, my fellow evangelicals. Why even bring it up? It’s not anyone’s business, after all. Well, thing is, you lovely nosy Christians tend to make it your business within the first conversation. Do I have a wife? Girlfriend? Kids? Seriously folks, if you don’t want me to talk about the gay, stop trying to hook me up with random single women in your church. Sheesh. Thank you.

 

Frankly, I’ve grown tired of the angst and indecision. Do I come out or not? How long should I wait to open up? Should I even go to church when this one aspect of my personhood differentiates me so sharply from everyone else? It’s pathetic that church has become this difficult. Since I came out a few months ago, it’s just easier to go into gay activist mode. If I freak you out, you’re one less church off my list to consider, one less Christian I have to analyze and worry about.

 

Here’s the thing, as a straight Christian, you don’t have to listen to me. That’s your luxury. You can stick your head in the sand and twiddle your thumbs with all the other normal families in church. It’s called privilege. You were born with it, didn’t earn it, and can do pretty much anything you like with the benefits of being straight, white, middle class Americans (especially if you happen to be a man). Most choose silence and ignorance, because well, it’s easier. Different is uncomfortable and exhausting. I would make things so much easier for the body of Christ if I would just marry a woman and shut up. But maybe you’re a little more compassionate than that; you welcome me into your church but you keep me an arm’s length. Whenever the preacher talks about gay people, it’s always to discuss politics and the sin of ho-mo-sex-u-al-i-ty (I’m totally emulating Vicky Beeching’s imitation of a southern preacher with her awesome British accent, sorry). Your church’s preaching and ministries are crafted to nurture and support the faith of “normal” families and the singles who will eventually enter heterosexual marriage, but you leave gays like me to figure out life alone.

 

Here’s another thing, brothers and sisters. The Gospel tears down privilege. The ministry of Jesus centered on “the least of these” not Caesar, Herod, and the Pharisees. Sure, if folks from the religious elite like Nicodemus and Paul want to step down from their ivory towers and get their hands dirty in the work of the kingdom, then great. But you can be darn sure Jesus didn’t preach a prosperity gospel or The American Dream. Jesus proclaimed a kingdom that would reverse the curse of sin and death and offer lasting shelter and healing. But we’ve made the Gospel about ourselves, forgetting to share the kingdom with not only sexual minorities, but racial minorities, the homeless, the mentally ill, and so many other groups we’ve ignored and neglected throughout history. It’s high time to grapple with the difficulties of redemptively loving those we don’t understand. It’s high time to open our arms to all our brothers and sisters.

 

Sometimes church makes me feel like a pawn in a game of political chess. My story is not yours to hijack, twist, or use to shame other sexual minorities, nor is my life as a celibate gay Christian a pattern that all other sexual minorities should conform to. I’m a fairly moderate Christian. I’m skeptical that God blesses gay sex, but I’m confident God can sanctify gay love—acts of self-sacrifice and nurturing concern for another human being. I’ve chosen celibacy as a vocation of love, not out of fear of a monstrous God who will banish me to Hell if I marry a man. It’s a choice of costly obedience, yet I don’t believe I’m a better Christian than my Side A friends. I believe in the legitimacy of their love and faith in Jesus Christ and count them as my brothers and sisters, even though I differ with their interpretation of scripture. I’ll freely admit I’m no one’s poster child.

 

Church often feels like a war zone. Maybe you can understand why I’ve spent so little time in a faith community these past few years. So many attitudes and misunderstandings piss me off and cause me to question the worth of community. But guess what, guys? I’m not completely off the hook. The Gospel also calls me to engage with my brothers and sisters and share my story, to lean into the tension and extend grace. That means taking many deep breaths, patiently listening and discerning where people are in their understanding of sexual identity. People don’t always respond well, and grace still calls me to love unconditionally. Last week someone essentially told me I had a demon after I discussed my views on celibacy. Sometimes grace means stepping away from pointless discussions and letting someone else have the last word. Grace means taking risks, being vulnerable, and trusting God will redeem our interactions and sharpen us like iron against iron..

 

Jeff Chu also presented an excellent keynote address at GCN’s conference this year. Straight Christians should take note. As Rachel Held Evans tweeted, “I don’t just look to ‪#GCNConf for how to better engage LGBT issues. I look to ‪#GCNConf for how to be a better Christian.” Guys and gals, Jeff casts a pretty fantastic vision for what the church could be:

 

“The table I long for—the church I hope for—is a place where we let others see where the spirit meets the bone and help heal the wounds. The table I long for—the church I hope for—has the grace of the Gospel as its magnificent centerpiece. The table I long for—the church I hope for—is where we care more about our companions than about winning our arguments with them, where we set aside the condescension that accompanies our notion that we need to bring them our truth. The table I long for—the church I hope for—has each of you sitting around it, struggling to hold the knowledge that you, vulnerable you and courageous you, are beloved by God, not just welcome but desperately, fiercely wanted.”¹

 

My hope for the church is a future of gracious inclusion, hospitality, and curiosity. God has promised that the gates of Hell cannot withstand the progression of the church, that swords will be remodeled into farming tools, and the word of God will cover the Earth as waters cover the sea. The church has an optimistic future and an important mission: the restoration and salvation of creation. Or as one of my first gay Christian friends used to say, “making a little Heaven on Earth.” For many sexual minorities like myself, church currently feels more like Hell on Earth, more like a war zone. But there’s a day coming when we will belong, when we will be desperately and fiercely wanted. It will come as we tell our stories and change the hearts of our sisters and brothers. We may never find definitive answers to the gay marriage and gay sex question, but we can find the humility and grace to trust our omniscient Heavenly Father and journey together amid the doubting and dissonance.

 

In the meantime I’ll do my best to keep building bridges.

 

1. http://doesjesusreallyloveme.com/together-at-the-table/

man praying

Giving Thanks for Celibacy?

I never imagined I would become a celibate. I grew up in the Primitive Baptist faith, and we didn’t talk about singleness that much. We gossiped plenty about relationships though, and most of my acquaintances in our tiny denomination married early. Like other denominations, we esteemed marriage as the place where life naturally transitioned and progressed. Singleness was just a temporary season of life preparing young Christians for the challenges of matrimony. If we ever mentioned celibacy, it was to joke at its strangeness; normal people didn’t remain single.

 

But I’m not a normal guy.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve wanted normalcy. I have moments pumping iron in the gym or worshipping alone in the back row of church wondering how this all happened to me. How does a boy baptized at age six, homeschooled in a good Christian family, become a gay man? It sounds ridiculous.

 

Sometimes life feels like a game of poker, and I was bitter for the hand of cards God gave me.

 

Gratitude doesn’t come easily for me. I’m like one of the rebellious Israelites in the wilderness—complaining and untrusting of God’s goodness and provision. I’ve seen my sexual orientation as a curse, blaming it for all my issues. If I were straight, I would be a strong man—confident, attractive, and eloquent. But I’m not that man; I’m a boy, scared and awkward. “Be thankful in all things?” Seriously?

 

I recently read Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts. Voskamp celebrates thanksgiving, or eucharisteo, the Greek word she uses throughout the book. It all starts with a simple Greek study. The Greek word for joy is chara and it’s found right in the middle of eucharisteo; joy literally within thanksgiving.

 

Ann Voskamp One Thousand Gifts

 

So then as long as thanks is possible … I think this through. As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible. Joy is always possible. Whenever, meaning—now; wherever, meaning—here. The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some emotional mountain peak experience. The joy wonder could be here! Here, in the messy, piercing ache of now, joy might be—unbelievably—possible! The only place we need see before we die is this place of seeing God, here and now.”1

 

Can I find joy in a sex-saturated culture as a celibate gay man? What about joy in a marriage-worshipping church? Voskamp’s message reveals a liberating truth: Yes. There’s joy to be found here if you’ll only look. Joy is not reserved for the heterosexual, but remains available as long as I choose to give thanks.

 

But an internal change of attitude isn’t enough. I could choose to remain an unknown and invisible seat-filler in church, all the while telling myself I’m thankful and content. But that’s not contentment, it’s complacency. Thanksgiving doesn’t force me to accept things I have the power to change in my life. That’s fear. God compels me to take risks to live anything but a safe life. As I learn to count my blessings I should begin looking outward towards others. Voskamp writes that we “become the blessing,”

 

Eucharisteo is giving thanks for grace. But in the breaking and giving of bread, in the washing of feet, Jesus makes it clear that eucharisteo is, yes, more: it is giving grace away. Eucharisteo is the hand that opens to receive grace, then, with thanks, breaks the bread; that moves out into the larger circle of life and washes the feet of the world with that grace. Without the breaking and giving, without the washing of feet, eucharisteo isn’t complete. The Communion service is only complete in service. Communion, by necessity, always leads us into community.”2

 

A simple Christian sacrament reveals how we live in the church and God’s kingdom. In the Primitive Baptist denomination, we include foot washing in our communion services. It can feel pretty awkward to literally humble yourself before another Christian to wash his or her feet, but there’s something moving about the gesture too. It represents how I want to live out my faith. This posture of grace and humility inspires courage to be a blessing to others. Grace calls me participate in the work of redemption and I cannot remain silent to God’s work and the cries of the oppressed. I can say with Jeremiah,

“There is in my heart as it were a burning fire

shut up in my bones,

and I am weary with holding it in,

and I cannot (Jeremiah 20:9).”

 

Eve Tushnet wrote, “You can’t have a vocation of No.” It’s not enough for the conservative church to tell gay Christians that marriage is defined as one man and one woman. It’s not even enough for the church to exhort its congregants to “be nice to the gays out there in the world.” Many of us queer folks who hold the same traditional convictions on sexuality aren’t going to make your life comfortable by entering heterosexual marriage and pretending we’re just like you. …And many in mixed-orientation marriages are speaking up too. As a demographic of the church, we have unique spiritual and emotional needs. The church shouldn’t cultivate a thriving environment for the majority to the detriment of its outliers. The church has a responsibility to know the heartbeat of the congregation, to know if life-giving blood is circulating to all members of the body. The church needs to creatively find ways to make the church a home for all its members. There’s plenty of work to be done; there’s prejudices, privileges, and sins to be mortified and surrendered to God as a corporate body. Matt Jones wrote, “Unless a community is seriously modeling a commitment to hospitality and grace for all stages of life, its sexual ethic, no matter how ‘orthodox’ it may sound, will never seem viable or good in any meaningful way. This imaginative failure is also a moral failure, with churches leaving their gay members with little to no ability to actually live–or God forbid thrive– within the rich tradition of church teaching.” Thanksgiving partly fills the gap between how things are and what we hope the church will become. Community requires grace, or charis, the root word for eucharisteo. Sexual minorities need to exhibit forgiveness, mercy, and patience with straight Christians. The church as a whole needs to learn the ability to listen with humility and empathy.

 

It’s here, within my experience as a gay man and my convictions as a traditional evangelical Christian, where I find the most difficulty expressing gratitude. This path means no spouse and no awesome, hot sex (not gonna lie, that’s a bummer).  The traditional sexual ethic is costly, an aspect of Christianity we’ve forgotten in Western Civilization. Historically, Christians have suffered great sacrifices for their faith and convictions, some choosing even to die rather than to renounce their relationship with Jesus. And sometimes I can feel bitter. Why do I have play super-Christian, while other evangelicals analyze my faith and determine if I have a right to sit at the table? Why do I have to hurt this deeply and this much? When I apply Voskamp’s model of eucharisteo to my situation as gay and evangelical, I find another perspective.

 

“The act of sacrificing thank offerings to God—even for the bread and cup of cost, for cancer and crucifixion—this prepares the way for God to show us His fullest salvation from bitter, angry, resentful lives and from all sin that estranges us from Him. At the Eucharist, Christ breaks His heart to heal ours—Christ, the complete accomplishment of our salvation. And the miracle of eucharisteo never ends: thanksgiving—giving thanks in everything—is what prepares the way for salvation’s whole restoration. Our salvation in Christ is real, yet the completeness of that salvation is not fully realized in a life until the life realizes the need to give thanks.”3

 

I can’t speak for other Christian sexual minorities, just for myself. Ingratitude closes off my ability to connect to my Heavenly Father. My bitterness closes off possibilities to experience abundant life and the good gifts God gives His children. I have experienced legitimate grief through the process of accepting the traditional sexual ethic. It’s led to the death of hopes and dreams of a husband and family I wanted. It was a grief I couldn’t ignore and couldn’t suppress. While I’m always open to God’s Spirit and where the truth leads, I’m learning to find a place here in the evangelical church. At some point you have to move on, at some point you have to heal. I’m back where I began, but from a completely different perspective.

 

The gospel radically shifts how we approach sexuality, whether we affirm gay relationships or not. God calls us to kill lust and self-centeredness that characterizes sexual desire. God’s message of sexuality is countercultural—it’s not about me, it’s about the love I give to another. Celibacy extends that belief. Rather than an abandonment of love, celibacy is a lifetime, a calling to love. I’m learning to give myself in intimate friendships to diverse people: Christians and nonchristians, the gay relationship affirming and the traditional, non-affirming. I’m a firm believer that God will provide for my emotional needs as long as I have the bravery to reach out.

 

Celibacy feels like an experiment, but one I can’t really fail. My life’s purpose is to know Christ. Regardless of marriage or singleness, no one can exclude me from that pursuit. “What makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out but who it lets in,” Rachel Held Evans proclaimed at this year’s Gay Christian Network Conference. The gospel reaches all kinds of people with all kinds of convictions. Conservatives and liberals, Caucasians and ethnic minorities, Side A and Side B. It even lets in quiet, awkward gay guys like me.

 

If you asked me to choose one book the most radically shifted my perspective this year, I would point you to Ann Voskamp. She challenged me to live fully right where I currently find myself. I’m challenged not to live in complacency, but in thanksgiving and joy for the opportunities and relationships I currently have. I’m not waiting for my life to begin—it’s happening right here, right now.

 

And it’s glorious.

 

/ / /

 

  1. Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010, 33.
  2. Ibid, 192-193.
  3. Ibid, 40.

Featured photo courtesy of Jeremy Binns at CreationSwap.

books

When Our Stories Become Weapons

I am a storyteller.

 

I’m not great with small talk, nor am I all that funny. I certainly don’t have all the answers.

 

But I tell stories anyway.

 

I’d rather tell my story than argue. I don’t see much point in a debate. I say something, you pick out what you don’t like, and then I get mad that you aren’t really listening. What a waste of time. Arguing reveals our pride. We think we possess superior logic compared to others and we’re merely enlightening the ignorant. But debates only make people defensive, closing people off. Unless people feel safe and heard, they won’t have an open heart. Without a posture of openness, people remain shut off from new ideas.

 

So I’d rather just share my story than fight over sexual ethics.

 

But in this discussion of sexual orientation, I’m missing something if I focus solely on my own story. You’d be missing something too if you only listened to my story. Our individual tales need to interact like iron sharpening iron. We need to be challenged, to feel a little uncomfortable from time to time. We don’t have all the facts, and we haven’t stopped growing. Storytelling requires more than one perspective.

 

Rachel Held Evans wrote an important response a year ago to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” I resonated with Rachel’s application of Adichie’s talk to the discussion of homosexuality. Rachel primarily focused on one statement:

 

“The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

 

Rachel added,

 

“It occurred to me recently that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people are often subjected to this single-story treatment, both from myself and from other people.”

 

I’ve been around enough Christians to know the truth of Rachel’s observation. It feels like someone is always getting thrown under the bus in church. We develop assumptions in a vacuum, not knowing anything about the people we attempt to characterize. And often when people meet a sexual minority, they unfairly make this individual a representative of an incredibly diverse group of people. We allow certain stories to filter all other ones, to the point that stories cease to be stories.

 

Stories become weapons.

 

People so often hijack our moments of vulnerability to shame those who would be audacious enough to disagree. We all do it, conservatives and liberals. The debate around homosexuality is heated and we want real life examples to stoke the flame. Amid the fighting we don’t take many opportunities to walk in another person’s shoes. We don’t consider what another human has had to endure, or what flow of logic and conviction has led them to their current identity and position.

 

I appreciate Stephen Long for his honesty in how celibacy failed him. His attempts to honor his beliefs harmed him deeply—spiritually, psychologically, and physically.

 

Stephen wrote in response to Julie Rodgers’ “Surprised By Celibacy,”

 

I had trusted the life of celibacy to be similar to what Paul described: ‘We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.’ But this leads me to the question I often find myself asking of the church these days: what happens when we are afflicted and crushed? What happens when we are perplexed and driven to despair? Persecuted and forsaken? Struck down and destroyed? What happens when it doesn’t have a happy ending? What happens when it ends in drug abuse, or addiction, or a suicide, or an STD? What happens when people’s spirits are broken? How is that good? How does that purify and refine and bring glory to God?

 

Julie had written how celibacy had surprisingly sustained her faith, while Stephen wrote that it had nearly destroyed not only his faith, but his desire to live.

 

My story resonates more with Julie’s than Stephen’s. Embracing affirming theology only intensified my anxiety. I discovered peace in gradually submitting my life to a vocation of celibacy. So yes, there’s dissonance in our stories, but Stephen has been an encouraging friend as I’ve struggled to find my way as a blogger this year. His story matters to me as I tell my own as a celibate gay Christian.

 

In this heated debate, it’s not hard to find stories to back up our positions. We live in an age of social media where we constantly share blog posts and YouTube videos to reinforce the validity of our beliefs. We take a person’s story—a creative work of art—and transform it into an instrument of oppression that can induce shame in others.

 

See? This lady found a husband and had kids. It’s not impossible. You just need to have more faith in God. Just keep trying.

 

This guy left his wife and kids for another man. Mixed orientation marriage NEVER work. You can’t possibly be happy in one.

 

Look at this woman, she’s going through life without a spouse and still has a thriving relationship with Christ. If she can do it, so can you! You just need Jesus, man.

 

Hey, this guy nearly killed himself trying celibacy. Celibacy doesn’t work.

 

Adichie reminds us of an important point,

 

Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.

 

When we talk about sexual orientation and sexual ethics, we must remember that we’re talking about real people. People like me. Our biblical paradigms tend to cloud our assumptions. If a man in a gay relationship says he loves Jesus and his husband, many would question his faith. He can’t really love God like I love God. Christians may feel convinced it can’t really be love. Surely it can’t demonstrate the same fidelity and sacrifice as a heterosexual marriage. But then you open your heart to a gay couple committed to their marriage and their relationship with Christ and something changes. The interactions and moments of life shared together obliterate your preconceptions. Maybe your beliefs shift, maybe they don’t. But you see the complexity far more clearly.

 

I believe Christians can thrive in a pluralistic society. We need patience to listen with grace, humility, and compassion amid the messiness and misunderstandings. We must also develop a love for stories. We have our own path to tread in this life. We shouldn’t assume others are farther behind us when we don’t see eye-to-eye. God may have us on different roads. We don’t have to be gatekeepers. We can embrace the simple commandment of scripture: love God and love our neighbor. We can rest knowing our brothers and sisters are in far more secure hands than our own.

 

My story is not a weapon, it’s an invitation of hospitality.

 

So come in from the cold and sit by the fire. I want to hear your story.

 

/ / /

 

If you missed Adichie’s incredible talk last year, please watch it. There’s a reason it went viral.

 

Featured photo courtesy of flickr creative commons, user Bravo_Zulu_