The header likely grabbed your attention. Good.
At the very least, bear with me for a few paragraphs.
There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said. I can’t bring any new theology to the masses, add to the perennial affirming-versus-non-affirming discussions, give you a heartbreaking story of oppression or redemption – no, all I can do is appeal to your reason as a fellow human being and child of God.
So much has been written and spoken, but the best I can do is point you to the very best resources and share my own story. Before I move on, take some time to acquaint yourself with what’s out there.
If you want to get the best overview of the various viewpoints featuring integrated stories, scientific insight, and heart-wrenching conversation, check out my favorite podcast episode ever published: LGBTQ by The Liturgists. Regardless of your convictions, listen with an open mind. I’ve listened thrice and cried every. single. time.
If you want an introduction to what is labeled “affirming theology”, check out Matthew Vines’ incredibly accessible and seminal book God and the Gay Christian. For many, it’s broken open the theological door for the embracing and celebrating of LGBTQ friends and family.
If you want something a bit more scholarly, Dr. James Brownson’s Bible, Gender, and Sexuality focuses on the relationship between patriarchy and Scripture, asking important questions and providing helpful critique on modern interpretative practices regarding Scripture’s narrative trajectory.
And finally, if you want to get the very best resource in your quest for understanding, go talk to someone. You’re basically guaranteed to know one of us; we’re sitting next to you in church, interacting with you at work, reading your posts on social media – you just don’t see us.
Some of us have reached the place where coming out is appropriate though it may have been an immense process just to reach such a place. For others, they have the courage to stay in the closet, living in situations amidst difficult circumstances whilst experiencing a grief you can’t possibly imagine.
We all have stories, and the very best thing any of us can do to learn is to listen.
I’m not going to give you a theological rundown or provide an apologetic defense of my sexuality and the ethics whereby I affirm it. If that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t find it here. Instead, you’ll find my story, my heart, and why this blog even exists.
Here’s a piece of my story.
My frame of reference can seem pretty foreign to a lot of people, and that’s perfectly acceptable.
But it started out fairly similar to a lot of yours.
My evangelical upbringing was both unremarkable and wonderful in every regard. It wasn’t highly fundamentalist, and my parents were willing to disagree respectfully with others. While they possess strong disagreements with other perspectives in the world, they are very kind and gracious individuals with honest intentions. As my father has always modeled in his incredible generosity, the world needs the love of a God Who is Love.
I was never bitter at the abstraction evangelical Christians regard as “the world” – I just didn’t understand it. It didn’t make sense to me.
From early in my childhood, I knew I was different. I was so cognizant of my unique personality that I consciously decided in second grade to embrace my uniqueness. I didn’t fit in, and I didn’t want to. I was a nonconformist from the start, analyzing the trends I saw around me and trying to deduce what exactly compelled my peers to follow suit. Given that we lived in a town of twelve-hundred people, it didn’t take much observation.
But I also had strange experiences, the kind with friends at a young age that are entirely innocent, but provoke feelings of shame and insecurity. It wasn’t until my high school years that I would begin adding these things together. These feelings and memories would culminate as I grew, as puberty struck me, and as I found myself consistently disinterested in females.
I had a number of “girlfriends” in grade school, though none of them lasted long and I didn’t understand the draw my male friends (I use that term loosely) had towards the girls we were associated with. It was mostly a social thing.
But I did notice the guys. They were on my mind, producing distraction and thoughts bringing with them immense guilt. My limited searching on the internet seemed to suggest this was a normal development for kids my age. My thoughts were nothing more than “sure, it’s part of growing – it’s nothing abnormal”.
But it didn’t go away. It got stronger.
(Kids, puberty sucks.)
Somewhere around seventh and eighth grade, I remember having a moment where I almost walked outside to my dad to tell him I struggled with “gay feelings”. I locked myself in the bathroom because of my guilt, and like any Enneagram type 4, talked through the entire conversation in my head, anticipating verbatim how I would answer his questions.
I decided against the confession, feeling temporarily absolved of my guilt for having talked myself through.
In high school, I became increasingly aware of what I would inevitably label my “same-sex attraction”, experiencing my first encounter with the affirming theology through Justin Lee’s Gay Christian Network. I asked my parents about this with a carefully crafted question (so as not to infer I was asking for myself), and was relatively surprised that they wouldn’t consider it as a valid Scriptural interpretation. Yet I understood such a shift in thinking would be a big change.
This is when I began to confront a reality that would take years to become my “reality”.
I began realizing my behavioral patterns, thoughts, and experiences all pointed to this fundamental uniqueness in myself that I didn’t choose nor desire: I was gay.
Well, maybe just “same-sex attracted”.
After my freshman year of high school, I began very slowly discussing this part of my life with only those closest to me, a couple of friends I had made working at an evangelical youth camp in northern Michigan. It was during my junior of high school that I began to accept my sexuality as a life-altering possibility. I spent a week telling myself “I’m gay and that’s okay”, deciding to affirm myself and the possibility of having a relationship.
I vividly remember sitting down for my SAT thinking “nobody in this room knows I’m gay” followed by an influx of anxious energy buzzing through my tired, academically frustrated body as if I was carrying some secret that would change everything if made public.
Friends, the sudden rush of feelings when this happens is hard to describe – it’s rather overwhelming. When you begin to knock down the layers of inhibition you’ve put in place as a means of suppression, you’re picking apart the metaphorical dam holding your reservoir of attraction and desire in place.
It’s a lot.
After a week of living like this was the case, I decided to shut myself down again. When suppression is your normal, it’s vastly more comfortable. The cognitive dissonance between my beliefs and practice was too much for me to handle.
Senior year came and went with minimal change in my condition or perspective. Between graduating and making future plans, my attraction to other guys was not something on which I wanted to expend precious emotional capacity.
I moved to Liberty University, finding myself acclimating slowly to this new place, making friends very slowly, and learning how to thrive in what is analogous to the Mecca of conservative evangelicalism. I would begin to open up more about myself, learning the value of vulnerability, eventually coming out to my parents regarding my “struggle” with same-sex attraction and my commitment to either marry a woman or commit my life to celibacy.
Herein we reach our inflection point. In the midst of having fallen in unreciprocated love with one of my best friends, I read Wesley Hill’s books on celibacy and the gay Christian, immersed myself in the best of non-affirming thinking, and became interested in developing greater community for those like myself.
Until it just didn’t make sense.
There was this inexplicable drift taking place in my heart and mind. I began to question what I had assumed, question what I thought about sexuality, and look into the real possibility that I had been wrong. If I was going to commit to celibacy, I had better commit with confidence. I didn’t want to doubt, but I was doubting. I tried praying it away, reading it away, and worshipping it away, yet it only intensified.
And so, after some brief conversations with close friends who expressed earnest concern but still loved me, my journey into affirming theology began.
I read, and I read fast. I was depressed, but reading felt like I was chewing through the pain with the promise of something better. I was introduced to writers and theologians and brilliant minority figures with theology that exploded my way of thinking and allowed me the freedom of questioning what had once been unquestionable.
I soon realized I was heading in a direction many of those closest to me could not follow. I was beginning to embrace what my community – at home and at school and at church – could not also embrace, and the threat of rejection became an internalized reality before it had ever happened.
I grieved the loss of my security before I ever lost it.
I grieved the potential loss of my family’s full support, my church as my spiritual community, my closest friends at school, the trust of authority figures – with every compelling text I encountered on the subject, I saw more of my life as I knew it crumbling simply because of an unchangeable reality.
If you’ve read my previous post, you know this process began chipping away at everything, placing conservative evangelicalism on the forefront of my ever-inquisitive mind with the immensity of the ideological confrontation looming overhead. I spent nights crying and begging God for guidance, clarity, obsessing over commentaries and discourse on the internet that only further stoked the fires of my anxiety.
I kept myself together as best I could, but I was being pulled apart.
After going back and forth and yearning desperately for answers to questions I would never have answered, I inevitably realized I had come to a terrifying place:
But I already knew that.
Now there was no “but -“, no “struggle”, no “praying for strength to resist”. Nothing could convincingly qualify that statement.
It’s taken a while learning how to celebrate my sexuality, and it’s been accompanied by the learning and unlearning of the many tendencies that suppressed my feelings and amplified shame.
I came out to my family somewhat unexpectedly just a couple days after last Christmas. And while it certainly wasn’t easy and not something they considered positively (though they’ve been entirely gracious, loving, and given me so much encouragement), it was the last thing that needed to happen before I felt free, free to live as I was made to live.
Yes – I was made to live an abundant life, to flourish, to fully love, and to be fully loved.
And you were, too.
No person, no religious belief, no prejudice can take that way.
You must understand something about sexual minorities: we’re not some monolithic entity of lustful perverts wanting nothing but endless casual sex.
When I say I want to marry a man, it’s because I long for what any straight marriage precipitates in unquestioned abundance: companionship.
And that is certainly not a symptom of sexual excess or licentiousness.
It’s coming home after work and having someone to hold. It’s celebrating your partner’s birthday with breakfast in bed. It’s holding hands whilst walking down the street. It’s arguing endlessly on which show to watch after dinner.
It’s holding your partner when they’re sick. It’s surprising them with a gift just because it’s any ordinary day and you love them that much.
It’s learning how to love and be loved. It’s learning to love yourself.
It’s learning to love your partner as Christ has loved the Church and gave himself up for her, participating in the “school of virtue” that is marriage as it refines and “nurtures generosity”.
We want what you have. You’ve likely never had the same questions, fears, or experienced the same suppression so many of us have.
We just want to love and be loved.
If your instinctive response is “but the Bible clearly says”, I’m going to have to stop you as kindly as possible and respond with a quick “no, it doesn’t”.
We’re not shutting our ears and refusing to listen to what you may consider obvious truths.
We’ve heard it all our lives. We’re intimately familiar with what you believe – we probably believed the same things you did. Perhaps you taught us to think that way.
And we know a vast majority of you don’t hate us – you want what’s best for us. You want us to live full, godly lives. You’re tired of the slights coming from many who don’t understand, calling you hateful or bigoted when that simply isn’t true.
I honor that. Thank you.
Can you consider the possibility that non-affirming theology prevents us from living full, godly lives?
For many of us, the damage wrought in the name of “right theology” has brought us in and through the most painful journeys of our lives. It’s insidiously subversive. We’ve fought our own cognitive biases, spiritual trauma, harmful relationships, insecurities, hate speech and bigotry, innumerable passive-aggressive remarks, institutional injustice, and we’ve trudged along a path that rips apart our entire worldview and leaves us with the frayed shreds of what we once knew.
Yet much of our journeys are dismissed with “listening to the enemy”, not praying enough, not seeking righteousness, giving into feelings, conforming to the world, or any other combination of vaguely spiritual platitudes communicated by those closest to us who may have had the best of intentions.
If you’ve not spent the time reading affirming theologians, listening to the preeminent voices of LGBTQ Christians, looking into the statistics regarding LGBTQ oppression, or establishing a genuine, no-hidden-agenda friendship with someone from a sexual minority, then please refrain from making swift judgments about something that affects you in orders of magnitude less than it does those of us making this space for you.
You don’t know what you don’t know.
And in your ignorance, you could be wreaking havoc on the lives and wellbeing of your brothers and sisters who just want to be loved.
Wholly, unconditionally loved.
Obviously, I’m writing from a post-evangelical perspective as a gay Christian, fully affirming the lives and relationships of LGBTQ persons like myself. I don’t say that so as to justify my “lifestyle” or because I lack sufficient justification both in theology and reason.
You can’t know just how much I’ve read, watched, listened, cried, hoped, prayed, and experienced in only a few months simply to come to this point: God loves me wholly and completely as I am both a child and an image-bearer of the Divine Creator, linked inseparably to the Source of all that is. In fact, the Christ lived incarnate on this earth so as to emphatically make this point: God is for us, most insistently in our suffering and our lives on the margins, offering redemption and healing to a world bent on forgetting its Source.
I won’t lie – it’s hard to believe God loves me. I wrestle with it every day. I have my doubts, my worries, my fears, and then I write it down. I say it.
God loves me. God wholly loves. God loves and celebrates me.
I say it until I believe it.
And when I’m told I can’t participate in my community, hold a certain position, that I need to reconsider what I believe, or that I’m out of God’s will for my life, I’ll say it again.
God loves me – unconditionally.
Why does this matter? Why should I care whether or not you affirm the livelihood of the LGBTQ community? Remember: what we believe about God and Scripture (and each other) has very real implications in the way we see our world. I’ve got some data for you.
- Gay teens are 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide than their peers who experienced little or no familial rejection.
- Gay teens are 5.9 times more likely to report having high levels of depression compared to their peers who experienced little or no familial rejection.
- Fory-two percent of LGBT youth describe their communities as being non-affirming of their orientation or identity.
- Up to forty percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.
But there is some good news within Christendom, signs that change is taking place on a deeper level.
- Jen Hatmaker recently publicly acknowledged her support for LGBTQ persons and relationships (though she subsequently received incredible backlash).
- Tony Campolo communicated his shift in thinking a couple years ago, one of the first major evangelical leaders to make a public reversal of belief.
You know what changed their minds? Gay, lesbian, and transgender Christians who didn’t fit into neat, preconditioned categories .
The lived experiences of LGBTQ people and their presence in churches throughout the world are affecting the conversations taking place. Non-affirming Christians are encountering fellow LGBTQ believers just as knowledgeable and passionate as they are, and finding it hard to discount the authenticity of their faith.
Scripture makes clear we’ll know one another by the fruit we bear, the fruit of the Spirit bearing witness to God’s love in and through our lives.
If a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender Christian is bearing the fruit of the Spirit, loving God and neighbor, then why our hangup on the interpretation of Scripture? As Jonathan Martin writes, it’s the combination of Spirit, community, and Scripture that should inform our discernment.
Listen to your LGBTQ neighbor, your brothers and sisters following the same Jesus as you – we’re asking for you to love us.
And please – enough with the passive-aggressive “truth and love” Christianese that is itself evocative of the manipulative platitudes we’ve heard our whole lives.
Let’s live and make space for one another, allowing tension with grace and expanding our hearts and minds. It’s the Christian thing to do.
Love and love like Jesus, and perhaps you’ll find Jesus looks like the gay kid kicked out of his own home for something he never chose. Jesus looks like the transgender woman disproportionately targeted for assault and violence. Jesus looks like the girl bullied every day in school just because she isn’t as feminine as her peers.
Jesus looks like us, living on the margins with the hope that love ultimately wins out over oppression and patriarchy.
So read whatever it is you read with an open heart, and my challenge to those of you reading who have never done the research is to start somewhere.
I am giving you that somewhere.