I spent much of my life clinging onto an “ex-gay” narrative. The story went like this: Being Christian and being gay are incompatible because the bible “clearly” teaches that homosexuality is a sin. Since we all know that sin separates us from God, ultimately sending us to hell, those of us with “same-sex attractions” have one option if we want to be accepted by God. We have to reject being gay. We have to interpret every “homosexual temptation” as having the potential to destroy us and our relationship with God. We have to pursue true healing of our sexuality – meaning, we have to become straight. Straightness is the evidence of a right relationship with God. Anything less sets us up to backslide into damnation.
I first became aware of my attraction toward women when I was 14. I wrestled with shame and tried to hide my feelings. I deeply feared being found out. (I’m an enneagram one, and my basic fear has been “of being corrupt/evil, defective”.) I finally admitted my feelings to myself in my journal. Shortly after, my mother went through my journal and confronted me. “Satan has a hold of you.” Her anger and disgust confirmed my fear. She turned to the church to save me. Sitting in those wooden pews week after week, I heard one message loud and clear: You are totally depraved. You are a sinner. God cannot stand to even look at you. He will throw you into a burning lake of eternal punishment if you do not repent. I spent the next 17 years trying to be “good enough” for God’s love and my parents’ love by not being gay.
In 2011, I reached a point of desperation. I was trying to date men because I realized how deeply I wanted a lifelong partner (a desire I hadn’t allowed myself to feel for most of my life). I was so depressed that most days I wished I wouldn’t wake up to see another morning. Life had become mere survival, and I did not have much hope that things would get better. In a conversation that probably saved my life, a wise friend said, “Maybe you should spend some time honestly examining your sexuality and theology.” She saw the connection between my depression and conflicted sexuality and encouraged me to do some soul searching. I did. I spent the next two years digging into scripture, reexamining my theology, considering diverse scholarship, working with my therapist and meeting with a pastor-friend. In 2013, I emerged into a place of peace I had never known before. I reconciled my faith and sexuality and hope flooded back into my life. I saw a future with potential for thriving open up before me.
Since Bethel Church’s (Redding, CA) recent social media support of CHANGED and use of #oncegay, conversations about sexual orientation change have exploded. Matthias Roberts of Queerology and Kevin Garcia of A Tiny Revolution are teaming up for a joint podcast episode called, “90 Seconds of Truth: Stories from the Rest of Us” to be released this Tuesday. They issued a call for submissions, but I missed the deadline (moving and settling into a new city and space has kept me quite busy). Instead I’m sharing here and encourage you to listen to this episode when it releases.
When I was “ex-gay,” I could not engage with my deepest feelings and beliefs authentically. I was blocked from God’s vision for human flourishing. I was not satisfied or full of life. Since reconciling my faith and sexuality, I have experienced freedom in my life and have encountered the love of Jesus in ways I have yearned for since I first learned of Jesus as a teenager. It is as a queer Christian that I have looked deeper and gone beyond the labels and expectations of non-affirming Christianity and have found lasting fulfillment.
If you or anyone you know needs support on this complicated yet beautiful journey of sorting out faith and sexuality, please reach out. I am happy to listen and connect you with stories and resources that are life-giving.
Lord, may you guide your LGBTQ children into safe and affirming faith spaces that will embrace, nurture and celebrate them as your image-bearers. May you protect them from the physical, emotional and spiritual violence perpetuated by non-affirming theology. May you bring your church out of its exclusionary beliefs, attitudes and practices. May you awaken us all to the invitation to your table where love nourishes us and produces abundant life. Hear our prayer.