As I’ve been reading the posts and comments here, I’m excited to see new dialog within the Covenant. I’ve seen views across the board about us. We are people, not an issue. I am gay and a child of God. These identities can and do coexist.
I have been a Christian all my life, and there was a time when I myself was strongly against what was already evident inside me. I held it in the dark, too afraid of what might happen if my secret was out. I must admit, though, that my fear did not come from the pulpit – well, maybe a few I happened to see on TV. The pulpits were mostly silent about us. Instead, the hate, anger, filth, and outright lies came from the news, TV, and from movies. Most of all, it came from everyday people around me: from family, friends, and strangers. From those who suspected I was gay, it was the taunting and torture just about every day of my grade school and junior high life. I’d been singled out and attacked, and I was constantly taunted by fellow students.
The taunting was still a problem in high school, but I made a small group of friends and stayed away from any extracurricular activities. I limited myself to one activity outside of school: being drill leader for JROTC. The rest of my time I chose to work instead of doing other school activities. I worried this might affect me down the road when applying for college, but it wasn’t worth the risk to me. Being out simply didn’t feel like an option. My group of friends from high school never even knew until a couple years after I graduated from college.
In the midst of junior high and high school, I was sexually abused multiple times by a man. It wasn’t until very recently that I learned from my therapist that predators often look for kids like I was in my teens: kids who feel they have to hide something because it would cause them harm if it came out. I did have something to hide. And I didn’t say anything, because I was afraid of the ramifications of my family finding out that I was gay. I want to avoid the ambiguity and temptation to speculate on my sexuality and abuse: when this first happened, I already knew full well that I was gay. How many other kids out there feel they need to suppress such horrific events and avoid getting the help they so desperately need? I, like most guys, stayed quiet about what happened to me. I felt relegated to being the silent gay kid. And because of this silence, it happened more than once. Not only did I already feel like an outsider, I was an outsider who had been seriously wronged, but I was afraid to talk. I was afraid of what people might think if they knew I was gay. I was afraid they might think I wanted it or asked for it. If you have never experienced it, you can never imagine the horror that goes through the mind of someone who’s been abused. Feeling totally unsafe to talk about it because you have to worry that it can get turned on you only makes matters worse.
At 18, I pretty much fled to North Park and my world changed completely. I was never really out on campus, except to about three or four friends during my junior year. Either college weeds out some of the torturers, or some other mysterious thing takes place in the transition to college that somehow transforms people (or at least a good majority of them). Sure, people held different views on both sides, and it was a hot topic on campus, but I never felt unwanted or unsafe. Maybe that would have been different had I been out. I don’t know, but I do remember the struggles of students who were out. It wasn’t the most hostile environment, but there were times you could cut the tension in the air with a knife.
To this day I am out, yet I’m not fully out. I still have to maintain two lives. There are people whom I care about, but I must omit part of me in order to maintain the status quo. Often I feel like they are part of a superficial element of my life, casual encounters that won’t really develop because of the church. My life in the church has been bumpy and awkward, not much different from the rest of my life. I go to a Covenant church where I’m out to quite a few people. Many, if not most, are supportive of my boyfriend and I. He and I are going on eight years together, and we’ve spent close to that length of time in our church. It was very awkward in the beginning. We hit roadblocks. Sometimes we felt second-class. Our pastor has been great, though. Things began to really turn around in the church for us when our pastor finally approached homosexuality in a sermon. While he holds different beliefs than I, he does not make homosexuality out to be something special to pick on and attack like a rabid dog. Our church has opened its doors to everyone. There should be a sign that says “misfits welcome” right next to the main sign. You see, we accept people as just that: people, and not as homosexuals. The only label we need is child of God.
Everything I ever learned about church growing up, I’ve had to unlearn. Most of us are inclined to settle for religion instead of Jesus. I was that person, and I still fight it from time to time, but I’ve grown. Now, for the first time in my life, I understand God’s love for me. Well, I understand it as best I can comprehend it. I don’t think any one of us truly will ever fully grasp the power of the love of God in this lifetime. You see, in Christ God has opened the door to us. And Jesus made no exclusions or distinctions. In fact, to say that Jesus was kind of a rebel would be the understatement of the year. He hung out with people who weren’t on the well-beaten path. Jesus affirmed that there is more than the status quo, and that the outsiders are welcome in his kingdom.
We need dialog in the Covenant. We do need to talk and listen through this. All of us need to be able to exercise our freedom in Christ to be open about who we are and where we are at. Love should lead us. I think it is clearly evident that much of what the GBLT community has experienced from the church has absolutely no root in love. I hope that in this process of dialog within the Covenant, we can all experience God’s love and grace. We will not all agree, but we should not shut anyone out. This is part of the church. It’s a dirty mess, but God loves His church. He can’t help it. The love of God in what He did in His Son should be our guide.
My hope is that the Covenant Church can become a place where GLBT people can be a welcome part of their church community. God has invited us to participate in His kingdom. It’s here and now, and it’s in the future. We’ve been invited to take part in bringing it to be. At the core, does it really require that we understand and agree upon everything? We learn as we go, and we learn from one another. We are a community, and we grow stronger together.
I am optimistic, yet cautious. I admit that I have trust issues with the church and Christians, more so than I do with the people I know outside the church. It’s a process that will take time because of damage already done. I really hope this will be a place where Covenanters and others can talk, discuss, learn from one another, and grow in more understanding and unity instead of fostering the pitiful divisions we’ve set in place. I have hope, and I’m hanging on.