I was 20 when I first heard someone say that God might be OK with me even though I’m not straight. I spent the next two years at North Park as a transfer student, trying to figure things out on my own. I really felt that there wasn’t anyone I could share it with at the time. In high school and my first bits of college I had done a lot of spiritual leadership-y things – led a prayer group at school, led a lot of worship – and I felt that I had trapped myself. I did well in school, I led all these things, but privately I was lonely and intensely sad. I was deeply unhappy (but it did make for some good songwriting material). I could not believe it was possible that God, my family, my churches, or most of my friends would ever accept me. It hid parts of who I was; I could never just let go, be a friend to my friends, be open, be myself.
I didn’t have anyone to go to with something so unimaginable and unacceptable – I say unimaginable because when I first started coming to terms with my sexuality, I really honestly could not imagine what my life would look like – it was terrifying. So when I got to North Park, I kind of tried to stay under the radar. I was torn because I was encouraged in doing things with the church, but at the same time I felt that if I was honest with people, that my orientation would cancel out all of that. Covenant churches were spaces where I felt that if I got close, if I was known, it would necessarily lead to pain and rejection, so the easiest thing to do was back away.
In the same way that I dropped out of spiritual communities, I let a lot of friendships go. That may seem selfish and thoughtless, but with some of the people I came out to, I experienced really painful rejection. It hurt when people dropped out of my life, politely stopped talking to me, rejected me because of their disapproval or discomfort by omission of a friendship that was once there. Others, including a lot of Covenant people, many of whom I looked up to, many who were close friends, made homophobic comments, laughed at movies drenched in gay jokes but couldn’t deal with having gays next door, treated politics around gay issues like the most pressing spiritual warfare. Rather than deal with all of those difficult conversations likely ending in so much hurt, I stepped away. I am still having those conversations – still running into people who I never formally came out to, still having to explain myself, still wondering if they will continue to accept me. That said, I think it’s important that I acknowledge those lovely Covenant people who are still my friends, still my family, and continue to love me as I am.
At North Park I was part of a non-Covenant church, in part because I was hoping to find a space where I could work through my confusion around my sexuality, although there were a lot of other great reasons to be there. Other bigger pieces of who I am were nurtured there, including my desire for intentional community. People at that church had hashed out the issue before, and were at something of an agree-to-disagree standstill. No “practicing” homosexuals as members, but everyone was welcome to attend – I wasn’t out to most people there. Over a summer I briefly dated both a man and a woman (relax, not at the same time), and a critical moment came when I realized that if I was going to date anyone, I wanted to bring them to my church. How ridiculous that it’s the same me, basically the same type of relationship – dating, getting to know someone – but they would be received so differently. That was the last non-LGBT affirming church I attended, and I left because I needed to integrate my whole self, my whole life, into my experience of Christian community.
When I am pressed to consider the kinds of questions that are posed on this blog, the theological positions, I look at who I am now, and where I’ve come from. My struggles with depression are over, I am healthier, and happier than I remember being since I was a little kid. I could go on and tell you about all the things on my bucket list that have been checked off in the past three years, but the point is that I’ve come alive. I think I (finally!) uncovered the direction of my life’s work and I am coming into my own. If I had gone to seminary I probably wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to call all of these things fruits because as far as I can tell, I am at peace with God, and it’s showing! My coming out process aligns with my getting healthier process, my learning to be an open and better friend process, and uncovering my academic and vocational passions, and following them with my whole person.
I had felt guilt, shame and loneliness for so long, but somewhere along the line, I realized that I was going to do good work, live life to the fullest, and love to the fullest. When you pushed me out, you lost that part – not only me, there are so many talented, wonderful, really really ridiculously good-looking LGBT people who grew up in Covenant churches. But if we are not welcome, if we don’t feel safe, most of us leave. We find spaces, churches and communities, where we can be who we are, and do the work we are called to do.