(Benj is the son of Eva Sullivan-Knoff and John Knoff. His contribution brings to completion his and his family’s story of coming out. Please, be sure to read the two previous posts by his mom and dad. Benj is a student and a poet. One of his poems was featured on NPR. Thank you Benj for sharing with us.)
Paradox: What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?
I grew up in the church: baptized at birth; confirmed in eighth grade; sang in the children’s and youth choirs; attended Sunday school before services, services, youth group on Wednesday nights, and every weekend or summer retreat I could. My dedication might have initially been bred of obligation, but it matured into genuine devotion. So when an attraction to men emerged, I turned to the God I loved, praying frequently, asking Him to dissipate my inclinations, or at least to allow me to be one way or the other, not trapped in eternal uncertainty. Doubt is a terrible weight; it pressed into my thoughts constantly, unsettling the identity I had prided myself in.
The week of July 11th, 2009, I went with my church youth group to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville for Covenant High in Christ (CHIC), an Evangelical Covenant youth conference that brought together thousands of teenagers from across the country. My expectations for the trip were low; my relationship with God was stable enough, and I did not anticipate hiding my newfound sexuality for an entire week. Over the preceding six months, I had quietly started to come out to twenty of my closest friends and family, none of whom were on the trip with me.
My parents had instilled a strong sense of faith in me—my mom is a pastor and my dad used to be. They were among those that knew. While my dad handled the news with grace, my mom, though loving and supportive, did not allow me to publicly come out. The church where she worked was not a liberal one, she told me. She could lose her position if the congregation knew she had a gay son. It had occurred to me that I would encounter ignorance, but my own mother perpetuated the very attitude I dreaded. I wanted to continue sharing who I had become, but I could not. After years of struggling for answers God had finally granted me clarity. I had to bury it as if I were ashamed.
I went to CHIC feeling increasingly conflicted. The combination of concealing my true identity to protect my mom and yearning to be true to myself tortured me. The tension reached its climax that Wednesday night, when the speaker delivered a piercing sermon. She spoke of pretending, and of the dangers in wearing a façade, all to hide your iniquities. Her message resonated in me, but in an unintended way. It seemed as though I were perpetually lying to everyone who did not already know. In that, my sexuality adopted its own iniquity and it disgusted me.
I left the University of Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena that night more immobilized than ever. Remembering a text message I had received and ignored during the worship service, I pulled out my phone and read the following message from my mom: “Benj, I had spiritual direction today. I am not worried about my job anymore, only you. I honor you.” In that instant, God vanquished the entirety of what I endured on the night I needed resolution the most, and I was assured of His love.
Homosexuality is not a sin. Humans are sinful, yes, but God would not make anyone unalterably so. Is not the purpose to confront temptation and reject it wholeheartedly? If homosexuality is an inherent part of my nature, and I am unable to alter (or therefore reject) it, then it cannot be sinful.
Religion and homosexuality need not demand two dissimilar worlds. Many LGBT people are deterred from Christianity (and other religions) because they are taught that they can only choose their love for their Creator or for their same-sex loves, and that they are unworthy of God’s love. But God loves all of His children, regardless of whom they love.
I am living, tangible proof that a Christian can live without gay guilt. I want to share my experience with others struggling with this issue, or those who maintain this ignorance, to heal these unnecessary wounds.
In my journal entry for that day, I concluded with, “Praise the Lord our God who works in mysterious ways!”