Benj Sullivan-Knoff: “Paradox”

(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!”


  • Eva Sullivan-Knoff

    I am so humbled and touched through my son. I’m so grateful for his inner strength both in who he is with God, and within himself. Though he knows this, I could not be more sorry that I had let my fear get in the way. I so celebrate who he is. He is an amazing child of God and child of ours. I so love him and am proud of who he is.

  • Jack Woodin

    What a moving follow-up to the earlier postings on this site. The Knopf family has blessed us all by their willingness to share both their pain and their joy. May God continue to bless this family and those who encounter them!

  • Jeannie

    Benji, you write so beautifully…in the words you choose, in the emotional insights you share, and in your inspirational courage that you demonstrate. You are a light.

  • Herb Freedholm


    I am deeply moved and in awe by your story, your openness, and your deep insight. You are right, homosexuality is not a sin, it is not a choice one makes. It is who you are, a child of God, deeply loved by our Lord, and welcomed fully into the Body of Christ that I know and love. I pray that you will experience in every way that welcome and acceptance! God bless you!

  • Benji, Eva, and John,
    Your story is so moving to me, and I applaud your candor and openness in sharing your story from each of your perspectives. Having been a lifetime Covenantor for all of my 39 years, I have known many who have left the Covenant for this reason. It saddens me. Until now it has been an unspoken story, and I thank you for speaking so boldly. You are not alone.

  • Sally Panci

    I am filled with admiration for both you and your parents!

  • Polly McClellan

    Many of us fighting against the oppression of others forget to ask the oppressed what they want and how we can help. We feel the injustice and we get angry or sad or outraged and move to stop the oppression, but we forget that we have not felt the oppression ourselves and sometimes we miss the point in our efforts to do what is right.

    Benj, you have given us all first-hand insight, and I am so thankful. Your statements (and Andrew’s) give us courage and help us to focus on what must be done to make this world a better place without oppression and discrimination–especially in our churches, especially in our Covenant churches.

    I find your statement on how you know that homosexuality is not a sin most helpful. In my relationships with homosexuals, that fact has been most clear. Once, someone at a forum on homosexuality said something like, “Why would I choose this painful life? It is not a choice.” While I knew this logically, hearing it and looking into his eyes made it real. With that statement resonating within me, I think, too, of the one thing I know most truly–God loves everyone. God would not create a “sinful” person on purpose to live a life of pain. WE have inflicted the pain and oppression. God wants us to reach out, accept, and love. Jesus did. Can you imagine Jesus standing at the doors of our churches telling homosexuals that they are not welcome? Can you imagine him saying, “Shhhh. Just don’t tell anyone, OK?” I can’t.

  • LOVE YOU BENJ!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Lynne Sheaff

    Love and hugs to all of you. How eloquent and honest you are. More love. Lynne

  • Kurt Peterson

    The timing of Eva’s text message to you moved me greatly. While we are deeply saddened for the many homosexuals whose families reject them, we are also so thankful for families with hearts full of love and acceptance. I pray that this love would characterize all Covenant churches, and every Christian church. I read recently of Andrew Sullivan (the Daily Dish blogger) coming out to his parents. When he told his father, his father, whom he had NEVER seen cry, wept and was unable to say anything…provoking Sullivan to say to him, “What’s wrong? I’m fine.” His father replied: “No, you don’t understand. I’m crying because of everything you must have been through, and I did nothing to support you.” Sullivan says now: “It was the most honest expression of love I have ever heard.”

  • Sara Salomons

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! I sincerely hope your words will reach and touch the lives of others. I left the ECC because of their stance on homosexuality. My prayer is that a new day will arrive within the church. Peace to you.