The winter of 2004, I was sitting somewhere in the vast Pennsylvania wilderness for my school’s annual “snow camp”—a week where several fundamentalist Baptist schools came together to bring spiritual revival into the lives of their students. This was done by making the teenagers in their charge feel a transitory emotional response to their messages of guilt and fear. The particular session which I found myself in was led by a very passionate preacher who was trying to explain how one becomes a “real” man to his awkward, gangly audience of teenage boys. As he whipped his audience into a frenzy of righteous zeal by decrying worldly influences such as cologne and hair products, he came to the climax of his message.
“You know what the greatest danger to masculinity is in America today? Those homosexuals. Unless we get some real men to rise up and take our country back, those prancing fairies are going to flood our streets with their perversions.”
All around me, the audience erupted in cheers. I mimicked my peers outwardly. Inwardly, it felt like another piece of my spirit had died. Ever since the wave of hormones that mark the beginning of puberty arrived one year earlier, I had known that I was not attracted to women as I felt I should be. Instead, while my male friends discussed the intricacies of feminine anatomy, I found myself becoming more and more drawn to the broad shoulders and the rough faces of the men around me.
My whole life had been within the walls of the church, and I knew what the church had to say about what I was experiencing. Men who were attracted to other men were evil, degenerate and bound directly to hell. Fearing the reactions of my family and friends, I buried my feelings of same-sex attraction hoping that if I ignored them they would eventually dissipate. They didn’t.
For five years, I lived like this: hiding my inner thoughts and feelings while pretending to be the good, Christian little boy who those around me had always known. This double life completely wrecked my mental, emotional and spiritual health. By the time I was a freshman at Cedarville, I was a self-identified agnostic who was starting to exhibit signs of depression and anxiety disorders. Some days I would be unable to sleep for extended periods of time. I would wander around town early in the predawn morning experiencing moments of sheer panic as I thought about what would happen if people figured out my secret. Other days, I couldn’t get myself out of bed. I would lie there missing classes and other social obligations as I tried to gather up the strength to make myself move. Throughout this, I experienced a raging anger towards the being whom I thought was the cause of all my misery—G-d. I had asked him to change my sexuality; I had begged and pleaded with him to make me into a person which would be accepted by the mainstream church. If he hadn’t answered these prayers, then all the internal pain I was experiencing was G-d’s fault. It felt like I was stuck with an abnormal sexual identity and a G-d who didn’t care about me.
Fortunately, I was able to find friends, both Christians and non-Christians, whom I was able to share my hurt and pain with. They did not judge me, but instead offered listening ears as I poured out years of pent up fears and anger. Through the help of this community, the many broken parts of my spirit and psyche began to heal and eventually, I was able to reevaluate Christianity through a new perspective.
If there is a dichotomy between being gay and being a Christian, then it seemed like I had been predestined to not be a Christian. Having those feelings of same sex attraction had never been a choice and after several years of attempting to purge them from my life, they continued on unabated. If this was incompatible with a Christian lifestyle, then it seemed I could never be a Christian. Fortunately, I have met many gay Christians since then who have shown with their lives that the divide between a Christian identity and a gay identity is a false binary.
Throughout my life, I had seen the church as a hostile, unwelcoming institution which wielded G-d’s holy wrath upon the world. Slowly, I began to see that instead the church is meant to be a community of diverse individuals who are lovingly trying to restore this broken world towards G-d’s kingdom. G-d does not hate me because I am gay. The church has a place for those who do not identify as a heterosexual individual. There is a place in G-d’s kingdom for everyone who loves G-d, loves others and works to actively bring that love to the world in a concrete way. In this paradigm of the church, I could be a part of G-d’s community without purging myself of my sexual identity.
While I still have many barriers of bitterness and anger to overcome in my spiritual life, I have come back to the faith of my youth. I am not a pervert. I am not a debaucherous miscreant. I am just a Christian who happens to be gay.