“I’ll be singing there this weekend,” she told me. I was excited for her. I had hoped she’d get a chance to sing at this very special venue. We’d sung together numerous times, and I knew this was a good step for her. A big church, with special people I loved. And I was certain they would be moved by her soaring, power-diva vocals.
I slipped in the backdoor after service had already begun. It was my first time going back since I’d left—the first time since I’d come out as a gay man.
I didn’t want to make a scene. I didn’t want to appear as if I was trying to make a point. I knew this church loved gay people, but also that they didn’t accept them…not really. I knew gay people could attend, but they wouldn’t be empowered in leadership. They could come, and they’d be loved on, but they would always be seen as those who had chosen to live in opposition to God’s will. They’d always be…other. Which raises the question, how loved are they…really?
So, I made myself small. I had always been good at that. I knew how to be small. How to fly under the radar. I found a spot in the back of the room…on the floor…in the shadows.
On the screen behind them was the sermon series title. It was about difficult questions. They had decided to take on some of the difficult questions Christians often wrestle with. But I felt a twinge in my gut, because intuitively, I knew what one of those questions would be.
I took my phone from my pocket, pulled up their website and there it was. Homosexuality. It made the cut. It was front and center on the list of difficult questions. And I already knew what the answer would be.
Is homosexuality okay? Answer: It is not. Is God pleased with the homosexual lifestyle? He is not. Are gay people normal or are they…other? They are absolutely…other.
Their message would be no different than so many other churches that you’ve been to…that I’ve been to.
“We love the sinner, but hate the sin.”
This tricky little one-liner is no longer used by many churches, because they’ve intuited from us that it comes across as insincere. They know better than to say it anymore, though they still try to convince us of their love. And I think in their best efforts, they actually do love us.
But, it doesn’t matter how much you love someone. It matters how much they feel loved.
And anyway, this isn’t about love.
It’s about control.
They need for you to behave a certain way if you’re going to be a part of their church. And if you’re gay, they can’t have you holding babies, making decisions over the church finances, or singing on the platform. In their opinion, a gay man or woman leading worship is not ok. It’s just not who they are. And they believe it’s not who God is either.
They might say all of this a little differently, perhaps with a little more diplomacy. But their message will be the same:
“You can go here, but we hope you change. We hope you marry someone of the opposite sex. Our real hope is that God will wave his magic wand over you and make you straight. If he doesn’t, consider this is your cross to bear. But it’s okay, gay friend. You can do it.
“That said, you either need to live a life of celibacy or marry someone you’re not attracted to. After all, some people are born addicts and have to deal with addiction. So press on.”
That’s right. Addiction will be compared to sexuality.
If you stay in this kind of church community, know this; they will read a few scriptures to you about homosexuality being an abomination. They will read things from the Bible about men burning with lust for other men, and women exchanging natural passions for unnatural.
But they won’t be able to help you understand how they are themselves violating the very scriptures they’ve decided to take literally. Because the bible says don’t eat bacon. It says women can’t cut their hair. It says that wearing “mixed fibers” is…
Yet when you ask about these scriptures, they’ll explain (sometimes even convincingly) that it is ridiculous to believe we can’t eat bacon. “Those were cultural laws from back in the day,” they’ll say. “We are no longer required to observe those scriptures.”
But why? Based on what? Under what authority have they decided that these rules are no longer necessary to observe? Certainly, not by the authority of scripture.
They might throw out a couple of verses to back up what they’ve said, but rest assured, you’ll being no clearer when they’re done.
When you ask for further clarification, they’ll work hard to make it make sense for you. And if you still don’t agree, you’ll be written off. And here’s what I mean by “written off”; You might be able to continue attending their churches, but you won’t be able to be hold any sort of leadership position—to be taken seriously as a gay christian.
You see, they are determined about needing agreement on this specific issue, because they are self-appointed gatekeepers. Some of them believe they are standing at the gates of hell, rescuing gay people from eternal conscious torment.
How do I know this? Because I’ve been there. I’ve been that guy. And when you’re that guy and the burden of responsibility is on you, you do not want the blood of the gays on your hands.
Can you imagine the pressure? It’s no wonder pastors include their personal beliefs in sermons and call it, “God’s truth.”
I want to take a moment to be clear about something.
The intention of this essay is not to be mean-spirited. Because the truth is, we are all getting it wrong in one way or another. This is not about having an ax to grind.
It’s about speaking up for the marginalized.
Listen, it would be much easier to keep my mouth shut, especially for this approval seeker. But there’s a time for speaking up. A time to say what needs to be said. A time to challenge. To implore. To be honest.
For too long, I’ve kept my mouth shut. I’ve made myself small. Why? So they would have more room to be big. I didn’t want to get in their way. I didn’t want to cause problems for them…or myself.
So, why speak up now?
Because after telling my own coming out story, I started receiving emails. Story after story, which turned into phone call after phone call with people who are so broken.
Suicidal. Hopeless. Lost. Their kids are killing themselves. They are at wits’ end, on the brink, and WE ARE LOSING THEM.
Do you know that there are churches in Indianapolis whose onsite counselors are STILL USING CONVERSION THERAPY to quell the gay? If you are a parishioner, counselor, pastor, or leader in one of those churches, you should be putting in as much time on your knees, laid bare before God in humility, asking whether your message of “gay is not okay” is driving people away from God and to an early death. Because I promise you, it is. The stats are in. It’s not debatable anymore.
If that’s the message you’re sending, put in the necessary time. Blood, sweat, and tears. Pray it out. Show me your compassion. Show me your empathy. And then, show me the list of gay friends you care about, love, serve, respect, ACCEPT. Tell me they feel safe around you. Tell me they feel safe in your church.
Because when they hear your unmanageable and unrealistic message, some will put a bullet in their head. Others will throw a rope around a wood beam in their garage. And of those who don’t take their own lives, many of them will leave the church…THE BODY OF JESUS CHRIST…and never come back.
Dead. Disappeared. Gone.
That’s the real blood that will be on our hands. And that blood is no metaphor.
Maybe there’s another way.
Maybe we could just love God, love our neighbor, and call it a day? We could spend the rest of our lives living out this most important command. Sounds good to me.
I’ve tried to imagine Jesus telling a gay person they couldn’t love on the children standing near him as he delivered the Sermon on the Mount. Or sort the money they collected for the poor. Seriously. Just think about it. I can’t conceive of him saying, “You can’t sing for my people. You can’t sing…
Can you? Honestly.
God…I have tears in my eyes. I’m so sad. If this has happened to you. I am so sorry. If the church has complicated your world, made you feel less than, looked down their nose at you in the most loving way they knew how, please forgive us. Because…
We. Were. Wrong.
You deserved better. You deserved so much more.
Because you are gay and beautiful. You don’t need to change a thing, except to lose those deep feelings of shame and self-loathing. Except to root out that deep desire to be something else…to be straight.
These heavy things are no longer yours to carry. Not for one more day.
You. Beautiful you.
You gorgeous gay woman. You amazing gay man.
I see you.
At the end of the service that evening, my soulful sister took to the stage to sing. It was why I was there—to see her do her thing. To slip in the back door unnoticed.
To be small.
I couldn’t help but notice, when she walked out on the platform…she wasn’t small. She was larger than life. Wearing a fur vest (things only a gay man would notice). Makeup so completely on point, side ponytail…and those shoes. She looked amazing.
After a moment of silence, the piano rang out. With eyes tightly closed and a hand held out in my direction, she took a deep breath and began. The very first words out of her mouth were these:
“You’re broken down and tired…”
Yes, girl. So damn tired. Tired of hiding. Tired of defending. Tired of fighting.
But guess what? It was Martin Luther King Day weekend; a day renowned for fighting…for defending…
For speaking out.
Honestly, it’s not like me to speak up. Not like this. I’m very careful about how I address social issues, because I want to make sure no one is offended.
But maybe being offended is the appropriate response. Maybe there is something beneath the outrage. A place we must all go. Where we let go of the assumptions we’ve made about the LGBTQ community. Where we reconsider the biblical passages we’ve applied to gay people (in a literal way), while turning other passages into metaphors because it’s what suited us best.
Then I heard these words, and they lit something within me.
“You can’t find the fighter, but I see it in you
So, we gonna walk it out and move mountains
We gonna walk it out and move mountains”
This when I stood up out of the shadows and walked into the light of the room.
My gorgeous, strong, passionate friend sang to thousands that night. Though I doubt she was aware that God was using her to call me out of the shadowy spot where I had hidden away—hoping no one would notice.
She continued singing, her voice finding notes that shook me. I had been afraid when I walked into that room, and now I was laughing at the power I had forgotten was already within me.
Before she was halfway through the song, I covered my mouth to stifle my cries, because I already knew I was going to write this post. I already knew I had to say something.
I shut my eyes to gather the strength. I took in the courage I knew I would need, while she continued singing this prayer over us.
“I’ll rise up, I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up, I’ll rise unafraid
I’ll rise up and I’ll do it a thousand times again
I’ll rise up, high like the waves
I’ll rise up, in spite of the ache
I’ll rise up, and I’ll do it a thousand times again…for you”
This, my friends, is for you. This is why I’m speaking up.
To my gay brothers and sisters. My LGBTQ community:
You don’t need to slip in the backdoor unnoticed, like I did. You don’t need to hide in the shadows of your churches. If they preach a message that shuts you out—that says you are not okay exactly as you are—challenge them on it. Call it out. And if they persist, find a spiritual community that will welcome and celebrate you as the child of God you are.
If you’re in Indianapolis, send me an email and I’ll tell you where you, your gay children, grandchildren, and gay friends WILL be welcome. And for God’s sake, RISE UP.
For yourself. For them. For us.
And now, to my Christian brothers and sisters at churches who are closed to gay people. To all of the leaders and pastors who will not allow gay people to serve in their churches; to teach, to sing, to LEAD:
A time is coming. A CHANGE is coming. It’s already happening. So, all due respect…get with the program. Because here’s the thing; shutting out the gay community; equating their sexuality with addiction, murder, stealing, or any sort of sin, impacts us negatively. And if it impacts us negatively, know this; it will impact you negatively. Because all this homophobia, all this lack of understanding and ego driven fear…will come back on you.
Gay is not going away. Can you feel it? Soon it will be your grandkids, nephews and nieces, your sons and daughters. In fact, it already is.
What will you say to them when they come out?
“Love the sinner, hate the sin?”
Oh…rise up, my friends. Stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. We can no longer be silent accomplices to the life-threatening harm and spiritual abuse of our gay brothers and sisters.
So please…rise up.
For yourself. For them. For us.