When I decided to come out, I didn’t do so lightly. I was already out to the majority of my non-Christian friends and family, but I hadn’t yet told most of the people at church.
I changed my mind when I found myself in a relationship with a man. It seemed inconceivable to me that I would pursue a relationship with someone and wouldn’t share in that with my brothers and sisters in Christ. If nothing else, I felt there was an integrity issue in amongst the whole thing. By not talking about it, I was all but bare-faced lying each Sunday, and the other days as well.
Before coming clean about my sexual inclinations, my church life had been fairly normal, if highly involved. When I was only 16 one of the pastors told me he thought I was marked out for leadership. The decision was made to get me involved straight away and before long I found that I was easily spending two or three evenings a week at church at various meetings as well as serving the community on a Sunday in various forms. I suppose the easiest way to describe it is that I was earmarked as someone who was trustworthy and who could take on a certain amount of responsibility. So without boring you with the details, I was quickly cemented in the centre of this community of hundreds of people.
Since coming out, that has of course changed. Let me be clear: I knew exactly what I was getting myself in to, and I had already been warned I was making a mistake by a couple of friends. No longer can I be involved in sung worship (though that one’s a little hazy), I can’t lead ministries, I certainly could not lead prayer or be a part of services ‘from the front’. Indeed, though I still have a place and a role in church that is more liberated than most LGBT Christians, I’m still very much swept aside.
What has happened is not unlike the experience of big heavyweights in the faith that have had a ‘fall from grace’. Certainly my personal ministry and involvement was not comparable to Todd Bentley, Mark Driscoll or Mike Guglielmucci, but the response and reaction was still similar. Stripped of responsibility and ministry both so I could “seek God for guidance and repentance” and so that “our brothers and sisters here at church won’t be offended or led in to sin by these indiscretions” I was stunned.
I’m lucky to be a part of a big church, because there are a multitude of opinions and theologies within it. I have friends who vehemently disagree with me, and others who passionately concur. Most remain silent most of the time, because, of course, the church has spent so much of its time with its head on the sand on the issue. And most don’t want the experience I’ve had, to be tarred with my brush, and to be honest, I don’t blame them. Across the board I’ve been lucky to be met with love and compassion, regardless of opinion of my sexuality.
It’s hard to hear my story trampled out publicly for all to gasp at and comment on. It’s tough to know that the ‘fundamentalist corner’ tuts and sighs that I’m even still in the room, and it’s horrendous to know that friends on the staff at the church have put their necks out on my behalf in a way that could have cost them their jobs.
The Homosexuality Question in our churches has the power to divide and destroy us, not because of our exploration of it, but because of our unwillingness to learn how to engage with opposing views and antithetical doctrine. My biggest struggle throughout the last couple of years has always been how to prevent disunity, how to stop the church dividing over the issue.
In truth, for the most part I’ve withdrawn. I don’t talk about it much, except when the whole thing rears its head in front of me in a sermon or a conversation. There are few in that church on a Sunday these days who don’t know that I’m bisexual, and who don’t know that that restricts how I minister and how I exist. If my role in the body was as an arm, then currently I’m a broken arm in a sling, not allowed to move or to be used while I heal.
And the thing is, I’m not going to heal. I’m not going to change. I am utterly convinced that Christ doesn’t condemn my sexuality, my desire for marriage or my intention to pursue relationship as sin. Those feelings have been strongest when I’ve heard preaching to the contrary. Those feelings are strongest in moments of worship or times of prayer. I only doubt it when I’m distant from the Lord.
But walking in to church on a Sunday, I feel alone, no matter how many people greet me with smiles and hugs. I’m different, not because I want to be different, but because I’m not the Christian Ideal. I will never have 2.4 children and a white picket fence, at least, not the way they envision it. If Neil Patrick Harris has proven to the world that gay people can have a perfectly normal home life, then the church has proven that that’s not welcomed.
So, for the time being, like so many of my LGBT brothers and sisters in the Church, I’m stuck. I want to pray for people, I want to see lives transformed. I want to minister to the body. My passion has always been to see the Church be yet more beautiful, to work within it to help it, heal it, transform it. Yet I can’t.
Sarah Bessey put it so well recently, on discussing the responses she gets to her blog:
But we can’t engage in our lives from a place of worthiness without having a core belief about that worthiness: We are loved. We are free. We are redeemed. We are whole in Christ. Your true identity is Beloved. Start there. And then we can live out our lives and our callings from a deep well of love and freedom and wholeness – because we are.
There is something to learn from both the accusations and the accolades, make no mistake. We need to be teachable, to be listeners, to receive the wisdom of others. We need to be open to change. I pray that I am but I know I have a long way to go.
Even – maybe especially – it’s our imperfect, contradictory lives are still miraculously that are singing a beautiful prophetic song of invitation to the Kingdom of God. We all belong. We all fit. With all of our failings and our victories, our imperfections and glories, our wrong opinions and our correct doctrine, our connections or the lack thereof, our platforms or our obscurity, we all belong.
The thing is, I’m not going anywhere. I am absolutely committed to remaining a part of mainstream church. I am still saved, I am still redeemed. And to use Sarah’s juxtaposition: though I was once surrounded by accolades, I’m now surrounded by accusations. But they don’t change who I am, and they don’t change my identity in Christ. I am the same person I was five years ago, when I was respected and lauded. I am the same person, but now I’m honest.
Brian Houston, telling us this week that Hillsong will remain silent on homosexuality for a while is all wrong. We don’t need silence, we don’t need tolerance. As Ben Moberg said so well on Rachel Held Evans’ blog: we need to know where you stand. We need to know what’s going to happen when we walk in to the building, but we also need to know where you’ve got to on the matter. By withdrawing at church, I’ve potentially made a big mistake because everyone has gone silent again. And so I turn up and I carry this shame built up by whispered words in the pews, when I have nothing to be ashamed for.
The conversation, the discussion is the most important thing. Deciding to throw us in the corner and learn again how to do church is not going to fix this. People will leave. Christians will cease to be christians. Souls will be lost. Jesus never called us to do that. Never.
As for me, I’ve started to pipe up again. I’ve already been warned that I’m going to land myself in trouble.
In trouble with who? A few men and a few women who base their beliefs on what they were told to believe as children? Or in trouble with the God who saves, who calls us to honesty, and humility and generosity?
I’ll finish this stream of thoughts with the words of Paul, who was always better at phrasing things than me:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.