The first post in this series briefly explained some of the potential dangers and pitfalls of writing openly about that bewildering intersection of my faith and homosexuality. I’m here again, so apparently I did a terrible job of dissuading myself.
This post will focus on a few of the reasons why I believe the good that can come from being fully “out” overwhelms any fears or negative responses, and compels me toward a life of openness.
Pros: On a personal level, not having to cover up my sexuality is a blessing. Or, stated more profoundly, not having to hide the full breadth of the grace of God in my life is tremendously freeing. If my testimony is the story of how I have come to know God more intimately and powerfully, then integral to that witness is his process of bringing an intensely confused and hurting son of his from the depths of denial about his sexuality to a place where he feels increasingly reconciled to himself, where he is surrounded by friends and mentors who form a rich community of laughter and rest, and where he can say – and this is no small thing – that he knows he is loved and that he knows he is worthy of love.
Having to omit the agonizingly slow (and still continuing) journey toward understanding what it means to be attracted to men diminishes the gospel of my life because I have fallen more in love with God in the crazy, messy midst of it all. And it leaves me with the chore of trying to convince listeners that the cause of my (now-mostly-resolved) perpetual anxiety, crippling fear of rejection, general lack of trust, self-loathing, and throwing-journals-at-pictures-of-Jesus-hugging-people tendencies was just “daddy problems” or playing too much Pokémon as a kid (like such a thing is even possible).
So, for myself, it’s a healthy move. But I think the more important reason is that coming out can contribute to the well-being and mission of the Church.
A major weakness of American (conservative) Christianity has been the tendency to respond to LGBTQ people and their stories with bloodless dogma. LGBTQ people are often kept at a distance, which I guess is what makes it so easy for some Christians to fire away with their sniper rifles of “truth-telling.” So long as there is distance, beliefs can remain undisturbed and comfortable.
But I want those Christians to know that I brush legs with them as I slide into the row. I shake their hand or hug them as we pass the peace of Christ. I share the communion cup and broken bread. We are one body.
There is no distance.
Contrary to common pulpit rhetoric, there is no LGBTQ “they.” If I want the American Church to come to its senses and realize that this isn’t something that is “out there,” I should stand up. And if I want the American Church to understand that if it focuses primarily on espousing ideologies and abstract generalizations it will damage and drive away the very real and very vulnerable people sitting in its pews, I should speak up. The fear that kept me rooted to my seat and tight-lipped prevented me from fully caring for my brothers and sisters. I simply cannot be passive anymore.
Churches move slowly, but my physical presence makes it harder for them to drag their feet or speak brashly. At my own church the fallout from my testimony, which wasn’t pretty, ultimately resulted in the elder board getting together and hashing out what they actually believed about sexuality and how they should respond to gay people in their congregation; a very good thing. That experience, as painful as it was, is when I became convinced that I needed to stop being closeted.
Because this isn’t just about me. There are still countless men and women whose knuckles turn white when the pastor mentions homosexuality because, suddenly, he’s talking about them, who feel like they are walking this path alone and are haunted by anxiety that someone may discover their secret. I know they are there because I’ve been one of them.
I remember the incredible relief I felt when I found books or blogs written by people who shared that piece of my story, and it is a privilege to be a part of someone else’s journey toward wholeness.
I want them to know peace. And the only way they will know that peace is if their church body becomes a community of grace dedicated to loving them and listening to them, understanding that the life ahead of them will certainly not always be easy, and committing to be there for them each step of the way.
This is what the Church should always be for everyone – and I’ve found being out gives me the blessed opportunity to remind it of this calling.
And, lastly, living out of the closet as a celibate, gay Christian gives me the opportunity to speak to a world that has lost its mind when it comes to sex and relationships. The culture at large (including the Church) has drunk deep the lie that sexual activity is essential to being human and that true joy or flourishing are impossible to find outside of a romantic relationship. My existence, the fact that I’m more passionate and excited about life than I’ve ever been without being “gifted” for celibacy (just… just trust me on that), stands as a modest counterpoint to an off-balance world.
Now, I’m young – young enough to barely remember those dark years when shoulder-pads were “fashionable” – so I have plenty of time to fulfill the expectations of many and dissolve into a prudish heap of ash because of my sad and sexless life; but I don’t think that will happen.
Because as I stand up and speak out, reminding the Church what it is called to and how it could love more fully those in and outside itself, the Church will do the same for me. I’m choosing to live openly because I love the Church too much to let it love LGBTQ people so poorly, and because I know that as I press into it I, too, will learn to love better.
And so we will all become a little bit more like Christ, together.
P.S. I do recognize that many people, due to contextual circumstances, simply cannot afford to be so open. I get that, and wish you the best – that you would be strengthened by some form of community and covered in love. This post was not meant to be an indictment of your experience in any way.
Matt Jones is a student at Fuller Seminary who blogs over at A Joyful Stammering. He could be worse.
Matthew, you absolutely nail it. I find myself in your exact shoes, and this blog has become a daily ritual for me when for seeking encouragement in trying to live out what I believe is Christ’s will for my life. The journey from denial to walking in the light of truth about my sexuality, my struggles, and my choices in light of my circumstances has been the hardest of my life. However, know that you are not the only 23 year old out there who is gay and is choosing to live a celibate life in light of what the Scriptures tell us. Keep up the good work man. Your courage and honesty is inspiring.
Matt, you are amazing man !! Every word of yours that I read convinces me and tells me that Jesus can and does love us crazy, broken, forms no less than the remainder of humanity. I read and I am flooded with hope. Thank you young Matt !!!!
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Shoulder pads in men’s suits are fashionable again. I know..I cringed too. 😛
FYI, I quoted several sentences from this post in a comment on another blog post: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2013/08/15/five-commitments-to-those-struggling-with-same-sex-attraction-in-our-midst/?comments#comment-38343
Please correct me if my quoted snippets misrepresent what was posted here (I posted there merely to give a quick overview of this post).
Looks good to me! As long as you don’t, like, splice the words to turn it into a satanic invocation of Cthulu then we’re fine.
(side note: if you *could* somehow do that, that would be zany.)
Blessings on your journey!
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