Back in 2013, I wrote a post about the importance of “coming out” and how I first started coming out to people. (In that post, as well as this one, by “coming out” I simply mean disclosing my orientation.) I previously focused on the initial process of coming out to a few friends and/or family members for support. As should be obvious from the fact I’m blogging here under my real name, that was only the beginning of a trajectory towards becoming much more open.
Given what I’ve been doing, I’ve found that a lot of sexual minority Christians have been asking me about how open they should be about their sexuality. I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all answer to that question. Rather, it’s a process of discernment that depends on individual circumstances.
I’d like to offer some reflections on that process. In the past, people have found it helpful when I’ve put my practical reflections in the context of my own experience, so in this post I will offer a summary of how I got to where I am today.
When I initially started coming out to people, it was about pursuing emotional health and, to a significant degree, change in orientation. Although I never found the orientation change I was looking for, I did come to a place of peace. I had enough people in my life who knew about my sexuality to feel that I was being known, and I wasn’t so overwhelmed by shame. I didn’t really see the need to open up more broadly, though I did know that as I moved to new places for graduate school and employment I would need to develop new support networks.
My world was rocked in July of 2009 by a guy named Steve who had attended Wheaton College the same time I attended Taylor University, from 2005 to 2009. He wrote a post called “Gay at Wheaton” in which he discussed his own experiences. His description of Wheaton sounded exactly like Taylor—-and like many other conservative Christian environments. Homosexuality was discussed as an abstract issue, without real awareness of or concern for the actual gay people present. I had always found this frustrating, but hadn’t really been motivated to do much about it. But Steve’s post also had one sentence that hit me like a ton of bricks:
In my time at Wheaton, I have known probably two dozen gay students, and almost all of them have shared with me that they were (or had recently been) suicidal.
This gave me the realization that it really wasn’t just about me. I had never been to the point of being suicidal, but that fact apparently made me the exception rather than the rule. Something about conservative Christian responses to homosexuality had gone even more horribly wrong than I’d realized. But what?
In that post, Steve mentioned the “well-meaning but deadly silence:” straight Christians didn’t talk about the gay people in their midst, and the gay people in their midst were never open about their sexuality, creating a vicious cycle. I realized that I had a unique ability to fight this cycle by coming out more broadly.
I also came to think about how I had always wished for more role models who had similar experiences with same-sex attraction and the pursuit of traditional Christian faithfulness, and how blessed I had been by the few I had known about purely from the Internet. I realized that what I had always really wanted was for more people in my position to talk more openly and offer some hope.
So did this mean God was calling me to be more open than I needed to be strictly for my own emotional health? The thought was terrifying. Although I had opened up to a few people, it was still fairly difficult and scary every time. So my basic thought was, “Everyone else needs to start opening up, because I’ll never have the courage. Right?”
That wasn’t the only thing that happened that summer. I had been following a blogger named Karen who had been open about her sexuality and her failure to experience orientation change in the context of ex-gay ministry. The way she engaged the conversation and her openness had both been an inspiration to me. It turned out she was moving to North Carolina the same time I was, within quite reasonable driving distance.
I started wondering about reaching out to Karen and getting together. My biggest fear was that she’d somehow talk me into being more open about my sexuality. That turned out to be one of the most rational fears I’ve ever had, but I’m so glad I didn’t let that get in the way of getting to know her. In addition to the wonderful support, she had a way with questions.
She’d ask, for example, “What would happen if all of us Christians who experience same-sex attraction were open about that in our churches?” The obvious response to me was, “That would be awesome. Everybody else needs to do that.” Or she’d ask, “Why is it that only Christians who affirm gay relationships are coming out?” It became pretty clear to me that somebody really needed to start being more open.
It obviously occurred to me that expecting everybody else to come out, rather than me, wasn’t really reasonable. I quickly realized that most others faced the same kinds of fears I did. Were they really in a place where it made more sense for them than it did for me?
By this time, I had come to have a decent amount of local support. I had brought up my sexuality during my membership interview at my church, and it had gone over well. There had been the time in small group when I had thought about bringing up my sexuality, but was too afraid to bring it up. I prayed that God would give me a sign if he really wanted me to do so. Then another member promptly brought up a friend who came out as gay, and during that discussion I shared about my own experience. I had also shared with my apartment-mate, whom I had a close friendship with.
I came to realize that even if my worse fears were realized, I had a significant support network to fall back on. So it actually made more sense for me to start opening up more than most people. I started to discern that maybe God was really calling me to do so. I thought and prayed a lot about it, and I got some counsel from folks at church. In the end, the fear didn’t go away, but I decided to take the plunge.
2011 was the year most of this started. I was a student leader in the graduate chapter of InterVarsity at UNC, and we brought in Karen to do a talk to the chapter. During the introduction, I shared some about my own story. I shared my story again with my church during a Sunday School lesson. For National Coming Out Day in October, I shared a social media post with a select group of friends that was broad enough to include everyone I knew from church, InterVarsity, or Taylor. I also started posting other things about sexuality from time to time, visible to the same people. These were just a few of the more significant steps I started taking around that time.
So I started becoming an influence on my own communities, and showing believers that there are sexual minorities among them. I also learned to overcome all the fears and anxieties that came with sharing more openly. Coming out was initially difficult and nerve-wracking, but with time and practice it slowly got easier.
I figured I’d finally arrived. This was what God was calling me to, right? I’d be open with the Christian communities in my life, but nothing too public. I’d never want this stuff to show up on an Internet search for my name or anything like that, because that would be a little much.
Well, God wasn’t through with me yet.
In 2012, I also got connected with some of the online discussions that were the precursor to Spiritual Friendship. I was really encouraged to see some good thinking from many of the same people that are active here today. In particular, I got to know both Ron Belgau and Wesley Hill. When they created Spiritual Friendship, I was excited that the ideas we had been discussing were becoming more public, and that I could share them more broadly.
Then, in early 2013, Ron mentioned that he liked some of what I had been sharing on social media and was interested in possibly having me contribute to Spiritual Friendship. This was an exciting opportunity, with the only downside being that Ron and Wes wanted to keep Spiritual Friendship a forum where real names are used. Among other things, I was concerned about possible issues with employment, either in the Christian world (due to my sexuality) or the secular world (due to my convictions). I took several weeks to think, pray, and seek counsel before deciding to take another plunge and start contributing.
So that’s basically how I got to the point I’m at now. I’ve still taken some steps so that my contribution to the discussion isn’t too front-and-center with the wrong people. For example, my coworkers can’t see the social media posts I make about sexuality. However, they could always find out by Googling my name, so it’s not really secret. The cat is out of the bag now. It’s amazing to see how much further God has brought me than I ever thought would happen.
In my next post, I’ll offer some further reflections on how a similar discernment process might look for someone else.
Jeremy Erickson is a software engineer in Wisconsin. He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Thanks for this post. I have been wrestling a lot lately with how “out” I should be. Right now, two close friends and my counselor are aware, and I have been rationalizing that that’s enough, other people don’t need to know about my sexual issues. ESPECIALLY not my family. But this really hit me: “Did this mean God was calling me to be more open than I needed to be strictly for my own emotional health?”
Ugh! Please be in prayer for me as I figure out who I should share with next. Lord, give me both wisdom and bravery. Let me be a blessing to another sister or brother!
Also, don’t forget it’s not just gays at Christian universities who are suicidal – both I and the one other (non-Christian) gay person I knew at secular university were as well. It’s a significant percentage among sexual minorities everywhere.
Looking forward to your next post 🙂
The pervasiveness of suicide ideation is caused, in no small part, by the traditionalist doctrine which is inherently harmful. It says that gay people are profoundly flawed in a way that makes us unsuitable for intimacy. It says that gay relationships, and the people in them, are inferior and immoral. It demands stigmatization of gay people in society which engenders rejection (or at least the risk of rejection) even within families.
At this site, so much is made of the moral superiority of celibacy (or, more dangerously, of mixed-orientation marriages); yet no time is spent in examining the morality of choosing to subscribe to the traditionalist belief. It is, as David Gushee recently called it, the teaching of contempt for gay people.
I hear you. Still, I’d hesitate to be too quick in criticizing celibacy or mixed-orientation marriages (MOMs). There’s nothing inherently wrong with either choice. That being said, if someone’s making these choices simply as a way of remaining in good standing within their conservative church community, then I don’t recommend it. In my experience, conservative church communities are generally unwilling to accept openly gay people as anything other than second-class Christians.
I grew up in a conservative Presbyterian denomination (PCA) and was attending a PCA church when I came out. Even though I was a devout Christian, celibate, outwardly masculine, athletic, mentally stable, educated (PhD & JD), and professionally accomplished, many people who had been my friends gradually cut me out of their lives. And while my pastor didn’t demand that I undergo reparative therapy, he nevertheless questioned whether I could participate fully in the life of the church due to my “inherently unnatural” state. As I probed this issue further, it became clear that he had no intention of trying to understand my experiences, and held to a theology that valorized the expression of heterosexual desire as a form of spirituality, i.e., that you have to be horny (toward women) to be holy.
So, if one is taking the course of celibacy or MOM simply to fit into deeply homophobic environments, such as those that one finds in most evangelical Reformed contexts, then I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s probably better just to walk away, which is what I did, opting for a PCUSA church instead.
As I’ve said before, I’m not so convinced that the problems are as inherent as you think. I did in fact do a post examining exactly the question you claim we’re evading: The Fruit of Traditional Teaching.
I know you disagree with my conclusions, but I don’t think it’s fair to say we’ve spent “no time” examining the issue.
As we’ve discussed before, you seem to think some things are necessary implications of the traditional belief, whereas I think they’re a result of a mis-application of traditional belief combined with faulty 20th/21st century assumptions. But our last discussion didn’t seem to go anywhere, so I’m not sure it’s helpful to keep rehashing.
LDS researchers found that suicide ideation was pervasive in gay Mormons. So much so, that these non-affirming researchers actually built it into their model for sexual identity development. They call it “hitting bottom” and, from that point, their subjects either embrace their sexuality and leave the church or embrace the Church teaching and a Mormon identity. [this is a shocking echo to the shame language that says affirming gay people haven’t made their identity in Christ]
I may not have my m-div, but I’m pretty sure theology shouldn’t lead to suicide.
Of course theology shouldn’t lead to suicide. But even in this case, there are more factors at play than just theology. You mentioned one such factor yourself in this very comment: the claim about identity. I’ve heard plenty of other factors from people who come from Mormon backgrounds, many of which are common in orthodox Christian backgrounds as well.
It’s not the M. Div. where I think you’re missing something; it’s the training in how statistics works and how to distinguish correlation from causation. I don’t dispute that these problems exist, but I do dispute that you’ve established direct (and unavoidable) causation. You keep using words like “inherently” and “caused,” which is causation language. That’s where I disagree that you’ve established your claims.
But this is the discussion we’ve had before, and it doesn’t seem to go anywhere.
I wholly agree with you about celibacy (I’m more cautious about MOMs considering some of the anecdotal evidence). If one freely chooses this difficult path, I see that as a beautiful gift of ones sexuality given to God.
In that regard, I fully embrace this site’s original mission of creating communities in which single people can thrive. Indeed, I have learned something valuable here.
However, the traditional doctrine doesn’t leave room for such a free choice – celibacy is a demand rather than an option. Failure to comply requires the community to shame, stigmatize, and exclude gay people who are open to romantic intimacy. Thus the doctrine is itself emotionally coercive and abusive.
It’s not hard to understand how both the insistance that gay people are inherently inferior coupled with community/family pressures have a devistating impact on the 13-year-old gay kid in the front pew. That kid doesn’t likely have the ability to simply move to a denomination that affirms their humanity.
Sometimes the simplest solution is the best one.
Would you agree that a gay kid growing up in a traditionalist church faces religion-induced distress regarding his sexuality that the gay kid in an affirming church does not have to endure? If so, the fact of this distress is evidence of harm.
I agree that there are ways to mitigate this harm – specifically adopting a legitimization view and/or an accommodation view. But I think it’s hard to deny the deleterious effects of the teaching itself.
The fact that harm is being done is well-established, and I do agree that some of the most significant types of harm are much more common in traditionalist churches. However, I believe that affirming churches are teaching false doctrine, which has its own type of spiritual harm. Due to the fact I haven’t found the affirming arguments I’ve seen convincing, the cost I see is actually the authority of Scripture itself, even ignoring the direct spiritual consequences of the teaching on sexuality. The analysis gets more complicated for people who have found the affirming interpretations of Scripture convincing, but given how seriously sexual sin is taken in the New Testament, I can’t just say “no harm done” without my beliefs changing. So I think that finding ways to reduce the harm within a traditional ethic is the course we should be taking.
(Of course, you disagree that the affirming view is false doctrine, so we’re not going to agree there.)
I also don’t know that we agree on the ways to mitigate the harm. I have higher hopes for taking a more consistent view of the Fall’s effect on everyone’s sexuality (including that of straight people) and of finding ways to help people find intimacy outside the context of relationships that include sex. Given our massive failures in both of those areas, I do think it’s really premature to blame the teaching.
Hi Ford, I know this analogy doesn’t fit exactly but it’s been helpful to me in thinking about why I abstain from same-sex relations. Another teaching of Jesus’ that’s caused significant harm is divorce: he says pretty clearly that once you’re married, that’s it, except for adultery or if your spouse leaves first. With three abusive marriages in my immediate family, this is extremely personal and important to me. For my mom to find emotional fulfillment and any kind of enjoyment in life, she would’ve had to divorce my stepfather, but she was trapped. (Things have changed since the worst years.) Similarly to your 13-year-old, this teaching has brought her to the brink of suicide. Does that mean Jesus’ words are incorrect? No, it means there are evil people who do evil things and make us wish we were dead.
Both divorce and celibacy are difficult teachings that can bring significant amounts of suffering and misery into our lives. That’s why his disciples responded, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” And Jesus replied, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.” (Matt 19:10-11) Sometimes we don’t get to live sexually and emotionally fulfilling lives. Christ never promised me or my mom loving romantic relationships, or an outlet for our sexual desires. But his love is enough. Even for the gay 13-year-old surrounded by people who exclude him and see him as subhuman, and even for my mom who has endured so many years in her marriage.
Note: I advocate strongly for calling the police immediately in physically or sexually abusive situations. I also believe in separation from an emotionally abusive spouse. Never allow someone to sin against you without facing the consequences of their actions. And be VERY VERY careful who you marry.
You’re right. I find the suffering imposed by obligatory celibacy to be unjust and unnecessary. And, considering the harm inherent in the traditional doctrine, it is itself morally suspect.
But, while I profoundly disagree with you, I understand your point and find it to be intellectually honest.
So it sounds like a legitimization view is beyond the pale for you. I’d urge you, then, to consider an accommodation view (as posited by Smedes and others) -that is: We are all dealing with post-fall brokenness in our sexuality; so while not God’s ideal, covenental partnership may be the most moral life available to some people who are gay. This view offers hope – an alternative to speeding the afterlife – to those for whom celibacy/singleness is unsustainable.
I think the 13 year old at the front pew will struggle but I believe struggle can be very positive for spiritual growth. I whole heartily agree with Jeremy that to ease the struggle we need to be open and understanding of each other. We don’t need to drop traditional doctrine, the one that has been taught for centuries since Christ. Also, as I pointed out before: If this doctrine is wrong and the Holy Spirit has allowed so many centuries to go by, with so many people affected because of the teaching of the Church, and all of the sudden He reveals the “correct” doctrine that homosexuals can have homosexual sex, then He is either an evil God (because He allowed incorrect doctrine to be taught and cause the suffering of centuries of people) or He is a weak God because He couldn’t prevent the Church from teaching incorrect doctrine. These are impossibilities therefore traditional doctrine must stand.
I understand where you’re going, but I think that’s an argument that leads us to faithlessness because suffering under unjust religious law *does* happen. I believe that’s a result of our fallen nature – not because God is evil or weak.
In Matthew 19, Jesus revises Levitical law saying it’s no longer OK to divorce for any reason other than sexual immorality. What would you say about the women who, for centuries, had been cast aside? Would you say they’re living evidence that God is evil or weak?
Jesus explains that the law reflects the capacity of God’s people to accept the truth. Hardness of heart, he said, distorted Truth.
The same can be said for slavery. I don’t believe that treating another human being as property was ever within the will of God, yet slavery was condoned in the bible and, for centuries, it was considered morally acceptable. What would you say about those who, across the centuries, were robbed of their agency? Does the suffering associated with slavery reveal God to be evil or weak? I think it speaks to the fallenness of man. Our more just, extra-biblical understanding of slavery points us towards reconciliation. That is the sanctifying work or the Spirit.
I’d make a similar argument about the subjugation of women.
And so, no, I don’t think God is evil or weak just because the Church has had a hardened heart towards people who are gay. But I don’t think that the suffering that has been endured was ever within God’s will. And, thankfully, the Holy Spirit is moving in this time and this place to soften hearts and change minds.
Starting with the Daughters of Zelophehad, God’s law always gets revised towards justice. Because God is just.
“The pervasiveness of suicide ideation is caused, in no small part, by the traditionalist doctrine which is inherently harmful.”
Are suicides less common among gay people in countries like the Netherlands or cities like San Francisco? That sounds like a testable hypothesis.
What’s taught in most churches today is not a traditional doctrine. It’s a modernist doctrine that owes more to post-Enlightenment romanticism and Freudian psychology than anything historically Christian. That’s true whether you’re a conservative Catholic of an evangelical Protestant.
The view expressed in the RCC Catechism makes major concessions toward modernist doctrines that were popular at the time when the Catechism was drafted (1980s). These views represent a rather distinct departure from the views of sexuality that had prevailed in the RCC for the preceding centuries.
In that same vein, evangelicals largely teach the same flawed modernist doctrine. The valorization of heterosexual desire that one sees in evangelical theology finds no progeny in Scripture or in any Protestant creed or catechism. It stands in rather start contrast to Paul’s rather dim view of heterosexual desire.
If we actually taught a traditional doctrine of sexuality in the church, then I daresay we wouldn’t even need to have this discussion. Under the traditional rubric, you were either male or female. Males married females, and that was the end of the matter. Sexual desire played no factor in the analysis, as marriage was viewed as an institution for the restraining of such desire. As our culture (and the church) came to redefine marriage as an expression of (hetero)sexual desire, it suddenly became an issue.
So, no, the church isn’t teaching a traditional view of marriage. And that’s precisely the problem. Rather, it’s teaching a modernist view of marriage that improperly excludes those who lack robust heterosexual desire.
Thank you for your answer Ford. However the main difference between your teaching and Jesus teaching is tha He does not contradict the Law of Moses while you do. In fact, whoever lives his life according to Jesus teachings abides by the Law of Moses as well but whoever lives by your teaching lives outside the Law of Moses. Thus, there is no struggle between Jesus and Moses but there is obvious struggle between you and Jesus and Moses. Your teaching on homosexuality falls outside the Law of God, given by Moses and perfected in Jesus. And I really wouldn’t want to be in your place because the Lord clearly said:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets: I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law, until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Therefore I wouldn’t want to be teaching others to break the commandments of the Law…
I’m sorry…that makes absolutely no sense. Your comment doesn’t square with scripture. Jesus revised the Mosaic code (ie, the law of Moses) regarding divorce. Jesus reinterpreted law regarding the sabbath. Jesus was a revisionist not a traditionalist. Of course Christ has insider information….;)
That’s an interesting thought. I think one of the things that’s important to remember is that, faced with rejection in society, gay people self-ghettoized in neighborhoods like the Castro, the Village, or Boystown. People move to gayborhoods after they’ve endured distress and possible suicide ideation. The netherlands, on the other hand, might be an interesting comparison to someplace like Alabama. I’ll check it out. Thanks for the thought.
A quick observation: what you point out about gay neighborhoods is pretty much exactly what I’m trying to get across regarding correlation and causation. The previous rejection is a confounding factor, so there’s more to the story than the attitudes of the city’s residents. The Netherlands don’t have such an obvious confounding factor, but I’m still unsure what the results of the study would be, as there could be a less obvious confounding factor.
The main reason I’m not so sure the traditional view is inherently harmful is that I haven’t seen churches that hold traditional views without these confounding factors to some extent or another, and often having them pretty strongly. To me, there are pretty obvious confounding factors that are obvious things to work on.
Without these confounding factors, I’d be more ready to jump on other ideas like accommodationism than I currently am.
Life isn’t a controlled experiment. At what point can you just admit that this bitter fruit has flowed from this traditionalist doctrine (and is absent from doctrine that affirms the full humanity of people who are gay).
I’m not sure it’s right to call the modernist doctrine flawed. We have a modern understanding of sexuality. That understanding rightly should transform our understanding of expressions of that sexuality. To conserve pre-modern understandings of sexuality is to put our heads in the sand. Ignorance is so unattractive.
Jesus did not revised the Law but perfected ithat. And living within Jesus commands keep us also living within the precepts of the Law. But living according to your perspective puts us outside the Law. If Jesus revised the Law, as you say, then he would contradict himself. He did not revised but fullfilled and made perfect.
Ill take your example to illustrate, divorce. Does following Jesus in regards to divorce breaks the Law of Moses? No. Does following you in regards to homosexuality breaks the Law of Moses? Yes
Hi Rosa –
If the gospels are to be believed, Jesus frequently and intentionally acted contrary to the Mosaic code. He showed us a new way of operating in the world – a life informed by justice, compassion and mercy.
He laid hands on many, many unclean people including leapers. He broke the sabbath by healing people and defended those picking grain. He traveled through Samaria and spoke with a Samaritan woman. He touched the widow’s dead son and Jairus’ dead daughter in order to resurrect them. He brought unclean people into the temple.
There are more than 40 examples of Jesus defying religious law or custom. If Jesus had a catch phrase, it would be “You’ve heard it said…but I say to you…”
That being said, marriage in no way violates Levitical law intended to keep powerful men from taking sexual advantage of other men, and to maintain a sense of what it meant to be a man in ancient Near Eastern society.
Marriage is cruciform. It requires mutual self-sacrifice, mutual care-taking, unconditional love, and fidelity for a lifetime. It creates a family that serves the community. Marriage is aligned with the gospel.
This is where following Jesus has led me.
Sorry for the delay. I read you yesterday but couldn’t answer.
In your last post to me you are talking about ceremonial law. Before you were talking about moral law. Yes, Jesus became ceremonially (ritually) “unclean” out of compassion for people but this was no moral transgression. When a person became “unclean” in this way the law prescribe rituals to become “clean” again. It is a fact that Jesus was never rebellious towards the law but towards the Pharisees and more specifically towards their hypocrisy. So, to avoid giving scandal in regards to the law, I believe He made use of the rituals to make himself “clean” again (there is no consensus on this amongst people that know much more than me).
But the bottom line remains the same: no one that follows Christ’s moral precepts will break Moses’ moral law, but following your path people will. Your path leads to disobedience and it calls for breaking God’s moral law.
Now, what is the mark of a true follower of Christ? It is the fact that he takes the narrow path and it becomes evident to others because he is willing to take his cross, be crucified and die on it. This is the path of obedience and whoever doesn’t take it is not following Christ.
Thank you for reading and for sharing Ford. Will God bless you always.
How can I as a straight Christian contribute in this area? I have posted some SF posts & other posts regarding the church and LGBT on social media which only my Christian friends can see (as I believe that non Christians would view them as homophobic/bigoted). I have two online friends who are gay Christians and I hid one SF post from them both as I didn’t want to alienate them – they are both ‘practising’ homosexuals for want of a better term.
That’s a good question. I had a few thoughts on that in my original “On Coming Out” post – https://spiritualfriendship.org/2013/06/15/on-coming-out/
I think posting things online can also be a helpful thing. It’s one way to get people thinking, and it will at least show people with convictions like ours that you’re probably a safe person to talk to.
I suspect bringing things up in person may be even more effective, but it’s not always a natural thing to bring up. When LGBT things come up in an abstract manner, though, adding your voice to talk about faithful LGBT Christians would be really helpful.
I’m glad you’re thinking about this and wanting to support us. I hope this is helpful, and God bless you!
I will tell you how we heterosexual traditional-Christian people can help: by holding the view that heterosexual sins are as bad or worse than homosexual sins. Things such as sex before marriage and adultery… These are as bad or sometimes worse than homosexual sex.
I hold that view already 🙂
Me too! I’ve held it since I became aware of sexuality! 😊 but the key would be to make others aware of this fact: heterosexual sins are as bad as homosexual sins.
It’s so complicated. I think about it sometimes but being out in my context just seems so dangerous. I’m a pretty traditional Catholic and so are my close friends. The kind of guys that read Crisis and sometimes peek at the Remnant. Sometimes I feel like moving to a far away town and starting all over again. I’d be out from the get-go.
I’m catholic and very traditional and I would definetly be friends with a gay man particularly if he is traditional too.
And I believe no one should be in the closet. It is not healthy.
Hi, Jeremy–you wrote: ****In that post, Steve mentioned the “well-meaning but deadly silence:” straight Christians didn’t talk about the gay people in their midst, and the gay people in their midst were never open about their sexuality, creating a vicious cycle. I realized that I had a unique ability to fight this cycle by coming out more broadly.****
Can you say in a few sentences what you believe is important about speaking openly to others about the particular group of persons we might be sexually attracted to, in contrast to, say, *not* “coming out” and merely striving to live in accord with the call to chastity? Thanks.
I’m not Jeremy, but I think I’ll take a crack at this. Part of the problem is that homosexuality becomes this taboo thing that must never ever been spoken about (except in the abstract) with this slight implication that one cannot be gay and Christian (or have SSA and be Christian if you dislike that label).
So, the person with SSA must put on this mask (so to speak) so that no one suspects. You learn to feign interest in the opposite sex and to deflect questions about dating/romance. For me, I would become extremely anxious about whether anyone knew of my attractions (‘secret shame mentality’). So much so that I would psychoanalyze every single conversation, my body language, etc. It creates this viscous cycle where you start to feel more isolated and close off yourself to others (Lest they find out). Then, you begin to feel more and more isolated ultimately leading to depression.
Maybe “Coming Out” is the wrong term (especially since it does often feature an accept me under my conditions mentality). Maybe “Disclosure” is a better term with the goal of being honest about these trials and struggles. It’s easier to live chastely when you have support from your community. I think when people are open about their struggles, the shame factor decreases exponentially and it’s easier to accept this cross. It then becomes more about how to accomplish living chastely practically rather than hiding the orientation/attractions. I hope this helps somewhat. Side note, I am not yet open, but when I finally admitted my orientation to myself, it became easier to deal with.
I tried to point to a lot of this in my post, but I can try to clarify more here.
A basic reality we need to deal with is that the status quo is really bad for people attracted to the same sex. I quoted Steve’s sentence about suicidal students at Wheaton because it played a key role in waking me up to this reality. People are often not doing well, and it’s important to ask why.
As I mentioned in my previous “On Coming Out” post (https://spiritualfriendship.org/2013/06/15/on-coming-out/), one of the biggest predictors I’ve seen for emotional health for someone attracted to the same sex is how open he or she chooses to be about that reality. So I tend to encourage people to do that, as it makes sense, as one way to become healthier emotionally. I think at9013 did a good job of explaining what I think are some of the most important reasons that may be.
I also think a key issue is the way we are made to feel about ourselves as a result of the context surrounding discussions of sexuality in the present day. Whether we want categories like “gay” to exist, they are recognized and talked about by many people today. And furthermore, the way this stuff tends to get discussed in conservative Christian circles, people are often made to feel subhuman, or at least “less Christian,” as a result of their temptations. I know I often was. I’ve also seen people’s attitudes radically improve as a result of getting to know me or other LGBT/SSA Christians who have been open about our sexuality.
So I think that by coming out, I can help other Christians become more sensitive to how they respond to LGBT/SSA people, as well as make other LGBT/SSA Christians feel less alone. I can testify that the latter definitely happened for me. I don’t think it’s a complete solution to all the problems we face, but it certainly seems to help a great deal.
I also have trouble seeing how the people arguing that we need to shut up are doing anything other than making all these problems worse. When we have a large proportion of people contemplating suicide, this is not OK.
I’m really struck by the continued framing of the issue as a “conservative Christian” problem. The word “conservative” has been used….er….liberally….(ten times so far in this post and combox). Jeremy, what do you mean by the term “conservative”? Do “non-conservative” Christians ever get LGBT/SSA issues wrong, or just “conservatives”? This strikes me as an important aspect to unpack and properly understand.
I was discussing the issues from my own “tribe,” conservative Christians, because those were the primary impetus for my own coming out. I guess the term can be a little fuzzy, but I was trying to indicate that I was referring to mostly the same sorts of Christians who hold to a traditional understanding of sexual ethics. I consider myself to be a conservative Christian, for what it’s worth.
I think “non-conservative” Christians are often making a significant theological error by supporting sex within gay marriage. Coming out as an LGB person with traditional convictions can also help address some of that, by causing people to question their assumptions about what causes a person to form such convictions. The thing is, I’ve been much more hurt knowing that some Christians think I’m a disgusting pervert because of my attractions than I have by more liberal Christians, or non-Christians, thinking I’m homophobic because of my convictions. (And this isn’t for a shortage of interacting with liberal Christians and non-Christians!) And I don’t know that coming out is quite as powerful with those sorts of people, though I do think it provides needed perspective for Christians of all stripes questioning their convictions about sexuality.
So in this case, I think talking about the errors of conservative Christians is most relevant, at least when discussing my own story. I don’t feel the need to fight every battle in every post.
I appreciate you sharing your story Jeremy! I understand there is a level of wisdom, discernment and sensitivity to one being open about their sexuality especially if it’s an unpopular circumstance. In my life, for some reason, the Lord gave me instantaneous courage and openness about my own sexuality and the journey I am on with it. Even as a campus pastor now, I find myself sharing about that part of my life because it was a huge part in my coming to know the Lord and has remained a big part of my walk with Him. Although now that I am older and have been walking with Him for some time and have grown to a deeper understanding of myself and my relationship with Him, it’s not the main focal point of my relationship with Him as it once was. I actually enjoy sharing my testimony with those who don’t know Jesus because this somehow seems scandalous and they are very curious about how it all works =)
But I wanted to share that one of the reasons why I have always been so open, and continue to remain open is the fact that there are always others in the closet who need someone to look up to. I remember early in my walk with the Lord just feeling so discouraged and alone in the idea that I am trying to honor God with my sexuality wishing there were others out there doing the same thing. It wasn’t until the past few years where I discovered SF and Julie, that I learned there was this whole world full of people in a similar boat! It has been such a huge blessing to know, and so I choose to remain open because I know in my line of work there will always be students wrestling with their sexuality or wrestling with “how to view homosexuality” and so I like to be a resource for folks.
I think it’s so much easier to be out when you’ve got people who know you well, love you and support you, and encourage you.
Thanks for your comment. As I tried to get at a bit in the post, I totally agree about the need for people still closeted to have someone to look up to. And I’ve been similarly blessed by discovering others in a similar position, like Karen (though she no longer blogs publicly about this stuff) and others I discovered around the same time and later. I’m guessing it’s hard for a lot of straight people to understand how wonderful that discovery can be, but it’s certainly powerful.
I guess I mostly just want to thank you for highlighting those things, and for sharing the rest of your story. It’s encouraging to hear how God is working in others.
I have mixed feelings about coming out. I’m not an advocate of orientation essentialism, meaning that I don’t believe that one’s sexual orientation need be central to one’s social identity. So, I long for a day when I can just be male, and where being gay doesn’t really matter that much.
But it’s not an individual choice. We live in a culture that is deeply heterosexist. And, for the most part, we live in a conservative church culture that is also deeply heterosexist. Conservative Christians may oppose sexual libertinism, but they largely accept the culture’s prevailing heteronormativity.
So, in this context, I’m forced either to play the heterosexual script and thereby live of a lie or to register my dissent from it. And that’s how I tend to view my coming out: It’s a declaration of dissent, a declaration of my status as one who’s excluded from the culture’s (and the church’s) prevailing heteronormativity.
In general, I’m glad that I came out. It’s cost me some friendships, but it’s also allowed me to develop deeper friendships with a number of others. The biggest struggle is the sense of scriptlessness that I often feel. As a Christian, the prevailing “gay script” was never attractive to me. But neither was the prevailing “straight script.” As a Christian, if you come out, you have to choose between one of three scripts: (1) choose celibacy; (2) enter a mixed-orientation marriage; or (3) enter a same-sex relationship. None of these is a perfect solution. And conservative church communities aren’t that accepting of any of these. Sure, if you choose one of the first two options, you won’t be formally excommunicated. Even so, chaste gay Christians often suffer under a kind of informal excommunication within their church communities. So, none of these options is easy if one wants to stay in a conservative Christian setting. But I was tired of living according to a script written for me by others. I wanted to write my own script, and that required me to take the step of coming out.
How does ongoing disclosure work in your context? After the big coming out speech, affirming Christians and non-Christians can switch to just talking about their same-sex partner – but if you don’t date or marry anyone, do you have to keep saying “I am ssa/gay” to new people?
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