“If you tell the truth, everything is going to be okay”. Those were the words I used to use when telling my coming out story. I used to tell of how I was mowing the grass one day and felt that God had spoken those words to me. I felt a peace come over me and knew it was time to come out. I credited God for giving me the courage, to tell the truth.
This was one of many moments where I felt compelled to stop hiding. My worst fear had always held me back. I believed that people would treat me differently when they learned that I'm gay. For me, and most other people who grew up in religious environments, we learned that our fear was legitimate. It makes sense why we would want to remain silent and yet, misery can be an excellent motivator. I had to set myself free from the expectations of others and let the chips fall where they may. My decision was not calculated but out of necessity. I could not imagine living any longer hating myself. My relationship with some people broke but my relationship with my self began to heal.
I’m six years post coming out in 2019. Something really strange has happened. I came out of the closet as a gay man and went into the closet as a Christian. Remember when you were pretending to be straight you would lean into the gay jokes just so much. You did not want to protest too much to make someone think you might be gay? Maybe you sat around when people would talk about gay stuff and remained silent because the subject was just too sensitive. You had an aversion to associate with it too closely. That’s kind of how I feel about Christianity now. Sometimes I do not like to talk about it. I get a gross feeling in the pit of my stomach when I hear people ask questions like “how is your walk with the Lord” and “where do you go to church now”?
I was a youth pastor for 15 years and church planter for 3 years before I came out. I went to Christian schools my whole life. I know how it felt to say all the right things, even though I knew I was just parroting what I was supposed to say. That feeling was terrible. In the book, How Change Happens by Cass Sunstein, he identifies an idea called preference falsification. It states that someone will bury their preferences if they go against the group because they fear they will be ousted from that group if they have a different preference. He then paints a picture of how change happens incrementally as people begin to express their true preferences and beliefs. We see this happening in churches where more allies and queer people are being brave to go against the accepted norm of evangelical Christianity.
The former me; fundamentalist, conservative, evangelical, white, privileged, straight (wink) pastor me would have held a prayer meeting for the 2019 sex therapist/bartender/counselor who now works with the Christian Closet. I’m not interested at this time in Bible studies, prayer meetings, worship gatherings or Christian Contemporary Music.
Just this week, as I tended the bar I poured two beers for this guy who kept wiping a tissue to his eyes. He sat there and cried while he drank his two beers before my fellow bartender overheard why he was filled with sorrow. He had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor and was given 6 weeks to live. He was traveling back home to Florida to tell his wife and son the news after coming to Michigan to be seen by a specialist.
Here’s one big reason why I may come out of the closet again someday as a Christian. My heart filled with compassion for this man and I approached him saying I overheard why he was tearfully sipping on his beers. I proceeded to give him my business card and told him that if he needed someone to talk to that I would give my time to him. You see, when someone is hurting, I feel the urge to offer kindness and hope. I know where this was embedded in me and where it comes from.
I’m uncertain about a lot of things “Christian” but what I do feel certain about is how to treat one another. I wanted to write this post for those of you who still haven’t found their way back to church, the Bible, community and still have so many questions. The work we do at The Christian Closet can help you sort all of this out. We believe you can and should love who you are. You get to decide what is giving you life from your Christian background and what needs to go.