Tuesday it was my joy and honor to meet Reverend Terri Steed Pierce of Joy MCC Church Orlando. Lately, I have been yearning to get back into spiritual fellowship and decided it was time to reach out to her. We met yesterday to get acquainted and I shared my story. I also shared how I wanted to reclaim my spiritual calling, gifts, skill set, and use them for good.
We talked for 90 minutes. Plenty of ground was covered including the potential of working together to help others heal from and find their way out of religious stigma and legalistic Christianity in all its forms; specifically in how it manifests in ex-gay/conversion ideology. Not only that, we talked about ways to help people thrive as spiritual beings and provide pastoral care. More on that as it develops.
Today’s post is about an unexpected blessing that occurred while talking to her. When I was sharing about all the feedback I got when I first came back out, I mentioned that a vast majority of the LGBTQ+ community was incredibly supportive and gracious. On the other hand, alongside many in the conservative religious community saying I was a heretic, a few gay folks said they would never forgive me. I was told a few times, “You have blood on your hands! We will never forgive or accept you.”
At one point, in response to an email, I wrote, “You say I have blood on my hands, and after Michael’s suicide, I am afraid to look down and find that indeed I might… I can understand if you never forgive me, it’s hard for me to forgive myself.”
Even typing that last sentence brought up mourning in my heart.
Now, I know I have never literally killed someone. I have even done a number of suicide interventions over the course of my adult life. However, I was in an important position at Exodus. I honestly believed what I taught and thought regarding an ex-gay worldview was the good and right thing to do. I walked my talk. But, now it is obvious that I was also in denial. Denial that my efforts and beliefs to help people “change” their sexual orientation did support and empower systemic homophobia that rips apart families, solidified non-lifegiving marriages, confused many singles into a life of loneliness and pain in the name of celibacy, and lead many to feel their only option was to self-destruct through dysfunctional behavior and or suicide.
After Tuesday’s meeting, the thought of my past contribution to that systemic hurt and pain went to a deeper level. This time, I didn’t shut it down. I took a long hard look.
As a result, in a metaphorical sense, I feel that my past self is somewhat like the Apostle Paul (when he was the Pharisee of Pharisees, Saul) who the scriptures reveal as never picking up a stone to throw at Stephen (the first Christian martyr), but instead, he held the cloaks of those who did. He cared enough about them to keep their clothes clean and yet approved of the horrendous murder of Stephen because he thought it was the right and godly thing to do. For years I heard reports of the damage and destruction of ex-gay theology/ideology and refused to believe the horrible reports were actually the result of what I believed and taught. I was great at blame-shifting, “I am so sorry but that hasn’t been my experience” kind of attitude. I was in denial of my own misery. I was much more interested in protecting the appearance (cloaks) of being a “success story” and our other leaders being seen as experts. I believed the ex-gay hype that what we were doing was the right and godly thing to do instead of really looking at how horrible we were acting in the name of “love and truth.” Plus, I honestly believed there wasn’t any other option than to believe the way I did.
Michael’s death revealed the symbolic blood on my hands, and the various cloaks (excuses, appearances, lies) I was trying to keep clean during my Exodus years. I hate to admit to being so incredibly selfish but it’s true, I was tone deaf to others severe pain until it ripped through my own heart. I wish I had listened, truly listened to others pain. I am deeply sorrowful that I didn’t.
In our talk Tuesday, I shared that my passion and vision is to help the LGBTQ+ community carefully confront, heal from, and leave stigma and religious legalism. But until that meeting, I hadn’t recognized that there was a large part of me that still felt like I didn’t deserve to do so. It was even larger than I expected and explains why I have had such a hard time envisioning myself stepping back into my “pastoral” calling until a few months ago.
That was all exposed when Rev. Terri said,
Isn’t it just like Jesus to take the very man (Paul) who participated in the murder of God’s people to be the guy to minister to and serve God’s people? Isn’t it just like Jesus to take a guy like you, someone who did all THAT in opposition to gay people, turn you around and send you back to serve the very same people? That sounds like Jesus to me and I think you will help many specifically because of your experience. I look forward to seeing what happens.
I often feel before I know why I feel what I feel. When she said that it was like a lightning bolt went through me and my perspective (and hope) completely changed in a moment. A heavy burden I didn’t realize was weighing me down just fell off.
I found my voice over the past two and half years and I have known for quite a while what I have to offer as a gay man of faith, and as a leader. But, today my “hands” aren’t frozen with guilt and shame. Now that I have been freed from the shackles of the past for a while now, I am ready to get to work and help others find help, hope and thrive.
Guilt can be sneaky and often prefers to remain hidden so it can immobilize the good and creative. However, when guilt is exposed and owned, stagnate pools can become life-giving and free-flowing rivers.
Thanks, Rev. Terri for the personal joy you helped bring as a result of our meeting.