With permission, here is a very thoughtful message I got from Mr. M. It’s a bit long but I want to include all of it for context. I will parse it out and respond to each section.
Hey Randy, I’d appreciate your perspective as someone who has walked the same path as I have. After many years of involvement in “ex-gay” ministries I have come to realize how negatively that experience has impacted me, my faith, my ability to find a community where I feel like I belong, and most importantly my relationship with Jesus. I recently ended a four year relationship. While there were other issues in our relationship, I know my experience in ex-gay ministries negatively impacted my commitment to make things work. In the back of my mind I always, in a way, viewed the relationship as temporary. I subconsciously told myself: My relationship with Jesus has to be my priority, and in order for Jesus to accept me, I’ll have to end things at some point and “return” to the Lord. In the breakup’s aftermath, I have determined to do two things: Find healing to ensure that I am fully committed in future relationships, and return to my faith, which I felt I would have to abandon if I were to accept who I am as a gay man. I believe I need a Christian community to help me achieve both goals.
Your message already reveals a great deal of wisdom, insight, and humility. I am sorry you had this hanging over your relationship. Four years is a long time and if it is possible, I hope things will work themselves out to bring you back together. If not, I hope you will be blessed with ongoing insights as to how the relationship has helped you become a better person. I don’t know you or the relationship but if for some reason your prayers/meditations reveal the need to make amends to your former partner, don’t hesitate to do so.
One thing that pops out immediately to me is that mankind was not created to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Things went a little off the rails once we did in Genesis 3. We were created to eat of the Tree of Life. It is the fruit of the Spirit that brings life. Where the Spirit’s fruit exists (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.), we clearly see life in Christ whether it is being done in His name or not. Relationally, I have experienced the fruit of the Spirit in even more profound ways since accepting who I am as a gay man, being in a relationship with Dan, and at “home” in the LGBT+ community.
That said, I totally get that “feeling” that somehow this may be too good to be true. The dark cloud of old curses come up looming from behind. I call them the muffled voices of the stained glass closet trying to convince us that somehow we “fell away” and have “rejected God.” The truth is, we didn’t fall away because Christ is our Good Shepherd. He promised to never leave or forsake us; we can’t fall out of His hand even if we jumped! To think we can is to assume we have more power than a loving and omnipotent God. That said, it’s obvious we still love Him and have zero desire to leave Him. Being our true self, our core relational sense of being is our way of honoring Him. By living out how He created us to bring relational and creative beauty into the world we are fulfilling part of His intent for our lives. Reject the culturally conditioned lies. The truth is He is leading us forward into life; we have not and are not “going back” to anything. We are not broken. This is the next stage of our spiritual maturity and we can walk forward with confidence.
That need brings me to my dilemma, for which I would appreciate your advice: I know I can’t go back to evangelical churches. It would be a shame factory for me, and I know I would need to live in a closet to avoid conflict and judgement.
Agreed. The evangelical churches have been culturally conditioned to believe they are the only churches with the “right” set of answers and beliefs. As weird as it sounds, even while being booted out the door, many of us carry that belief with us even though we can’t in good conscience attend there anymore. They are not the only churches and in truth, we (and so many more) are as much the church as they believe they are. Our communication right here and now is accomplishing a function of the Body of Christ. Expanding our view of what God intended in establishing the Body of Christ will free us from the idea that evangelical churches (or any denominational churches) are our only true “home” or the template to evaluate other churches by.
I have equal hesitations about going to gay-affirming churches. While I accept that I am a gay man who is loved by God, I am still conservative in a lot of my beliefs and ways of thinking. There is just so much of liberal theology that I cannot accept. For example, a local gay-affirming church affiliated with the UCC won’t preach on the Cross because of the violence it represents. The type of philosophy behind such positions is something I’m not sure I could ever support. So my question to you is, how can I find my place in a community of faith? Is there a place for me? Did/do you have those kind of difficulties? If you did/do, how do you overcome these obstacles to live your life authentically from both sides of the equation?
Yay! Accepting Gay man loved by God… yay! Love hearing that! 🙂
And, is there really any church that will ever fully align with our beliefs? Some might come very close but there is always *something*…right? The example you give is a highly consequential belief so …sure… keep looking. Again, I don’t know you, but I would caution to not judge them harshly or close your heart to what they are offering. Because what I have also learned is that while there is always that *something* to disagree with, there is always another thing to be blessed by and/or invest in. Maybe their theology on the Cross prevents you from attending on Sundays, but what about their heart of service to feed the poor on Tuesdays? Maybe you don’t go there but their Pastor passionately advocates for justice for the LGBT+ community or some other issue you do agree with. What, if anything, do you see the fruit of the Spirit in?
One thing that helps is to realize that I can still believe what I want to believe and not worry about being rejected by others. Other people only have the power I give them. It’s not up to other believers to provide me a spiritual home. I am home; Christ abides in me. I think it is very much like Christ to try to find the life-giving good in any situation and invest in it. Unlike authoritarian churches and religious leaders, I reclaim the power Christ has given me back from them to decide where I invest my heart, time and resources. I don’t have to fulfill a formulaic approach to “kingdom” participation. Even if we have yet to find a church “home.” In Christ, we are never spiritually homeless.
Again, don’t go somewhere you can’t support, just be careful to not let the muffled voices tell you that somehow the struggle to find an affirming faith community is evidence that there isn’t a “legitimate” one. YOU are the legitimacy; we are the Body of Christ even with our wild, weird and sometimes strange arrangements. For me it isn’t about either vs. or, it’s about love plus life.
I have definitely gone back to my more liberal’ish origins of my young adult life. That said, I am still quite conservative on my theology and even on some social issues (that aren’t LGBT+) related. I do believe in the Atonement; the reasons for it and the circumstances that fulfilled it. But I have shed my need to follow the culturally driven conservative playbook. It’s not my job, nor within my capabilities to try to make others believe the way I do. I am not perfect and slowly getting better at my default being, “Where is evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in this person or situation?” Honor them and respect their beliefs and build from there.
Also, keep in mind that LGBT+ people have all the same beauty and frailty as any other community of people. The muffled voices have placed inordinate consequences on us that is neither fair or accurate. It’s ok that the LGBT+ church and community are just like every other human on the planet. We cannot escape the frailties of what it means to be human even though we are living our “authentic” selves. I say this because it is easy to try to idealize, and then be disappointed by, those we agree with in the LGBT+ community. However, those old voices love it when that happens so remember if we do experience hurt and disappointment, it’s not because we are LGBT+ …it’s because we are humans among other humans trying to work at and figure things out.
All that said, what you do know and who you are is the key. You know you love Christ. He loves *YOU* not what you do or because of whose name you write on a tithe check. He is faithful and good. He wants you to be content in Him regardless of circumstance. He wants you to reflect His image; to know and be known, to love and be loved. I believe He wants you to know that with your future partner and He will bring him to you and you to him.
I have no doubt you will find an affirming faith community soon. Until then, be at peace. I believe the Spirit wants the absolute best for you in this life and I have no doubt you will have “eyes to see” that the church is already all around you; you have not been, and will never again, be alone.
Being free is good,