For those of us who were raised in the church, the wounds can be deep.
I caused wounds in myself and others because of very dangerous anti-gay dogma I used to believe in profusely. But I am happy to say, come 2006, through my almost decade of being an Evangelical and speaking against homosexuality, my spiritual life is whole and healthy. It is a testament of the love of God, when we are wrong and do not even understand ourselves.
I find myself most troubled lately by the apparent rift in the gay community between religion and sexuality, primarily because most gays have been hurt, wounded and abandoned by their churches or homes that lifted up a religious banner. I was one of them. But if not for the grace of God, I would not be here today, confident in who I am and in my unwavering belief that He loves us all.
I grew up in a private Christian school and lived in the suburban bubble of Dallas, Texas. My mother and father were very devoted Evangelical Christians, and life seemed simply perfect.
On a shattering day, I remember when my mother picked me up from school on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. I was wearing my Christian school uniform when she told me the news of my parents' divorce, and life shattered from then on. My life revolved around an abandoning father, a broken sibling structure and a mother on the verge of an emotional collapse. At the young age of 14, I surrendered my life to Christ and His love, but little did I know the tribulation to come. On the inside I was everything but normal in the eyes of the church. I was gay.
I was a powerhouse of a Christian for my age, and many found inspiration in my faith and passion. But when one church found out about my “struggles,” I was taken into a pastoral office and removed from my leadership role. I then went into the chapel, sat down and wept, asking God, “Why am I dealing with this, when nobody else is?”
I spent almost a decade in the second church I attended. Once again, I was invited to lead because of my passion, involvement and support of the vision of my dynamic youth pastor.
I joined a local "gay therapy ministry" called Living Waters and Exodus International, and after a few weeks of counseling they tried to convince me that my sexuality was a result of repressed molestation even though I told them it had never occurred. When circled up in our small groups, we were asked to disclose any sexual male experience we wickedly indulged in for the week.
In a shocking conversation, we were asked about our masturbation schedule and what we were thinking when we did it. Although I was told that this program would “cure me,” something in my heart was telling me that this was not the answer, and I withdrew my enrollment.
I continued for years to sleep with men and go to church every Sunday with a smile and a lie, all in the name of religion. My heart was torn, but I had no other place to go spiritually. Who I was, I believed at the time, was a sinner and nothing to embrace.
I was at my church setting up for a Wednesday night service, when all of the sudden I was stopped in my steps. I am not one to say that “God speaks to me,” but a voice inside me struck me like a ton of bricks. The voice said, “GET OUT OF THE CHURCH NOW.”
I was dumbfounded. Not understanding what had just befallen me, I prayed out loud, “God if this is You, You are going to have to close every door of opportunity here.”
Within a week, every opportunity and relationship I had to advance in ministry withered. They were gone. After failing to have an intimate encounter with my girlfriend because it just was not me, I finally accepted my sexuality as much as I could at that time. I still thought I was sinning and that I just had weak faith. Mind you, this was during the time that a family friend, the Rev. Ted Haggard, fell to a gay sex and drugs scandal.
The year after that was a living hell. I began to descend into suicidal behavior with heavy drinking and sleeping around, all mixed with hatred of myself. I remember when I was alone and the thought of death was so intense and delightful to me, I began to imagine scenarios where I died. The thought of dying was more appealing than living, and I then decided to find out a way to end my life.
One day I approached the gun in my friend's closet. I was alone and I finally felt peace because I knew it was all going to be over soon. When I reached for the closet door, I stopped dead in my tracks and stared at the door. I once again out loud said the prayer that I had prayed thousands of times:
“God … Why won’t you change me ... ?”
I then heard once again, that voice within me, saying:
“Because there is nothing that needs to be changed …”
My soul was lifted and my burden vanished. I called friends and family, and received an overwhelming response of love and positivity. I then made a call that I dreaded, to my youth pastor. I only remember that phone call in a few ways. I was desperately trying to explain to him that this is who I was. He tried to convince me to stay in the church and indulge with men but come back and ask for forgiveness. It was that hypocritical thinking that had torn me for years and poisons the minds of those in pastoral leadership. I laid my heart down and said no. He then told me that if I continued on that path, I was hell-bound. I then wept once again.
It was during my first year in the military, in light of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," that I finally came to realize the injustice I was under. It was the feeling of bondage to the law and the ridiculous silence I was forced to endure that finally woke me up.
I am a firm believer in the love of God. I needed his forgiveness for the pain I had caused. I needed his forgiveness to move on, and it came. It comes to me when I am in my imperfection. It comes to the gay community when we are rejected.
It comes to those LGBT people who once spoke against being gay when they were gay themselves. It comes to those activists who are attacked when all they try to do is good.
In our battle for equality, God's grace will see us through and in the words of my pastor, Rich McCullen of Missiongathering Christian Church in North Park, "Justice will prevail."
In our battle for simply accepting ourselves God's grace will prevail, because where religion fails, relationships with God succeed every time.