Before you lecture me about being gay there are some things you should know.
I ran into my former pastor at the coffee shop a few months ago. Considering the size of his church, I was impressed that he remembered me. What made it more impressive was that I hadn’t seen him in nearly ten years. Over the next several weeks, we engaged in light conversation, which became ever-increasingly personal. When he invited me back to church a couple of weekends ago, I knew I had to be honest with him. I’d come out as a gay man since the last time I was there.
I went home and sent him one of my books with a brief letter explaining my former involvement with ex-gay ministry. I told him that I now actively work to help Christians, like him, deal with the reality that other Christians are gay.
When we ran into each other again the following weekend he thanked me for the book. “We’ll have to get together,” he said, “so I can share my thoughts on the issue.” I politely smiled and told him I am open to meeting whenever he’s available. He is a genuinely likable person, even if we don’t agree on theology.
However, I am well acquainted with his position on the matter. Not only did I sit under his teaching for three years, I am also a formerly credentialed minister in the same denomination with over 25 years experience as a fundamentalist, evangelical Christian. I spent six years as a public figure with the world’s leading ex-gay ministry, spouting anti-gay “research” from Focus on the Family, along with propaganda from other equally misleading organizations.
My blogs, articles, and books clearly state my position and how I got here. One does not lightly change his life-long held beliefs overnight. I suspect, as other pastors have said to me, he will want to make sure I understand what the Bible says about homosexuality and tell me, as though I’ve never heard it before, how the Gospel of Jesus Christ can set me free from my “sin.” But there are a few things I’d like to say to him.
1. Listen to my story
Following an interview I gave on Fox News, a listener found my Facebook Author page and posted, “If you give your life to Jesus he will deliver you from your homosexual lifestyle.” In one sentence this person dismissed decades of struggle to reconcile my faith and sexuality. He assumed that because my life didn’t follow his spiritual experience, I had missed the boat. I was “doing it wrong” and thus, never had a relationship with God in the first place. All I needed to do, in his simplified way of thinking, was pray the prayer of confession, turn my back on my “lifestyle” (which by the way, is exactly like every other parent raising two teenagers in suburbia) and, Voila! I’m straight!
I can’t begin to count the number of people who have contacted me to say how much my story is like their stories. They tried to make it work and follow the “magic formula.” But no matter what they did, their relationships fell apart, they struggled with intense depression, self-hatred and many eventually gave up on God. Everyone has a story and every story is worth hearing. Rather than coming in with solutions, listen to what I’m saying.
2. Stop trying to fix me.
A few months ago a pastor I’d never met sent a private message, asking what he could do to reach out to the gay community. Rather than answer his question directly, I logged on to a large gay discussion website and posted it. One response stood out, “If he doesn’t agree with us why would he want to reach out anyway?”
That question took me back to an experience I had nearly 20 years ago. I was a guest, as an ex-gay at the time, on a radio show with two, activist lesbians. One of them asked if she would be welcomed in my church. I assured that she would be welcomed and God loves her as a lesbian. Unfortunately, I followed up by saying, “But he loves you too much to leave you that way.”
Grace is unconditional by its very nature. It doesn’t need qualifying and if it does, it is not grace. I assure you that if God wanted to fix me, he would have done so by now. The devastation caused by well-meaning pastors is astronomical. I can testify to the thousands of lives left in the aftermath of trying to be fixed. It’s not just the person him or herself, it too frequently involves children, spouses and parents. If you care, and if you trust the God you say you believe in, then work on yourself and stop trying to fix me.
3. Stop telling me what the Bible says
I was amazed to learn, once I entered into the gay community, how well-versed the LGBT people are on the six passages of the Bible that, supposedly, address same-sex relationships. These people may not know John 3:16 (For God so loved the world that he gave his only son…), but they do know Leviticus 18:22 (Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable).
There are over 33,000 Christian denominations, all of which believe they are right and everyone else is wrong. Evangelicalism didn’t start until the 1730s, so it is not the original 2,000-year-old religion of Jesus himself, as you’d like to believe. In fact, American evangelicals have their own brand of Christianity, which has somehow become synonymous with the American dream.
Your interpretation of the Bible is based on your personal and denominational beliefs, but it doesn’t mean it is correct. So, please stop telling me what the Bible says. I understand it as much as you do.
4. Get educated on the issues
In spite of what your Focus on the Family magazine tells you, gay people are not pedophiles, nor are they after your children. They do not belong to a gay mafia, nor do they have a global agenda to bring down the world economy and convert everyone to Satanism. We are people who want to love, be loved, raise families and be afforded the same rights as you.
You should also know that there is an increasing body of evidence about the biological factors believed to contribute to a person’s sexual orientation, though we may never have a definitive answer. Perhaps we’ll find out what makes people gay when we find out what makes people straight. Human gender and sexuality is complex. People spend their lives studying it. Please take time to learn about it from professional psychologists and researchers, instead of theologians and celebrity pastors. For God’s sake, if you’re going to counsel people on relationships and sexuality, please get educated on the facts.
Photo: Flickr/ Hanna Eliasson