If we’re going to have a conversation about something as intimate as sex and spirit, we need to get the obligatory “where are you froms?” and “what do you dos?” out of the way. We need to set the scene with some context so the rest of the story makes sense.
My name is Bryan. Among other things, I’m a former minister. I hold an Undergraduate Degree in Religion from a small Southern Baptist college and a Master’s Degree from a conservative Southern Baptist seminary. Although I’ve served in several churches, through a tangle of circumstances that is beyond the scope of this story, most of my career has been spent speaking for youth worship events across the country.
When I was a minister, many of my friends who worked in churches thought I lived a charmed life. I didn’t answer to a pastor, board of trustees, or finance committee. When I wasn’t on an airplane, I was working from my couch in a pair of pajama pants, writing sermons and stories. My minister friends reminded me often – and, if they had recently endured a deacon’s meeting, with poorly suppressed envy – that I probably didn’t fully appreciate how “good I had it.”
What they didn’t realize was that my southern, conservative, professionally Christian culture was crushing me. They didn’t realize this because they didn’t know I was gay.
Obviously, as a minister trained in a very conservative tradition, to reveal that I was a homosexual man would not only cause the usual emotional rifts that often come with “coming out,” it would also end my career.
I decided to come out anyway. After many months of weighing, praying, and preparation, I bowed quietly out of ministry and moved to New York City, a place with a much more temperate cultural climate. In the Big Apple, where I currently live, I am free to be both a person of faith and a person who is comfortable with his sexual identity. In NYC I stand with one foot planted in each of two divergent cultures. To my gay friends I am a mystery because I am a Christian. To my Christian friends I am an intrigue because I am gay.
But even in the gay community, I can’t get away from God. I almost never have a conversation with a LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) youth where god, God, the church, or spirituality don’t come up…
Last week I read a scholarship application from a young man who asked a teacher to lead him through an independent study of the Bible as a literary text. When the teacher asked the boy why he wanted to study the Bible, the boy said, “to find out why people are religious.”
I lead a monthly event for LGBT kids in NYC that’s held in the gym at a local church. The program isn’t religious. The church’s gym simply has everything I need. It’s cheap, it’s available, and it’s almost indestructible. Last month, as students were leaving, a 15-year-old gay boy stopped to take a box of pizza I was giving away. He said, “I almost didn’t come ‘cause this thing is in a church. I was afraid ‘they’ would be lurking in the corners with their Bibles and their hate.”
These two teenagers are not unusual. They’re not alone. Gay youth in every corner of the country are trying to figure out what they believe about god, God, religion, spirituality, sexuality, and whether all these things can play happily together in one place.
And so, here we are. Talking about this muddy intersection where sexuality and spirituality meet.
It’s a conversation we simply have to have. It’s unavoidable, really. Our sexuality and our spirituality are such fundamental parts of who we are. They’re like our breathing and our heartbeat. They can’t be separated without causing tremendous harm. When you deal with one, you must deal with the other.
So, let’s deal with them, together…