Like thousands of other southern gay guys, shortly after I “came out” I moved to New York City. But even though I ran away from home, I didn’t run away from my faith.
In Brooklyn I found Christ’s Church for Brooklyn, a small community that opened every worship service by saying:
Welcome to all who have no church home, need strength, want to follow Christ, have doubts, or do not believe. Welcome to new visitors and to old friends. Welcome to grandparents, to mothers, fathers, to couples and to single people. Welcome to people of all colors, cultures, economies, abilities, and sexual orientations, to old and young, to believers and questioners – and welcome to questioning believers.
I had found a new home.
Joe, the pastor of our island of misfit toys, became a source of spiritual sanity for me. He patiently walked with me though several difficult transitions: from being in the closet to being out of the closet… from having a career as a minister to floundering through under-employment… from enjoying a secure southern home to navigating the pressures of life in New York City.
Although our congregation at Christ’s Church for Brooklyn was friendly to boys with boyfriends, our denomination was not — a dynamic that must have been quite difficult for Joe.
Below are a few of Joe’s reflections about how he came to understand and believe that God is for gay people, too.
– Joe H.
When my more conservative friends ask me how I got to where I am with homosexuality; when they grill me on How in the world can you support the rights and lifestyles of homosexuals? Why is it that you help them realize that God loves them the way they are? Why do you tell them that to be fully human they must, THEY HAVE TO, embrace their created selves so that they can fully glorify God? I simply reply with, “I listened.”
I started listening while at seminary preparing to be a minister. A dear friend of mine who I knew while we both studied ministry at a conservative Christian college enrolled at the seminary where I was doing graduate work. One day at lunch, my friend sat me down and said, “Joe, I’m gay.” This was news to me but I tried to act cool and collected. So I responded with, “tell me your story.” He graciously did so. I listened and as I did, I’m sure my friend waited for a response but I gave none. I just listened.
His story was intense. I felt for him, for the secret life he lived since he was a boy coming of age but I was confused. I was confused and conflicted. So I didn’t deal with it. I stored his story in the back of my mind not thinking that I would ever need to call upon it again. After all, I was trying to make my way as a minister in the conservative denomination in which I grew up. I figured I wasn’t going to be meeting very many gay men or gay women at the churches that I would serve.
A few years passed and my family moved to New York City. We planted a church and it became evident rather quickly that my friend from college/seminary had a story that many shared. Bill, a guy in our church plant, came to me with his struggle with homosexuality. My response was the same with Bill as it was with my friend from seminary, “tell me your story.” As Bill shared his story, he cried. His pain, the hurt he experienced was excruciating. Once again, I just listened.
This time I couldn’t ignore the story. I wanted to deal with my confusion. I went home and started reading. I read just about everything I could get my hands on. I started with the Bible and found the six verses that explicitly mention homosexuality. It didn’t take long to realize that the verses were often misused and misunderstood. I read pieces of literature from people against homosexuality and from people for homosexuality. I read and read and read. And I prayed. A lot.
I met up with Bill again and listened some more. As he sat in front of me, he told me how hard it was for him to live as a heterosexual. He just ended yet another relationship with a girl. But Bill was convinced that he had to do this; that he had to live as a straight man. As he sat there falling quickly into a state of depression, it hit me: to fully glorify God, to give yourself fully to God, to serve God fully, you need to embrace your orientation and move on with life.
He was stuck and he didn’t have to be. I said these words to him and as I did, as they came out of my mouth, I felt free. I felt liberated. And if I felt free and liberated, I’m guessing my friend felt even more of it. I ended up saying these words to many others and witnessed time and again as people started living life to the fullest.
As I said those words to my friend, I felt a new call in my life. The church in Brooklyn became a safe place for all people to share their stories. It became a place where gay and straight people could worship without fear of retribution or scorn. It became a place where all could fully glorify God, where all could fully serve God.
Of course, I was doing this while still serving in a denomination that condemns homosexuality so you can imagine how the rest of the story goes for me. I’m no longer serving as pastor but I still look for people who might be willing to hear the words: you must embrace your created self so that you can fully glorify God.