I hung up the phone, paralyzed from what I had just realized. I was 18 years old, and getting ready to start my freshman year of college, and I’d just spoken to my first room mate. He had the gay voice (he didn’t, by the way, but since I was unfamiliar with accents from Albemarle, NC, I didn’t know better at that time). I was going to room with a gay guy.
While this probably wouldn’t phase most people, I had a few years of Evangelical preconditioning which had already taught me everything I needed to know about those people. I panicked, full of self-righteous judgement and severe homophobic paranoia. I had accepted Christ a few years back, and had converted from an atheistic little teenage punk rocker into what my mother called a “born-again Republican,” and while I was never the sort that considered homosexuality to be a choice, I did think it was sinful, immoral, and wrong. Every tool the Evangelical church had equipped me with to study the Bible told me the same. I had no way of looking at the issue any differently. The Bible was clear, static, and unmovable on the issue- homosexuality was a sin.
As I type this, I’m not so sure what I was afraid of, but I guess that’s the point of growing up. At the time I was petrified. I was about to room with someone who God’s Word called a abomination, and he would probably try and seduce me on the spot (I was pretty hunky back then, after all). I called my Teaching Fellows director and tried to get another assignment, and I almost succeeded, but she (a much more seasoned Christian than I), persuaded me to give the guy a chance and not worry so much. Fortunately, she turned out to be far wiser than I realized.
Then came move-in day. I arrived first, got settled in, but had internally resolved to get my roomie to leave on his own accord…by being terrible. I couldn’t act terrible- I’m way too passive aggressive for that. No, I needed to send just enough signal so he wouldn’t want to be around me. Immediately I made sure my desktop wallpaper was a crude comic of “marriage = 1 man + 1 woman,” and changed my screen saver to say the same, and I turned off sleep mode so one of the two would be lit up continuously. I put my Bible open-faced to Leviticus on my desk and waited….until eventually I heard the door open.
Well, he’s not black (as I’d also assumed) and he looks pretty normal. Those were my first thoughts. His mother came in with him and noticed my background and Bible, but they didn’t say anything, and truthfully she didn’t seem surprised at all. In retrospect, I’m certain she was terrified, but by now I realize they had probably become accustomed to such abuse. Abuse. I was inadvertently engaging in abuse already by making sure he knew one thing: I don’t want you here. It’s difficult for me to type all these things, especially since the man I am now is so opposed to them, and because I grew to love Robbie over the course of the academic year, but if you really want to see the scope of how God transformed me, you’ve got to know exactly how horrible I used to be. I’m so sorry, Robbie. Please forgive me. I was wrong.
Fast-forward to the end of the year and everything had started to change. Robbie was wonderful, funny, caring, and truly had grown into a friend almost as close as a brother. His stories about how Christians had bullied him and made him feel less than human pierced my petrified heart and began to warm it in ways I couldn’t have foreseen. By the time the year ended, I specifically recall a moment of silence as we both quietly packed our things. Man, it feels like we’re going through a breakup, I thought to myself. No sooner than I’d thought that, Robbie blurted out “It feels like we’re getting a divorce,” and we both dropped our bed sheets and had a good, long hug. I loved this man. I didn’t have the tools yet to discern it, but this moment was one God engineered for my own good, and I’m forever grateful for it.
Then there was Lindsey. I met her along similar circumstances as Robbie. She and I were both in the NC Teaching Fellows Program (RIP), and I quickly realized she frequented Campus Rock, a contemporary Christian ministry that seemed pretty seeker-friendly (which I would later disavow for being too “soft” on sin). She played the drums, and loved Jesus. She had a warm smile and an even warmer heart. She was welcoming, caring, hilarious, and embodied so many qualities Jesus tells us to emulate- love, respect, peacefulness, compassion, I could see Jesus written all over her. She absolutely glowed.
I remember when I really put it all together (somewhere in the middle of my journey with Robbie above), Robbie, Lindsey, and myself were waiting in line for an event, and Robbie had mentioned getting a hotel room with an out-of-town guest for the weekend. “Who you got coming?” Lindsey asked with a devious grin. “Oh, it’s my friend (insert male name which escapes me at the moment).” Lindsey nodded, “Ah, I see.” She paused for a moment, then leaned in and whispered something. I’ve never actually asked them what they said, but his response was “I never would have guessed that about you!”
Shit. She just told him she’s a lesbian.
I don’t know how I knew, I just did. She might have said something else entirely, but if she did then I’m a hell of a psychic. We never actually talked about it, after that, it was just something I acknowledged.
How, though? Didn’t she know the Scriptures condemned her lifestyle? How could she embody so many qualities found in Jesus and be living in deliberate rebellion against Him? It genuinely didn’t make sense. Sure, I never assumed that being gay was a choice, but, as the Evangelical line goes, they chose whether or not to act on those urges, which should have presented a barrier between her and God. How could He not be punishing her? As I type this I see how arrogant and judgmental I was, but again, remember at the time I had never been given the tools to think otherwise. With Robbie, I came away from everything still believing the traditional biblical perspective on homosexuality, but saw homosexuals in a completely new light, starting my journey. With Lindsey, however, my beliefs about God, the Bible, and everything were challenged. I couldn’t handle that, so I sat on it and just opted to not talk about it anymore.
Then came employment at Walmart, possibly the worst experience of my life to be fair. I had just graduated from WCU, and I had been unable to secure a teaching job up to this point, so I went to the one place in town that would take me. They put me in the back with basically a band of pirates. No, for real, but it was the most incredible time, and my first major break out of my conservative evangelical bubble and into the real world. I met some amazing guys, and although the working conditions were horrible, the crew made it worthwhile. That’s where I met Sebastian and Kaleb.
In 1 Samuel 18, the author describes the relationship between young David and the King’s son, Johnathan in the most intimate way. “The soul of Johnathan was knit to the soul of David, and Johnathan loved him as his own soul.” So close was their relationship that many historians and proponents of Queer Theology today speculate they were involved romantically. I don’t necessarily buy it. I believe it’s possible to love someone so deeply it’s far more than friendship, but not necessarily romantic, but whatever the case, the intimacy written about in 1 Samuel is the same vibe I got from Kaleb and Sebastian.
Both trans-men, I remember not even being aware until a casual comment made by Sebastian during a smoke break. We had all been discussing how much the GM at our Walmart got paid, and as he took a long drag from his cigarette and exhaled, he replied, “you know how many sex-change operations I could afford with that?”
I’ll be honest, my first instinct was shock. I had no idea. C-Bass, as we called him, had always been that- just one of the guys. I’d been told transgender people had mental disorders and were basically all perverts, but here were two of the most caring individuals I’d ever met. Kaleb dedicated LONG hours to humanitarian causes, and C-Bass had even bought me groceries a couple of times upon learning my wife and I were going through a tough time financially. They were absolutely lovely people, and they were absolutely men. Nothing about them suggested anything female whatsoever. These were men if I’d ever met any. They fit right in with the rest of the pirate crew, and we had nothing but wonderful experiences together. Despite still holding on to traditionalist interpretations of homosexuality in terms of being sinful, I came away from this realizing I could no longer support any law or political party infringing on LGBTQIA rights. I left the Republican Party, and the following year I’d cast my vote for Barack Obama, not Mitt Romney.
These were humans. They worked hard, loved their friends and families, and I could no longer treat them as an abstract “issue.” These were people, and although my heart told me they were created by God just the way they were, my head, full of evangelical biblical methods of reading the Bible, couldn’t catch up, and I spent a few years battling this inner-conflict between head and heart.
Fast forward to Spring 2016. By now I had long since left the Republican Party, I’ve lost several close friends due to my support for Bernie Sanders, gay marriage, anti-discrimination laws, etc, but my heart and my head were still at odds with one another, I’d just resolved to not bring up “the gay issue” anymore.
Then my wife happened, and this was one of those moments where everything about it is forever etched in my memory, down to the way the sunlight was coming into the car. We were at Arby’s, a place known for bringing people face to face with who they really are, going through the drive thru on the way home. I can’t recall what we were talking about before, but my wife made the comment, “well, there are gay Christians.”
That was it. Finally my heart/head controversy was at wits end, and I found myself growing INCREDIBLY angry that she would even suggest such a thing. I mean, I was literally shaking…and I couldn’t figure out why. In retrospect I realize it was because I was wrong- and the Spirit within me would allow my wrongness to go any further. The God I serve, the God who set captives free, who healed the sick and raised the dead, this very same God people have wrestled with for thousands of years, was doing the same thing in my heart that he had always been doing- making all things new.
It troubled me to no end, and I went to bed that night uneasy. I didn’t talk to my wife much, and I used having to get up early to take the car into the shop as an excuse to go to bed early. I recalled years ago seeing something online called “The Great Debate,” a debate between gay Christians about whether God blessed same-sex unions or if they were called to celibacy for life, so when I left the house for the auto shop, I took my Bible with me, having already googled my way back to the right URL.
It was going to be a long wait, and I sat down in the middle of the waiting room, grabbed a cup of coffee, pulled out my Bible, and pulled up Justin Lee’s essay which makes the biblical case for why God would bless same sex marriages, why homosexuality is NOT contrary to biblical teaching, and examined the translation of the “clobber verses,” the passages in the Bible commonly used to clobber the LGTBQIA community.
As I sat there reading through it, checking verses along in my own Bible, and cross-referencing his use of Greek and Hebrew using the methods taught in my very conservative seminary, I found myself grinning like an idiot. I couldn’t help it. I was tearing up at every paragraph, smiling uncontrollably, and at several passages chuckling out loud, not because it was a humorous article, but because I finally had peace. Everything my heart had felt for so many years was FINALLY aligned with my brain’s ability to interpret Scripture and God. Homosexuality wasn’t a sin.
It all made sense, and Justin Lee’s methods were consistent with even conservative standards for biblical translation and interpretation, which satisfied the scholarly, analytical part of my brain, but also was consistent with the loving, caring, compassionate God found in Jesus Christ. What’s even more, when I changed the lens by which I viewed Scripture, the entire New Testament made more sense.
One of my biggest problems with Evangelical Christianity was the disconnect between how angry, judgmental, hawkish, and militant many can be when compared to the character of Jesus Christ, and these inconsistencies with the pacifist Jesus never set right with me. My wife and I have routinely done drives to raise money for Charity Water, a phenomenal organization that brings clean water to those around the world without access, and due to their business model being so awesome, 100% of donations go directly to service, not administrative costs. We do this drive every year, but have historically had very poor luck getting our Christian friends to donate (since it’s not a religious organization) but our non-Christian and LGBTQIA friends have always gladly partnered with us, and in fact all of my gay or trans friends are simply more loving people than most of our Christian friends. Issues which in my rendering of the New Testament should be no-brainers for Christians- supporting refugees, amnesty for immigrants, equal rights, anti-discrimination laws, or healthcare for all, became points of division between myself and my conservative Christian friends, while my liberal and non-Christian friends were FAR more likely to support programs which bring aid to the poor and an end to suffering, even when they had nothing to gain from it.
Jesus said that we would know those who were His by the fruit they bear, and even told a parable about two sons whose father needed help with their fields. One son said he would help but then never did, while the other said he would not, but later went to do the work anyway (Matthew 21:28-32), then asked “which one did what the Father wanted?” If I’m just looking at the fruit in someone’s life? Hands-down my LGBTQIA friends have repeatedly been more loving and charitable than my conservative friends, and I can’t help but wonder to myself, “which ones are doing what the Father wants?”
Of course, coming to these realizations has severely altered the course of my life. I was previously seeking ordination in the Wesleyan Church so I could become a good conservative Evangelical pastor. Everything in my life had been built to do so, years of hard work, sacrifice, repeated failure, and just after I had my auto-shop revelation, I had the chance. A Wesleyan Church had asked me for an interview to be their Senior Pastor, and the District Superintendent for the Church had basically told me I would be a shoo-in. But there was a catch- Wesleyans don’t affirm same-sex marriage or support it as a lifestyle. It’s still a sin to them.
Furthermore, I had already been told that I had no chance of being ordained or hired by a Wesleyan Church without upholding “traditional” views of marriage, and was even told to interview for a youth pastor job opening at a church we had moved cities just to attend, only to then be told I didn’t get it because we had a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker, so if I wanted out of the seemingly unending loop of poverty and hardship we always found ourselves in, this was my chance, I was about to get the life I’d always wanted, I just had to sign the dotted line underneath the part where I agree to basically lie about who I am.
To put it plainly, Gator don’t play that. I absolutely couldn’t stand the thought of having just received so much joy and peace, only to throw it all away for what? A better paycheck? Jesus said in Matthew 16:26,
And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?
I reflected on all the people God had used to help me find the peace I now had- Robbie, Lindsey, Sebastian, and Kaleb, and so many more. These were such wonderful people, people who loved more genuinely than anyone I’d ever met within the Church, living proof humanity is truly made in God’s image. In their friendships, I saw and experienced Jesus in tangible ways I couldn’t have imagined before, and even though I knew standing with these people would wreck my life- at least the life I had planned on having, I knew I couldn’t go back. Jesus was very clear-
If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. (Matthew 10:39)
I walked away, and now that it’s been nearly a year, I cannot imagine having to pretend I don’t accept LGBTQIA people just as they are. I’m thankful I can look myself in the mirror today without regret, and I’m thankful I have the privilege of helping show the love of Jesus- the real Jesus, to my friends who have generally had only horror stories to share when asked about Jesus or the Church.
So there you have it. God used a handful of gay people to absolutely wreck my life, and they wrecked it in the best possible way. I’m still not a pastor, and we left the Wesleyan Church shortly after my revelation experience, but that’s okay. I know when God wants put me in a pulpit, it will be one where I can hold my chin up high, preach the gospel, and worship fully and freely alongside my LGBTQIA brothers and sisters, sharing the truth- that God made them to be gay, trans, etc, and wanted them to be that way, that He blesses their marriages and calls them good. Most importantly, that they too can be a part of His Church, His family, and His love just the way they are.
I love you all, and thank you so much for putting up with me as I’ve journeyed from one side to another. Thanks for totally wrecking my entire life- it was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I love you all so much.