I am about to give up the church of Christ because I can’t go on living a lie. If people in my singles class and my minister knew how I really am, I would be condemned and whatever else. Living a lie makes you an alcoholic or a drug addict and you can add any other vice. It’s also very exhausting.
My heart goes out to you. I mean, the last thing any Christian should ever have to do is live a lie. If the attitudes of the rest of us — we straights — force you to lie, then we’re the sinners.
You said that you’ve remained chaste, and that means to me that you’ve done nothing that requires repentance. You’re working to overcome your alcoholism. You’ve stood up to the temptation to illicit sex. I find you very admirable. These are extremely difficult things to do.
It’s sad that your class doesn’t support you. Obviously, you’re in a better position to judge that than me, but I wonder if that’s really true. Yes, we heterosexuals are often spiteful toward homosexuals. But my experience has been that when people are confronted with a homosexual man actually asking for support and encouragement, the church typically rallies to his support.
Now, I know better than to say this is true everywhere, but I’ve seen it happen both in progressive and conservative Churches of Christ. The Spirit is more powerful than we often think!
I know of three instances that may give you more confidence in your brothers and sisters —
First, in a nearby congregation here in West Alabama, a conservative church’s preacher of many years was arrested for homosexual solicitation. It was front page news in the local paper! He stood before his church, confessed his sin, and begged for their forgiveness.
He was immediately surrounded by scores of well-wishers. One woman hugged the minister and said, “You stood with my husband and me when we were going through some tough times, and we’ll stand with you and your wife now.” You see, he was guilty not only of homosexual conduct, he was an adulterer. And yet the church surrounded him with love and support as he struggled to rebuild his life and relationship with God.
Rick Atchley says his congregation, the Richland Hills church, became truly agents of God’s mission on earth, when a gay man came forward to ask for prayers for a friend who was dying of AIDS. The congregation had begun a ministry to AIDS victims, but nothing like this had ever happened before.
Dozens of church members came forward, hugged him, and prayed with him. When his friend died, a few gay friends but many church members were at the funeral. As a result, the church has had a powerful outreach in the local gay community ever since.
In my own church, probably 20 years ago, a college student approached one of our married ministers to confess that he fallen in love with him. The student was struggling with homosexual feelings. And the ministerial staff comforted and counseled him in privacy and with compassion.
I guess my point is that Christians can sometimes exceed even their own expectations of themselves. But this is how the Spirit works. He makes us better, more Christ-like than we could be of ourselves.
On the other hand, I’m not naive. I grew up in North Alabama, where beating up “queers” was recreation for some of the local, church-going folks. Christians are capable of some truly unspeakable behavior, and there’s something about the thought of homosexuality that elicits a viscerally negative reaction among many of us.
Nonetheless, I’d encourage you to speak frankly with your minister. If it doesn’t go well, you may have to change churches, but then, if he reacts badly, you likely haven’t given up that much. However, my guess is that it goes much better than you expect.
Are we ready for a gay man to confess his nature to his church? I would like to think so, and some churches certainly are. But many certainly are not, which is an indictment of the rest of us. I mean, my own church recently had a woman confess to a longterm affair with a married man, and our members quite properly embraced her and forgave her, just as God did. I think most churches would.
It would seem like a much smaller thing to accept someone who’s not yet even acted on his impulses! And some congregations would indeed handle that quite well. But not all.
Let me add one story. When I was in college at Lipscomb, I had become engaged to the woman now my wife. We were in a hurry to marry, so we attended summer school. My friends did not. I found myself stuck without a roommate.
The college assigned me to spend the summer with a guy I’d never met. Acquaintances told me to be wary of him but wouldn’t tell me why.
I met him when I moved my stuff into the room, and he was standoffish, aloof, and a bit effeminate. I thought I’d been polite enough, but he spent the summer away from his room, usually coming in at night after I’d gone to sleep. After a while, it occurred to me that he was likely homosexual. I think that was almost certainly the case.
At the end of the summer, as I was packing to return to my usual dorm with my usual circle of friends, he came up to me, shook my hand and apologized. “I’ve just realized that I’ve been horribly rude to you. Here you are engaged, going through a very exciting time, and I’ve prejudged you, assuming we’d not get along. My friends and I were talking about it last night, and I realized that you’ve never said a word or done anything but be perfectly polite to me. I’m sorry that I’ve ignored you like I have all summer. You must have been very lonely.”
It was a strange moment. You see, he assumed that I’d hate him (I didn’t), and so he rejected me before I had a chance to reject him. It’s very conventional human behavior. But he was wrong. My attitudes in college were about the same as they are now.
All of society’s attitudes are changing dramatically. The churches have often been very wrong, but they are maturing. I don’t think my attitude is all that rare. It’s quite possible that a given congregation will handle knowing your nature very well — especially if its leadership shows the way, if the elders and ministers make the right attitude clear, and if they show the proper example.
I have horrible memories of how some kids treated effeminate kids (some straight, some not) where I grew up. But I grew up a long time ago, and those kids weren’t followers of Jesus. The times are changing. You shouldn’t just assume that your church can’t handle the truth.
You should, however, not be naive. Rather than telling your class or telling the whole church on day one, you should talk to the minister and see if you could cobble together a plan that would allow the entire congregation to become a place where you could be honest about your nature.
You see, the church has been allowed to be very hypocritical about homosexuality because its homosexual members have remained hidden. In many churches, the preacher would rather preach against homosexual marriage than the gospel’s call to love people not like the rest of us.
But we will never truly be true to the gospel until we confront our biases and deal openly with them. I remember well when our preacher first preached about the sin of racism. Everyone knew it was wrong, but there had been a tacit understanding that racism would be tolerated. But not after that sermon! And many of our members quietly repented. They just needed a stern but loving rebuke.
I think homosexuality is much the same. The reality is that we should celebrate the willingness of gay men and women to surrender their sexuality to Christ. To get there, our leaders have to call us away from our bigotry. I mean, some of our members assume that “homosexual” means “pedophile,” which certainly isn’t true. Nor does it even mean sexually active. We just need to talk about it.
And the best reason to do so is because we have members who need to feel loved and welcomed.
Thanks for another good post. I like what you said and the examples you talked about. You're probably right in that it is my hangup and fear that stops me from talking to my minister, not how he would probably react. I think my church would react like you said; maybe I couldn't see that when I first wrote to you. It really is a great church and I'm not giving them enough credit.
Also, I tend to lump all my bitterness at the church as a whole because of my negative experiences in the past, instead of considering my individual congregation, which is somewhat progressive. I guess I have several hurts & hangups all rolled up together.
Having said that, wouldn't it be great if all congregations could be like Richland Hills and follow their response to homosexuality. There is a whole community of broken, hurting people that are basically ignored by the church (all churches probably, but most of my experience is c of C). I think it would be great if we could become truly known as a place where all broken people can come and be loved, prayed over, not judged, not shamed, not gossiped about, not made to feel unwelcome or less than, but just accepted as Jesus did. Not just for homosexuality but for everything, like prostitution, meth addicts & other drug addicts, adulterers, etc. That is how Jesus did it and that's my idea of how it should be. Even small towns have these issues. You don't have to live in a big city to have these issues in your community. I know there are churches that are like this but I think they're few and far between.
You also addressed the bias that society has toward gay people, which tends to carryover into church life to a lesser degree. Hopefully there are very few Christians that want to go out on Friday night and beat up or kill gay people. But there is still a stigma that I would feel self conscious about when it comes to being gay because it's considered abnormal, deviant or whatever other label you want to use, in addition to being a sin if you act on it. To me, a heterosexual male that confessed to having an affair with another woman wouldn't face the same stigma that a gay male would. I may be wrong, but that is how I feel about it.