I resist stereotypes about gay people and try to avoid ascribing certain inclinations or aversions to my sexual orientation. With that being said, I recognize there are certain ways my sexual orientation has directly influenced my relationship with God and my relationships with other Christians. This post is a sketchbook for me to reflect on the desolations I attribute to being gay, the ways it’s harmed my faith. These aren’t the ways it’s made faith more challenging, since those struggles tend to be positively formative and produce maturity. These are the ways it’s impaired my faith. I imagine some gay people will resonate with certain pieces here, but I imagine others have experienced their sexuality differently, and they might even label a consolation for themselves what I’ve identified as a desolation. I’ll cover my consolations in my next post. This is intentionally less polished than what I normally try to write here, and I’m not trying to make any grand point; consider these snapshots of my life. (To those who saw my post about the difference between being transparent and being vulnerable: This is one of the rare times I’m being vulnerable, so please be gentle.)
1. It gave me doubts about God’s love: I needn’t say much here because I described this at length in a recent post, but without a doubt, this was the most severe damage my orientation perpetrated against my faith. During the time when I believed God was fundamentally against me, it was hard (impossible?) to develop a relationship with God characterized by trust and gratitude.
2. It sowed the seeds of skepticism toward Christians: I’m the kind of Christian who thinks participation in a thick faith community is essential to Christian life—maybe even that it’s sort of the point of Christian life—so it’s a huge problem for me when I begin to suspect other Christians don’t have my best interests at heart or don’t really care about me or understand me. In some cases, those suspicions are accurate. There are undoubtedly Christians who don’t love gay people, and they foster environments in which it’s dangerous for gay people to engage. Skepticism becomes an invaluable defense in those cases. Other gay people have fared much worse than me, and it’s a tragedy when someone seeking Christ legitimately can’t find a community in which it’s safe for them to do that. But the majority of Christians I happen to know do love gay people, even if some of them presently lack the apparatus to love them in the most beneficial ways. In those cases, skepticism can become an unnecessary obstacle to developing trust, and trust is necessary (as in any relationship) for intimacy. I try to give the benefit of the doubt to others, like to other Christians, when I have the slightest inkling they deserve it, but the prevalence of bona fide homophobia within many Christian circles makes that tough.
3. It made transparency with my faith community harder: I mean transparency about the nitty-gritty parts of my life and faith, because I’ve struggled to overcome the lie (at least on a subconscious level) that it’s inappropriate for me to talk candidly about the realities of my life as a gay person—the challenges, the joys, the heartaches—when I sense it might make straight people in the room uncomfortable, because it often does. I’m describing here what people call “internalized homophobia” rather than external homophobia, because the reality is that, at least in my present church setting, the people around me have always welcomed and honored anything and everything I’ve told them. They’re not afraid of the reality of my sexuality. (Even if they were afraid, though, that would be an area of growth for them and not a reason for me to censor myself. I get it.) I’m not interested in whether it’s my fault or the fault of others that I’ve gradually internalized homophobia, but it persists and poses a threat of preventing intimacy between my church and me, which in turn poses a threat for my own formation as a person of God.
4. It drew my attention to what made me different: When you start coming out in a conservative Christian environment, compassionate people often want to hear your story and learn from you, especially if they’re unfamiliar with sexual minorities. That’s admirable, and I feel genuinely honored whenever people listen to me, regardless of whether it’s for my benefit or theirs. But I’ve noticed that my willingness to speak about the realities of the ways my experience is unusual—because it is—have sometimes caused me to give too much attention to the things that make me different from straight people rather than locating threads of shared experience and universal humanity between us. Some of the most formative conversations for me have been the times when straight people pointed out the ways they resonated with things I expressed, and even when I tried to defend myself as some exotic outsider, I had to concede the ways we were alike. And once I got over myself and acknowledged our similarities, it was always so healing for me, but I still find myself tempted to distance myself by focusing on how I’m not normal.
5. It multiplied my self-righteousness: Oh gosh, here’s a biggie. When I was still in the closet and thought my being gay prevented God from loving me, it increased my self-righteousness because it made me try to earn God’s love. I measured my value by how effectively I could do the laudable things and abstain from the wicked things, and that made it easy for me to measure the value of others by the same standard (or actually a stricter standard). (This was especially pernicious in the youth group, since I wasn’t lusting over the girls like all my peers were, and sex was, like, the primary currency of righteousness for church teens.) When I started coming out, the self-righteousness swelled. Acknowledging my orientation led to a season when I realized being a Christian might get much harder for me, depending on what God called me to do, and I allowed that reality to cultivate an ugly arrogance in me, especially since I was in a setting (a private Christian university) full of people for whom the Christian machine seemed to continue working as well as it had once worked for me. I might as well have prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—heterosexuals—or even like this tax collector.”
As I said above, this post comes from a vulnerable place, so let’s limit the comments to reciprocated vulnerability: If you’re an LGBT Christian, what have been the desolations of your orientation or gender identity for your faith?