emarkthomas

Trying to live love well through the power of the Everlasting.

I’d Have No Faith Without My Sexuality

In the fall of 2003, my father dropped me off at Roberts Wesleyan College. After a brief stop at the bookstore to ensure that I had my textbooks and every form of Roberts clothing item the store offered, Dad took his leave and I blinked a few times, trying to comprehend what was happening. Somehow, in a way that didn’t quite make sense to me, I’d found myself here, and I couldn’t quite make the pieces work.

As a senior, I knew that college was the next step. As a Christian teenager, I thought that I was expected to attend a Christian school. My older brother had attended Houghton, several of my friends were already at Christian schools, and several of my peers were considering Christian universities. I didn’t really want to go to a Christian school, because I had a big secret: I was a fraud.

Yep, I didn’t really believe it. I grew up in the church and I knew how to say all the right things to evoke all the right responses, but I wasn’t sold on any of it. One of the biggest reasons why was because at the age of 14 (roughly) I found myself becoming sexually active with the boy next door, and that had confused me. My parents and Christian community had shielded me fairly well, and I wasn’t even really sure what was going on. I had a theoretical understanding of “gay” from attending a public school, but really I was clueless. And the little I did think I understood had to do with one thing: doing that meant going there. Yeah, you know what I mean. Hell.

So after some months my parents caught on to what was happening, and they put a definite stop to it. We prayed, and everything was supposed to be fine. It wasn’t, and I knew it, and so I believe (honestly) that I hitched the veracity of my faith to the status of my sexuality. Christians aren’t gay, gays go to hell, and so if I was earnest or a real believer then God would… I don’t know… fix it. Right?

Nights turned to weeks, months, and years and many of them found me exactly the same: sobbing into my pillow or staring blankly out the window, deep into the night, trying to figure out what was wrong with me. The Left Behind series was in its prime, and I became obsessed with being a  genuine believer. I did not want to wake up one morning and realize that I’d missed the Rapture, and I knew that if it happened I would miss it, because I still found Justin Timberlake extremely attractive and couldn’t even bring myself to entertain the idea of thinking about girls. Also, I had watched (like, a thousand times) that scene in “Dude, Where’s My Car” where Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott make out  and just couldn’t get it out of my head. Because I liked it.

But I wasn’t, you know, gay.

There was just a problem that Jesus would fix as soon as I really, truly, honestly believed. When my faith was sufficient. You know.

As the years went on the guilt and shame became obsessive, and the deadening sorrow carved out more and more of me. I didn’t realize it, but I fully believe that I was in an extremely deep state of depression. My drive to become a true believer and shake all this off had carried me to a Christian school, and now there I was. Except one problem: I had fully imagined Jesus fixing me by the time college actually arrived.

I wasn’t fixed, I couldn’t possibly be a believer, and I was at college.

Things were a mess.

They only snowballed from there, and a bad habit of lying (gee, I wonder where that could have started?) became an addiction; a way of life. Instead of merely lying to cover up my sexuality, I now lied about practically everything – even if it didn’t matter. It’s no wonder that I don’t really have many friends left from my college years… I was a monster. Seriously.

I lied to myself  (convincingly) and had myself fooled into thinking that God and I were fine, and that I wasn’t gay, not at all! It was just a phase thing, and soon enough I would grow into women, and into my faith, and boy howdy life was going to be great when that happened!

Except it never did. What did happen was that my lies were exposed as such, and I lost nearly all my friends. At the same time, my sexuality was exposed, and let me tell you… at a Christian college, that’s a big deal. I don’t care how liberal and accepting it’s supposed to be; LGBTs at a Christian school are still outside the norm, and that really rocks the boat.

Life was wretched, and I knew that a great deal of it was my fault, and I couldn’t deal anymore. And then, to top it all off, Death swept in like a gypsy and stole away two friends of mine within 18 months of one another.

I quite literally couldn’t function any longer. I stopped practically everything – including my studies – and became a hollow shell of the person I once was. And he wasn’t all that great to begin with.

It was at the wake of my friend Jilian that something happened. A young, wonderful couple named Ryan and Carrie pulled me aside and said, “We don’t care if you’re gay. We don’t. We want you to come over, and we want to  get to know you.” I couldn’t understand why, but they were reaching out to me. And they spent a good solid year loving on me when I didn’t deserve it. They poured into me all that they had, and they paid some very dear prices for it. It was through this couple, and examining the last year of Jilian’s life with them, that I began to realize that something was amiss, and it was God-centered.

You see, we were all Christians. But these people, and from what I could tell, Jilian too, at the end, they were… well, different. Crazy different. Stupid different. Paying-a-very-dear-price-to-do-things-that-just-didn’t-make-sense different. And I noticed. And it was attractive. It was fantastic. It was beautiful. So I developed a theory: either these types of Christians were just insane, or they were tapped into something that the vast majority of Christianity was missing.

So I put God to the test with my theory, and I literally prepared for a last-chance-test. I withdrew from school and enrolled in a semester-long discipleship course. If there really was something to this God that I’d grown up believing in, he’d show up. If Jilian and Ryan and Carrie weren’t crazy, then God was at work, and he’d show up.

I don’t know why I had faith in that, after he so clearly hadn’t un-gayed me, but I was going to give it a shot. I think I really was expecting to come out of the semester convinced that Christianity was a lovely thought, I guess, but like communism was just a joke. Looking back, I recognize that I was preparing for the moment when I justified dropping my faith to my parents by saying I literally tried everything. That’s really where I expected to end up, and, being there, I would finally have sorted out the mess of my sexuality: I’d be gay, and any problems with that would be chalked up to the mess of religion left in my mind, junk to be swept out of the way to make room for, I don’t know… whatever kind of life gay people lead, I guess. I’d find out soon enough, right?

But that wasn’t what happened at all. The Holy One showed up with more power and passion and life than I could ever have imagined. He radically reoriented my life, and infused my soul with the gospel. The Spirit of the Living God blasted open many doors, and junk came flooding out. I walked away from that semester -still gay – but a gay Christian. A man reconciled in his sexuality and his faith.

Now there was still a helluva lot of junk left in me – habits that break hard. I’m not proud to say that the worst of my sins came after the discipleship program. My deceit, my horrible lack of love, my abuse of people and trust… it all came to a head later. I’m still working through a lot of that, but thank God that he’s big enough to handle that. But unwavering from that time is the belief that I am gay, that I believe God made me that way, and for a very good reason.

Recently I was having a conversation with a friend who was amazed at the level of theological knowledge I had packed away inside of me. I’ve never been to seminary, and I’m not claiming to be anything extraordinary, but I do know that my story led me to pursue all I could find theologically about sexuality and faith. And my struggle with my sexuality and my faith was what fueled me to continue going, even when all other motivations were gone.

She was also amazed at the depth of emotional control I had. She couldn’t fathom comprehending “enemies” like I apparently do in her eyes. She is angry at Christians that I am not, upset that they could think and act towards myself and so many other LGBT people as they do. I explained that, having come from their camp myself, I have a unique ability – forged in the Lord’s fire of trials and mercy – to know where they’re coming from, and to love them even though they may not be able to love me. Not that I’m perfect or even impressive, I told her, but just that in this specific part of life, I was solid. Consistent. Purified through fire, and able to stand confidently and firmly in love through whatever was thrown my way.

It was in striving for an answer regarding my sexuality and the Holy One that false gospels like the fear of missing the Rapture peeled away. False gospels like treating human beings as anything less than the most treasured possession of the Most Holy, Everlasting God. These were unable to stand in the face of the real good news. It was through the search for an answer to my gayness that I learned about the Kingdom of Heaven, and the love of my Papa, the ability to listen to the Spirit and allow the Living God to transform me into a better agent of his Kingdom, and so much more.

And it hit me: I am grateful that everything happened this way. I didn’t think I would ever say that, but I am so very grateful. Because now, while my life still may not be what I imagined, I am secure in who I am, and who my Father is. Through the paths he walked with me, I have been forged into an articulate, informed, passionate believer in the Kingdom of Heaven. I stand firm at a witness to the gospel of the Living God, and living and loving well to bring that to earth today. All the prayer, articles, meetings, books, ridiculing, conferences, belittling, and manipulating that anyone has ever done in order to get me to “embrace Jesus and turn from homosexuality” had led to this: they have sharpened me and unwittingly delivered me into the Father’s hands as a confident,  gay Christian man.

The exact opposite of their intent, but I think probably exactly what God intended.

Without my sexuality, I would have no faith.

Without my weaknesses, I would have had no conflict.

Without my struggles with faith and conflict, I’d have no story worth telling.

And I’m just one man!

Imagine the generation that is coming! Countless LGBT Christian youths being sharpened and delivered – much like Joseph – through trial and hardships, each level intended to break us, but each level being used by God to forge us into educated, confident members of the body of Christ.

My prayer is that, like Joseph, we can remember mercy and use our power and position for reconciliation and to save many lives, to the glory of the Holy One and his Kingdom.

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7 responses to “I’d Have No Faith Without My Sexuality

  1. Kerry Miller-Whalen March 22, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Ethan – I think that without conflict and struggle, none of us finds the reality of God. You know … “strength made perfect in weakness” and all that! & I’m so glad you found Christians who knew what love looks like!

    (PS – I’m busting to know how the coffee date went… )

  2. tildeb March 24, 2012 at 12:55 am

    Nicely written and beautifully expressed. You’ve had a hard road to travel.

    Now imagine: without religious condemnation, you would have known from an early age that being gay is like being tall; it’s the way some people are. You would have been able to spend formative years being true to yourself, being honest in your fundamental relationship with the world and with people, namely, completing your identity. That you attribute your faith today to this difficult journey seems to me to be finding virtue in a necessity.

    I think the world I would chose for a gay son would not include the kind of religious impetus (for there is no other justification for widespread discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation) to condemn and vilify his being. If you are honest, would you wish this on your son? Of course not.

    Now if I were you, I could not help but harbor a deep suspicion: does my new and improved version of the same poisonous religious faith aid or hinder the continuation of this vilification?

    • emarkthomas March 24, 2012 at 3:41 am

      I’m really loving your comments (this one and on Kerry’s blog) because they, coupled with some awesome conversations with non-religious friends, are really helping me to see beyond the worldview I grew up in. I have a Christian family, in a Christian community, went to a Christian college, etc: my world has been through and through Christian. I’m loving thoughts and ideas coming from an “outside” way of thinking. Thank you!

      I have to agree with you: no, I would never wish that on my son. Also, where you mention me finding virtue in necessity, I have to admit that I have no good response to that. You may very well be right. I’ll have to think on that more.

      About my “new and improved” version.. ah, I have to admit that I’m very uncomfortable there. I don’t like to think about my faith as being new and improved anything, but I can’t come up with any good arguement as to why it shouldn’t be called that. Again, I’ve still got a lot to think on.

      I can say, just off the cuff, that my heart seems to connect with a train of thought that would be more in line with saying that any religious faith – regardless of its name – that continues such vilification (excellent word, right on the money with that) would not be in line with the gospel of the Holy God that I believe in. I don’t think that it ever was meant to be, but happened nonetheless. I have to say, my heart and mind are much comforted with the thought that the treatment of people such as the LGBT community has endured through the Christian community has never been God’s intention, and that the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven is at work through people like Kerry and myself to restore, heal, and reconcile the two worlds.

      Of course, I also have to concede that I could be wrong about all of this. That’s always a possibility in any theological arguement. I could be wrong. And I’m okay with that. Because I guess at the end of the day, even if the pretty little world I’m constructing in my head is absolute fiction based on absolute poppycock… well, it still seems to me that the idea of a Holy God of love, calling his people to love and freedom, is a whole lot better than anything else I’ve heard, at least in my mind. And so even if it’s absolute bullshit, I’m really liking the idea of living in a way that is in line with that love and freedom, even if nothing that I aspire towards ever comes about.

      Now, I don’t really think I am wrong, as I’m sure you already know, but I really mean those words. Even if there is no God of love, I want to continue to live towards that Kingdom of love anyway.

      And I promise I’ll think on what you pointed out. I really will.

      • tildeb March 25, 2012 at 7:47 pm

        I have read literally thousands of comments made by people who wish to see their christian faith evolve from ignorance to enlightenment in matters of science and morality, from an authoritarian model to a liberal one, from rules and dictates about acceptable behaviour to a focus on the philosophy of love. Thousands.

        What do we see in response? A hunkering down from religious leadership to guard the gates, fortify the battlements, prepare for the assault. And the enemy? Clearly, secularism.

        Yes, that terror know as secularism – supported by those who attempt to codify into law rights of equality and dignity and respect for people. How subversive! From popes to baptist presidents, ayatollahs to anglican archbishops, al queda leaders to evangelical talking heads, all can agree that the worst enemy are these secular humanists led by shrill yet fundamental atheists.

        Oh, say the commentators for love of the religious kind, they don’t represent me and what I believe, and they surely do not represent the true message of Jesus as I interpret it to be. All this may in fact be true as well as heartfelt and earnest. So I have to ask: What effect does it have to help bring about this evolution towards the very goals of dignity and respect and equality supported by secularists?

        As far as I can tell, absolutely zero. And the reason I think this is to be expected is because faith of the religious kind is not open to critical review and fundamental change on behalf of the welfare of real people. In fact, I think the opposite is true, that faith of the religious kind is recognizing and accepting that god is a more important consideration than are these real people. And if people must be subject to some bigotry and misogyny then that’s a small price to pay for pleasing god. That’s why changes to religious tolerance and morality only come from without as a response to a changing moral zeitgeist that threatens to leave the religious as social outcasts. But it doesn’t stop organized religion from fighting tooth and nail to maintain its privilege to announce its scriptural bigotry and misogyny as pleasing to god and therefore right and proper… even if suicide rates of gay youth are directly attributable to social intolerance promoted and upheld by most religions.

        So I think those people who try to have their cake and eat it too – who want their religious affiliation (ie christian) while pretending it will someday be all about love (conveniently forgetting the contrary scripture) – fail to appreciate that religious affiliation means obedience to divine authority. I think these people are actually undermining, through the best of intentions but the greatest of naivety, exactly that which will bring about the legal foundation for enforcing equality, respect, and dignity for all regardless of religious affiliation (unconditional love, anyone?). In other words, if change for the better is what is truly desired, then it’s time to make religions (and ALL the tenets of All faiths) subject to egalitarian human law first and foremost… rather than granting allegiance to some self-appointed agents of a petty, bigoted, misogynistic divine dictator where they are ready, willing, and able to deny others rights they themselves enjoy.

  3. tildeb March 25, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    Or, as Adam Savage says at the Reason Rally, rules don’t make us more moral; loving each each other makes us more moral.

  4. Joyce April 6, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    Great reading! My computer crashed and I lost your blog but I am back!

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