[Editor's Note: I am incredibly excited to introduce you all to our second 2015 blogger, Jonathan! Please give him the same rousing welcome that you gave Kyle last week.]
So, lately I've noticed myself using the terms "before I was gay," and "after I was gay" to refer to before and after my senior year of high school, respectively. I'm still not entirely sure when or why I started doing this.
This seemed rather strange to me when I first noticed myself doing it, but upon some reflection I realized that there was a subtle truth in what I was saying.
Prior to my junior and senior years of high school (or thereabouts), I was heavily repressed. I knew that I sometimes thought about other boys, but I also knew that God would send me to hell if I thought too much about other boys. The concept of a gay person going to church was totally nonsensical to me. After all, why would they bother worshiping a God that hated them? Obviously, I never would have (or could have) considered myself gay (hence the "before I was gay" era). I couldn't be. After all, I was a good Christian boy, and God doesn't make you gay if you're Christian. Attraction to other boys is just something everyone has to deal with, they just never talk about it. Right?
Over the course of my junior and senior years in high school I began to reevaluate those statements. Through the help of a few good friends, a couple gay role models, and a handful of Christian theologians (Desmond Tutu and Gene Robinson especially), I gradually came to understand that the term "gay Christian" isn't such an oxymoron after all. For the first time in my life I was exposed to the possibilities that I could be both, and that I could be gay and not go to hell. What radical thoughts! My whole conception of myself and the world was blown apart. Suddenly, I could embrace that part of me I'd kept hidden my entire life. I didn't have to force myself to like girls anymore, and God would still love me? And thus began the long and difficult process of coming to terms with my sexuality and the beginning of the "after I was gay" era.
Sadly, I am well aware that I don't face this struggle alone. The struggle to choose between religion and sexuality is something all gay religious teens face. It would seem that the current religious climate in America simply doesn't allow someone to be both gay and Christian - you have to pick one. Many gay teens simply toss their religion aside, or worse, they do what I did, and repress their sexuality in order to keep God's love for them. It would seem there's something unfair, or rather, unnatural, about having to make that choice. As Dr Daniel Helminiak puts it, "To have to be afraid to feel sexual is to restrain that noblest of human possibilities, love. It is to short-circuit human spontaneity in a whole array of expressions - creativity, motivation, passion, commitment, heroic achievement. It is to be afraid of part of one's own deepest self.... So, in a profound and important way, for people to have to choose between religion and sexuality is to have to choose between religion and themselves. As we are coming to understand the matter today, it is to have to choose between God and human wholeness."
Choosing between God and human wholeness? Is that a choice God wants us to have to make? Is that really what the queer community has to spend their lives wrestling with? Is that the best God can do? Really?
God is greater, better, and more nuanced than that.
Of course, this doesn't mean we're getting off easy. We're left with the massive responsibility of finding a way to make our religion and our sexuality work. Although God will be with us along the way, working in both our religion and our sexual identity, we still face the very difficult question: How can we find some middle ground between the two? One thing that I've learned in my own attempts is that no one can give us an easy means to reconcile our faith and our sexuality. For those of us struggling to reconcile them, there are plenty of gay religious role models that can help point us in the right directions, but ultimately, our individual middle ground is something we have to work out with God for ourselves.
No matter what stage you're at in this reconciliation - questioning, afraid to question, conflicted, or confident - rest assured, God does not want you to hide from any part of who you are. After all, God made you, and there's no part of you that God can't handle. In recent years (mostly over the past century or so) God has been the victim of the most vicious case of slander ever to occur in the course of human history at the hands of conservative religious groups. These groups and the falsehoods they spread cannot comprehend the breadth and the depth of our God. They cannot understand and they cannot withstand the Good News that our God's love is for all of us, all the time, in all places, people of all faiths, and people of no faith. It cannot and will not be confined to any group which tries to claim it and monopolize it for itself. As the Archbishop Desmond Tutu famously preached, "Jesus said, 'When I be lifted up I will draw all people to myself.' All. All, all, all, all, all! Black, white, rich, poor, beautiful, not-so-beautiful. It's one of the most radical things! All, all, all, all, all! Gay, bi, so-called straight, all of us are meant to be held in this incredible embrace that will not let us go. All."
Don't be afraid to embrace part of who you are because you think God won't like it; God embraced that part of you a long time ago.