The conservative Christian south. As a kid I went to a Baptist church and school, and lived in a Baptist family. “God destroyed Sodom because they were Sodomites,” a youth pastor once told me, “and He will destroy all sodomites.” Even at a young age, the meaning of that word wasn’t lost on me.
I was scared. I felt threatened. I felt abandoned. I prayed every night for God to make me straight. I cried myself to sleep at night wondering why God had created me just to hate me, just to be hated by everyone I knew if they found out my secret.
If they found out I was gay.
God never made me straight, so I left the church. I rejected the God that I thought rejected me. I rejected Christians and avoided them at all costs. I cut myself off from classmates and alienated myself from the people I knew. I rejected them before they could reject me. I was depressed, scared, alone.
Years later when I went to college, I found other young gay men like myself. I made friends, both gay and straight, and slowly began telling people my secret. I was accepted. Finally. But I still wasn’t happy. “He will destroy all sodomites.” I didn’t believe those words anymore, but I still couldn’t shake them.
I could tell my peers, but I still couldn’t tell my parents.
By the time I was 23, I had dated. I had fallen in love and had my heart broken. I had begun to live my life as an out gay man, finally accepting myself, but I still couldn’t tell my parents, my old high school friends, or the people from my past.
On a whim I did an internet search for “LGBT Friendly” churches in my town. There was just one. The reverend had made a blog post about a transgender teen struggling for acceptance in a different church. She reminded her followers that all LGBT individuals are welcome at her church. I was thrilled, but I didn’t put on my Sunday best that week, or the next. I didn’t believe it was true. The idea of a gay-friendly church was so foreign to me I couldn’t accept it.
Months passed before I finally got the nerve to go. Without even knowing who I was, the reverend read a poem during the service. “Come to the altar,” she read, “if you’re gay, straight, transgender. The addict or the saint. Come to the altar.” I couldn’t listen to the whole poem. My eyes welled with tears and I ran to the bathroom.
I had never experienced such acceptance.
I went back a few times after waiting for the reverend to slip up. Waiting to see if she was just blowing smoke. Waiting for something to show that her acceptance was all a ruse. She never did. When I told her I am gay she told me God made me that way for a reason. Not to hate me, but to love me.
With the backing of a church I finally worked up the nerve to tell my parents. My mom cried, my dad seemed to have already figured it out himself. “Homosexuality is a sin, but…” my mom started before I stopped her. “It’s not a sin,” I said. “It’s love. God is love.”
I still hear that phrase a lot, “Homosexuality is a sin, but…” I hate hearing it, but I know how to defend it now. It’s not a sin. It’s who I am, who I was created to be. God didn’t create me just to be hated. He created me to be strong and to be happy.
After years of hating myself, hating my family, hating God, I’m finally happy. I’ve finally found love and joy.
Coming out for me was less an announcement and more of a process. I had to learn that faith and orientation are not separate. That even though some Christians may reject me, God doesn’t. God is love.