About two years ago, I decided to come out to my pastor. He’s one of the most understanding, empathetic people I’ve encountered, and he added a reinvigorating breath of fresh air into our church. The congregation noted, but didn’t address, the need for a spiritual revitalization. After watching him interact with the families, single followers, and the elderly, I knew he was a man of God who understood his faults and used them to benefit others in their struggles, reminding them to go to Him for strength and solace. He understood human suffering and was open to diverse testimony.
And I was as diverse as they come. Gay and Hispanic.
I met with him on a summer evening, having to shrug off his dog who eagerly sought my leg for self-gratifying intentions. I thought a direct approach was appropriate, so I went for the throat. I told him I was gay. After I finished my say, I watched his expression for change, expecting the worst, expecting a grimness to befall him, expecting him to ask if I was molested as a child or experienced a troubled childhood.
I’m more than ecstatic to say the contrary occurred. My hopes were realized.
His initial reaction was empathy and reassurance. He emphasized how he will always see me as his brother, a Christian struggling with acceptance and discrimination not from others, the church, but from myself, how it must have been hell. Years of self-loathing and confusion, cringing whenever members voice their disdain for the GSM community. What I instantly noticed in our hour-long conversation was how he led it. There was no proselytizing, no references to Scripture about condemnation or eternal damnation, no prodding into my parents’ disciplinary tactics. None of that. He placed the focus on my struggle. He asked me what it was like growing up gay, having to archive this vital characteristic of my life in a dusty file bin, never to be reviewed or published. To summarize, he wanted to listen. He wanted to hear how much I hurt throughout my adolescence. He wanted to know how I viewed Christianity as a gay man. He wanted to know me not as a Christian or a sinner.
He wanted to listen to me, and he did.
It was perhaps the most thrilling conversation about my sexual orientation I’ve had thus far.
For a majority of my adolescent years, I’ve kept quiet about any form of romance or love interests. I’m certain I would’ve killed the party atmosphere if I confessed my crush on my male childhood friend. Anything I said or thought was carefully monitored and filtered for fear of said words and thoughts incriminating me. I was constantly on edge in case anybody put two and two together, and even at the ripe age of twelve, the terrifying precipice overlooking puberty and raging hormones, the word “gay” was taboo. It was something my congregation were informed of but seemed to refuse to acknowledge, let alone recognize the GSM community’s humanity. That was thirteen years ago. 2005. Brokeback Mountain had yet to be released, so my congregation didn’t have that as a template of liberal media brainwashing the masses. In my congregation’s collective prism, queer people existed, but it was best not to reach out to them or even speak of them. And when they did speak of them, most of the time it was to berate them.
Fast forward ten years later. June 2015. Gay marriage is considered legal in all fifty states. The Hanford Church of Christ had taken jabs at the GSM community within those ten years; heck, even Brokeback Mountain didn’t create too large of ripple in society, if I recall correctly (feel free to disprove this statement for clarification). Yet, here was a critical legislature that ruffled quite a few of my congregation’s members. It became a hot topic and evoked a plethora of opinions, most of which were negative. Suddenly, my congregation members were victims of a tyrannical force that was bludgeoning them with same-sex couples, demanding their unions be recognized. This was just another form of persecution on the church, they said. They need strong Christian role models to stand up to the gay liberal Big Brother and show them the divine authority, they said. Clearly, this was a political act. You know, not an advocacy for love. Nope, just an act to evict Christ from the government. I would eavesdrop and resist the urge to round off on them, tempted to come out to them, see if their cynical tones were startled by this sudden revelation. In retrospect, that wouldn’t have been an eloquent expression of my frustration. As much as it pained me to stifle my anger, I appreciate my maturity, my refusal to sink to their level of ignorance. And as painful as my childhood was in this respect, hiding who I was from this community that was supposed to be my spiritual family, I’m grateful for the experience. It has shaped me into who I am, and within the past few years since I came out, I’m slowly learning how to love and appreciate myself as both a gay and spiritual man.
I’m learning to appreciate the positive and extract perspective from the negative, yet I knew the time was approaching. It was the same intuition I experienced before I came out to my parents. It was time to tell someone, to come out to them. I wanted someone reliable, understanding, someone who wouldn’t fixate on something that was completely out of his/her control. My pastor came to mind instantly.
Tying that back to the conversation on that fine summer evening, it was a weight that needed lifting from my spirit. Not only this, but with a pastor, a figure that I considered the last person to reveal such a secret. Even as I write this, I’m biting back tears, for I never imagined, as an awkward twelve-year old, I would come out to someone I consider a brother, a true friend who understood that he could only understand so much of my struggle yet knew it was difficult. He was there for his church, he gave advice when we asked for it, he was honest when he was struggling through something. He was vulnerable, and as far as I know, he still is. If I had to come out to any pastor, I’m glad it was him. Looking back now, I hope he reminisces on that evening as fondly as I do. I hope we both gain better perspectives on the issue of the church and the GSM community. That, despite our social progression, it’s still an issue. There’s an opportunity to join the two together, share suffering and struggle, and hopefully build a foundation. It has to be better than sticking to our sides and pointing fingers at each other. I hope we can find a way someday. For me, the first step was coming out to my pastor.
And I’m praying and hoping for wisdom to recognize the next one.