An Inside Outsider’s Perspective
I’ve been welcome to the table, but told I didn’t have a voice.
On the outside always looking in
Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?
Cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass
Waving through a window
I try to speak but nobody can hear
So I wait around for an answer to appear
While I’m watch, watch, watching people pass
I’m waving through a window
Can anybody see?
Is anybody waving?
–“Waving Through a Window” from Dear Evan Hansen
March 24, 2014, is a day I’ll never forget. It was the day that Christian aid organization World Vision announced they would employ openly gay Christians in same-sex marriages. CEO Rich Stearns said the decision was “symbolic not of compromise but of [Christian] unity.”
As a gay person who passionately loves Jesus and the church, hearing that gave me the hope I had been desperately searching for: to know that someone, somewhere would see me and accept me, and let me use my God-given gifts and talents to make a difference. It was a ray of hope on a horizon that had been so bleak. I remember the feelings of joy and relief to know that this decision could mean other Christian organizations, and even some churches, would follow suit. To know I wouldn’t have to hide or be in the shadows anymore, to know that I could no longer feel divided, living the compartmentalized life I had chosen to live. It was all too much and was indeed a reason to celebrate.
But as quickly as that joy and excitement came, it was gone. Less than 48 hours later, after donor pressure and the public outcry of evangelical leaders, World Vision reversed their decision. I was with a friend when I got the news and I literally felt like someone punched and knocked the wind out of me.
How? Why? I was outraged. I was angry. I was sad. I was disappointed. And mostly heartbroken. Heartbroken to know I would have to go back into hiding, and even moreso, heartbroken for my LGBTQ+ friends who had already such a strained relationship with church. Many of them had walked away from the church long ago. Others, like me, were awkwardly trying to figure out how to navigate the tension between their faith and sexuality, looking for where they could fit in and be loved and accepted, no questions asked.
I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. My heart and mind were racing. And finally, the day after the reversal, I worked up the courage to finally share my truth publicly:
That was the first time I’d ever acknowledged out loud to the entire world the enormous inner struggle I had been facing for over a decade. It was the first time I publicly acknowledged I was gay.
My story wasn’t a secret from friends and family or the churches I worked for. In fact, I had been very open about my “struggle with same-sex attraction.” From the time was 18 years old, I had been involved in various forms of counseling and therapy attending ministries and conferences under the umbrella of Exodus International. I attended counseling weekly, went to support groups, read books and studied the Bible, prayed, fasted, and did anything and everything I could do to not be as I was.
During that time, I was also working for churches who knew I was on this journey and who supported me on the path I had chosen to follow. Over time, however, the change I was seeking wasn’t happening, and increasingly, I was wrestling with unhealthy patterns and behaviors related to the shame, self-hatred, and guilt that stemmed from the therapy and teaching I was subscribing to.
After what would later be diagnosed as a nervous breakdown in 2009, I cracked and was confronted with the question “If God doesn’t change me, would I still be faithful?” I wrestled with that question, and as hard as it was for me to imagine doing, I began prayerfully walking the path of learning how to embrace my faith and my sexuality — to know that I am loved and accepted by God and to be honest with myself and others that I was indeed a gay man.
I’m not a theologian, and the purpose of sharing my story isn’t to argue you into anything. There are great people who have done significant work to study the Bible and cast a new light on things I believe have caused the church to act how it has, specifically around this issue. But that’s not for this time — not right now.
I was absolutely petrified that owning my truth would mean the end of a life and a career in the church that I loved. As far as I knew it, this was the end.
But it wasn’t.
You see, as I started to share my story with people one-on-one, I started to see that the issue wasn’t so black and white for some people. In fact, I found more understanding and compassion that I could have ever imagined.
I didn’t lose my job.
I wasn’t fired.
But I was told to keep quiet. To play inside a set of lines that were drawn for me. And to never do or say anything that could reflect negatively on the churches or organizations I worked for.
So I did.
I kept quiet.
I signed agreements acknowledging that I knew a church’s or organization’s particular stance on the issue of sexuality and chose to work for them, knowing my job could be rightfully taken from me at any time. My agreement to those terms also meant that if that was ever the case, I would not say or do anything about it.
And that was how I lived my life for the past eight years.
Most people have no idea who I am, but I’m an inside outsider.
For the last eight years, I’ve worked with some of the largest and most influential Christian churches, pastors, leaders, and organizations. You may not know my name, but if you’re connected to mainstream evangelical Christian culture, you’ve likely seen my work.
I’ve sat in the offices and conference rooms of some of America’s fastest-growing churches, where I’ve consulted on marketing, communication, and social media.
I’ve run social media for major Christian conferences and events. One that regularly trends nationally and even globally.
I’ve been behind more than a dozen New York Times best-selling book campaigns for leading evangelical Christian authors and leaders.
I’ve been behind the chart-topping release of many albums for top Christian worship artists.
I’ve been trusted to run social media for major Christian leaders and influencers, assuming their voice and sharing messages to their millions of followers online.
I’ve been a part of events and movements that have shaped the evangelical Christian landscape as we know it.
And throughout all of this, I’ve been an inside outsider.
I’ve been welcome to the table, but told I didn’t have a voice.
I’ve been given tremendous trust, but told I couldn’t be a leader.
And I did work I’m beyond proud of, but had to censor how I talked online, as to not indicate that a particular church or organization would hire “someone like me” to work for them.
I was welcome to the party but had to watch from the periphery.
The sad thing is, I willingly submitted to this. I allowed myself to be put into those positions. And for a very long time, I felt it was my calling to do so. I saw how many people like me had left the church for many good reasons, but knew that change could only happen if some of us could stick around and silently try to make a difference. So that’s why I did it.
Here’s the thing, though: I found nothing but love and compassion. Although I was hired to do a particular job, my engagements with different churches and organizations would inevitably include what I believe were very important conversations about how churches should navigate and love the LGBTQ+ community. I can’t tell you how many people showed me genuine love and compassion. People who said they understood my pain and hurt, and who wanted to do what they could to make things right.
Then World Vision happened, and I knew I couldn’t hold it in any more. I posted my tweet, only to get phone calls from a few clients who decided it was time to end our contracts together. Another client, a major evangelical church, asked if I could “scrub” my social media and remove any reference to them or my work with them from my feeds.
I did. And I continued to carry on doing what I was doing with my gay friends, wondering how I could be doing it, and with my straight Christian friends who were fully accepting and affirming, wondering the exact same thing.
I, of course, felt conflicted too.
On the one hand, I wanted desperately to see the church change. But on the other, I recognized the complexities that churches were facing when it came to this issue.
Then we have what happened this week with Eugene Peterson. I won’t speculate or give my thoughts on the situation. But I can’t help but feel this is a flashback to March 2014 all over again. For a fleeting moment, there’s hope, only to be extinguished as quickly as it sparked.
So where I am today in all of this?
I left my last role with a church earlier this year, knowing it would be my last. It was my decision and it was painful, but I couldn’t let myself be bound by all of the restrictions I was placed under any longer.
I was in a meeting, going through a press release in which the word “accept” was used to describe how the church “accepts everyone,” and a comment was made by someone in senior leadership that, “no, we can’t say that because there are gay people who will call us out on that. We can’t say we accept everyone.”
That’s when I knew I was done.
How a church couldn’t say they accept everyone is beyond my comprehension. When I read about Jesus, I see Him loving and accepting those whom society and the religious of His day were calling outcasts, deemed unclean. I can’t imagine how this was any different. The LGBTQ+ community is being treated like lepers in the 21st-century church.
I still love Jesus.
I still love the church.
But things need to change.
I’m so tired of people in positions of power and influence who won’t come out and say how they really feel. I’m frustrated that “it’s not the right time” to have these conversations. I’ve reached the end of my patience because I know there’s so much more at stake here than attendance numbers and tithe dollars.
Love is inclusive, not exclusive. Queer people need Jesus, too. Queer teens need to know Jesus loves them and accepts them — how many teen suicides would that alone prevent? LGBTQ+ people need to know there’s a place for them at the table. And everyone deserves the right to go to a church that says “all are welcome” and actually mean it.
I had coffee with a pastor of a massive church about a year go and shared my story with him. He, in so many words, said, “I admire your courage and see God at work in you, but the truth is, the decision about all of this isn’t in my hands, it’s in your generation’s hands. You’ll be the ones to make that call for your generation.”
I quickly said back to him, “I think I hear what you’re saying, but that’s assuming that by the time we have the ‘right’ to make that decision, we’ll still be in the church.”
As well-intentioned as I was in trying to “fight the good fight” as an outsider inside of the church, I realize now that may have been doing more harm than good. I regret that I allowed my light to burn dimly and that I stayed in the shadows. I regret that I didn’t push harder or that I didn’t speak up louder. And I lament over the fact that, all the while, so many LGBTQ+ people continued to suffer.
And today, reading the vitriol and fallout about Eugene Peterson’s comments lights a fire in me as strong as I felt back in 2014. I know now I need to do things differently. I need to be bolder. I need to use my voice. And I need to do what I can to love God and help the church learn how to love, accept, and affirm its LGBTQ+ sons and daughters who, like me, are on the outside looking in, just waiting for someone to wave us in.
I’m done being an inside outsider.