Growing Up Gay and Christian
How I overcame the shame and guilt
I was thirteen years old at the time, sitting at a table in church, surrounded by four other teenagers. Every week for two years the five of us would gather together with the pastor, working through Luther’s Catechism and Bible lessons so we could get confirmed as church members. On this particular day, the topic of sexuality came up.
“Homosexual acts are a sin in God’s eyes,” the pastor warned us all.
(Of course, the church has made a distinction between “homosexual acts” and being a homosexual, so we can remain in the church... as long as we are celibate.)
I could feel myself getting hot and red, but tried as best as I could to hide it. It was around that age when I started questioning my sexuality.. but I wasn’t yet convinced that I was actually gay (despite the shocking amount of evidence that I obviously was). But if I were, what would I do? Was God really that against it? What would happen to me in the afterlife if I chose to be with a girl?
I knew my friend’s parents were lesbians, so I asked my pastor a question that I wanted the answer to, using them as a cover: “What happens if two people of the same sex marry? Do they really go to hell?”
I was, of course, terrified of the answer, knowing that my church did not support the “LGBT lifestyle” (whatever that means). I tried to conceal a large gulp, hoping I was acting nonchalantly enough so as to not reveal myself.
I don’t remember his exact answer, to be honest. It was probably not a definite “yes” or “no,” but more of a, “They need to repent of their sin and turn away from it, and Jesus is always ready to forgive them.” You know, one of those sugar-coated responses. I remember holding back tears as my heart sank to my stomach and a wave of fear washed over me.
What was I going to do?
This sense of guilt — which was instilled in me — followed me everywhere during my adolescent years.
The first time a girl turned me on during a sleepover, I went into the bathroom and cried, pleading with God for him to forgive me and to please let me like boys too.
Whenever I developed feelings for a girl, I pushed them deep down. I had to. I was mortified that my heart would race as a girl spoke to me, and upset that I couldn’t make myself react the same way when speaking to a boy. Most of all, though, I hated that God wouldn’t change me, despite my nightly pleas.
In my simpler mind, I was able to rationalize why it was a sin to God. Which is to say, I was able to parrot my pastor’s logic, which was void of nuance:
“God defines marriage as being between one man and one woman. Any sexual thoughts or actions outside of marriage are considered sinful, and homosexuality falls outside of God’s definition of marriage.”
Well, why did God make marriage that way? I would argue with myself.
“Because men and women complement each other sexually, vocationally, and emotionally, and can have children together, which is one of the highest callings.”
What if men can’t satisfy me sexually or emotionally? And what if I don’t want children?
I didn’t know how to answer this, or what the church’s answer was. I was too scared to ask, so I did what any young and desperate Christian would do in my situation: I turned to the Bible.
If you go to the index and search for the word “homosexual,” you will be directed to two or more of what are known as the “clobber passages.”
There was my answer, in 1 Corinthians 6:9–10, “.. Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy .. will inherit the kingdom of God.”
In verse 11, there was something slightly more comforting, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Okay.. so I can go to heaven still, I just can’t act on my “homosexual urges.”
I don’t think church leaders recognize just how large of a request they are asking of us when they suggest this. Considering my church was against forced celibacy (as in, the pastors could have wives and children, how convenient for them), it seems rather hypocritical looking back. It is unrealistic to expect them to refrain from sex, but not gay people?
There is a loophole the church has, though, so they can avoid directly forcing celibacy on people. This alternative option was the advice given to me when I finally confessed my “sin,” which was becoming a burden to me.
I was 21 and attending church on a weekly basis. By this point, the guilt of being a lesbian was eating me alive to the point that I would break down in tears during the sermons, feeling unworthy of God’s love and still angry that he hadn’t changed me after all those years. When my pastor announced that he was relocating to Texas, I knew that that was my opportunity to confess my “sin” to him.
I walked to the church on a too-hot summer day to meet the pastor for my confession, though he thought I was meeting him to ask some questions regarding the Bible, which wasn’t unusual for me to do (I met up with him a lot to ask questions). I was terrified the whole walk there, second-guessing my decision, and telling myself not to cry.
When I arrived, we sat down together at a table and I started crying before I could even start. Goodness. I didn’t even realize just how much guilt and shame I was carrying on my shoulders until that moment when I was about to “unburden” myself. Through broken sobs, I told him what was going on — what I had been experiencing for the last 8 years — leaving out as much detail as possible.
“Well, it is a sin..” he said, though I could tell he was trying his best to approach the situation kindly without sacrificing his values.
I had read the verses.. over and over again.. and there wasn’t any doubt in my mind that it was a sin; why else would I be feeling so much guilt if it wasn’t?
He proceeded to tell me that we all have our own “thorn in the flesh,” and that just because I liked women didn’t mean it was impossible for me to like a man.
“Keep searching, and when you find the right person to create an emotional bond with, the sexual feelings will follow,” he told me.
I couldn’t develop emotional feelings for men, let alone sexual ones, I soon found out. For a while though, I believed he had given me my answer, and I was hopeful. When I walked back home, it felt like a burden had been lifted off my shoulders: if my pastor — who I trusted — believed it was possible for me to be able to be straight, then surely I could be.
This interaction kicked off my Tinder dating spree, which, as you readers already know, didn’t turn out very well. I met some very attractive, interesting and funny men, but I felt nothing for them beyond friendship. I tried kissing, hand-holding, cuddling, having deep conversations, joking around, and having a good time.. well.. apart from those not-so-great times. But at the end of the day, I was lying to myself. And it didn’t feel right to lie to them, either (though I did tell some of them that I was probably gay or bi when I noticed things starting to get more serious).
It was a genuine attempt, but in vain. I was very obviously misled into believing that I could just miraculously develop feelings for a man if I searched hard enough for the “right one.”
I don’t blame my pastor, either, as he too was just parroting what he was taught in seminary school and had no first-hand experience with this stuff. And even if he was right in saying that I could eventually develop a romantic connection with a man, why would I want to go to such lengths to find someone I might have half-feelings for? How would that be fair to either of us, and everyone I met along the way?
I was beginning to realize that I would rather be celibate and single than with a man. I could not live a life that consisted of lying to myself and everyone around me every waking second, where I had to fight against my true emotions and desires, tolerate and loathe sex, and yet still felt utterly alone.
The forced celibate way of life seems to be contradictory to God saying “‘.. It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’” (Genesis 2:18). Some people love independence and can live full, happy lives without a romantic or sexual companion. I’m not like that. I, like many others, have an innate desire for the intimate and profound connection that is found in romantic relationships. And just as Adam’s suitable partner was someone of the opposite sex— assuming he was straight — a suitable partner for me is another woman.
At this point in my life, I was more devastated than ever. Dating men didn’t work and I was definitely a lesbian (not bisexual like I had hoped), but I didn’t want to live my life alone. I constantly craved having someone close to me; someone to build a life with, but I wasn’t allowed to have that? How was that even fair?
It seemed like a twisted joke for God to have made me gay, along with the desperate desire for companionship, and deny me of it.
This isn’t to say that being single is “too unbearable for me.” Being told that the possibility of being in a relationship is impossible for me, however, is too much. To carry such a large amount of shame on my shoulders is too much. To be denied one of the fundamental human experiences which I so desperately crave is too much.
Paul wrote that “.. God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13), yet I was not seeing any “way out” of the situation apart from options that made me depressed and suicidal.
I didn’t want to lose my faith over this again, which happened when I first fell in “love” in high school. Since I believed God was against homosexuality, I pushed my beliefs aside so I could pursue a “relationship” with a woman. This was my way of coping with the shame and guilt I felt; sweeping it all under the rug, especially since His law seemed to be the source of my suffering. When I read back on diary entries from that time, it’s so clear that I was battling myself and questioning if those feelings meant I could no longer be a Christian.
It felt like I had to decide between God and human connection, even though God created human connection as a gift.
So, in an attempt to keep my beliefs and pursue a loving relationship, I decided to do more research, which went beyond reading the clobber passages. Although I admit I wanted to discover that it wasn't a sin (can you blame me?), I also wanted the truth. Trying to be as unbiased as could, I began to research the arguments from both sides of this ongoing debate.
I looked for information regarding the original manuscripts and languages (I’m unfortunately not fluent in Hebrew or Greek). I researched various perspectives on certain Biblical texts, namely the clobber passages. I read the books God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines and Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships by James V. Brownson. I watched numerous Youtube lectures and videos, wanting to soak up every bit of information I could.
And what did I discover?
That the anti-gay doctrine wasn’t as set-in-stone as the pastor told me it was. It was rather ambiguous, actually, and a lot of it was up to interpretation.
Jesus said the most important commandment was to “‘.. Love the Lord your God with all your heart..’” and “‘.. Love your neighbor as yourself..’” He then proceeded to say that “‘.. There is no other commandment greater than these’” (Mark 12:30–31).
So, if the law can be summarized as love for God and others, and if sin is the opposite (causing harm against God or another), then what is unloving and harmful about marrying another woman? Who does it hurt? Is it not harmful to marry a man I do not love? Was the church really going to condemn gay Christians unless they are celibate or in loveless marriages? All for the sake of a teaching that may not even be in the Bible, which was written in a time when homosexuality wasn’t even understood in the same way as it is today?
I no longer believe that God would condemn anyone for the way they love someone. If God is love, how could he ever disapprove of love? In 1 John 4:7 we are told, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”
I’m currently in a happy lesbian relationship, and grateful to be with someone with who I am able to connect on every level; a “suitable partner” for me. It was not an easy journey to come to a place without shame and where I could still keep my faith, but I am blessed to be where I am today. I can only hope for other gay Christians to rid themselves of the guilt imposed on them, and to release the idea that they must change in order to be accepted by God. I pray that the church will one day change its ideals and become more accepting of everyone, as I believe the church was intended to be.