Are You My Neighbor?

“WHAT WERE YOU THINKING???”

I still remember that note clearly today, scrawled on a draft copy of a Sunday Program for church. And no, it wasn’t in my handwriting. It was a note from the senior pastor of the church I worked for at the time, most likely in regards to a missed Oxford comma. It would be one in a long line of abusive notes that would scrawled across my work for the year that I worked as a graphic designer for a church in Northern California. It was also one of the last times I remember having a strong faith in the Evangelical church and its leadership.

Looking back, I intellectually knew better than to place my trust in church leadership, but the pain was too deep. I remember crying out to God in small quiet spaces away from everyone - even my family - because I knew that my heavy involvement in church was the only thing that was “keeping me straight.” My faith in God was the only thing that kept me from betraying my “sinful nature.” And yet - in my struggle, there was a massive sense of loneliness. The secret was heavy on my heart, and I couldn’t share it. There was nowhere to turn, especially since it meant breaking down the facade that I had built for myself of Evangelist, Conservative Christian, and Pastor.

I watched as some of the most influential church leaders around me fell to sexual sin - and how once their sin was brought to the surface, they disappeared, never to be seen again. Some of the most incredible leaders who have changed the lives of millions of people - erased from entire history books because of their moral failures. All the while, I remember hearing and preaching that “God’s grace covers a multitude of sins.” If the church was to be an example of God’s grace and forgiveness, then why was it that I felt that the church was the last place I could go to confess my struggles? To say out loud that, at the time, I thought I was gay?

I can’t point immediately to a moment or incident that became the final straw in my “walk” as an Conservative Mainstream Evangelical Christian. Perhaps it began crumbling and cracking during the brief time I spent as an associate pastor and the senior pastor began spreading rumors about our family online. Maybe it was watching the people in ministry embezzling money and then berating people when they were confronted about it. Maybe it was the continual criticism and verbal abuse from a senior pastor for every typo, missed comma, or graphic he deemed “ugly.” Or maybe it was the time when I sought spiritual counsel and prayer for our family from local church leadership when our family was homeless and seeking assistance - only to be told that perhaps I should’ve made better choices with my money than my iPhone 3GS (which we had signed a contract for when we were employed full time). Whatever the case, I found my faith completely crashing down around me, all the while regretting the fact that I had ever left my career as a Catholic musician in the first place to pursue full time ministry in the Evangelical world. I mean, if nobody else was going to be truly authentic behind the scenes, then what was the point, right?

All of it came to a head when I began to question my own identity even more. Without the church to act as a defacto accountability source, I allowed myself to start asking questions. And then to wonder - why is it, exactly, that we can’t talk about LGBTQ+ issues in church? Why is it that people who are struggling in this area of their lives not only can’t find support, but they too often find condemnation? Then out of those churches who don’t turn away LGBTQ+ members at their door - how many of them only let these people in with the intention and hopes that they’ll somehow be able to “save them” from their lifestyle? It makes me wonder, now that I’m just over a year into my transition, what the reactions would be if I were to walk into any one of my former churches. What would be the thought going through the minds of the other congregants around me? Would they be praying for my salvation in hopes that I would go forward at the altar call? Would they question me when I didn’t go forward or walked out of the church at the end of service? And before you criticize me and tell me that I’m overreacting, I want you to know that I write this out of experience - because there was once a point in time when I was that church-going Christian.

But not anymore. What I DO question now is where people like me should turn when they are facing these very real issues of faith and identity. Why is it that people are forced to choose between God and who they were made to be? Too often, people like me - who grow up in the arms of the church, find themselves turning to non-Christians for answers, and too often the find themselves being told that their faith is wrong. That it’s damaging. That it’s dangerous. And that they need to make a choice - because they can’t live both lifestyles. They find themselves trying to hard to please a God that is explained to them through religion, and then they kill themselves over trying to live in secrecy and the shame of that. Is it any wonder, then, that suicide rates among teenagers who identify as LGBTQ+ in Christian homes is at a frightening high? And with that in mind, one must ask - is any sin, whether Biblical or man-made, worth a human life? I have a hard time dealing with that. That the God of the universe who made me as I am would care so little to make me struggle with something that would ultimately make me choose between church and life? How to survive in this world when the very faith that is the fabric of our being is taken away because “we’re not holy enough?” God help us.

It took me 41 years of wrestling with the notion that I was never going to be “good enough.” That I just “needed more of God in my life.” Years of full time ministry, writing worship songs about how I come “just as I am,” and trying to pour my heart out to God, all the while crying out saying, “Lord, take this cup from me.” Several of those years were spent in depression, especially when I lost my faith in the church. How many more people like me are there? How many more don’t make it through? Don’t have a family to turn to? Or worse yet, find that their family has turned their back on them because they feel “it’s what God tells them to”?

Jesus said it best when He said, ““Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Who is our neighbor? Sometimes it’s not always who we think it is. And sometimes they’re staring us in the faith, just begging us to listen and love them where they are at.

Woman praying with candles.

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