On Being Labeled a Bigot

“At the end of the day, the problem is education. Without an educated population, it doesn't matter what other problems you try to tackle. It's not gonna work. Think of how much less powerful campaign contributions would be if people had the critical thinking skills to see through advertising? Think of how many of our problems are based just on pure ignorance, whether it's antiscience people or bigots or whatever.”
-Brennan Lee Mulligan

Throughout much of my life in the church, I can say that there was a sense of fear within me of the LGBTQ+ culture. During my days at Biola University, I remember a gay psychology professor threatening to strip the school of its accreditation as retaliation for not hiring him over his LGBTQ+ identity. I remember the people who lost jobs during the Proposition 8 battle for merely donating to a church that supported the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Outspoken activists such as Dan Savage used their influence to spread smear campaigns, bully Christian students, and attempt to inflict harm on those who would dare identify as siding with the conservative Christian church or Republican Party.

Taking the baton and running with it, groups like Focus on the Family only helped fan the flames of fear in these very public debates. Conservative pastors began teaching that the “LGBTQ+ agenda” was in fulfillment of end times prophecy and that parents should cut off Christian kids who identify as LGBTQ+. Lawsuits upon lawsuits have been filed claiming “religious freedom” as a way to deny services to those who would dare threaten their very livelihood, whether it be baking a cake to gyms or clothing stores.

So where does a young, impressionable adult end up when they feel caught in the middle of this? On one hand, I saw the examples firsthand. There was no denying it - in fact, one of my dearly respected colleagues was leading the charge to oust a local leader from his job and blacklist him from the community for his contributions to Prop. 8. On the other hand, the divisiveness, fear mongering, and bitterness on both sides of the debate only made the gap seem even harder to cross without being shot at from both sides. I knew in my heart that I struggled with my own identity - but who could I turn to? If I even attempted to ask questions of the LGBTQ+ community with the intention of understanding my struggle, would it mean a death sentence from the church? From the family and community that I loved and belonged to? If I got too close to the LGBTQ+ community, would an ultimatum be given - that I needed to leave the church to belong? For years, I found myself navigating this balance as if I were walking on eggshells, afraid every moment that my world would come crashing down on me if anyone were to ever figure it out.

The church was my life. Not only was it the central focus of my faith, but it was where we found friendships. Where we found support and friendship in hard times. Where we had community. In the midst of this, I kept looking over my shoulder, wishing - hoping - that there was even one person I could confess my secret to without fear of rejection. Ultimately, the fear was too great - I couldn’t risk everything just to ask a few questions, especially when I was so afraid of the answers. I chose to cling to the only thing I knew - the church.

For several years, I worked with a church ministry that honestly saved so much of my life. With them, I found purpose and meaning for many years, and watched as my efforts with them helped contribute to thousands of lives changed and made better by the power of the Gospel. I heard stories of drug addicts being able to overcome their vices. Of gang members who laid down their weapons. Of broken families mended. Surely, the good in this outweighed the bad, right? I mean, even though I had never gone down the pathways that I heard about in the frequent testimony videos, I knew I had been “saved and forgiven.” How could something so amazing and life-changing be full of hatred and vile? Yet that’s how I often found myself viewed by the LGBTQ+ groups who criticized our very public Evangelism efforts. If they only knew. If they only could sympathize with where I was and embrace me where I was at. After all, that’s what we had been taught in our Evangelism training, right? The fear on my part was real, but the wall was too high to climb. So I began to shrink down and pray that my involvement in the church would give me the strength to overcome my struggle, because the only comfort I knew was the church, which, while I felt comfort from the 28,000 other people who worshipped with me every Sunday, still felt cold and lonely.

I know that many of my writings have been critical of the church, but today I wanted to turn the tables a bit and let the LGBTQ+ community know that it wasn’t easy finding my way to you. The labels of bigot and stereotypes that were thrown at me for supporting the freedom of speech of companies like Chick-Fil-A hurt. Those wounds are still fresh. Truth is, I struggle a lot with trying to reconcile my faith and my identity. My heart hurts for the idea that I don’t think I could ever fully participate in the church communities that I dearly loved in my formative years. At the same time, there’s a sense of fear that runs through me every time I go into Chick-Fil-A to order a value meal - wondering if someone passing by will see me and call me out for “supporting hate” when all I really wanted was some chicken nuggets, waffle fries, and a lemonade. I worry that my involvement and continued support of faith communities that reject the LGBTQ+ lifestyle will leave me with no place to go. Where do I fit in?

Am I a bigot? I certainly hope not, but it really depends on who you ask, I guess. And that’s what hurts the most. There are so many like me - wanting to know and understand, but scared to even ask the question in fear of being caught in the crossfire. Perhaps it’s time we lay down the pitchforks and learn to embrace each other for the value that each brings to the table. For years, the struggle drove me to deep despair and anguish, and I can only imagine that I’m not the only one.

Friends, lives are being lost at an alarming rate because people feel that there is no place to turn. I would hope that we could all agree that no matter where we are, lives are precious. I guess the question then remains, “is your Truth more valuable than the life of another person?” One only has to look at the suicide statistics within the LGBTQ+ community to understand that the ideas and lines drawn in the sand - on both sides - are showing us where the focus needs to change. And change, my friends, begins with taking the time to understand our differences.

Thank you for spending the time reading these musings. I hope that they are helpful to you, because quite honestly, I love and respect people on both sides of the debate. That love comes from years of understanding the faith communities I was a part of, but at the same time understanding the very real struggle I went through for most of my life. If you have any questions, or even need to talk, know that I am here and always available.

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