I have been a Christian for 27 years, 25 of which were spent firmly in the ‘closet’.
I love God, and I trust God, He is my everything. I can’t contemplate life without His presence, His love and His peace and the hope and joy that fellowship with Him brings. So in this context, I hope that my story will shine out the message that God loves us and walks with us always in the complex garden of our lives, whether gay or straight. He communes with us wherever we are; cares for us whoever we are, and is inexhaustible and unfathomable in the depth of His love for us, whether gay or straight, ‘active’ or ‘inactive’.
My story starts about me becoming aware of my feelings of being gay and being different and then goes on to briefly chart how through my life I tried to ‘cope’ with it.
As a young child I was a tomboy, playing football, throwing stones, generally enjoying all the outdoor things that boys do and I had lots of boy friends to play with and lots of boy type toys. I still have a huge case of marbles to testify! It was a wonderful carefree time of my life and I don’t remember feeling odd about who I was or what I did back then. My impression was that people just assumed that I was a sporty kid.
When I became a teenager however I became aware that girls where supposed to be interested in boys for romantic reasons. Films and TV programmes all seemed to depict women being in stereotyped roles which I knew deep inside wasn’t something I felt I fitted in to. I wanted to be a Jamie Summers or a Martina Navratilova, and it was these kinds of women that I admired and felt a connection with. I found myself having crushes on certain teachers, certain friends and certain TV, Film or sports personalities. All the while feeling greater and deeper embarrassment about it and never telling a soul. I knew then I was different and I was scared about the future.
I thought maybe things would change if I met a suitably attractive guy, so I went along with the dating thing and gave the impression to friends that I was interested in guys, but it was all a front. I felt awkward, unattractive to the opposite sex (always in the tom boy unisex gear) and I was frightened and uncertain about what I was going to do in life if I didn’t find anyone suitable. The relationships I did have with guys turned out to be great friendships, with more desired on their part and me keeping things at friendship level until they gave up on me. So everything felt very unsatisfactory for many years, and I struggled to know what to do, all the while feeling tempted to draw into close relationships with female friends but not wanting to let my secret out.
When I became a Christian in my early 20’s, my focus changed on getting to know Jesus, the Bible and being rather ‘fundamental’ in my faith. There weren’t any guys around of my age in church so the problem seemed to disappear for a while. It wasn’t long however until the discussions and questions about being a good wife and finding a husband came up, and I would avoid them in the usual way. What really nailed my soul into extreme anxiety though was the sudden realisation that Christians said God viewed gay people as an abomination. Did God really think of me and my secrets that way? I was scared, really scared! I prayed for God’s forgiveness, I cried, I pleaded for it to go. Every time I felt tempted and then succumb to watching something lesbian orientated on the TV, afterwards I would cry before God, ask His forgiveness and ask for this ‘thing’ to be gone and for a miracle of restoration to be given to me. It didn’t come, my feelings didn’t change, so I stayed confused, continued keeping quiet, hoping and praying that it would never be mentioned so that no one would suspect. The potential for embarrassment and discovery was pure torture to the mind and soul.
I remember an occasion at Spring Harvest in the late 1980’s (a destructive sermon from a well known woman preacher in one of the main evangelical churches) who pointed out with much vitriol, that people with such thoughts and feelings as me were wretched before God, but that God could heal and change anything if we had faith. I was unfortunately sitting rather conspicuously on the front row with my face burning red as I felt the woman looking at me, and I knew then that my heart was breaking, I was so full of shame and confusion!
So that was the way life was, VERY closeted. I did tell one dear Christian friend during my mid 30’s. She was pretty neutral about it, understanding and very sympathetic and had even known gay people at university (not something I had encountered). I had at last got someone I could trust, who understood and with whom I could occasionally discuss my anxieties. It was a little pressure release valve, but I still found it embarrassing to discuss, so we didn’t talk about it much or often.
I also didn’t feel that there was an alternative to the course I was on if I was to continue being an ‘acceptable’ and obedient Christian. So I continued with my single Christian life, involved at Church in leading worship, helping to run a house group and enjoying an active social life with good friends. This continued for many years with me reassuring myself and everyone else that I was very comfortable and happy with being single. I kept this up for as long as I could, until my mid 40’s in fact. After that I began to suffer with the symptoms of anxiety, low self esteem and mental turmoil which I later understood was the start my period of depression.
A sudden crisis brought the depression into a full blown illness and I was ill for over two years. I attended a depression clinic, was on anti depressants and after a few months started counselling with a Christian counsellor. I went through 18 months of counselling never having the courage to mention my feelings. Eventually however, as I started to recover I felt strong enough to face up to the issue, and decided to take the plunge to talk about it. That was a huge moment in my life, to confess, I thought, my sin to the counsellor. I’m not even sure I knew what I would do with the negative response I was expecting to receive, but I had to get the words out. What an almighty effort it was! The surprising thing was that my counsellors’ response wasn’t negative; in fact it was sane and Godly and therein started a wave of hope and release from pain and misery that I couldn’t have expected. I began to realise that I was ‘normal’ after all, that I wasn’t an abomination, that God LOVED ME as I was and because of who I was not for something I couldn’t become.
As I started to dare to explore more about what gay Christians felt about their sexuality and scripture and their relationship with God, I felt reassured day by day that God was still there in my exploring. He hadn’t abandoned me, in fact He was opening doors into a new world of understanding in a way that only God could do. Through His unique, mysterious and miraculous ways of engaging with us humans I realised that I was in fact being blessed, not punished, walking closer rather than further away, being loved not rejected. It was scary as sometimes I wondered if it was real or just me kidding myself, but no, day by day more ‘God incidences’ continued to bless me and steer me. It was exciting, reminiscent of the day of my salvation in fact. I felt renewed, healed, understood, blessed and I felt God give me a new vision, a new purpose in this new dawn of hope to begin to help others like me who feel trapped in a world of misery that God never intended.
So then began a desire to meet other gay Christians, and that’s when I believe that the Lord led me to the Courage website.
I met in the first instance with the leader and founder, Jeremy Marks. A very gentle and Godly man who told me about the monthly meetings in London and that I would be very welcome to attend. I made my first visit in December 2007. It was such a relief. Everyone was so charming, welcoming and warm and I enjoyed the fellowship a great deal. The worship and sermon after the meal was profound. God was HERE in the midst of all these gay people, I could feel a sense of Gods understanding of the hurt and injustices of the people in the room and His love just flowed. I left that meeting knowing that this was God’s provision for me and understanding a side to Gods nature that I’d never dare to experience. The next step however, was more daunting….how to tell the Baptist Church I attended, my friends and my family that I was gay.
I arranged to meet my minister in the New Year 2008 and a day or so prior to the meeting I sent a letter explaining what I wanted to discuss and how things had come about. It was a way of breaking the ice without having to do it face to face. At the meeting my minister showed concern and love for my predicament, but left me in no doubt that where I was heading was considered to be in error and on the broad road to destruction, particularly if my intention was not to remain celibate. I was devastated. I suppose I expected more understanding, I expected more trust of me as a person, particularly after all the years I had been there, but there seemed to be more fear than anything else. A huge blow then followed when I was asked not to take part any more in worship and I realised how in a nano-second the view of me had changed from committed believer to rebellious unrepentant sinner. There was no persuading otherwise and so I began what were to be my last few months in that church.
This was an intensely painful time in which I couldn’t make it through services without many tears. Maybe some thought I was just unwell again. During this time my minister had agreed to discuss the issue in a general sense with the eldership with a promise to review what scripture said. The outcome a few weeks later offered no hope, no understanding of my situation so I decided that I would rather resign than be asked to leave. I wrote a long letter to the Church which I asked to be read out to members at the meeting. The outcome gave me hope. People were shocked, I’d been at the church for 17 years, they clearly wanted to try and understand things a bit more. I received a bouquet of flowers and a basket of fruit from the church delivered to my home. I was overwhelmed; I thought for a short while that things might be ok.
It was agreed that the church would review its policy on homosexuality via two special church meetings during the summer. I thought I may get the opportunity to speak and help people understand, but it was felt that the discussion would become personalised and skew the outcome. At the final meeting the decision was made that the policy should stand unchanged. I wasn’t surprised, but I was devastated. I then asked that my resignation be accepted at the next church meeting in the autumn. This was accepted. My days at the church ended unceremoniously with great sadness. It had been by fellowship home for many years and it appeared and still appears that most don’t give a hoot about it. Certain Christian friends backed away from me and have kept a polite distance. God however showed His compassion and grace by bringing certain church members and friends alongside me who I hadn’t expected would give me support. I witnessed a more genuine Christian love, one that made me see grace not self righteousness, compassion rather than legalism, love rather than lecturing. I saw Jesus in them, experienced Jesus in them. It showed me too how to be more like Jesus to others. Their love and understanding is the only legacy of that time, but it is very much cherished and I thank God for it.
The following year, having found and fell in love with my wonderful partner, we celebrated our civil partnership and had a blessing service conducted by a friend who is a URC minister. So a new life began and a new mission. We started Just Church, a once a month fellowship meeting on a Sunday morning for anyone gay or straight, feeling that mainstream church isn’t for them. Our first meeting was ‘just us’ and two others but it was wonderful, liberating and fresh. Since then numbers have slowly increased to about fifteen with people of all ages. We also started a local Courage group and have met several new friends from the gay community by doing so, and have represented the gay Christian community at several local gay community events.
We also felt led to start up a Listening Group with one of the members of my old church, a sort of bridge of understanding between the gay Christian community and the local churches. This year we hope to get this up and running after a year and a half of talking and praying about it, but unfortunately not having the time and strength to get it off the ground with everything else on-going.
When we finally moved into our new home together at the end of this summer we discovered an ecumenical church a few yards down the road with the minister willing to accept us for who we are and to let us participate freely. We couldn’t believe it! God is good. So we start this New Year with a meeting with the minister to discuss membership. We are not sure yet how the rest of the congregation will view us, but the minister is confident of their acceptance and love. We plan to continue with Just Church and our other gay Christian community meetings as long as we feel God is calling us to do that, so we pray and hope for a blessed and exciting year in prospect!
To conclude – in and through all this I have found God to be faithful, to be compassionate, and to be active in me through His Holy Spirit. He has continued to reassure me when I have found the going tough, when I have doubted, when I am fearful. How wrong I had been in my fear of God in my situation. What a warped view of God I had. This experience has brought about a profound change and step forward in my thinking and understanding of the nature of God and His relationship with His people. I will love Him and honour Him always, and to Him be the glory and the power always!
Amen and God bless you.