“Please Tell Me This Is A Bad Idea”

Last week a reader sent me this email. Its subject line was “Trying not to hate myself for being gay.”

John,

I’m writing this because you seem like a compassionate person who will listen to what I have to say. There are few people I know who are willing to listen to me without preaching. I get so fucking sick of constantly having to defend, to give an excuse for who and what I am.

More than anything, I just want to be heard. I feel like I am never heard.

A little about me: I am 23-years-old, the son of a prominent, powerful ministry family. My father has been a strong advocate for the ex-gay movement, and has worked closely with many of the founding ex-gay leaders. Of course, I turn out gay.

I want to be okay with what I am. I want to tell myself that my humanity is not broken, damned, and diseased. It doesn’t take a genius to discern that I am a deeply homophobic person . . . but I don’t fear homosexuality in other people. I hate and fear it in myself. I was raised being told that homosexuality is a disease; that it will bring the downfall of America and Western Civilization; that I will go to hell. I’m still so fucking scared of hell.

I want all this to change, to stop being afraid. I have come frighteningly close to going to a ex-gay ministry to just see if it is possible to change. Please tell me that that is a bad idea. Three weeks ago, I tried to go to bed. Instead, I cut myself brutally, and just sat in bed crying, crying, crying. I couldn’t stop crying. I was overwhelmed with the desire to cut too deep. Instead, I went out for a long walk until the desire passed. That was far from the first time I ever wanted to kill myself because of this issue. I feel lost. I’ve felt lost for years now, and I don’t know how to stop feeling lost. I am afraid that if I keep living like this, I will end up doing something terrible to myself. I don’t think I will ever commit suicide, but I could easily get into hard drugs and other shit. Please, please try to convince me that it is okay to be gay. I’m sick of living like this.

Dear Guy Who Wrote Me This:

When I was seventeen years old, I was lost. I couldn’t live at my parents’ house; I didn’t know how to live on my own; I wasn’t attending high school anymore. I was just a mess. I had a friend I hadn’t known long, a guy two years older than I. This friend reached out to me. He joined up with me to rent my (first!) apartment; he supported me financially whilst I flailed around at crappy jobs; he encouraged me in my writing. He was gay. I had no idea that was true; if he had told me of it I wouldn’t have known what it meant. Neither he, nor any of his gay friends—who also supported and loved me—ever hit on me, or … in any way tried to make me gay, or whatever. Just nothing in that regard. I was straight; those guys knew it; sex was just literally never an issue.

My friend was a friend. A friend who saved my life.

When I was a kid, my dad, a true ham-bone, was Joe Amateur Theater: he was always acting in local plays. One of his fellow thespians was a man named Dallas. Dallas was an extraordinary actor: the first true actor I ever knew. I didn’t realize it at the time—I was eleven, twelve years old; now I can see what my mom and dad meant by their little innuendos about his personal life—but Dallas was gay.

Dallas had a problem: offstage he was profoundly—clinically, I would say—shy. My parents often threw the cast parties for their plays at our house, and during them Dallas would invariably situate himself in the near darkness of the hallway that led out of our dining room and back into the bedrooms, and for the entire party just stay there, alone, basically pasted against the hallway wall.

During one such affair I ventured out of my bedroom, and in the shadows started a little chat with Dallas. All of sudden he sort of started talking to me. He mostly kept his eyes down, but during our chat he would every once in a while look up, and just blaze his eyes into mine for a moment before looking back down.

He talked to me—whispered to me, really—about art. He talked about how essentially dangerous art is, or can be, for the born artist, since it demands, or certainly invites, total surrender to its power. He talked about how art already is—how the artist’s job is to find the art that is there waiting to be discovered, and to then align himself to it, and never look back.

“As you can see, I’m not a terribly social person,” he fairly mumbled, eyes to the floor.

“But you’re such a great actor,” I said.

He looked up at me. “Because I become someone else. That’s me, catching the art train.”

Dallas’ words that night meant a lot to me. They helped form my entire philosophy and understanding of art. They’ve informed pretty much every word I’ve ever written.

When I was in college, a gay professor of philosophy offered to allow me, under his auspices, to essentially study independently: he set up this thing where, as an undergraduate, I could engage in what amounted to independent graduate work. He really put himself out, both professionally and personally, so that I could do that.

When I was in my early thirties, a gay friend of mine was the first Christian I ever knew who was deeply knowledgeable about Christianity: he was intimate with its entire history. He taught the philosophy of Christianity. He made me respect Christianity in a way I didn’t even know was possible.

If you believe nothing, friend, believe this: I could go on for books about the good gay and lesbian people who have so personally and directly enriched my life that without them I don’t know what I’d be today. All I know, for sure, is that I’d be a lot worse a person.

If you ruin yourself—if you denigrate yourself, if you feel shame for yourself, if you allow yourself to believe that because you’re gay you’re intrinsically less worthy than people who aren’t—then how are you ever going to be for anyone else what so many gay people have been for me?

You need to save yourself so that you can save others, gay and straight.

About gays and homosexuality your father is terribly, terribly, absolutely wrong. That doesn’t make him an asshole; it doesn’t make him mean-spirited; it doesn’t make him homophobic. But on this issue the man couldn’t be more wrong if he climbed atop the roof of his house and started screaming through a bullhorn about how two plus two equals nine.

Hell is an unbelievably toxic notion born of nothing but fear, natural guilt, and mythology; God created gay people the same as straight. About hell and gays your father is wrong; Christians who share his beliefs are wrong—and the whole world of ex-gay ministries has exploded apart, since even the people who used to head them are now, seemingly en masse, telling the world that such “ministries” work like duct tape on the sinking Titanic.

You don’t cure being gay—anymore than you “cure” being left-handed, or … enjoying food.

And when God looks down for people to consider smiting, he doesn’t look to gay people. He looks to people who are using him to convince gay people that they are losers, shameful, abominable. Those are the people who make God rethink his promise about not just washing all of humanity off the planet and starting over again.

Do not cry. Do not cut yourself. Do not fear that God will send you to hell for being gay. Do not worry that you shouldn’t be gay.

You should be. You are. It’s not a problem.

Lots of people are gay, and they love themselves just fine. Lots of Christians are gay, and they don’t see any problem there at all.

Join them.

Join us.

We’re out here. You just need to shake off the dumbass history with which you’ve been inculcated, close your eyes for a moment in order to feel the truth of God within you loving you—and then come on, baby, into the bright, warm light.

Please: join the party.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrewchow01 Andrew Chow via Facebook

    Thank you John. This is a really moving testimony of who you are.

  • http://pastordoug.minhost.org Pastor Doug from Ohio

    There are so many folk you can connect with (and I’m probably preaching to the choir here) – Jay Bakker, Kathy Baldock, New Covenant Atlanta, The Evangelical Network, and many others… The writer is fortunate that he is young and can find this kind of support. It took me the most part of age 17-35 to get there, including five years hanging out in ex-gay company and five years avoiding the church entirely. Now I pastor the church that helped me reconcile the issue.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Maureen-E-Bohacek/1380410130 Maureen E. Bohacek via Facebook

    John, I have to say, you are restoring my “faith” in Christians. Thank you.

  • http://ihopetomorrowisbetter.blogspot.com Molly Bandit

    To the writer, please don’t feel ashamed about your sexuality or your cutting. God made you just how he wanted you to be. I say this not because I think you’re broken or need “curing” or anything, but I think you would benefit from talking to an LGBT-friendly therapist. Not one of those ex-gay “therapists” but someone you can talk to, confide in, that can help you work through this fear and guilt dominating your life. If you have a college nearby, you can usually find someone that works on a sliding (pay-what-you-can) scale.

    I say this as an “ex” cutter. Cutting is a difficult process to stop, and people who haven’t cut may not realize this. You can’t just “not do it” on your own. Cutting is addictive because it releases endorphins during the process and rewires your brain to where you associate it with good feelings, sometimes the only good feelings in your life at the moment. It took me one week to kick caffeine; I’m three years without cutting, and somedays I still struggle. By the grace of God, I haven’t relapsed. some of my friends have said it’s easier to stop smoking than to stop cutting.

    You can stop, but you might need help to do it, and there’s nothing wrong or weak about that.

    God loves you. And plenty of us humans that pay attention to the meaning behind His words rather than the legalism sprung up from it love you too.

    • cat rennolds

      Molly,

      Good for you. GOOD for you. Hugs.

  • Sharla

    Something else you can do: find a counselor (could be an accepting pastor, but doesn’t have to be) who can help you sort through your feelings and come to accept and love yourself as you are. God already does, but when you’ve had the message that you’re not OK drummed into you from childhood it’s hard to believe that without figuring out a way to let go those messages. You are created in God’s image, the same as every other human being on the planet. There’s no weakness in needing another human being to help you come to know that. (And if money is a problem, there are lots of counseling centers out there that work on sliding fee scale, charging you what you can afford to pay.)

    You are surrounded by God’s love and God’s incredible grace, just as you are. Hang on tight to that truth. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will never overcome it.

  • http://www.unchainedfaith.wordpress.com Amy

    Dear Letter Writer,

    It’s okay to be gay. You are loved, you are precious, and there is nothing wrong with you. Please check out http://queerasfaith.wordpress.com/ to read the words of a man who has reconciled his faith and his sexuality. What he has to say is beautiful and inspiring.

  • http://www.facebook.com/douglas.sewell Doug Sewell via Facebook

    Posted my reply.

  • Jim Farris via Facebook

    Thank you, continually, for your posts.

  • John C Hoddy via Facebook

    You have a beautiful testimony John. Thank you. To the young man who wrote you I would say the following. You are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of the Creator. God made you exactly the way you are and called you good. He doesn’t make mistakes, and your being gay isn’t a mistake. He loves you so much and weeps for your sadness. There are so many of us willing to love you just as He does.

  • Monica

    Sweetheart,

    You are created as a beautiful child of God. You are loved by God and will be by lots of others. Hopefully someday your father will learn a new way to see the world. In the meantime, you be you and enjoy it.

  • Leslie aka A’isha

    Dear Guy Who Wrote to John,

    Please know that what you’re feeling and experiencing are absolutely normal among gays and lesbians raised in Christianity. Don’t go the ex-gay route. That only brings heartache and depression. The statistics speak so loudly when they tell us so many people who try the ex-gay “ministries” end up committing suicide. I don’t want that for you, and I’m sure your parents, although misguided now, wouldn’t want that for you either.

    Also please please please try not to cut. It can become so addictive…something people don’t realize very often. I self-injured seriously for over 25 years. Definitely not something I’m proud of but felt totally unable to stop. When you feel like cutting do something…anything…just to get past the moment of wanting that release. If you need to talk more about this, get my contact info from John.

    I hope you can hear this and take it into your heart…you are exactly who you were meant to be. God wouldn’t make you gay if he didn’t want you gay. You are created in God’s image. You are a miracle. You matter. You matter.

    Much love to you!

  • Tina Stover

    John, people like you are changing people’s minds and because of that…changing the world…it might be a slow process…but change is coming. Thanks and keep it up!!

  • http://churchscapegoats.wordpress.com Jennifer

    To the writer: I understand your pain and the feelings of isolation and dispare. It is not easy being gay in the church or with conservative friends and family. I have been ostracized from my church. The pain is unbelievable. But there is always hope, no matter how bad. Please read my blog at http://churchscapegoats.wordpress.com. I think you will find some of my struggles relatable and find healing through my story. Feel free to contact me personally if you need to talk. I’m not a therapist, but I have found talking to another who’s been there, doing that is super therapeutic. Blessings to you.

  • Mindy

    Ah, John – I love learning about how you became who you are, especially since who you are is the high bar for awesomeness. Cool.

    Letter writer, listen to John. Take everything he wrote to heart. Remove yourself, in every way possible for you, from the toxic environment of your upbringing. If your father is powerful and well-known, I can only imagine how much harder that might be for you than the average guy, but ultimately, who your dad is has nothing to do with YOU. You are one of God’s beloved gay children. One of us humans blessed to be different, someone who can teach the rest of us about diversity and inclusion and acceptance and LOVE. You are no less perfect than any of us, truly. Embrace who you are and own it. It’s you. It’s beautiful. Love yourself, then let yourself love. The rest of your life will be a testament to the power of that 4-letter word.

  • Christelle

    Dear Writer… hang with us here, on John’s page… We will love you… If I could I would hug you! Oh, my heart breaks for you… And though I don’t know you, I can hear your heart through your words and I can tell you that you are amazing. You are important. You have a story that will help someone else, somewhere else, who feels just like you. You are loved, my friend.

    C

  • http://www.facebook.com/#!/csiegel Crystal

    Dear Guy Who Wrote John:

    There are people who love you and need you in this world. Please write again so that we can know you are alright.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nwbuckeye Pat Hux via Facebook

    quite frankly, and I am not gay, I have found more healing and compassion and grace amongst my gay friends than almost any others.

    • LSS

      maybe it’s as simple as: people who have been through a lot of crap have empathy for others going through a lot of crap? never mind what the specifics had been.

      • Diana A.

        I think there’s a lot of truth to this.

      • vj

        This is what I have always thought. I think that’s partly why God allows even His most faithful followers to suffer – so that they can better understand the suffering of others. And, also, why we are supposed to get the logs out of our own eyes before trying to help others with their splinters – in many cases, it’s only those who have ‘been there, done that’ that can truly provide real help those who need it most.

  • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

    To our new friend,

    My first thought after reading your letter was that you are truly the man that Jesus was speaking of when He told us that we will sometimes have to leave our mother and father as we pursue Him. And it’s so AWFUL, particularly when we grow up in a very strong dynamic where we know in our hearts that our parents aren’t wild about us, yet have very high standards for how to be. We can literally abandon the entirety of who we are in order for them to love us in the ways we need. We stay children forever.

    But as I get older, I realize the gift of suffering is to keep me awake, to point me to the things that keep me acting and thinking and being and needing like a child. That keep me in that *need* place instead of love.

    I know you need your mom and dad to love you in ways that no one will ever be able to meet. Even when someone like John is able to say “You are loved, they are wrong, you are profoundly OK”, it can only be a temporary relief. You are going through what I as a straight woman – what all of us go through – letting go of the constant desire of getting our parents to love us as we needed as kids. It takes an insightful therapist who understands this and can help you through it. And I promise you – the pain of actually leaving the need for your parents behind is worse in your imagination than actually doing it. The pain of letting go of the need for them to love you according to you own terms will open you up to the Love of the Father that is so intense, so immersive and so beautiful that you will wish you’d done it years ago. And you will love your parents through that lens in ways you never imagined.

    But you weren’t ready then – you’re ready now. I wish you a good journey – you’re already on it, the cutting is just postponing where you need to go. It’s a beautiful, difficult experience but the pain is temporary. . Be gentle with yourself but when you need to, be tough with yourself. Choose to focus on the people who will help you switch gears into the life you were meant to have. A life that your parents have actually helped shape and through forgiveness and acceptance of yourself, you’ll see the purpose in hindsight.

    Stay in touch.

  • Marlene Lund

    My heart aches for you as I read about your pain. I have spent the last three years reading extensively about the Bible verses that are said to condemn homosexuality, and I have learned that the original writers of those Bible books and letters did not say or mean what modern people understand those verses to say today. God’s message of love and acceptance is universal. God made you in His image and loves you unconditionally. His saving grace is there for everyone who asks for it. You don’t have to change to receive it. You already have it. Unfortunately, your family may never understand that, but God can bring you a new “family” of His people who will love and accept you. I pray that you are able to find a faith community that will welcome you and love you for who you are. And, I agree with some of the other writers, counseling to help process the emotional trauma you have experienced will most likely help you heal more quickly. Please know that you are loved by the Creator of the universe and, in the words of my favorite “Veggie Tales” characters, “God made you special, and He loves you very much!”

  • Blind Boy Belvedere

    John, in a year, after this letter writer’s life is a ton better, you should add it and your response to the second addition of ‘Unfair.’ It was very powerful to hear your litany of positive life-changing encounters with gay people who made you who you are today. I wept reading your response. Your theological argument at the end of the book would be even more powerful matched with this exchange.

  • Russell Mark

    You indeed are my brother, for so much of what you have said in your letter is exactly where my life was. I grew up in a close knit, very prominent Southern Baptist family – extremely active in church, youth leadership, choir, you name it I was there. By age nine I knew I was gay and then spent the next 20 years running from it. In the age of AIDS, being so deeply in the closet probably saved my life. But being so deeply in the closet nearly killed me too. I hated myself. I swallowed all the horrible things said about homosexuals. At 18 I started meeting with a Christian counselor who was into reparative therapy – 6 weeks into it I almost committed suicide, my self loathing was so bad. A literal miracle saved my life and put me on the road to self-acceptance. During this time I began to understand the vast difference in faith in God and faith in the Church. My relationship with God continued to deepen to the point that I knew I was called to ministry (which is an entire book in itself), but my relationship with the church dramatically changed – it became realistic. I no longer put church leaders on a pedestal and I began to realize how tenuously tied-together our theology is, especially orthodoxy. The long and short is that at 29 I had it out with God. I was a good person. I loved my family. I was a good citizen and a good neighbor. In all ways – except one – I was a model Christian. So why would God not heal me? Another miracle turned me around – in less than a 24 hour period I went from being really pissed at God to finally understanding that all these years God was waiting for me to accept who he had created me to be. Just like that – my eyes were open and my burden dropped. It was a painful process coming out to my family – but well worth it. They came around slowly, but came around none the less. After coming out I met my now husband – we’re into our 23rd year together and I’m preaching in Upstate New York. Yes, it takes a lot of hard work and stamina, but it does get better – especially when we truly seek God and not the church.

    Through the toughest times I found myself humming “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” In the very deepest sense, it was and is and will ever be the place where I find and am reminded of my salvation – in those phenomenal, loving-without-condition eyes. He sees us as we are – his children, his magnificent creations. When you can fully embrace that reality, then what your family thinks or believes or the Church pontificates becomes very unimportant next to the God of all Creation loving you just the way you are.

    I highly recommend, in addition to John’s awesome writings, a book by Candace Chellew-Hodge, Bulletproof Faith. She is a lesbian Christian minster with an amazing story. It will help you work through many of these issues and truly develop a faith that can withstand any attack. It is a book I recommend to anyone wanting to stand up for their faith in a way that brings dignity to our lives and value to our mission.

    Peace to you dear brother. I carry you in my heart. Feel free to contact me if you wish.

    • Lymis

      Wonderful! Thank you for sharing this!

  • textjunkie

    John what a wonderful approach to take in response–not citing chapter and verse, not pulling out church traditions–but focusing on people, who they are and the joy they bring to the world, and encouraging this man to be a light to others as well. That is beautiful. :) I know it’s kind of how you work, that’s what your book is all about, but still, I’m always amazed when you manage to do it yet again. ;)

  • Soulmentor

    It gets better. I know that sounds trite, but it’s true. You need only find your own way by releasing yourself from the hold others have on you. Despite what you have learned, you are worthy and you need NOT fear your own heart and mind. God gave you your intellect, after all. Do you believe that? Then believe he gave it to you for a reason and that reason is TO USE IT. Never mind what “Paul” says. Why would any of us think that Paul knows us better than we do? Trust your heart and yourself and you will find God within you. The big mistake so many Christians living in fear make is thinking that God is “out there” somewhere. Oh, I wish for you the relief from doubt and fear and self loathing I felt when I read and learned and prayed and let religious folderol fall away and at last, in tears, said in a quiet moment beside the river, “Ok Jesus, just you and me now.”

    I want to hold you and be your support but the best I can do is online support. To that end, contact me on my facebook if you want to. There’s not much I can’t do as an individual because of distance, but I can give you support. http://www.facebook.com/bill.steffenhagen

    Meantime, you will find so much support here. Have faith. Do not despair. You are loved and it does get better.

    As for Hell….get and read John’s book about that and also THE ORIGIN OF SATAN by Elaine Pagels. http://www.amazon.com/Origin-Satan-Christians-Demonized-Heretics/dp/0679731180 There is SO MUCH to learn. You have an amazing journey ahead of you.

    • Soulmentor

      Correction….”there’s not much I CAN do…..”

  • Lymis

    Dear Guy Who Wrote John:

    I’ve been there. Or at least, in the neighborhood of there.

    I was born the sixth child of a career Army officer and a truly devout Catholic mother. This was in the early 1960′s – and while nobody was professionally preaching abject hatred of gay people, it was mostly because they didn’t have to. When I was born, it was a felony to be gay in every state in the US, and there was no such thing as “coming out” except to other gay people.

    My parents didn’t preach hatred, but they taught me their own faith, and their own very rigid expectations of gender norms and their expectations for all of us. I went to 12 years of Catholic school. The first positive gay character on television appeared in my junior year of high school.

    Back then, we were “sissies” or “queers” – the gay rights movement hadn’t changed the terms yet, but it was still the same. And while I wasn’t surrounded by people openly, publicly and vocally condemning me, especially not in my own home, I was surrounded by complete and total silence. It honestly didn’t occur to me – even though there were words for it – that I wasn’t the only person like me on the planet.

    There were times I hated myself. I knew for a fact, with an absolutely unshakeable certainty, that I could never be happy, never be loved, and could never, ever, ever, tell anyone who I really was and how I really felt. I never let myself think past that certainty to even question what to do about it (thank God), because I can’t imagine what my conclusion would have been.

    Nobody had taught me to feel that I was contributing to the downfall of civilization, but it was absolutely clear that I had no place whatsoever IN civilization. That was for people who fell in love and got married and had kids and taught them to do the same. People like me (even after I realized that there were other people like me) had no place in any of that.

    Other than frequent and guilty masturbation, the only purpose my sexuality served was to separate me from everyone else, permanently. It certainly wasn’t going to ever involve another human being.

    The one thing, which is either bizarre looked at one way, or completely understandable looked at another way, is that at no point did I question my relationship with God. God was there, God was real. God made sense. It was too confusing at that point to deal with the question of whether the CHURCH made sense – that was a matter of unquestioning participation, never looking at the form, but allowing it to be a conduit to the only lifeline I had, which was my relationship to God. I also never let myself even think about what God may or may not have thought of me – a truly bizarre blind spot I see now as an incredible gift.

    I went into the Navy, had a ten year career, and at 28 was still a virgin, still single, still unloved and unlovable. I’ll stack the mid-80′s Navy, at the height of the AIDS panic, as a toxically homophobic environment to rival just about any except for what you’re stuck in.

    And still, there was God.

    And finally, I hit the place it sounds like you are in. Where I finally heard what I meant when I kept saying to myself “I can’t live like this.” I never got to the point of considering suicide, but I stood on the mountaintop looking down on it as the inevitable destination.

    So I threw myself at God. It wasn’t pretty. I was both hysterically desperate and hysterically angry. Nothing I had done had made me this way, and in fact, everything I had ever done had been an attempt to STOP being this way, and it as all his fault, and it was completely up to him to do something about it. I don’t know how long I went on, but it was a long time. And then, when I hit absolute bottom, I heard God’s voice for one of three times in my life (as in, literally heard a voice.) The response was, “Good. Are you done? Can we talk now?”

    I wish I could share with you more of the journey – I wish I could talk to you personally and hug you and let you pour it all out.

    I won’t pretend it’s easy for people who don’t have a sincere faith, who have never touched the mind and heart of God, who can ignore the questions the religion poses – they have their own path to finding peace with being gay. But there’s a special hell that we go through when on the one hand, we have direct personal experience that God is real, and that so much of what the people around us are talking about is so self-evident that it’s beyond questioning, while on the other hand, that is the very thing and those are the very same voices that are telling us we are vile, disgusting, and evil. And I didn’t have to deal with the assholes who came up with the “well, it’s a choice, just pick something else” bullshit.

    If your experience now matches mine then, you are desperately trying to hold all the pieces together, trying to juggle them all while holding on to every one of them, trying a thousand different ways to make them fit together so they make sense, while at the same time, they are razor edged and cutting you every moment.

    What I can tell you is this: You are absolutely right to believe – to know – that some of those pieces are eternally true, in a way that no human truth can ever be. When you hear well meaning people telling you that “they” are wrong, you’re hearing them wrong. What you are hearing them say is that everything that kept you alive and sane up until now is wrong and you have to chuck it all.

    The reason you’re hearing them wrong is because you’ve been carefully taught that it’s all a single, monolithic truth, and that the ultimate sin is questioning any single part of it. So what you’re hearing people say is that if you let go of any of it, you have to let go of all of it.

    And when I heard people say that, I heard them telling me I had to let go of God, and that all I would have left was being a faggot.

    What’s true, instead, is that there are real, true, Divine truths mixed in with a lot of crap. And that your human experience, of being gay, of having the real ability to reach out and connect with people, of having desires and needs is real, is true, and it’s also been mixed in with a lot of crap about how that means meaningless sex, and disease, and dark back rooms and nobody loving you.

    Let go. You are, more than you can dream, being held in the palm of God’s hand. Now, at this point, more than usual, possibly more than ever. Let it shatter. Be willing, even for an instant to let all of it be possibly untrue, and just let it all go. Because all that will fall away is the falsehoods, and even if you can’t tell which is which right now, God knows. God knows not only what is always and eternally true for everyone, but also what is presently and personally true for you right now.

    Listen closely. This is tricky.

    People have taught you what “being gay” means. And, since it’s tearing you up, I can confidently say that whatever the fuck they taught you, being THAT kind of thing IS wrong,whatever it is, whether that’s someone who denies God, or someone with uncontrollable sexual urges, or someone who uses others only for pleasure, or who wants to fuck children, or, heck, if they managed to convince you of it, someone who actually wants to destroy civilization as we know it. And you’re right not to be those things. I’m not going to try to convince you that it’s okay to be that, and you don’t have to even think about figuring out how to reconcile yourself with it.

    Because that’s not what being gay is.

    We can’t help you be okay with being gay just now, because you don’t have any way of knowing what that is, probably not for anyone, but certainly not for you.

    What it’s time to do is be okay with being you. You are an eternal Child of the Living God. You are a unique creation, beloved of God, the same God that ordered all creation, and watches the lives, loves, pains, and deaths of all of his creatures. That God is simply not going to wet his pants because you love someone he built you to love. Or because you get horny looking at pictures of people you are designed to be attracted to. Or because you fantasize about your parts fitting together in ways that would piss off your dad. You’re supposed to get horny. And you’re supposed to love. You’ll eventually have choices about what to do with all that, but that isn’t the point right now.

    Because love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God, because God is love. And when every church is silent, when every copy of the Bible is dust, when every ocean is dry, and every mountain is flat, and every star in the sky burns out, you will STILL be an eternal child of the living God, you will STILL be beloved of Him for all eternity.

    THAT’S what’s important.

    Far more important than all the stuff buzzing around in your head that counts as “proof” that you’re somehow evil, and trust me, none of it would shock or surprise me. Of course you look at porn in an Internet age. Maybe you’re not a virgin and you aren’t proud of how you went about it, or maybe you are and your ashamed of what you think you’d like to be doing. And you’ll fuck up and make mistakes and get your feelings hurt and hurt other people’s feelings and do stuff you won’t be proud of, but you’ll also amaze yourself with the courage and compassion that this will all bring out in you.

    Most of us find that we don’t lose as many of our friends and family as we fear we will, but I won’t lie and say that there aren’t worst cases – but there are SO many wonderful people out here who will be willing to be your friends, to be your family of choice regardless of how your family of birth reacts. We won’t judge you for your story, because we have our own – and you can’t imagine how compassionate we can be about it – even the ones being prissy or arrogant and judgmental about your clothes or the state of your abs.

    And this board alone is evidence of how many straight allies you have waiting with open arms if your journey keeps you in traditional Christianity. And if it doesn’t, you’ll have more fellow exiles than you can imagine, amazing people asking the same questions and seeking the same answers, even if your experience with religion so far has created a permanent allergy to anything resembling organized religion.

    Look at the people around you doing all the hating. You are currently living your life to keep the approval of people whose good opinion you don’t want in the first place, trying to play a game you don’t even want to win. If your people are like some of my people were, it’s possible you’d think less of yourself if you really did deserve their good opinion.

    You don’t know how to be gay.

    You don’t know how to be you.

    God knows your name.

    It gets better.

    • Soulmentor

      Brilliant!! Wish I knew you.

    • Diana Avery

      Oh, the voice of experience! Thank you, Lymis!

      • cat rennolds

        I think the Voice of the Spirit was in there too. Wow. Just, wow.

        Thank you, Lymis.

    • Jane

      What he said.

      Jesus not only loves you. He likes you.

      Full stop. No conditions.

    • Cynthia Haug-West

      Beautiful. Just stunningly, perfectly, lovingly beautiful. Bless you, Lymis.

    • Lynette

      Wow. I want to bookmark this page just for this comment. Not that John is not awesome, but this is just beautiful. Thank you.

      • Mindy

        What Cynthia said, Lymis. This is breathtaking and heartbreaking and spirit-lifting and THANK YOU. Wow.

    • LSS

      that was beautiful. breathtaking, even.

      • LSS

        didn’t mean to repeat other commenters, but maybe i’m left a little bit wordless.

    • Ituri

      I was raised strictly religious, and though I am not gay myself, I am able to so closely relate to so much of what you say that its almost disturbing. Being profoundly different, in orientation, in belief… and being trapped in a closed-off world that despises everything not like itself… it leaves you in this silent, wailing place that eats away at who you are… destroys who you could be… destroys your mind.

      I had to leave religion behind entirely to escape that world of self-destructive hate and shame, to feel as if I were truly a person, worth living, worth loving. I wouldn’t pretend to add to your wise words, but I would dare to add that its OKAY to admit to yourself that a religious belief is not worth your sanity or your life.

      Its NOT okay to believe things that make you miserable for no other reason than you were brought up with that belief.

      If it takes it… cut it out. Its painful at first, especially if its the only belief you’ve known… I know that full well… but you CAN refuse to be eaten away by gangrenous teachings and thoughts. I once thought of my religion as a vital part of my life… and until the day I fully rejected it, I had no idea how tremendously toxic its influence was on my life.

      Life is far too precious, far too finite, to spend it hating yourself for nothing more than being who you are.

    • http://brickandtimber.wordpress.com/ DR

      This is perhaps, one of the most beautiful things I’ve read on this blog. Ever.

    • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

      Just perfect, Lymis. Poignant. Stunning. Honest. Beautiful. I second your motion that families of choice can be so much water for a parched soul. Bless you for writing this and all those who need to hear it.

  • gretchen

    Beautiful Preachin’, Brotha.

  • Diana Avery

    Dear Letter Writer:

    First of all, I want to say that I am proud of you. When you knew that you wanted to cut too deep, you did the healthy thing and went for a walk instead. That proves that the life-affirming Holy Spirit still lives within you. Hold on to that.

    Being gay is okay and there is no such thing as Hell–at least, not the way that you’ve been taught about it. Still, these are intellectual arguments, and it’s your heart that needs reassurance. Please reach out to the many Christian organizations that are gay-friendly. They will help you tap into resources that will allow you to heal from self-hatred you’ve learned and strengthen the part of you that is life-affirming.

    http://www.gaychristian.net/

    http://www.believeoutloud.com/

    http://canyonwalkerconnections.com/

    http://www.affirmunited.ca/english/affirming_ministries.htm

    http://www.affirmation.org/

    http://www.umaffirm.org/

    http://www.wabaptists.org/

    http://www.bmclgbt.org/index.shtml

    http://www.dignityusa.org/

    http://www.gladalliance.org/

    http://www.integrityusa.org/

    http://www.lcna.org/

    http://www.mlp.org/

    http://www.rmnetwork.org/

    http://www.soulforce.org/

    http://www.ucccoalition.org/

    http://mccchurch.org/

    …and so many others. Please reach out to those who will love you as you are. Please don’t let the fears of your parents and your church stop you from healing and growing. As DR said, you may need to walk away from your family and your church, at least temporarily, in order to heal. Please know that there are people for you to walk to who will embrace you as you are and help you to do the same. There are many good Christians who are gay. Some are more closeted than others, but they exist. Reach out to them and to other gay-affirming Christians.

    Peace, brother. The true peace of Christ that passes all understanding.

  • http://www.djfree.blogspot.com Darren

    Wow. Oh how I WISH I could talk to this guy one-on-one. I was 22 when I started down the ex-gay path. That was 10 years ago. I’ve known and seen so much in the interim. I’ve got stories to tell. Hey, guy, if you’re out there and want to talk to another young-ish guy about being a preacher’s kid and gay, then doing what seems logical (i.e., “since this is a sin, and I don’t want it, surely God will cure me of it”), then PLEASE, email me. I’ll give you the good (yes, there was *some* good), the bad, and the ugly of what Exodus is all about.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jason-Haddox/1220746836 Jason Haddox via Facebook

    Wonderful! Thank you John.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Gok/100003167101466 Steven Gok via Facebook

    Thank you, John. I’m proud to say I was a part of your life. I find my gay friends to be those who I have shared with the most. They’re more Christian than many others.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Folks: Steve is the friend I wrote about who saved me when I was 17.

      • cat rennolds

        Hey Steve, thanks for saving John so he could grow up to be….this.

        • LSS

          yeah i always wondered “why *this* advocacy particularly?” and it’s because of who you know. which is a great reason.

    • Donald Rappe

      Thanks Steve. It seems as though the Christian impulse needs persecution to thrive.

    • Lymis

      Then we owe Steve particular thanks! Well done, Steve!

  • http://blog.chron.com/keepthefaith Ellen Cooper-Davis

    John, You are loved and loveable. Exactly as you are. And there are churches that will hold you, and help you heal your relationship with yourself and your faith. Reach out to a Unitarian Universalist or United Church of Christ or Unity church near you. Reach out to the Church of the Larger Fellowship. Reach out to one of their pastors. Reach out to To Write Love on Her Arm. Reach out. We’re here. And we are legion. Holding you in the light.

  • Tanya

    It is hard to imagine adding anything helpful to what has already been said. But I’m hoping the writer not only figures out how to be Christian and gay, but figures out how to be Christian and not a fan of hell.

    Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins” is one way to get there. But C. S. Lewis got there before him. And throughout Christian history, others have been there too. Really.

    One day you wake up and realize, if God is a God of love, how is it possible for that God to consign anybody to the cartoon of hell that has been suggested to us. There is so much more to say, but try Bell. He does a pretty good job with scripture, tradition, and the logic of it all.

    And be well, friend. Be well.

    The way it works is that first you get agnostic about something — you leave yourself open to the fact that things may be differen than you’ve always been told, and then . . . the evidence will pile on. Like John’s email.

    And you might even want to see that respectable evangelicals have had their minds changed about this. Here’s one, Paul Achtemeier — a New Testament professor http://www.pres-outlook.com/news-and-analysis/1-news-a-analysis/9496-achtemeiers-journey-to-accept-homosexual-marriage-ordination-.html

    And another would be Jack Rogers, New Testament professor at Fuller who spent years researching and finally published, *Jesus, The Bible and Homosexuality.* You can get it on Amazon.

    And then of course, there are John’s books. They’re funnier.

  • Linda

    Dear young man,

    Listen to John he knows what he is talking about… If you have no place to be or go away fomr the toxic envirnment you are in now message John and he can message me and somehow we will find you a place where you can beging to be yorself in all of the ways that it can be expressed…. there aren’t many jobs here where I live but I will do what I can to help if you need it…. You are not alone….. We are here….. Hugs to you dear one…. ;-)

  • Linda

    Please excuse my spelling fingers and brain not working today.

  • Calvin

    Hey man,

    I’m your age, in a very similar situation. In fact, my mother just wrote me a letter apologizing about how she treated me when I was growing up. she never specified why she treated me the way she did, but I have a good idea that a large part is because I’m gay. My father is a prison minister for a southern baptist church. I grew up hearing about how being gay is an abomination and wrong, but here I am gay. anyways I was writing my mother back to tell her how I’ve come to love who I

    am and that I’m still a christian seeking a great a relationship with

    christ everyday. I came to johns website to find out how I could better articulate myself and found your post. if you need to talk to someone

    who knows what you’re going through, I’m hella available. You can

    find me on facebook at Calvin Leon Smith. Ill be the black guy dancing in his picture. Be blessed.

    • LSS

      it’s great to see you on the comments again. and even better to know that some things are working out with your family (sounds like, anyway)

  • http://www.raymack2009.com Ray McKinnon

    Dear brother who wrote to John,

    As a pastor, I know the harm that can be inflicted by the words that we speak. So please hear these words clearly: Know that you are known and you are loved. Know that the God of Heaven and Earth know you and desires to be for you your refuge and strength. He does not hate you. He is not going to smite you. God bless you, beloved of Christ.

  • Paula Trietsch Chaney

    Dear Writer,

    Many, many of us were raised with these notions that being gay meant you were eternally condemned, and that you could just pray it away to reclaim your place in the Kingdom. Except that we were all created in God’s image, everyone of us, and as such, you are a beloved child of God. You are precious in the arms of God, and as you surround yourself with people who show God’s love to you, you will learn to love yourself for the special things they see in you.

    The hard part is not allowing the hatred of others to keep you from loving your neighbors, as you learn to love yourself. Please don’t hurt yourself as others hurt you, for in taking on that pain, you only give yourself another reason to feel guilt. Do not be afraid to take steps into a new world, away from those who hate even if they are called family, and allow God to lead you into a new family made of those who love without condition or prejudice. Have faith that the God who loves you beyond reason wants a life bright with joy for you.

    I will pray that you can be strong in the Lord as you move into your new life.

  • cat rennolds

    We can tell you all day, beloved, that it is more than okay to be gay. It is WONDERFUL to be gay. It’s wonderful to be anything, in God. But if you want to believe it, you need to get out of the toxic world that keeps telling you it isn’t. You have too many years of self-hatred behind you to be safe where you are. If you want to believe the truth that you are loved, that you are more than okay, you need to get help and get out. Treat yourself as you would somebody you loved. Make love an action verb, not an emotion. Rescue yourself. I’m so glad you made a start on it. Please write us back.

    • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

      Yes. This, Dear One. This.

  • Blind Boy Belvedere

    Oops. I meant ‘edition.’ How embarrassing. I’ll blame iphone auto-correct to preserve dignity.

  • Susan in NY

    Remember that someone in New York is thinking of you.

    Susan

  • http://thaliasmusingsnovels.com/ Lore

    To the writer of this letter:

    As you come to terms with the fact that being gay isn’t a sin, don’t let anyone tell you that you’re twisting the Bible to suit your own desires. I came to the conclusion that being gay isn’t a sin through independent study. I began this study as a straight young conservative who didn’t know any gay people and (I’m ashamed to say) had no problem with the idea that a fundamental part of someone’s being could be sinful. The more I studied the historical context of the Bible, the more I realized that the verses I’d taken at face value for so long weren’t as “clear” in meaning as I’d been taught. It took years of prayerful study for me to let go of what I’d been taught and accept the truth that was now staring me in the face.

    Don’t let anyone tell you that the most conservative view is the most correct, or that questioning it is questioning your faith. You *can* embrace both your Creator and the way he created you.

  • Soulmentor

    This is such an amazing support network. Thank you John, for being.

  • Donald Rappe

    Dear Guy,

    I was about your age when I lost my father. I loved him more than any other person in my life. Losing him turned my world upside down. My “being in the world” was deeply changed by this event. Ultimately I was strengthened, and brought back to his faith, which I had rejected, but I needed to do it with my own world-view, his had been too simplistic for me. I can understand why you do not wish to break the bond with your parents. I had no choice because he died. You are old enough now to strike out on your own. And if your parents live long enough you may very well be reconciled to them in the future. In any case, you will honor them by being the man their God created you to be. I believe every generation must make its own quest for the Christ and the truly saving faith he offers.

  • mike moore

    Hi young man, tone is so hard to convey here, so I hope you to read these as gentle, quiet words. No preaching. Some questions, though.

    I’m listening to you, and it makes me want to ask: has your church or family spoken of cults?

    Has your father warned about how the leaders of a cult will twist God’s words? How a cult desires to isolate its members, socially, in order to negate the thoughts/beliefs of outsiders who would disagree with the teachings of the cult? Has your father talked of how cult members are all but brain-washed and of how it is exceptionally difficult to escape – mentally, if not physically – such a community? Of children who have known no life other than life within the cult, and therefore, those kids cannot imagine that a better life, a whole life, awaits them outside of the cult? How the cult will force its members to conform to its codes of behavior, or you risk excommunication, shunning, and/or eternal damnation?

    In a cult, free-thought and questioning of dogma are not encouraged. Even when there’re no fences or gates or locks, members stay, because their self-esteem has been destroyed, and they do not believe they can make it on their own.

    In extreme situations, the cult will even try to force forms of reparative therapy for those “straying” on to a different (“wrong”) path.

    Now ask yourself – does this sound like your life?

    Because when I read your letter, I couldn’t help but think, “this young man sounds like he is trapped in a cult.” You might be Southern Baptist, Catholic, Mormon, or member of a well-respected evangelical denomination organization … but when I read your letter, you personally sound trapped.

    Please consider simply escaping. It is more than okay to be gay. And you’d be amazed how much of your stuff will fit into a friend’s station wagon or SUV. If you’re working with your family, now is a great time to search for a new job.

    There are so many of us out here for you, if you want. I am 99% certain that, among John’s readers and his readers’ friends, there are people within a few miles of you who would open their arms and doors to you.

    The “It’s Gets Better” campaign has almost made the sentiment cliche’ … but, cliche’ or not, it really can get better, if you want it to.

  • http://queerasfaith.wordpress.com/ Ryan Nix

    You can be gay and christian without conflict. Not everyone interprets scripture as being anti-gay and have valid and backed up theology as to why. Just start with not looking for answers in a book, instead deep within yourself and seek the Father for His response and not give weight to the opinions of religious thinkers. A relationship with God can’t be founded on the ideas of others, it has to be relational; you listing to Him give you validation in your heart – then, give study some consideration, but not spiritual study that would be bias in speaking harm to you. Focus on the topic of Love, that is what Jesus taught us as being eternal. He made you, He did not make a mistake and He wants to reveal an AWESOME purpose to you about your life.

    With my Love,

    Ryan

  • Joel

    Hi Guy who wrote to John,

    First let me say – Yes, it is a bad idea to hate yourself for being gay. It is a bad idea to hurt yourself for being gay. There is nothing wrong with being gay. I am gay, a Christian (a liberal one), well adjusted socially, executive at work, Bible teacher at church, happily married to my husband, who I have been with for 15 years.

    I recommend you check out http://godmademegay.com This site has a letter from a Baptist minister who really studied about homosexuality after he was confronted with a member of his church whose brother was gay and hated God for making him gay. I don’t think everything in the letter is correct, but you will find support from a minister who has studied the issue in depth.

    Peace and blessings,

    A brother in Christ.

    • Jack

      \I was raised being told that homosexuality is a disease; that it will bring the downfall of America and Western Civilization; that I will go to hell. I’m still so fucking scared of hell.\

      You know, I wish people would be consistent.

      If homosexuality is a disease, there is no moral culpability, hence it is not a sin.

      Please tell him that Jesus is bigger than his father.

  • Will

    Please understand this. You are fine. There is nothing wrong with you.

    You are, and will always be, a beloved child of God.

    The people who condemn you are sick. I mean literally sick in the head. They are dangerously twisted in their thinking. They rant about heaven and make this world a living hell. They murder innocent souls in the name of God’s love. They do not/cannot love. Not God, not themselves. They are modern day Pharisees. If Jesus were to appear in front of them they would crucify him again for dismissing their religious fanaticism. They are wrong and they know not what they do.

  • Jan

    Dear Valuable Person,

    I just find myself needing to send my support. In high school my son came out to me and I had a difficult time with it because of all the things I had been taught and because of fear for what may lay ahead for him in his life from people who don’t accept gay people. In the end what I understood was that before he told me I could not have loved him more, we could not have had a closer or more loving relationship and he was an amazing, loving and woderful person I was so proud of. After he told me none of that changed. As time has gone I know if he had been unable to be honest with me we would not have been able to remain as close and it would have diminished his happiness in some way. I could not be prouder of him as a son or as a person. Ther is no doubt in my mind he will come and meet me in Heaven and be embraced by the God I know who judges us by our hearts. Please hang in there. Do whatever you have to to find the you I know God loves. If I can be of any help or support please let me know. It would be an honor to know you and to help in any way.

    Jan

  • http://facebook.com/comedianchrishayes chris

    John,

    It has been a PLEASURE to be introduced to your writings in 2011. I hope to find more. God loves ALL of us. My dad was gay. I was asked point blank if I thought he was in Heaven. I said unabashedly YES!!! He’s healthy, he’s happy, he plays piano for the King of Kings, he’s free to be who our Lord created him to be without anything but Love surrounding him. My only regret is that treatment wasn’t given to him here by his folks or by the quick to judge. Your advice is spot on. To the writer: don’t deprive us of you. You are special and are loved. By those you see and hear in the present and those who will reveal more when the time comes

  • Dan(Chicago)

    Very touching letter and response. I think I will remember both for a long time.


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