In the following interview, William discusses a part of his experience in being a Christian that happens to be gay in navigating contexts that have generally had a more traditional understanding of scripture and homosexuality.
For a description of these interviews and for Part 1, you can check out A Mother’s Story.
Part 2: A Daughter’s Story
Part 3: Celibacy & Singleness
Part 4: Being Visible in the Church
As a Christian that is gay, what have some of the difficulties been in attending a seminary and working for a Christian-based organization that are more conservative regarding scripture and homosexuality?
As heterosexuality is often assumed, it can be difficult to navigate while continuing to push forward. Different factors from students talking about dating (members of the opposite sex) a lot of the time and assuming I experience the same thing, to classrooms continually feeling like places where theological questions cannot be adequately spoken about because they are not ready to have the conversations or are not knowledgeable can foster a consistent feeling of alienation. When I do come out to other students or in classrooms, perceptions and assumptions that are not always grounded in reality seem to come about fairly easily and stereotypes have been placed on me at times. For example, I have gotten the stereotype of being a ‘gay activist’ placed on me which has made me uncomfortable because that hasn’t been my intention. Granted, this has not always been the case as many students and professors have been supportive.
Even though those supportive and encouraging voices have been present, the continued and small implicit messages have fueled some self-doubt. Those constant messages can start to chip away at you and can snowball in your mind if you are not careful. At times, I have forced myself to keep an emotional distance to protect myself. As I have been around voices saying ‘no’ to me for so long in a sense, I am feeling the need to finally be in a place where I hear a ‘yes.’ I may be called to be in a middle space someday, but as I had to step outside of the Church community to learn to not be hyper judgmental, I may have to eventually step out of my current context to obtain the necessary strength and self-assurance required to be in such a place.
As your church is currently engaged in conversations around theology and the LGBT community, have you appreciated anything in particular regarding how they have approached the topic and those in the congregation?
To help humanize the conversation, the elder board met with gay and lesbian individuals in the church just to hear our stories related to faith and sexuality. It was illuminating for some of them that did not have many or any gay and lesbian friends or acquaintances and it helped them to make it more about people than just a theological issue. Initially we weren’t being invited to sit at the table so to speak and have our voices heard, and it felt like everyone was talking about us instead of to us. That step helped us to feel that we were more fully a part of the church and that our voices were being heard. They then have started to host smaller group gatherings intentionally bringing together gay and lesbian congregants with people of a conservative theological view and those with a more progressive theological view. The point was to help people get to know each other as whole people and not just their opinion on this theological topic. These meetings also helped the church to get a better idea about how many in the congregation felt about the topic.
Considering your experience, what are a few pieces of advice that you would pass on to church leadership that are operating out of a more conservative framework then it comes to engaging and including those in their congregation that are also a part of the LGBT community?
Do not go into ministry assuming everyone is heterosexual as orientations may or may not be what you expect them to be. Messages and language can be adjusted to reflect this reality regardless of your views on scripture and sexual orientation. Also, allow people the space to go on a long journey along with space for the Holy Spirit to speak. Continue to stick with people through the good and bad in their journey with Jesus while allowing space for doubt, fear, and even feeling lost. Help them and other members to give voice to those concerns whether they relate to sexuality or some other topic.