Interviews: When Being Out is Not Easy

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

What has it been like in coming out as being gay in a more conservative Christian context?

Before coming out, it felt like I was frequently being put on a pedestal as people thought I was “dying to myself” in the Christian sense of the phrase to not pursue my sexuality. In this I saw that I was helping to perpetuate judgement towards the gay community as they somehow felt that my desire to not pursue a relationship with another man warranted some type of moral superiority compared to others in the gay and lesbian community. It was difficult to move from this place as I always wanted to be the ‘good kid’ that never did wrong by God and this would obviously change the perceptions of others about me. I started to share some of my deeper struggles and take off masks and people were receptive and supportive at first. Things were fine as long as I was ‘struggling’ and did not adopt a pro-gay theology. I have found that some ministries are alright with and actually encourage people in similar situations  to be in a place of struggle and self-doubt, but once we claim that we are alright and healthy they want us out. It can be very debilitating. Once I voiced my beliefs, the hammer came down and their was an unspoken pressure to remain in the closet. But as my organization talked about racial injustice, I knew that I needed to speak up for my own group of people and be a role model for others that are not out.

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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.

Much love.

www.themarinfoundation.org


About Andrew Marin

Andrew Marin is President and Founder of The Marin Foundation (www.themarinfoundation.org). He is author of the award winning book Love Is an Orientation (2009), its interactive DVD curriculum (2011), and recently an academic ebook titled Our Last Option: How a New Approach to Civility can Save the Public Square (2013). Andrew is a regular contributor to a variety of media outlets and frequently lectures at universities around the world. Since 2010 Andrew has been asked by the United Nations to advise their various agencies on issues of bridging opposing worldviews, civic engagement, and theological aspects of reconciliation. For twelve years he lived in the LGBT Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, and is currently based St. Andrews, Scotland, where he is teaching and researching at the University of St. Andrews earning his PhD in Constructive Theology with a focus on the Theology of Culture. Andrew's research centers on the cultural, political, and religious dynamics of reconciliation. Andrew is married to Brenda, and you can find him elsewhere on Twitter (@Andrew_Marin), Facebook (AndrewMarin01), and Instagram (@andrewmarin1).

  • Sam

    Thank you for your story William. Our prayers go with you. You are fortunate to be part of a church that is trying to make a place for you at the table. Perhaps your church will discover that there are more LGBTs in the congregation than they thought.

    Our experience has been that many churches operate on a “group think” principle, believing that everyone in the church should believe exactly the same thing – how you should dress to go to church, the role of women, LGBT issues, the role if the institutional church, etc.

    We do not conform to group think on any of these issues and have discovered that most groups have a lot of other people who really do not agree with at least some of these issues, but who have kept quiet so they don’t stand out. Yes, we have been part of churches where the ultimate argument is that the Bible teaches whatever it is they’re promoting, so thinking and doing otherwise is opposing God. That’s what the church told Galileo when he said the earth revolves around the sun. The church got that one wrong, as it has lots of other stuff.

    It’s difficult to argue theology with people, but it helps to have good answers to some of the common questions (such as the “sin”question, the “choice” question and “the Bible says” questions/declarations), so that at least some people will see that these things are not the open and shut cases they have been led to believe they are.

  • Dan

    Thank you so much for sharing your story William.

    As a gay man at a fairly conservative evangelical college, I resonated with many of the things you had to say. Let us hope and pray that our lives will be used to bring the Church closer to the fully realized Kingdom of G-d.

  • Devin

    Thank you for sharing, William. Straight men and women in ministry like myself need to be taught more by you and other GLBTQ Christians.

    Peace,

  • http://jontrouten.blogspot.com/ Jon Trouten

    Thanks for sharing your story, William! :)

  • anonymous

    Is the William Campbell here interviewed the same William Campbell who is the author of Turning Controversy into Church Ministry?

    • http://www.loveisanorientation.com Andrew Marin

      No it’s not. This William is a student at a conservative seminary.


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