If you missed Part 1 of Jimmy’s story, you can check it out Here.
In the summer of 2008, I loved the church, felt connected to the Body of Christ, homosexuality was clearly a sin, and I was eager to move 600+ miles away from home to begin my graduate studies in conducting. By August of 2010, I had returned home with my masters degree, a deep skepticism of the Church, alienation from Christ’s Body, and a lack of certainty that God condemned homosexuality. What happened?
When I moved from Tennessee to North Carolina for graduate school, my sexual orientation was the number one barrier that kept me from enjoying Christian fellowship. Some Christian leaders intentionally kept their distance from me because I was gay – one individual told me as much. Another Christian leader conveniently forgot my name after I shared with him my testimony at his request. Another, more progressive Christian minister told me that it was a blessing to be gay, and I should also let go of any Christian with a traditional view on the Bible and homosexuality because they cannot love me. That would mean letting go of 99% of my friends from home. Another pastor in North Carolina won my trust, but he broke my trust a few months into our friendship when he tried to get in bed with me after we both had one too many beers. And that was only the first of my two years in North Carolina. All these events made me think that I had no place in God’s church in the Tar Heel State.
Pastors were using me for their own selfish gain, and on top of that pain, my Dad died suddenly in the weeks before I left for graduate school. I was hurt, lonely, and confused. I had no genuine friends around me in Carolina, and all of my friends from home were strangely silent. I received hardly a phone call or e-mail from my brothers and sisters from my home church. Perhaps the progressive pastor was right; maybe a Christian with a traditional world view could not ever love a gay guy like me. A deep bitterness towards God’s people, God’s Church, and even towards Jesus Christ Himself rooted itself deep within my heart. I had felt a call to move to North Carolina for school, and I obeyed that call only to find that my obedience was costly on my pocketbook, my heart, and my faith. I blamed God for every bit of it, and I rebelled against Him with a heavy amount of sex and alcohol.
I was an angry young man when I returned to Tennessee. Though I had two jobs in my chosen career field – a rare luxury for musicians – and a home in my former neighborhood with old friends, I felt that I did not have a place in God’s church. I could not trust anyone claimed to be a Christian because of the hell I endured out east. I felt that the Christians whom I called friends were silent and absent during my most difficult season. Even worse, I felt that God was also missing, and through bitter prayers, I angrily told God that I did not want Him in my life any more. It would seem that God had a completely different desire for my life.
In the two years since I have returned to Tennessee, I have had many difficult conversations. I have had to say “I forgive you” and “I”m sorry” more often in the last two years than in my entire life. I have had to tell friends that I no longer believe with absolute conviction that homosexuality is a sin. I’ve even had to tell friends that I’m not so sure that I always believe in Jesus Christ anymore, or at least, that I am more often doubtful than not. Rarely do my friends, who are mostly straight, know how to respond to me, but this does not bother me. They are present in my life. They give me space to ask deep questions, and they respond in earnest with whatever wisdom they have to offer. I’m most content when my friends simply want to sit on my porch with me with no pretense of a solution or agenda.
Currently, I still have my questions and doubts, and not the least of which is that life-long question: Do I, a gay man, have a place in God’s Church? Does this broken man with a history of sex and porn addiction, a bitter heart, and wounded soul actually belong in God’s church? If the witness of the Scriptures is any indication, I do. If Rahab can belong, I can belong. If Saul-turned-Paul has a place, I have a place. If Jesus counted tax collectors and fisherman as friends and disciples, then I also can be counted among them. Jesus loved the doubters and the broken, the marginalized and abandoned. And he loves to restore souls of individuals and communities alike, and I have the painful joy of experiencing that work in my life every day.