To Know and Be Known

The following post is from Brent Bailey, who is currently with us in Chicago as an intern at The Marin Foundation. He is working on his Masters of Divinity at Abilene Christian University and regularly blogs at oddmanout.net.

Chicago’s Pride celebration culminated this past weekend, and our involvement in various events brought back to mind questions regarding how conspicuously I should wear my orientation as I seek to follow Christ. 

It took me about six months to get used to being out of the closet in a predominantly conservative Christian environment.  Like those first few blinks when you walk outside into the brightness of the sun, I frequently encountered brief moments of panic when I re-realized the secret I’d meticulously curated was no longer a secret.  For three years, I had slowly and quietly been opening up to friends and family as I sought to discern and define my sexual identity, but there was a definitive day when I formally came out and stopped asking people to keep my orientation confidential.  In the months that immediately followed, there was a lot I missed about the closet.  I missed the security of being able to predict (mostly accurately) how strangers and acquaintances would feel about me and how they would treat me.  I missed the comfort and privilege of being part of the majority, the assurance of my ability to achieve whatever I wanted with little resistance.  I missed the nonchalance of fitting (to the best of my ability) what I thought others expected me to be.

And, of course, I was and still am uncomfortable with others who might define me by my sexuality.  I’ve said before that I’m looking forward to the day when my orientation will be the least interesting thing about me, but I fear we’ve got miles to go before our Christian culture will demonstrate that kind of familiarity and indifference with regard to sexual minorities.  For the time being, my decision to be openly gay (i.e., my decision to be upfront) in that conservative Christian environment made me an agitator and a dissident—and, had you known me before I came out, you’d have scarcely used those words to describe me.  I didn’t particularly want to disturb the status quo; I just wanted to live with integrity, and the injustice of a culture with little room for me transformed my attempts at integrity into acts of rebellion.  I wanted to be known as I was, and I wanted my orientation to occupy no more and no less room than it deserved in that portrait of me.  I wasn’t interested in trying to change my personality or behavior to fit any particular stereotypes of the LGBT community, and I didn’t want others to change their perceptions or expectations of me based on their own stereotypes.

Now that I’ve gotten used to being out, though, I honestly don’t know how I survived for so long in secrecy, and I can’t imagine returning to a place of silence.  Denying my orientation helped me feel comfortable and safe with others, but it also made life enormously stressful and strenuous.  Life is different outside of the closet: There’s less self-obsession and less concern for managing others’ perceptions.  My language is less calculated and more straightforward, and my interactions with others feel easy and informal rather than rigid and contrived.  I waste no more hours trying to keep track of who knows and who doesn’t know, and my relationships are no longer stratified into measurable levels of varying trust.  I suppose the best metaphor to describe the feeling is the long exhale after you’ve held your breath to your limit; it’s a shock to your system, to be sure, but it’s a shock of relief that restores you to the inhale-exhale rhythm of life.

It’s only since I’ve been out that I’ve been able to understand how essential is honesty—even when it makes others uncomfortable or challenges cultural norms—to my spiritual health.  Being honest about that area of my life has profoundly shaped my perceptions of what it means to pursue God in community with others authentically and meaningfully in every area of my life.  It’s also made me uncomfortable with any Christian community that fosters dishonesty and dissemblance.  God knows me exactly as I am—every hair on my head, every pimple, every fleeting moment of selfless love, every cynical remark, and yes, every affection and infatuation.  Are we sure we totally understand this?  From the earliest stories about humans in the Bible, we see one of our greatest follies has been our arrogance in thinking we’re clever enough—or perhaps that God is uninvolved enough—to hide ourselves from God, to present a convincing facade of what we think we’re supposed to be or what we wish we could be or what the other wants us to be.  Beyond the hubris of thinking we could hide ourselves, we’ve often convinced ourselves we’re supposed to, that there’s some virtue in sanctimonious pretense or misguided self-loathing in our lives of worship.  This is the foolishness that allowed me to deny my orientation internally for so much of my life as I compensated in other areas to try and achieve what I imagined I was supposed to be.

This is also the foolishness that has invaded many of our faith communities with the result that we behave as if our primary responsibility to the community is to hide who we really are and where we seem to genuinely believe my facade can have a meaningful relationship with your facade.  The image of community I perceive in the scriptures simply cannot function in the context of superficial, simulated relationships: We carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), we provide for each other’s needs (Acts 4:32-5), we rebuke and forgive each other in our sins (Luke 17:3-4), we confess to each other and pray for one another (James 5:16), we share meals at each other’s table and celebrate God in gladness (Acts 2:26-7), we call each other to high standards of behavior (Ephesians 5:3-7), we rejoice with each other and mourn with each other (Romans 12:15), and we work together to overcome the differences that might separate us (3:26-8).  I’d go so far as to argue Christian communities ought to embody more radical honesty than any other communities on the earth in light of our access to the hidden knowledge that God’s love is unconditional and that God’s love is what matters.  God’s love frees us from the compulsion to pretend we’re anything other than what we are.  Among those with faith in Christ, we have no reason to be dishonest and much reason to be honest—namely, so that we might perceive a bit more fully how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ for us as we are, not for some theoretical versions of us who wander throughout our imaginations.

Regardless of whether you think my orientation is a symptom of humanity’s sinful brokenness or a God-given gift that makes me beautifully unique, my inclination to males is a reality of my experience of the world.  No matter the language you use or the paradigm through which you understand sexuality, I’ve learned from countless mistakes that it’s unhealthy and irresponsible to practice self-deception or to force others into self-deception, especially when that self-deception involves something so centrally tied to how one interacts with other people.  (With that being said, I’ll be the first to admit not every environment is safe for every person to come out, and I’ve been enormously blessed with the warm reception I’ve met; but I think the ideal toward which we should be striving and actively creating is one in which people feel no hesitation coming out.)

I want the people in my community of faith to know I’m gay, then, because I want them to know me.  I want to welcome them into the reality of my experience of the world to enable them to walk with me, to support me, to challenge me, to confront me, and more than anything, to love me, but these all remain idealistic principles until an environment of fearless vulnerability makes them tangible realities.  It’s much more difficult to do justice to the profundity of God’s work in my life if I’m only letting others see a portion of my life.  At the same time, of course, I want to know them in the same way, and I shouldn’t always be so surprised when my openness inspires similar openness from others, as it often does.  In that context, gay pride is not about asserting my sexuality; it’s about our shared humanity, our mutual giving and receiving love, our need to know and be known.  In other words, it involves sharing how I’m different in order to remind us how much we all share in common, beginning with our shared reception of God’s overwhelming love.

Much love.

www.themarinfoundation.org

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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).

  • pmview

    Brent, thank you for sharing your journey. Your honesty combined with the challenges you’ve faced has communicated well beyond the circumstances of your initial apprehension regarding your Christian community. Your perception into the character of God and His Love was key in better defining your authenticity towards yourself as well as others. You seem to have put into practice the phrase: Put Him First In All Things. It is impossible for God to lie and He speaks the truth in His Love, which therefore enables us to put away lying and begin practicing to speak the truth with out neighbors.

  • Heidi

    Brent
    Thanks for sharing. I am a conservative christian. I have friends that identify as LBGTQ. I love them. But I still see the Bibles clear teaching about these relationship as sinful.

    So what does it mean for me to live authentically. I really struggle with this. I have read, listened, talked. I am now 40 years old. These discussions when I was 16 years old. At 17 I sat and talked with the ‘Queers for Christ’ club on my university campus in Minnesota. They went through the Bible, told me their stories. Beautiful people. I still see that God in the Bible calls it wrong. I am not closed minded or hateful. I did not grow up in religious home. I don’t think that is loving to act like the Bible does not call homosexual behavior sinful. I am not writing this to condemn others. But for more insight from you. For me to be authentic I must live out Biblical truth in my life.

    There are sins in my life that really are at the root of everything I am. Things that I could not imagine these sins being part of my life. I should be honest with my struggles, others should accept me, but not tell me that my sin is okay, because sin is not ok with a Holy God. A true friend would help me to conform to the Biblical, Christ life living, right?

    God does speak truth in love, but what happens when a whole group of people exchange a truth for a lie and demand that everyone excepts the lie? Consumerism would be an issue like that. For me there are many issues like that. The world and Christians just repeat certain things and change a truth for a lie and get mad when others don’t follow the “New Truth”. For me LBGT is an issue like that.

    Any thoughts?

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

      Are you asking how to remain in relationship with GLBT friends, Heidi? What truths are you trying to communicate to your friends?

      • Heidi

        You talk about being authentic. But I am not sure I can be authentic because I disagree with homosexuality being a Biblical option. So me being authentic is being truthful about who I am. Yet I do love my friends. I am not sure that it is true Christian love to tell someone it is ok to remain in sin.

        I am not sure that I can really explain my problem:-) My mind is fuzzy from my life. I am trying to think deeply and seem to have few deep thoughts.

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

          Keep in mind I’m not Brent the guy who wrote this piece.

          Keep in mind that most, if not all, LGBT people have been told that we are living in sin by Christians at least once in our lives. Let’s say you tell them that they remain in sin when we date or create our own families and yet we remain in our families. What are the options available to you at that point?

    • Brent Bailey

      Hey, Heidi, thanks for the question. I know many people share the difficult struggle you describe—learning to live authentically and encourage authenticity in others while feeling strong convictions about what the Bible says with regards to same-sex relationships.

      In any faith community that does not affirm same-sex relationships, I think it’s still absolutely essential to welcome and encourage honesty and vulnerability with regards to one’s experience of sexuality. As I mentioned in the post, my attraction to men is part of the framework through which I experience the world. Before I wrestle with any questions about what God wants for my life—i.e., before I make any ethical decisions—I’m starting from the reality that I’m attracted exclusively to men. If someone were gay but did not believe same-sex relationships were part of God’s plan, he would still need the support of a community who would walk with him as he explored celibacy or a mixed-orientation marriage. In order for him to live a holy life, I believe he would need people with whom he could be honest about his sexuality (that is, his attraction to men) and all of the difficulties and temptations that would come along with his orientation.

      So, regardless of whether a community of faith is going to support a gay person by affirming a same-sex relationship or by supporting him in celibacy or a mixed-orientation marriage, I still think the individual in question needs the safety of a community that will welcome his honesty and acknowledge the reality of his orientation.

      I’m not sure if I answered your question, but those are my initial thoughts.

      • Frank

        “Before I wrestle with any questions about what God wants for my life—i.e., before I make any ethical decisions—I’m starting from the reality that I’m attracted exclusively to men”

        And that is your problem. You start your identity with your attraction and work out from there when you should start your identity in Christ and work out from there.

        • Brent Bailey

          Frank, I absolutely agree with the idea that my identity should be centered in Christ with every other component of my identity—gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation—taking a position of less priority. Nevertheless, what I was trying to suggest with the statement you quoted is that acknowledging my same-sex attraction is not any kind of identity achievement; it’s simply an honest recognition of something over which I have no control and which profoundly affects the way I experience the world.

          I believe the call for every Christian who experiences any kind of nontraditional sexual attraction or gender identity is to submit that experience (as with all other experiences) to the lordship of Christ, but in my experience, it’s impossible to submit something to Christ unless I’m willing to name it and own it.

          • Frank

            Thanks Brent that makes sense. I have a real issue with anyone of any orientation making their sexuality their identity. I think that’s not only a flawed way to identity yourself but its prideful and therefore sinful. So I am glad that you clarified it.

  • Br. Michael

    Very poetic with your truth. Very nice… Thank you Brent for sharing and being. Always.

  • Tony B

    Hi you all, I read Brents writings and can confirm with him what he is talking about and his reaction to who he is. I have a son, age 26, who came out to me and his mother about being of the gay orientation. This drove me to study the Word of God deeper. I had to go back to culture and time of writing of the Bible. I spent 3 years reading and searching for Truth. And on top of that my son was and is living the Christian life.
    I did find truth of the homosexual acts that the Bible writers condemned. It all leads to a heathen, pagan worship quality.
    Heidi, you must see that homosexuality is not a sin but an orientation that God allowed to be created by Him. Matt. 19:11,12 talks about this. So as eunuchs and their duties in the old testament life of people tending with the women of kings and etc.
    The books of many on this subject that I read shared a lot of interpretation to me of this culture and reasoning why the Leviticus code was written and why Paul in the epistles he wrote exclaimed. It is in heathen worship of that time that the practice of this type of sex acts were condemned to heterosexuals doing this act not homosexuals.
    It is very complexed to understand because I too was brain washed with preachers who preached their knowledge instead of Gods knowledge. Galatians 3:26-28 declares that God only looks in the hearts longing for Him instead of whether they were male or female. Remember that God looks into the hearts longings instead of the sexuality of mankind. We have many heterosexuals who are lusting and committing adultery and are going to our churches praising God even after being remarried to another person other than their first wife or husband.
    Lets let God be the last judge of this matter and accept those who are living by the fruits of the Spirit and living by the two greatest commands that our Lord said to live by. When we conquer those two verses than we will be permitted to judge. Love you all. Lets be inclusive in our Christian faith. God bless us all. Tony B.

    • Frank

      There is nothing loving about affirming and encouraging sinful behavior.

  • http://www.jordanbunchphotography.com Jordan

    Powerful word Brent. Vulnerability is at the very core of what makes a church a church. You really hit the nail on the head of this issue. If we can’t be vulnerable with each other we are nothing more than a social organization.

  • Jack Harris

    Heidi,

    First of all, its so refreshing to see someone asking the tough questions and being so open about it. So many people like to use smoke and mirrors when communicating how they feel on this issue–honesty is the BEST piece of advice I can give.
    If this person is seeking out same sex relationships be prepared for your friend to be hurt–I think that is natural. It is painful to hear form someone that you think the life they are leading is sinful. It may take him awhile to come around and see your view as simply that–your view. Love does not necessarily have to be contingent upon agreement on all things. If you can deal with the hurt and the possibility of being told that your belief is just that–yours and not his, then I think you might be able to move forward in a great relationship :)

  • Anne M

    I am sure Heidi that you tell every divorced heterosexual friend you have that they are sinning just because they are divorced. I am sure you tell all gay people that they are sinners if you see them walking down the street with their partners. My bottom line is I don’t associate in a meaningful way with any heterosexual person who calls me a sinner. Actually, I would be very offended to have anyone call me this for whatever reason.

    GLBT are just not your friends, and you should stay in the heterosexual ghetto and only associate with heteros who have not have premarital sex, who have not had sex with birth control, and certainly you should call all of them sinners. That would be a fair way to show your Christianity to the wide world.

  • Mrs T

    This is an interesting & civil discussion. It did remind me of the option of living a celebate life, whether you are gay or hetero.
    I know of many people, usually women, who ended up being single all thier lives in a culture that valued hetero marriage, yet they never had sexual relations. It must have been very difficult at times, but many of these folks had careers & did charity work, resulting in fulfilling lives.

    So often, this option is overlooked. Many who disagree with gay sex forget to clarify that just being gay isn’t a sin in their eyes. They get so hung up on making sure the gay friend knows their opinion of their lifestyle that they forget to say that who they are ins’t sinful.

    I hope that in the discussions that are made in TMF/LITT, that celibacy is mentioned as a real option. It may be the middle ground that some are seeking.

    • Jack Harris

      I agree Mrs. T. : Everyone should be given options as long as celibacy is not mandated for everyone.

  • Christiana

    I think the title here is so important…”to know and be known” is essential in community and relationship (of any genre). Well-expressed, as usual, Brent. Thank you for your vulnerability and your honesty.

    Heidi, I know where you’re coming from, and I was also raised in a conservative Christian environment, but Anne M has a point, though she spoke in defense. How then are we to reconcile everything that the Bible calls sinful – much of which has become rather everyday in today’s society? Do you feel the same way about your divorced friends? What about head coverings, braided hair (my hair is in a braid right now, I might add), jewelry, and all those little details? Are we to be legalistic? Are we to stifle under the old law, forgetting the new covenant?
    I’m not saying we should condone anything. It’s like when Paul talks about sin and grace – “Should we sin all the more that grace may increase? By no means!” It may just be a concept with which you (and many others) will have to continually wrestle. But as Christians we are called to emulate Christ, and we can see clearly that he had no qualms about hanging out with “sinners”. He hand-chose them.

  • James Prather

    Hey Brent. From all your friends at the GST, we love you. Thanks for writing this.

  • pmview

    The self-realization process is unique to everyone as we all have our own individual journey. The cookie-cutter paradym that undermines this process has been the viewpoint stating that a person’s identify is defined as a problem. I do not believe anyone’s identify is a problem, any more I believe a genius level I.Q. is problem. It’s just a matter of fact. It’s a measureable analysis that permits, within a community, self-evaluation. (see basic overview at measuring I.Q.: http://goo.gl/9eWnI). The real problems stem from a deficit of compassion, loss of love, avoiding acceptance, cancelling communications and other ‘them-against-us’ mentality.

  • David Bailey

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  • Rosten

    Really great stuff Brent, as usual. Interestingly enough, this might be a call for a broader sort of “coming out” in our Christian communities, eh?

  • Judi

    I wanted to comment back about Heidi, Anne M and Christiana’s comments. My comment is mainly about being Biblically legalistic over gay sexual relationships verses not confronting friends / family in the same way who are sinners from divorces, pre-marital sex, adultery or even hair braiding/jewelry. I do confront them in love but the issue on my heart is not the fact that we all sin, many of us sexually, so we all need to be confronted if we continue. The vast majority of us need no one to tell us we are sinning. I think the difference that might be being expressed here over the biblical sin of homosexuality vs others sins mentioned, is more over the intent to live pridefully everyday of a life commuting a sin, and then to want/demand validation that this is ok with God and others. My understand of this conflict issue comes from the perception of those not being repentful for sinning. A person who divorces, has an affair, steals or is permiscious outside of marraige most often does it for a period of time, rarely saying I am going to live each day of my life in this sin. I believe if we come to place with God to acknowledge and ask for forgiveness, we are forgiven and understand we are to try to not do it again. If we mess up, we ask and try again. We could all try to ask for forgiveness each morning after having committed any big or sexual sin, but if we aren’t repentful God of course knows, so I don’t think we’d be forgiven. This is why I am conflicted on this issue. Is appears that many Christian and non-Chistian gays are saying the Bible/God is wrong on homosexual sex/sin and therefore do not need to be forgiveness, because they feel they were made that way by God. Am I accessing this right? Does anyone believe an alcoholic should not be called out and offered help because he or she was born with a proven chemical inbalance to alcohol? They do have the right to drink to excess, cause enormous upheaval and family pain, and risk to their emotional and physically beings, but would anyone say that makes it right? Do we not all have crosses to bear of vastly different ways, being tested in obiediance during this life?

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

      Part of the problem, Judi, is that you treat homosexuality as a universally sinful issue. You don’t even treat alcohol consumption that way in your example. The hypothetical person drinks to excess and makes a mess of their lives.

      Heterosexuality isn’t sinful, though it can be. The same holds true to homosexuality.


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