The following post is from Warren Perry, Aquatics Director of the Greenwich Water Club.
“Hi. My name is Warren, and I am a Christian and a gay man.”
It’s like I am in confession. Since I was young, I struggled to feel like I truly belonged somewhere. I knew I was different. Whether it was my shy nature longing to be accepted by my classmates, or my athletic nature hoping to fit in with my friends, I constantly felt like I stood out.
This perspective dug its way in to my mind. So as I grew up and made my faith my own, alongside a sexuality that seemed to contradict this calling, I continued to experience tension in my everyday life.
I was blessed to grow up in a family of faith. My mother instilled in me Christian values from a young age, and the large extended family I was surrounded by in my small hometown reinforced this investment in my life. I was involved in my church youth group, helped started a bible study on my swim team, and even received the award at high school graduation honoring Christian leadership. All this time, though, I carried with me a deep burden that I feared would rip me apart if I allowed it.
I knew I was attracted to guys during my teenage years. It started as a deep emotional longing that turned sexual through adolescence. In a smalltown, I had no gay role models with whom I could relate. As an athlete, I did not fit in to the gay stereotype. So I threw my efforts in to fitting in to another stereotype: the quintessential Christian.
Once I arrived in Chapel Hill for college, I began to dive deeper and deeper in to God’s Word, the community He surrounded me with, and the evangelical culture of the day. Though my attraction to guys was still present, the hyper-masculine culture of varsity athlete locker rooms and Christian men’s retreats helped me suppress these feelings. I practically became asexual, and I was good at not only fitting in to the college Christian world, I stood out for how good I was as it.
But then college ended. My friends began to get married, have kids, and move on with life. Throughout my 20s, I took time to gather experiences- finding out what I was good at and not good at, what I liked to do and what I don’t like to do. And yet I felt different. I felt left behind. I felt like I had lost my place and craved the community I once fit in so well with in the religious setting. I considered entering the ministry, but felt like my passion for sports mixed with my “same sex attraction” (as I called it then) would deter me from fully living out God’s plan for my life there. This perceived isolation led me to take drastic measures to position myself for God’s healing hand. I thought I could do something to assist God in helping me fit in somewhere, be accepted, and find my purpose. I was done living a split life, attempting to be a Christian while secretly trying to kill a part of myself. I wanted to be whole. I wanted to walk with Jesus and not be gay.
As I walked through the self-created desert I brought on myself, I realized a few things. First, I grew to understand God’s love and patience in a deep way. While I was moving from job to job or place to place, He was with me, patiently waiting for me to stop seeking perfection and to enjoy the good. To stop pointing out all the ways I was different and to rest in His acceptance. To stop clamoring for Him and to just rest in His arms.
Secondly, I realized God loved me as I was. Sensitive athlete, analytical dramatist, and gay Christian. The aspects of my personality and soul that I perceived as polarizing were in fact God’s fingerprints on my life. When I stopped scrutinizing the imperfections and stepped back to see, the small chips of glass that were different shapes and colors in fact made a beautiful image of God.
With a newfound sense of acceptance welling up inside me, rather than invading my heart from the outside, I began to see life anew. Where I felt out of place, I stepped back to thank God for diversity. When I finally came out of the closet at age 28, I did not know what was going to happen. But the peace of the Lord met me on the country road in New Zealand where I uttered the first words to a stranger, “I am gay.” From there, the path began to clear. For ten years, I had openly struggled against “same sex attraction” with my close friends and family. Ensuing conversations explained that my convictions were now leading me to reconcile my spirituality and my sexuality. No longer was I aiming to kill the part of myself wanting intimacy with another man. Rather, I would embrace it and bring it in to holy light.
Now I can peacefully confess it feels fine to not fit in. When I go out on a Saturday night in the gay districts in New York City, I can be thankful for God’s passionate pursuit for everyone. And on Sunday morning when I worship alongside families at Stanwich Church, I can thank Him for the same thing. While I may be a paradox in the eyes of many, I am living as a true resident alien in this world.
Communities that may be perceived as polarizing can indeed worship the one true God rightly. The lamb and the lion can- and will- lie down together. What was once divided and broken is being healed by the blood of Christ. Until that is fully realized, may we continue to live in the tension as heirs of God’s kingdom and lovers of Truth in this world.