Got this letter in. My answer follows it:
I love your blog. I’ve been out as a lesbian for several months now, and both before and after the coming out process, I have found your words comforting and challenging.
I’m having some trouble with my faith. I know that you must get so many requests for advice and people just pouring their issues out to you, and I hope that this is not draining for you. But I often find your answers make me think of things in a new way, so I’m going to add my own question.
I’ve been a Christian for most of my life and my faith has been an integral part of who I am since I was a teenager. It took me until the age of 29 to figure out and be honest about the fact that I am gay. I had internalized the belief that Christians couldn’t be gay, and since I was a Christian, clearly I was just confused. I thought that whatever other people had inside of them that allowed them to fall deeply, ridiculously in love was somehow left out of me. Until I did feel those feelings myself—for a woman. Once that happened, my denial fought hard and ugly, but its days were numbered. I couldn’t even honestly try to “pray away the gay.” The words would stick in my throat; I didn’t want it to go away. This was love. It was one of the purest, most beautiful things I’d ever felt. It felt like an insult to God to pretend that I thought it was anything other than a gift.
So now I’m out and I’m blessed with loving friends and family. I have found a wonderful, affirming church community. I really should not be complaining. But I’m still struggling with a lot of internalized homophobia, and with the fact that I feel that I can’t love God the way he deserves to be loved.
I don’t know if the homophobia and faith issues are related to each other, but I know that I can’t read my Bible. I try sometimes, but I feel my stomach tighten and my heart heart rate increase, and I feel like a trapped animal. I used to spend hours reading that book, and now I want nothing to do with it. It doesn’t feel safe for me. I wish that it did.
I had trouble praying for a while, but I’m doing that again. And I’ve been having dreams in which God, who is good and loving and gentle, beckons me to return to him. This God is so good. He deserves so much love. But I still have so much anger over the years spent denying who I was: over the books I read in an effort to love God which told me that the best of who I am is inherently broken and disordered, over the sermons and seminars I attended where speakers would talk about being “healed” and “delivered” from homosexuality—all of that, which I swallowed uncritically, even though that every instinct I had was screaming at me to run from this teaching.
I know that anger and love are not mutually exclusive things. But I don’t know how to separate out what is God and what is my religion. And even within my religion, I don’t know how to save what is good, and let go of the stuff that is harmful. I love Jesus, but some days I’d like nothing better than to turn my back on Christianity.
Any advice that you can give me on how let go of the bad and hold on to the good, and on how to love God like he deserves to be loved, would be much appreciated.
Dear woman who wrote me this:
Remarkable. This is just … unbelievable. You spend twenty-nine years immersed in a system that from the most impressionable years of your life onward was forever telling you that you’re essentially garbage—disgusting to God, an abomination to nature, an affront to dignity and honor—and now, despite all of that—despite the harm done to your psyche, the endless blows to your self-esteem, the ongoing negation of the very core of who you are—you are still moved toward, and compelled by, the love of God.
You still want God. You still want Jesus. You still believe in the divine love to which you have always been told you have no right.
Your heart just … kept its truth. It kept its vision. It continued listening to God. You continued to believe in the strength, power, and righteousness of God, when everyone around you speaking for God told you that God was ashamed of you.
The Holy Spirit within you was stronger than the hatred outside of you. That’s remarkable. What a testimony to people’s … innate and inviolate knowledge or God, basically.
Anyway, it sounds like you’re experiencing stuff quite new to you—that you’ve only been out for a few months. So, in coming out, you have claimed yourself in a way that you haven’t before. In a sense, and in the most positive way, coming out means objectifying yourself: it means presenting yourself to yourself, and by extension to the world, as a fully independent, fully integrated, fully whole person. It means bringing to the fore, for the first time ever, a fully realized you.
But then of course it’s also only natural—and a sign of just how powerful coming out is—that you then question everything that has ever attempted to define you for you. You’re fully on deck now: finally, you are the captain of your own ship. And as splendid as that is, it’s also bound to be a bit unmooring. It’s not particularly easy to have your entire identity reshaped. You’ve experienced a revolution. And in revolutions all kinds of stuff happens. Things fall and crumble everywhere. In real revolutions, a lot of babies get thrown out with a lot of bathwater.
So I say: Wait. Feel your way into the truths of what you’re going through. There’s no rush. If you’re angry with God, be angry with God. I think it’s safe to say that s/he will understand. If you are angry with God, think how angry God must be with the people who made you feel that way. (If you’re ever around any of those people, be sure to always remain a few feet back from them. Why should you get your clothes singed when lightning strikes them?) If you don’t feel safe reading the Bible, put your Bible away. I imagine you’ve had enough of the Bible in your life to last you awhile. If you’ve found a church that nurtures and affirms you, go to that church. (And please give my love to anyone at that church who is treating you right.) If praying is bringing you peace, pray.
I’ll tell you one thing: if I were Jesus, I can’t imagine anything that would bring me more pleasure than to have someone say, “I love Jesus, but some days I’d like nothing better than to turn my back on Christianity.” Because I’d know that’s a person who actually gets me, who hears me, who knows what I’m about, who received the message I gave so much to send. That person I would know to be a true friend of mine.
You asked how you can let go of the bad and hold on to the good. I don’t think that’s a concern. Because I think that, as it always has, the good is holding onto you. And that means the bad, all on its own, will continue to fall away from you.
Bless you, girl. Write us every once in a while as you continue down your road, and let us know how you’re doing.