This post is written by Michael Kimpan, our Associate Director at The Marin Foundation. You can read more from Michael at his blog here – and his book, Love Never Fails :: Building Bridges Between the Church and the Gay Community will be available for pre-order soon (Fall 2014, IVP).
As many readers are now aware, the past few days have brought a firestorm of tweets, blogs and comments surrounding World Vision’s announcement the organization would hire gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages and the subsequent reversal of that decision under increasing pressure from many evangelicals, resulting in the dropped sponsorship of over 2,000 children.
Many have applauded the decision reversal, while others remain unimpressed by the flip-flopping of the billion dollar non-profit organization.
Yet in the midst of all the online noise, a dear friend of mine made a courageous decision – to come out as a gay Christian.
On World Vision: What hurts the most is the thousands of LGBT Christians like myself who still struggle to find their place in the church.
— Tim Schraeder (@TimSchraeder) March 27, 2014
Tim has been involved in ministry in the evangelical Christian church for over 12 years. He’s worn many different hats and worked for a number of large churches and faith-based not-for-profits. His work has been primarily focused on church communication, which is how he and I first connected a couple years ago. His relationship with The Marin Foundation began when he moved to Chicago in 2007 and his story is one that is featured in Andrew Marin’s book Love is an Orientation. He was also one of the first bloggers to cover our ‘I’m Sorry Campaign’ during Chicago’s Gay Pride Parade in 2010.
Yesterday over coffee, Tim and I had the opportunity to talk about his decision ::
M :: Yesterday you made a pretty big announcement online (tweet embedded). Why now?
T :: I have carried the burden and conviction to share my story publicly for a while now. With the events that have unfolded over the past few days with World Vision, I knew it was the right time. I believe there are things about all of our personal lives that are meant to be personal, but with this specifically, I’ve known for a long time now that it was going to be my duty and obligation for others like me in the church to share my story.
This part of my life has not been a secret from my family, close friends, or churches/organizations I’ve worked with, but I finally felt the conviction to share it with everyone in light of the conversations I’ve seen happening this week. I think that many people see an issue and form an opinion about it, but being able to put a face to an issue changes things. When it’s about a person, things have new meaning. I hope that in stepping out, I can help show there are many LGBT people who can and do make significant contributions to the Church.
M :: When World Vision made their initial announcement of including openly gay and lesbian Christians in their hiring practices, how did you feel?
T :: Excited. Elated. Relieved. Hopeful. So many things, really. I left full-time ministry at end of 2010 because I was in a space that wouldn’t accommodate for LGBT staff members to be in committed, monogamous relationships. Since then, I’ve continued to work with churches but have struggled to find a place that would accept me fully as I am. Seeing that an organization like World Vision would make such a bold stance was encouraging and gave me great hope that there was a place for gay Christians to work within evangelical Christian churches and organizations. I even wanted to apply to work at World Vision! I think, too, for many of my gay friends and those outside of the church, it was a beacon of hope that the church was progressing and beginning to face what has been a very divisive issue head-on.
M :: And then, of course – the reversal of that decision. What then?
T :: I was with a friend when I heard the news on Wednesday and my heart sunk. I felt a flood of emotions from sorrow to rage. Mainly, it was a clue that signaled we still have a long way to go. I think the thing that hurt the most was seeing the reaction from my friends and those close to me. The Church has let down so many people in the past, and has caused irrevocable damage and hurt. Just when there was a glimmer of hope, it was extinguished.
M :: As a gay man working with many conservative churches, I’m sure it’s not the first time you’ve felt ‘Other-ed’ or marginalized. Was there ever a time you attempted to ‘change’ being gay?
T :: I’ve always felt like an inside outsider in the church. Even before I finally admitted to myself and owned this part of my identity, I always sensed and felt as if I didn’t fit in.
At the age of 18 I finally admitted to someone else that I was [at the time the words I used were] ‘struggling with my sexuality.’ I knew how the church responded to people like me and knew what was ahead for me if I chose to embrace that. I believed if I prayed all of the right prayers and did all of the right things God would intervene and change me. I was scared, alone, and so confused by the message I heard from the church regarding my sexuality. The loudest message I heard (and believed) was that I needed to change in order to be accepted by God.
For nearly a decade, I submitted myself to ‘ex gay’ ministries who promised that change was possible through the power of Jesus Christ. Mainly through Exodus International, I attended conferences, individual counseling, support groups and followed the path they set before me faithfully. For a period of time I did believe that I could change and that if I did all that God required I could be free from this ‘lifestyle’ and live the life I had envisioned – married to a woman and serving in a church faithfully with my family by my side.
Unfortunately, what those ministries perpetuated was self-hatred, behavior modification, depression, and a whole host of other unhealthy emotional and behavioral patterns.
Over the course of my time and involvement in these ministries, I saw how my friends and people I cared about deeply were being hurt and ostracized by the churches they so desperately wanted to belong to. It was a losing battle for all of us and one that sent me on my own downward spiral of depression and self-loathing.
All of this was happening while I was working for a church and doing ministry that I loved. I think for me, in a way, that ministry-related work was my means of seeking God’s approval or hoping that in doing everything I could for Him that He would do what I so desperately wanted Him to do in my own life.
Being a ‘Christian Celebrity’ is a toxic drug and one that oftentimes forces you to become something or someone you are not. As my professional profile in ministry began to grow, personally I began to embrace a lot of destructive habits to ease the inner pain and turmoil I was feeling. Finally, in 2009, I experienced an emotional breakdown that left me realizing that maybe God’s lack of an answer to my prayer to change me was indeed His answer. Maybe there wasn’t anything about me He wanted to change. Maybe I needed to rest in who I was and trust my future and this journey into His hands. And that, for me, is when healing truly began to happen in my life. The change God made in me wasn’t a change in my orientation, but a change in how I viewed myself and how God created me.
When Exodus International announced last summer that they did not see substantial results from their ministry and that they didn’t believe it was possible for people to change from gay to straight, I finally felt like I wasn’t the crazy one. Finally, we were able to see that what the evangelical church has prescribed for LGBT individuals wasn’t working, but it still leaves a much needed dialogue of what needs to happen now, and the place that LGBT individuals have in the church.
It’s been quite a journey over the last 5 years, but as I have walked honestly with those around me and embraced the things in me that I could not change, I’ve seen God do a transformational work in my life. I am gay. But I also love Jesus and hope that the Church can begin to embrace me and others like me and see the role we can play in God’s redemptive work in our world.
One of the great joys I’ve had over the last few years in walking in the freedom that I now have and being able to share about my journey with some of the churches and organizations that I’ve worked with. As I mentioned earlier, when people know a person, it changes how they view the issue – and I have had many productive conversations and dialogues with many people who otherwise may have had a different opinion about LGBT people.
M :: If you could sit down with the leadership of World Vision, or other organizations who have exclusionary practices and policies toward LGBT people, and they asked how they could love you well as a brother in Christ – how would you respond?
T :: I think that we all need to start with grace and compassion. Set the issues, beliefs and convictions aside and let’s see one another as we truly are : God’s children in need of His grace. I believe the church and other Christian ministries and organizations like World Vision are being robbed of the incredible contributions that LGBT people can make. There are so many incredible gifts, talents and abilities that were God-given that are being unused and de-valued because of the labels we place on one another. I would say to any church or para-church organization that none of us are qualified to do the work we do, but it is by God’s grace that we can serve Him and love others. So rather than rob the church and our world from the amazing contributions that can be made by LGBT people, let’s work together and do whatever it takes to – as brothers and sisters in Christ – work out our own salvation and do all we can to honor God with the life we’ve been given.
It’s all by His grace, and for His glory.