I have something very important to tell you. I’m not exactly who you may think I am. Please understand that I never chose this for myself, it’s simply who I am – who God made me. I hope that you can still love me. You see, I’m a Christian.
Coming out is a way of life that gay** people are all too familiar with. Contrary to what you may have understood, coming out is not a one-time event that you complete once and then move on with your life. Coming out is an ongoing process. It lasts a lifetime, and along the way it moulds, and defines you. I come out every day: to new friends, to my colleagues – by simply writing this article I am coming out to you, the reader.
I am a Christian. The greatest gift that God ever gave to me was sending His son, Jesus, to die on the cross for my sins thereby granting my salvation through Him. The second-greatest gift that God ever gave me, was He made me gay.
Many of the people who I come out to express difficulty simultaneously accepting these two facets of my identity. Can you really be gay, and Christian? The first time I ever came out gay to a Christian Bible study, they politely (but resolutely) suggested that I didn’t belong in their group. These were friends of mine who I had been learning and growing with for a year. The week before I came out, they were encouraging me to apply to be a Bible-study leader. The week after, they no longer wanted me to attend. Coming out changes the way that people perceive you.
On the flip side, however, I am also frequently met with misunderstanding, discomfort, and an abundance of stereotypes when I come out to my gay friends as a Christian. It’s not hard to understand why – Christians are largely responsible for the crushing hatred felt by many gays. Christians deny them their legal rights, devalue their love, condemn them as sinners, and construct psychologically damaging programs to “convert” them. Gays are twice to three times as likely to commit suicide in adolescence because their Christian parents and friends reject them. When I come out as a Christian to one of my gay friends, the first emotion I feel is shame.
Growing up, I was always a Christian. I was raised by Christian parents (missionary parents, actually, which is a special breed of Christian!). We went to church every Sunday. I read my Bible, and I prayed to Jesus. At the age of 14 I made my confirmation of faith and declared to the world that Jesus is my Lord and Saviour. So I’ve been coming out as a Christian for my whole life.
On the other hand, I don’t remember knowing as a child what it meant to be gay. Nobody in the church talks to young people about being gay, maybe because they believe that gay people don’t actually exist in the church, or maybe because they’re afraid that the suggestion may cause young people to choose that path. Believe me, gay people are everywhere you look in the church, and I never chose to be gay. It wasn’t until my adolescence that, like most teenage boys, my hormones began to take action, only I found that I was attracted to men rather than women. It was so much more than physical attraction – I wanted to love, cherish, learn from, grow with, and spend my life with a man – a husband.
If you are straight, then consider for a moment how you would answer the question, “When did you chose to be straight?”. Now perhaps you have a better idea of how fluid and gradual the maturation of identity is, and how nobody choses their sexual orientation. I am a strong believer that I God made me this way, and that I can come out proud as both gay, and a Christian. After all, we all know what Jesus said about being gay, ” “. Oh… that’s right… Jesus didn’t say anything at all about being gay. But He did say that we are to love one another unconditionally.
Reading the Bible is a task not to be taken lightly. The bible has been historically used to justify slavery, the holocaust, subjugation of women, and apartheid. On the flip side, the Bible also says that we’re not supposed to get haircuts but nobody seems to give that any credence. Any reasonable Christian admits that we have to approach the scripture with a sophisticated method of interpretation, constantly asking the questions “what was meant by the author in the culture and time period that this passage was written?”, and “how does this passage apply to me today, if at all?”. If you take your Bible reading seriously, visit http://www.gaychristian.net and read the section “The Great Debate” where you will find two expertly-written, and opposing interpretations of what the Bible says about being gay. After reading those you will, at the very least, come to the conclusion that what the Bible says is not as clear as you might have previously thought.
Regardless of what you believe, how should Christians come out to gay people about their faith? The apostle John once wrote (and it was echoed in a popular Christian hymn) “they will know that we are Christians by our love”. We need to redefine what it means to come out as Christian. We need to shape our identity to be more loving, less hating, and more accepting.
There are quite a number of practical ways that Christians could come out about their faith in a way that is more loving towards gay people.
(i) Learn the terminology. We don’t use the word “homosexual” or any of its derivations anymore because the word is tainted with centuries of hate, medicalization, and pathologising. Please, please do not use this word. It follows from the same principle that you would never call someone “retarded”, or “redskin” (which were both legitimate words only 100 years ago). Ask people how they want to be identified. Perhaps they will identify with the word “gay” but perhaps they will use another word that means something more to them, and you should be respectful of that. Finally, get in the habit of using the word “partner”. It signifies to people listening that you acknowledge the existence of gay relationships. The language that we choose to speak is a subtle way in which we come out about our faith. Our words betray our underlying beliefs. When I want to come out as a Christian in a loving and accepting way, I choose to use loving and accepting language.
(ii) Adopt a fearful humility regarding the Word of the Lord. When you come out as a Christian, don’t pretend like you know everything the Bible says and exactly what it means. When I come out as a Christian, what I’m really saying is: “the only reason I know anything at all – otherwise I would know nothing – is what Jesus has taught me. And the only thing that I am sure of (yes, the only thing!), is His deep love for me.” My Christian identity is more about my weakness and dependence, than about wisdom or authority.
(iii) Apologize. Whenever I come out as a Christian, I make a point of apologizing – not for who I am, but for what the Church has done. Although I may have not taken part personally in the hatred or killing that gay people have experienced in the hands of Christians, those people did those things in the name of my God. When you come out as Christian, I believe it goes a long way with gay people to repent for the brokenness of the Church. I often tell people that my Church does a very sinful job of representing my God. It’s this kind of honesty and repentance that is required to mend bridges between the Church and the gay community. With profound mirroring of the Good News itself, it is only through brokenness, repentance, and forgiveness that we find love for one another.
You, thoughtful reader, also come out every day. No matter who you are, every single day you reveal part of your identity to the others around you. Often it is the minority groups, like gay people, who pay the most attention to the process of coming out, but I would encourage everyone to pay more attention to the ways that we come out about our identity. If you are a Christian, how do you tell people about your faith? What message(s) do people receive about you when you come out about your beliefs? Coming out is a life-long process. Each time you do it, you practice and refine it. Make sure that the way that you come out is representative of the person you want to be. On the flip side, allow people to come out proud about who they are! I am gay, and I am a Christian. I’m far, far away from learning how to come out gay and Christian in a way that people will understand and accept my compound identity. But I’m paying attention to how I come out, and I’m getting better at it. You can too.
** For the purposes of this article, I will use the word “gay”. In LGBTTQQIA circles there is a shared commitment to allowing people to identify with whichever word(s) they feel fits them best. Unfortunately that poses a problem to the writer who must select to use only one term at a time! When I say “gay”, please understand that I mean lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transexual, queer, questioning, intersex, two-spirited, and all other colours of the sexual and gender identity rainbow.
Jason Booy is beginning a career in medicine and training as a general surgical resident at the University of Toronto. He received a BSc in Biology from the University of Waterloo in 2008 and an MD from Queen’s University in 2012. He lives downtown Toronto with his partner, Daniel.