Identity Crisis

25 06 2008

In response to a few voices of encouragement on the Doorman Priest’s blog as well as some private emails, I have decided to share a short version of the my journey to reconciling and integrating my identity as a gay man with my identity as a Christian. Both pieces are indelibly a part of myself. By way of background, in case anyone doesn’t know, I was raised Baptist in my youth and worshipped in the Assemblies of God congregations during most of my 20s.

O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise

The glories of my God and King, the triumphs of His Grace

When I was younger, Dad and I liked to play ball every now and again in our yard. One of these typical days (I do not recall exactly when, but I must have been about 12 or 13), I remember asking him, “Dad, what does it mean when someone is gay?” Dad thought for a moment, and then finally said, “It’s when a man has the ability to love another man or a woman has the ability to love another woman the same way your mother and I do.” “Oh, ok,” I replied. “That sounds all right, then.”

I still do not know what my father thought when I asked that question. This part of who I am and how it has affected the relationship I have with my parents moved from typical denial, to anger, to shame and finally to acceptance and welcome. Looking back on my youth, there were hints that I was not “like the other kids” in this regard, but by and large I either ignored them or did not notice them until I was at the United States Merchant Marine Academy, one of the five Federal Service Academies sponsored by the US Government for the purpose of turning out officers in the Merchant Marine and the armed forces. For those who may not be familiar with the concept, this would be akin to attending West Point, the Naval Academy, or the Coast Guard Academy.

As class chaplain, I was enjoying a ministry at the Academy with weekly columns I would write, the Christian Fellowship Group (for Protestants, mostly evangelicals), our bible studies and intercessory prayer times, but this realization that I was a gay man marked the beginnings a crisis of faith. I did not seek out help for fear of being ostracized by the Christian community or being expelled from the Academy, so I tried to sort it out on my own, with limited success. I ultimately realized that who I was did not change anything about what I wanted to do as far as serving God. One of the two friends (who was an Evangelical and the other a Pentecostal) I confided in offered some encouragement. “Don’t worry,” he said. “When you follow Christ, you become more and more the person you are meant to be. You become more and more yourself.” I eventually did seek some informal counseling through the chaplains at the Academy. They could see how much this was troubling me and were very full of compassion. At their advice, I requested and was granted a leave of absence from the Academy. In June of 1995, I left. I got a job at the local mall on Long Island where I discovered a knack for the various aspects of merchandising. I decided not to return and instead decided to make my own way in the world. Eventually, I worked my way through another school while continuing to support myself. I cannot tell you what it is like living as two people, each person trying to live his life to the fullest but always feeling something is missing. This torture, this hole in very centre of one’s being, is indescribable unless you’ve lived it. I can tell you I did not seek out a “welcoming and affirming church” for the sake of finding one, but I had to be convinced within my own context of belief and the foundations of faith that were passed down from my parents and older generations.

It was here that I also encountered a strong sense of hostility towards the Church and to God, even among very good people. Living in fear of rejection by two cultures (the gay community and the Church) which both define a major part of who I am and are also rather hostile to each other at times is not a pleasant way to live. But, I made the best of it. I did make friends in the secular world, and I did continue to go to church and participate in the life of the community as best I could. I still did not know how I could reconcile the two halves of myself, for while I knew the Scripture was clear on the extent of the work of Christ, saying that nothing could separate us from the love of God (Romans 8), it was also clear on certain prohibitions of behavior. Could one really trump the other? Living in these two exiles continued for quite a long time.

In June of 2002, I had moved into Manhattan after landing a job as an executive assistant at an investment bank and adjusted to the change in fiscal dynamics required. At long last, I began to seek out a form of healing the two sides in earnest. I started attending church again regularly and got involved in the choir at Calvary Baptist Church in midtown Manhattan. By a stroke of luck I came across an organization in March of 2004 which had helped me to find what I had been seeking all of this time. The years of scholarship provided by the founder, Ralph Blair, as well as the experiences of those within the group were able to help me discover a means of reconciliation and integration. Without going into specifics right now, i discovered that yes, there are answers to why the Bible says what it says about homosexual behaviour (read: gay sex), and yes, the power of the Cross and the power of Grace are greater than we can put our minds around. Going through the process of reconciliation and integration are beyond the scope of this post, but suffice it to say, this was the first time in a very long time where I knew wholeness. One half of me did not conquer the other half … the two halves merged and I became one person again. And that sense of freedom and liberation, I think, has made me grateful for what God has done in Jesus Christ more than I ever had before. I think for the first time, I caught a real glimpse of what Jesus was all about.

He breaks the power of canceled sin, he sets the prisoner free

His blood can make the foulest clean and it was shed for me.

On other pages of this blog before I go away on vacation, I will post the answers as I received them to what have become known as the clobber passages in the Bible.

My understanding of things has deepened a bit since this time period, and I feel that I have matured quite a bit, but I wanted to share this part of my journey of faith with those who visit here and provide some context for where I was and where my head was at the time.

It is because of this journey that when I sing this hymn that it is sung with my whole heart and soul, especially these verses…..

He speaks and listening to his voice, new life the dead receive

The mournful broken hearts rejoice, the humble poor believe

Hear him, ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb, your loosened songs employ

Ye, blind behold your Saviour comes; and leap ye lame for joy.

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15 responses

25 06 2008
Anthony

You have certainly come a long way, though I must admit, I have only known the reconciled version 2.3 🙂

Thanks for exposing yourself, and your honesty.

25 06 2008
grandmeremimi

RB, I was quite moved by your account. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live with that kind of split. I’m thankful that you made your way to wholeness.

What strikes me as I read your story is that I wish a way could be found to give more help to young people in their teen years and in early adulthood so that they would not have to struggle so. Adolescence is difficult enough without the added complication of having to come to terms with being gay or lesbian. I’d like to see more positive role models/mentors available to give guidance to young people, so they might have an easier time of it.

25 06 2008
John-Julian, OJN

Thank you — that’s a beautiful beginning!

The real sticker over the past years has been the absence of accessible and public role models — people a gay person can look up to and identify with. Most gratefully, that is beginning to change, and it must be very different now to be a 12 (or 15 or 20) year old who can look around at gay bishops, priests, musicians, actors, attorneys (and even assistants in investment firms!)

I was interested that you mention Ralph Blair and EC — you’re not the first of my friends who found their way through his work!

Now I’ll look forward to episode 2 before you go on vacation!

All possible blessings….

26 06 2008
Erika Baker

I am so moved by your honesty and integrity throughout your search for wholeness. What an amazing story!
Thank God for people like you! More than anything, stories like yours show that God is real, God is love and His Spirit is active in our lives.

26 06 2008
Doorman-Priest

I am pleased to feel that I know you better and I really hope that what you have said, and will continue to say, helps others to understand their own position on issues of human-sexuality better, and sometimes challenge it.

I sometimes wonder about what awful image some folk have of homosexuality. Stereotypes are very dangerous things. I also wonder at their level of confusion over the concept of “Gay Christian” which does not add up in their theology to the extent that rather than embrace it, they have to deny it.

There is nothing about you and your journey of faith as you have expressed it in the time I have known you that casts any doubt at all on your status and a much loved and saved son of the Father.

I trully look forward to the day when, in the power of God’s Spirit, sexuality will be as unimportant as hair colour.

26 06 2008
Erika Baker

Doorman-Priest
The problem with stereotypes is that they often arise from now knowing any different. What people don’t realise is that they already know many many gay Christians, they just don’t know that they are gay.

Since my partner and I have started living openly together with my children, many people have had their stereotypes challenged. Two middle aged chubby women with cats, dogs, guinea pigs and 2 happy children are lightyears away from the seedy quick-sex-in-toilets image many still have in their heads.

Yes, we’ve paid a huge price, most of our official church involvement has been terminated by decree from on high (emphatically NOT from within our parish!), but the liberating wholness we have gained, this amazing integration Reverend Boy speaks of, has been more than worth it.

The more of us can start to live openly and show the world that we really are just like everyone else, the sooner all this nonsense will be over. I hope and pray that we will soon reach the turning point where it is safe for all gay Christians to come out. Sadly, for most, especially those in evangelical churches, it still comes at a huge cost.

26 06 2008
Boaz

Well done RB. This personal account really does you proud. I look forward to reading more. DP and Mimi both have interesting personal accounts. As does Erika. We all have a story to tell. I hope one day to tell mine but I unfortunately am annonymous. In any case it is not of the level of interest as yours.

Enjoy your holiday coming up.

26 06 2008
FranIAm

This is so moving and so beautiful. I am so grateful to read this.

I do not think I ever replied to you regarding the email and document that you sent- I have been extremely moved by that as well and am gathering my words.

My prayers you have always.

Today I wrote about courage and fear and when I read your post, I recognized real courage, which comes from the heart.

Bless you beautiful man.

26 06 2008
Jarred

Good stuff, RB.

26 06 2008
Robert Thomas

Thanks for sharing a part of your journey RB. It is inspiring. Like you I came from a Baptist background as well and know how difficult the struggle can be. Of course I added to it by staying in the Coast Guard for 24 years. And you get a gold star for mentioning the Coast Guard Academy in your post!

26 06 2008
Reverend boy

WOW i didn’t know this story would have the effect that it did … Maybe the choir should be preached to more often LOL.

Thank you all for your kind words. This confirms for me at least that a simple hermaneutic or exigesis of scripture is not enough, one’s story must be told in conjunction with that.

27 06 2008
FranIAm

How true is THAT!

28 06 2008
KJ

Our detractors know the power of our stories and the threat of knowing us as brothers and sisters. I suppose that’s why they’d rather sing hymns at us rather than with us.

Thanks for sharing your story, RB. I too found Evangelicals Concerned to be an important resource of recovery and wholeness. On the first evening that I set out to find the group, I couldn’t seem to locate the apartment on Capitol Hill in Seattle where they met. I reluctantly got back in the car, my heterosexual Jeep Cherokee, closed the door and said, “No! Dammit!”, got back out and found the apartment and got on with the rest of my life.

30 06 2008
That Kaeton Woman, TELP

Well done, RB, well done. A courageous, heartfelt and articulate post. Thank you so much for telling this piece of your story.

6 07 2008
lovedintobeing

What a great post. Thanks for opening your heart to the blogosphere and sharing a story that more people need to hear. As someone who has had a similar journey in my life, I can understand the power of the words reconciliation and integration. It is a process, for sure, but my faith has deepened and my sense of who I am and who I am called be (my vocation) has deepened tremendously as I have come to love myself fully.

Looking forward to the other posts.

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