why marriage equality matters to my family
For my whole life I’ve kept a terrible secret from almost everyone I’ve ever known.
I spent years making sure to cover my tracks, keep it in the dark, pretend everything was totally normal. After years and years of this silent struggle, I’m only now learning to grow comfortable enough to say the words out loud:
my mom is gay.
Okay, so maybe it’s not the deepest, darkest secret in the world, but put yourself in my shoes for a second. For a kid reeling from his parents’ divorce, alone and afraid and left holding his heart in his hands, my mom coming out was the worst, most unfortunate news ever.
It meant I would become even more weird and different than I already was in the eyes of my peers.
When my mom came out, I was in the fifth grade, just entering middle school. There, already quite consciously feeling like the opening attraction to a carnival freak show, I was sometimes called ‘faggot’ (I suppose because some kids thought I was gay and others just relished in using words their parents disapproved of). But I didn’t know what that word meant. I didn’t know there was a gay rights movement, I didn’t know there was an LGBT community. I would definitely not talk about these things with my mom, because that would have been admitting to myself that this was all true.
For 18 years, I didn’t talk about my family situation to anyone else either, not a single person anywhere I went.
So although I didn’t know what “coming out” meant for my mom, I did know that gay wasn’t good. It was something to be made fun of, feared, shamed, rejected.
I knew this because I consistently heard and internalized this message in school and also in church for years.
I witnessed my classmates – God’s own children – being bullied or mocked for being gay and I said nothing in their defense. On Sundays, I would sometimes hear verses from Leviticus or Romans being pulled out of context and used as weapons against gay people, and I would nod my head in diligent affirmation. So I kept quiet, tried to blend in, sang and raised my hands at the right times in desperate worship of a God who called his children “abomination.”
My extended family didn’t know the truth about my mom at first. Neither did my school or church friends. They never understood why I never let them to come over to my mother’s house because every day in school and church I would plaster the biggest, most fake smile on my face and get through the day pretending I was normal and dying a little inside. This was the life I lived. It’s what I thought I had to do. “Camouflage,” I’ve heard it said, “is nature’s craftiest trick.” So I hid from the spotlight and I survived, all the while shaking in my boots that I’d be found out and ostracized for being who I am – the weird and wounded son of a gay mom.
Maybe it’s not hard to understand why I became one of the bullies.
Not in a schoolyard-thug sort of sense (I’m much too small for that), but in a clobbering, spiritual and religious one. In order to protect my secret and keep safe my scarred psyche, I ideologically and theologically demonized homosexuality, this thing that tore apart my family. Echoing the shouts of the Christians before me who defended evils like slavery and segregation, I propagated a false teaching of the Bible that – actually antithetical to the Spirit of Christ – seeks to spiritually exclude and emotionally neuter an entire group of vulnerable people, cutting them off from God’s healing love.
In those days, I heavily opposed anti-bullying measures if I suspected them of protecting LGBT teens and I fought same-sex marriage legislation. What’s more, I saw this issue as the one crucial litmus test for Christian orthodoxy, and didn’t consider anyone who celebrated same-sex relationships real Christians. I felt a particularly special contempt for those supposed believers who threw away the Bible in order to support something as horrendous as gay relationships. My homophobia – fueled by apparent betrayal and pain and self-righteousness – caused my family a lot of pain, and perpetuated much evil in the name of God.
A year ago (almost to the day) was when I changed my views on this issue.
After months of prayer, intensive Bible study, and actively and repeatedly encountering the presence and the fruits of the Holy Spirit in the lives of LGBTQ Christians, I decided that I could no longer morally condemn gay relationships on religious grounds. In biblical terms, my hardened heart could only work against the reconciliatory mission of the Lord’s all-healing Gospel for so long. I finally understood the point behind the scripture’s warning: “what God has called clean, do not call unclean.”
I wrote about my change of opinion on this blog and my life changed forever. The reaction I received after writing that post forced me to leave my campus ministry, a group I had always intensely fought for and given years of my life and thousands of dollars to. Around 80% of my social network – my close, coveted, trusted Christian friends and community – evaporated into thin air.
I was lost. Spiritually empty. Dried up.
So I searched and to my surprise, I felt an understanding and a welcoming acceptance in the gay Christian community that I have scarcely felt anywhere since. I cried a lot. I knew that because of the way I had treated these women and men for the majority of my life, I did not deserve to be forgiven and loved and surrounded with support like this. And yet the grace I found from my LGBT brothers and sisters reintroduced me to the idea of Christian community, turned me back to God, and began to heal my bleeding heart. Where I had flung stones, they were breaking bread. Where I had cowered in fear, they had the courage to come out and claim their God-given identities as redeemed and sanctified. I did not deserve the love I received from the gay Christian community, but they lavished it upon me still.
This is kind of the point of the Christian gospel. (Sometimes I cry when I remember this.)
I don’t have all the answers now, not by far. But I do know the direction this whole thing is turning. As one fellow follower of Christ once prophesied, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Always. And that’s good news for those of us who believe that God is bigger and more powerful than the racism, sexism, and homophobia that some attempt to read into and impose upon the Holy Bible.
I know too that the best biblical arguments out there today are actually for the inclusion of LGBT folks into the church and for welcoming gay Christians into faithful monogamous partnerships.
And I know that things will keep getting better, that God’s will is being accomplished here on earth as it is in heaven. I truly am so grateful to the Illinoian constituents and legislators who raised their voices in support of marriage equality earlier this week and firmly declared that my family is equal to yours.
I want to say this also: to the people who have called me or my mother homophobic things over the years, to my family members who have cut ties with my mom, and to the folks who say I’m not a Christian anymore because I believe that committed, Christ-centered gay relationships are pleasing to God, I work every day to find forgiveness in my heart for you.
I don’t look down on you because in so many ways, I can’t blame you. I was you. For most of my life, I was exactly where you are on this issue. Unlike some of my other “liberal” brethren, I actually deeply understand your perspective and why you hold it. And I’m sorry this issue has come between us. I want to tell you all that I still completely see you as my brothers and sisters in our faith, and I pray every day that the Spirit work in all of our hearts to lead us into greater knowledge of God’s Truth (John 16:13).
It’s just that, to me, that truth is and always was love.
Or, as one of our most famous Christians put it, “now faith, hope, and love abide, these three – but the greatest of these is love.”