Ashamed of Me . . . No More

For so much of my life I felt ashamed of being me -- just living, existing. Shame does not make one feel wrong about doing something but about being something; because I am attracted to my own gender, and because being gay is part of who I am as a human being, I felt ashamed of myself as a human being from being taught that homosexuality is a sin, an abomination unto God, and that I am worthy of death. This shame related to me as a being; not as a being who had actually done anything homosexually worthy of the wrath of God at such a young age but merely for existing as someone who is attracted to other guys.

Looking back on my life, this was a horrible way to grow up, and for me it bore terrible consequences. Through therapy, the work of Henri Nouwen, a few friends and pastor Claire at Emmanuel Episcopal, I have learned that God loves me -- period, end of story, no qualifications. I wish I had been taught this kind of love when I was young. What I was taught is that God loved me but I had better shape up. The message conveyed translated as: God loves you as long as you are doing what is considered right. If you step out of line, if you don't obey God's commands, God will get you for it. Henri Nouwen writes:
So often we are inclined to keep our lives hidden. Shame and guilt prevent us from letting others know what we are living. We think: "If my family and friends knew the dark cravings of my heart and my strange mental wanderings, they would push me away and exclude me from their company."1
How could I not live my life, the true me, in hiding? My parents and the majority of my friends did not grant me a safe place to be me. I had to be the guy they wanted me to be. Transparency eluded me at every turn. Honesty was a farce -- truth a betrayer -- reality surreal; and what choice did I have except this deception that I mastered? But I was driven to the mastery of this deception by those who with their lips said that they loved me but who, if they knew the real me, might utterly reject me.

Sure, I could have been so bold as to declare my thoughts and feelings and attraction, but what seven-year-old is actually that bold? At age five I knew I was attracted to boys. By age seven that attraction was as established in my head and heart as the fact of my own existence. But by age seven I learned for the first time the "horrible" and "wretched" nature of same-gendered attraction; and if men like vice presidential nominee Mike Pence had his way, he would spend government money on trying to change my attraction, a notion that is now considered antiquated, junk science, and even potentially harmful.

Mind you, there are conservative evangelicals today who demur from any Christian confessing the reality of his or her same-gendered attraction or claiming the title "gay" for themselves. This stifling is toxic because it denies reality, thus denying truth, and leads back to shame and unwarranted fear. To suggest that one is "gay" is not to suggest that one is sexually active any more than suggesting that because one declares him- or herself as "straight" that he or she is sexually active. All-things-gay has been the historic needless boogeyman of the Evangelical Right. The boogeyman mentality created the Closet. This is why so many are coming out of those closets and confronting the fear-based ideology of the Religious Right.


Being outed four years ago because of a wrong I committed was horrifying. I can look back now and perceive of the event as a tough-love act of God that would result in my freedom, actually -- a chance to live my life in the love of God with honesty and transparency. I knew that I would have to drink the bitter cup of consequences but I also learned, from the work of Henri Nouwen, that the cup would also contain some semblance of joy, inner peace, and happiness. He writes: "The greatest healing often takes place when we no longer feel isolated by our shame and guilt and discover that others often feel what we feel and think what we think and have the fears, apprehensions, and preoccupations we have."2 He is right.

I have learned a great deal about myself in the last four years; but I have learned even more about others. People have opened up to me about their struggles and doubts and fears and shortcomings and fighting for a life that is transparent and honest. A godly life is not supposed to be like the existence of a statue. We tend to immortalize those we admire as statues of saints. But those "saints" were every bit as human and, thus, flawed as are you and I. The path of a Christian may be a dusty road upon which we fall and bruise our knee. The Church is supposed to be the place where we are loved, bandaged, and encouraged, not further bruised, abandoned because of a fall, or abused by words, ideas, or fleshly gain and gratification.

These words are not for me; they are intended for anyone still struggling with shame. You may not realize this truth yet but you are in control of shame: shame is not your master. Guilt informs us when we do wrong; but shame indicates that we are wrong as a human being. You have to work past shame. You must flip shame on its head and rise above shame's degrading nature. If you are forgiven by God in Christ then shame shall not master itself over you. Inform shame that you live in the here and now and not in the past where the actual guilt resides. Shame is a residual that only lingers as long as you allow it to do so.

I also write these words for those of you who think you are better or more holy than others. You I pity most. Your so-called righteousness is actually self-righteousness. Pride is your downfall. You fail to realize, by your own stubbornness, your own reality. You do not know who you are, what you are, but think of yourself as something and someone that you are not -- holy, truly righteous, godly. While you are looking down on others, you have One looking down on you, knowing that you are nowhere near the standards established by Him from eternity past. While you are all too quick to judge and to shame others for their state in life, you fail to recognize your own pathetic state, and are found the hypocrite.

We must realize that we are all in need: we are needy by nature. We need affirmation, love, care, touch, companionship, affection, respect, to be treated with dignity, to be honored, even saved -- saved from ourselves and from others -- saved in an ultimate sense in Christ, saved from this fallen state, saved spirit, soul, body and mind. We need a holistic salvation that redeems guilt and destroys shame. Thankfully, this is the message that Jesus offers the world, and this is the message we should be proclaiming to all in love.

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1 Henri J.M. Nouwen, Can You Drink the Cup? Tenth Anniversary Edition (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2008), 64-65.

2 Ibid., 65.

ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.