Coming Out of the Dark

A heteronormative married woman I know dislikes when a person "comes out of the closet" as homosexual, bisexual, pansexual or transsexual publicly: "We really don't need to know that. I don't see why they have to do that." In another setting she will ask me: "Do you think so-and-so is gay?" Do you see the double standard there? She doesn't think so-and-so should "come out" and yet wonders if some people are gay. I thought it didn't matter. I thought she didn't want to know.

For those of us who were raised in a conservative evangelical environment, and taught to loath and fear and be ashamed of all-things-homosexual, "coming out," i.e., revealing to our (heterosexual) family and friends that we are different from them (e.g., homo-, bi-, pan- or transsexual), is nerve-wracking. The crippling fear of being hated, mocked, rejected, viewed as abnormal, mentally-challenged, psychologically or emotionally unstable, is weakening to the spirit or the psyche. Lives change when someone comes out of the darkness of one's closet.

To some people, and most especially today, whether or not someone is non-heteronormative is of no concern or of very little consequence. To others, however, that news can damage relationships, split families, or cause a perpetual tension that remains during every face-to-face encounter. The holidays can be especially trying as family members come together and actually have to engage one another. Politics and religion are typical subjects to avoid during such events. But homosexuality and its cognates even more so. My own experience of coming out to my parents when I was eighteen was in no sense pleasant.

But should LGBTQ people "come out" to their families and friends? After all, as the conservative Pentecostal Christian singer Carman mentioned in his 1993 song "America Again," "When it gets to the point when people would rather come out of the closet than clean it, it's the sign the Judgment of God is gonna fall." I remember being on stage at a funeral nearly four years ago, after my community learned through a life-circumstance that I am gay, and the song "America Again" was being played. Not only do I have issues with the lyrics and socio-politico-religio worldview contained in this song, but I was mortified when the lyrics above were finally spoken, and I thought the entire congregation was looking solely at me.

Those lyrics are hateful. They are hurtful. Anti-LGBTQ evangelicals can be both hateful and hurtful. Thankfully, this is not true of all evangelicals, but this is still true for many: they seem to care far more about being "right," or "right" as they see issues, than they do about people. At times I wish that for even one month a Religious Right heterosexual evangelical male could switch places with me and see what being both same-gendered-attracted and a believer in Christ is like.



Coming out, whether one is religious or not, is important if one wants to be honest and transparent. Living one's life in secrecy is not truly living. So much shame and fear has been attached to LGBTQ reality by the Religious right and this has, quite tragically, caused people undue and unwarranted emotional, psychological, and spiritual problems. The Church has, for centuries, kept LGBTQ people at arm's length from Christ and the Church by their phobias, disgust, and hatred. Or they have granted LGBTQ people an ultimatum: become heterosexual and God will love you and Christ will save you. But this is heresy, a false Gospel, unbiblical, unChristian, ungodly and entirely unloving.

God loves all people, period, full stop. Christ died for all people, emphatically, end of story. The Spirit of God is at work in all people, regardless of the circumstances in which they exist, since the Good News of Christ is not about sexual orientation but about reconciling estranged parties: God and mortals. If sexual identities are part of your "Gospel" then you believe a false Gospel.

Trying to make LGBTQ people heteronormative -- i.e., "straight" -- can have disastrous results. For example, Michael Bussee witnessed a man, whom his "ex-gay" group noted as being a grand success story, lose his mind: "he went from church one Tuesday, took a razor blade to his penis, and poured Drano on the wounds." If that story doesn't sicken your stomach then you need to perform some serious soul searching. If we have learned even one truth from "ex-gay" therapy -- a misnomer if ever one existed -- that truth is that actually attempting to change one's sexual orientation is fruitless at best and ontologically damaging at worst. Is there not a better way for evangelicals to cope with this issue?

Think about "coming out" as that person allowing you to experience part of him- or herself. That precious soul wants to live her or his life honestly, transparently, without lies or half truths. That in itself is worthy of praise. Lies, half truths, fear and shame create cognitive distortions that lead one into a toxic manner of thinking and behaving. Since God is a lover of truth, and contextualizes and frames truth because God is truth, then the one "coming out" and speaking truth should be honored. But I detect a problem for evangelicals at this point.

Evangelicals tend to emphasize the (homosexual) sex act. Never mind about sex. Concentrate on the person, the soul, the being standing before you. When someone "comes out," explaining inner realities, the person is not thinking about sex. Being LGBTQ has less to do with sex and far more to do with existence: being, feeling, thinking. When I came out to my parents, the reply I received was, "Well homosexuality is an abomination to God." But I wasn't confessing to my parents that I was having homosexual sex. At best that phrase relates to sex and not to being homosexual. (I know some single heterosexual men who rarely have sex.) If all you think about when you think about homosexuality is the homosexual sex act then you don't understand humanity. You certainly don't think about heterosexual sex primarily when you think about heterosexuality.

A healthy response to someone who "comes out" and reveals inner truths is, first and foremost, to embrace the individual and speak these words: "I love you." This is what matters most. God's love of us fallen mortals is not dependent on any aspect of our being. God's love for us remains whether we are heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, Caucasian, Asian, Latino, African, Indian, Buddhist, Atheist, Hindu, Skeptic, brilliant, of average intelligence, mentally-challenged, emotionally unstable, maintaining birth defects, illegitimate, rich, poor, business woman, toilet cleaner -- we are human beings created in the image of God and we always bear God's mark. Don't concentrate on our fallenness or our sins. "Love covers a multitude of sins." (1 Peter 4:8) Love as God loves.

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Jeff Chu, Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America (New York: HarperCollins, 2013), 105.

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.