I’ve been on a journey of understanding my sexual identity for quite a few years now. Growing up in the Bible Belt, I had never heard such a thing as “inclusive theology,” or a theology that supports LGBTQ people in the Church. I went from my conservative, Southern Baptist church and hometown to a conservative, Southern Baptist university where I joined a conservative college ministry called Campus Outreach that was supported by a large, conservative, Southern Baptist church (Summit Church in Raleigh, NC). The mere thought of a theology different from the one I had come to cherish throughout my life was completely foreign to me. It just wasn’t reality. So, when I began to discover the world of LGBTQ+ inclusive theology, I was terrified.
In the Bible, Paul warns the people of false prophets and liars (2 Peter). Because I had never heard of this “inclusive” theology, I automatically assumed it to be blasphemy. The Bible was perfectly clear, and there was no real reason to explore any deeper. The summer before my junior year of college, I became a Christian; it was the first time that I heard the Gospel in a way that compelled me to give my life to God. That summer, in my beloved Campus Outreach, I learned that about the Bible and that it had much more to offer than the random few verses I had read in my life. I learned that I could actually find and apply Scripture to my own life. My eyes and heart were opened to new possibilities with a God that loved me and wanted to know me, personally. It was amazing, and I was sold. I dove headfirst into this college ministry and devoted my final two years of college to serving alongside them.
Ultimately, my attraction to girls led to my removal from Campus Outreach and Summit Church. In a very painful sequence of events, I was removed from ministry leadership, my role as a discipleship leader was revoked, and my future commitment of planting a church were stripped from me. During that time and the months that followed, my life was a blur of alcohol and drug abuse, depression, and anxiety. The betrayal and loss I felt in those months was like nothing I had ever experienced. My world fell apart. It was finally confirmed to me that the God I had been pursuing for most of my life did not accept me, and that I was on a path of ultimate destruction. I could not be gay and love God. The two were irreconcilable.
Thankfully, I did not stay in that darkness forever. I spent the next few years trying to explore my sexuality for the first time. I dated women and continued to spend time with God. It was during this time that I finally got the courage to explore inclusive theology. Honestly, if I had not been a part of that college ministry, I probably would not have cared to study the Bible in a way that allowed me to see the inclusiveness of God. That ministry taught me to not take Scripture at face value, but to examine the historical context, respect the time that it was written, and understand how it can serve as a guide for my own life. When I began doing this with Scripture regarding homosexuality, I could no longer see how these verses have been interpreted so exclusively by so many communities of faith. I researched theological journals and scholars, because I could not imagine that I was the only one who questioned the legitimacy of the Church’s argument against same-sex attraction and relationships.
I began to discover so many people just like me; people who grew up in the Church but could no longer call it home. I discovered bloggers and authors who had been researching and writing about this topic many years before it had even been a thought in my mind to investigate. People approached same-sex attraction from several different directions. Some people believed that you could be gay and just not act on it, some people refused to believe that homosexuality was a legitimate orientation, and some believed that there was a way that the Church could fully accept, and affirm, LGBTQ+ people. One of those people was Matthew Vines.
He is most famous, perhaps, for his viral video that dug deep into the “clobber” passages in the Bible (the six verses that seemingly condemn homosexuality). He examined Scripture from a completely fresh perspective. He looked at historical contexts and found that God did not take issue with homosexuality in the bonds of a committed, loving, Christ-centered relationship. He discovered that the rape, lust, and excess found in Scripture did not reflect the modern same-sex relationship at all, and that these verses could not be used to define or damn the LGBTQ+ community. I found his arguments compelling, but I needed more. I was hungry. Could there seriously be a way for me to love the Lord and a woman?
Over the next year and a half, I read and studied many different theologians. I dug particularly deep into the resources that were provided by The Reformation Project, an LGBTQ affirming organization started by Matthew Vines that worked for inclusiveness in the Church. I read books like “Bible, Gender, Sexuality” by theologian James Brownson, who brought forth the idea that gender roles heavily influenced the ancient (and therefore, the modern) idea of sexual relationships. The deeper I dug, the more I was open to the idea that homosexuality was not condemned in Scripture.
When the opportunity arose to apply to be a part of the Leadership Cohort through The Reformation Project, I hesitantly submitted my application. This would mean that I had to take my theological studies more seriously; I was going to be held accountable for my beliefs. My conservative Christian friends were going to know that I was slowly deconstructing what I had always known to be True about homosexuality. They would know that I did not share their desire for me to leave this “lifestyle” behind. I was stepping out in faith, believing that whatever the Bible had to offer me would come to fruition during my time of study with The Reformation Project. I was trusting that Truth would be revealed in one way or another.
Somehow, I was accepted to be a part of this learning experience. I, along with my “cohort classmates” from around the world spent over three months studying both affirming and non-affirming theology and picking it apart together. We had reading assignments each week that taught and challenged us to see Scripture through a new lens. I read theology that challenged my ideas about racial justice and biases within the Christian community. I read arguments from people like Rosaria Butterfield, who believe that you cannot be a homosexual and have an intimate, true relationship with God.
The most amazing thing I experienced, though, was getting to know the 30+ students in my cohort. There were people from different countries, different denominational backgrounds, different sexual identities, different cultural backgrounds, and different races. For some people, this was the first time they were doing anything publicly with the LGBTQ community. Some were there because their children had come out to them and they wanted to understand how to support them. Some were there because they had no community left. I fell in love with these people and their stories. It was the safest I had ever felt. We embraced each other and cried with each other. Despite our different stories and backgrounds, we all had the similar experience of being shunned and hurt by the communities that we fought so hard to be a part of. By the time I actually got to meet these people face-to-face in California, they were already my family. We had already shared stories about campus ministry, church, family, friends, and more. We bore each others’ pain. In this space, I felt freedom. I felt the freedom to question who God was, and what that meant for me as a LGBTQ Believer. I felt the freedom to talk about my sexuality, my relationships, and my pain. There was no judgement; there was no condemnation.
One day during the conference, we all had the opportunity to share things that hurt us in the Church, our friendships, and our families. Some had been physically assaulted; some had been called “faggots” for walking down the street holding hands with someone of the same-sex. Some were afraid of losing their jobs, and some had lost their jobs for being a part of the LGBTQ community. We had been told of the detriment we were causing to ourselves and others, we have had our sexuality compared to diseases like alcoholism, and we’ve been removed from friend groups. Some were no longer welcomed or accepted by their parents. We have had our motives questioned. We have been asked to stifle our sexuality for the sake of others’ comfort. Our group carried great pain, and many of us had been forced to carry it alone for a long time.
That same evening, we had a group worship service. Overwhelmed by my emotions, I just wasn’t feeling very “worshipful.” I stood in the back and observed my peers as they worshipped and interacted with God. A friend of mine pointed out a marvel that I wasn’t seeing. “What if the people who shouted in anger and condemned us could see this? What if they could be here right now?” My heart could barely handle that thought. What if the same people who called us faggots and blasphemers and sinners could see this group of queer/trans/straight allies worshipping God? What if they saw the four LGBT individuals leading worship, using their talents to worship the Lord? What if they saw these people experiencing God again for the first time in years, as some of them were? Some people would still be able to yell; some would probably be able to condemn. But I wonder, what if this could start a conversation with our conservative, non-affirming friends and family? What if our sexuality could be humanized for just one moment? What if our faith in God could be recognized? What if a new perspective toward the Bible and sexuality could be seen?
I am on a healing journey now. I am standing before the brick wall that is my faith, slowly deconstructing the theology I have always relied on. Brick by brick, I am allowing that wall to crumble and fall so that I can see the beauty on the other side. I am leveling the ground I stand on as I explore theology and spirituality through a renewed lens. The Truth is that I might be completely, utterly wrong. The absolute Truth is that I don’t know the Truth. In the coming weeks and months, I am going to be sharing some what I’ve been learning, and what I continue to learn. I don’t have all of the answers, but I do know that if God is good, God will reveal that Truth. And I want to believe that God is good. Don’t you?