That moment when you’re chilling in a church pew and BOOM! Your pastor comes out as gay.
Let’s back up.
From a young age, maneuvering my way through the American south’s conservative subjectivity every day has since created behavioral norms that I continue to shake off to this day. From daily code-switching in order to develop a perception of heterosexuality to overanalyzing my mannerisms and the way I spoke, I spent my adolescence trying to fight my queerness and to avoid the frustrations of being “different.”
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Having grown up in Oklahoma, the majority of my youth seemed in some capacity to be governed by religion. Not that my family was some condescending, hell-loathing, and hateful bunch, but we grew up in the church and adopted the basic tenets of Christianity. Due to this, I spent my youth contemplating my sexuality and my relationship with God.
I have always been extremely grateful for the love and acceptance my family exudes for myself and all folks, but was nonetheless scarred by the probability of eternally burning in hell and being socially ostracized for being attracted to the semi-nude men on the underwear packages in Dillards.
At one point in my childhood, I remember wanting to get a purity ring. By publicly displaying that I didn’t want to have sex until marriage, I thought being an amazing Christian boy would help me hide my homosexuality. Me wanting to hold on to my innocence had nothing to do with my relationship with God, but more with myself. At that time, I felt my life would’ve been better being completely and utterly alone than being honest with how I felt. Better to hide your sin than act on it, right?
Along with the joys of puberty came my questioning of identity and self. Google searches that took me to “Am I Gay?” quizzes, along with fantasies of fictional male characters like Finnick from “Hunger Games” (come on, you can’t tell me he’s not hot), permeated the contours of my mind to the point of utter confusion.
For the sake of clarity, those “Am I Gay” quizzes told me I was gay but didn’t help at all! I felt lost, alone, fearful, and confused for years. Was I worthy? Did Jesus love me? Am I team Jacob or team Edward from “Twilight,” or is that gay? I was so confused until a single day in 2014 changed my life forever.
On the morning of Sunday, December 7th, 2014, my family and I went to church like we did every week. As my family and I took our seats in the back of the congregation (we’re always fifteen minutes late), we joined in on the hymns and awaited our reverend’s, Rev. Todd Freeman, sermon.
On this day, it was the Second Day of Advent, which meant we focused our assigned lectionary gospel reading on John the Baptist. For those not familiar with the gospel, simply put, John the Baptist was the prominent figure in preparing the way for the prophesied Messiah, aka Jesus. The basic message of the sermon was, “How are you, how am I, how are we preparing the way of the Lord?” In other terms, “How are we living out and sharing the realm of God in our midst?”
For me, this was a prevalent question. How can I evoke the love that Jesus asks of me when my own community rejects me for loving someone of the same sex? How was I to share the realm of God when I was told they could not love me due to my queerness? I remember having all of these thoughts as Rev. Freeman continued, and it was his following statements that answered these questions.
Rev. Freeman metaphorically compared the difficulties and the need for change in thought as road construction. He quoted biblical commentator, William Barclay, saying, “Fill up the valleys of ignorance, bring down the mountains and hills of stubborn prejudice and pride.” The imagery of fixing our valleys and mountains as road work illustrates the overall message of what we as Christians and individuals can do to better this world.
In toting this idea, Rev. Freeman stated his personal road work he had been working on and said, “I am a Christan who is also gay.”
The shock and excitement that went through my body were insurmountable. Did I hear him right? I wholeheartedly could not believe that I had just witnessed a grown man’s coming out experience in front of an entire congregation, let alone on a Sunday morning service.
My excitement only continued when the cheering from the congregation lessened, and Rev. Freeman continued saying, “How awesome the day will be when that is no longer a statement that is fearfully made, nor considered newsworthy in a front-page article of a local newspaper!”
To say that this moment was life-changing would not do justice to the impact that Rev. Freeman’s words have had on me. I think the better term is that it was an evangelical moment. For me, seeing a leader in the church convey their monumental love for self and others was what I needed to help me learn my truth and continue developing a relationship with God.
My God loves me, and they love my queerness. My God loves when I make mistakes. My God is with me during my highs and lows. My God dances with my friends and me to Ke$ha songs every Saturday night at our favorite club downtown. My God is limitless, loving, and caring. My God does not condemn to hell; they are accepting and gratifying in all their glory.
I was fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of MY God because it is MY relationship with them, and no one can take that away from me.
In going back to the church that forever changed my life to photograph Rev. Freeman, I remembered all of these things and grew proud of how far I’ve come in dealing with my own “road work.” As I’ve matured, I’ve garnered my own spiritual wealth without the church. But like Rev. Freeman, I can proudly say, “I am a Christian who is also gay,” and I’m damn proud of that!
In closure, I ask that you ponder some final words of wisdom from Rev. Freeman. Whether you are religious or not, I think his words and ideas are actions that we can instill in our daily lives to fix our own “road work” to better our communities. He says:
“I can assure you that whatever ‘road work’ you feel is necessary for your life may not necessarily be easy. But, perhaps it’s essential, nonetheless. And remember this can take many forms like treating others as equals and with respect as people of worth, promoting ways of peace and justice, sharing compassionately with those in need, developing loving and trusting relationships, or simply being the person you God created you to be. For in doing so, we, like John the Baptist, act not only as heralds of the kingdom of God in our midst but also as participants in the ways of God!”
Simply put, lead a life in love, and you’ll have all the glory you’ll ever need.