The question was coming. I knew it was. Both of the previous interviews had ended with the same question. After an hour and a half of touring the church, answering a billion theological questions, elaborating on my views of youth ministry, I could feel it coming. Even as I tried to conceive of any possible way to divert the question, the pastor’s words took on that tone and spewed forth in slow motion—of course, that part may have only been my perception.
“Do you have any un-confessed sin in your life?”
The first two times the other pastors inquired about the dark recesses of my heart, I’d paused, trying to decide how best to respond. This time, the lie rolled off my tongue easily. “No, I don’t.”
As I left the church, I knew the youth pastor job was mine. Here I was, a week away from graduating with my undergrad in youth ministry, and I’d already landed a job. I also knew I was going to turn the offer down, as well as every other youth pastor job that might come my way. One week away from the graduation ceremony, and I knew I’d be walking across that stage to accept a useless diploma with lovely calligraphy letters spelling out an inadequate profession. Now what?
Looking back I don’t think I was actually lying. I knew I was gay. I’d always known I was gay. I’d known before I knew what gay was—before I knew what sex was. At twenty-one years old, interviewing for my career in the church, I was a virgin. I’d never been kissed (by a boy or a girl). I was as sexually pure as I’d been on the day of my birth, if you didn’t count fornicating with my right hand. Still, I knew what the pastors were asking. Was there anything sexual I needed to confess? Any sin I should lay quivering at their feet? Any action? No. But, as the Bible says, ‘even if you look at a woman in lust…’ if only I had!
I suppose there is a chance the preachers weren’t asking about sex. Maybe they were concerned that I had a QVC shopping addiction? That I secretly bet on football games? That I ate my fingernail clippings while huddled in the dark corner of my room while fantasizing about Marsha Brady? They weren’t. They were asking about sex. They knew it, I knew it. And, for the first time in my life, I had to admit, while not admitting at all, that I was a homosexual—even if I hadn’t ever engaged in a homosexual act.
I’d grown up in a small Ozark farm town, in a church where the liberal women wore jeans and contacts. The cross-dressing and vanity stopped there, though, even they didn’t cut their hair short or wear jewelry. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.
Many that have been raised in such religiously strict families and communities profess that they went to church and such because they had to, it was expected. It was expected for me as well, but I loved it. I loved God with a passion that was consuming. Nearly as consuming as the fires of Hell that I knew were waiting to devour me. In addition to the strictness, our church taught and believed in the miraculous healing power of God. While not Pentecostal, laying on of hands, and praying for healing was a constant occurrence. God heals! He would heal my affliction, my abomination, my shame. Of course he would!
Even though I walked away from my fantasy of being a youth pastor that day, it would be another five years before I walked away from the church. Five years of reparative therapy sessions and groups that I attended one to four times a week.
At the end of those five long years, I finally looked up at God and said, “Enough! I have done all I can! I have had more faith than anyone I’ve ever known. There is nothing I haven’t done or sacrificed. I’m finished! I’m gay, and if you don’t like it, and aren’t going to change it, then go ahead and send me to Hell! And fuck you!”
With those words, everything broke and I was free. I thought I’d be more miserable than I’d been before, although I’m not sure how I thought that was even possible. I thought my fear of Hell would be overwhelming. I thought my disconnection from God would leave me an empty shell of a man. The opposite happened, nearly overnight. I was light. I didn’t give a second thought about Hell. I was filled with possibilities. I was free. And the strange part, I felt like God loved me more than he ever had before. Even now, however, as I write this, the words about cutting off the Holy Spirit and allowing myself to be deceived echo through my head. Old voices die hard. However, again, I say, “Fuck Off!” Though I believe I am saying it to the lies I was taught about God and His love, that I’m not actually saying it to Him.
Nearly a decade later, I’ve just returned to church. Ironically enough, I go because my boyfriend, who is much more Buddhist than Christian, wants to attend. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to trust in organized religion again. Even now, at our gay little church, I look around sometimes as people raise their hands and sing, and cry, and such, and I find myself filled with contempt about their blind devotion. For a moment, I am often wistful for the days when everything was so black and white, so easily discernable as right and wrong. Even if I was what was wrong. However, I’ve learned to live in the Gray. I struggle when others don’t. That said, the first time my boyfriend took me to our church, and I sat beside him in the pew, one of his arms around my shoulders, his other hand in mine, I wept silently for most of the service. In pure and utter thankfulness to God and his love and acceptance of me.
Over the decade I was outside of the church, I struggled with trying to discover who God is. In many ways, I may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Whether I did or not, I know what I have come to believe borders on heretical. Actually, it slingshots me about a thousand miles past the border of heretical.
This shows my southern gospel roots, and if you know this next reference, I love you with all of my heart. The Happy Goodman Family had a song that went something to the effect of ‘I’ve gone too far to go back now.’ In that vein, whether God is the vengeful God of the Old Testament or if religion is nothing more than the opiate of the masses, I cannot face the existence of life without God in it. However, I also cannot accept God to be who I was taught that he was. Therefore, I have created him in my mind how I need him to be. I told ya it was heretical.
So, the God I believe in, and hope to Jesus is there, truly loves us as much as we were taught to believe as children. However, God also is limited or imperfect. He loves us and intercedes for us, but is unable to make this world how it should be. Much like I can’t accept a God for condemning me for loving a man, neither can I accept a God would allow so much depravity to have happened to my special education students that I’ve taught for the past twelve years. Neither can I accept that God isn’t watching over us with love and often walking along beside us. Smiling at our joys, laughing at our humanity, and weeping over our pain.
I have read the Bible many times, and while it has taken on different forms, the one book I still cling to is Job, so I will leave you with this, taken from Job 13:15. It has become such a mantra that it is now tattooed on my left arm. “Though you slay me, I will trust you.” I trust that despite our evil ways, and how we hurt each other in his name, that he loves us to an obscene level and revels in our joy.
The Shattered Door
After a tortured childhood and years of soul-searching, Brooke Morrison has finally settled into a comfortable life. While his sexuality prohibits him from practicing his degree in youth ministry in a church setting, he’s found a fulfilling job as a youth counselor at a residential treatment facility in Colorado. He falls in love, marries the man of his dreams, and makes peace with God. He’s happy.
Then his buried past drags him back to the Ozarks.
The life Brooke has worked so hard to build is crumbling in his hands in the face of painful memories and past abuse, and his confidence is withering. In El Dorado Springs, where his nightmares come to life, Brooke desperately seeks closure life doesn’t offer. Brooke must find value in himself, in his marriage, and in the world around him—and create the hope and perseverance to keep his past from swallowing him whole.