Six years ago, medications I found myself sitting in a cramped living room surrounded by the pastors and elders of my church.
The mood in the room was somber. I could tell that one of the church elders, a good friend of mine with whom I had traveled to China on a missions trip, had been crying. Being that our church was one of the largest evangelical churches in San Francisco’s Silicon Valley area, I didn’t personally know all the people in that room. But everyone there knew everything about me.
I suppose I should have felt ashamed for what I had done. But instead, I felt a strange sense of relief.
Like two defendants on trial, Susannah and I had been summoned to this private meeting in order to discuss our ‘situation.’ A third party had informed the pastors on our relationship, and needless to say they were far from pleased to hear that two ministry leaders in their church were carrying on an illicit homosexual affair. Our head pastor launched into a biblical argument on how homosexuality is a sin, highlighting the usual clobber passages and telling us that we were committing a grave error. We could be saved though, he said, if only we would turn from our ways and end the affair.
But Susannah and I were prepared for this, and we responded that we would not end our relationship. We didn’t have answers for all of the pastor’s biblical arguments, nor could we say for certain whether God was for us or against us. The only thing we knew was that we had experienced something about ourselves that completely changed our worlds. And for us, there was no turning back.
Perhaps the church leaders felt pressure to do something because we were active leaders in the church, perhaps they earnestly felt they were acting out of some righteous love, or perhaps they were simply ignorant. Whatever it was that motivated their actions, it doesn’t mitigate the pain that both of us felt when we were asked to leave the church. The church was our community, our family. These were the people that I celebrated my birthdays with and spent my weekends hanging out with. I tried holding onto them, but I finally realized that this was a losing battle when a good friend from the church requested that I not join his volunteer group at a homeless shelter. I still remember holding Susannah one night in her car and crying together over all of this.
But we were the lucky ones. When I came out, I was already 25 years old and financially independent. So when my religious conservative parents found out a few months later, I was able to move out on my own and escape from their disapproving influence. We eventually found a new church led by Supergay Pastor Maria home that affirmed the LGBT community. And while our relationship has ended, both Susannah and I can honestly say that coming out and ‘losing’ the church was the best thing that ever happened. We didn’t lose our spirituality – what we lost was a fixed and narrow lens of judging ourselves and the world.
Unfortunately, our stories are not unique. So many queer people across the world have suffered discrimination, violence, and worst of all, self-hate as a result of the church’s teachings against homosexuality. When we interviewed Supergay Manny Castaneda in the Philippines, he told us, “as long as the Church will tell the Filipinos that homosexual activity is a sin, the Filipinos will not allow the gays to have equal rights.” In Brazil, Supergay Congressman Jean Wyllys gave us the news that “a member of the evangelical Christian front presented a bill in Congress to implement treatment to cure homosexuality.” In Kenya, Supergay David Kuria showed us a website started by an American Evangelical that threatened his life. Kuria said, “I was really scared at that time because they were asking for me to be killed. There are people here who kill out of a religious obligation.”
The battle of the gays vs. religion isn’t just some kind of theological debate – it’s a real flesh-and-blood struggle with devastating consequences. Under these circumstances, it’s easy to paint the church as the ‘bad guys.’ But while I’m not trying to excuse homophobic behavior, I believe that religious people aren’t altogether bad people – they’re just been taught a very black and white view of the world, and they can’t see (or won’t see) outside of that view.
When I think of my parents, I have compassion for those who believe in the church’s homophobic teachings. My parents are good-willed, hard-working, family-oriented people. I know my parents love me, and it absolutely breaks their heart that our relationship has deteriorated. If they could find some way to reconcile their religion with my being gay, I believe they would take it. So often, I wish I could just grab their shoulders and convince them: You don’t have to reject your daughter in order to be a Christian. You can accept her just the way she is, and leave any judging to God alone.
But so far, my words have been futile. For the past three decades, my parents have been fully immersed in the Chinese evangelical christian movement, and what they believe is what they’ve been hearing from their church leaders every Sunday service and every Wednesday bible study. If we want to change the attitudes of the religious right, the change has to start from the top.
The interview that’s stayed with me the most this year is of two ordained reverends in Kenya (Rev Kimindu and I shown left) who are educating religious clergy across Africa with a positive message on homosexuality. It’s tempting to throw stones back at the religious right when it feels like they’re heaving boulders at us all the time. But perhaps the best thing we can do is to show them the respect we wish they’d show us, engage in those tough conversations, and have faith that love will win out in the end.