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Why I joined the church, and how I left 

One man's journey from Hell to Purgatory and finally, home

Growing up homosexual in Asheboro in the late 70s was nothing short of a traumatic experience that I certainly did not choose. As far back as I remember being attracted to guys, the only physical relationship I encountered was non-reciprocal, so I never had a fulfilling sexual experience and knew no one to whom I could confide or look for guidance, role-modeling or encouragement. Guilt and shame scarred most of that time in my life. One of my last cries for help as a young man involved hitchhiking to a party at a farm in a rural area of town where I knew I could find the boy I was in love with. When I got there, he was distant and I remember feeling extremely rejected and hurt. At the end of the day, one of the guys at the party began a blade-throwing exhibition, having someone stand against a barn wall while he threw a hunting knife. He coaxed me into standing up and letting him throw. I hedged but finally gave in and became his subject. The second throw hit my throat, and I remember having to lay myself down on the ground because of the blood flow, looking up at the circle of people standing around me, and realizing these were my last few moments on Earth. Another guy knelt down and applied pressure to my wound while someone called an ambulance. I later found out my jugular vein had been severed.

It was a miracle I walked away from the incident, but I was still hurting and still confused. My local church sent a youth worker, who talked to me about Christ, which had an impact even though I told the woman I didn't want to get involved with a church. I went back to my life of loneliness and rejection. My sister had a dramatic influence on my eventual decision to become a Christian. I attended church with her where she lived in Kernersville, and remember weeping and climbing over a sea of knees when the pastor, after his sermon, invited people to come to the altar. I was desperate for the unconditional love he promised, and freedom from the heavy, Bible-belt guilt complex I couldn't escape.

Back in Asheboro, I found a Christian coffeehouse where young people in jeans and T-shirts stood as someone played the guitar. Everyone was singing and seemed happy. Here was a way of life that promised me freedom and salvation from my sins, homosexuality just being one of them, but, according to the doctrine of Christianity, no worse than any of the others. I found acceptance, provided that I showed a consistent effort and heartfelt desire to change my sexual orientation. What a relief! And to top it off, the first time I walked into the church with which the coffeehouse was affiliated, a nice, cute guy walked up to me, put his arm around my shoulder and told me he loved me! I was overwhelmed. The only requirement to my being part of this Christian community was that I completely turn away from my previous life. That meant no secular music and no pursuit of thoughts of, or longings for, sexual activity with another man.

That seemed to be OK, because I had found a degree of physical gratification in lots and lots of hugs, and in being around people who accepted me regardless of what I had been in the past. In many of my church friends, I saw a humility and sincerity that I desired greatly. We were all forgiven sinners rejoicing together. And the music was an experience in itself. I quickly integrated my guitar abilities with my newfound faith.

For about 20 years, I was involved exclusively in Christian circles that consistently taught me that I could not be a Christian and a homosexual at the same time. Somewhere between ages 38 and 39, though, I realized I was never going to experience a meaningful relationship with another person that involved mutual sexual fulfillment unless I asked the only question these Christian circles had not answered: Why was I desperately lonely and still had no hope of knowing reciprocated love? I even tried a few relationships with women in the church (having been to singles groups), hoping I would change, while secretly harboring thoughts and longings for companionship with a guy.

By the early 90s, I was extremely angry with God and feeling terribly lonely and rejected. I withdrew from church and began to research local gay bars and clubs. My search started online, where I would meet guys and then have sexual encounters with them. After a short time of going to a couple of local bars, I began to feel, for the first time in my life, that I was not abnormal; that there was a huge community of people who had the same feelings and thoughts I had. I began to feel connected, although my estrangement from church circles had left me discouraged. To this day, I remain plagued by dreams in which I am either in a church feeling condemned and having to leave, or in which the skies are about to open and the Lord is coming to take his children home forever...only I am being left behind. I have not reconciled being gay with being a Christian, even after several years of finally accepting who I am.

My family has always been accepting, and I have resumed a relationship with my sister and her family, whom I love dearly, even though she is still heavily committed to her church and we cannot discuss where I am spiritually, much less my life as a gay man. For the last four years, I have been in a consistent relationship with a wonderful man, who also professes Christianity but who was never exposed to the types of teachings that I had to process. So he never had to deal with feelings of condemnation or rejection from God. My family has accepted my partner, as well, and has come to know and love him.

I am sick to death of the hateful condemnation of gays by a brand of religion that was founded on universal forgiveness and unconditional love. My answer to those believers comes from scripture. Romans 5:8 states, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." 1 John 4:8, "He who does not love does not know God, for God is love". And finally, 1 John 4:20 clears things up emphatically: "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?" Where is your love? To the people who stand on street corners, or carry huge crosses in public while yelling hatefully at people you do not understand, James 1:20 reads, "for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God."

To sum up, I am not sure whether my claim to Christianity is valid anymore, To this day, I have not attended church, nor do I plan to do so, unless God hangs a neon sign in the sky that says He is OK with me and that "his people" can finally get over it. This should not even be an issue. I am just relieved that, finally, I am not constantly in a battle to repress my feelings, and that I am no longer trying to be something I'm not. I'm no gay-activist flag-waver, and I have made it my goal to be a part of the community-at-large as a whole person, just one aspect of which is being gay. It does not define my life, my language, my music or my "style." As to whether being gay is a choice I made as a child...I would never choose to go through this hell. And I have never met a straight man who could possibly change his sexual orientation, or even consider an attempt to change, regardless of how serious it may be to God or anyone else. Let people be who they are, try to be more accepting and open to the possibility that we might not know everything. You have never walked in my shoes.

No, I have not totally reconciled being gay with being Christian; maybe some day I will. But writing this and looking to my Bible for hope has encouraged me.

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