Today I am incredibly excited and proud to kick off the Love Letter Series. This is a big day for my blog. It is the start of something I have wanted to do for such a long time. Provide a place where my LGBT brothers and sisters can find encouragement and affirmation from a variety of voices, big and small. A place where love is the offering and hope is the message. A small push in turning the tide of evangelical vitriol toward the LGBT community. This is reconciliation. This is restoration. This is everything.
The plan is to post one of these letters at the first of every month, creating a tab where they can be accessed easily.
For the first post, we have Kevin Shoop. I can’t think of anyone better to start off this series. I’ve read his story and it baffles me that he has had the courage and conviction to pursue Christ. He has wisdom to pour out, please absorb it.
Does it really get better?
That’s a question I’m sure most of you have asked. Especially if one or more of the following is true about you today:
- You identify as a Christian
- You go to a non-affirming church
- You are in the closet
- Most or all of your family believe that being gay is a sin (or at the very least, unnatural)
- You are trying to change
- You have chosen a path of lifelong celibacy
- You don’t know whether you want to be a Christian or not
- You feel lonely and marginalized by either Christians or the LGBT community (or both)
Let me briefly share my own story with you, with the hope that you will realize the width, depth, and breadth of God’s love for you, no matter where you are in your spiritual journey.
I grew up in the Bible Belt and faithfully attended conservative evangelical churches until my late 20s. My elementary, junior high, high school, and college years were spent in conservative Christian schools. I worked in a Christian bookstore for over three years. I’ve been to a number of Christian counselors, had mentoring relationships with pastors, and attended extensive ex-gay group therapy. My life was permeated with the American Christian subculture in the first 27 years of my life.
I was in the closet to family and friends during this time. Although I was determined to overcome homosexuality, I was equally determined to hide it. There was too much shame associated with being gay. As a result of hiding, my relationships with others became more distant and shallow. I became desperately lonely. My vision of God became a stone figure with a passive smile: yes, He loved me (signified by the smile), but He was powerless to change me and incapable of active love.
So I gave up.
One cold February evening in Northeastern Ohio, I gave up the fight. I had prayed too many times. I had spent too much time confessing my desires and fears with mentors and counsellors. I had tried too long to change. I had spent too many hours ashamed of who I was. I was done.
Aptly, it snowed that night. I woke up to grey skies and everything blanketed in white. I felt my relationship with God had ended, and that my faith had died. I was entering the winter of my spiritual life.
Interestingly, I wasn’t in despair. I was numb. And I also felt relieved. I felt I didn’t have to try to please God anymore, because He had already rejected me.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that evening was not an ending, but a milestone. A turning point. I had finally and unapologetically let go. I had wrestled with the angel, and I was defeated—rendered incapable of fighting anymore.
Since that night, my journey has been interesting and unexpected. I’ve rejected God. I’ve come back to God. I went through a time of sexual promiscuity. I met and am now “married” to my current partner. I stopped going to church, stopped praying, and stopped reading the Bible. I started going to church again (about 6 months ago). The church I go to now is gay-affirming. Every week at the communion table, all are invited to partake wherever you find yourself on the journey of faith.
There is a common theme to my story. No matter what phase of life I find myself, Jesus continues to love me actively and passionately. He didn’t love me more when I was fighting to change. He didn’t love me less when I was hooking up with strangers over the internet for sex. He didn’t love me more when I was praying and reading my Bible and witnessing. He didn’t love me less when I questioned (and still question) his existence and his goodness. There are no qualifiers to his love. There are no “buts” to these statements. Jesus loves me. Jesus loves you. Period.
Your journey is your own, and it is sacred. Whether you are fully embracing your sexuality, attempting to live a life of celibacy, trying to change your sexuality, have rejected the God of your childhood, are currently identifying as a atheist, or whether you are somewhere else on the continuum of faith and life, you are on holy ground. Your path may be different than mine, and in the end we may arrive at different places, but we are both loved without condition.