I grew up in one of the most conservative areas in the US, good ol’ West Michigan. Growing up, I did not give much thought to sexuality (sex, yes). It was normal for guys to like girls and girls to like guys. Everything else was considered weird or gross.
For a time, my brother was hanging with a closeted guy from our high school. They would do the usual things friends do. They played in a band together, watched movies, went out to eat, and hung out in the basement at all hours playing games. My brother is not gay, he just had a normal high school thing, a friend, who happened to be gay. I love how my brother acts towards people outside the norm: he just accepts them and hangs out. Pretty simple.
But then my mom came into the mix (oh boy!). When she found out that my brother’s friend was a gay guy, it was over. She began to get uncomfortable around him, wanting him to leave early and not hang out alone with my brother. After a while, her pressure worked and the friend just stopped coming by.
I remember feeling sorry, but I did not feel much else. Looking back now, I can see that a little seed was planted deep in my soul. I became a Christian around this time and my faith and life took off.
During my time at Wheaton, my views mostly stayed the same. Sure, I learned more, could use bigger words, and understood deeper meanings of sexuality. But the needle did not move much.
The summer after my freshmen year, I went on Youth Hostel Ministry to Europe. It was a fascinatingly crazy trip, but we spent one week in Norway that I will never forget. We met a nice girl from Norway, who ended up hanging out with us for a week. We never could get to know her all that well. She was pretty guarded. Until one night, towards the end of our trip, she opened up, almost upset at us for not forcing the issue of God and Jesus on her. She then began to tell us a story I am sure many of you are very familiar with.
She was in a small group of peers at her church. She loved it. Loved the community, the people, the leaders. They were her friends, confidants, and helped her in so many ways. About midway through the year, she decided to come out to them, to get the help she needed to deal with this reality, and see what happened. She told her leaders first. They promptly kicked her out of the group and asked her never to return. Not even to come and say goodbye.
I remember seeing her pain, her deep sadness, her loneliness. She hurt. She hung out with us, good ol’ Wheaties, for her entire vacation, so she could feel a sense of belonging somewhere. I did not know what to do. Back at home in ‘normal’ Christian land I might have begun to talk with her about how being gay was sin. Here, though, I did not feel like it mattered what I thought. But I knew something deep. I knew Jesus loved her, cried for her, felt horrible for her situation, and was mad at the small group.
All these complicated thoughts were running around my head, and I mainly felt ignorant. So we just hung out for the remaining day she was there. Laughed, explored, talked about Jesus, and did what all of us should do, treated her normally. As a friend.
I started questioning my own views on the LGBT community. I was no longer hostile, but I was silent as I began to question the views I held.I learned something about Jesus that week. He loves. Loves hard. Loves with reckless abandon. Since this YHM trip was pre-facebook, I lost touch with her. I have no idea where she is or what is going on. But I hope her faith is intact.
It is easy to be hostile towards something you do not know. After college, I began to hear of more high school friends, family friends, Wheaton friends, and others that I knew coming out. It was easy for me to give the company line about homosexuality before these interactions. Before people I loved and cared for deeply came out.
I also started to deal with my own issues. Depression, anxiety, and the reality that I was not exactly a stellar husband and father. And there I met Jesus, again, in the chaos.
Jesus abides in the chaos and tension of life. When we run out of questions, or energy, or drive, or faith. He is there. This led me to re-evaluate so much. Including how God sees sexuality.
A passage of scripture just kept coming to mind whenever I thought about the LGBT community. I thought of the passage in Acts 10 and 11 where Paul receives a vision from God about what is clean and unclean. God says to Paul, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” Through this vision and God’s words Paul helps open the door for Gentiles to receive baptism and be accepted into the fold.
But in reality, all Paul does is get out of the way. He steps aside, as in Acts 11:17: “who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” As I see it, Paul was not some rock-awesome dude for taking the Gospel to the Gentiles. He simply saw that God was already at work. The Gospel was already there. He just joined in what God was doing.
And still, I was silent. Sure, my views changed, and my ideal shifted. I stopped being hostile, stepped out of the way, and started being silent. I may have re-tweeted a few articles, liked a few facebook quotes… but nothing of substance. I always found a reason to be silent: Job security, fear, or the desire to avoid conflict. So there I was, stuck in the silence.
One recent moment helped cement for me an openness to what God is doing in the LGBT community, and a call to action. A family friend, someone I grew up with and whom I consider a sister, is dating a wonderful girl. I realized that when they are able to marry, she might question whether to invite me to her wedding (and rightfully so). The thought crushed me and pushed me out of my silence. I realized I would want nothing more than to don my best suit, bring my wife and kids, and celebrate her wedding day. I want to joyfully cheer her on, and to join Jesus in celebrating her life and her commitment.
I think many of the Wheaties who read this site are like me. Slowly moving from hostile, to questioning, to silent, to, hopefully, the action of joining in what God is already doing. And like me, finding a voice in the chorus that is celebrating, rebuilding, and restoring community as God intends.
Ted Paulson ‘05