Days of Marriage obtained his B.S. in Materials Engineering at Iowa State University and is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign. He was married to Joe Moderate in a religious ceremony held in Illinois the summer of 2008 and they were legally married in his home state of Iowa in the summer of 2009, both marriage ceremonies having been held within Quaker Meetings.
I am a gay Christian.
Such a statement was not always true. I began as an agnostic; then I was a Christian; now I am a gay Christian. When I say I have been a Christian longer than I have been a gay, this does not mean that I wasn't attracted to guys since puberty (I was); rather, it means that I consciously acted on my Christian identity long before I began to explore my gay identity.
My expression of this Christian identity has changed over time. Raised in a Protestant mainline church, I was not a Christian, but rather a pew-warmer with my mind far from the pulpit. In college, I became a "born again" evangelical, attending a Southern Baptist church and rising into leadership positions. Today, I attend a Quaker Meeting.
As an evangelical, I longed to hear from God. Within evangelicalism is the strong idea that people can communicate directly with God and that God can communicate directly with people. This strong desire to connect with the divine permeates much of evangelical practice. To an evangelical Christian, the Bible is "the Word of God", with His words exactly transcribed to speak to us – through the help of the Holy Spirit – in any and all of our lives' situations. Prayer is a chance to speak directly to God and hope for a response, often in the form of answered prayers. The ultimate direct communication with God is to hear Him speak to us – not just through a book or answered prayers, but rather through aural hearing of the very words of God.
I was such an evangelical. I longed to interact with the Holy Spirit so that I could experience God speaking directly to me. I prayed fervently for God to intervene in my life. I prayed for the gift of prophecy, or for that of speaking in tongues. I could study Christianity and be convinced that it was logically correct, but I longed for experiential confirmation, a confirmation that was so unequivocal that I could never walk away from God due to the sheer weight of an experience I had with Him. So I studied. I prayed. And I waited.
The experience I, as an evangelical, was waiting for never came. Sure, I had answered prayers. I better understood the Bible. My heart was kinder towards others. But where was my revelatory experience that would forever seal my faith?
Rather than God sealing my faith, my evangelical church began to destroy my faith. Five years after becoming a born again Christian, I began to explore the possibility of a gay relationship. Never mind that it was a monogamous, non-sexual relationship with another Christian guy in the same church; such a relationship stretched the tolerance of this "open-minded" evangelical church to the breaking point. I and my future husband, as well as two other gay men, were shown the door and told they hoped to see us only after we had repented of our gay ways.
This was devastating, in part because the church was my home away from home, the place where I found friendships that were full of meaning, solace when in my down times, and celebration when experiencing life's joys. Stripped of this home, I despaired much as someone who is kicked out of relationship with his biological family.
Having seen the writing on the wall, my future husband and I had previously attended a Quaker Meeting, a local gay-friendly church. Unfamiliar with Quaker silent worship, we asked a long-time member to explain it. He said that Quakers wait in silence to hear from the Holy Spirit; if one receives a message, then one discerns whether it is meant for the group – in which case one shares the message – or whether it is meant for oneself – in which case the message is privately contemplated. Certainly not standard evangelical fare, but we began to regularly attend.
Fresh off our dismissal from our previous church, I despondently sat in a Sunday-morning Quaker time of silent worship. As the silence stretched onward, my despair deepened. Here I was, excluded from my church "family", a stranger in an unfamiliar church. Where, I prayed, was God in my hour of greatest loneliness? Then into the silence came the sound of a shuffled chair and two feet squarely placed on the floor to support an elderly woman. Standing, she spoke into the silence in an unwavering voice: "You have asked me to heal your broken heart. But what can I do, but hold it tenderly?" I sat stunned; I cannot explain how, but I knew the words were spoken for me. Though spoken through this visiting Quaker woman, I also knew they were spoken by God. I began to weep; not out of bitterness, but rather because I felt I was in the presence of someone whom understood my pain and would comfort me in my despair.
After cathartically dwelling in this presence, and with the same certainty of interacting with the divine, I heard in my head, "You once were called Sad. But I have called you Glad."* And whereas before I could not hold back the tears, my heart suddenly felt such an upwelling of caring and love that I was uncontrollably smiling. Indeed, I almost became a laughing-out-loud fool in the midst of the silent worship, such was the feeling of God's comfort.**
Where all of my fervent evangelical prayers for spoken words from God failed, He reached into my despair to tenderly hold my broken heart, and with kind words transformed me from Sad to Glad. He did not care that I was in love with a man. He did not care that my theology was not rote evangelical hermeneutics. God did, however, care about my need for love and caring. And though people who claimed to be followers of Christ rejected me and other gay men, God himself demonstrated nothing but his unending acceptance. For those who feel similar rejection by some Christians today, I gladly know that they can trust in a God who does not show rejection, but rather holds their hearts tenderly and calls them to dwell with God in gladness.
* This somewhat parallels the first chapter of Ruth, where Naomi asks to be called "Bitter" (Mara), whereas her original name means "Pleasant".
** I have only met the equivalent of this laughing experience once before, when I was administered laughing gas before wisdom tooth extraction. Counting back from 10, I only reached 4 before I was laughing hysterically.