This is Part 2 of a reflection on National Coming Out Day. Read Part 1 here.
Today is National Coming Out Day. The Church right now is facing the question of how best to respond to the mainstream acceptance and celebration of LGBT culture. People far smarter and wiser than I are coming to different conclusions on that big question. But if I may be so bold, I will offer one small bit of hard-earned insight that I have: however we feel about the realities that have led to our culture getting to where it is, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that we have a day in which people are encouraged to be honest about their experience as sexual minorities. Clearly, we’re doing something wrong if most churched kids don’t feel like they can tell anyone that they are gay until they’re over halfway through college. Christians, of all people, know that true healing can only come when the truth about ourselves is revealed in the presence of God, a fact to which our stories attest. Jesus draws the truth out of the Samaritan woman at the well before He reveals Himself to be the Living Water she needs. God, before He does anything else in Genesis 3, draws the newly-fallen Adam and Eve out from their hiding.
There is a hard word for Adam and Eve when they do step back into the presence of God, of course. Life will now be extraordinarily difficult. The curse has come through their sin, and it will touch every part of creation, and every part of them. There’s no glossing over that part of the story.
But this hard word comes beautifully placed between a promise of the Gospel and a picture of it. Before God explains the curse, He gives the first promise of the Gospel, and after He explains the curse, He shows Adam and Eve a glimpse of what the Gospel will look like. God slaughters a lamb, and with its skin, He gives them a better covering for their nakedness than their fig leaves. If there is anything worth emphasizing in this story, surely it is God’s redemptive promise and action on their behalf. And it’s worth noting that God does this in the midst of their swirling storm of sin and shame, apparently with disregard to anything they’ve done to warrant such grace. Indeed, if it were warranted at all, it wouldn’t be grace.
Which brings me back to coming out. In church contexts, it is a unique challenge for gay people to step out of hiding, so it’s unsurprising that most of us don’t until we’re nearly a decade into our closet, all the while struggling with that same swirling storm of sin and shame alone. It’s not only unsurprising, it’s also sad, and not the way the Church is supposed to be.
I don’t know how to change a whole church culture, but I know it needs to change. It should not be easier for a Christian kid to come out to his non-Christian friends than to his parents and pastors. National Coming Out Day reminds me that this is still a reality. It reminds me that when someone in our life takes the brave step out of hiding, we should model our response on God in the Garden. Like God, we lead with grace by drawing people out and giving them the space to tell their story, even if they do it imperfectly like Adam and Eve did. Whenever it’s our turn to speak (only after much listening, because we are, after all, not God), we speak the whole truth: that all of us, straight and non-straight, have sexualities twisted by the Fall, and that the solution to that problem is the promise of Christ who covers us, and the provision of His Church who will be our family, whether we get married or pursue lifelong celibacy.
A church like that, that takes its calling to be a family seriously, is a church that invites all sinners, gay or straight, out of darkness and into His marvelous light. On a day when I am convicted that the culture is doing a better job of inviting people to be seen than we are, it is my prayer that we could become such a church.
I said in yesterday’s post that the evidence in my life adds up to one fact: that God has been nothing but good to me. That can be a Christian truism, but I mean it. My prayer for relational intimacy and a deep sense of being seen, known, and loved, in a way that can only be described by the word family, has already been answered. Don’t get me wrong: my whole point with today and yesterday’s post is that we have a long way to go. But I’m nothing if not an eternal optimist, and because I’ve been blessed, I want to offer a picture of what someone like me can hope for, what such a church has looked like and what we, by the leading of the Spirit, can become more fully.
In Psalm 68, David writes, “God sets the lonely in families.” It’s rendered in another translation, “He settles the solitary in a home.” In Mark 10, Jesus promises that those who give up certain earthly goods, like family ties, will receive so much more than they gave up: “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
I don’t know what the rest of my life will be like; God may have a wilderness (or several) for me to wander yet. But here is what I can say with confidence: He has already kept those promises to me.
He kept those promises by giving me parents that never even considered kicking me out, and always loved me, even when I was wrong.
He kept those promises when He gave me a close friend group in high school, including the first person I ever came out to, who helped me come out to my parents.
He kept those promises when I got rejected from my first choice for college, and He thus ensured that I would find the future best friend that would encourage me to go to RUF.
He kept those promises when He placed me in the family of RUF, which accepted me into their fellowship without condition, and invited me to share my story without fear of judgement.
He kept those promises when He gave me a campus minister who sat with me in my deepest doubts about celibacy, instead of condemning me for those doubts.
He kept those promises when He gave me a lifelong friend group that made graduating college one of the hardest things I’ve done yet.
He is keeping those promises now, by giving me a calling to love and serve students who have loved and served me more than they can even know, and who allow me to be myself.
He is keeping those promises to me now by giving me coworkers who are so much more than coworkers, but share their lives and families with me.
He is keeping those promises now by giving me a local church in which I am safe and valued. A church in which, when I came out recently to my community group, I was immediately interrupted—by someone saying, “I just want you to know you’re safe here.”
He is keeping those promises to me now by giving me friends in St. Louis, gay and straight, married and single, who have been faithfully submitting to Christ longer than I have, and move me to deeper faith.
I could go on, but I hope you see the point: God has been faithful to me at every turn by providing people. He is giving me the hundredfold He promised, and not because of my faithfulness (or more accurately, my lack of it: sexual sin is a daily struggle), but simply because that’s who He is. The solution to loneliness has been His Church. If I am doing okay, better than I should be facing down lifelong singleness, I can assure you that it’s not because I have been gifted with some sort of superhuman faith; it’s because of the communities God has provided me that have been places characterized by openness, honesty, and safety. But on National Coming Out Day, I’m reminded that not everyone, indeed very few in my position, share my experience. But that doesn’t have to be true! Here is my conclusion, my exhortation on National Coming Out Day: become the kind of church in which it is safe to struggle and safe to be honest. A church in which it is safe to come out. And then, watch God work wonders in the lives of gay people.
From Isaiah 43:
Thus says the Lord,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
who brings forth chariot and horse,
army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
“Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild beasts will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches,
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
that they might declare my praise.