I suppose you can say that I have always felt like I was on the other side…second class…a bit unworthy. My journey has been difficult as a gay Christian. I have not always felt like I belonged- both inside and outside of my conservative Christian faith tradition.
My story is not unique. Many LGBT Christians face these feelings on a regular basis. We feel like nomads with no place to rest. Sometimes we get pushed out the doors, spiritually…and sometimes, literally. We are told that we cannot serve unless we “repent”, which looks like a lifetime of singleness. Sometimes we have even played a game of “make believe” in order to be pleasing to God and to become part of the norm in Church and society, or because we thought that in doing so, our make believe game would somehow become true. In many churches, we were welcomed to sit in the back and listen, but were not allowed to be in places of leadership, lest we taint the holy and water down the faith with our “unholy agenda”. We could listen, but who would listen to us? Bad fruit would continually be produced by this kind of game. Leaves would appear, but no good fruit would be produced. At the worst, we were driven to hopelessness, depression, and sometimes suicide as we tried to reconcile our faith with our sexuality, while facing loneliness, all in order to please God.
It was over a year ago that I backed away from the Church. As much as I loved it, and wanted to be a part of it, I did not feel that it was bringing the life that it was intended to bring. I had a lot of anxiety. I did not feel loved. I did not feel heard. Several months ago I wrote about feeling that I had some type of “Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome.” I felt like my faith was based on fear and I was not allowed to ask deep questions. It was shallow. I felt that Evangelicalism had become so far removed from the original message of Jesus Christ and that it no longer looked much like the Church that He desired and prayed that we would be. So, I stepped away. I stepped away for months and rested, allowing myself to eventually ask hard questions.
I started to connect with the LGBT Christian community and allies- brave and bold souls like Kathy Baldock, Justin Lee, Matthew Vines, Rob and Linda Robertson, and many others. I saw a kind of love and unity that I longed for. I saw something that was authentic in this community, who strived their best to love the marginalized and the oppressed, as they brought life to the dry, weary, and broken. I saw a faith that survived and thrived. I saw that they even offered love and grace to the other side who opposed their work in the Church.
After a few months of connecting with the LGBT Christian community, I saw Pastor Danny Cortez’s video being shared by many of my new friends. He was a Southern Baptist pastor who had been challenged over the years by some church members who had come out to him. It seemed like the medicine that the church was continuing to prescribe to the LGBT Christian community was not only ineffective, but it was causing tremendous harm. Just as any good doctor should not continue to prescribe medicine that continues to cause harm, he thought that the Church shouldn’t either. So, he decided to take a journey. He started to listen. He decided that love looked more like listening than preaching. He recognized that the LGBT community had been so hurt by the Church, and that there must be a better way. He starting connecting at the level of the heart and he also started researching on what the Bible really had to say on “homosexuality” and what was happening during that time, historically and culturally, regarding the kind of sexual activity that was condemned. Eventually he would become affirming and would let his congregation, New Heart Community Church, know about his change in position. Sadly, New Heart would eventually split and the SBC would eventually expel those who remained with Pastor Danny.
I was ready to go back to church. So, I messaged Pastor Danny and he replied. Luckily, New Heart was meeting only a couple of miles from us. My boyfriend and I started attending in July of 2014, shortly after they had split and were meeting in homes. From the moment we walked in the place, we sensed the love and authenticity that was there. We could come just as we were, without a “church mask”, being fully known and loved. We have since become like family, getting so well connected with everyone, and even having opportunities to serve. We have been tremendously humbled as they have invited us to serve on the worship team. I am in awe to see the life that comes forth in this small church. This is real fruit. They truly love all people, even those who do not agree with them theologically, and they have challenged me to do the same.
Communion is a special time, for so many reasons, at New Heart. We come forward, lined up, to receive the bread and grape juice as we remember what Christ has done for us. You have those who have remained through tough circumstances lined up with those who have often been some of the most hurt in the Church–the LGBT. In this line there are people from so many backgrounds, and we do not all agree on everything, but this queue is one of the most amazing pictures of what love, redemption, and reconciliation looks like. It is very tangible. We do this every Sunday, and it is the best kind of altar call. I am often driven to tears.
I had the privilege of helping serve communion with a leader, and friend, this past Sunday. I knew it was going to be different being on the other side, but I did not know what it would look like. My friend read a passage of Scripture and then called forth the congregation for communion. She held the bread and I held the cup. Each person would tear off a piece of bread, as she would look each partaker in the eyes and say, “Christ’s body broken for you.” Each person would then dip the bread in the cup as I would look in each partaker’s eyes and say, “Christ’s blood shed for you.”
Something happened as the line started moving. Something was stirring so deep within me and bubbling to the surface. I started to think about my life, and about what it had felt like being on the other side. I felt so honored and privileged to be entrusted with probably the most meaningful symbols of our faith. I was not tainting it. God was there, as each person partook. Eventually, overwhelmed with emotion, I could barely get my words out. I thought I was going to completely lose it and have to just set down the bowl as I was beginning to tremble, with tears running down my cheeks. I was on the other side; God had brought me through. New Heart had taken me in and walked beside me. I was free at last, on the other side…the same side where everyone else stood. I belonged and I was worthy, not because of anything that I had done, but because of what God had done for and in me because of his unfailing love.
I held it together and was able to finish, but there was certainly a healing that was happening within me last night that is so difficult to explain, except through tears, even as I write this. Pastor Danny and New Heart have made so many sacrifices to make their doors wider to welcome all people. I am beyond thankful to be a part of this small Church, which is having a ripple effect, as many are touched by the humble journey of our pastor and our congregation. I cannot imagine them not being a part of my life, and I hope that all people can find this place…a place on the other side.
ROBERT LOFGREN is a gay Christian who wrestled with his faith and his sexuality and found peace. He strives to love Christ and to show His love for all people. Robert is an advocate for LGBT rights and building bridges between the two communities to which he belongs and is so passionate about — the LGBT community and the Church.
He lives in Orange County, CA with his boyfriend of seven years and two Boston Terriers. Robert blogs at The Gay Post-Evangelical.