Two years ago she and I got into a discussion, and after a while of mutual discomfort, she threw her hand in my face, and declared emphatically: “If you don’t know Jesus then I have nothing to say to you!”
The words were spit out of her mouth with such condemnation, and before I had a chance to respond, she turned her back to me and stormed away. That moment in time lingers with me still, and I probably should just let it go … but I can’t.
Who is this Jesus that I don’t know? Why is it that she claims that right to know him, and yet I, because I don’t believe exactly as she does, can’t possibly know him? Is there a monopoly on his love, something I’m missing?
I initiated an online chat the other evening. I just wanted to talk, hear her side, share my side. I had never understood her resistance. Isn’t the Gospel supposed to be shared? Isn’t that the premise of what Evangelicals believe? Isn’t it within their belief system to share the good news? How can the message be spread without a willingness to hear what the other person has to say?
This is how I began the conversation: “Hey you! If we hung out sometime, would you be willing to have an open-minded conversation with me, listen to my ideas and opinions with respect if I fully agreed to reciprocate that sentiment?”
I waited anxiously for her reply. It came quickly. “Not sure what that means. You know that I always take a biblical view. That I love you and we just agree to disagree.”
As I pondered the words I wanted to say, I asked myself many questions. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have open, thoughtful dialogue with each other and really talk? Ask questions like, “wow, that’s an interesting perspective; tell me more . . . why do you believe that?” The other reciprocates, and soon the question is being tossed back and forth over and over again. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have these conversations with an open mind, with mutual respect for one another … with reverence?
Finally I began to type out my response, “And that’s so cool that you take a Biblical view! My last — absolute last — intent in the world is to sway you whatsoever from your deep convictions. I just would like very much for you to hear my story, my struggle, my involvement in ex-gay ministries, and be respectful. As will I. The walls will never be broken down unless open, respectful dialogue takes place. Do you agree? Let me know if you’d like to meet up for coffee, lunch, dinner here or there or wherever — one on one, just the two of us. I’d like that.”
Again her words came quickly. “No I don’t think this would be a good idea. I have not changed the way I believe since our last conversation. I would have nothing new to say. I am just not clear what your point is. I know where I am, you know where you are, and neither of us is going to change what we feel God thinks about your lifestyle. I am not sure why you have this need to try to change my view, and you put me in a tough position because my view will not change. I love you. You’re my family. But we will never be on the same page here. Honestly, I feel I have done nothing wrong. I felt you got angry because I didn’t agree. My heart is clear on the matter.”
I felt myself becoming defensive and before I could stop myself, the words came rushing from my fingertips. “That’s the problem with evangelical Christians and why you’ll never win the respect of the masses . . . you’re unwilling to listen to the other side.”
“See again you’re intolerant to my rights. I also have a right to believe how I want!”
“Yes, dear,” I thought to myself. “You have every right to believe whatever you want. But you don’t have the right to lobby for your agenda which includes blatant discrimination toward gays all in the name of religious freedom.” I wish now I’d said these words.
My Chihuahua looked me with pleading eyes that said, “Papa, I need to pee.” I left the computer and took him outside, and immediately lit a cigarette. I paced the deck, admiring the stately oaks that grace our house, thinking so many things, thinking to myself that it’d be so cool if we could just talk about our differences in a rational manner — the goal not to be to try to change one another, or convince one another that “I’m right and you’re wrong,” but rather to just listen and share, get to know each other, and each of us make a sincere effort to respect one another’s different belief systems; surely this kind of openness with one another would break down walls.
Satisfied with my nicotine fix, I gave Gunnar a treat and returned to the keyboard.
Her words bounced off the computer screen with fury, “And I don’t want the respect of the masses. My heart is clear with God. That’s enough for me!”
I sighed and replied, “I’m done. I tried.”
I thought that was the end of it, and concluded that our conversation was over. As I was about to log off Facebook and shut the computer down for the night, these words came: “You’re a trip. Funny. I’ve been so worried about hurting your feelings, but seriously you have no regard for mine. Pretty much if I don’t see things your way, you’re done. Wow, that is respect. If you’re so ok with being who you are then you should really learn to not get so upset when others don’t agree. It does not matter what I think, so why are you so yucky about it? Geez!”
I just wanted understanding between us. “I’m just trying so hard to make peace with you, and want so desperately for you to hear my side of things, open your mind and see that other people’s opinions are just as valuable as yours.”
“Honestly, it’s God’s opinion! Not mine! Not yours! I have peace — you’re the one who seems to struggle, and maybe that’s something you should examine. After all God is the peacemaker and only in him do we find peace. I have no issues at all with you. — I really don’t. But seems your issue is because I don’t think exactly like you do then I’m a horrible Christian … and honestly I don’t even think about you!”
Then . . . “LOL”
She continued, “I mean you’re family like the rest and I love ya. Live your life … shoot, I don’t agree with some ways others live in this family but I don’t concern myself over it. Just as none of them are calling me to say let’s discuss why you don’t like something or agree with something.”
Her words seemed to imply that I was just being a trouble-maker, a nuisance. Was that my intent? Was I just a whiny brat who wanted to stir up trouble just for the hell of it?
“Cuz, I’m not saying that we have to agree! All I’m suggesting is that we hang out, discuss things openly, and think outside of the ‘box’. Don’t you think God is big enough?”
“God is love but also a God of order and holiness. He is not a God of everything goes. His word says he does not change. The world wants to accept everything and everyone but that was not God’s way. Again there will be no winner in this conversation. Actually you can win. That’s what I feel in my heart you’re looking for. To change the way I think. But for whatever reason, I cannot make you come to terms with that. It will NEVER happen. See there are certain things I will not be open-minded about. If you understand spiritual warfare and opening certain doors to the enemy you might get the fact that we should not be open-minded to all things. We should be led by his word and the Holy Spirit.”
In retrospect, I wish I would have said, “I don’t want to win! This isn’t about winning or losing. This isn’t a competition! I’m not trying to make you change the way you feel. I just want to talk.”
“Don’t forget he is also a God of wrath … seems you have some major issues about what others feel.”
My drink needed refreshing and I needed another cigarette. Again I asked myself a myriad of questions as I paced the deck. Was I just looking for validation as a gay man? Was I looking for acceptance in all the wrong places? Why was this so important for me?
I returned to my computer, took a deep breath, and decided to turn this around. “I love this! I love that we are communicating honestly and openly. This is good! This is the kind of conversation I want to have with you face to face. Makes you think, makes me think, breaks down walls. This is good! I’m not trying to sway you, or persuade you, or whatever. I just want you to hear my side, and I want to hear yours. I want to know what you believe, why you believe it, and respect that. I want us to learn from one another.”
“You must confess your sin and say it and say he is Lord to enter into Heaven. It is the only way. I don’t think any other religion or God is included. There are not many ways to heaven — only one! I take the Bible for what it is. I don’t change it or try to make it how I need it to be. The devil is a master deceiver and once you open the door to certain things and stop fighting against certain issues eventually you become hard in that area and give yourself over to it then it no longer seems wrong.”
Her words seemed to imply that I was doomed.
“It’s a long journey — this life — a long arduous path of mountain tops and valleys,” I responded. “And in the end we all believe in the same God, pray to the same God … how can you say that your way is the ONLY way?”
“NO! No, not everyone believes in the same God!”
“Perhaps you’re right … but that’s okay. He is big enough to handle all of our individual perspectives. It’s all about hanging out with God one on one — having that special, unique relationship that we all can enjoy with him.”
“No! It’s not okay. If you don’t view God as the one and only and understand Jesus and his blood sacrifice as the only way then you will not go to heaven. And that’s sad. And many live hell on earth because they really don’t know how to experience him daily.”
“But … I do experience him daily. We talk. We commune. That’s the beauty of it all, the mystery of it all … God is ONE! Big enough to encompass all views, all beliefs, all religions, all dogmas. He is the Supreme Being. What’s your morning like? What’s your time with God like at daybreak? How do you spend your time together? What do you talk about? What do you pray for?”
“I pray in tongues a lot. Stay in the word a lot.”
I was intrigued. “Tell me more. Sincerely, genuinely I am interested. I want to hear your side!! I want to know what your relationship with God is like.”
“Supernatural. Can’t really explain. LOL.”
I thought deeply before responding. “The bottom line, sweetheart, is that we both know God! We just know him differently, and each of us has our own unique relationship with him! That’s all I’m trying to say to you. Bottom line: he loves us! You and me! He loves us both! And that’s all that matters.”
“I cannot give you what you need. Only God can. Again I do believe God loves you but I do not agree he made you to be homosexual. I know you don’t agree with that. But it’s okay. Because it should not matter to you what I think. You answer to God. …that’s how it should be. I have been saturated in this spirit-filled life for over ten years and still learn daily. I would challenge you to go to church somewhere that challenges you and does not agree with you. Only when we disagree do we learn to submit. And change truly.”
I lit another cigarette and sought to digest her words. She was suggesting that I needed to find a church that doesn’t agree with me, and subject myself to a challenge. Yet she wasn’t willing to meet me for a cup of coffee. Seemed a bit one-sided to me.
“I’ve really prayed about the whole ‘I was born this way’ argument,” she continued. “Perhaps you had some tendencies as a child and we all spoke those things over you. I’m a firm believer we have what we say. Maybe we conditioned you to press into those things. Or maybe you have some type of trauma we are unaware of. Or maybe fighting those tendencies became too overwhelming and you gave in to what felt good and went all in and now you’re not sure how to go back. Or maybe you like the fight of being gay and different and it fuels your flesh and feels good. Or maybe Satan has you so blinded and deceived. I don’t know which one. I’ll continue to pray to God that you become so clear about it and it will make such great sense to you that God will show you what he needs you to see about it.”
I shook my head and rolled my eyes at the audacity. She has all these reasons and theories as to why I’m gay, but no interest whatsoever in hearing my side of things, my struggle, my FIRSTHAND experience. Instead, she chooses to be an outsider, looking in from a distance, making assumptions without fact, and casting judgment.
She wanted God to tell me that I’m wrong and that I need to repent and denounce my being gay as a sin. I didn’t need her to do that. I’d spent thirty years praying the same thing, and it didn’t work. God didn’t change me. He made me, loved me, and when I realized that, my life changed forever.
I let her continue. “I do know this. Jesus came so we could be whole and clean. Healed. Holy. Sanctified. It’s not just God but really about Jesus. He’s the one that paid the price for us. There is none other.”
“Yo! I dig Jesus! I just see him differently … Jesus is awesome … His spirit lives forever and ever among us all and we all have the honor — the privilege — of experiencing him differently. That’s all I’m trying to say.”
“Jesus is the ONLY way — not A way! That’s where Satan has moved in the world and deceived. Jesus is the ONLY way!”
“Jesus is surely the way, as are many others … Jesus is man enough, big enough, humble enough, human enough to acknowledge that he is not necessarily the ONLY way to God,” that’s where I’ve landed in my journey, “… and by the way, I don’t believe in Satan.”
“Nope, see he is the whole foundation of the word of God. How can you believe the Bible but not that? Jesus said, ‘I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life; no one gets to the Father apart from me.’”
I thought about her words and came to a realization that I do believe there is great truth in Jesus’ words, but I interpret them so differently.
I waited for more.
“Haha. So you only believe there is a good spirit! So what you’re saying is you don’t really believe in Jesus or the Bible as SALVATION! That explains a lot. And so now I will pray for salvation for you, and ask that deception is lifted from you. Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. Ok now I know what to pray for. Watch out! God is about to show up and really show out! Have a good night — love ya!”
“I am able to see the glorious light of the Good News – the message of love, of peace, of joy. I understand fully the glory of Christ. Jesus is the ultimate example of how we should all live. He is indeed the exact likeness of God … as we all are. I agree fully … so what exactly is the problem?”
“You don’t really believe.”
My parting words: “Have a blessed night. And please continue to pray for me … as I will for you.”
I took a deep breath and thought about what had just occurred, and came to realize that each of our belief systems is made up of a lot of speculation, part truth, part fantasy, and a whole lot of in between. How could any of us, me included, ever presume to have it one hundred percent figured out? Isn’t that a slap in the face of a God who is beyond human comprehension?
God is bigger than a mere book, bigger than an arrogant planet whose inhabitants think they are the center of the universe. How arrogant for any of us to ever think that we can limit God, restrain him, bring him into our own little world and proclaim that this is how it should be — the rest of you are all wrong?
I dug deep. I realized that the fact that she disagrees with me is not the issue, but rather the unwillingness to think outside of her box, and that the group of church folks she hangs out with allow their collective beliefs to spill over into the realm of politics. They can’t acknowledge separation of church and state, and they insist on infringing upon my rights, forever fighting for legislation that would make the gay community subhuman, deny us equal rights. And yet they scream: “Persecution! You’re intolerant to my rights. You’re persecuting my religious freedom!”
There are those in the evangelical community who sincerely believe that engaging in a homosexual act should be a crime. I’m sure that my cousin sits right alongside people every Sunday morning, whether she agrees with them to that extreme or not, who have tremendous hate and disgust for me and my kind, and would love to see us eradicated. I see Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who refuses to issue gay marriage licenses, and others like her, in the face of my cousin. I don’t see God’s love. I see hate. I can’t get over that.
I thought of my own struggle. My mind wandered back to my early days involved in ex-gay ministry and those many Friday evenings sequestered in the basement of a church, hanging out with a group of lost men, many of whom were trapped in meaningless marriages, miserable, all of us congregated together in an attempt to be something we weren’t. I remember so clearly the sight of us all gathered together in the windowless fellowship hall, shrouded in a dark veil of secrecy, all praying for the same thing, all pleading with God to make us straight. I thought about all of the dear people with whom I’ve journeyed, who like me begged God to take away this defect, this “sin.”
I thought of my best friend from the two years I spent in an ex-gay residential ministry. I remembered his words, “Whatever people believe is not about you. They aren’t judging you personally. They are simply speaking what they know from their life, right, wrong, or clueless. It has nothing to do with you.”
“Bullshit!” I thought to myself.
This distorted way of thinking has everything to do with me and every one of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. This condemnation drives innocent young people to hate themselves, forces them into lives of misery, and drives many to suicide.
I thought about the years and years of self-degradation and guilt I would have been spared were it not for this way of thinking and its stronghold on impressionable young gays. My heart broke for them and I began to pray fervently for the adult figures in their lives who can’t move past their fears and prejudices — all in the name of Jesus. I asked God to reveal to my cousin and her cohorts the pain they so blindly inflict.
Suddenly an epiphany occurred, and I felt emboldened to continue to speak out, initiate debate, and incite controversy. I vowed to God that I will forever live my life openly and proudly. I will hold my head high, and not be ashamed; and in the end if just one person is saved because of my words, my life has mattered.
L.T. MILLER was born in a small southern town. While in college, he became involved in ex-gay support groups, and in 1996 was accepted into the New Hope Ministries residential program in San Rafael, CA. During his two year stay, he questioned everything until finally he completely abandoned a misguided ideology that made less and less sense. He found a gay church in San Francisco where he was accepted for who he was, and with the loving support of a lesbian pastor he was able to begin life anew as an openly gay man. L.T. Miller is the Ex-Gay Survivor.