Friends, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you all. It’s been a long time coming, and although my family, friends and classmates know, a lot of people still don’t. So I’m going to get straight to the point:
A lot of you might be thinking, “What’s the big deal?,” but it took me 22 years to quit running from this truth about who I am.
I first began to question my sexuality in high school, but was so scared of who I was that I blocked it from my mind for another 4 years until I was a sophomore in college. I was working as youth director for Northside Baptist Church and had taken our youth group to Southwest Baptist Youth Camp (SWBYC) in Texas where, for the first time in my life, I met pastors who were lesbian/gay/queer. I had been surrounded by pro-LGBTQ pastors at my church since I was a kid, especially after I became active in the Alliance of Baptists my first year in college (a historically queer-affirming faith organization and the “denomination” of both Northside and the church I was raised in). So even though the knowledge of a “gay Christian” wasn’t alien to me, I didn’t want to BE one.
Meanwhile, I had begun to feel a call to ministry in the Baptist tradition—a pursuit I feared would be pointless if I were gay. (Don’t ask me how my brain came to this belief; fear isn’t logical.) So I tried my hardest to be straight.
It didn’t work.
A deep sadness set in, and I found myself expending ENDLESS energy trying to fill a role I couldn’t. I went to bed each night exhausted and woke up even tireder. My grades suffered, friendships fizzled, and my heart’s light grew dim. I lived life in slow-motion. It was the worst pain I have ever felt—pure trauma—and it was there to keep me company when I woke up every morning. It became my shadow.
Next summer, SWBYC rolled back around. I was a rising junior in college now and had gotten good at hiding. On the outside I looked put-together, but inside I was a mess. I don’t know what was different about that summer, but for whatever reason I paid closer attention to the LGBTQ pastors and lay people (which was a lot of folks). Each of them had a joy that I lacked—but it wasn’t just that. They embodied a joy that was remarkably distinct from the joy the straight pastors and lay folk showed (no offense, y’all!). It was the courageous joy of loving one’s self. It was a joy that transcended ordinary joy; it was the kingdom of God.
“Nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is within you” (Jesus Christ, Luke 17:21). The kingdom of God was in these people at camp, and I didn’t feel it was in me—not because God had left me or because I was “struggling” with some sin, but because in my drive to love my neighbor as myself, I had forgotten to love myself as my neighbor. Tired and gray, I dreamed about this new kingdom and wanted to be a part of it.
I can’t remember when it happened, but at some point between my junior and senior years of college, I became okay with who I was. Call it grace, call it example, call it a holy mix of the two—whatever it was, I was beginning to feel joy rumbling up in my belly, and by the end of my senior year I had come to not only accept who I am, but CELEBRATE my sexuality as one of the holiest and most sacred pieces in my divine mosaic.
Irenaeus of Lyons said in the 2nd century, “The glory of God is a human person fully alive.” I step into the glory of God each time I am reminded of my sexual orientation and smile. To the church in Philippi St. Paul wrote, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (Philippians 1:3), which is exactly what I do when I remember that I am queer. Every day isn’t easy, but each new morning is a sacred gift.
Even though I’m in a far healthier place, I’ve endured inexcusable harm at the hands of other Christians, ranging from having my parents receive an anonymous letter from a Southern Baptist stranger on Christmas Eve in which I was outed to them as a “homosexual” and “corrupter of teens,” to enduring well-meaning but homophobic statements from people I considered friends. These experiences have wounded me, but they no longer have power over me.
Yet worse than my hardship is the heartbreak SO many of my friends have suffered, who have dealt with loved ones choosing to be committed to a particular theology over family and friends.
Plainly put, if your theology requires people to live in shame and sadness, then you need new theology.
Jesus used the Pharisees as a scary example of what can happen when we love our beliefs more than our neighbors. It’s 100% contrary to Christ’s most basic instruction. Let’s be disciples instead.
The reason I’m doing this post is to (1) celebrate the spectrum of who God has created so many of us to be, and (2) let people know that we are never, ever alone.
Somewhere in the U.S. right now, a little boy is thinking about killing himself because his family will never accept him if he comes out. I don’t know how I can stop him from doing it, but if there is a chance I can, it can’t happen without me being honest about who I am. So… I’ve spoken my truth.
“[Jesus] cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, COME OUT!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” Like Lazarus, Christ is calling us to “come out” of the the dark and into the glory of God. Let it be so forever.
BENJAMIN SMITH is a first-year student at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity, where he is pursuing a Master of Divinity with plans to be ordained in 2020. An LGBTQ Baptist, he believes in the reclamation of high worship in Baptist churches as a tool for social and theological transformation.
He grew up affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and in his free time, you can find him hiking, biking, writing, hanging out with friends, and watching Netflix!