I am faced with two inescapable facts: I am Christian, and I am gay.
My religious upbringing from the day I was born has been in the Christian faith. It is my heritage and my tradition. My parents' church was quite conservative. We were told what to believe and how to behave. Not until my college years did I begin to realize that in order to own my faith, I had to wrestle with the issues, attempt to relate them to the life I experienced, and come to my own conclusions.
As my world is quite different from that of my parents, I have had to discard some beliefs, modify others, and embrace still others in a richer appreciation of their truth. Along the way, I have come to know God deeply and have grown to trust in His care. I have always found in God a place of refuge in times of difficulty. His powerful presence and profound love are a continual source of strength.
Being gay is a different story. Since I first became aware of sexual feelings, I have always been attracted to others of my own gender. But of course my Christian beliefs did not allow for that, and so I was faced with an awful, unending conflict. At first I tried to ignore the feelings, keeping them shut up behind a tightly closed door. I even tried to cover up that door and pretend that it did not exist. For many years, I thought it was working and that I was doing the right thing: white knuckle obedience to the will of God. I thought that to open my hidden door would be to turn my back on God. I was taught that God hated homosexuals, and to even consider being gay was to run headlong into judgment and wrath.
At one point, realizing that my attractions toward men were not changing, but only getting stronger for being bottled up, I sought out the help of a Christian counselor. I went through individual therapy, support groups, and prayer ministry. Now at least I was looking at the door, maybe opening it a crack to see what would spill out so we could clean it up.
I found a great release as I started to honestly deal with my feelings, and in this struggle I began to see that God was a God of love. But I still never owned the gay identity. It was always a problem, something from outside myself that was trying to drag me down. The therapy seemed to help for a while, but I became increasingly discouraged when it became apparent that there would be no change of my underlying desires. The door was still there, and it was still ugly, and it wasn't going away.
Over the past year or so, I felt a growing frustration with the conservative churches I had been attending. I visited many different churches here in Seattle and had a very hard time finding a place to fit in. The people were all very nice, and I sensed the real presence of God in each place to some degree. But they were still telling me what to believe and how to behave. I had serious questions about faith, issues that I wrestled with in the deepest parts of my being, inner conflicts which affected my basic understanding of life. But people in the churches never really listened to my questions; they simply gave me the same inadequate answers that I had heard all of my life.
About the same time, I started, very tentatively, learning more about the gay subculture and lifestyle, mostly from books and magazines. As I read more and more, I realized that I identified with the gay community at a foundational level of my being. Even though I had never been involved in any sort of a gay lifestyle, I could truly relate to what these writers were saying. I gradually started to accept that this was my identity, the group to which I belonged. I started to open my hidden door and actually walk in -- and it scared me to death.
In all of this struggle, I felt very much alone. I had no other Christians to help me, and I felt that I was turning away from God. I was cut off from the refuge that I had known for so many years, forging ahead into an unknown, undefined realm, stumbling, groping, looking back over my shoulder to see if I could run back to the familiar, yet stifling world that I had come from. But my need to know the truth kept me going forward.
The great surprise came when in this place I found again the powerful presence of God. I had always been taught that we can never go so far that God's love cannot reach us, but I never thought it would happen here. Here was a part of myself that was deeply wounded that God wanted to touch and heal, but my refusal to own that part had prevented me from receiving the healing touch. I had to confess, "Yes, I am gay, and I can't change that. Now where is God?" And God responds, "It's all right. I am here with you. My love is the strongest when you are the most in need of it." And then I discovered that the awful door led not into a dark closet, but out of one.
Some people seem to fit quite easily into established churches, accepting the faith that is ready made for them. I have never had that luxury. I have had to fight for every inch of my faith. I have been forced to examine every thread of the religious tapestry of my life to find out exactly what is authentic. The overwhelming pressure both from the church and from the gay community has been to abandon faith. But my experience with God has been too real; I could never just walk away from it. Neither could I glide along in a nominal, cultural Christianity, calling on God only in times of great need. I have been caught in the vortex of two powerful, warring currents, and I have had to cling desperately to God just to survive. Such is the true proving ground for faith.
by Katherine W. Unthank
Gary David Comstock