Colby Martin, ’04 – Ally
It was 9:55, just five minutes before chapel was about to start. The place was filling up with a student body who had just returned from winter break and there was a buzz in the air. One of their favorite worship leaders (my little brother, who spent about a Semester at Corban back in 2002) was on campus to lead worship, and I was slated to give the chapel message. The band had gathered backstage to pray and I had just ensured that my slides were all set with the gal doing media and was heading back to join them for prayer. I didn’t make it, for now standing in front of me was one of the Corban Staff who was partially in charge of the chapels, and he wanted to ask me a question.
For two reasons I knew what he was going to ask: because of what had transpired recently in my life, and because of how visibly nervous he seemed in asking me a question about wanting to ask me a question.
But to understand my prescience, I suppose we need to go backwards four months.
In September of 2011 the military ban against gays and lesbians serving our country, known as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, had finally been lifted by President Obama. At that time my family and I were outside Phoenix, AZ where I had spent the past five years serving as the Pastor of Worship and Arts at a young and growing church. However, like most of Arizona, the church was theologically right of center, and even though my convictions on the issue of sexuality had migrated far to the left during my time there, no one really knew about it. Because I didn’t talk about it. Because it wasn’t a good idea, if you get my drift.
Nonetheless, when DADT was repealed my normally-tight-lipped self let out a little bit of air by proclaiming on my Facebook that I was “glad this day finally came.” And, well, I’ll keep the story short, but that post led to an “emergency board meeting” three days later wherein I was forced to give an account for my theological position on homosexuality. And that I did. I shared with 8 other men things that I hadn’t shared with a lot of my family or friends. That I, a Bible-believing, card-carrying Evangelical Christian, with a degree from a Conservative Baptist College, no longer believed that the Bible condemns homosexuality. The meeting lasted a couple of hours and it wasn’t pretty. That was on a Friday. On Tuesday I was called in the office and terminated effective immediately.
My wife and I had to sell our home and move back to Oregon to live with family while we sorted out what to do next. So when January came around and my brother was invited to lead worship for the first chapel of 2012 he asked if I wanted to come and be the speaker. This was the 5th or 6th time I had been back to Corban since I graduated in 2004 to either lead worship or speak at chapel and I couldn’t wait to talk about what was going on in my life. But no, I wasn’t going to talk about that.
You see, I’m not an idiot. At least, I don’t think I am…? I had no desire to go and unnecessarily start a dialogue about an issue that wasn’t my place to start. If you’re reading this then you know, likely even better than I do, the conservative climate at Corban. Filled with wonderfully kind and lovingly beautiful people, and simultaneously filled with an ideology that doesn’t seem overly concerned about rocking the boat. Questioning the status quo. Engaging in theological discussions wherein Baptistic Theology might be questioned. In fact, I think some of the professors felt they failed me back in 2004 when I graduated as a self-proclaimed Armenian!
But by January of 2012 word had gotten around about my recent termination, and word proceed to get around even quicker when people learned why.
Which, if we return back to that morning in the chapel at 9:55, now explains why I had a pretty good guess as to what the “question” was going to be.
“Of course,” I replied, “what’s up?”
“Well…” feet shuffling… “I’m just curious what you’re going to be talking about this morning?”
My born-with-it slightly crooked smile broke out and graciously responded with, “don’t worry, I’m not here this morning to talk about that.”
I went on to soothe the anxiety of this wonderful professor by telling him that I was planning on talking about a Theology of Doubt. To share how those past three and a half months had been unbelievably difficult in so many ways, and how I felt a certain invitation to lean in to the pain, the darkness, the doubts, and therein meet the God of the Cross.
His relief was visible. Chuckling to myself, I sauntered to my chair and began singing with every one else.
The chapel was a smashing success… for about half the school. The other half didn’t fully take to this “theology of doubt” concept, but that’s okay. It got people talking and thinking, which is part of my calling. Looking back, it was a great message to go out on.
Yes, that’s right, “go out on.” As you can guess, I have not been invited back to Corban since then. Well, that’s not technically true. Two years ago I was contacted by an ASB Officer who was at that chapel on doubt and who wanted to bring me back for another round. However, when his superiors discovered he made such an invitation, he was informed of the necessity to rescind said invitation.
I don’t know if I’ve “officially” been black-listed, but that’s how it feels. And honestly, I’m okay with that. They are doing their best to live out their convictions as best as they know how, and part of that includes (I’m sure) a need to protect the flock from potentially dangerous and destructive perspectives on such hot topic issues like sexuality. But even though I understand it, it still saddens me. Oh how I long for institutions like Corban, and churches of a similar ilk, to release their grip just ever so slightly on the need to control and protect and defend. If the Gospel is true, it doesn’t need defended. Certainly not by us. Jesus didn’t lift a finger to defend himself, to argue, to control. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Not quite the same thing as “once you’ve got the truth, put in on lock down baby!”
My four years at Corban (then, Western Baptist) were four of my favorite years of my life. The students were a blast, the teachers inspiring, the atmosphere uplifting and loving. It was (and I believe still is) an incredible school that is doing wonderful work for the Kingdom of God. But my hope and my prayer is that those in positions of influence would begin to hear the voice of the Divine calling them forward in to a new and different way of thinking and believing on the issue of sexuality. Far too many people’s lives and well-being are at stake. Even if they never move theologically, and never come to a full acceptance of our LGBT brothers and sisters as equal heirs in God’s Kingdom, then I hope they will go above and beyond to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for those who do not identify as straight. So that no student (or faculty!) would ever feel the need to stay in the closet, suffering shame and depression, because it wasn’t safe for them otherwise.
I am Colby Martin. In 2004 I received my Bachelors of Science in Pastoral Ministry from Corban University, and today I am a proud straight ally for my LGBT brothers and sisters. Currently my wife and I co-pastor a Progressive Christian Church in San Diego, CA called Sojourn Grace Collective, where we are working to help build a future that will no longer have a need for groups like One Corban. But of course, for now, I am so glad they exist. Because WE exist.
To learn more about where I’ve landed Biblically on this issue, visit my site http://www.unclobber.com.
You can follow my blog at http://www.colbymartinonline.com
And check out our church at http://www.sojourngrace.com, and hear sermons that are grounded in Scripture, rooted in Christ, but open to a more progressive way of seeing things.
Loving God and neighbor,
Ken Smalley, ’11 – Gay
While attending Corban I met some great people, people who genuinely care and are there to support you. Being a Baptist I was very conflicted, in that I wanted accountability in regards to my sexual desires towards men but also wanted to hide that struggle desperately. I was approached one day regarding my internet browsing history — which led to a meeting with the IT department, my RD, and the Residence Life Director. Essentially there were scriptures read to me regarding homosexuality and the sin I was committing. I was required to sit in that room, shaking and crying until I said out loud that I was struggling with being gay.
While all parties involved wanted to help me, I’ve never felt so alone in my life as I did in that two hour meeting.I was faced with a few options, either leave the college, or enter into a conversion therapy program and attend counseling. At 19, I was facing being thrown out of college while pursuing my dreams. I went with the latter option and entered into this program.
On top of my already intense schedule with music courses, performances, private lessons, and other courses, I had to take 3 hours a week to complete this online program, meet with the Residence Life Director to discuss it and meet with the therapist separately. I fought hard to change who I am, to mold myself into the model heterosexual christian man. I had accountability partners who checked on me regularly, but none of that made it any easier.
I joined the Army Reserves after my first year at Corban. Over the summer, I went to basic training and had a lot of time to myself. I used that time to think, pray, and accept myself for who God created me to be. After accepting myself and completing military training I returned to Corban, still having to complete the course, mentoring and counseling. I made the decision to not only accept myself but to put myself in places where others would accept me too. I left Corban, withdrew and unfortunately had to do so without providing a reason in order to keep my record “clean.”
While going through this conversion therapy I will say that the staff was definitely coming from a place of love and caring, but definitely not a place of understanding. I will never forget the Christian men who took me to the health department to get tested for STD’s the first time in my life, the conversations that we had, and that we were able to have after I left Corban. It was equally uncomfortable for all of us, but I’m truly grateful to have accepted myself, my sexuality, and through that opening my mind to understand so many other things/people out there in the world.
My challenge to you is this: If you are struggling with accepting yourself, or your brother’s and sisters around you please reach out, ask for help to understand and listen to each other. There is always support from someone nearby. If you have any questions, just want to talk, or hear more of the story I’m always here.
Anonymous Student, ’10 – Gay
“Do you think that there are any gay guys at Corban?”
“Maybe. I just don’t get it though. Why would they want to go here?”
This was a conversation that I heard time and time again in different forms while I was a student at Corban.
Come to think of it, that conversation was better than the others I heard in the dorms:
“What’s up you faggots?”
“I just don’t get why any dude would want to put his dick in another dude’s butt.”
“Why don’t they understand God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve?”
“Dude, stop being so gay.”
Were any of those lines uncomfortable for you to read? Think of what it was like to hear them.
Now, I’ll give the speakers the benefit of the doubt. They might not have had any LGBT family members, they might have grown up in a world where they were taught a specific paradigm, they might have simply forgotten to think before speaking, etc.
But it wasn’t just in the dorms – it was in the classrooms too:
“The Trinity, I think, shows gives us one of the biggest supports against gay marriage.”
“Homosexuality is the biggest issue facing our churches today.”
“There is hope for the homosexual.”
I’ll also give faculty and staff the benefit of the doubt – they are some of the most kind, caring, and loving people I have ever met. They believe a specific paradigm, and that’s where they come from.
However, it wasn’t just the classrooms and dorms. It was in chapel. It was in church on Sunday. It was in the dining hall. It was walking through the mailroom. It was in Common Grounds.
It was everywhere.
And then we’re told that if we’re “struggling,” we can reach out for help without fear of disciplinary action.
Really? I mean, really?
Why would anyone want to do that? The statement has already been made. The culture is already there. If I was “struggling” with my sexuality, if I really did want help – do you think that Corban would be a comfortable place?
If Corban is a “safe place” to think through issues and wrestle with what we believe – why is there such a programmed message regarding sexuality? Why do we only invite ex-gay and non-affirming chapel speakers?
What are we afraid of?
If Corban is a place of Christian love, where we show kindness toward each other – why is language like that tolerated on campus? Why don’t we have a statement against harassment based on sexual orientation (but have one for race, color, national/ethnic origin, sex, age, and physical disability)?
What are we afraid of?
Mark McLean, ’16–Asexual
My name is Mark McLean.
When I enrolled at Corban, I knew on some level that there wouldn’t be a whole lot of LGBT+ understanding. I mean, Mom and I read through the school’s statement of faith together. Considering a definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman is listed before Original Sin, the nature of angels, and the eventual resurrection of all humanity on Judgment Day, I could assume some level of significance. Upon actually arriving here, however, I discovered that the school’s atmosphere as a whole is… different.
Please understand, I do applaud Corban University for being willing to at least make some steps toward actual acceptance. The mantra “love the sinner, hate the sin” seems to be what’s preached for the most part, and even though that’s kind of like saying “I love your face, but your nose offends me and everything I stand for.” I especially applaud my RA last year for calling out people who used “That’s gay,” or “You’re a fag” as pejoratives, and I haven’t been privy to any real declarations that LGBT+ folks are going straight to Hell. The main issue that I have with Corban’s student body (since that’s the only group I have any real experience with) is that of attitude. It’s kind of hard to explain, but here’s the one real example that sticks out in my mind.
My first few weeks at Corban, the Bible studies we did in our halls were mainly centered around giving testimonies, introducing ourselves, and generally getting to know one another. Each hall member gave his testimony in order of seniority. As such, one of my first experiences with Corban students’ attitude toward LGBT+ individuals came in the form of a five to ten minute war story about how proud one of my hallmates was about getting into a debate with some supporters of same-sex marriage, and how he totally stuck it to them, and on and on and on. I left. I’m ashamed to say that I spent the remainder of Bible study in the bathroom, pacing and fuming and generally doing nothing actually productive about the situation. That night, I failed to hold my brother in Christ responsible for his attitude, and I failed to defend people who need defending, and I apologize for that, from the bottom of my heart, because I’ve also come to know that those moments happen every day. It’s not always a speech from a hallmate; sometimes it’s an offhand remark, or an answer given in class, or a post shared on Facebook. These microaggressions happen all the time at Corban, and it’s honestly kind of sickening to think about.
To anyone out there who has struggled with being at Corban, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, asexual, anyone, I am beyond sorry. I do love this university, but I absolutely know how hurtful it can be. You’re not alone, not by a long shot. Stay strong.
Blaine Bartlett, ’10–Lesbian
I loved the rain more that semester than I ever had before. I spent months walking up and down that hill with my hood pulled over my head and my eyes cast down, but when it rained, no one gave it a second thought. I prayed for rainy days. When raindrops met teardrops on my cheeks, they didn’t discriminate, and kept my secret from the world. The chilly fall air was my ally when I began to tremble ever so slightly in class. I was terrified. Broken. I felt so alone.
My struggle started long before arriving at Corban. As a kid, I would pray that God would make me “normal”. All my friends had crushes on boys, and I wanted to as well, I just didn’t know how. I didn’t even know what it meant to have a crush until I met Sarah when I was a freshman in high school—and I hated myself for it. I begged God to take those feelings away. I tried to use sports, extracurriculars and youth group events to distract myself from the feelings that were always lurking in the corner, but they never truly left.
I thought going to Corban would fix me. I immersed myself in the school’s culture and enjoyed every minute of it, but I secretly noted the differences between myself and all the other women around me. My journey to become “normal” drove me to seek out accountability. The staff was great about never making me feel like a freak, and for that, I am very grateful. However, because of the nature of my confession and the stance the school takes on it, there was nothing they could do to make me feel any less alone. I went through an online program that was designed to help me fight same-sex attraction—complete with homework assignments and special tasks to accomplish throughout the week. I thought it would help, so I bought into it and prayed that I would one day I would feel worthy to enter into fellowship with my Savior and the church once more.
Upon completing the program and reintegrating myself into normal campus life, I was hopeful. It didn’t last long. I tried to use all the tools I had learned to keep my attraction to other women at bay. I tried to invest in healthy friendships. I even tried to go on a date with a man from my church back home. Nothing helped. I spent my last year at Corban very unsure of who I was, keeping my head down, and lying to God about how glad I was that I had been “fixed” at last.
Shortly after graduating, I began really evaluating who I was and what direction my life was taking. I stopped lying to God in my prayers—I no longer pretended like I was straight when I talked to Him. I told Him I was mad that I didn’t feel attraction towards men. This wasn’t easy, but for the first time in my life, I was honest with my Father about my true feelings. I realized the time I had spent lying to God, I had really been driving a wedge between us. My walk became more raw than ever before. I wouldn’t say it was necessarily comfortable, but it was certainly better. I read the book of John, and something struck me about an all too familiar passage. John 3:16 is one of those no-brainer verses, but the back half of that verse was where I really found reassurance. “Whosoever” became my only comfort when I wondered what I was doing and if I was going straight to hell as a result of my attraction to women.
After I was able to stop lying to God, I stopped lying to myself, and then slowly stopped lying to those around me—friends first, and then family. I knew that most of the people in my life would be displeased with my choice to live openly as a lesbian, and I was prepared for that. I prayed that God would give me the strength to not become hardened, but to love everyone; unconditionally, as He has always loved me. I can’t tell a fairy tale story about how everyone embraced me and didn’t judge. I can’t even tell a story about how it gets better. What I can say is that only God can deliver the patience, love and strength it takes to face the responses from the church. I’ve had people say unimaginably hurtful things to me, and it is only by His grace that I continue to love His people and choose to fellowship with the Body of Christ. Sometimes I still wonder if what I’m doing is wrong. Sometimes I still struggle with why I was made so different from my friends. I do not believe it is a choice to be gay—the choice lies in what we do with these feelings. Some of our brothers and sisters deny themselves, and I respect that choice as well. For me, I have chosen to be open about my attraction towards women. I am willing to accept the stereotypes and judgments that come with that choice. I am also willing to accept the challenge of proving those stereotypes wrong and working towards loving God’s children despite any preconceived notions, judgments or hurts that the LGBT community may have inflicted on them.
If you find yourself identifying with any element of my story, I hope you are comforted by the fact that you are absolutely not alone. I found resources like the ones on this site to be invaluable on my quest to self discovery. Utilize the resources available and please don’t hesitate to contact me or any of the other men and women whom have trudged down this path before you. You are not alone. You are still loved. And never forget, you are still His.
Jeff Smith, ’78–Gay
At the age of 61 I’m beginning to understand the phrase, “life is a journey and not a destination”. I share my personal journey here in hopes that LGBTQ students and alumni at Corban/Western will know they are not alone and be encouraged to find their own path no matter how long it takes. My thanks to all the others who have shared their stories here, especially Colby Martin as an ally for the important work he is doing at Sojourn Grace Collective in San Diego.
My years at Corban/Western were from March 1975 – June 1978. Generally, I remember those three years as a positive experience. I entered college a little older than the average freshman and I was newly married, living off campus, but I tried to immerse myself in the life of the college.
I will forever be indebted to people like W. Thomas Younger who taught me many leadership lessons that are a part of my life to this day. David F. Miller challenged my black and white theological system and gave me tools for critical thinking. He also let me develop my pastoral skills working along side him at Valley Baptist Church. Jim Hills helped me fall in love with literature, introducing me to the classics. And… there were others like Steve Hunt and Mike Bartlett who exposed me to a world of creative expression and beauty.
Working part time as a student recruiter provided me the opportunity to visit potential students in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana and at numerous college fairs. I loved getting to “sell” people on Corban/Western. I remember how excited the Admissions Office was when I brought back my first application from a high school senior in the Seattle area, a young man by the name of Marty Trammell!
Leadership opportunities were offered when I was able to serve for two consecutive years as ASB president with incredibly committed and talented Student Councils. I still use the agenda format I created at Corban/Western when I’m leading a board meeting.
What was it like to be LGBTQ at Corban/Western in those days? I was so deep into a closet of legalistic fundamentalist denial about my sexual orientation I can’t answer that question. Even though I grew up during the years of “sexual revolution” in our country I wasn’t a part of it. Wenatchee First Baptist was my home church and the only time sex was mentioned was in the context of “wait until marriage”. And… that’s what I did.
There were almost no gay characters on TV and in the movies, especially TV shows and movies that were deemed suitable for Christians. The Stonewall Riots in New York City, who many use to mark the beginning of the modern gay rights movement, happened in 1969 and hadn’t made their way to Wenatchee or Salem yet!
I do remember a freshman who lived in the Bay Area return from spring break with a freshly pierced ear and earring and there was some discussion about whether he was wearing it on the “gay side”. The Dean’s Office told him he had to remove it or leave school. I can’t remember what he did.
Even in Psychology and Sociology classes I don’t remember hearing much about homosexuality. It might be due to my repression or maybe it just wasn’t discussed or a bit of both.
When I graduated I began work as an employment consultant for the Department of Labor and continued in that position during my four years of graduate school at Western Seminary in Portland. It was there I would meet a student who struggled openly with his sexual orientation and told his story in a very powerful chapel service. It was the first time I was tempted to have a conversation about my own struggle with anyone other than my wife. Fear and shame dominated and I didn’t take the initiative to talk to him.
Upon graduating from seminary I was offered a pastoral position at Salem Alliance Church which would lead to a church plant in Bellevue, an interim pastor role in Spokane, back to Bellevue at Westminster Chapel and finally a position at Woodinville Alliance Church.
During my time at Woodinville Alliance I began to come to terms with my sexual orientation. For years I had struggled with “same sex attraction”…. learned that term from the ex-gay guys. My struggle intensified. I didn’t know who I was anymore. That led to a crisis in faith. I was saying things from the pulpit I was no longer sure I believed. All of that, coupled with multiple leadership issues at the church, prompted my resignation. During the next several years my wife and I would try and figure out what to do.
For me, there were three identifiable stages in the process of dealing with my sexual orientation:
Stage One: Saving my marriage and family
In spite of the pain caused my kids, I love them more than I can explain. I loved my wife (and still do) and regardless of my sexual issues I wanted to save our marriage and our family.
I started seeing a Christian counselor, Chris Keller. He helped immensely. His greatest contribution was guiding me out of a pit of despair that helped me begin to function again in the midst of the grief. Chris also helped me reconnect spiritually by encouraging me to deal with the odyssey questions of life and God. However, when it came to issues regarding sexual orientation he wasn’t much of a help.
I began attending Overlake Community Church and through the ministry of Mike Howerton my spiritual “reconnection” went deeper. Mike was a great listening ear to my story and a thoughtful encourager.
At the same time I started going to a support group that is part of the reparative therapy (“pray the gay away”) movement. It provided me with a good, safe place to talk openly about anything, but especially sexual orientation. I also did a lot of study about reparative therapy and attended conferences put on by Exodus International and Desert Stream Ministries. I met some great people, but as I evaluated those ex-gay ministries I saw a whole lot more “gay” than “ex”.
I also observed a lot of shame, guilt and low self esteem among the participants. Most lived in fear of being found out in their churches. Some were afraid of “burning in hell”. The fear was a strong motivator for many, but seemed to be a miserable place to live. So many people displayed such unhealthy behaviors as they “fought the gay” part of them so they could “please” God.
At the same time I began to do wider reading about sexual orientation written by more progressive Christians. Some of it made sense and some of it didn’t.
I interviewed gay Christians, Christian therapists and a couple of gay pastors. Tim Phillips, pastor of Seattle First Baptist, was one of the interviews (he’s a a former GARBC guy… the legalistic denomination of my youth). Again… they each gave me broader insight and asked probing questions that challenged my thinking. They also gave me more to read.
During this time I was also meeting many gay men and women who grew up in Christian homes and had been subjected to reparative therapy in their teen age years including long-term residential treatment. Everyone of them testified to the deep emotional and psychological damage done to them in the “name of Christ” through these “ministries”. There had to be another way.
At some point I arrived at stage two.
Stage Two – Accept my sexual orientation as second best.
By now it was clear that nothing I did was going to be able to save our marriage. My wife decided she no longer wanted to be married. I regret giving her ample reason. We separated and “amicably” divorced over a two year period while still living together with our son who was finishing high school. At the time the divorce was not something I wanted, but believe now it was for the good.
It was the most painful experience I’ve ever had and I have no way of knowing how painful it was for her or our kids. There is much sadness on my part for the pain I caused.
But reality was setting in… how was a single, newly-divorced, 50-something year old, with a “same sex” attraction, live for the rest of his life?
Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest who was a homosexual. He believed that he was born with his sexual orientation, but that it was God’s “second best” for him… a result of man’s fallen nature… part of the Fall of humanity. He did not believe it could be “healed”, but he didn’t deny its reality. He chose to live a celibate life giving himself to others in the Priesthood.
That seemed to be the path that made the most sense for me to take as a Christ- follower… “gay, single and celibate”. It was my continued attempt to reconcile my faith and my sexual orientation.
(An interesting observation: The Apostle Paul states that he wishes everyone would stay single and devote themselves to ministry, but he realizes God has given very few the gift of celibacy so Paul says it is better to marry than “burn with sexual passion”. If gay people can’t get married it would seem the gracious thing for God to give all gay people the “celibacy gift”. Just sayin’.)
About this time I started seeing a new counselor, Michael Cuhna. Michael is my age and a Catholic. He studied for the Priesthood, but dropped out in his 20’s when he realized he was gay. His therapy training is from Seattle Pacific University so he understands the Evangelical mindset when it comes to homosexuality. He considers himself a “gay, Catholic, Christian”.
Stage Three – My sexual orientation “just is”
When I started seeing Michael I had mostly recovered from the divorce and was looking to the future. Michael was great at helping me see some of the relational patterns in my marriage that were not good. He challenged a lot of my Evangelical thinking and gave me more books to read. I agreed with some of the stuff and disagreed with some of it.
A breakthrough came on a day when Michael asked me why I had to keep putting a “moral value” on sexual orientation. He said, “Why can’t it just be?”
The proverbial light bulb went off! What if I quit trying to figure out if my sexual orientation was an “abomination to God” or “a result of the Fall” or a “gift from God” or something in between and just let it “be”?
I released the need to have all the answers… and it was a huge relief.
Michael helped me understand how my Christian values, ethics and morals could be expressed as a gay, single man. I made a commitment to be fully Christian while accepting my sexual orientation with no judgment attached to it.
It isn’t always easy. Among many Christians there is a lot of judgment. People have withdrawn. I’ve lost friends. I’ve been told I’m not a Christian anymore and I’m going to hell. Some have committed to praying for my “soul”. But… there have also been many, many wonderful discussions and I’m actually enjoying a role helping people understand my journey as well as the pain many gay people feel from the church and judgmental Christians.
Because of that pain, many gay friends are wary of my Christianity. However, there have also been many wonderful discussions with gay friends who would view themselves as far from God. I like building those bridges. One of my daughters believes it is a part of God’s calling in my life.
I was at a dinner party recently with friends. All were gay. Two were “recovering Catholics”, two were Jews who consider themselves atheists, one was a former Anglican who is an atheist and one was a former Evangelical Presbyterian. The Jews wanted to discuss the Rapture! It was a fun discussion. Go figure! Many of my gay friends are starting to trust me in regard to conversations about faith. It is a privilege to have those conversations.
In March of 2010 I met Elias Calderon while helping a friend plan a party to celebrate the completion of his radiology program… Elias was on the guest list. We met for a beer after the party and I found him to be an intelligent, creative, kind, wise and attractive young man. The connection was mutual.
As our relationship grew through the year we made a commitment to one another on December 31, 2011 as we signed our Domestic Partner documents. At midnight, we would exchange rings watching the Space Needle erupt in fireworks from the balcony of our home.
On July 7, 2013 with marriage equality passed in Washington State we got married. Standing on the deck of a beautiful 1958 Chris Craft surrounded by family and friends we pledged our vows to one another in the middle of Lake Union in the shadow of our home. It was a deeply emotional and meaningful experience. I wake up every day grateful to God that I have Elias as my husband.
Last fall, a former leader at Bellevue Alliance Church stood outside of Tully’s Coffee in Bellevue, grabbed both my hands, looked me in the eye and said, “So you’re gay now?” And I said, “While I’m not uncomfortable with that term I’ve come to understand that sexual orientation is more complex than a label, at least mine is.”
People like him who have known me for years are struggling to understand, and as Elias has come into my life some may find it even more difficult. But, I’m more than willing to talk and discuss as long as it isn’t a condemning and judgmental conversation on my part or the other person(s).
I think in another generation we’ll look back at the topics of sexual orientation and equal marriage rights and wonder what all the fuss was about. The conservative church seems to always be behind significant progressive social justice issues… slavery, civil rights, voting rights, etc. I remember back in Junior High when a coach from the local college invited African American exchange students from Kenya to Wenatchee First Baptist. I think they were the first black people to ever visit that congregation.
The young men liked some of the white girls and wanted to go out on dates. Some of the dads of the girls got a posse together and made it clear the young men weren’t welcome anymore. When I questioned their attitude and actions, my 10th grade Sunday School teacher defended the action from “God’s Word” citing the curse on Noah’s son, Ham, as evidence that God did not condone inter-racial dating and marriage. He also could “prove” from the Bible that dancing was sinful. A generation later no one thinks either are a big deal.
A friend lives in an upper middle class Eastside suburb with his two kids. They live next door to a gay couple with several children. While my friend is straight, he prefers to have his kids play with the gay couple’s kids because of all the kids on the street the gay couple’s kids are the most well adjusted and behaved! My friend goes to a large Evangelical church on the Eastside that emphasizes evangelism. If he invites his gay neighbors and their children to his church and they get “saved”, what then?
Another gay friend who is a Christian was faced with a challenge. He and his partner of 11 years had never considered having children, but his sister who was a drug addict was losing custody of her 3 year old daughter to the foster system (no other family member would consider taking her). So, my friend and his partner stepped forward and adopted her. A family with two dads. Is there a place for this family in the Evangelical church?
These are questions that Evangelical church leaders have been slow to answer. Right now there seems to be two extremes: either vitriolic, homophobic rhetoric or the Christian version of “don’t ask, don’t tell”.
But times are changing.
It is such a joy to wake up each day living in the light of God’s unconditional love, without shame and no longer hiding. I wish that for each and every person on the planet, especially any current or former students at Corban/Western struggling alone in a dark, lonely closet.
Feel free to contact me if I can help in anyway. You can reach me at:
-Jeff W. Smith