Growing Up Gay in the Church
A little girl is born to Christian parents. She is raised in a Nazarene church, goes to Sunday school, attends VBS in July, and youth group on Friday nights. She prays to receive Christ in her heart when she’s 5 years old, maybe at VBS, maybe with her parents, maybe during the invitation. She loves Bible memorization and sword drills.
Then at around 8 years old she meets a little girl she likes a lot. There’s nothing sexual about it, she just really likes her. This happens several times, and by age 12 she’s beginning to wonder about it. When she’s 15 she has a pretty good idea that she’s lesbian. She’s had too many crushes on girls not to know–she’s not stupid. But she doesn’t want anyone to know, so she keeps it a secret. She knows that homosexuals go to hell, so she prays, “God, please take it away.”
She’s not interested in dating guys, so she doesn’t date at all. Or perhaps she goes on “buddy dates” to avoid the constant inquiries, “Are you dating anyone?” “Is there anybody special at school?” She teaches Sunday school, and is active in her high school Bible club.
After high school she goes to a Christian college, maybe Wheaton College, or Azusa Pacific, or Point Loma Nazarene. She signs the school’s covenant. She earnestly prays that God will heal her of being gay. She’s active in ministry. She goes out on a short-term summer mission with Operation Mobilisation or Youth With A Mission. She tours churches with the college choir for student outreach.
But no one knows. It’s a terrifying secret. And it’s sooo hard sometimes. Especially if she develops a crush on someone.
Then something happens. Other students start talking. The college finds out. She’s still a virgin, but the school tells her, “These kinds of thoughts become actions. We think it’s best if you leave at the end of the semester.” If she’s “lucky” the school will give her the option of “reparative therapy,” which cannot change her orientation, but might suppress her desire for female companionship and intimacy.
The young woman is gripped with a fear of the unknown, of the humiliation. She is confused, and, above all, vulnerable. School administrators exploit that vulnerability to get her to leave quietly, without making a scene. They call it handling the situation with sensitivity and concern for the student. They are concerned about her, but they’re also motivated to preserve the good name of the university in the eyes of the unknown supporters and standard bearers in the shadows.
When it comes to the good of an individual or the good of the institution, the institution trumps justice for the individual every time. And who is going to jeopardize their career for one student?
Once she takes the big step and acts on her attraction, it’s all over at church. No more Nazarene churches. There are “liberal” churches like the United Church of Christ or the Unitarian Church who would be open and accepting, but these are totally unsatisfactory for her. She’s an evangelical. She likes hymns and praise songs. She loves the Lord. She’s not interested in what her pastor would call “Christ-less religion.”
The young woman may drift for a while and eventually find a place to worship and serve that accepts and welcomes her presence with them without judgment or reservations. Then she finds the spiritual and emotional resources she needs, and the opportunities she needs to serve. She gets on with her life, finds a partner, and discovers things about herself and about God that are only realized by going through suffering and exit the other side.
Or she may may never again set foot in a church, and discover the same things.
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This vignette is based on the experiences of people, and is very typical. It is the norm, not the exception.
You’ll notice there was no Romans 1 refusal to give honor and glory to God. God didn’t give her over to evil desires. God didn’t give her over to shameful lusts. God didn’t give her over to a debased mind. She wasn’t “turned” by sexual abuse or incest. She was just a good Christian girl who had the usual childhood crushes, except they were on other girls.
I accept the conservative statistic which says from 3% to 5% of the population is LGBT. If you’re in a church with 25 young people, odds are one of them is gay or lesbian. If you have a church youth group with 100 adolescents, there are probably 3 and 5 of them who are gay and lesbian.
There are a little over 2,300 undergrads currently enrolled at Point Loma Nazarene University. Some of them are out, and some of them remain in the closet. That means there are, conservatively, between 50 and 80 gay and lesbian enrolled at Point Loma Nazarene.
Simpson University has about 1,000 students enrolled each year. Conservatively, there between 30 to 50 gay and lesbian students attending Simpson University.
And they love the Lord.