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.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

This vignette is based on the experiences of people, and is very typical. It is the norm, not the exception.

Do you really want to add to the bullying they get at school?

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.

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About Ron Goetz

Author, Widower, Grandpa, Son.
This entry was posted in Christian Colleges, Church of the Nazarene, Gay Christians, Homosexuality, Point Loma Nazarene University, Religion, Simpson University, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Growing Up Gay in the Church

  1. Duncan Beach says:

    I think that ‘conservatives’ like to make minimalistic estimates as to the number of gay students, and therefore minimalize the students themselves. After all, if there aren’t as many of ‘them’ as Kinsey or Masters & Johnson thought, then, maybe it’s not a valid socioeconomic group at all. For myself, I prefer the studies conducted by the people who had no dog in the fight – because the fight wasn’t there when they did the study in question. Those studies actually ‘started’ the fight in question for a lot of gay people, because the results encouraged them to finally publicly acknowledge their orientations.

    Like

    • Ron Goetz says:

      I think you’re right. It never pays to be in denial, but deliberately misleading people is different from being in denial.

      Duncan, what percentage do you consider on target?

      Like

  2. Ron, as the mother of a gay man, your posts touch me in so many ways.

    When my son was a pre-teen, he became an acolyte in our church (Episcopal). He loved serving at the altar, was active in the youth group, attended an Episcopal high school. He loved (and still loves) the beauty of the liturgy, and was so attentive to detail that he was the one people asked for to serve at weddings, baptisms, funerals, and was always crucifer or thurifer on Christmas, Easter, and other high mass occasions. He was a favorite of the Bishop, who always requested that he serve for confirmations. The compliments he received were numberless and frequent. Tall, handsome, reverent, detail-oriented, he was the epitome of the parish acolyte.

    In a tearful, gut-wrenching episode, he came out to me in his late teens and changed forever my understanding of what it means to be a gay youth. Through him, God was able to change my heart and open my mind to the reality of gay teens – the pain, the fear, the incredible efforts to conceal his true self.

    About this time, our long-time parish priest retired and the conservative element in the parish brought in a man who began to preach what had never been said from our pulpit: That homosexuality was an abomination. That gays (and Jews and others this priest considered unworthy) were going to hell. That the only way to avoid it was to renounce, repent, change his very nature. Within a year, we had heard this venom so often that our family changed parishes, and my son left the church he loved, returning only sporadically in the intervening 24 years.

    He still loves God, he will attend church with me when we’re together (he lives all the way across the country), he knows that there are Episcopal churches out there that are welcoming and where he would find a home, but the betrayal was so profound that it has left him quite afraid to commit to a place. He knows how quickly acceptance can change to rejection. He knows that the very people who asked for him at the important events of their lives wouldn’t accept him into their lives on a personal level.

    I believe there is at least one Episcopal priest who will have a lot to answer for when he accounts for his life and ministry.

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  3. Sounds like the story I often hear too. If folks that hold the Law for others actually got to know some of these people rather than the stereotypes they ‘know”, it would confound their theology. Relationship does that. it was relationship that shifted me and eventually led to my advocacy.

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    • Ron Goetz says:

      Agreed, knowing people makes a difference. Unfortunately, some people are so tied to their theology that they are willing (and do) cut a young person loose from the fellowship, someone they’ve known from birth. There is in some people an inflexibility that is baffling, the near total inability to stop and reflect, to think for oneself.

      BTW, thanks for the excellent service you do at Canyon Walker Connection, Kathy. I recommend everyone go and check out her site.,

      Like

  4. People reading here probably already know this, but there are many churches in a range of denominations that are accepting of LGBT folks. There’s no need to give up hymns and praise music and loving the Lord for the sake of being truthful about who you are. Students at Point Loma Nazarene especially could find many potential church homes in the San Diego area.

    Here’s a great resource for finding welcoming congregations: http://www.gaychurch.org/Find_a_Church/united_states/united_states.htm.

    I suppose the challenge is reaching young people in anti-gay churches to let them know there are alternatives.

    Like

    • Ron Goetz says:

      Thanks for this resource.

      I agree–the challenge is how to let young LGBT teens know of the alternatives for those getting bruised at church. I have spoken to a number of high school Gay Straight Alliance clubs here in San Diego county, and church is part of our family story.

      Getting plugged in with GLSEN or PFLAG is a good way to get familiar with what’s being done already, and what needs to be done. I highly recommend it.

      For information about San Diego PFLAG activities, log onto http://www.pflag.com.

      For information about GLSEN San Diego activities, log onto http://chapters.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/sandiegocounty/home.html

      Thanks again for the church locator link!

      Remember, neither PFLAG nor GLSEN are religious organizations. But everyone is allowed to be who they are.

      Like

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