Religion almost killed me.
I can remember at 10, 11, 12 years old praying every night that God would change me. That God would make me the person I should be and not the person that the devil had turned me into.
I grew up in a tight-knit Church. Sunday School, choir, youth group had all been an important part of my life since I was a toddler.
As I grew up my Pastors, Sunday School Teachers and Youth Leaders were my role models.
During those formative years, as my friends started to notice girls and crushes developed, my crushes were different. My crushes were on guys….. the guys I saw on TV and in sports.
During the pre-teen years, as we learned about our bodies and sexuality, we were also taught that homosexuality was an abomination. The worst of the worst, after all God had destroyed entire cities because of homosexuality.
It was at this point that everything I understood about life changed, it was at this point that I realized that somewhere along the way I had gone terribly wrong and allowed the devil to overtake my life. It was at this point that I began my nightly prayers for God to please save me and make me whole.
Through my adolescence I continued the prayers.
It was somewhere around 15, that I decided God was not going to answer my plea; I had been abandoned by God and would just have to live with this affliction.
The problem was, Church was still a major part of my family life, I couldn’t just stop going out of fear that my secret may be exposed.
I dug in, continued going to Church and went through the motions all through High School. I sang in the choir, attended youth group, even sang solos and spoke before the congregation. I was the perfect young Christian, with a HUGE secret.
It was at this point that others began to notice I was different. I wasn’t dating girls and my small stature was an ideal target for bullying. I was called names and used as an occasional punching bag.
While other guys went camping and hunting, I stayed home with my mother helping out around the house.
More painful than the fist, was the emotional bullying that I received from some adults who thought they were helping me. I was told to “man up,” “stop being a sissy” and other gems that only made me feel worse.
Members of my Church had started to notice I was different too. Hearing “a handsome boy like you should have a girlfriend,” and “once you get a girlfriend everything will be ok,” was like a cut to my heart. I knew I didn’t want a girlfriend, but I also knew that if I told these people who loved me why, I would be a disappointment.
At some point during the summer between my Junior and Senior years the bullying got so bad that I contemplated suicide. I thought about it often, but never could quite go through with my plan.
The thing that always stopped me, was relationship. While God had allowed the devil to inhabit my body and not save me from this demonic affliction, my family still loved me.
The relationship that I had with my parents, brother and grandparents was too strong to end my life. My oldest brother had died in a car accident, when I was only five, and I saw what that did to my family. I knew I could not put them through the pain of that loss again.
Early the next Fall, I went away to college. Away from home, I abandoned the Church, after all if God didn’t want me, why should I want him?
I continued to live, without a Godly relationship through college and into my early 30s. It was at that point, while living in Atlanta that I met a friend who was gay and a Christian.
We became close and I started attending Church with him. His Church, was different from the one I grew up in, with a message of grace, not fear. The Church had a large gay membership due to its location in the city, I found a home there and began to realize that I could love God, follow the teachings of Jesus, honor my Christian faith and be gay.
Those years worshipping in that Church in the heart of Midtown Atlanta gave me my life back. I was at home with my faith once again and I began to find my happiness.
I still had questions, but this wasn’t the time to dig into those, this was the time to be a young Christian and see where my journey would take me.
The journey took me to south Florida.
After my move, I didn’t put Church as a priority; I was busy getting my bearings in a new community. Not long after the move, I was injured and quite literally knocked off my feet for five months.
During my recovery, my dad commented that I should go to Church and he even recommended one he had seen during an earlier visit to my new Florida home.
My life changed forever.
It was at this Church that I formed a relationship with the Pastor, his wife and children. For the first time ever, I trusted a Pastor enough to have “the” conversation.
I will always remember what my Pastor told me. He admitted he didn’t know all the answers, but what he did know was that I was his friend and he would walk beside me through my faith journey, loving me every step of the way.
He went on to say something that has stuck with me now for almost 20 years. He told me that God doesn’t make junk, I was a child of God and the love and grace of Jesus had set me free.
Those simple words carry me to this day….. God doesn’t make junk.
A couple of years ago, after my Pastor friend had moved away and the Church went through a number of changes, I began exploring a large mega-Church in the area.
I had always been intrigued by the mega-Church because of the music and good works they do for the community. I had also been scared to step foot into the building because I wasn’t sure I would be accepted.
Through other circumstances I had met the Pastor on a couple of occasions and he had always be friendly, but I was still apprehensive.
One Sunday, after a call for the congregation to get involved in Church activities, I sent the Pastor an email. I shared my story and point-blank asked, “am I welcome?” Within hours, he had responded to my email, he assured me that I was welcome in the Church and asked to meet with me.
Through the months, the Pastor and I have met several times. We share frank conversations about homosexuality, Christianity, the Church, expectations and challenges. These conversations have helped me, and I think him as well. We have found a resting place where we are both comfortable.
There are differences, but those differences are discussed with love and compassion in ways that we both are growing.
One of my Pastor’s favorite sayings is “it’s not about a religion, it is about a relationship.”
Through my Christ walk, I have learned he is right. The relationship that Jesus wants with each of us is what should guide us; not religion. There are doctrines that will always see my life as an abomination, that’s ok because their approval is not what I seek.
What I seek is a loving, grace filled walk with my savior.
I have learned through these years that there is a place for me in the Kingdom of God. There is also a place for me here on earth to do the work for the Kingdom.
What I have learned is, I may not find just the right Church to worship with on my first try, but if I look for the Lord and seek to do his will, it will come, I will find it.
I am thankful, I have found the grace of a savior and the love of a congregation. My prayers of childhood have been answered, they were answered all along, I am the person God intended me to be, a child of his making, and he doesn’t make junk!
Religion almost killed me, relationship set me free!