A lot of people have asked me (or are asking), “who knew what when?” about me and why I did not disclose being gay to the church before all of this happened.
The simple answer to why I did not disclose is that there was no way to do so without resigning or being fired. And that is a pretty serious disincentive against disclosure. Regardless of the isolated things that happened with one congregant, I had failed enough before ever planting the church to pretty much guarantee being fired. It was a case of “if they really knew me, they wouldn’t want me/like me/love me/accept me” — and it turns out that was true. And so I confessed my sins regularly to God, received His forgiveness and grace, shared with a few close friends, and hoped and prayed that God would change me before things blew up. Obviously, that didn’t happen.
In terms of who knew what when…
I have known that I have been gay as long as I have had any sexual memories — and long before I was a follower of Jesus Christ. And God has known even longer — and He knew when He called me and He knew when He decided that He would love me… and even like me!
In fact, my same-sex attraction is part of how I came to know Christ.
When I was a sophomore in high school, my issue became known in my social circle and, as you can imagine, that was not a good thing. My whole social circle blew up at this point and life was very hard.
Many of these friends were involved in a Christian ministry called Young Life. When I was a junior in high school, I set out to write an article for my high school newspaper on how Young Life was a cult. The main motivation for writing this article was to get back at some of these former friends. It was in the midst of researching that article that I started a relationship with Christ — and many of those friendships were restored and they became some of my closest Christian
It wasn’t until I was 19 that I was able to admit and talk about my same-sex attraction. I remember sharing it with one of my college friends and the staff director for InterVarsity while at Clark University.
They were both gracious and helpful.
I also shared this information with a girl I had started to date. She was really about the greatest — she still is! For obvious reasons, sharing that I was gay with her did not go that well. But by God’s grace, we are still close friends today.
Later that summer, while serving as a volunteer on Summer Staff at a Young Life camp, I shared as part of my testimony my same-sex attraction issue. While it was generally received OK, for the most part no one really talked to me about it and kind of pretended that I hadn’t shared it. A few people would make homophobic jokes and comments behind my back, but mostly people just ignored it.
Vince Gierer was on the summer staff with me. He was one of the few people who really reached out to me during this time, and this is when our friendship really began. Vince and I served as head cooks at the camp the next two summers, and our friendship was really cemented.
This was around the time that I transfered to UCONN (its own story worth telling some other time). While at UCONN, I shared the issue with the leaders and staff of InterVarsity. Again, the response was gracious but we really didn’t talk about it. It was very much a “don’t ask, don’t tell” environment.
By this time I had started reading just about everything I could get my hands on about the topic from a Christian perspective. I sought out counseling when a student at UCONN and went to a counselor who specialized in reparative therapy of male homosexuality. Reparative therapy is based on the idea that, at least in some people, sexual orientation can be changed. Because the counseling I was seeking was Christ-centered, we also looked at behaviors. At this point in my life I had come to the conclusion that, as a Christ-follower, my only real options were change (successful reparative therapy) or life-long celibacy. After about a year of counseling, we (the counselor and I) agreed it was time to stop regular counseling. My behaviors were under control and I did not sense that change was in the cards for me.
So I moved forward with a commitment to celibacy.
When I graduated UCONN, I went on full-time staff with Young Life. Before I started on staff, I filled in my supervisor/boss. I was hired and started the Young Life area in Northeast CT; and this is when Vince transferred to UCONN and helped start the area.
By this point I had shared with a number of people about my issue. Generally the response was always the same: gracious, but with a sense that I shouldn’t tell other people and I needed to be careful who knew. This was the advice I got from InterVarsity, from Young Life, and from other friends and pastors in my life. I also learned that in order to share the issue with people (within the evangelical sub-culture I was in), I generally had to share it as a “past tense” kind of a deal. That is, “I struggle with same-sex attraction, but it is under control…” Even with this, people were generally pretty uncomfortable with the issue and rarely if ever asked me about it.
As I continued on Young Life staff, my first three supervisors all new about my issue. When I shared it with my 4th supervisor, his reaction was to fire me. There was no allegation of misconduct, but he wanted to fire me just because of the struggle and issue.
After several weeks of not knowing what was going to happen to me, the Sr. VP of Young Life made the decision that I did not need to be fired, and I remained on staff. Suffice it to say that I continued to keep the issue pretty much a secret and I also stopped sharing the issue with people around me.
No one in the local Young Life area knew about my issue, with the exception of Vince, one of our leaders who knew from their time in IV at UCONN, and one of our leaders who I was close friends with.
After my Young Life experience, I did not share the issue with many more people nor with the churches I was working at. I did once give a sermon on the topic while at one church, and several people wanted to fire me because the sermon showed too much compassion to people struggling with the issue (though the sermon was a very conservative and Biblically accurate teaching on the topic).
All of this time the issue was an ongoing struggle. Most of the time I was successful in the struggle and sometimes I was not. While there was always a group of people around me who knew, that circle became smaller (and often father away) as the years went on, and I pretty much stopped telling people because by this time I had several bad experiences sharing, especially in the context of ministry.
None of this changed my theological convictions on the issue nor my commitment to celibacy.
When we planted the church, I assumed at some point I would share the issue with the Board and congregation — and would probably preach on the topic as well.
I chose not to when the church started for several reasons: (1) the issue had been under control for me for a while and it did not seem like a pressing issue at the time; (2) given some of the issues going on at the church I was leaving and a lot of misinformation that was being passed around there, it seemed like not the right time to introduce this issue into discussions as we were putting together a board and our foundations as a church; (3) I never wanted this issue to be a distraction to the mission and ministry — and I did not want this issue to define my ministry; (4) I knew from conversations with members and people at the church that the issue would not be received well. Simply put, it was pretty obvious that the only way to share what was going on in my life with the church at this point was to also resign or be fired; and (5) I was still feeling the bite of the bad experiences sharing with people in ministry.
I knew at some point I would share the issue at the church. I knew at so
me point we would need to teach and preach about the issue, and I did not want to do that without disclosing. I also knew that I did not want this issue to become a distraction, and within the evangelical world it would always be one.
Finally, before I could share about it personally and publicly, I was committed to making sure the issue was under control for at least a year or more. Sadly, I was not in the position. While I had gone several years without any “acting out” or serious temptation and sin, over the past couple of years things had become more difficult for me and I experienced more momentary and isolated failures… and then more periods of failure as well.
At the church, a few people knew about the issue (but not the sin). Vince knew obviously, as well as three of our members (who all were involved in some level of leadership). One asked me point blank about it and I answered honestly that it was a struggle. We had a good conversation about it, but it was also made clear from this person that if I ever had any stumbles or mess ups in this area, I’d be done.
Two others I chose to disclose to. Of these two, one I disclosed pretty much everything to about my struggle and failures. At times, this person was an accountability partner, but for a variety of reasons that didn’t work out very well.
A few other people probably knew from my days as a UCONN/IV Student.
So that is a rundown on who knew what when… and in some ways how we got here.
All of that said, I hope you can understand why moving forward I have decided to be as open and transparent about this issue as I can be.
I hope some of this makes sense…