It has been three years since the proverbial shit hit the fan.
Memorial Day 2009.
Long story made short for those who don’t know:
Three years ago, I was a successful pastor of a successful, growing church.
I don’t mean successful in a worldly sense; I mean in a faithful, Jesus-honoring sense.
The church was growing, people were meeting Jesus for the first time, we were baptizing people, we were launching new campuses and looking at 20-year master plans for building projects. And people were being discipled, marriages were being restored, lives changed for the better. Over 300 children in Panama were getting a daily nutritious meal because of what God was doing in our church. Over 300 AIDS Worker Kits were flown into Africa because of the work God was doing in our church. Our prayer ministry was growing, people were experiencing healing.
I say this because I think it is easy to forget in the midst of our own mistakes — our sins — that God was doing amazing things. And our sins and brokenness don’t undo the amazing work of God.
At the same time, as a pastor, I had a secret that was killing me. And I was outed. And yes, there was a lot of shit hitting that big fan.
I had been living with a (quasi) secret for as long as I could remember. I was gay. I say it was a quasi secret, because going back to being in college, there was always a small group of people who knew. But I hid it from most of the world and I hid it in my professional role as pastor. As an evangelical, to reveal that I was gay was to automatically lose my job. And since I loved my job, felt called by God to my job, and (frankly) was good at my job — it seemed better to live with the secret. Better for me, for the ministry and for the people I served.
So I did. For a long time. Until I was outed.
In addition to having this secret about being gay, I had also been involved in an on-again, off-again sexual relationship with a close friend who was also closeted Christ-following gay guy and a member of the congregation I led as pastor. Our friendship long pre-dated the founding of the church and for a lot of reasons — none good, most understandable — barriers were crossed and an unhealthy emotional and physical relationship developed.
It was him who outed me, for a bunch of reasons that I understand, but don’t really get.
So… literally within 48 hours… I lost my job, my income, my vocation, my calling, my faith community, my circle of friends, my two best friends (the guy who outed me and the co-founding pastor at the church), my dreams, my hopes, my home (I was asked to move out), my reputation and my privacy. Bam! Just like that! A week earlier I remember telling someone how much I loved my job and I wouldn’t trade places with anyone in the world. Then, just a few days later, I lost it all.
It was ugly and I almost didn’t survive it.
But here I am three years later… new church, new friends, new career.
A lot has happened over the past three years, but today I just want to reflect on where I am three years later and the choices I made to get here… and how God’s hand has lead the way.
For three months after it happened, I did nothing. OK, that is not accurate… I did a few things…
First, I found people who had wisdom, experience and a 100% commitment to Jesus Christ, who weren’t going to give up on me… who believed in me. I found them and and spent time with them. For me, there were six people in particular who did this for me, each playing a different role: Bart Campolo spoke truth into my life and helped me cling to the Gospel throughout the process; he also helped me map out a plan for the coming months and years in terms of seeking relational and emotional health. J.R. Mahon (and his whole family really) became a lifeline of love and grace. JR was a brutal truth teller in my life, never allowing me to escape, minimize or rationalize my sin… but also never allowed my sin and greatest failures to define me. Father Paul Holland cared for and helped restore my soul. Through prayer, intercession, healing, confession and deep personal reflection, Paul helped me rediscover my love for Jesus and His love for me. Kit McDermott was an important friend, sounding board and guide for me; I would have been lost without him. Joe Dallas became my counselor and adviser; his professional counseling and experience were indispensable; his own insight from his experience and the experiences of hundreds of others he has counseled, were priceless. And Tom & Nancy Andrix played the roles of both friends and wise counselors, cheering for me and assuring me that I was not alone on the journey.
Second, I reached back in my story and reconnected with old friends, mostly from my days at Clark University. These were folks who simply stood with me as friends, loved me, grieved with me, made me laugh again, and didn’t judge me. Even though over time we had lost contact or grown apart, they stepped up and were there for me when I needed them.
Third, I found community. I joined a Men’s Small Group at a local church and spent months travelling two hours both directions to attend it (and then I moved back into the area, and the group was five minutes away). Those men became my new faith family during the next year — and I am thankful for each and every one of them, especially Bob, Bob, Brian, Brian and Rich. I have more respect for these men than I can put into words.
Fourth, I found a church… that would take me! I found a church where I could simply be me. I could heal, make friends, use my gifts within the context of the community. This was critical. It would have been easy to drop out of church, but that would have been deadly.
Fifth, I made a plan and started taking care of the practical stuff… like getting a job, going to culinary school, etc.
Sixth, I never closed (and have not closed) the door on reconciliation. I have experienced amazing grace and reconciliation with my former church, with Vince, and with many who I called friends. But there is still much work to do, many that I have not been reconciled with, and areas that grace has been withheld. But I never shut the door and pray regularly for full reconciliation.
Seventh, I did the hard (and risky) work of actually looking at what the Bible really says about homosexuality (and, more importantly, says to gay people). And in the midst of that study, I discovered that the Gospel is more beautiful and powerful than I had realized, I re-discovered the goodness and holiness of God, and I was able to affirm again that Jesus is way, truth and the life… my savior, Lord, leader, King, friend, healer, hope and lover of my soul. For the first time in my life, I tasted what shalom — wholeness — must be like. I experienced healing through God’s Word and confidence in my identity in Christ.
And so, here I am three years later.
I am happy. I love my job. I have community. I have ministry. I am using my gifts. I am closer to my family. My heart has become more compassionate to others. I have discovered the importance of being an advocate for the LGBT community. I love Jesus and will follow Him all of my days.
Who knows. I am no longer on the driven track of having to know what is next. I am happy to simply be. Today. In Him.
Tomorrow will come, and I will follow Him then too.
People ask, do you have regrets.
I deeply regret (and that doesn’t quite express it) the hurt and pain I put others through and the damage I did to the church I loved. I deeply regret the broken relationships, especially those that have not yet been healed. And I regret that I ever bought into a theological construct that told me it was better to dodge-and-dip-and-hide-and-pretend than to trust Christ with all that I am. I regret the years of loneliness, pain and self-hatred that went along with buying into a frankly false theology that distorted both God’s word and God’s Word. And I regret that I am no longer on the front lines of Kingdom Advancement the way I once was.
But I do not regret where I am or who I have become. And I would never undo what happened if it meant going back into the closet and becoming a poser and faker again for the sake of a cultural theology that does not reflect the fullness of God.
Confession, forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration… these are fruitful. Regrets, not so much.
Three years… a lot has happened. Much has been recorded on this blog. And it feels like a season has come and gone. So I am retiring this blog. I will leave it posted because it is part of my story and I have heard many testimonies of how it has been helpful to others. But it is time for a new chapter… at least when it comes to blogging and the ideas that are exciting and challenging me these days.
Faith Autopsy was very much about my own healing, self-discovery and journey back to the cross, back to Jerusalem.
The next chapter is about exploring the reality of life outside the promised land in the diaspora…