I was born on the campus of Bob Jones University and spent all of my formative years there as a student in Bob Jones Elementary School, Junior High School and Academy. I even spent half a semester as a college freshman at Bob Jones University until a bout with pneumonia revealed that God had other plans for me.
I was eight years old when I began to discover my attraction to other males. At first, I was confused by my crushes on older boys, by the feelings I had towards my closest male friends, and by my gradual awareness of sexual feelings that I could not discuss with anyone. This terrifying, lonely secret slowly consumed me. Outwardly, I was a “momma’s boy,” and my prepubescent peers, picking up on cues from the adults at BJU, started to mock me as a sissy. As someone who has always believed, I wanted nothing more than to be Bob Jones’s definition of a godly man and a “good Christian,” so I prayed daily for God to remove these desires from me. Each night, silent tears of anguish accompanied my prayers for God to make people, including my father, stop thinking I was a sissy. Instead, an unwanted sexually-charged encounter with an adult male at our Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) church, whom I trusted, further confused me.
As I moved through puberty, those feelings crystallized into desires I tried to banish from my thoughts. But they would only return, at the most inopportune of moments, to remind me that I was different from the others. I was that word I heard Bob Jones III say so often with derision and spite as he lisped and pranced around in the Founder’s Memorial Amphitorium’s big pulpit: I was, in fact, I am homosexual.
I believed every word I heard preached from the big pulpit and in our local IFB church. And in my heart, I knew I was not who I was pretending to be. I was guilt-ridden for having discovered masturbation as a pre-teen and for experimentally masturbating with another boy. I confessed this “sin” many times, but always I returned to it. It was too comforting and too pleasurable to avoid in the midst of the turmoil and chaos of our home life and my mother’s battle with psychiatric illness.
Through my teenaged years, a profound melancholy and a belief that my “thought life,” my secret sexual awakening, was the cause of Mother’s continuing illness drove me to the depths of private despair. There were several times when I contemplated suicide. There was no one to whom I could turn to talk about these things. Bob Jones University is not a safe place for a homosexual person to be honest. So I faked the heterosexual act — easy enough to do in a place where physical contact between the sexes is so rigidly forbidden — by dating young women, affecting a sort of machismo, and playing the game to become a popular BoJo. My musical gifts as a pianist and trumpet player were my ticket to popularity and I largely succeeded at my attempts to fool others. But I could not fool myself and I knew that I could not fool God, no matter how hard I tried.
Family crises and personal crises continued to eat at my heart. My mother was hospitalized. My father had a near-death experience from a bleeding ulcer. The pressure (internal and external) to be a perfect son and perfect BoJo was too much to bear. One night, at eighteen years of age, sobbing alone once again, I finally decided I might as well own up to my true feelings and let God know what I really thought: “I hate you. You’ve made me this thing I cannot control and then brought me up in a place where I am told that my burning desire is pure evil — the worst kind of evil — and that I need to change. But I can’t change. I’ve asked you for years to change me, but you haven’t. I’ve tried to change myself, but that didn’t work either. How could you do this to me? What did I do to deserve this?”
My tirade ended, I fell back, exhausted, to try to sleep… and then I heard it. I heard the still, small voice of a grieving Father saying “My child, I love you. I have always loved you. I will always love you.” These were the words of scripture long-ago memorized. I knew this was the voice of God, and I began to understand. Shortly after that, I told my parents that I am gay.
Here is what fundamentalists don’t understand, what the received dogma of the fundamentalist movement cannot even contemplate: being homosexual is about love. I am not a sexual act. I am not lust. I am a person who has the capacity to love another human being deeply and intimately.
I came out of the closet at eighteen, but I remained celibate for long years after. It was easy for me to tell myself that I was just consumed by an evil lust when I was checking out guys at school or in the mall, but one day in my junior year of conservatory here in New York City I fell in love. Knowing that I was in love changed everything for me. I had to confront the fact that I wasn’t just attracted to this man’s body like so many other lusts before him, easily dismissed. No. Being in his presence was my great delight. Laughing together. Sharing music we both loved. Talking. Everything about him thrilled me. I loved him.
In the King James translation of St. John’s first epistle we read
“7Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 9In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. 12No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. ” – I John 4:7-14
A wise Anglican priest friend once quoted St. John’s epistle to me in one of my own homophobic outbursts, saying “I have stood at the bedside of many an AIDS patient who was dying in his lover’s arms. I have seen their tenderness and love, deep, abiding human love on display in that hospital room. How dare you, how dare anyone, mock that love? How dare you or anyone say that the love those two men shared for each other in the midst of the most painful moments of their lives is not a picture of God’s love for His Church? No human love is perfect, but St. John is clear, when people love each other, God is there. Love is of God.”
Love indeed is of God for God is Love. The hatred and bigotry of fundamentalist dogma have nothing to do with God.
You are loved. I am loved. We are loved. Hallelujah!