Jonathan Nichols, Part Two

Formerly BJU class of 2015

Ed. note: In Jonathan Nichols, Part One, we introduced readers to nineteen-year-old Jonathan Nichols who was expelled from his Christian high school just a few weeks before graduation one year ago simply because he confided to a friend that he thought he might be gay. Today, we present the conclusion of Jonathan’s astonishing story.

Jonathan Nichols

Jonathan Nichols

I wanted so much to be able to be honest with someone that I was actually in contact with. I hinted to my closest friend that my friendship with Ryan wasn’t just a friendship. She was, naturally for someone in our atmosphere, worried for me. So, despite her promises that she would trust me to do what I felt was right, she went to my youth pastor for help. He promptly told the senior pastor, who is superintendent of the school. The next day, I was called into Pastor Dennis’s office for questioning. Pastor Overton was also in the room, sitting to my left with a legal pad and a pen, taking notes. Dennis tried to start off nice enough, but it was obvious that they found out. I decided that a clean breast of the issue would be best, and went into my research on the matter, hoping at least to get an opposing rebuttal and at best to convince them. How naive I was. . . I don’t remember much of that conversation, but one thing rings vividly in my mind. I mentioned that the Greek word malakoi in I Cor. 6:9 was never elsewhere, in the whole of Greek literary writings, translated “effeminate.” It carried a whole different connotation. His response? He turned around, pulled his Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance off the shelf, looked up the word, and pointed to the definition. He never for one second imagined that Dr. James Strong was not infallible and that his concordance was not holy writ. In those several hours, my pastor beat me down. Hard. I was totally conquered, save in one regard. I would not tell him who I was “dating.” I did not see that it was my place to get someone else, especially someone I loved, in trouble like this. Dennis found out anyways. He had me break up with Ryan. I cried all night.

The next day, I woke up to the realization that Ryan blocked me on Facebook and wasn’t responding to texts. I was devastated. Then I was called into the church office again. Pastor Dennis, Pastor Overton, the principal, vice-principal, and my mom were there. I was curtly informed that I was being expelled. I was to call Ryan and tell him that he had an hour to turn himself in or Dennis would call BJU administration and get him expelled. After that, I wasn’t to have any contact with him. My mom was placed on paid leave to homeschool me for the remaining two and a half months.

This all happened the day before my state fine arts competition. All of my prepared speeches and music entries were now worthless, and my mom, who, by the way, fully supported the school’s decision, needed to carry on for two stressful days as if nothing had happened. Dennis told me to tell no one about why I had been expelled. He said it was for my own good. Like a fool, I believed him. If I had gone looking for help or support then, I might have been better off. It would have exposed some of the underhandedness, at least. At the time, though, I was far too scared to do anything like that. I was totally beat down, and reverted back to being as much of a non-person as I could. That worked for about a month. At that point, I realized that they had never provided refutations to any of my points. They had simply refused to consider them. They had used their position of power to crush me. I had never been on the wrong side of any authority figures before then, and I was quickly cowed. I also realized that I had been more fulfilled in my time with Ryan than any other time in my life, especially that month. I decided then that I would go with what I had researched rather than blindly follow the men that cared only to see me bent to their will. I decided, furthermore, that even if I was wrong, any god sadistic enough to make me who I am and then hate every ounce of it did not deserve my worship. I would rather live in eternal torment knowing that I lived by love towards all than spend paradise with the being of hatred who is infuriated by my just being me.

I messaged Ryan and asked him if he would have me back. He said yes. By now, attending BJU was out of the question for me. I had no idea when I would see Ryan next. He mentioned, though, that he would be staying on campus over the summer to work. I immediately determined that I would be there for the two summer music camps, as no one else knew that he would be there. I managed to convince my parents to let me drive myself there, so we would have a car at our disposal. All that was soon to change. Two events left me devastated. Late at night on July 3rd, Ryan ended our relationship. He needed someone who could actually be there with him, and I couldn’t do that. July 4th, 2011, was probably the worst day of my life. Everything was closed and everyone was doing something. I had no distractions from the fact that the one person in the whole world that I most wanted to be with didn’t want to be with me anymore. I made it through, though. I was still going to go down to the camps, though. He still had, and still has, a special place in my heart. If it weren’t for him, I would not yet have come to grips with reality. He helped find me, and I am eternally grateful for that.

Well, camp time came. I drove down from Ohio to South Carolina, and things were going wonderfully. Despite the emotional wounds, I was happy to be with him. Then, on Tuesday night, my mom called. She had decided to do me a favor and clean my room for me, which evidently included rifling through the papers in the bottom of my desk. There, she found a note I had written to myself shortly after July 4th as a way to get some of my feelings somewhere, anywhere, outside of my head. She now knew that Ryan was on campus and I was seeing him. She called the camp director, and he had us separated with the threat that I would be sent home if I tried to contact him again. At the end of the week, my mom flew down to Greenville to accompany me back. After this, though, I wasn’t having any more. I knew that I couldn’t change again. I tried it, and it didn’t work. I had spent sleepless nights crying to God for help. No change. Either God was (1) fine with me being me, (2) powerless to change anything, or (3) sadistically watching me flounder in my sin. Under none of those possibilities did I feel obligated to try to change this second time.

I contacted relatives in Portland, Oregon, and they agreed to take me in. The day after I got home from South Carolina, I packed what things weren’t already packed and drove to Oregon. I was never kicked out like far too many other gay kids, and I’m grateful for that. I recognized, however, that I would face indescribable mental, emotional, and spiritual abuse from everyone surrounding me. Before I left, my mom asked me if I would consider going to the Reformers Unanimous men’s home in Rockford, Illinois. For those of you unfamiliar with it, Reformers Unanimous is an “addictions ministry” that is completely Bible based. Basically what that means is that there is no certification necessary. Church laypeople are acting as counselors to anyone, regardless of what he or she is struggling with. The men’s house is a place where the extreme cases can go for more intensive Biblical treatment. The realization that my mother saw my being me as the same level of non-desirability as a compulsive alcoholic or serial drug user increased my desire to leave.

In Portland, I could start being someone new. It was so incredibly freeing. I stayed with relatives for a few months before getting my own apartment close to downtown. I still have a great love for the city, although I wish it were on the East Coast instead, as I am not a West Coast person. But then, I suppose, it just wouldn’t be Portland anymore. . . . I found a social group for LGBT teens that I regularly attended until I totaled my car. At that point, I had to bike everywhere. But I didn’t mind that. I was biking as me. Not as a shell of a person, but as me. Whether it was biking to rehearsals for the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus or to practices and performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (my first professional gig) with the director of the Portland State University orchestra, I was living my life for the first time. Biking down King’s Hill in the rain and realizing halfway down that one of my hand brakes had accidentally been unlocked and was currently useless? Priceless. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

The euphoria, however, was not always there. I can’t tell you how many times I walked across the Salmon St. bridge over I-405, looked at the chain link railing, and asked myself if it was worth the effort to climb. I fortunately never did. By late November, things were getting tense. I was just not settling down well. I don’t know why. Part of it may have been that I hadn’t been able to get a job. Part of it may have been that I just am not a West Coast person. At any rate, I couldn’t take the time difference between me and everyone I knew or the thought of the geographical distance. Isolation scares me immensely, and I felt isolated every time I would think of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains separating me from most everyone I knew.

Earlier, however, I had met someone very important to me. There’s a blog called Stuff Fundies Like that I had discovered earlier. It became a large part of my life because it is a healing place for recovering fundamentalist Christians: a place to laugh at the foibles and gain closure on old wounds. And no one I knew in person knew what my background was like. I would generally end up describing my home environment by simply saying that we considered the Southern Baptists to be godless heretics. No one around me could even comprehend that. But anyways, I had noticed that one of the other commenters on SFL was gay. I wanted to meet him, to talk to him, to ask him how he dealt with coming out. But I didn’t know how. I finally found a way to link my Facebook page with my commenting name, and I commented on something that he had commented on previously, hoping against hope that he would message me. He did. His name turned out to be David Diachenko. We started talking, and became close. Not in the same way that Ryan and I did, though. I now consider David my brother. I honestly have no idea what I would do without him. He’s done so much for me and helped me more than I can ever say. I never got any closer to suicide than simply toying with the idea, and I owe that mainly to him.

I decided then, in early December, to move to Greenville, where David lives. All of my obligations would be up at the end of the first school semester, and I would be free to move. I did, and am now happily in Greenville, SC, less than 5 miles from Bob Jones University, in an ironic twist of fate. I would not have been able to imagine a year ago that I would now be living on my own, getting ready to attend a highly respected accredited college, and preparing to embark on a life of freedom and love.


19 comments

  1. I really admire you. I never faced your situation, but I have come up against the infuriating refusal of church authority figures to address criticism. They just crush it; they never never consider other views. I think your story will help a lot of people.

  2. BJU alumni says:

    Each of the stories I have read here have saddened me. My heart has broken again and again reading the various stories and the abuse and condemnation that many endured. The stories, however, have also given me immense respect for each of you. I also, grew up in the IFB world and am thankful to have escaped, though not without scars.
    Best wishes as you move forward!

  3. BJU alumni says:

    Also, I’m so very glad you escaped Reformer’s Unanimous. I’m biting my tongue to not say more about them – am just glad you escaped.

  4. Jeff McCoy says:

    I admire your bravery in leaving so young to go out on your own, although completely understand why you did and have no doubt it was much better for you then staying in your toxic home environment. I’m glad you found David and have become friends :) Everyone needs a support system!!

  5. diachenko says:

    Little brother, I am so happy that I found you, that you have survived all this and are flourishing now, and that you have dared to share your story with the world. You are a person of great strength, great talents, and great intelligence. And you have a good heart. I don’t doubt for a moment that great things lie ahead for you. I am immensely proud of you, Jonathan. And I’m so glad that you are my brother.

  6. J says:

    Another brave, amazing story :D Thank you for sharing.
    Just curious, are there any lesbian alumni?
    Seems like there are far more gays than lesbians..(even fewer transgenders and bisexuals..)
    Maybe I should share my own story sometime :P

    • lgbtbju says:

      There are a number of people — LGBTQI — who have not yet felt comfortable sharing their stories. There are many, many more stories yet to be told.

      If you would like to share your own story, that can be arranged.

      Jeffrey Hoffman
      provisional Executive Director
      lgbt-BJU.org

  7. heffalump says:

    I’m so glad you didn’t climb the fence ((hugs)) to you. Every day is its own battle.

  8. James says:

    I know a lot of the people involved in this story. I’ve never met Jonathan, but I knew his parents. They came right out of college to teach at my christian school high school…. the same christian school the kicked Jonathan out. They would rather emotionally destroy their gifted son than step back and question the religious cult to which they belong. How can you be part of an organization that would have you choose doctrine over your own son? I can’t help but feel a touch of sympathy for them. They too are victims here, but Jonathan has had to pay the heaviest price. I applaud his courage to get out. I would have never had the fortitude to make that decision when I was 17. I would like to ask Pastor Dennis how he sleeps at night when he embraces and teaches dogma that destroys families.

    How many other gay kids are going to have to endure Licking County Christian Academy? To the faculty at LCCA and the students, who is going to step forward in solidarity with Jonathan and let everyone know that he was wronged? This is a time for change. I see friends of mine post supportive comments on Jonathan’s facebook page. Friends that went to the same gay hating churches as I did. They still go to those churches. How can you sit in the pew every week and listen to the same anti-gay rhetoric week after week and not say something? There are a lot of cowards out there in the pews who have a lot of gay friends. They love them. Yet they attend anti-gay churches. The church isn’t going to change until you speak up, or get out. What if that little child you are raising is gay? Think about that the next time the pastor starts on one of his anti-gay rants.

    Again, change is going to happen, but we need the support of our straight allies who love us and know that we are not an abomination before god. Please, don’t support these churches.

    James Bow
    Former LCCA student
    Graduate of BJU
    Happy gay man who sees a bright future for Jonathan Nichols!

    • David says:

      Hey Jim. David Reid here. Great comments. For some reason, I always wanted to ask you your sexual orientation while we were growing up. Wish I would have, now. Thank you for great comments to Jonathan.

  9. Guy William Molnar says:

    Jonathan –
    I am a graduate of Furman University, down the road from Bob Jones. It was when Furman was a strictly South Carolina Baptist school. I did not have your self-honesty or courage; I managed to convince myself I was straight for much longer than was emotionally healthy. Those years of pretending, denying, and lying – to myself as well as to others – took their toll.
    I feel such compassion for the rejection you’ve experienced from your family. I went through it to, though not to such a controlling degree. Eventually my parents realized they were wrong and now support me and my husband of 20+ years. He and I (ironically, since I grew up in SC even though born in the Midwest) recently moved to Myrtle Beach; I teach acting at Coastal Carolina University.
    I just want you to know that you are not alone, and the generosity with which you share your story is inspiring. I am sending you wishes for healing and happiness and peace.

    GWM (yes, those are my initials)

  10. David says:

    I went to the same Christian school in Ohio and know Pastor Dennis and maybe your parents. I attended BJ for 3 years then left. Still living in Greenville/Taylors area. Stay strong.

  11. Simon says:

    What a great story [now!]. At the time it wouldn’t have been. Everyone has a story but yours is beautifully written. Good luck and best wishes from Australia. Stay strong and it will always work out in the end. Simon X

  12. qoom-yeti says:

    An amazing story Jonathan – thank you for so courageously sharing it. I’m so glad too you had your “David” to stand by you. I wish you every happiness in the years to come. JM. (NZ)

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