In total, I spent ten years at Bob Jones University. Many have asked why I stayed there so long despite the fact that I had these feelings of “not quite fitting in.” The truth is I wanted to live up to the expectations they set, I wanted to live a life free from sin, and most importantly, I wanted acceptance. In order to achieve all of this I had to hide a part of myself. Here is the story of my journey to self-discovery and acceptance.
My first relationship with a woman was actually the summer after my freshman year at BJU. I had stayed at school to work and formed an instant bond with her. We became very close, very quickly in every way. It was amazing! For the first time I felt a sense of complete connection and happiness with another person. I believed then that being gay was wrong so I thought of ways to justify the relationship. I had been taught that homosexuals were evil and harmful. I knew I was not, so that had to mean this was not a lesbian relationship that was forming.
She ended up leaving BJU after the summer was over. “Friends” from the school had suspected something had happened between us and reported me to the dorm supervisor, who confronted me. I denied everything.
I was forced to see Mr. Jim Berg, then the Dean of Students, who advised me that any unconfessed sin would keep me from ever having a relationship with God. This scared me as all I have ever wanted was to be a good person. Eventually, I started confessing everything I could think of to Mr. Berg… including my relationship with my friend the past summer.
I thought Mr. Berg would expel me from school (as often happened in cases like mine), but to my surprise he said that now I could begin my “journey back to God” and sent me back to mandatory “counseling” with my dorm supervisor. I felt as though I was being given a second chance to become the perfect Christian I had hoped to always be. In my counseling, we never discussed the girl I had a relationship with, or what that all meant. The only thing I remember was memorizing a lot of Bible verses while giving her back massages and eating Top Ramen™ noodles together. It was almost as though she thought that what I had done was “too terrible” to even discuss in this “counseling.” Everyone could see me going to her apartment each week for my mandatory counseling session and I knew I was the subject of a lot of gossip and speculation, which didn’t help me at all.
I was terrified by the thought that I might be gay, since all I had heard was that people who are gay are evil and an abomination. From what I had learned, if you are gay, it means God has turned his back on you. You are just the same as a murderer. So I couldn’t be gay. When you are taught something over and over again by the people you blindly admire, you believe these things are true. So I grabbed this second chance and ran with it.
I stayed at BJU and threw myself into doing as much as I could to be like the “good Christians” that were held up as an example for us. I made friends with Prayer Captains and Hall Leaders (ed.: BJU now calls them Resident Assistants, but these “prayer captains” have long played a role in the hierarchical disciplinary life of the dormitories, and they are responsible for reporting all rule infractions to the University’s administrators, which is likewise how they advance through the “spiritual” hierarchy controlled by the Deans of Students, Men and Women, and their Student Life office), hoping no one would ever discover my secret. I don’t want you to think that I lived my life after this point in utter depression and self-hatred. I also do not want you to think that this was an easy time in my life, either. I had made a lot of friends and I did have fun during outings and group gatherings, but there was a lot of fear, too.
I took the thoughts I had about women and buried them deep inside of me. I moved forward with my life as a “straight Christian women.” Although I was having fun, every day the same thought would go through my mind constantly: “people only like me because they don’t know the real me.”
My senior year, a Gospel Fellowship Association (GFA)* missionary family came to one of my classes. They were looking for someone to come teach their children in Mexico. I had always loved that culture and thought that would be a great “Christian” thing to do. In the back of my mind, I knew they were looking for someone “better” than me. To my surprise, they asked me to join them.
You see, during this whole process I was always trying to be “better” – to be what others expected me to be and overall to be this “great Christian.” I was in a sense trying to overcompensate for my past actions in hopes that would erase them.
The next year, the missionary family decided to come back to the states and start a church in New England. I didn’t know where to go and took their advice about going back to BJU for grad school. They said I should get my Master’s degree in Teaching Bible so I could meet a nice, godly man who would marry me. That didn’t appeal to me at all, but I thought it was probably the “right” thing to do. So I did it.
I made friends, but I never lost that feeling that it didn’t really matter how many good friends I had; once they knew the real me, they wouldn’t like me anymore.
Strangely, all of my Bible classes that year seemed to dull my relationship with God. It was all so mechanical – the lectures, the prayers, the discussions. Everything was focused on following strict sets of rules, and looking down on people who didn’t. I don’t really know how to explain it. I guess I was beginning to realize the legalist side of the BJU vision of the church versus the spiritual side of things.
After graduation, I heard that Bob Jones Elementary School, the University’s own elementary school, was hiring. I almost didn’t apply because, once again, I didn’t think I was good enough. I was sure they would only hire the people who were “really good Christians” like hall leaders and such.
When they hired me, I thought it would give me the feeling that I had “arrived.” It didn’t. I knew that by their standards I was living a lie. I didn’t know what else to do to get rid of this feeling that I would never measure up. I continued hiding who I was. I was afraid to live a life outside of the strict BJU walls – I had been warned again and again of the evils of “the world.”
I lived this way for about a year. I had close relationships with a couple of friends, but knew I would never have that special intimate relationship I yearned for. My friends talked about getting married, but I knew I didn’t want that. I was so sad knowing that I would lose my close relationship with friends when they ended up meeting someone.
Three specific things led to my eventual realization that I am a good person and that I do measure up.
First, during my second year of teaching at Bob Jones Elementary School, I started spending time talking to people I would meet online. It was a different world. It was during this time that I admitted to myself that I am gay and that wasn’t ever going to change. It also gave me a sense of relief when I realized that most people away from BJU circles didn’t really care one way or the other. I had found new hope that perhaps I could live authentically as me.
Second, that year I gave my students a “getting to know you” paper to fill out the first week of school. One of the sentence starters was “I am proud of myself because _____.” Very few of my BJES students in the 6th grade felt comfortable with that assignment. Some of them uncomfortably asked what I meant. Some asked if they could leave it blank. A couple wrote things like “God Saved Me” or “my sister can play the clarinet.” Only a couple of my students felt they could say something good about themselves.
The third revelation during that time was when I read the book The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. It really, really spoke to me. The main character is steadfastly loyal to who he is and what he does. He doesn’t feel pressured to change to fit into a mold. What a difference that was from the Bob Jones way of thinking and being.
I was excited about the idea of venturing out and just living my life without trying to make other people happy by being who they wanted me to be. At the same time, though, I was really scared.
Before I knew something was different about me compared to my friends at school, I did not know that there was a life I could have outside the school. It was easier just to suppress those feelings and try to fit in the best I could. Once I realized that I was going to venture outside of everything I knew to believe, the true stress began.
The stress of wanting to leave, but not knowing how became almost unbearable. I stopped eating and started losing weight really quickly. People started to worry and ordered me to see the campus doctor.
During the first visit, I told him I didn’t have any idea why I was losing weight and that nothing in particular was stressing me. The next visit, I had lost more weight and he said he was considering checking me into an eating disorder clinic. He said it wasn’t normal to be losing weight like this unless I had an eating disorder or was really stressed.
I ended up telling him about my struggles. I told him I thought I was gay. I thought that as a doctor he would be impartial, or tell me something to help me. Instead, he told me I needed to stop talking to people online immediately. Then he or someone in his office called and reported what I had told him to the BJES administrators.
Immediately, there was a big meeting at the school. The principal, Mr. Smith, was there. So was the vice-principal, the University Provost, and a few people I didn’t even know.
They said if I had already “violated” myself, I would need to leave school that day and they would pack up my things and mail them to me. Otherwise, they would allow me to go in after school to pack up my own things.
It was scary, but the moment I left campus, I felt an immediate sense of freedom. I stayed with a friend who completely accepted me for who I was and am. She really helped me to accept myself as well.
I moved to a large city a couple hours from my hometown and started making new friends. I did reach out to a handful of friends back at BJU. One in particular had a very bad reaction where she called me all kinds of hurtful names. The others just said they would “pray for me” and have stayed in minimal casual contact.
Over time, my family has become more and more accepting. My wife Stephanie – we were married this summer – and I go to stay with my mom every couple of months. She congratulated us when we got engaged and again when we were married. She even calls Stephanie mom to our son Nicholas and tells all three of us that she loves us. Our relationship is actually pretty good now.
I taught elementary school for ten years after leaving BJU. The first year, I was closeted because I didn’t know how people would react. I came out my second year there, and not one person has ever said anything negative about my being gay. I really don’t think it is a big deal to most people.
I have wonderful people in my life. I have long term friends that love me for who I am. I do not feel a need to put on a fake personality in order to get people to like me.
I live my life as me.
I have a great family and great friends. I love my life.
For me, it has finally gotten better.
*Editors note: Gospel Fellowship Association Mission is a not-for-profit mission board closely associated with Bob Jones University – its Board of Directors is virtually identical to BJU’s and its president is Bob Jones, III, the Chancellor of Bob Jones University.