Freedom from Fear: Former Moose Jaw Pastor “Comes Out of the Tomb”
The first time I came out to anyone, I was told that I had a choice to make between heaven (spirituality) and hell (sexuality). The second time I was told to “sleep on it,” and that in a few weeks the feelings would be gone. Evidently though, that didn’t work.
I grew up in a loving family who–to this day–are my biggest supporters. However, attending a local private Christian school and conservative church left me with a lot of baggage to navigate through as I came to accept and love myself. I was told that I was fundamentally wrong and broken, destined for hell, and I was told a lot of lies about my sexuality and the reason it existed. So from this, much of my adolescence was lived in pain, shame, confusion, and fear which clouded my joy and closed off meaningful relationships. This baggage was painful to process and continues to be painful.
Around age 14, I remember lying awake, crying, and hating my father. Logically there was no reason to hate him–he was and is a quiet, hard-working, kind, loving, and good man. However, at school and church we were taught that being gay was a “ticket straight to hell,” and that homosexuality came from fathers failing as parents. These narratives convinced me that I was going to hell and that my dad was to blame. Other popular explanations included: demonic possession, a conspiracy of pedophiles, and gays choosing to be gay just to spite God. These were all ridiculous lies, but they were also deeply hurtful lies for me to hear as a teenager and as a young man. Today I have a great relationship with my dad, but it hurts to know that I spent years hating him because of someone else’s lies.
In grade 12, when I first came out, I was told that I had to choose between my spirituality and my sexuality. This was not the first or the last time I would hear this message. This view presents an either/or dichotomy. I tried to choose my spirituality and kill my sexuality, but it made me miserable and incomplete. Then I tried the opposite: to embrace my sexuality and throw out my spirituality. This also left me feeling incomplete. Either way, I was trying to shut off a part of who I was and both approaches brought me nothing but misery. To try and remove a part of yourself is to try and remove an essential aspect of wellness. This would be comparable to trying to remove physical wellness from your life and asking why you don’t feel right.
Something else happened at the end of my grade 12 year that would change my life; my youth pastor left the church and came out. To this day, I admire her courage to openly share how she wasn’t buying into the lie that she had to choose between her spirituality and her sexuality. She was embracing both parts of her. She remains a hero to me–a role model who gave me hope that I could be myself in a season of my life smothered by fear and shame.
I love so much about Christianity but I am painfully aware of the damage that can be done in its name. Much of this damage centres around shame and self-hatred. Brene Brown states that “shame needs three things to grow … secrecy, silence, and judgment.” In the church, I silently suffered under the judgments of others, struggling to love myself and know what I believed about myself and my place in the universe.
Some of the most vulnerable years of my life were spent trying my best to reconcile loving my religion and trying to be “good” enough to be accepted by it. I tried so hard to be “good” enough and acceptable enough that I became a pastor. But no matter how “good” I looked on the outside, in reality I was still drowning in fear, shame, and anxiety on the inside.
Heading to college after coming out gave me the chance to visit and experience new churches. At the second one I visited, I discovered that I could be both recognized as gay and accepted by my faith community. Discovering this gave me freedom and a confidence that I had never felt before–to reconcile the aspects of myself that for so long had felt like they were tearing me apart. For the first time in so long, I was at peace with my God and with myself.
Today I have a life that I was told was never possible. I have come to love and accept myself, I have great friends and a wonderful family who all love me as me, and I have an incredible man to share my life with. Being with him challenges me to be a better man, and strengthens my faith.
Today, I know that my spirituality and sexuality thrive best together, meeting at a place where finally I am free of the fear and shame that dominated my life for years. A friend once told me that “freedom is the best feeling in the world.” It really is, as it allows space for other feelings to flourish and relationships to thrive. I’ve stopped struggling now that I can see past the fear and shame and see that my God loves me so I can love myself and accept who I was made to be.
It is my hope that my story will carry two pieces of advice–the same advice that I wish I could offer my younger self. Firstly, there is freedom beyond the clouds of fear and shame and a beautiful life to be found on the other side. Secondly, despite those who reject us, there will always be others who will stand by us. Even though, in the depths of the closet, the negative voices seem like they are the only ones out there–they’re not. You are not alone.
This narrative is the first in our upcoming “Out of the Tomb” blog series focused on Christian experiences with gender & sexual diversity.
In the Christian narrative of the resurrection, Jesus enters into the tomb dead and carrying all of humanity’s darkness, fear, hatred, and shame. When he rises from death to life and comes out of the tomb, he leaves all of the darkness behind and steps freely into life. The tomb is the place where everything that is not life is left behind.
For LGBTQ+ Christians and Christian allies, this narrative is an invitation to step OUT OF THE TOMB and find fulfillment, acceptance, and life in the ways in which we have been created in God’s image–including our spirituality, sexuality and gender identity.