Every so often, I get asked a difficult question: how, after all I’ve been through as a gay person in the church, am I still a Christian? I’ve struggled with this question, and refrained from writing about it, because, “I don’t know” doesn’t seem like an appropriate answer.
The question just keeps coming up, though, and I think it might be time to start unpacking that “I don’t know.”
When I was nineteen years old, I witnessed the murder of two friends, and the horrible wounding of two others. I’m not yet ready to go into any greater detail than that – I know, that doesn’t seem quite fair – but I promise I will write more about this incident when I am ready. The incident itself is not what I want to talk about right now – I want to talk about how it impacted my view of God.
This event permanently scarred me, and I still, on occasion, have horrible nightmares related to the event. Perhaps one of the most difficult parts about it, though, was how it altered my relationship to the divine.
I was raised deep in the warm belly of the Evangelicalism. When I was nineteen years old, the answers I was given still all made sense. God was like a cozy gardener in a children’s book – close and obvious and alright. He was there to protect us, care for us, and, like a good father, he punished us when we sinned. Mine was a simple faith – it all seemed obvious and comfortable.
The murder changed all that. Suddenly, I was a confronted with a radically different world – a world where my Evangelical God made no sense. Was he responsible for this atrocity? And if he wasn’t, how could he have let it happen? The answers given to me after the event – that God allowed my friends to die, but had a special plan for me and therefore allowed me to be spared – just made God seem like an arbitrary monster, for how was I more important than my friends who were murdered, and how did that justify such a horrific act?
My world shattered, but somehow, in the midst of this, I intuitvely knew that I needed God. I knew that I would not survive without a connection to a higher power. Here’s the truth of the matter: I didn’t choose to continue believing in God because it was “rational.” I chose to continue believing in God because I felt like I needed to: my survival depended on it. My choice was, perhaps, a selfish and irrational one, but it’s a choice for which I am grateful everyday.
I knew, in the aftermath of the murder, that I had a choice: I could cling to and fight with my old, simple God, knowing that such a fight would leave my faith in tatters, or I could simply let that old God go. I could see that old God as a remnant of my pre-trauma life, a life to which I could never return. I chose a new God: a God I will never understand, a God that is flexible enough to allow me to have agnostic days, atheistic days, and vervant-belief days. I chose a God who retreated into the infinite mystery of the universe; a God it was my duty to try to understand, while fully admitting that such a task is impossible. I embraced a bigger, more mysterious God, a God I didn’t need to blame for my trauma, and I God that, despite all the horror in the world, is a cosmic and universal love – a Love that holds the universe or multiverse together.
And what of Christ? Christ became the very manifestation of that cosmic love, the embodiment of the Ground of Being that desperately desires for us all to be whole. Christ became less the badge I wore to show I was in an exclusive club, and became the Person who welcomed the entire broken, suffering world back into union with ultimate reality. I came to see his love as a universal love – a love that does, indeed, save all.
In short, I traded out my Evangelical faith for an esoteric faith. Perhaps I’m a heretic, but at least I’m a heretic who still has faith, and who’s still alive.
Against all odds, it seems, this Esoteric and mysterious God I chose after the trauma when I was nineteen has stuck. I feel like I’ve contracted a faith superbug that simply won’t die. Why? I can’t say, other than that I need it to. I fully embrace my selfish and irrational need for the divine.
Through the PTSD, the struggles of being a gay Christian, and all the other struggles life has thrown at me, I’ve clung less to my faith, than my faith clung to me. It was like a light that had a life of its own, that guided me through the rubble. My faith in Jesus – an odd, eclectic, and unusual one, certainly – has kept me alive. In fact, I now find that my faith and being gay are in a symbiotic relationship – my faith is better and deeper because I am gay. Being gay has taught me a radical trust in the sovereignty in God, it has taught me to rely on Jesus, and it has given me a deeper understanding of suffering and empathy. And I am more connected to being a gay man because of my faith in a mysterious, beautiful, and good God, who saw fit to allow me or ordain me to be gay.
Why have I been able to retain my faith while others in similar situations haven’t? I don’t know. I don’t think it is a mark of my strength and a sign of their weakness. I’m not entirely sure, anymore, that faith, or the capacity to choose faith, is something we always choose. People often ask me how I’m still a Christian as if they are looking for the secret formula, the remedy to hold on to fath in the face of horrible pain, and I have no remedy.
I can offer only this: acceptace, love, and understanding. Not everyone’s faith survives such traumas, and that is not a sign of weakness or idolatry. I simply encourage others to to walk in humilty, compassion, and to never, ever give up on pursuing the truth.
12 thoughts on “Why Am I Still a Christian?”
Thank you–this is beautiful! Continued blessings on your journey…
Thanks for sharing! Not sure if you’re aware, but Paul Tillich wrote wonderfully about the “God above God” that you talk about here: the God who remains after we lose the caricature of God. Read Tillich’s, “The Courage To Be” (1952). Peace!
Once again, I resonate deeply with your words. When I’ve given public talks about my own ex-gay therapy days, and how it made me suicidal, I have always been asked why I still follow Christ. And I’m not 100% sure either. It’s just something within me that cannot let God go, even though I’ve given up so many (I think false) images of him – including an Evangelical one. Honestly, I’m mentally an agnostic, if not outright atheist sometimes. I remember really wrestling w/ this one day about 3 years ago, and I realized that I simply don’t want to live life without God in it. I CHOOSE to believe in God, despite having many great reasons why I shouldn’t. Not because I’m strong in faith, but actually because I’m kind of weak. The story of humanity that doesn’t have God in it depresses me to no end. I’m too weak to live life on those terms. I choose to believe because I WANT to believe…b/c I’m weak, not strong. And perhaps, there lies the paradox to all of this…that weakness, in some strange way, becomes strength. Depression becomes sanity. Doubt becomes faith.
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I also grew up in the Evangelical church and had a lot of “sorting out” that I needed to do once a series of “this doesn’t fit in the box” events happened to me.
I stopped going to church for a while–I just couldn’t find anywhere to fit in. At my home church, I had become “too intellectual.” At my college church, I wasn’t “contemporary-praise-God” enough. At churches that I visited, I would nod my head to parts of a sermon, only to have one arrogant, judgmental comment from the pastor completely derail my alignment.
When my husband and I were looking for a church to get married in, we visited a Lutheran church. He called it “Catholic light.” I was uncomfortable at first–saying a liturgy was just a totally foreign concept to me.
But we went to one of their Christian education classes–and the discussion in that class changed me. We were talking about “the problem of evil.” How could a good God let terrible, atrocious things happen?
Our pastor brought up a Lutheran teaching, the Theology of the Cross. His way of explaining it was that God doesn’t cause suffering. But God comes down to us and suffers with us.
At face value, it sounded nice. But I really came to believe this when I was in the midst of the worst hour of labor when I was giving birth to my daughter. It wasn’t until that hour of complete and utter suffering that I felt this presence beyond all senses, this presence that came up along side of me, and suffered along with me. It was like coming up next to death, looking at it, and accepting that it was there, without any fear. It was truly a transformative experience.
Sending prayers your way today as you continue on your journey. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences.
Good article. Don’t feel bad for saying I don’t know. For me, I’ve been in the christian faith for over 60 years and I have to say I don’t know many times.
Beautifully expressed! Please use your faith to advocate for all LGBTQ in evangelical churches. God is moving – pray for the Holy Spirit to direct your path…I am straight, but He has called me to be a Pastor to promote love and acceptance.
Such a powerful post
Awesome. *insert epic, slow clap from all the typical sports movies*
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Bradford, I don’t think you are a heretic, though some with small, confining ideas about Christianity might think so. You have had quite a spiritual journey, and I think you are better from working through the issues.
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thank you so much for your encouraging words ❤