This week I have the exciting privilege of featuring another guest blog by my friend, Alicia Johnston. Alicia was a pastor in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church before coming out as bisexual in 2017. Here are some tips from her about how to engage in the important dialogue of LGBT+ inclusion.
Enjoy and share around!
Because Love Makes All the Difference,
When I came out about a year ago, I did it in the most explosive way possible, with a video I shared on social media. I followed that up with my website, blogging about LGBT+ affirmation in Christian spaces. Before coming out, I was a pastor in a conservative denomination, the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Losing that career and becoming an advocate for change has meant a lot of conversations with people who do not affirm any but heterosexual relationships. I have made so many mistakes. If you’ve been following me, you will probably have seen some of them. And I have learned so much. I would like to share some of those things with you today.
In sharing these lessons learned, I make no apologies about one thing: I am trying to be persuasive. I want people to change their minds and be affirming. I think this is a holy pursuit.
1. Are You Okay to Have This Conversation?
This will always be the first step. You are under no obligation to engage in any conversation no matter what the circumstances. This is even more true is someone is pressuring you. Hold your ground.
It is very difficult for those of us who are LGBT+ to have conversations with people about the legitimacy of our lives. It’s emotionally taxing, and for many of us it brings up past wounds. How healed are you from those wounds? How are you feeling today? How do you feel about this person? Is this the right conversation for you?
You cannot count on your conversation partner to understand what it’s like for you, especially online. In my experience, most of the straight/cis people who understand are already allies.
Christians are told repeatedly that they can love people even if their theology is different on this matter. In real life, that translate into a sense that they can say what they believe without expecting it to hurt you, as long as they aren’t too harsh. Sometimes even if they are harsh. I’ve seen it again and again. In most cases, I really do think they don’t know what they are doing.
So you can’t rely on them to protect your feelings. You have to know if you’re ready. Keep in mind, if you are LGBT+, the best thing you can do to change the world is be a healthy, happy, and unashamed person. Live well. Live out. Be open about your faith. Guard your own health and happiness.
2. Is This Person Already Convinced?
You must know who you are talking to and why. Most people can are in one of three camps. They are either totally on board with LGBT+ inclusion, totally against it, or in the moveable middle.
Those who are totally certain will not change their viewpoint.
You can kill yourself trying to explain the same thing for the hundredth time and they will still somehow not understand it. They will say things that are stigmatizing or pejorative, and they will never come to acknowledge or change this. You could pour out a heartbreaking story and they would just say feelings don’t matter and we have to do what’s right. You could talk about suicide statistics and mental health and they would feel like you’re manipulating them. They compare your love to pornography and adultery and think it’s compassionate. They won’t read any books. They won’t question what they believe.
You will not convince these people. They will be convinced only when their friends who are in the moveable middle change their opinions, or if someone they love and respect comes out. Even then they often stick to their guns. You can’t do it, especially if you’re LGBT+. Just accept that and be okay with it.
Unfortunately, these people are most vocal online. The people who are open to change usually don’t comment much.
I propose two different strategies for the people who are totally against LGBT+ affirmation:
In person: Don’t give them your time and energy. Suggest they read an LGBT+ affirming book or two, but don’t let them suck you in unless for some reason you’re feeling like a vigorous and unproductive debate about your legitimacy as a person. They won’t read the book unless its to get you to read one of their books. If they were open to change, they would read the book.
Online: Don’t try to convince them of anything. You might want to engage, but only for the sake of those who are reading. Be reasonable. Be kind. Make good points in a way that is brief. Be confident about both your faith and sexuality or gender identity. Remind them of the existence of LGBT+ Christians.
3. Is This Person Open to Learning and Growth?
Thank God, there are people who are open to change. These people are worth talking to.
Most of the people in the moveable middle are kind of like undecided voters. They usually haven’t thought about it enough to form a strong opinion. Though some have thought about it and are conflicted. They will probably not be well informed, but they won’t be purposefully dismissive or pejorative like the other group, at least not on purpose. They will be more responsive to a well-spoken correction if they say something disrespectful.
What works really well for these people is talking about your similarities. LGBT+ people have families, work hard, have children, go to church, etc. I’m going to level with you and tell you that it really bothers me that this is true. We should be respected and cared for whether we are similar to someone else or not. Yet it’s undeniable that the best way to remind people about the humanity of queer people is to show them that we are similar to them. It works very well.
These are people who will care about your story, and you should tell it to them. Much like the undecided voter, what some of them need most is a reason to care. If they have questions about theology, answer them if you can, or give them a source to turn to such as a book, website, or organization.
Sometimes all these people need is to get a few questions answered and they are onboard. If that’s the case, say hallelujah! Many have put in work before you and you got to see the transformation.
4. Show Respect, Expect Respect
The first person to say “you obviously” loses. Seriously. When someone feels attacked they will get defensive. If you’re at the place where someone is attacking you and you feel yourself getting defensive, you probably want to extract yourself from that conversation.
When I first came out, which I did so publicly and jumped right into online advocacy for LGBT+ people, there were a lot of people who were deeply disrespectful. As time went on I got more and more comfortable with the reality that the block button was my friend.
My list of blocked people is probably a lot longer than a lot of people’s friend list.
I’m not exaggerating. My coming out video was spun into a crazy conspiracy theory by a fringe religious extremist group. Their video about me was seen tens of thousands of times. As a result, I had a lot of people looking me up to tell me I was leading people to hell. Some of them come right out and say it. Some of them try really hard to act reasonable to make me feel like I couldn’t block them.
They would say things like, “you don’t want discussion on this group or you wouldn’t delete comments.” Or “I bet you’ll just block me.” At first I let this manipulate me, not wanting to prove them right. Now I just block them.
People will also say things like, “you shouldn’t post things on facebook if you aren’t willing to have a conversation about it.” So I just kindly but firmly tell them that I don’t share things on facebook for debate; I share them to share them. I don’t believe that facebook is a good forum for genuine conversation, so that’s not how I run my page.
It’s totally okay to do this. Those people are trying to hijack your platform to say something to your friends and followers. At the risk of sounding disillusioned, I can tell you that case after case after case has taught me that they are not being genuine. So don’t hesitate to push block.
That’s level one respect, but to be truly impactful in a conversation you need a whole new level. You need to understand them. If you have found someone interested in real dialogue, do spend time trying to understand them. If you are writing persuasively, don’t use straw man arguments and don’t assume people have bad motives.
Most people are doing the best they can. Foster compassion in yourself. If you’re like me, you’ve been on the wrong side of this in the past. Try to be patient, especially with those who genuinely do love you, like family and close friends, while always balancing that patience with caring for yourself. Sometimes you will need more distance from people.
Remember, people are not an obstacle to over come, they have lives, feelings, fears, and hopes. They bring all those things to each conversation. You can’t persuade someone against their will. You can’t force anyone to see things differently. Sometimes being too strong will only cause them to fight back harder.
The hardest thing Jesus commanded was that we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. This doesn’t mean we can’t step away if we aren’t receiving respect, but it does mean we should foster a heart of grace and understanding.
5. Give Hope and Security
With the incredible efforts of LGBT+ people and allies, the lives of queer people have improved exponentially over the last several decades. Many churches have even gotten much, much better. There are many reasons for hope. So embrace hope.
When you’re talking to others, realize that if they were raised to fear what churches refer to as homosexuality, they are probably afraid for you, afraid for society, and afraid to affirm LGBT+ people for fear of cooperating with the forces of evil. That’s a lot to be afraid about. You can give hope.
Tell them about the great things queer people are doing and how they have wonderful lives, families, and faith communities. Cast a different vision than the vision of fear they have been given. And reassure them that God’s ability to save is not dependent on our ability to be right.
Perfect love casts out all fear, and fear has always been the greatest tool of those who are anti-LGBT+. That’s why it’s called homophobia. So remind them of God’s love for everyone. Remind them that God is not looking for us to mess up, but is leading us patiently and gracefully to greater love.
Alicia Johnston was a pastor in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church before coming out as bisexual in 2017. She is now an advocate for LGBT+ inclusion in the church. You can visit her website at aliciajohnston.com
Tomorrow marks six years since I came out of the closet. In some ways it feels so much longer. So much has happened in the span of those six years–I’ve fallen in love, gotten married to my wife, published a book, and started a non-profit for LGBTQ people of faith. Could it really be only six years ago that I was more scared than I’d ever been in my entire life as I prepared to tell my family following morning?
And yet, it seems like yesterday. I can still see so clearly the stoic look that was on their faces when my parents and younger brother arrived to my house, barely making eye contact as they came in the door. It was as if they knew something was up.
I can still sense the tension in the room that grew with every word I spoke about my journey of reconciling my faith and my sexuality.
I can still hear the deafening silence that hung in the air once the words “I am gay” finally left my mouth. It was the most vulnerable I’d ever felt in my life.
And I can still feel the pain that struck my heart with a knife when my dad looked at me with anger in his eyes and said, “I have nothing to say to you right now,” and walked out the door.
That screen door slamming behind them as my mom and brother followed suit was the sound of rejection. It broke my heart into pieces and I collapsed onto the floor. I so desperately longed for love–for an attempt at understanding. But there was none. Our relationship had never felt so drained of compassion or void of connection in my life.
My family was the family that was always there for one another. Hardly a day went by without talking to my mom on the phone. Living within close proximity made it easy to stop by for a cup of tea or family dinner. My dad started working at Focus on the Family when I was three years old, so our home was steeped in family values, godly parenting, and meaningful tradition for as far back as I can remember. Homeschooled K-12, my mom was a stay-at-home mom and housewife, as my dad went off to do the meaningful work of strengthening families.
I never dreamed that my dad’s position at Focus would tear me away from those I loved the most–but that’s what happened. The news of my sexual orientation tore apart the very fabric that wove us together and none of us were ever the same.
In the following weeks my parents compared me to murderers, pedophiles, and bestiality. They said I was selfish for doing this to the family and only considering what made me happy. They said they’d rather I turned my back on God completely, than pretend everything between me and God was okay.
And then they asked for the keys to their house back. And my world fell apart even more.
In the months following, we tried to find some common ground, but it never worked. I tried to maintain as consistent as I could to prove that I was still the same daughter they’d always known. I wanted their approval and I desperately needed to know that I still belonged. But as time went on, they pushed me further and further to the fringes–sometimes with their words, and other times with passive aggressive behavior. In time, I knew that I was no longer welcome as part of the family.
In the years that followed, I fell in love, got engaged, and married the love of my life. My wife and I will celebrate four years of marriage this June. We bought our first house, I published Refocusing My Family, and I founded a non-profit called Beyond to help other LGBTQ people of faith navigate their coming out process.
My dad still works at Focus on the Family to this day. And what I discovered was that their love, when tested, came with strings attached. In the end, their need to uphold their reputation and their desire to maintain appearances won out over their love for their own daughter. We haven’t spoken in almost four years. Completely cut off from both immediate and extended family, being authentic came at an extremely high cost.
And yet…it just keeps getting better.
Looking back over the last six years, I now know that coming out was absolutely the best decision I could have ever made. Being true to myself saved my life; it strengthened my faith, it gave me an authentic community where I could thrive, and it launched me into the ministry that I somehow always knew God had waiting for me.
In those days leading up to the most terrifying day of my life, I could only dream of the things I have now. Even though I had to let go of almost everything I’d ever known to gain it, I discovered a level of true and authentic joy I never knew existed. I’ve become more light, more free, and more happy than I ever was during my years of wrestling in the dark.
These past six years have been the best years of my life.
Yes, they have been laced with great sorrow and deep pain–experiences and hurtful words that I will never be able to forget. But the freedom of being who God has made you to be in its fullest form has made me feel more alive than I ever knew was possible.
In years past, my Coming Out Anniversary has been a day of solemn remembrance of what’s been lost and the price I paid for being true to myself. But this year, it is a day I celebrate because six years later (with some time and space in the rear view mirror), I see how valuable the journey has been.
If you are wrestling in the midst of that coming out process and still wondering if all this is ever going to be worth it one day, let me tell you my friends: it just keeps getting better.
Because Love STILL Makes All the Difference,
*You can read more about Amber’s journey in her memoir, Refocusing My Family, available on Amazon and wherever books are sold. If you are in the process of navigating your own coming out process, you can find resources at Amber’s website and keep an eye out for Amber’s second book coming Spring 2019 which will provide helpful tools to guide you along this journey.
Posted on April 7, 2018
I wanted to let you know that you can now order Refocusing My Family at a discounted rate if you order more than one copy! This is a great opportunity if you are wanting to gift a copy to some of your friends or family members in need of a story like this. You can also consider donating a few copies to your local school, church, or public library, engage in discussion around this topic with your PFLAG chapter, or read it as the next pick in your book club!
Placing an order is easy and shipping is very affordable! Here’s the breakdown:
2-5 copies ($18.89, 30% discount)
6-10 copies ($16.19, 40% discount)
11+ copies ($13.50, 50% discount)
To place an order, visit this link: Order Refocusing My Family
Here’s what some people are saying about Refocusing My Family:
“Amber’s ability to distill the lifestyle of Christian conservatism and show the infinitesimal ways that being gay/coming out affect someone raised in this community, are nothing short of brilliant. Wholly well written yet still accessible, Amber’s story is not just for those of the LGBT community or for someone who knows someone who identifies as such (which is, quite frankly, everyone), but for anyone interested in reading a story about an incredible woman overcoming considerable adversity. I cannot recommend it more, for both its exquisite vulnerability and cultural accuracy.” –Kristen B.
“Never have I read a book that brought me so much hope before. Reading Amber’s story, and coming into the realization that there’s someone else out there who gets what I’ve gone through, was such an amazing experience.” -Anonymous
“I was captivated from the first page. The life story that Amber shares will challenge some and encourage others. It is a story of faith, loss, restoration, and perseverance. It’s an inside look into the experiences an thought processes of one in the midst of their own personal coming out story. A must-read for allies and LGBT people alike!” -Christina
“Reading Refocusing My Family has changed my life and helped me better understand my child. I don’t feel so alone on this path now.” –Julie, mother of an LGBT child
“Amber’s willingness to be honest and bold about her experience will help readers to feel honest and bold themselves.” –Erin L.
“Amber’s bravery shines in this powerful memoir reminding us that it will be through witness of the marginalized that we find the hope and healing we need for a more loving, peace-filled planet. If you grew up in the Focus on the Family universe (as I did), then you owe it to yourself to read this account of what happens when good people, within a good system, get controlled by bad theology.” –Colby M.
I hope you will join me on continuing to help spread a message of hope and love to those who need it the most. Together we can make a difference!
Because Love Makes All the Difference,
My Dear Friends,
Greetings from Denver, CO! I am finally home in my own town for awhile after months of traveling and speaking, and am breathing a sigh of contentment tinged with sadness as I write to you. I’m sad because I’ve gotten to meet so many of you on the road these past many months and you’ve filled my heart with joy and I don’t want it to end. But I’m content because of the stories you are telling me of the work God is doing in your hearts and lives.
As I prepare to celebrate Easter this Sunday, I’ve been thinking this week about the idea of the “end of the beginning.” In the last six months since Refocusing My Family released last October, we have traveled just under 20,000 miles and spoken at 25 different events nation-wide. Ranging from universities in Los Angeles, to churches in North Carolina, to bookstores in Seattle, we have met some of the kindest and warmest people on the planet (many of you have been among them!).
Being on the road has stretched my wife and I in so many ways – physically, emotionally, relationally, and financially. But the reward in the form of the stories we’ve heard and the people we’ve met has brought fulfillment in its deepest forms. I’ve gotten countless emails and met hundreds of people who have read Refocusing My Family who’ve said they couldn’t put it down, or they felt like they were reading their own life on paper, or this book gave them hope for the very first time, or changed the way they view therapy with their LGBT clients, or helped them understand their child better, or changed their stance on LGBTQ inclusion in the church.
One 17-year-old girl messaged me and said, “I tried to kill myself because I didn’t believe that you could be both gay and Christian. I found your book in the psych ward, and it saved my life.” Whew…after being both incredibly humbled, and grateful for whoever put my book there, it is stories like those that keep me pressing on for equality each day. My heart is full.
As we wind down the official portion our RMF book tour, people are asking me, “What’s next? Is this the end?”
- First, let me say, No. This is not the end. This is only the beginning. This may be the official “end” of the Refocusing My Family book tour, but it is only the beginning of the speaking, writing, and advocacy work I plan to do in the future.
- If I did not make it to your city on this portion of the RMF tour, that doesn’t mean it’s too late! We are still more than happy to continue booking RMF events going forward wherever there is a need. We are also branching out to speak in more conferences, organizations, and similar capacities. So if you are interested in booking me to speak at one of your events, visit my website and reach out to me with more information! We also have plans to expand into Canada later this summer! So keep up with me on social media and on my website for more info.
- We already have a second book in the making! I am going under contract with a publishing company this week for a second book which I am SO excited about. It is the book all of you have been asking me for and as soon as we are officially under contract, I will tell you more about it!
- I will be having foot surgery on April 24th. During this time, I will be accepting all forms of chocolate, letters, flowers, and candy. Lol. But in all honesty, even though no one jumps for joy at the thought of having surgery, I am looking forward to devoting those 6 weeks of recovery to writing this second book. The forced down time will be well spent!
So that is what is next on the horizon! Even though we’ve concluded the end of this RMF book tour season, it is only the end of the beginning and we are so excited for what is to come as we move forward.
As you move into your Easter weekend, let me leave you with this:
Love is the beginning. Love is the end. And love is everything in between. Easter is an annual way for all of us to celebrate the end of the beginnings in our lives. Jesus died on Friday causing all his friends and family to think it was the end of everything they had dreamed of and hoped for. But in reality, it was only the beginning. Sunday came and with it, death was brought to life and all things were made new.
So as you examine your life and heart this Holy Week, think of those things in your life that cause you to feel like you’re at the end. Maybe you’re exhausted physically, maybe you’re emotionally at the end of your rope, maybe your job is demanding more of you than you have to give, or your family continues to challenge your worth and identity leaving you feeling hopeless.
If that is you this week, remember this: Jesus loves you so deeply. Christ came for no other reason than to tell you that one thing–you are loved. You are loved completely. You are loved fully. You are loved because of (not in spite of) who you are. Know that in the depths of your soul. Speak it to your heart. Drink it in. Lay to rest all that drains the life from your being and know…resurrection Sunday is coming. All things are being made new. This is only the end of the beginning.
As we journey on together, may you find peace in the knowledge that you are completely and fully loved by God exactly as you are. Breathe it in like the rising and setting of the sun which is new each and every day.
Because Love Makes All the Difference,
At the end of April I’m going to be having surgery on my left foot. It’s nothing life-threatening (so don’t worry too much!) but no foot surgery is pleasant, and this one will take about 6 weeks to recover from. Because I already deal with so much chronic pain, I saw several different physicians before deciding which would do the surgery with the goal of finding the best care possible.
One of the four doctors I saw informed me that this particular surgery could actually be done with just a local anesthetic. I looked at him quizzically.
“You mean that you can cut my foot open, shave down my bone, break the bone in half, realign it, secure it with screws, and sew it back up ALL while I’m awake???”
“Yes!” he confirmed with a smile.
Umm, “NO!” I responded emphatically. That’s a horrible idea! It is worse than going to the dentist and trusting that they put enough Novocain in your face to numb whatever they are about to drill on. I may have a certain degree of bravery that allows very long needles to be put into my spine on a regular basis, but I also have a great deal of foresight. Undergoing only a local anesthetic means that I could SEE my foot being cut open. It means that I could HEAR my bone being sawed and cut in half. It means that I could SMELL the heat of the bone being drilled down. And it means that I could FEEL the pressure of everything that was happening. Even if they give you one of those headsets to watch a movie while they do it to hypothetically “distract you” from what is really happening to your body, no amount of Scandal or This is Us would take my mind off of what was really going on. No, even bravery has its limits.
I’m sure it won’t surprise you then when I tell you that I chose a different surgeon. In fact, even though it means traveling several hours, I chose the one that I felt was the best and would give me the best care. This clinic is one of the top in the world for their field and therefore I trust their surgeons, their procedures, and their methods as among the best of the best with hopes of a 100% recovery. But every kind of surgery takes trust. Trust in the doctor’s knowledge, in their skills, in their steady hand, and in their judgment.
It’s the same with God. To allow God access to a piece of our heart that is hurting or broken, we first have to trust him. Trust that it is safe to be vulnerable. Trust that we will be loved and embraced. And trust that we will be given the best care in the midst of our pain.
It’s not always easy to trust. Even though I know the doctor that routinely does my prolotherapy is skilled, I still get nervous every time that needle goes into my spine. But the important thing is, I want to be well. And that desire to be healed and whole is greater than my fear. At least on most days.
So will you trust God with me, with your brokenness and your pain? Will you join with me in relying on the Great Physician to heal all our wounded places? Come and let’s take a step of faith together.
Because Love Makes All the Difference,
“DID YOU NOT KNOW WHAT THE HOLY ONE CAN DO WITH DUST?”
These words have been sitting on the ground of my soul for the past week. I can’t shake them or the power they hold to resonate so deeply within me.
It’s been 5 years since I’ve attended an Ash Wednesday service. Lent was frequently observed in our household growing up; but as an adult, there have been some years that I’ve chosen to observe Lent and others that I haven’t. Some years, because of my religious background, the pressure to conform to a custom simply for the sake of ritual (or to me, what feels like “measuring up”) has felt too cumbersome. Other years it has felt inviting, like an anchor that grounds me or gives me direction in life. Some years I have given something up, while other years I have added something to my life for that season.
This year was the first time that my wife and I attended an Ash Wednesday service together. At first I thought I was going more for her than for me. I had experienced this tradition before, she had not. But entering the silent sanctuary of our church, I realized I was wrong. I needed to be in this space. Sitting in quiet reflection in a room lit only with candles, those small flames felt like beacons of hope. There was a peace present that my heart had been craving. I tried hard to slow my breathing and ground myself in the silence and calm provided. We were led through a time of reflection, a time of reverent worship, and an explanation of the significance of this tradition before then receiving the ashes.
In years past, I’ve heard phrases like, “From dust you came, and to dust you will return” spoken as a solemn reminder of our humanity. But this year, I heard something different. This year, I heard a poem by Jan Richardson that was more than a depressing reminder of how mortal we are. Instead, it was a breath of life that reminded us what God can do with us mere mortals.
The phrase Did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust? struck me and my eyes welled with tears. It was like God breathing life into me, just like he did all those years ago when he created Adam, the very first man. Going forward to receive the ashes, a fellow congregant cupped my head in her hands, locked eyes with me, and said, “Did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?”
I couldn’t contain my tears. So much of my life has felt marked by sorrow and shame and loss. So many hopes tainted by the dust of life, by common humanity, by mortality, by choices of selfish ambition, or even good intentions gone wrong. And yet…and yet, we forget what God, the Holy One, can do with dust. We underestimate his power to redeem and make beauty from the ashes. We forget that God is good and that he loves to meet us when we are at our lowest, and rescue and redeem and reclaim all that has been lost.
One of my favorite stories from the Bible is the woman caught in adultery. The Pharisees, catching her in the act, took her and threw her down in the dirt in front of a crowd for public ridicule. Yet Jesus, instead of condemning her the way the Pharisees expected, got down next to her in the dirt and wrote something in the dust that remains a mystery to us, yet clearly brought life and healing to this embarrassed woman.
Sometimes sitting in the dust of our humanity is the best place to be. It is humbling. It is authentic. It is honest and God meets us there.
If I could see you face to face today, I would cup your face in my hands and gently ask you, “Did you not know what the Holy One could do with dust?”
Updated on January 26, 2018
Hello Dear Friends!
Greetings post GCN/QCF conference! For those of you who weren’t there, the Gay Christian Network (as of this last week) has officially been renamed Q Christian Fellowship and we just finished a fantastic weekend together in Denver, CO! Thank you to each one who joined us, who visited me at my exhibit booth, who came to my workshop with Susan Cottrell, and who stopped me in the hall to share your story with me. It was truly and honor to meet each of you and allow our life stories to intersect. A few things I want you all to know:
- If you came to my workshop on “Navigating Life and Relationships with Non-Affirming Parents”, thank you! I realize 60 minutes was not nearly enough to delve deeply into all the things on your hearts and I have already informed the powers that be that this workshop needs a 90 minute slot next year. There were so many questions that I know we didn’t get to and I want you to know that I value each of your journeys and hearts right where they are right now. If you are one of the many people who did not get your question answered at the breakout, don’t panic, because….
- You can still have a voice! I am already working on some new resources around this topic of navigating your way out of the closet as a gay Christian, especially for those of us who come from conservative Christian backgrounds. Tools and resources on this subject are clearly needed and I am working to get them to you. So if you have thoughts, feelings, or questions you would like to be taken into consideration as I assemble the data for these resources, please take a minute to complete this brief 5 question survey. I would SO value your input!
- If you did NOT make it to the workshop, but still want to take it in, we now have it available on video to watch and share with your friends! You can view it by clicking the link below!
4. If you did not get a chance to purchase a copy of Refocusing My Family, you can do that on Amazon by clicking HERE.
5. Finally, if you want a direct link to the Resources that I mentioned during the workshop, you can access them by clicking this link. If you want the downloadable version, scroll to the bottom of the page.
Thank you all again so much for joining us this past weekend. I truly had a wonderful time meeting so many of you and really hope you will take just a few minutes to answer the survey. You voice is welcomed and wanted even if you did not attend QCF!
Take care and know each of you are dearly loved!
Because Love Makes All the Difference,
P.S. If you want to see the TV interview that I recently did with PBS while I was in NYC, you can watch it now by clicking here!
I grew up in a very certain world. My dad worked in a prominent position at Focus on the Family and my mom was both the homemaker and the primary home-school teacher to my brother and I. My dad was home by 5:15pm every night and my mom always had dinner on the table. My mornings started with family devotions over breakfast at 7am and ended with family dinners that often included Scripture memory. Church was on Sunday mornings and Awana’s on Wednesday night. I had the coveted Christian upbringing and the epitome of a “godly family.” Life was scheduled, predictable, and safe.
But this certainty came with a pricetag. Our list of rules and regulations of how to live and love others caused us to not only exist within a very confined space but it also forced us to wear a façade. The tiniest bit of doubt or unbelief was seen as weakness. Although it wasn’t overtly stated, the underlying belief was that if you had enough faith and trusted God enough, you should have your shit together. But of course, no one really has all their shit together, so instead, we just pretended like we did. We hid the broken pieces of our lives behind a happy smile or a “I’m blessed” response when asked how we were doing. If people didn’t see our mess, then hypothetically, it didn’t exist.
While causing us to hide our true selves, this also caused a level of judgment when it came to our fellow believers. If they were going through a difficult time or experiencing hardship, we first, took pity on them, and second, concluded that it was most likely due to a lack of faith (aka certainty). We then committed to praying for them. So in essence, we had this Christian thing figured out and they were still working on getting it figured out. See where I’m heading?
Everything was black and white, right or wrong, good or bad. We had all the answers. We were certain. It was so easy to judge the lives of others, so easy to point a finger or make an accusation with these “right” and “wrong” tools we possessed.
It was easy, until that person experiencing hardship became you.
Then when something unexpected happens in your life (a diagnosis, the loss of a child, a divorce, or the discovery of an LGBT identity), you suddenly begin to see things very differently.
At first, we often put ourselves under the same scrutiny that we would for others.
What did I do wrong?
Why can’t I fix this?
Maybe I really don’t have enough faith.
I promise I’ll try harder God, if only (fill in the blank).
We beg and we bargain with God to take away the pain so our certain and sure footing can be restored.
But we’ve completely missed the point.
A belief system based on certainty doesn’t really require any faith at all! If we have everything figured out, if we have all the answers, what do we need faith for?
Faith and certainty aren’t intended to mix as we so often do with them in Christian circles. Faith is awe and mystery, questioning and wondering, room to breathe and room for the unknown. Faith is belief in the absence of certainty. That is true faith. That is true dependence on God.
Before I came out as gay, I thought I had most the answers. I’d admit I didn’t know everything, but I was pretty comfortable inside my box and the box I had put God in. Stepping out into my true identity and embracing myself for who God made me to be, now that required faith. I knew coming out could have a price tag. I knew it would be questioned among my family and peers. I knew it could potentially cost me everything. But I wasn’t prepared for the fact that it actually would.
Losing absolutely everything (my family, my relatives, my friend, my church, my hometown) required faith unlike anything I’d ever known. I was completely and utterly dependent on God to survive, to pull me through, and to provide for me. I had nothing. I lost it all in the face of authenticity. Suddenly, I didn’t have it all as together as I thought.
Not having it all together, not having all the answers, not knowing what the future held, yet taking each step forward as God asked it of me, took more faith than anything I’d ever faced before.
People sometimes ask me, “How do you know with 100% certainty that God approves of you sexuality and marriage to your wife,” and I say, “I don’t. Not anymore than you are 100% certain that God approves of your sexuality (gay or straight) and your marriage to your wife/husband.” I’m relying on faith. True faith that leads me to complete reliance on the fact that God is loving and good, and he doesn’t make mistakes. And faith in the belief that good trees produce good fruits and that is what I am seeing in my life today.
I would never return to the life of certainty I once led, even though it was far more comfortable. Faith may require discomfort and being stretched outside my box, but it has also led me to a much deeper, richer, and more fulfilling life. I am more happy, more free, and more complete now than I’ve ever been because I choose daily to let go of certainty, and walk and live in faith.
Will you join me?
Because Love Makes All the Difference,
This week, I’m featuring a guest blog by Austin Pierce. Austin is passionate about discovering what it means to bridge the gap between two seemingly opposing communities: being gay and being Christian. In this guest blog, Austin talks about sexual ethics and what he’s learned and come to value in regards to sexual purity. Give it a read…
About five years ago, I was introduced to this term: “Purity Culture.” You may or may not have seen the phrase that describes a segment of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s characterized by the Christian church’s emphasis on sexual ethics and boundaries for marriage. Chances are, if you heard the term, it wasn’t in a positive context.
For me, this idea of sexual purity seemed like a noble pursuit, but would later be recognized as a shame-based ideology that hindered many Christians as they got older. When I first heard the term, I didn’t feel like it had much bearing on me growing up. I had friends whose parents revered the Christian best-seller “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” a book-length manifesto about dating authored by a then 21-year-old virgin. Fortunately, my parents didn’t embrace the book and these circles of thought, so I felt unaffected by Purity Culture’s ideology. Or at least it seemed so.
During my last two years of college, I had my own apartment. One day when I was leaving for class, I heard the loudest scream I’d ever heard. Panicked, I walked out onto my porch to see what was wrong and I saw five police cars in the parking lot. Knowing I’d be late for class, I sat down in my chair to see what was going on. Moments later I saw a hysterical mother make her way to the stairwell of my building. She sat there, screaming at the top of her lungs in anger and sadness—her son was found dead in his apartment.
With the grieving mother now blocking my way down the stairs to my car, I sat frozen in my chair listening to this lady process the first hour of life without her adult child. I looked down on the floor at my backpack and realized that I was about to leave for a typical day at class, while this lady’s life will never be the same again. It was hard to wrap my head around—the pain this woman was experiencing. I looked around the complex that day, confused, because it felt just like a normal day. Within an instant, this mother’s entire world was destroyed. A perfectly sunny autumn day cloaked in a tangible, invisible, painful darkness. It was terribly confusing, but too familiar just the same—I had felt this similar feeling once before.
It was another perfectly sunny Phoenician day. I remember leaving his apartment and driving up the 101 thinking, “What did I just do? I promised myself I would never do this until I was married…to a woman, nevertheless.” I had just slept with a guy for the first time. It wasn’t who I was supposed to be—I wasn’t supposed to have ever just hooked up anyone, let alone a guy!
I felt darkness. I felt nothing.
The same feelings of darkness that surrounded that mother in grief surrounded me that afternoon as I drove home reflecting on what I had just done—the most inconceivable thing that I promised myself I would never do. While everyone driving past me was having another mundane afternoon, I felt destroyed inside.
It was here where the idea of Purity Culture waged its war on my heart.
I would never be the same. My sexuality was officially sealed inside my heart through this hook-up and I had officially done the irreversible thing. God wouldn’t change this. God was angry with this. He was angry at my interest in pornography, He was hated me because I like guys, but He was officially done with me now that I had taken this step into the fire.
Eventually, my heart would grow numb from the shame. I would give up on caring about this portion of my life, as I went through swelling phases of hooking up and sexual stupidity. After all, I had already ruined myself, so there wasn’t any going back, right? Even as I type this, I can clearly hear the voice of God, through His knowing laughter saying, “You really had no idea what I was capable of back then, Austin!”
The shame of my lifestyle was perpetually destroying me inside. The shame’s voice was the collective sound of my youth pastor and various retreat speakers telling me that virginity was non-refundable, that sex was irreplaceable, and misuse of sex was detrimental. These thoughts were torturing my ability to connect with God, as if He didn’t have His hands on this portion of my life. I hid sex from Him, as if He had no bearing on it.
I’ve read many stories like mine, many of which come to the conclusion that Purity Culture was of Satan and that none of its constructs should be valued or upheld today. As I reflect on this, I’m not sure it’s all to be thrown to the side.
During my phase of attempting to hide sex from God and instead of embracing the religious backing for Biblical sexual ethics, I frequently read and re-read pop psychology research that discussed the various stresses and pains that are caused by sexual deviance. There was non-religious research to prove that pornography is actually changing people physiologically, affecting their ability to engage in healthy sex. There was empirical data to show that sex outside of marriage statistically reduces the longevity of marriages. It was in this research, that I began to see the practical truth to the traditional sexual ethics that I was taught.
It still has me wondering why my Sunday school teachers didn’t lead with this type of research?
It was absolutely fascinating to see that secular culture was discovering the value of these seemingly conservative sexual ethics. Purity Culture in practice may have been shame-producing and damaging to thousands of Christians like myself, but seeing the secular statistics of it, I can now see that its intentions were mostly pure (pun intended).
None of this ever became more important than when I met the guy who would be my future husband. As we started the first month of our relationship, we had a choice to make. We had to decide if we were going to honor the sexual ethics we grew up with or if were we going to honor our personal desires on sex. Without much of a struggle, we chose not to have any sort of sex while we were dating. At the time, same-sex marriage wasn’t legal, so I knew we’d have to figure that part out if our relationship were to progress, but in the meantime, we chose to yield to the sexual ethics we were raised under.
Frankly speaking, I wasn’t convinced that honoring sexual ethics would make any difference since we’d already overlooked them in previous relationships, but I figured it was worth a shot. Fortunately, we were wrong, and the overwhelming message of Purity Culture was wrong: God can renew us.
In our dating and engagement phase, we saw the power of bypassing the physical for a chance at emotional connection. A dear friend of mine described abstaining within a relationship as, “…a chance to channel our sexual desire into creative ways to emotionally connect.” I’m sure some pastors wouldn’t like me saying this, but we were familiar enough with sex that we had a firm understanding of what we weren’t doing.
It was beautiful to experience restoration. It wasn’t as if my past was scrubbed clean. We brought the inherent baggage into our relationship—baggage that would not have been there had each of us not had sexual pasts. But God didn’t shame me for my past. He didn’t give up on me because I failed to honor Him in years past. The start of our relationship was where God showed me that He revels in His ability to restore me.
I’m not sure that’s something Purity Culture could have ever taught me.
Since I’ve been back home the last few weeks, people have been asking for stories from the road of the Refocusing My Family tour. While I’ve loved all the people I’ve met and each unique story I’ve heard, one of my favorite stories so far comes from a trip I took in mid-November.
As a young girl, I was part of a girls group we fondly called the Green Gable Girls (a reflection of our favorite story, Anne of Green Gables). It started when I was in the second grade and continued all the way until I graduated high school. Over time, I have lost touch with a number of those girls for varying reasons, but since coming out, I’ve been able to rekindle a healthy adult relationship with three of them who have all been supportive of my relationship with my wife.
One of these girls and I didn’t reconnect until after my wife and I got married, but we had the honor of attending her wedding in the fall of 2016. While at the wedding, I saw my friend’s parents (who were close family friends growing up) for the first time since coming out. They’ve been nothing but kind to both Clara and I since getting reconnected and at the wedding, her dad even admitted through misty eyes, “I don’t understand, but I love you.” That right there opened the door for deeper conversation, and so, the rekindling of a friendship with them began.
We live in different states, so the start of our renewed relationship mostly happened via Facebook as we got acquainted with where each other was in life. But when when I booked a tour stop in their hometown, they offered to let me stay with them, and I accepted. I had no idea how healing that weekend was going to end up being, both for them and for me. In the week leading up to my visit, they wrote me and said, “We read your book and it has completely changed our mind on LGBT people and the church.”
Nothing could have been more encouraging or validating than hearing those words from someone who was a part of my former life and was acquainted with the world in which I grew up.
In the couple short days we had together, we spent many hours in deep, rich conversation about life and faith, we asked questions, we began catching up on the many years of life we’d been out of touch for, and they lent their support by attending both my events in the area that weekend. For me, this is my favorite tour story so far.
To see a couple of family friends from my youth become allies in my adult life, has perhaps been one of the most redeeming and rewarding moments for me since this journey began.
I’ve heard many powerful stories of how my book has changed people’s lives and families, and each one has touched my heart, but because this story is so personal to me and the journey I’ve walked, it has made it that much more healing for my soul.
I don’t have many stories like this, so for me, it was a bit of a Christmas miracle.
2017 has divided our country and its people in so very many ways. So many families torn because they stand on opposite political parties and so many harmful things done in the name of what’s “right” and “godly.” We need more redemptive stories like this one I’ve written about here. We need more relationships restored and more hearts healed.
But while we work (and sometimes wait) for those to happen, let me leave you with the inspiring words of this Christmas hymn…
This last Monday, I watched The Voice finale as each of the finalists gave stunning performances. But when Brooke Simpson sang “O Holy Night,” the lyrics to the second verse grabbed my heart and anchored me with a fresh dose of hope. The words reflected a much more accurate view of who I believe Jesus is and what the gospel represents (or should represent) in our world today:
Truly, he taught us
To love one another
His law is love
And his gospel is peace
Chains shall he break
For the slave is our brother
And in his name
All oppression shall cease
Oh how our world needs this kind of hope: a hope where the message that we speak is one of peace (not distension), where the law of our lives is love, and where all oppression ceases as a result of our radical and Christ-like inclusion of one another.
And so as we go into the Christmas weekend, may the lyrics to that verse anchor your heart as well, and may the miracle of Christmas through Christ’s birth make its way even deeper into our everyday lives in the coming year.
Because Love Makes All the Difference,
*To see Brooke’s performance of O Holy Night on The Voice finale, click HERE.