A Leap from Certainty to Faith

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.

Loosing 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 dependant 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,

Amber Cantorna

Purity Destroyed: A Guest Blog from Austin Pierce

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.

 

Austin Pierce is a Phoenix-based writer trying to understand what it looks like to be gay in the Christian world and Christian in the gay world. He’s searching the LGBTQ community for something deeper than resentment and the Christian community for something more wholehearted than protest. He’s believing, higher than any theological argument, God seeks to create bonds between these two communities that model a Christ-like love. Instead of engaging seductive apathy, he’s chosen to walk a bit more closely into each community.
 
Connect with Austin at betweencommunities.com or find him on Twitter and Instagram @austinpierce.