Coming Out… Orthodox pt. 2
Part 1 can be found here.
The fear of being known, and the loneliness of not being known
When deep desires whose genesis is beyond your control are spoken about hurtfully, ignored, shamed, and cause you feel “different” the result is so often pain, isolation, and fear. Combating the negative emotions that can often lead to depression or even suicide is crucial. There are a number of practical ways to combat these symptoms on the level of community; two I’ll discuss here are the need for role-models and the need to present an Orthodox-script as a response to the popular “gay-script.”
As a teenager I could never truly believe that people loved me until they knew that I had these gay desires. Any love they might have expressed, any solidarity they might have shown before they knew my secret, was questionable and might all be tossed away by my revelation. It is an incredibly unsettling thing for a young person to wonder if their parents, their priest, their closest friends will withhold love and protection because they have desires that are different. My fear was so great that when I ever disclosed my own struggle with same-sex attractions to the first few friends that text was all I could manage. The first confession I ever admitted that I was attracted to men I was so terrified of rejection and shame that my entire body was trembling. Each time I shared I received grace, but that made disclosing the thoughts I had day in and day out no easier.
When I came out to my roommate my sophomore year we had already been friends for a year. I listened to every word he said regarding gay people for any indication that he might reject me if he knew. After I shared and received deep grace and brotherhood I knew that it was time for my parents to know. They needed to know because I loved them and this was too great a burden to bear without them. My roommate knew my secret so I knew that at least there I’d be ok. Regardless of the last 18 years of my life and my parent’s obvious love, I still feared they might reject me. I’d heard too many stories of people like me whose parents rejected them because they were gay, maybe mine might too. So it was with every ounce of courage and conviction that I could muster, and through the prayers of the few friends who knew what I was about to do that I was finally able to say, “mom, dad, I’ve struggled with same-sex attractions for as long as I can remember.” I thank God every day for how He has blessed me and how my parents have never stopped loving or caring for me. In fact, they both have become some of my greatest influences in my ministry. Most of my friends still get a bit nervous when sharing their gay orientation with a friend, but it does get easier, much easier. You begin to realize that you are loved, and that love slowly seeps into your psyche allowing you to begin to feel safe, secure, and loveable.
Gay christian role-models
Part of practically overcoming the shame, loneliness and fear that can often come with same-sex desires is having openly known gay individuals in a community. This might provide another young boy or girl an example of how to wrestle with their sexuality as a faithful Orthodox Christian. I cannot tell you what a difference it might have made if I had known someone in my own church growing up who was gay. There are countless examples for straight teenagers of how to serve God faithfully in their sexuality, but very few for teenagers who, like me, feel so alone because they felt different. Dozens of gay role models exist outside the church. Anderson Cooper, Ellen, Neil Patrick Harris, Dan Savage, and dozens of YouTubers are just some of the many gay role models available outside the faith. In the absence of any faithful same-sex attracted Orthodox role models within communities, where will they turn? I found my own role models in the broader Christian church. Men and women like, Alan Chambers, Wesley Hill, Chad Thompson, Joe Dallas, and Melinda Selmys all became role models for how I might live faithfully with my own sexuality. But each of these lacked the Orthodox perspective and that shared faith. I will give Fr. Thomas Hopko the last word on this particular need.
The witness of Orthodox Christianity in the present world demands that there be Orthodox Christian men and women struggling by God’s grace to resist expressing their love for people of their own sex in sexual actions that some claim to be loving, but that they believe are betrayals of divine love. Humanity needs this courageous testimony more than ever before in its history. Those whom God calls to this ascetic feat are chosen to fight on the front lines of the spiritual battle of our time. They are among those most obviously called to be martyrs and confessors for Christ in humanity’s present condition. They, perhaps more than all others today, are blessed to bear witness to the truth that humanity’s enemy is everywhere and always the same for everyone. (Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attraction, pgs. 123-124)
An answer to the “gay-script”
Another practical reason for more open discussion in communities about homosexuality is to respond to the “gay-script.” Sexual Identity researcher Mark Yarhouse describes the “gay-script” as follows.
The confusing attractions that Chris [example figure] experiences are seen as natural and intended and blessed by God, placing a great emphasis on the sexual diversity seen in nature. They give way to discovery. They allow Chris to learn about who he really is. The attractions are central to his sense of himself as a person. This script tells Chris that no one can question or judge his behavior because same-sex behavior is merely an expression of his central identity. Finally in our culture today, a culture that emphasizes “self-actualization” (realization of a person’s potential) and is saturated in messages about the pleasures of sex, Chris receives the message that he has every right to act according to his sexual identity. (Homosexuality and the Christian, pgs. 47-53)
This “gay-script” is such a compelling story of self-discovery and freedom. When young people have this appealing script presented by culture and hear very little from the Church—and often what they do hear is an oversimplification of homosexuality claiming it can easily be changed or cured by prayer—it is easy to predict which they will choose. As Orthodox Christians the script we can offer to our gay brothers and sisters is the same that we offer to all. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind and so becoming “partakers of the Divine Nature.” A script of love and acceptance without same-sex sexual behavior can be a positive and compelling message when discussed within a context of compassion and understanding. Yarhouse speaks about the Christian Script, “ This script relies on the metaphor of integration rather than discovery. […] rather than focus on an identity that is a negative (not gay), they form an identity that is “in Christ,” a positive sense of themselves and their sense of purpose and community that is based on the redemptive work of Christ in their own lives.”
Fr. Hopko in his book Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attraction presents, what I might call, the Orthodox Script,
Orthodox Christians believe every human being is called to conquer humanity’s enemy [self-love, self-will, self-affirmation, and self-delusion] through God’s power. They believe this is possible through Christ, who is Himself “the power of God” that conquers (1 Cor. 1:24). Christians consciously avail themselves of God’s power in Christ by being crucified to the world with Jesus and by being raised with Him to “newness of life” (Gal. 6:14; Rom. 6:3-4). They are convinced that this is all God wants of them and for them. Their only prayer, therefore, is Christ’s own: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36). (Hopko, pgs. 124-125.)
Faithfully presenting this script in a way that is honest but not combative, and faithful but not judgmental, and as an attractive alternative to the “gay-script” is crucially important if we wish to speak into the lives and choices of gay teens and adults. This script is no different for any other Orthodox Christian and has always been the safe haven for the refugees of this broken world. It is easy however when speaking this message to persons with a gay orientation to allow our own judgmental nature and our own fears to interfere. While the Orthodox script is no different at the core, each group and person will hear it most clearly when it is addressed to their unique hardships and struggles. For a same-sex attracted person these struggles will often be loneliness, shame, isolation, fear, and self-hate. Addressing these unique needs must accompany any compelling witness and might be the beginning of slowly learning to “speak the truth in love” to gay members who experience loneliness, shame, and so much fear.
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