Many times people ask why a person didn’t come out beforehand–why they waited, why they lived a lie, or stayed hidden, why they kept their secret. To understand this, you must understand the fear associated with coming out, especially for those who are both gay and Christian.
Christianity: the ultimate lifestyle choice
First of all, you already understand that being a Christian is the biggest lifestyle choice you can make—it changes everything from your friends, your activities, to your career, and certainly adds a component of the supernatural–a relationship with God–into the mix. That’s an all-encompassing choice: to be a Christian is to fill your life with Christian people, events, motivations, aspirations, and other things.
It is also about joining a church family–a group to do all of that stuff with together in a building called a church. You can only be friends, or be intimate friends, with a few people–and becoming a Christian is like being connected to a whole club for your life. You eliminate, or limit, most other activities outside of church-related ones–because you just don’t have the time. A Christian reduces his or her world to a set of people who support, affirm, encourage and love them throughout their lives (if they are lucky to live in the same place for a long time). It also guides your future—you stay with the same denomination if you move; it may guide your decisions as you make those moves, because you are always in prayer. This is a 24hour hobby, this being Christian. You aren’t just gold-plated; you get turned into solid gold. Becoming Christian takes over everything you are.
But if you’ve shrunk your visible society down to the size of a church—and you’re gay—you have a dilemma. In a society where churches fear homosexuals, fear them enough to want to silence them, legislate against them, push them out of their churches, or strip them of their ability to serve, and finally to withdraw love from them, stop listening to them, and ostracize them—it is not a safe place to be gay, and in the end, it’s not a safe place to be an authentic Christian either.
The Fear of Hurting God
Every Sunday of our lives we have heard “homosexual” and “homosexual acts” in the list of horrific sins, next to murder and adultery. We have heard that God hates that sin. And since the preachers never really talk about murder or prostitution or pedophilia as much as they mention the posterboy of sins: homosexuality, you can imagine how that message causes us to be frightened of ourselves and of our God.
We love Him. We adore Him. We grew up in a church where we know the value of God’s love. Just the thought that we might hurt him at all makes our stomachs churn. It is the same if you are a loving son or daughter—you don’t want to hurt your parents with anything you say or do. How much more so are we unwilling to hurt God? He has done so much for us, and is a part of our lives. We fear his disappointment, and our own shame–as if we’ll be the ones calling from the forest with our fig leaves in place as God walks by in the cool of the day. He is our cornerstone–and so without Him–our building, the building of our faith, falls.
The Fear of Hurting the Church
Everyone knows that if you come out to your church, you’ll split it. Who wants to be the axe that splits their church? Who wants to intentionally give their friends a choice they can’t possibly do well with—that choice between their faith and your friendship. Better to keep quiet, let the mission offerings go to Africa, let the children have their Christmas pageants, the homeless get fed, the important things of the church get done–rather than stop it all to think about you, and your “sexuality.” You believe that it will only end in strife.
The fear of losing everybody you know
We have made you friends, confidants. You are our support groups, and you are our family. For single people, which gays usually are, you provide us the kind of family we may be missing back home–from wherever we came from. So, we are especially likely to create bonds with you as we would mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, to meet that need, to fill that void. Many of us can barely make it home to our own folks for Christmas; some of us can’t. We have turned to you, accidentally, but maybe because we were encouraged to—as parents and family.
When we think of coming out, we think of having you ripped from our lives. It’s not a pleasant thought. Since we are, in some ways, emotionally dependent on you, the thought of not having you is horrible. It keeps us in the closet. It keeps us lying, so that we keep you. We fear losing you most of all. Because we cannot see God, nor can we feel him physically, other Christians have become his arms, hands, faces, smiles—and losing you is second only to losing God himself. Because in some way we are stripped of God’s physical presence in our lives when we lose you. Those arms, those hands, faces and smiles disappear… Imagine what it’s like to lose your family and then multiply it by a hundred.
The fear of losing your faith
Some of us are convinced that we are pursuing something out of selfishness—convinced by the church, by society, by what we hear from good Christian friends. And we are told that if we accept this one thing we will have to let go of our entire faith. This frightens us. It frightens us more too when we realize that accepting that the church has been wrong on this concept for a very, very long time means that the church might be wrong about other concepts. That slippery slope scares us into never looking into the matter. Never looking at the scriptures too closely lest they reveal that the church, and its doctrine, have been careless with Christians. We don’t want to lose our faith–in God, in the Bible, in the church, in traditions we grew up in–but we lose our faith in our own ability to read scriptures. Either the church got this wrong, which means that more of the Bible might be suspect; or we got this wrong, and that means other things we believe might also be suspect. And because there is no safe space for questioning in the church, we stop questioning at all.
Sometimes this leads to either a breakdown of our own devotional time, and/or a dependency on an authority to explain our faith for us, for fear of getting it wrong.
The fear of losing your direction in life
If we lose God, lose our church and our faith, we most certainly will be floundering about where to go next. We’ve just lost everything we depended on, everything that gave us support. And without these things, we will be unable to choose a direction in life.
It makes sense that our compass would be lost—for several reasons. If we consulted God on everything, if we consulted Christian friends and family, and if we believe our moral compass has been compromised, then we cannot navigate. We won’t. We’ll stop dead in the water. As Christians we will sink.
The fear of being forced into a community with a “bad reputation” (or a bad rap)
One of the biggest barriers to coming out is often our wrongful perception of the gay community. They are perceived, and marketed in churches, as being obsessed with sex, full of disease, drugs, and atheists with no morals. However, this might well describe the crowd of heterosexual people at a bar too–and they don’t represent all people who are straight. A closeted gay man or woman thinks he or she would have nothing in common with these people–how can they form a community? (They just don’t know how varied the gay community is)
Also, most men believe that gay men are feminine, and that they will lose their masculinity, or have to hang out with “queens” in order to be gay. This keeps many men in the closet. They have strong bonds with men in our churches, straight men who seem to reflect the values and the masculinity they want in their own lives. And without being able to find masculine gay men with values in the media or history, gay Christian men in the closet would rather endure a life of loneliness in among these friends than to lose themselves in a community that, they believe, does not share their values, characteristics or aspirations.
The final decisions
The only way a Christian can recover from this is to do one of three things. They must drop the weight that is stopping them from moving forward. What that weight is—that is the decision.
If they decide, which most gays do, that their faith is what is causing them to sink—then they will throw that overboard. They will lose church, God, a whole way of life, but they will get rid of what was holding them back, hurting them. Instead, they will embrace a life without that spiritual side, perhaps, or without that church. They might also condemn all churches, and condemn God as a lie, a trick, a way to suppress others. It’s not hard to understand why they might think this.
However, other gay Christians, instead, throw out their belief that they are good people as gay people. They chuck out their belief in themselves as God’s children, and decide instead, that they are always full of sin, never forgiven, always must strive, never let anyone in. They have thrown away themselves and all that God created, and they have thrown away their integrity, their honesty, and the truth. But it feels better. Because they still have you, a semblance of respectability.
If they decide, instead, that their interpretation of scripture is causing them to sink–then they will throw that overboard. And they will keep their faith, and they will keep the man or woman God created and they will begin to recover. But this is a hard, hard road…and many don’t find it.
So we stay closeted, to keep our church’s love. The fear of losing everything and everybody is too great. So we marry your sons and daughters, or we act as if love doesn’t matter to us and stay single, or we pretend to have a boyfriend or girlfriend when you ask us questions, or we just stop talking to people about our lives….and slowly, we build up a good wall between who we are and what you will know about us. And this is the way we preserve ourselves.
But it isn’t real Christianity–is it? To hide, to lie, to purposefully be closed in relationships with you, to fear you, to fear God’s wrath lest we even have a stray thought, not to mention a stray encounter— is this what it means to be a Christian? It can’t be this. Christ never meant it to be this way.
He offered us life and life more abundantly. So how do we find that abundant life if we are gay and Christian–and how do we find it within the church?