Seriously, it’s a hard decision to come out to your church and you have to be prepared. Here are some things that you might want to consider.
1. Come out to yourself first. I know it sounds like a no-brainer. But it’s important that you figure out what’s happening in your own heart and head. Be sure who you are before you confront 150 people with this new truth, who care about you and will try many things to convince you that a) you’re confused about your own sexuality, b) you’ve been hoodwinked by the secular world, c) you’re just looking for attention, or even d) you’re trying to hurt us, or e) you’re trying to infiltrate our church with secular ideas, or just plain f) you’re in sin–whose variations contain either the words, “repent, going to hell, lifestyle choice,” etc. Some will have suspected already that you were gay or lesbian. And they are ready to tell you that “you are wrong, and we love you–but you are wrong.” Know who you are. It’s the only way you’ll be able to withstand coming out to your church.
2. Ask yourself –why do I want to come out to my church? Many people come out for many reasons, and there’s really no bad reasons, but they are going to ask you “why now?” and “why didn’t you tell us before?” and you need to have an answer. Are you hoping that folks will want to be a part of your life? Is it to be honest, to be a man or woman of integrity? Or because God is telling you to? And secondly, ask yourself–what do I expect from my church when I come out? And answer that question. Do you hope for instant affirmation? Do you hope for discussion, a forum? Do you just want to throw it out there with no expectations?
3. Expect that people will be human. When we are surprised, it takes time to get used to a new paradigm. For so long they thought you were straight–or at least that you conformed to the Christian ethics that you signed onto when you came into the church. Some will assume you have lost your way. They will come to you as “brothers in Christ” to tell you that you are wrong, and that you need to repent. Some will cry. This will effect them deeply. Because people hold their beliefs close to their heart, they will react emotionally to something that challenges their beliefs–for some it is crying, for others it is anger. Both are often motivated by fear–they don’t know who you are. Some will know that you haven’t changed and will embrace you, but also be realistic and warn you that the church will not be embracing you.
4. Expect that churches will be organizations. I hate to put it that way, but while people may have wildly different reactions, churches don’t. They must follow policies. They must follow denominational rules and beliefs. They are bound by those rules. If you belong to a denomination that has a specific rule regarding sexual conduct, you will be quoted that rule. You will be bound as a member of that denomination to follow that rule. The administration may not waver at all. They may come to you in love, but they will tell you the church policy. You may be surprised–some churches react rather well! They hurt but they want to know how to be helpful. They will do anything to help. But most churches are bound by their denominations; so in helping you, they might risk punishment from their denomination. When churches sign on to denominations, they gain association and power from that–and involvement in all sorts of things that are bigger than their church—but they also get tied down with denominational rules. They cannot just jump to your side.
5. Expect that it will take time for there to be the response you hope for—especially if you’re the first person to come out. I knew this going in, and yet, I had no idea how much perseverance it would take, how much patience, and how much strength it would take on my part to last through the process. I don’t know if I did it well, or completely. I may have jumped the gun with my church, exposing them as they were still in process. But be prepared, if you’re the first, that moving them to contemplate the other side may be the only victory that you gain. For a body of people to react to new information, and make sound decisions, takes time.
6. Voluntarily step down from any offices you hold. If you are in a denomination that denounces homosexuality as a sin, you really can’t properly represent the denomination as a gay person–at this time. Understand that you can’t keep your position if you come out when the church opposes openly gay people. Just not gonna happen. And this is a consequence of coming out, and it’s also a consequence of churches feeling they need someone to represent their denomination and not Christ. But that’s a different topic. However, if after a set time, you become more and more marginalized– out of the choir, not allowed to help with the youth, no longer invited to serve in any function, you may want to either confront the church about this, or leave the church. You need to be in a place where you can serve God. If they bar you from that service, this is not a good church for you. But let them conduct their study first. Give them time. See what they say.
7. Try to tell people you love and are close to first. I did this, and it helped, I think. But you are in control of your coming out. Don’t let anyone from the administration tell you that you should have come out to them first. You come out to SAFE people first. You need positive responses. Not– get back in the closet, or you’re going to hell. So space it out, take some time, come out to friends who will love you first. Don’t come out to those you know will have a problem. Let them find out with the rest of the church. I say this to protect you. But then you make the call.
8. Approach the pastor and the governing board with respect and love. You can discuss things with them, but ultimately they are in charge when it comes to the church. They should act with respect and love back, but that doesn’t always happen. Remember, it took you some time to get used to it, and they are reacting within days of finding things out. Try not to fight their hurried response. You will, though, because it hurts. They may say things to you that you know you don’t believe. Stand your ground, don’t let them affect your soul. You are in control of your life.
9. Ask them if they will consider some material that you can contribute to understanding this issue. And be sure to tell them what you want, or expect from them. Be clear. If you want love and acceptance, well, they owe every member that. But right now they may not be skilled at giving it. If you want affirmation, their belief system may make that difficult. If they don’t take the material, and they don’t have to, then they are saying that they don’t want to consider anything new. This is not the best sign. It means that you will have a struggle to stay in that church. Because –just as they didn’t want your new information, they know that you walk around with that new information in the church. That could be disruptive. If they take the material, be satisfied. You can’t make them read it. But they are obviously willing to consider it. As the first person, that may be all you can hope for.
10. Try not to be a pain in the ass. I say this with a smile on my face because I know this process is difficult. You are almost asking their permission to be who you are. It’s what it feels like. But in reality, you are inviting them into your life. And if you keep that in mind, you will keep a smile on your face. You are inviting them to a deeper level of friendship. It may take months, or years, before they ever want to know if you have a partner. That’s their journey. Not yours. Try not to get angry, or to seek revenge, or to forge a conspiracy of mutineers (though it is comforting to have support). Your supporters will be supporting both you and the church as it goes through this–let them do that, and let them go at their own pace. You have to go at yours.
11. That said, be a gadfly. Socrates asked questions and for this he got a reputation of being a gadfly–something that stung the asses of the people so that they would keep moving forward. This is an important issue. This isn’t about your personal life. Some will make it seem as if you are whining that you aren’t getting loved enough. But in truth, the message that being gay is unacceptable to God, or that being the person He created you to be is wrong, or that loving someone of the same sex is wrong is a damaging, hurtful, deadly message. It misrepresents God’s love in the worst way. Churches are responsible for their messages. They are public, and they feed into the idea that gay people deserve punishment. This in turn leads to bullying, violence, and death. So, while you have to endure the wait, don’t water down the message. Answer everyone who asks you why you have the faith and hope you do–be prepared day in and day out.
1 Peter 3:13-17–Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”
12. Love them. Do the best you can here. I can’t tell you that you must love every arrow thrown at you, or that you must submit to every rule. Don’t. But in your submitting or not submitting, keep in mind that they are people Christ loves too. The nation may follow their rules, or they may ridicule their stands–nevertheless they are still people who are fighting a great battle inside themselves too. Do your best to love them.
13. Finally, the biggest important point that I leave till last: the power in churches really lies in the people, not the administration. People ask for bylaws to be changed, for things to be considered. They vote. People elect deacons, elders, pastors. They can also hold them accountable. They fund the churches and denominations completely on their tithes and offerings. People can have their bible studies, their own prayer groups. The powers that be in churches might well take some of these people aside–if they have a “new” belief they are spreading–but if the new belief is true, nothing can stop that belief from changing things. Eventually, all churches will accept gay and lesbian people–in 50 years or so. We’re seeing a generational shift. But even today, denominations are changing their policies because people were concerned, people asked questions. Don’t focus your energy on trying to change the few conservative administrators at the top. Reach the people, give them resources, and be the best example of a gay christian you can be. It’s okay if you make mistakes. No one expects gay christians to be any better than straight ones.
Finally, remember God loves you. God has a plan for your life. It is to live and to love and to serve God. Hold onto that with everything you got.