A God of Love and Surprises

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
– 1 John 4:18 (NRSV)

Exactly one year ago, I publicly came out as gay. Today I’m formally coming out in full moral support of same-sex relationships. You probably saw this coming (especially if you read my latest post), and if you know me in person this is no surprise. But I felt it might be helpful to tell the story of how I ended up here — though if you’re looking for a theological exploration, I’m afraid that’s for another time.

Back in the summer of 2015, a friend I found on an online group for LGBT+ Christians was considering becoming a Catholic priest, and one day, he struck up a conversation with me about celibacy. I confessed to him that I had only tentatively parked myself on Side B and maintained celibacy because it was the “safe option”.

In truth, something felt very off about my experience with “lifelong” singleness. I felt trapped by my faith, forced into a vocation I never desired for myself. And though I tried to convince myself I could learn to love it, I could never shake the feeling that I was living a lie.

My primary concern through everything has always been to remain faithful to God. I never set out to prove any particular viewpoint right or wrong — I just wanted the truth, but in order to do that I needed to look further into affirming theologies. A lot of what I came across didn’t strike me as very convincing, but I was willing to dialogue with this new friend of mine, who ever so graciously walked me through his beliefs. We respectfully disagreed and began to learn from each other’s experiences.

The Side B theologies I read were largely rebuttals to Side A, with little support for its own position — nonaffirming arguments, for the most part, seemed to take themselves for granted. Effectively innocent until proven guilty, hardly anything I could access really dug down deep into why marriage should only be between one man and one woman.

From what I did find, every single traditional argument rested on the foundation of one philosophy — gender essentialism: the belief that men and women are ontologically similar but ultimately different beings, making one’s gender immutable and metaphysically essential. In other words, boys are born boys and are boys forever, and therefore must do “boy things” (however that’s defined) — vice versa for girls.

The most troubling problem I found with Side B had nothing to do with gay marriage. No matter how I thought about the matter or who I talked to, every biblical interpretation based on gender essentialism denied the gospel to transgender and intersex (T/I) people. Philosophically, there was no room in the Church for anyone who wasn’t definitively male or female, and I found that unacceptable.

Even LGB people could remain “welcome” in a nonaffirming church by choosing to remain single, but there were no practical options available to post-transition transfolk and intersex people. The traditional position had no theologically sound answers for actual, real human beings.

I took it upon myself to remedy this situation. I was sure that with enough study, I could find a Side B theology that wouldn’t unjustly condemn people, and by some stroke of providence, a professor of mine lent me a book that would go to the heart of the issue: Megan DeFranza’s Sex Difference in Christian Theology.

I devoured the book as best I could during the school year, and while DeFranza addressed every single one of my concerns in depth, I didn’t like what I was reading. She systematically tore gender essentialism apart, and her arguments made all too much sense. As far as I could tell, the only way to make room for T/I people in the Church was to adopt a Side A framework. And it just so happened that DeFranza supplied that missing logical framework in her book.

An existential crisis began to creep up on me. Given everything I had researched so far, the traditional position encountered a logical breakdown in light of gender essentialism’s failure to account for intersex people. The affirming position contextualized interpretations of Scripture that could make sense of God’s consistent character and open the Church to a radically inclusive love.

The epiphany destroyed everything I held so tightly onto. I didn’t want to believe it. Logically, I couldn’t deny the conclusion I’d come to, but I couldn’t escape the fear that clung to my heart as a result of this change.

Suddenly, I had everything to lose. No longer would I be respected or accepted in conservative circles. I was now a “bad gay”, and I could already hear the vitriol over my newfound apostasy.

Worse yet, I could no longer avoid the drama of dating in the same way again.

Too stubborn to admit my fears, I refused to identify as Side A and told everyone I “hadn’t decided yet”. I voraciously consumed every resource I could find on the theology of sexuality, but subconsciously I knew I had already drawn my conclusion.

And just to frustrate things even further, I had fallen in love. Over a period of several months, I developed feelings for the friend I mentioned in the beginning of this post. I thought it impossible someone so thoughtful, charitable, wise, and dedicated to God would even exist — let alone also be gay. Even more troubling, he liked me back. The unfamiliarity of it all sent me scampering back to my celibacy corner, wishing I could will my attractions away, yet they persisted. I began to ask God what He was trying to tell me: was this a test, or was it a blessing that I should just accept?

We shared a love of philosophy, and more specifically a high regard for friendship, and though we’d occasionally banter about dating once we met in person, we genuinely valued our relationship as friends. This continued until January, after I attended the 2016 Gay Christian Network Conference (which is exactly what it sounds like).

At Conference, surrounded by other LGBT+ people of faith, I finally worked up the courage to articulate my position, landing me squarely on Side A (though I should note that I still have a mighty respect for those who believe they are called to celibacy, and every effort should be made to support Side B individuals).

The day I came back from the conference, a philosophical conversation with my friend turned to the topic of love: specifically, the difference between a strong friendship and a romantic relationship. After several hours of reasoning through it, we ultimately came to a conclusion neither of us was expecting: that we were in a romance, and had been for quite a while — we’d just refused to acknowledge it. We realized that a romantic relationship is a prescriptive reality that is based upon intention; an intention to date in the future is an effective intention in and of itself.

Unexpectedly, I found myself in my first same-sex relationship, but on top of that, it was also a long-distance one. We lived on opposite sides of the country, but for a number of months, that didn’t matter to us. We continued to bond mentally and spiritually while I was in China, and I grew closer to my then boyfriend than I ever had with anyone else. I learned to question so many things about myself and my faith that I previously took for granted, growing my theology into something so much more beautiful and dynamic than I could have imagined. It seemed like for the first time, something clicked into place, and I experienced joy.

But the distance eventually took too much of a toll on us. After six months together, we mutually ended our relationship and wished each other well. Though we’re no longer together, I look back on our time fondly, and I know that I am a better person for having met him.

When Christ warned us against false prophets, He told us we will know them by their fruits; but because of that relationship I am more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good-spirited, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. I am more holistically integrated with myself and retain a constant reminder from my Catholic ex-boyfriend to search for God in all things. He challenged and encouraged me in the best ways, and I feel closer to God than ever before. I’m no longer afraid of myself, but instead I rejoice in the capacity that Love Himself gave me to reflect His glory.

On an experiential level, I cannot in good conscience say that my relationship with my ex was a mistake by any means.

I know that not everyone reading this would agree, and I wouldn’t ask that of anyone. What I do ask is that as friends and family we would seek to continue in love (agape) and community (koinonia) despite potential disagreement; my goal is never to change anyone’s mind on the issue, but to proclaim the unfathomable love of God in the best way I know how with the best that I’ve been given. I believe part of that was through my relationship, and it will continue to be both in my singleness and in any future possible relationships.

It’s my hope we would all keep our hearts and minds open to the possibility that, by the grace of God, I may perhaps be right. If that’s not the case, I know our Creator is faithful to reveal His truth — but maybe, just maybe, He already has.

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