This week has been a hard one. I couldn’t go into work yesterday. Didn’t have the strength to be there. My feelings are getting more and more raw. I know I must leave. This job, this organization, this town . . . I don’t belong here. It makes me angry at times, but mostly I’m sad, just very sad. What used to be a safe and protective cocoon has become a den of wolves. I go to work each day wondering if they’d tear at my flesh, if they only knew who was among them. This image is overblown, I know, because these people are sheep not wolves. They are gentle and loving. Their intentions are golden. They are true followers of Jesus with the purest of hearts. But.
But they also won’t have me the way I am. The code of conduct I signed three years ago reminds me of that fact. And I have heard stories of another who came out. He is now gone, banished from the community he once served with so honorably. It’s painful to know, to hear the hushed voices when his name is mentioned. His impact on this place is undeniable. He’s one of the visionaries. He started a recruiting program that breathed new life into our ranks and became the cornerstone for bringing young staff to campuses year after year. Our ministry is thriving because of his vision. That’s his legacy. But he now has another, one that overshadows the first. It’s a legacy of shame. It darkens the faces of all who knew him and saw the moral failure, as they call it.
His ex-wife still works here. She is a wonderful, beautiful, indomitable spirit. I know her personally. She counseled me and led me through healing prayer sessions for a year as I wrestled for my identity. She knows of my attractions and never treated me differently. But she doesn’t know how I’ve embraced that part of me, that that embracing has been my healing. She doesn’t know how God has embraced me, gayness and all, how he scooped me up out of the mire of my shame and said, “this is good. I delight in you as you are.” She would disagree. They all would. And I feel like my life would be a betrayal to her if she knew. She’s been there, on the other side of the coin. Her husband of twenty-some years came out, and after four years of trying to change he walked away, saying, “this is who I am, I cannot change.” Heartbreak. I’ll never know her pain. I see the mess he left. I have no answer. A tragedy with kids and all. I’ll never know that pain, but I know my own.
It tears at me every day. I’m thankful I’ve never married. I see where I would’ve gone. I’m thankful I didn’t have a husband and kids to devastate when I came out. I cannot imagine the shame and strength of that man, of that family. I know there is redemption in that story, but it’s hard to see now. It’s a tangled web of emotions and intentions, of heart sores and humanity, like most of the stories in the Good Book. I know it’s not beyond God’s reach. I know, but that is not my story.
My story is close but not the same. My story is of pain and dueling emotions. It tells of the loyalty I feel for this place where I work, for the people I work with. They showed me Jesus when I was in college, raised me on the milk of the Word and fed me its meat as I grew. They nurtured me when I was weak and comforted my broken heart. We’ve been through so much, but now they’ve become wolves in sheep’s clothing to me. They’d want to heal me where I am not sick. They’d call my identity sin. Coming out would make me another whispered story that darkens their faces. Another tragedy. Another one fallen away, bewitched by their enemy.
But I’m still here. Still walking with Jesus, still following close behind him. I cannot tell them I am more whole than I’ve ever been. I cannot show them gay is okay, that gay may never be normal but it’s no worse than being left-handed. They won’t believe it. They’ll say I’m deceived, unrepentant. They’d push me to change, to be who I am not. I couldn’t abide that, being torn apart by their beliefs. It’s madness. I cannot let them inflict this culture war on me.
And yet I internalize this conflict every day, every time I walk through their doors. I must leave, I know. I cannot stay. I do not want to stay and play this highest of stakes game. But it pains me to go. These people have been my family, my cocoon, my hiding place. I cannot be hidden anymore. I’ve been transformed by God, and now there’s the molting. I’m molting the skin of this organization I’ve known as my home. It no longer fits. It’s starting to feel like death. It’s become too dry, too small, a shell I must leave behind.
I’m sad because I love these people. These sheep, these gentle sheep who know no better. That’s why it tears at my soul. These are good people who don’t know what they’re doing to their gay brothers and sisters. I don’t know how to tell them, if I should tell them, because they don’t want to listen.