a view from the margins: gay + "the church" = a lot of damage

well i don’t think it would be possible to focus on a view from the margins without offering some perspectives from a group of folks who tend to be the most marginalized of all when it comes to “the church”-the gay & lesbian community.  i recognize that people who read this blog may be all over the place on this issue; in this moment, that is not what is on the table. what is? the opportunity to listen in on my friend’s perspective of what it feels like to be young, gay, and connected to christianity.  a lot–and i do mean a lot–of damage has been done to the gay community by conservative christians (a movie worth seeing:  for the Bible tells me so).  i am not even sure what can be redeemed in the years to come, but i do know this:  those who aren’t gay need to listen.  we must pay attention to the subtle & direct ways our brothers & sisters have been & are currently being hurt by others in the name of Christ. we are called to radically love people; and no matter how you slice it up, these are our sisters, our brothers, our daughters, our sons, our friends who are being mistreated.

i hope that you all know by now that the safety of this blog is over-the-top important to me. when my friends share their hearts like this, i am exposing them to potential harm. and like i mentioned in an interview with a different friend about the same subject last year-no more lepers— i am like a mama bear protecting my cubs.  i have no doubt you will respect this space.  i would like you to meet my friend “taylor”.  we met five years ago when she was just coming out; it’s been a wild ride & i have a lot of respect for her courage to tell it like it is.  right now, she’s pretty mad. and i’ll be honest, i don’t blame her.

share a little of your background, what kind of family you came from, what your entrance into realizing you were gay looked like for you.

Wow, family background, hmm….very religious parents, very hypocritical in my opinion, but, just my opinion.  Orange County upbringing of “Image is everything”.  Definitely suffered from the damage of conditional love, which is big in my house..  If I failed, I felt I was not loved so I succeeded at everything, no matter the cost.  I got good grades, was very involved in church and ministry, played 4 years of varsity basketball, never went out, never partied, never drank, never smoked.  I founded Fellowship of Christian Athletes with a few friends at my high school and looked to be on the right track.  While I mastered the ability to make things look good on the outside, I knew something was not right, but couldn’t pin point what–how can you as a child? You know no other reality.  I left for Colorado on a basketball scholarship at a Christian college when I was 18.  It’s amazing how things hit the fan once you’re out of a bad situation.  I started counseling and began the horrific realizations that childhood was not anywhere close to normal for me.  I was overwhelmed in more ways than one; to make a long story short I was not greeted with the kindness and loving care that a Christian organization claimed to have.  It hurt a lot.  I began to realize I was gay my freshman year of college, and though I did not act on it while at the university (per university rules), my scholarship was revoked anyway and I did not return the following year.  My anger towards Christianity as a whole grew very strong because of my parents’ hypocritical example and the treatment I received from the school and many other Christian organizations I had contact with.  I attended every seminar possible, went to counseling, passionately tried to not struggle with homosexuality, and I ended up being shunned anyway.  I remember countless nights falling asleep crying in the prayer chapel on campus begging God to take this away from me, terrified I would be going to Hell for feelings I could not control.  I’d never put so much effort towards beating something in my life, because I was a Christian and that’s what I was supposed to do.  And despite all my effort, and open-hearted attitude to multiple methods of making myself straight, I was thrown out and led to believe I really was going to Hell, I didn’t pray hard enough, I shouldn’t call myself a Christian anymore, and I didn’t deserve my scholarship from that school because of who I was.  I can’t tell you how many sleepless nights that cost me…

can you think of the first time you noticed being somehow marginalized, thought less of, discriminated against, because you were gay?  what did that look like, feel like?

Yes.  The biggest example I remember is working at a Christian athletes camp.  This is what I wanted to do with my life since I was 15–to be a youth counselor and be in full-time ministry.  I wanted to travel overseas to the places no one else would go and touch lives for Him.  This was my first chance!  I considered my sexuality a struggle.  I wasn’t decided either way, but I knew God had a purpose for me.  I went down to Texas to volunteer at some summer camps for high school kids at several Christian colleges.  I was excited and determined to make a difference.  There’s something that rings home for me in helping troubled teens not feel alone, the way I did growing up.  However, after three camps, a lot of the counselors had grown close.  We all shared our struggles.  Two of us had the same struggle.  We were told we could not return to work with the kids the following year if we were still struggling with being gay.  Counselors who were sleeping around, getting high the day before camp, on drugs, etc., were allowed to come back and work with the kids, but I was not worthy.  It felt devastating.  The hardest thing I have ever had to deal with was when the kids I kept in contact with all year long wanted to know why I was not returning to camp.  Hearing how abandoned they felt by me and not being able to give them a solid reason why really broke my spirit.  I didn’t feel as a representative of of the organization, despite their hypocrisy, that my sexuality or struggle was up for conversation.  I know God’s purpose was for me to be there.  I never shared my struggle of sexuality with any of my campers.  I was extremely careful to make sure I handled the situation well–any campers who came to me with that struggle (and can I just tell you there were too many to count) I set them up with another counselor who I felt could answer their questions better then me.  Regardless, in their eyes, I am not capable of helping troubled teens because I was gay.

what have been some of your experiences with christians?  with “the church?”

Well, honestly, when I think of Christians I think of the idiots I see downtown with their picket signs, or the bumper stickers I read as I get cut off on the freeway and I’m so close their bumper I can read, “Jesus loves you”, ha! Or out in Orange County, there are license plate covers that say “Saddleback: You matter to God” on an $80,000 Infiniti.  What a great ministry to the starving children in Africa!  I try not to judge because I make a lot of financial mistakes and I am no where close to perfect.  There are just a few things that really get under my skin. I guess in short, the Bible says to Love.  Not hate, or picket, or judge, or shame, or control, or manipulate, or shoot at, or throw something at!

how have these responses hurt you?

They have demolished my ability to call myself a Christian.  At first, I had a lot of hate towards Christianity and Christians as a whole; but I am trying to not  let them get the better of me (which I feel is what they want, to push gays so far away they have no where to turn but to unhealthy coping mechanisms).  Then they can blame those coping mechanisms like drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, etc. on the gay lifestyle and reaffirm their negativity towards homosexuality (hope that makes sense because it feels really real to a lot of us). I don’t think most of the things people associate with homosexual lifestyle has to do with being gay; it has everything to do with how gays are being treated.  I would say 9 times out of 10, if my gay friends are having a hard time, it’s not because they are gay. It’s because people they love refuse to love them in spite of it (parents, friends, family, siblings, bosses, teammates, coaches, coworkers). It’s hard enough to be gay in the world, but trying to survive as a gay in the church, a forever second class citizen, a leper, well, that’s what it felt like.  I used to think that’s all I deserved because I was gay; I actually let the church manipulate me in to thinking that was all I should be.  How ridiculous…I deserve so much more…

what do you wish “the church” understood about homosexuality?

I don’t think too many people, especially Christians, wake up one morning and decide, “God, ya know what would really help me out in life, if I could just be gay…can I struggle with that for a while? ”  It’s not a decided struggle, it’s not something you go try like alcohol and then can’t get a grip on it.  It’s a part of who people are…most want nothing to do with it at first…I fought it with everything I had…it’s not an easy life to live.  For some it’s easier to fight than others. I have no decided theory on what causes it.  I’m no expert nor have I arrived on my journey.  I just don’t think you can know or understand anything until you’ve walked in another person’s shoes. That’s what I wish people considered.

have you ever been called derogatory names concerning your sexuality?  what?

Well, let’s see, here’s just a few: I got called a “f-ing dyke” in Sports Authority last year during christmas shopping, (wearing a pink girls sweat suit, mind you) because I was shopping with my girlfriend.   I have had bullet holes put through my front window and been threatened countless times by guys telling me how they can make me straight.  One of my best friends was just jumped leaving a bar about a month ago; I woke up to her phone call and had to pick her up and take her to the ER to get her face sewn back together.  13 stitches between her nose and mouth.  There are worse things than words going on here…We are not safe.  But again, the worst thing, over any fear, or wound, or name, is being denied my ministry..as though I am not worthy to love others…

what are some messages you’ve picked up along the way in your church experiences about your value, your voice as a homosexual?

What I have to say or contribute is void if it comes from a gay mouth…I can’t be trusted.  I tried for a while to hide my sexuality and continue ministry, but my integrity level would not support it very long.  I also felt it violated my integrity to associate myself with groups of people who were so judgmental, not just towards gays, but every other sub-group the church has categorized in their attempt to play God.  One of my best friends back home describes being a gay-couple in the church today like being a bi-racial couple 50 years ago.  The church would throw black-white couples out, have sermon’s on Bible verses claiming this was against God’s will, pity the poor kids that were a result of the union, refuse to include them on church events, pray for their salvation.  This gives me hope, as ridiculous as it sounds, because today no one cares what race you are married to.   Maybe 50 or 100 years from now, we’ll finally get the same respect.

 

how has being marginalized by “the church” or christians affected your faith?

I won’t call myself a Christian…I think I am more loving than that.  I spend my time helping others the best I can. I do juvenile delinquent counseling for teen male offenders of every kind.  They are challenging, but not hard to love.  They have done some horrific things in their early years of life, but I don’t feel that deems them unworthy of anyone caring.  I work as a caregiver as well, mostly with Alzheimer’s patients.  I volunteer when I can. I work to be the best person I can…but not because I am a Christian-I’m not.  I am just a human being trying to make the world a better place.  I think that’s possible without a Bible.

in the middle of the night, what are some of the things you cry out to God?

I don’t.  I have a relationship with God that actually holds a lot of joy. Despite a lot of hardship, the quality of my life is pretty darn good. Each day matters, each day is another opportunity to make a difference.  God and I have really developed a sense of humor about certain things.  Sometimes there really isn’t anything else to do but laugh at how out of hand people can get when they’re up on their religious pedestal. It bothers me and can cause a lot of anger in the moment sometimes, but as a lot of gays today, I’ve learned to brush it off with a giggle or two and thank God I’m not stuck in such a pathetic religious entanglement.  That’s one thing he has rescued me from.  But I guess to answer the question, as soon as I rejected the church and religious rules and Christian hate for homosexuality, the more I started to feel at home with God.

what are some of the things you are learning about yourself, God, faith, in these past few years?

I like myself a lot better and feel a lot better away from the control and manipulation of Christianity as a whole.  There are some Christians I know that are amazing people.  I don’t think every Christian out there is out to get the homosexual population.  I just don’t think religion is required to love others, if that makes sense?  The Christian people I do have in my life are a part of my life for the same reason non-Christian people are.  They love me, I love them, and there is a mutual respect and common goal of making the world better.

what does it feel like to be part of a faith community that doesn’t discriminate against you?

hmm…well, i am discriminated against less…I don’t think that every person sitting at the Refuge thinks homosexuality is ok, so I am still reserved around people I don’t actually know.  I respect others opinions a lot, and I like to listen to where people are at.  I think a lot has to do with how you go about things.  I have one very good friend of mine who thinks homosexuality is very wrong.  We can discuss our opinions here and there, but we still love each other and that one disagreement does not affect our ability to have a strong friendship with each other.  I love listening to her reasoning, because she communicates it in love and sets no expectation of me changing anything.  I can’t begin to tell you the influence she’s had on my life…and how much damage control she has done in the area of religion.  At the Refuge, it’s nice to know I can come in with my girlfriend, sit down, and enjoy some community without being handed an Exodus ministries pamphlet or being stared down (which happens sometimes but i just tell myself its cuz we’re so good-looking, not cuz we’re gay LOL, just kidding).  It helps heal a few wounds of feeling unwanted, but the damage is still very real.  I appreciate them trying and that’s good enough for me.  I just hate the huge divide.  I found a place where gay people can come hang out, and I cannot get my gay friends to join me, because the hurt is still so strong in them.  That makes me sad, but I so understand their hesitation.  They have good data.

 

any other thoughts you’d like to add?

just LOVE…it’s not that complicated…and it’s easy to remember…nothing else should really matter, right?

thank you for your honesty, taylor!  we need to hear it.  i thought i’d end with an excerpt from the reverend joseph lowery’s beautiful prayer at the end of president obama’s inauguration last month. it’s my hope for all of us:

“…and now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations,

help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate;

on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.”

amen.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

21 Comments

  • Wow, Taylor. Thank you for sharing. This is a huge issue, I grew up in pentecostal churches where this was one of the ‘big ones.’ And then I got in college and and went to work for a gay man. And he became one of my best friends – he was the son of a Presbyterian missionary, lol!

    And I discovered that contrary to what my church taught, gays were not monsters, they were just people with hopes and fears, hurts and dreams, just like everyone else. I spent several years living in the gay community, and thought I was gay, myself, for a while. (Confusion that was the result of abuse, in my case.) There is a sense of loyalty and community there that I have not seen anywhere else. It’s funny. When I came to the realization that I wasn’t gay, my gay friends laughed and said they knew that and teased me about coming out of the straight closet. *shaking head*

    Hmm… and last year, I went to a memorial service for a 22 years son of a friend. He had been going to a christian college and working at a charismatic church in the youth department. And he had a ‘gay incident’ with his roommate. And the pressure to fight that (especially since his father is gay) became too great. The conflict between what his church demanded of him and what he felt drove him off the edge of a cliff. And I am so angry at that church – those counselors. He was a beautiful, caring, creative, compassionate, gifted young man.

    As long as churches try to make people follow religious rules interpreted by men instead of teaching people to know God and follow their hearts, churches will be white-washed tombs full of dead men playing a game of religion.

    Hmm… a little passionate about this one, too. 🙂

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  • Taylor-
    I’m sorry you’ve suffered because of people who are fearful of what they don’t know or can’t comprehend.
    I’m in your corner.

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  • “Taylor”. That’s a tough story. I can only imagine your pain of being rejected on a basketball scholarship because you were discovering who you are.

    When I was in High School, I was very fundamentalist in my beliefs. There was a “gay” kid at school who was the topic of much conversation. I remember my good friend “Maria” and I were walking to softball practice one day and she said that she met him and he was a really nice guy. I’m sad to say that I could only focus on his sexual orientation. I even remember saying “I don’t think I could be friends with someone if they were Gay.”

    After a year of college and exposure to so many different people, a lot shifted for me. I lost contact with “Maria” for a long time, and then found her again through a google search. Before she replied to my e-mail I wondered to myself “I wonder if Maria is going to tell me that she’s a Lesbian.” When she did I was so happy for her. I imagine she was probably pretty shocked to find a new accepting “Lisa”, but I agree with you. People want to be respected and loved.

    My changed beliefs of acceptance on a number of issues did not really jive with my southern baptist church. I felt like they loved me when I believed exactly as they did. But when I matured and grew as a person, I was no longer acceptable. I can only imagine how much more you have experienced this, and I am so sorry.

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  • This is great Kath, and thanks so much to Taylor for insight and honesty.

    I am curious as to when those that call themselves Christian will begin to realize the greater requirement of Love and acceptance far and beyond any judgment or exclusion.

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  • Kathy- Thank you for publishing this.

    Taylor- As a Christian (most days, anyway), I would like to apologize for those of us who find it easier to hate than love. At our worst, we can be such self-righteous, judgmental bastards. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. I just hope people are listening.

    My name (above) is a link to a piece I wrote that described a seminal event changing (for the better)how I view the role of gays in the church.I hope it helps someone else…

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  • Hey Taylor … thankyou for sharing …

    It’s time for a cyberspace “group hug” !!!

    All them barriers have been smashed and came crashing down 2000 years a go, everything is spiritual and so are you.

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  • Taylor:

    I’m again in tears as I have been with every entry in this series that Kathy is going through. Just think I kind of asked for it didn’t I Kathy.

    Taylor I love you with Fathers love for you. He is especially found of you.

    Because of the experience you have and many of my own gay friends as I used to lead a ministry with a very similar community make up to the Refuge. Because of the following I feel to apologize it is my conviction and understanding of biblical scripture that homosexuality is no more gods plan for your life or any less sin then the 23 years I spent in enslaved to pornography and living a promiscuous lifestyle or my unfaithfulness to my ex-wife, or the way I used to be a habitual liar.

    Even though I am set from the control of all those things now and have walked without them all for 9 years I am tempted nearly every day.

    I feel the compulsion to apologize, for my conviction, because of the rejection, hate, and fear you have encountered toward you in the name of Jesus. I’m couldn’t be more sorry for my brother and sisters attitudes and actions toward you.

    Once again I repeat Father loves and is especially fond of you just as he is all of us.

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  • Great entry Kathy, thanx for sharing Taylor.

    I think that some christians are still stuck with heritage from the middleage. There was great power struggle between church/king/landowners. The church could benefit from the power to judge and to forgive. No king would enter into battle without being forgiven for his sinns, if he died in battle he would go “downstairs” and not “upstairs” if he had not been forgiven. Think about the power it gave the church! Great sums of money have been donated, big treaties have been done – as a way to insure that one was – forgiven.

    So I think “Judgement” is historically instilled. I guess I am trying to understand why some christians are judgemental and not be judgemental about it.

    Would it not be nice if there was no judgement?

    If so – we would not have to forgive. Think about the relief you would have. We would see more loving and acceptance.

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  • Last week, my son asked me, “What’s the meaning of Life?” After thinking a moment, I answered, “Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. And Jesus also said the second one was to love others in the same way you love yourself.”

    Love God. Love others. Love yourself. I think that pretty much sums it up. Thanks, Taylor, for your courage and your willingness to walk with in this part of your journey. I am proud to know you as a friend.

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  • katherine – thanks for sharing another piece of your story, katherine. when i hear about the memorial service that you attended, it makes me so sad. i wonder what would have happened if he had been surrounded by love and grace and safe community? i do think there would be a different ending to the story. have you seen “for the bible tells me so?” it definitely is a worth see.

    mary – i love hearing from you here!

    jamie – yeah, i loved the honesty too

    lisa – i think the part that we sometimes don’t make the connection on is that when people exclude and judge one group it means we are all at risk. i think that is why so much gets covered up in church, because secretly everyone knows how easy it is to end up on the “outs”. the issues of inclusion & exclusion just cannot be ignored, and that is what i believe needs to change in the church. it’s so messed up; so many would like to believe it only affects one small group of people and they can stay protected but in reality, it affects us everyone. it is all so dangerous and contradictory to the gospel. thanks for sharing your personal story. you rock.

    josh – thanks for commenting. yeah, love supersedes all. we can never lose with love. i really truly believe that.

    hugh – thanks for your love & heart for all people & i need to go check out your piece. i would love to get to have a real conversation one of these days and really know more about what you are doing out there….

    mark – i have missed you!!! yep, it sure did, smashed down the barriers that divide and poured out grace like none other. it’s so wild how anxious so many are to put them back up, but that’s humanity & i so believe there’s a beautiful movement going on right now in the kingdom of God to make some radical shifts back to the ways of love…

    tom – thanks for sharing your perspective; i do know and realize all kinds of people have different convictions on this issue and see the scriptures from all kinds of angles. i love what taylor shared that she has a dear friend who doesn’t agree with homosexuality yet loves her and engages in deep and beautiful relationship with her. we don’t have to all see it the same way, but love supersedes all. and love requires relationship. i think it’s easy to throw stones when it’s far away; and far easier to throw stones when we’re not in touch with how easy it would be to have them cast at us in just the same way for different reasons.

    christian – nice to hear from you here from across the world. yeah, it is so interesting how i hate judgement but i am judging those who judge. ha! but i also think that sharing strong opinions that stir up conversation is really important. i have had several people get in touch and say that this interview is making them “think” in ways that they might not have normally considered; it is so important to talk about these hot topics with love and grace and an openness. i think judgement is so deeply rooted into our cultures since the beginning of time, walls that separate and keep us safe and protected, the ins and the outs. ah, we have alot to keep learning about the ways of Jesus. thanks for sharing!

    jeff – oh what a question, eh? the one we are continually asking as well. i think it’s so great that you two are taking about such deep things…yes, i too am proud to know so many amazing beautiful people on the journey, including you.

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  • hey kathy-
    it was so great to meet you at convergence this weekend and chat the little while that we did.

    THANK YOU for this!!! the more we educate each other on the value of another human being, regardless of life situation, the more we will break down walls and build up people in genuine LOVE.

    total love to you!

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  • Hi Kathy,
    I am a new reader to your blog, not sure how I found it but am very glad to be reading. Thanks for giving a place for the voiceless to be heard.

    Colleen

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  • I found this post via Google search for this very topic, and am moved to tears as I read. In many ways, Taylor’s testimony reflects my life and experiences with the church as well. The hypocrisy I’ve encountered with many churches/Christians is a blatant disregard for God’s Love and Word, and I think it’s a shame when Christians take it upon themselves to judge gay people and drive them away from the church in the name of God (Matt. 7:1-5 anyone?!?). Being gay and being a follower of Christ are not mutually exclusive. And how are gay people supposed to know God and grow with Christ if Christians are kicking them out of church *because* they’re gay? (rhetorical question… making a point here). The pain and alienation I’ve felt from Christians has made my shy away from even getting to know people at church and stunted my fellowship. I am trying to break through and trust Christians again, but it is hard.

    Thank you so much for this blog and to Taylor for sharing!! God Bless.

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  • sorry i am a little behind on comments here!

    crystal – oh it was so fun to finally get to sort of hang out, but we need more time to have a real conversation next time! i love the work that you are doing there and what you are passionate about! i love what you said here: “the more we educate each other on the value of another human being, regardless of life situation, the more we will break down walls and build up people in genuine LOVE.”

    colleen – thanks for stopping by & saying hi. i always like to hear from readers & know when something stirs their heart.

    brian – well then this post was 100% without a doubt worth it, to know that in this moment you feel a little less alone. thanks for taking time to share a bit of your story; i get so mad on your and others behalf. it is messed up. i love what you said here: “Being gay and being a follower of Christ are not mutually exclusive. And how are gay people supposed to know God and grow with Christ if Christians are kicking them out of church *because* they’re gay?” this is my big soapbox that i get on and can’t get off & is one of the reasons why i am so passionate about creating radically inclusive communities. peace & hope, kathy

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  • Wow, amazing interview! Taylor…there are almost no words to say how horrified I am that you could be treated in those ways. I am so, so sorry all those things happened to you.

    I am a 30-some year-old mom, but have struggled with same-sex attraction for most of my life. I also grew up in a Christian home, and found it to be deeply damaging, even though my parents are sincere believers. I get really triggered when I hear Christian children’s songs and materials. The fear and anxiety starts rising up immediately. I feel really grateful that my disclosures of SSA have been met with grace from the Christian friends that I have shared with. I felt so much shame and fear about it…I can’t imagine if I had been treated like you were, Taylor.

    On the other hand, I feel like “Christianity” has been so damaging to me. All my abuse ocurred in Christian contexts, and I’m still trying to sort all of that out. When I read stories like this, I wonder even more, “Is it unfair to fear that the church reflects who God is? And if God is so different from what the church so often reflects…is it unreasonable to wonder if the gospel can really be true, if it’s “working” so poorly among its followers?” Though I guess part of me hopes that God’s grace is big enough that he can include/have mercy on even followers of Jesus that damage others so badly and reflect his character so poorly. Cause I have to believe there’s hope for everybody with God if I’m going to believe there’s hope for me. I’m so scared that there’s not.

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  • blueorchid – thank you so much for your honesty here…when our damage and abuse comes at the hands of Christians i do believe there’s an extra measure of difficulty in the healing process and how to reconcile God in the whole thing. real grace, grace for all–for the abused and abusers–is a really tricky thing that i don’t think comes easy or cheap, that’s for sure. peace to you as you continue to walk this leg of the journey, may somehow you feel less alone in the midst…peace, kathy

    Reply
  • Kathy,
    Thanks so much for posting this. I came here to see the video series you posted with Phyllis and am quite thankful that I did. It’s very refreshing to know that I’m not the only gay person out there who wants a relationship with God.
    As Taylor did, I also have done everything to try and change this “problem.” The only thing that worked was to stop calling it a problem and start accepting that maybe, just maybe, the preacher was wrong and that God loves me anyway.
    That one conclusion has drastically improved my life, my faith, and my relationships. Anything else I could say has already been stated by your other readers. Thank you again for sharing this!

    Reply
    • jake – sorry for my late response but thanks so much for taking time to share. yes, i love phyllis. she’s awesome. and i am glad that you are finding your way and listening to God, not the preacher, and finding peace and hope in your life, your relationships, your faith journey. peace to you & again, thanks for stopping by. you’re so not alone.

      Reply
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