I grew up in the Southern Baptist Tradition while simultaneously knowing that I was gay since I was about five years old. What I’m trying to tell you is that I desperately need a therapist. Libby Cunningham, call me.
My Faith Journey is such that I’ve always tried to make up for the fact that I was gay. Like if I was well-behaved enough. If I got good grades. If I joined all the clubs at school and made the honor roll and made my bed and got scholarships and made something for myself and if I prayed hard enough…those feelings that I felt–that I didn’t want to feel–they’d go away. And they didn’t. And that led to a lot of time in my life where I didn’t really like myself very much. I grew up in a world where I constantly heard from my friends and my family that this thing about me…that I tried to phase out…was evil. They didn’t know they were talking about me. I knew they were talking about me.
And so, I went off to college, where I met lots of people who didn’t live life the way I did. Who thought things that were different from my thoughts. I met people who weren’t white. And I finally just couldn’t keep up the charade anymore. I couldn’t keep existing and hating myself the way I did. And so I gave up on a judgmental God who only saves through substitutionary atonement.
But having been a religious person my entire life, it just didn’t fit into my purview to be non-spiritual. So I looked for that fulfillment elsewhere. I spend a year studying Hinduism. And Buddhism. I studied Wicca. I tried to find some other source of spiritual fulfillment.
If you’re looking for a Prodigal-son style story where I learn that those things are wicked and then I come “home” to the Baptist tradition…this is not the story for you. If anything, those journeys brought me closer to God than ever before, and I am thankful that I had that time to wander and discover what worked for me. God was with me in all of those spaces.
It took me years to even feel comfortable calling myself a Christian, let alone a Baptist. And yet somehow, I ended up here, with you people. And the same thing that destroyed my soul–Baptist Church–is the same thing that built it back up.
You took me in. You told me I wasn’t sick. That I wasn’t evil. It took me several years to be okay with calling myself a Christian again, but you didn’t force me. You nurtured me. You showed me kindness.
And now it’s time I paid that kindness back to you. Thank you for seeing something in me, for naming it, and for allowing me to be my full self at church.
I wonder, if I may…could we just…clap for that?
Thank you. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard clapping in this room in 10 years of attendance. We should do it more often.