Over the course of the past 25 years as a minister and ministry leader, I have worked with LGBTQIA persons who were trying to survive in the conservative, evangelical, fundamental religious contexts in which they were raised. We worked together to try and gain a level of self-acceptance. “Sexual Orientation” is something you don’t choose. It’s something that is just there. For some, “Gender Atypical” behaviors are evident by the time they are toddlers. For others, by the age of puberty, they know that they are different from their same gender peers. In either case, it’s not choice. It just happens.
On the other hand, “Sexual Behavior” is something that one can control, at least to some degree. For example, a heterosexual man chooses to limit his “Sexual Behavior” to the marriage relationship where he made a relationship commitment and exchanged vows with his wife. A person with a same-sex “Sexual Orientation” may choose to try and develop a capacity for romantic interest in the opposite sex and choose to engage in “Sexual Behavior” in a “Mixed Orientation” marriage. Or, a person with a same-sex “Sexual Orientation” may choose to live a celibate way of life (i.e., engaging in no “Sexual Behavior”) as a way of reconciling the conflict between their inner romantic same-sex desires and attractions with their conservative, evangelical faith convictions and religious community.
The real difficulty though, arises when the religious community cannot make a distinction – literally cannot conceptualize or conceive of a difference between – “Sexual Orientation” and “Sexual Behavior”. In this context, the religious community demands that one change their “Sexual Orientation”. Based on my own personal experience after 51 years of living with a same-sex “Sexual Orientation”, I can now say that changing one’s “Sexual Orientation” is not possible. (In later writings, I will continue to expound on this). In these religious communities, the person who is LGBTQIA has to go underground. They have to remain in the closet. And if they come out to their family (i.e., personally disclose their “Sexual Orientation” to their parents), their parents will often end up in the closet as well out of feelings of embarrassment, shame, personal guilt, and fear of rejection and backlash from others in their religious community.
So for the last two years, I have had the privilege and opportunity to personally walk the path of “coming out” after struggling to reconcile my once repressed sexual orientation with my 59 year old Southern Baptist conservative, evangelical, and somewhat fundamental religious and theological mindset. I could no longer hide behind the idea that I was evidently “Bisexual“. I had to accept that for 35 years, I had lived in a “Mixed Orientation” marriage. That is very different from “Bisexual“. In addition, I have had to face the reality that I had advocated for people to live a celibate lifestyle, something that I now realized I wasn’t sure I personally could do.
The following is an example of the way a person you love can feel shamed and rejected by your response to their “Sexual Orientation” and your inability to understand how one’s “Sexual Orientation” is a core and unchangeable part of their deepest inner self, literally, their soul.
After breakfast one recent morning, I was in a bit of a swirl,emotionally. I wanted my mom to know that it is okay if she chooses not to come to my wedding. I don’t want her to have any emotional pressure about that. In tears, my mom wonders what she did wrong. The implication is that there is something wrong with me. But the reality is that she did nothing wrong, she has always been the best mom. And, the reality is, there’s nothing wrong with me. But it pains me because I love her so much. I don’t want her to be sad.
The experience reminds me just how much I need intimate connection with others. I don’t have children of my own. Nancy was not always able to tolerate authenticity. And my life work has involved ministering to others, often sacrificing my own personal needs in the process. Today, I realize that I need others around me that can/will tolerate me being authentic. I need to be heard and understood. I need to feel loved and cared for. Instead, since mid-year of 2016, I have mostly felt the opposite of these things. I say mostly because of my mom and Artie, my brother Brandon, Troy Haas, John and Anne Humphrey, Brenda Wagner, Donny Matheny, Shannon Salyer, and Michael, each of who God used to anchor me throughout these very difficult past two and a half years. There are others who also reached out to me, with the plea, “Let me know if I can help”. Maybe they would have been available if I had let them know. But grief often isolates. So, I don’t hold their absence against them. And that’s why when they reach back out to me now, I engage with them. There are people that I know care about me even though for whatever reason, they were not there during my dark time.
I can see how it is easier for my mom when she can think of Mike as my friend. But sitting too close to him or touching him (like putting my arm around him while we are sitting on the sofa) must shatter that illusion. I know that she doesn’t see how lost and insecure I feel as I risk taking the protective wall down and making myself vulnerable as I present my authentic self to others. She doesn’t realize how I draw strength and comfort from Michael’s close presence and touch. She doesn’t realize how close I came to taking my own life in late 2017 and how God sent Michael to rescue me. She doesn’t get that I am not flaunting sensual and flirtatious behavior in front of her but that rather, I am needing to draw life energy from him.
(For those who don’t know, my mom grew up in a primitive, missionary baptist context. Her father, my Bigdaddy, was very prudish. So I understand where her uncomfortableness comes from. And there is grace for that.)
People have told me, I can’t accept (or condone) the lifestyle you’ve chosen because the Bible is clear about the fact that homosexual behavior is a sin. “But I love you!”, they say. People don’t seem to know or realize what a dagger in the heart that statement is. Why? Because it’s not a lifestyle I have chosen. Rather, it is who I am as a person. You can’t hate my “same-sex romantic inclinations” and “love me” at the same time. The romantic inclination is an expression of my “Sexual Orientation”, a core part of who I am as a person. It has been there since I was 10 years old. And, remember, I have not chosen to be celibate. So, if you reject my expression of affection towards Michael, then in essence, you have rejected me. That is the way it feels. And I am confident that at my age and station in life, that my interpretation of this feeling, the meaning I have associated with this feeling, is grounded in emotional maturity.
Ok, so I was married to a woman for 35 years. I can see where it would look as if I just made a callous and superficial choice to live a different way of life now. One close friend, inquired of another close friend, “Is Roy just going to run off and be gay now?” The truth is, I have been gay since the beginning. Although at the time, I had no intellectual classification for it, I knew when I was 10 that I liked boys rather than girls. At 11, I remember daydreaming about being the one receiving loving affection, sexually, from a strong and caring male. And by the time I was 13 and my uncle’s partner showed me that kind of attention, it was settled. Until I met Michael, I spent the next 50 years remembering that experience and longing – literally yearning at times – for a strong male in my life to love me and show me affection.
The truth is, I should have never married Nancy. It wasn’t best for either her or me. We survived it because we were best friends and we did love each other. However, both of us missed out on the opportunity to experience romantic love and affection in our relationship with each other, that relationship where romantic love should have been at the core.
So with intention, we made the best of it. I honored my marriage vow and commitment to both her and God. And I honored my promise and commitment to her daddy, that I would love her, protect her, and take care of her. There are only a precious few people in my life who know the extent of what it took to honor those commitments.
If Nancy had not died, you would not be hearing any of this from me. But she did. And I don’t intend to have another relationship with a female. I am not romantically, emotionally, physically, or sexually drawn to females. I never have been. And it would be wrong of me to put another woman into a relationship where she would have hopes and longings for something I cannot give her. And it would be wrong of me to put myself into another relationship with a woman where she cannot satisfy the deepest needs of my intimate relationship emotional longings.
Remember,my sexual orientation is not a lifestyle. It’s an expression of my core self, who I am as a person. Someone recently told me that it was very difficult for them to watch me sit close to Michael with his arm around me. “Disgusting” and “sickening” were two adjectives used to describe their experience. And “it’s hard for some people to watch that because they aren’t used to it”, I was told. I get that. But let’s look at it from my perspective.
It’s been difficult for me to have to hide part of my authentic self for 51 years. It’s been difficult to live 51 years being told that something is wrong with the way I experience life, resulting in me having to expend much of my life’s energy repressing my sexual orientation and begging for God to change me so that I can be – and feel – normal and acceptable to others.
While at the time, the repression of my “Sexual Orientation” was experienced as being a normal thing to do, it has been hard over the past two years coming to terms with just how much an effect that this repression had on me. It’s also been hard realizing that in my own position as a religious leader, the way of life I modeled and taught may have hurt others.
It’s sad, because while I hear that “it’s disgusting” and “sickening”, what I feel is that “I am disgusting” and “sickening “. That’s because it’s not just a behavior I am doing that someone may find distasteful. Rather, it’s an expression of who I am as a person that they find “disgusting” and “sickening”.
When I hear this, the thought races through my mind that maybe I was loved for being the acceptable “self” that I presented to others and not the real me. (That’s not true of my mom. I know she loves me unconditionally. However, I am finding that it is true about many others that I once thought to be good friends). And I have to realize that I would have been “disgusting” and “sickening” to others, rejected rather than loved, if as a child – or any other time along the way – I had presented my authentic “self” to others.
And now 50 years later, as an adult man, even in a more progressive and accepting day, I find that it’s true. Many Christian people I know accepted me before they knew my authentic self and seemingly now don’t after they are presented with my authentic and real self – even though I am the very same person today that I have always been.
Think about the young boy, me, crossing into puberty during my pre-teen and teenage years, hormonally on fire with adolescent levels of testosterone – listening while my peers would be aroused by looking at and talking about girls, realizing that I was aroused by looking at and talking to them! I remember being so confused by that. I remember feeling so very different from the other boys.
The“birds and bees” educational reading my parents gave me was repulsive to me. The very thing I was drawn to wasn’t presented as an option in that book. And the family response to my homosexual uncle was not hopeful. Indirectly through listening to the whispers in our family, I understood that to feel what I felt towards boys was wrong – it was distasteful, it was not normal, it was sinful. But I didn’t choose to have those feelings any more than my peers each chose to have those same feelings toward the opposite sex. Do you get it? It was NOT and is NOT a choice I made. In reality, the choice I made was to act different than I felt, to present myself to others in a way that would allow me to experience acceptance rather than rejection. And doing this is the very same way that all of us – people who are LGBTQIA – learn to survive the growing up experience. I am thankful for parents who are able to be accepting and affirming when their children finally gather the courage and are brave enough to disclose their “Sexual Orientation”.
So, at age 23, after having dated Nancy for 3 years, I realized – while in New Orleans, Louisiana, at a gay bar dancing with another guy – that I loved Nancy and that a life and relationship with her, based on our deep friendship, was better than a life where I would experience confusion and rejection. So I left the bar. A year later, Nancy and I married.
The truth is that in my earlier days, I could not even conceive of how to authentically express my same-sex sexual self. At the time, I couldn’t even allow myself to think of being a gay man as a possibility! And, there was no one to talk about it with. There was no safe way to explore it. And,there was no way to reconcile the faith teaching I had been indoctrinated with – that it’s a sin – with my real inner life experience, something I didn’t choose and seemingly something I cannot change. So, I repressed it. And when Nancy died, all of the repressed stuff that’s part of my authentic self came erupting out. It was volcanic. It was overwhelming.
For those people that are truly interested in me as a person, I am willing to talk about this journey that I have been on for most of my life, but with intensity since mid year 2016.
When I was younger, I was not strong enough to do such. I am now. And, I am strong enough now to risk everything to do what’s right. Maybe those who know me will see that I am the same Roy they’ve always known. I am no different. Rather, I am letting others see my authentic self.
I still love Jesus. I still believe Jesus died on the cross for my sin. I still believe the Bible. I still am following the same call of God on my life that resulted in me leaving a lucrative secular career and spend the next 25 years – at First Baptist Woodstock, and HopeQuest – working to build programs and ministries that help people in difficult life predicaments find Jesus. Today, I am doing the same thing I have always done, helping people just like me know that God loves them. The only difference is that now, I am being fully authentic personally and I am going to be a voice announcing that the evangelical Christian Church is wrong on this matter. I wish I had had courage enough to do this earlier. But I didn’t, so I will do it now.
Many who have known me will conclude that I have lost my way,that I have rebelled against God’s Word, and that I am sinning at the gravest of levels. Others – those who are able to dialog outside the limits of their own personal sexual ideology and the biblical interpretations they’ve been taught – may discover opportunity for a transformative experience. These others will have opportunity for their spirit, guided by the Holy Spirit, to bear witness with my spirit. These others will have the opportunity to learn that we both are saved, we both love the same God, we both are led by the same Holy Spirit, and we will both one day be in the same Heaven.
At the end of 2017, I was at a place of utter despair. I had decided to spend most of that year grieving Nancy’s death while cleaning up my home and making it livable again. As the year progressed I began to realize that the now unrepressed gay feelings were not going to go away, I was not going to be able to once again repress them. And since I was in such conflict about it, and since there was no one to talk to about it, and since the whole of Christendom is against it, I felt alone with no prospect of ever sorting it out and with no prospect of having an intimate relationship connection going forward in life. The loneliness was profound and all encompassing. And on December 27th of 2017, I had reached what I thought was the end of my ability to try and move forward with life. So, I prayed and told Jesus that if He wasn’t ready to come get me, then I would just come to Him. The pain was just too great.
Jesus heard that prayer.
Evidently, He was not ready for me to end my life on earth. The next day, December 28th, 2017, Jesus sent me Michael. We had our first date on December 29th. And I have been with him every day since. Through Michael, Jesus rescued me. Through Michael, Jesus allowed me to actually experience what it’s like to feel loved. With Michael’s encouragement and support, I was able to spend the entirety of 2018 on my face before God, in the Scriptures, asking the Holy Spirit to help me bridge the seemingly vast divide between my interpretation and understanding of the Holy Scriptures, and my “Sexual Orientation” – that “Sexual Orientation” that even if He didn’t create in me, He at the very least allowed it to happen to me.
God knows that I didn’t choose it. And, God knows that I cannot change it.
I have come to accept that Bible translators have made devastating errors in how they translated the 7 Bible verses that are now used to tell those with a same-sex “Sexual Orientation” that a loving, committed, covenantal relationship with a same-sex spouse is not permissible for them. I now stand against those who use these same texts from the Holy Scriptures to shame and reject those with a same-sex “Sexual Orientation”. (Again, I will soon write more about the theological shift I have embraced). And I want to be a voice to those who have been rejected by the Church, telling them that Jesus loves them too.
So, I am risking everything now in being fully authentic: For me, first; Then for others who are trying to find their way; and Finally, for those who have experienced the Christian Church in such a way they’ve concluded that God hates them. I am allowing everyone to see my inner, authentic self. I am telling everyone that I am, and that I have always been gay. I am telling everyone that I am in love with Michael and have chosen him to be my husband. And I am telling everyone that there is nothing different about my heart. I am the same person I have always been.
So, why is it risky? Because, as I feared, many who know me seemingly can’t/won’t/don’t understand me. Because I am having to change my professional life so that donors, supporters, and referral partners of HopeQuest will reflect their disdain on me, and not HopeQuest. (This is a personal matter, it does not involve HopeQuest or reflect upon HopeQuest.) This is risky because the decision to leave HopeQuest and start a new professional career was not to my advantage since I am not yet mentally or financially ready to retire. Because I fear that to have authentic community, I will possibly have to build a mostly new network of friends, acquaintances, church community, and professional relationships. Because I fear that some of my current professional peers, mostly Christian, will misunderstand me and not refer potential clients to me.
However, even so. I never want to go to sleep at night again wondering if I have hurt someone by my silence about “Sexual Orientation” – a silence that implies that the church’s teachings on homosexuality is correct and that same-sex “Sexually Oriented” persons can and should change. I never again want to go to sleep at night wondering if I could have prevented someone from taking their life if I had not been silent concerning the truth about God’s love and acceptance of people who have a same-sex “Sexual Orientation”. I never again want to lay my head down at night knowing that I missed an opportunity to share with someone who is same-sex oriented that God does love them and that Jesus died for them too. There is a place in the body of Christ for the LGBTQIA person who loves Jesus, the same as there is for the heterosexual person who loves Jesus.
So, I intend to openly proclaim that there is a theology of human sexuality and marriage that is inclusive of those like me who find themselves with a same-sex “Sexual Orientation”. This theology doesn’t allow for the no-boundaries way of life demanded by much of today’s secular culture. However, it does allow for a committed, loving (not based on lust), and covenantal relationship between two people of the same-sex.
For those that want to convince me that I am wrong and who attempt to exhaust my energies in argument and debate, I simply say no. However, for those that truly want to discover how I arrived at this conclusion, for those who need to wrestle with this for their own peace of mind,I welcome the opportunity to guide them on their life quest.
I am at peace with myself, with God, and with the world around me. And, for the first time in my life of 61 years, I feel loved, and I am happy.
I intend to help others find their way to this same place.
Thank you Ray D. Waters and Stan Mitchell for your encouragement towards me and support of me during this time of transition in my professional life journey.