Epilogue – A Life of Unlearning– coming out of the church, one man’s struggle’. Published by New Holland. (2004 edition)
Who should I blame for the heartache and trauma I went through? Can I blame the denominational leaders for their lack of understanding? Can I blame my friends in the ministry who deserted me in my hour of need? Maybe the leaders of the rehabilitation centre for their harsh treatment? Should I blame a society that originally told me something was wrong with me? Maybe Jason for being so screwed-up?
Blaming others is a waste of energy and keeps you locked in the past. Where there is forgiveness there is no place for blame. Without those experiences, I would never have truly found out who I was.
What I did discover was that my alienation was a precious gift of freedom from arbitrary norms I did not make and did not sanction. The moment I questioned the validity of the rules, I was no longer a victim. I have no bitterness or resentment.
During my years as an Assemblies of God minister and in Pentecostal circles, I met many good people who live lives of sacrificial service and seek to honour God. I would welcome them back into my life. Churches do many wonderful things in our society, and most Pentecostal churches now have ministries that genuinely reach out to people in the community. It’s not about what you say, it’s what you do. I have nothing against the people; the problem is with the existing culture; one I call ‘corporate Christianity’. Not unlike large companies, a culture exists that says the leaders are right and should never be challenged. Forget the individual who has served and given so much—always think of what is best for the image. Once you’ve reached your use-by date, or failed in some way, or not toed the company line, you risk being discarded, abandoned and forgotten. From my experience, there are probably more outside the walls who have been hurt and wounded by the church than there are inside. They’ve told me their stories.
One of the saddest aspects of corporate Christianity is its inability to deal with people’s humanity. Ministers are just as human as any person in their congregation and experience the same temptations and failings. I’ve mentioned several whose humanity has become very public, just as mine was. My intention has never been to get back at people but to tell the truth. And the truth is we are all human. The world is looking and saying ‘we want you to be real’. Stop pretending that all is okay and that somehow you exist on a higher plane. You don’t. We don’t accept your holier than thou attitude. We want you to be honest and transparent.
We know about the preacher who was caught out when his administrator discovered calls on his mobile phone account to sex lines. We know about the person who for years sought therapy because he was molested as a young man by a senior pastor. And we know about the prominent preacher who was banned from preaching in one country because he broke the rules of sexual conduct but was allowed to keep preaching here in Australia; sure looks like a double standard. We know about your worship leader who was having an affair with a married man. We know about the homosexual activity that goes on among members of your congregations; and the sex that went on at bible college; and the preachers who are denying their sexuality and hiding behind a façade of Christian marriage. We know because when people leave the church they usually no longer fear talking.
Of course, this is just scratching the surface, but I don’t want to create a witch hunt. You think you can hide and that your secrets will never be discovered but all I can say is that everything comes out in the end.
Remember, someone else knows what you’ve done and there will come a time when the guilt, hurt or shame will cause them to seek help. Your secret is not safe. I know.
To my gay brothers and lesbian sisters: we are the other half of the problem. We must do all we can to undo the beliefs and structures that have kept us living in fear of rejection and reprisal. It serves no-one for us to live less than we are. That means no more hiding or pretending you are straight. Stop fearing. Stop being ashamed and wondering what others will think if you tell them the truth. Have courage, face your fears and don’t allow another to think less of you. You will feel better about yourself. Coming out is liberation from a host of unclean spirits and destructive forces that deceive you into believing evil things and rejecting yourself and your own reality.
In 1978, Harvey Milk of San Francisco was the first openly gay elected official in the United States. Harvey repeatedly said:
‘Come out, and when you do, you will feel so much better.’
Before he was assassinated in 1979, Harvey predicted that he would be murdered, but he said that he would gladly take a bullet if it would blast open all of the closet doors that trap and imprison gay people.
On 2 May 2, 2002, openly gay Australian High Court Judge Michael Kirby was quoted in the Melbourne daily newspaper, The Age:
‘The churches, especially, must accept much of the blame for the homophobia that still exists in Australia, as in all communities. This is both the puzzle and the challenge. It is a puzzle, because such attitudes seem so incompatible with the basic lessons of a spiritual belief. The challenge is to expedite a change of view and to reiterate the universality of spiritual outreach. In the past, there was perhaps an excuse for ignorance about sexuality. Today there is none. Homophobia has to stop. Silence and shame are the means by which oppression continues. That is why people like me must speak up’.
In 2000,Tammy Baldwin, a lesbian and a member of the United States House of Representatives, from the district of Wisconsin, spoke from the stage of the Millennium March on Washington:
‘If you dream of a world in which you can put your partner’s picture on your desk, then put his picture on your desk and you will live in such a world.’ In her inspiring speech to the hundreds of thousands attending, she continued on to say that there are two things that keep homosexuals oppressed: them and us. In other words, we are half of the equation. We shouldn’t wait around for some magical day when everything will be okay. It’s up to us to make that day happen. We can create this day by being true to ourselves.’
And when I’ve partied all night with twenty thousand people in my community and it’s ten in the morning and I’m still on the dance floor waiting for the final show and I look around at the straight-acting gay boys, the muscle marys, the cute twinks, the chunky, hairy bears, the scary leather men, the lipstick lesbians, the dykes on bikes, the femmes, the vanillas, and the outrageous drag queens … what can I say? GOD, I LOVE MY TRIBE!
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“To my gay brothers and lesbian sisters: we are the other half of the problem. We must do all we can to undo the beliefs and structures that have kept us living in fear of rejection and reprisal. It serves no-one for us to live less than we are.”
These are powerful words that ring in my ears. My personal life unlearned came so much later in my life. Anthony Venn-Brown’s book was a critical part of this new life learning experience along with finding a church that embraces me as a person of God. Not a gay or straight person; they just welcome me as a person.
Yes I must learn to speak up and be heard because for too long I lived a life of quiet resolution. My silence was my shame that I felt. However, I am not ashamed anyone. i am a child of a Loving God who accepts all.
Anthony, thank you dear brother. Much love nd prayers always.
Silence and invisibilty are killers. Speak up. Be seen. Be authentic.
thanks for your comments Doug.