The church I grew up in taught me that I was damned to hell.
Then it showed me the way to salvation through faith. That all my sins would be forgiven and that there was nothing I could do to lose that forgiveness.
Then it told me that being gay was unforgiveable, and I was once again damned to hell.
I disagreed. This is my story.
I grew up in a pretty religious family. I’ve been able to recite John 3:16 as long as I can remember. We went to church nearly every Sunday, and I was in a weekly bible study youth group starting in 3rd grade. It was a national organization (AWANA Clubs International) that included weekly bible lessons along with memorization of Bible verses.
When I talk about my youth group upbringing with people these days, they often think I’m describing a negative experience. But I loved being a part of this group. I eagerly went each Wednesday to the church and eagerly memorized more and more verses. I participated in the group’s annual “Bible Quiz” against other AWANA churches in the area, and in 6th grade after spending two months preparing, my teammate (and best friend at the time) and I combined to answer the first 6 of 8 questions in the speed round. I continued through AWANA all the way through high school, earning the highest award given in recognition of completion of the 10 year program. Receiving that plaque (which I still have to and hang proudly) was as big a deal to me as graduation from high school a few weeks later.
I was the model young Christian. I went to church almost every Sunday, went to youth group every week. In high school, I was a “Leader-In-Training” with the a K-2 group. The highlight of every summer was a weeklong camp I attended each summer from 6th grade through graduation where we did more Bible study and memorized more verses along with all the other fun summer camp activities. I even went back as a counselor after my first year of college.
Even with all this God-focused education, in middle school I started to figure out that I was a different. I was attracted to men. My Christian upbringing was somewhat sheltered and it took time before I had a vocabulary to define myself as homosexual. And with the vocabulary came another problem. The Christianity I grew up with seemed to be in direct opposition to this part of who I was. I tried to ignore being gay. I hadn’t told anyone, and maybe if I just spent more time in Bible study it would just go away.
When I was a junior in high school, I worked up the courage to admit the truth. I was driving by myself on a cold winter night when I said it out loud. It was twelve months later that I finally told another person, a friend from school who was not connected to my church life. And two and a half years passed before I worked up the courage to tell my parents.
Perhaps ironically, it was all those years of Bible study that allowed me to come to terms with being gay, because I didn’t just memorize verses and listen to sermons, but I was taught how to read and study the Bible myself. I was able to reconcile what the Bible does and doesn’t say, and separate the laws of the Old Testament from the teachings of Jesus. It was this deeper understanding of my own personal faith, that taught me that being gay wasn’t wrong.
Faith is personal. Each person decides what to believe. They can decide to believe what they’re told the Bible says, or they can strike out and decide for themselves. Because in challenging those long-held beliefs you can discover that some are made stronger.