Going Back to the Familiar Place

It seemed to me like time froze when I was signing the college honor code. A torrent of questions flooded my mind, “What if somehow someone knew? Would they kick me out of school? Would I have to return to Singapore? What would I tell my family, friends and Pastors?” Followed by, “Oh goodness why am I even entertaining such questions? I am certainly not …” It was my first semester in a renowned private Christian college in Oklahoma. This was the adventure I had longed to journey upon since high school. I embraced my identity as an international student. I embraced my new environment as a home away from home. But failed to embrace myself as …

Every school year, the signing of the honor code made me think about the part of me I failed to embrace and deliberately chose to ignore. It made me feel a little less Christian, a little less redeemed, and a little less worthy of a loving God. With the lifting of my hands and fervent prayers, I learned to tune out the reality of me being … a lesbian. After all, how could I, a ministry leader at a megachurch, succumb to such sin?  How could I profess to love God, yet hurt God with something the Bible calls an “abomination”? How could I serve God and be gay at the same time? I felt as if my future as a pastor was hijacked because of my sexuality. I felt as if I was Samson with eyes gouged out, feeble and useless because of my weakness – being attracted to women.

By the end of college, I began walking away from my call to ministry. I was well versed with the literature and stance adhered by mainstream Evangelical Christians. The church environment I had dearly loved and served is hardly conducive for an openly gay individual to be a ministry leader, let alone pastor. Then, I had no knowledge of any LGBT pastors. The only lesbian I knew of was Ellen. Yes, Ellen Degeneres. The initial steps to run away from God were tough. At times, I looked back at my glory days when I was leading praise and worship, visiting children in the housing developments, conducting Children’s’ church, giving Bible studies and being in front of a congregation of more than a thousand. But with each glance back, the probing need to reconcile being gay and Christian grew stronger. I felt that in order to move on, my dreams and aspirations for ministry had to die. I had to find myself at peace with my sexuality before I could walk toward God. As I walked away, the steps soon turned into strides, and I found myself in an ambiguous place – the wilderness.

I got into a graduate program that had little to do with theology or spirituality. I had peers who helped me accept my sexuality. And soon, I began inching my way toward coming out. The college town I lived in has no shortage of churches. However, there are very few LGBT friendly churches. Most of them are Disciple of Christ churches. My first contact with a welcoming Disciple church was its parking lot. I had planned on attending the service. But, somehow the parking lot was the furthest I went on my first visit. I knew no one there and did not know what to expect. A couple months later, I managed to make it into the sanctuary of the church. I sat at the furthest pew nearest to the door. I did not want to be seen. I did not want to be spoken to. I did not want to be asked where I was from. It was not because I was shy. It was not because I was anti-social. Rather, it was because I did not want to be placed in a conversation where I would have to say “I am only here because I am gay.”

During graduate school, I did well to gain acceptance to a couple doctoral programs in the Midwest. My burning bush moment happened when I visited the campus of a school I was accepted. During the visit, I met a married lesbian Disciple minister. Over lunch, I had many questions for her. She graciously and warmly responded. Most of her answers were things I had already known. Somehow, it required another person saying them to reaffirm them. Somehow, interacting with a faith filled lesbian minister breathed life into my dreams of being in ministry. Somehow, I found myself in the presence of God and unashamed of who I am – beloved and gay. Somehow, without me knowing, a new journey had begun.

I declined my offers to the doctoral programs and became a member at a welcoming Disciple church. There, I volunteered as a youth leader, helped with the community garden, and served as musician for Sunday worship. Later, I gained admission to seminary. On the first day of 2012, I was given the opportunity to serve as a pulpit supply. I could not ask for a better way to start off the year – being openly gay and serving in ministry.

The charismatic evangelical worship experience is what I have been accustomed to. While I have become more sensitive and aware to the lyrics of worship songs, many contemporary worship songs continue to minister to me. There are many LGBT Christians with an evangelical background like me. They are seeking to find their way back to the furthest row in church. Some LGBT evangelicals find it hard to integrate into churches with contemplative and progressive worship styles. Others would continue to remain closeted and attend evangelical churches, in exchange for the contemporary worship experience that they are familiar to. Then there are those who felt a call to ministry, but had to walk away because of their sexuality. Some have returned to find themselves in an unknown place where God is present, but worship is unfamiliar. There are many LGBT evangelicals like me out there. Perhaps like me, they are waiting in the parking lots or along the corridors of the church. They do not know anyone in an inclusive church. They do not know what to expect either. They may not be in the pews, but there is a desire within them to return to a familiar place that is welcoming. The Disciples have done a tremendous job in welcoming all to the table. This is just the first step. What’s next?