Ever since my sophomore year of high school I knew that I wanted to be a pastor. It was the obvious choice. I grew up in the church, in a home with christian parents, and I went to a christian school. I started leading worship consistently in high school. I went on mission trips and to christian conferences every summer. Faith, christianity was my life. Everything seemed to point me toward vocational ministry.
I went to bible college. I got ordained. I became a pastor just like I was supposed to. Eventually, I ended up with what I thought was my dream job. I was a worship pastor at a church of almost 2,000. I had made it. This is all I thought I had ever wanted. I had no doubt that I would be in ministry for the rest of my life.
About a year ago, however, everything I thought I knew and everything I believed started to fall apart around me. I started asking questions about the bible, about theology. Why would such a big God go to such great lengths to create the universe around us only to save a few and condemn the rest for all eternity? Why would a moral God ever be violent? Why would God be so beholden to “justice” that he had to kill his own son? Couldn’t he just forgive us? Or is God not actually big enough for that?
The domino that started knocking down all the rest was leaving behind an inerrant, literal view of the bible. Allowing myself to be open to even the smallest amount of historical criticism quickly changed my view on the bible. If there is a perfect revelation of God, it’s Jesus, not the bible.
This realization finally allowed me to honestly look at the rest of my life. To actually consider what I believe about God, the church, and myself.
My relationship with the church is a messy one, in large part, because I’m gay. I’ve been taught my entire life that my sexuality is a sin. I have spent the majority of my life hating my body. I’ve spent most of my life angry with God. I was ashamed of who I was. I thought that I was a mistake. Because of my sexuality, I was forced to be celibate. It made me jealous, bitter, and angry. In 2016, I entered into a deep depression. For about 6 months I cried myself to sleep every single night. It was the darkest time of my life. Eventually, I started to think that it would be better if I wasn’t alive.
All of this, because of what I learned about my sexuality at church.
To be honest, I’m angry with the church. Because of what it has done to my mental health. Because it was my years in the church that led to my struggles with depression, anxiety, and self-harm. Because little queer kids like me want to kill themselves. Because so many churches are teaching little girls that the best thing for them in life is to grow up, get married, and submit to their husband. Because churches have been hijacked by American nationalist christians, who bow to country over Kingdom. Because I watch so many christians checking their morals at the door in order to support a conservative of any kind, even if they’re racist, misogynistic, and locking kids in cages.
I know for a lot of you reading this (if you made it this far), this might be a little shocking to you. You’re probably trying to figure out how I got here. I think the simplest explanation is that, for the first time in my life, I decided to put myself first. I decided that if my mental health was ever going to improve, if I was ever going to be truly happy, I had to leave. I finally decided that my well being was more important than staying in a job and in a belief system that was sucking the life out of me just so that I wouldn’t let others down.
So I left. I left my church, and at least for now, the church as a whole.
If you’re reading this and having a hard time with it, I just ask that you be open to other voices. Read “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines, listen to an episode of the podcast “The Bible for Normal People”, or listen to a sermon by Greg Boyd. There are people just like me in your church and they desperately need you to try to understand them.
If you’re reading this and you’re dealing with self-harm, PLEASE tell someone or call 1-800-273-8255. I have been where you are and I know how impossible that seems. I know the last thing you want to do is talk to someone about it, but talking about it saved my life. You are not alone. You are valuable. The world is truly better with you in it. Please reach out to someone.
And finally, if you’re reading this and you’re an LGBT individual, know that it will be OK. If you feel trapped in the church because it’s unsafe for you to come out, know that there is a whole world outside who will love and accept you. If you’ve been hurt by the church, there are christians who will affirm you. On the days that I believe in God, I believe in a God who loves you just the way you are. You aren’t a mistake. You are deeply and fully loved.
I plan to keep writing about my journey away from the church. I don’t know where I’m going, so for now all I know is what I’m leaving. I’d love for you to keep reading with me, but if not that’s OK too. We are all on our own journey. May you find peace and happiness wherever you go.