As a Residential Advisor at her school, Bri was trained to support students struggling with sin. She received a packet that detailed how to deal with a variety of sins, including “homosexual lust,” “alcohol and drunkenness,” “apathy,” and “sexual lust.”
The “homosexual lust” materials were titled: “Issue: Homosexual Lust in the Heart of a Professing Believer.” It goes on to explain: “Misconception: A believer can’t/won’t struggle with homosexuality. Reality: Believers can and do struggle with homosexual tendencies. A true believer will never live a homosexual lifestyle, but a believer can have homosexual lust in his/her heart and can even act it out at times…These acts of sin will be followed by contrition and repentance and progress will always be made, but they can and do happen.”
In her time at school, Bri counseled students on all kinds of issues, and was counseled herself by her RA supervisor, sharing very personal information. But homosexual feelings were more taboo than any other sin, and no student ever talked to Bri about it. Nor did she ever share with anyone that she constantly thought about making out with girls.
A year and a half after graduating, Bri realized she is gay. It didn’t occur to her that thinking about kissing girls might mean she was a lesbian, because she thought of out gays and lesbians as people who had gone “to the dark side” and were not nice or fun. People who were good and who simultaneously accepted and embraced their homosexual feelings was a contradiction in terms. That changed when she met Jess, one of her classmates in graduate school. Jess is kind, smart, fun-loving and unabashedly lesbian. Ever-frank Jess asked Bri, “Have you ever had feelings for girls? Maybe you don’t, but I think you might, and you should think about it.” It turned out Jess was right.
She began telling friends and family recently. “The thing that totally changes their view of me and makes them extremely disappointed in me is also the thing that makes me feel more like myself than I ever have,” Bri says. It is joyful for her to be herself and begin to seek out other lesbians. She is no longer a Christian, because she cannot support a faith that preaches love but casts out people who do not fit the exact mold, even when most everything else is in line. Bri was considered a leader in her church and college communities, and very well respected, someone who was “going places.” “I still think I am that,” she says. “But now I’m an example of someone who ‘falls away from the faith’.”
Her college friends call and visit in efforts to convert her back and help “save” her from a homosexual lifestyle. “They’ve been trying to convert me subtly. I know all the tricks because I learned them [in school],” says Bri. She allows them to call and visit because she wants to show them that she is the same, that she does not reject them, and that she is happy. Her parents are equally conservative and while they still love her and want to see her, they want her to change. When she first came out to her family, “They talked to me like I was sick, like talked with a soft voice. I am not sick, I am just gay.”
As Bri so clearly demonstrated, sharing materials from her school and explaining her experience, it’s not as simple as evangelical Christians holding up signs that say, “God hates fags.” In classes, homosexuality “was described as the ultimate sign that…you or a culture has abandoned God. But at the same time, it was viewed with some compassion…There wasn’t a ton of discussion about it in theology because it was viewed as factual. It was viewed as something that our changing culture was going to try to push on it and we were going to have to fight against.” You could be kicked out for embracing the fact that you were gay, but “If you said you were gay and were working with a counselor, that would be okay” and you would not be expelled.
The RA training materials present a one-page case study about “Jason,” a 20 year old. Jason “thinks often about his struggle. He thinks of himself as a homosexual, but he doesn’t know how that can be since he sincerely believes that he’s a Christian, too.” It continues, “Jason tells himself that if he could just be attracted to the opposite sex like everyone else, he would be happy. At times he wrestles with anger against God, because he doesn’t remember choosing his homosexual desires and has often prayed that God would change him.”
I can’t help but think the person who wrote this case study is gay her or himself, to know so intimately how it feels to come out to yourself.
If Bri’s school and the church at large could embrace the spectrum of believers that they have with the same compassion that they write about the struggle of coming out, they would truly be living by the tenets of love and respect that the religion supposedly rests on. Until then, conservative Christian schools, churches and faiths will continue to lose strong, honest and powerful leaders like Bri.