Until I was 24 years old, I had never met anyone who was active in the Church and openly gay. I had grown up in a conservative rural community of Dutch immigrants that taught that homosexuality was a sin. I had heard of people from our community that had become outcasts because of their “life choices” and I was committed to not let that happen to me. As I grew up in our community’s schools, I worked hard to be who I was expected to be, but there was one thing I just couldn’t shake. No matter how hard I tried, no matter what prayer I said, I still felt attracted to other young men. As I worked through college, I continued to uphold this charade—being the “good Christian boy” pursuing work in ministry leadership—all the while wrestling with my desires and trying to figure out why God had given me such a painful struggle. This all came to a head just after graduation when I finally came out to some close friends and my family. I had struggled alone long enough and I needed support from someone. With the guidance of my family and spiritual mentors, I entered long-term “reorientation” counseling. Over the next two years I prayed special prayers, went to support groups, went through Christian discipleship programs, and reflected on my personal history to identify my areas that needed strengthening so that I could become “sexually-whole”.
Through all of this emotional and spiritual turbulence, what continued to be clear to me was God’s calling on my life to enter ministry. God led me not to my denomination’s seminary, rather to a PCUSA seminary. My family, spiritual mentors, and pastor all cautioned me against this move, but I felt it was where God wanted me to go. Within the first few weeks at Seminary, life changed dramatically.
I was 24 years old and had never met an openly gay person who was Christian. I had been in the church and Christian schools for my entire life and had never heard an affirming interpretation of Scripture. Suddenly my life was changed. I walked into a community that accepted me as a sexually-frustrated, emotionally-hurt, and theologically-confused individual and embraced me. It was the Presbyterians that came to me and showed me that my sexuality was a gift and a blessing, rather than something I was to combat. It was organizations like Presbyterian Welcome that sought me out and gave me resources to grow into a spiritual leader that is whole and celebrated. I am who God made me to be – a man with a passion to serve God and the desire to marry the man of my dreams. This part of my identity is no longer an area of pain or shame; it is one of my God-given qualities that makes me who I am.