Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them". Luke 11:46
God Hates ME?
As a Christian, it's easy to fall into a legalistic mindset. In the wrong hands, the Bible can be a tool that when misused, can do much harm to others. Before I came to faith in Christ, the words that some Christians threw at me hurt. These words didn't convey a message of my sinfulness coupled with God's love and Christ's sacrifice for my sins. What came across to me was that the God of the Bible was not interested in me, nor was their any hope that I could obtain this salvation that these folks had. While I knew that within the realm of Christianity there were a variety of attitudes toward homosexuality, the messages that dominated my life were those of condemnation and hate. And when all the words settled in my mind, I was left with the belief that I was beyond the saving and transforming power of Christ. Because in the confusion of soundbites and protest signs the message was clear: God hates gays; homosexuals are an abomination; and unless I changed who I was, I had no opportunity to join these "Christians" in Heaven. So, assured of my spot in Hell, I was skeptical when, a little over 3 1/2 years ago, I was intrigued by my conversations with a Christian man who I had recently met. He approached me as a friend, stayed even after learning I was gay, and his words carried a message of redemption, not of hate and hopelessness.
For God So Loved the World
This new Christian friend, Tim, invited me to his church and I accepted. Being raised in the Roman Catholic church I was a bit naive about the "dress code" at a Protestant Bible church. In response to my inquiry, my friend replied "come as you are". And while the subject was attire, this reply from him would serve as an answer to many of my hesitations and questions about his church, my church, Chain of Lakes Community Bible Church. "But I'm gay", "Come as you are"; "But you don't know the things I've done in my life", "Come as your are"; "But those people at church are going to hate me and look down on me", "Come as you are"; "But...", "Come as you are!".
For me to trust this new Christian friend was, for me, a bit difficult. Sure, Tim seemed like a great guy, and the man I knew before I came out to him as gay was the same man I knew after I came out to him. While I did perceive a slight bit of hesitation in him after breaking the news, it wasn't in the least bit reminiscent of hate or fear; simply the concerns of a friend who wanted to be true to his faith and at the same time a friend to me. This friend, my friend Tim, was perhaps the first one of those "born again" Christian type of people who I had allowed to speak freely to me about his beliefs. He didn't have all the answers, nor did he claim to. But to my surprise, I found myself caring about this person whose beliefs were threatening and even offensive to me. And maybe more significantly, for the first time I was face to face with one of those Christians, the haters who pretended to love - yet I didn't feel threatened or looked down upon by him. And he didn't "preach" at me. He did something that proved to be far more powerful than any anti-gay sign, sermon, soundbite or billboard could be. He offered friendship to me; and he genuinely liked me and cared about me as a real person - a person very different from himself, but also very similar. And rather than tension we found commonality; perhaps none more important than our shared Creator. No matter what our different beliefs, dreams, desires, or fears; they are dwarfed by one powerful truth: Tim was created in God's image, and no less wonderfully, I was created in God's image.
Daniel, Please Report to the Principals Office!
I had already come face to face with the pastor at my friends church. In fact, he greeted me at the door before the 8:00 service the morning of my first visit. I'd gone out the night before and partied the night away right past bar closing time, which was the norm for me a couple of nights a week then. But even in my drunkenness, I was determined to visit this church and I didn't want to wait another week. I needed to figure out if this new friend of mine was the real thing and what this church was all about. And so tired and still drunk, the pastor shook my hand on my way in and I headed for the first available seat I could find...as far to the back as possible...and I began scanning the "church people" to see if I could spot the "haters"; the ones who would not want me there had they known that I was gay.
After a couple Sundays at this church, Tim urged me to make an appointment with the senior pastor. To my great surprise, I'd found myself enjoying this pastor's sermons. Tim's suggestion was a good one and I must admit I was looking forward to this meeting. But it was most definitely an anticipation mixed with a certain amount of anxiety. Although I had found no hatred coming my way from the people of this church, I had only attended a couple of services and there weren't more than a small handful that even knew about me at this point.
In this short amount of time - the month and a half or so from meeting Tim to setting the appointment with the pastor, somehow I had already come to the point of knowing that something about me was changing. I can't describe that feeling in much detail...I just knew that God had something to offer me and that the life as I knew it was going to be changing - but I had little concept of what that meant and what could or would change.
I arrived at the church for my evening appointment and tried to come up with a good way to tell the pastor that I am gay. He greeted me at the door and invited my into his office to talk. We chatted briefly about the friend who had brought me to the church and other various topics, and after the small talk, I kind of muttered a few words to the effect of:
"I don' know if Tim already told you..."
"...That you're gay?", he interjected.
"Yes" I said (relieved he already knew).
"Tim mentioned to me that you struggle with homosexuality" he added.
And with that the conversation seemed to become more of a one-sided lecture on the creation story, white board and all, including a refresher on Adam and Eve as the model from which we know God's intent for sexual relationships to be between a married man and woman.
Pastor Kerry Bauman was likely the first pastor I had ever said more than a "hello" to in my life. I knew Catholic priests, but not pastors...and I didn't really know what exactly a pastor was or did, or how one got to be a pastor. And despite my confusion at our first meeting, I knew I liked Pastor Kerry almost immediately. I found him to be friendly, intelligent, sincerely caring, and knowledgeable about God and the Bible. BUT, I distinctly remember walking out of his office afterwards and on my way to the car thinking: "What the heck was THAT?; what just happened in there?"
These People Don't Know What They're Doing
God impressed upon me fairly early in my new-found faith that His will for me was that I pursue celibacy. Whether that would be the case for the long-term or temporarily, I didn't know. But I clearly knew that celibacy was what I needed to embrace right then, maybe for a time, maybe forever. I also understood that pursuing the course that I had been previously would, for me, be sinful and would limit my ability to deepen my relationship with Christ. Thankfully, God doesn't reveal our every sinful tendency to us in an instant. He seems to place before us those areas of our life which most need correction so that we can continue on in this process of transformation.
Homosexuality wasn't a topic that Pastor Kerry hadn't ever come across before. He'd certainly studied and reflected on it in the course of his studies at seminary and in his day-to-day life as a pastor. And like me, he's certainly been exposed to the extremes on both sides of the issue in the media. He went into our meeting not really knowing where I stood on the issue, just that I was gay. And he began our dialogue at a logical place. He did what all good Christians should do when addressing the issues we come across in our daily lives; he went to God's Word.
I needed to hear what Pastor Kerry said to me that day. Although I was already resigned to pursuing celibacy, in hindsight, it was good to gain a better understanding of God's intent in Creation. But I wasn't there at that meeting looking for reinforcement of what I had already come to believe. What I wanted in that meeting was for him to tell me from his experience what I should do now. How does one pursue celibacy even through intense loneliness? Am I going to be alone for the rest of my life? Is God going to make me straight? I'm here, I want to obey God; what do I do now? And I wanted to hear that he had been through this before with others in his role as a pastor and I wanted him to tell me that this would all work out okay.
Pastor Kerry couldn't do that. No, not that he couldn't guide me in my pursuit of Christ. He was fully equipped for that job. What he couldn't do was share past experiences with me he'd had with others just like me. He couldn't give me step by step instructions specific to my struggles. He couldn't do it because homosexuality had never presented itself to him in the way it had when I came to his church. Homosexuality had never openly appeared on his doorstep in quite this way; in the form of a real person...one who sought to know and obey the Lord; a person who had no idea how to move forward, and one who expected him to have all of the answers as a man of God. I suppose in a way, through no failing of his own, homosexuals had always been people seen at a distance.
And in my struggle to find purpose, joy, and love in this new place, I became resentful of him, my friend Tim, and my church at times. Their were times where I felt like I was a project or experiment for them. And their were times when I walked away from Pastor Kerry and my church for several weeks at a time out of anger, disappointment, and hurt. "These people conned me into believing a lie and they have no idea what they are doing!".
But God wasn't through with me and continually drew me back to this church and to Pastor Kerry, his wife Laurie, and his family. And through telling my story in the second part of this article I'm going to tell you about this man who has impacted me in the most profound ways. How those things I viewed as weaknesses and limited his ability to help me; God in His wisdom knew would be his greatest strengths. Because rather than give me a Pastor who would merely feel sorry for me, describe to me my journey or advise me on my journey, he gave me a Pastor who would join me on my journey. God gave me a man who is willing to hear me, isn't afraid to know me, and secure enough to step into this mess, my mess, with me. And in doing all this and so much more, while part 1 is titled "My Pastor and My Burdens", an honest depiction of the story from the moment of that meeting on could only be accurately titled "My Pastor and Our Burdens". And as you read part 2, it's my hope that you come to love and respect this man like I do. And that as I tell more of my story, what you'll really see is the man behind my story and the one who plays a significant role in helping to shape my story: my pastor, my mentor, my spiritual father...but most importantly to me, my brother and my friend - the one who isn't afraid to know me and love me, and a man whom I love. And in large part through Kerry and his family, God reminds me: I belong.