Midtown Atlanta, Gay Men, The Closet, Churches, Jesus and Me

by ShaunKing on March 31, 2011 · 3 comments

Disclaimer : I ask for your honest forgiveness for the clumsiness of this post in advance.  I am not an expert on these issues and may not say the most politically correct things.  I am, though, willing to jump in to these issues so that we can all learn from one another.  Feel free to correct me and know that I love all people – particularly you. Thanks.

PS: This post may have spelling errors or typos. It has not been proofed. Sue me.

Out of the box I want to state 4 things I’ve learned about homosexuality since launching Courageous Church 2 years ago.

1. Gay men love church and attend every church in Atlanta. They serve as ushers, greeters, leaders, singers, musicians, finance directors, etc.  However, 99% of churches in Atlanta do not acknowledge this reality publicly.  It’s a poorly kept secret.

Everybody and their momma knows these folk are gay, but it is against the unspoken rules to ever state it.  He’s 45 years old.  He dresses like a model.  He’s the most organized man you’ve ever met.  He’s not married and has never had a girlfriend in the 10 years you’ve known him.  Yes. He’s gay. Not admitting this doesn’t take the gay away.

2. People are born gay. I didn’t use to believe this.  I thought it was something that people chose in young adulthood.  However, 3 things have happened to lead me to believe this.  (1) I have met so many elementary school teachers who have told me that they are 100% sure they have students (boys & girls) that are all they way gay.  Not slightly gay.  But at their core. (2) I have met gay adults who have told me they have been gay as far back as they can remember.  I’m talking about intelligent, educated, well-adjusted adults that know this to be the case. (3) While being gay is kind of cool and popular in 2011, I have met gay folk who have made it clear that if they had a choice they would have never chosen that life for themselves.  It’s been brutally hard.

3. The church has absolutely no idea what it’s doing on this issue. In essence, the entire response of most churches to gay men and women on being has been this…don’t be gay. To say this is an incomplete answer is an understatement at best.  The gay folk I am meeting are not a support group or a good book away from becoming straight.  They are as gay as I am straight.  Asking me to not be a heterosexual would be like asking me to not be a human.  It is a core part of who I am.  I don’t know how to not be straight.  I’ve always been this way.

4. Sexuality is complicated in general. Marriage, dating, celibacy, rape, abuse,and all issues of sexuality are far more nuanced and difficult to understand than pastors and churches ever acknowledge.  The result is most often over-simplistic, uninformed answers to amazingly complex issues.   Living and pastoring in the city has caused me to come face to face with these issues in a way that I am thankful to God for.

When You Pastor in Midtown Atlanta

As you may know, I pastor Courageous Church in Midtown Atlanta – perhaps the Gayest community in the South.  When we started our church 2+ years ago, I honestly (naively) thought that I wouldn’t even have to really have a well-formed opinion on issues of homosexuality because I assumed gay men and women would not attend Courageous Church.

In Atlanta, we have churches with openly gay pastors and churches that fully embrace homosexuality in nearly every way.  Why then, I wondered, would a gay person pass up those churches and be a part of ours?  I have learned the answer and my life and theology have changed radically because of my friendship with several openly gay men that attend and love me as their brother in Christ and Courageous Church as their church home.

I was recently forwarded a news article that called Courageous Church an openly gay church.  I was pretty puzzled.  I never thought of our church as an openly gay church and think that’s probably an inaccurate way to describe who we are.  However, let me jump into the conversation and clarify where I stand and how I have tried hard to flesh out the love of Jesus in Midtown.

For the love of women, come out of the closet

Ironically, my view that gay men should come out of the closet first came out of my love for women.  I love my wife, our house full of daughters, and our church full of women.  A few years back, I started learning about gay men living on the “down low”.  In essence, the conversation was about African American men living publicly as heterosexual men that dated and married women, but privately as homosexual men that loved and even preferred sex and relationships with other men.

I found this trend to be disturbing and started hearing brutal first hand accounts of marriages and families being destroyed because gay men, under tons of pressure that I cannot imagine, made the decision to get married and have kids in spite of the feelings or knowledge that they were gay.  Ultimately it was bad for everybody.

I also started hearing about more and more Black women in committed, monogamous  relationships with men that were contracting STDs from their boyfriends that were on the down low.  While this probably only represented a small portion of Black women contracting STDs, it was real nonetheless.

From this conversation, I started really feeling like it would be better for women from a public health perspective if they always knew the whole truth of where a man stood with his sexuality.

—-

A former transvestite. Now an openly gay man.

Soon after launching Courageous Church, I met a man that loved attending our services.  He asked me regularly to pray for him.  He’d wait in line every Sunday to make this request.  One Sunday he told me had HIV.  Another Sunday he told me used to be a transvestite prostitution on Ponce in Midtown, but that he had left that life behind.  I knew then that pastoring in Midtown would be an adventure.

Soon, several openly gay men that had no connection to the man I just mentioned (or to each other) started attending Courageous Church regularly.  They are great guys. They are now my friends.  They have taught me a great deal.  Here are 3 things they taught me…

1. Being gay is not the center of the universe for every gay man or woman.  It is for some, but not even most.  I have asked many gay men that attend Courageous Church why they attend our church and not the churches with gay pastors, etc.  Their answer was the same as everybody else – they attend because they love what we do, what we stand for, they love the messages, the music, etc.  Some of the guys told me that they have visited the “gay churches” in Atlanta and they felt like those churches were great for support for being gay, but they produced Christian Gays vs. Gay Christians and that being gay was the center of gravity for those churches.  Also, they said they said they loved being a part of a church that looked like Atlanta with all types of people – broken before God and in need of His strength.  A gay church, they said, has its place, but they found it to be an unrealistic environment.

2. From a physical and emotional health standpoint, closeted gay men and women make many more unhealthy decisions than openly gay men and women.  An openly gay man is far more likely to be in a committed relationship with one man whereas a closeted gay man is far more likely to have multiple sex partners and make poor choices that impact them and others. Yes, I understand that most American churches view homosexuality as a sin and thus, view all of it as bad/wrong.  However, we miss an opportunity to advocate health when we over-simplify this issue.

3. You can’t have an impact on someone that you don’t have a relationship with. Most gay men and women know that if they ever “come out” that they would pretty much be ostracized at 9 out of 10 churches in Atlanta.  The thing is, though, you can’t impact a life that you aren’t connected to.  Even if your primary goal for a gay man or woman is for them to become straight, that won’t happen if you aren’t in a relationship with them.

For me though, if a gay man or woman NEVER becomes a heterosexual -which is likely – they can still serve God and help hurting people in a thousand other ways.  To throw them away until they become straight, for me, is poor stewardship.  “Sitting them down” until they become straight is, at best, a poor solution as well. It just doesn’t work that way.

I am not about to compare gay folk to lepers or diseased folk, but during the time of Jesus society was full of men and women that religious folk looked down on.  Rather it was tax collectors, women in general, or people from certain families that didn’t garner respect, Jesus specialized in developing relationships with those that others looked down.

In my opinion, the American Church today most looks down on three groups of people and I think it makes me (and you) more like Jesus when we befriend them. What we do with that friendship is up to us.  Jesus always left people better than when he first encountered them.  Those three groups are

1. Homosexuals

2. Illegal Immigrants/Undocumented Workers

3. Muslims

—-

A few random answers to questions you all have asked me.

Disclaimer :: I am constantly asking God for wisdom with these questions.  I search scripture, consider relationships I have with people, books I’ve read, and more when answering, but I could be wrong.  I encourage you to be on your own journey with this issue and give me room to be in process with these questions. Thanks.

1. Do I think that homosexuality is a sin? Yes. However, the bible lists it as a sin among many sins.  I struggle with how to balance this biblical reality with my sincere belief that someone could be born this way.  Christians are arrogant to point and lift up the sin they don’t have (or do have and simply want everyone to think they don’t have it).  I am choosing to love people and allow God to work in their hearts just like He is doing with me.

2. Would I marry a gay couple? No.  I am about to sound like a hypocrite, but I want to share my heart on this issue.  Politically and legally I think it is wrong for gay marriage to be illegal.  It is clearly a form of discrimination.  If pastors or civil servants want to perform these ceremonies they should be allowed to do so and they should be fully recognized by the government.  Likewise, pastors and civil servants that don’t agree should have full protection (as they do now) to not perform the ceremonies.  The two organizations that our church is a part of currently prohibits me from doing this as well.

3. Would I give a gay couple with children (of their own or adopted) parenting advice? Yes. I would give any couple advice on the best ways to raise children.

4. Would you allow gay men or women to serve at Courageous Church? Yes.  As I said, gay men and women already serve in EVERY CHURCH in Atlanta and likely in most churches in America.  The primary difference is that most churches prefer they hide it.  This is a slippery slope that has been hard for me though.  If being gay is a sin, what sins can people have that prevent them from serving?  Is being gay “too big of a sin” to sing, dance, usher, greet, preach? None? All?  What about other sins described in the Bible?

What if a gay man or woman is celibate?  Is that still a sin? Could a celibate homosexual be allowed to serve?  Do I ask them if they are celibate? Do I really want to know that? Does being gay require having sex?

You see it is complex.

Many good people and many hateful people read my blog.  Conservatives, liberals, moderates, all races, and many religions all come here.  I love this, but for this reason and because I am in a very busy season of my life in which I don’t have time to moderate or respond I am disabling comments.

Love God! Love People! Prove It!

Be Courageous!

Shaun

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  • TLC

    Pretty wise Shaun, pretty wise. Homosexual acts are a sin, but I sin daily, even though I try not to do so. Sin is sin. I do not HATE a person because they are gay. Just please do not ask me to tell you that action is not a sin.

  • LMH

    I think you need to study the NT texts more carefully. If we engage in “unnatural” sexual behavior it is sin, according to the NT. HOWEVER, homosexual acts for the homosexual are NOT unnatural! They are natural and normal. Straight men automatically look at women and appraise them as possible sexual partners. That seems pretty normal to me. On the other hand, I automatically look at men and appraise them as possible sexual partners. That pretty normal for me. We need to be very careful about calling homosexual acts “a sin!”

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