My Pentecostal roots run deep. My dad’s parents and mom’s mother received the Holy Spirit in 1920’s Alabama, where “the movement” was largely confined to backwoods camp meetings. They suffered tremendous ridicule from family and friends. My mom’s father so fiercely opposed “holy-rollers” he deserted his wife, leaving her to raise 11 children alone on sharecropper’s wages. Still, she and my paternal grandparents endured, and the price they paid made their faith all the more real and precious.
They passed this legacy down to us. What a blessing it was! Having survived persecution, they stressed clinging to our faith and ignoring contrary opinions. “Be very sure,” they said again and again.
Certainty was essential because Pentecostalism was (and is) a work in progress. Formerly held doctrines fade away as each generation increases in wisdom and knowledge. Unfortunately, a new set of taboos typically replaces old ones. So while my parents rejected the notion only “Spirit-filled” believers went to Heaven, they embraced a separatist lifestyle that condemned mundane habits like moviegoing, dancing, and wearing jewelry. My generation tossed that aside for a warlike compulsion to defend “Christian values.”
Along the way, I decided most, if not all, of this is manmade. God’s Word and His Spirit’s leadership are what matters. This became the bedrock for confidence in my faith as I gradually accepted my sexuality.
Coming out wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t hard, either. By the time I came to grips with being gay, my parents had founded three Assembly of God churches in underprivileged Chicago neighborhoods. It was the 1970’s, which meant they’d seen it all—drug addiction, gang and race riots, sexual promiscuity and abuse, occultism, the “Jesus People” craze, and the explosive “charismatic movement.”
Meanwhile, I quietly worked out my own salvation. I went through the classic stages: begging for deliverance, asking why, worrying about being damned for all time, and so on. But through it all, I held on to the blessed assurance Jesus is mine. He loves me, understands me, died to save me, and accepts me because He made me. I knew this. I just wasn’t sure it was something anyone else would believe or understand.
My crisis was with the church, not God. Where I stood with Him was never in doubt. But I struggled to hold on to my heritage with integrity—meaning, I honored its antigay doctrine despite knowing it was unsound. This went on for years, and I sacrificed being the gay man God created in deference to His people’s weaknesses. This sounds nobler than it was; I viewed it as my price of admission to Pentecostal life. Every time a preacher went off on homosexuals my heart ached. But it also increased my faith to believe that, like so many other erroneous taboos, one day this would change. (And I continue to believe it.)
Then I fell in love with a wonderful man.
I had already come out to family and friends, to varying degrees of acceptance made possible because they knew I was “living right.” Now that I accepted the amazing blessing of love and companionship that God had given me, they either turned against me or ramped up their efforts to bring me back to “the truth.” I eventually quit church altogether—although I steadfastly continued a life of prayer and Bible study.
After 10 years with Walt, my parents called in a final act of desperation, pleading with me to “get right with God.” My father wept as he confessed, “I have no desire to go to Heaven since you won’t be there.” The conversation grew so heated my mom slammed down the phone. I decided that was the end of our relationship. Despite everyone begging me to reopen lines of communication, I refused. Nearly two years passed in stone silence.
I justified my actions with the tired argument “How can they be Christians and not accept me?” I sought out a number of “gay-friendly” churches, yet they were nothing like the powerfully alive churches I grew up in. I felt less like a prodigal son than a homeless orphan.
One day God spoke to my spirit, asking, “How can you be a Christian and not accept your parents as they are?” Everything fell in place. My acceptance wasn’t the issue. Loving and accepting those who rejected me was what He wanted. I called my folks, apologized for judging them, and explicitly said, “Whether or not you accept me as I am, because I love you, I accept you and your beliefs.” Our healing began.
Being a writer, I worked my way through this on paper. What started as an internal dialogue evolved into a book I called Straight-Friendly: The Gay Believer’s Life in Christ. When I finished, Walt said, “You should start a blog. There must be millions like you out there.” And so I did. God blessed me with a family of friends—gay and straight, Christians from every denomination—who also heard this call.
Straight-Friendly is now my life’s ministry. It’s more than a “gay-friendly” Christian blog; it’s a safe place where people of all genders and backgrounds share God’s Word and build up one another in our most holy faith.
In the process I’ve come to understand the true meaning of Pentecost. It’s not about tongues, gifts, and emotionally charged worship, grand though they are. It’s about being witnesses. As a gay believer, the Spirit empowers me to testify to God’s love and acceptance by demonstrating it. In the realm of the Spirit, sexuality doesn’t matter. Sincerity is what God seeks.
I close by thanking God for all you at freedom2be—especially my great brother, Anthony Venn-Brown. Your faith and unity have been an inspiration to me. And, at Anthony’s urging, I’d like to invite all of you to visit the Straight-Friendly blog, add my book to your reading list, and/or join Straight-Friendly’s Facebook group.
God bless each of you with His power and light.