For those of us who don’t know, October 11 has been designated National Coming Out Day since the first anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay rights, which took place on October 11, 1987. It has been celebrated in each of the fifty states and around the world since 1990, and is now officially associated with the Human Rights Campaign.
If you don’t know many gay people, the excitement and sense of purpose associated with the idea of “coming out” will probably be unavoidably foreign. Moreover, for Christians it is doubly difficult to understand how coming out as gay or lesbian could in any way be something to commemorate. And since I am a Christian who openly talks about his experience of same-sex attraction, I’ve often wondered myself, “If a Christian experiences same-sex attraction, can (or should?) he or she ‘come out’ just like anybody else? If so, do they ‘come out’ as gay, or as… something else?”
So, before my short round-up of “National Coming Out Day” posts, I’m going to list a few of my own thoughts about “coming out,” in no particular order.
- One reason “coming out” is such a big deal for gay people is because many of us have gone to great lengths in the past to hide the truth about our sexuality. Obviously (and Christians, rightly, think this is important to remember), one reason we sometimes hide our sexual orientation from others is because we may want to continue patterns of sinful behavior that flow from it. But I don’t think this is the biggest reason. In fact, I don’t think it even comes close to explaining why the vast majority of gay people struggle deeply with the thought of opening up about their sexuality with others for the first time.
- It’s true, most people who “come out” as gay, lesbian, transgender, or somewhere/anywhere in between do so in ways that affirm all aspects of their sexuality. And yet, Christians can still choose to support people for choosing to take a step toward greater authenticity and transparency. Your gay friends may not immediately ask you for your opinion as a Christian right after they come out. But it’s probably safe to assume that they will NEVER ask for your opinion if they aren’t convinced that, at the end of the day, you want what’s best for them because you love them.
- Some Christians should probably learn from the example of costly transparency and authenticity that many “out” gay people live out on a daily basis. Transparency often comes at a great price, and few know this as well as some of those who live on the fringes of society. But what’s also sad is that many Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction pay the sometimes greater price of not allowing themselves to be known by those closest to them. The tragic irony cuts both ways. When held up against the backdrop of a Christianity that often doesn’t know what to do with gay people, it’s hard to deny the appeal of the “compassionate gay community.” And yet, compassion without conviction is no real antidote to the shame that characterizes our common human experience, absent the grace of Christ.
- Don’t flip out if someone you “thought” was a Christian tells you that they’re gay. Identity statements can be relatively fluid and flexible (especially for millennials, and other younger people), and may or may not communicate a long-term commitment to either a particular ideology or a pattern of behavior. Some gay people no doubt will dive headlong into all things “gay,” and it will be obvious to everybody who knows them that their sexual orientation plays a very central role in the way they make sense of the world and their experience. For many others, however, “being gay” simply refers to the fact that they have a homosexual orientation… nothing more, nothing less. We may wring our hands, wishing that they had conceptual categories that didn’t overly restrict the ways they choose to identify themselves, but this misses this an important point: all of us are, in some ways, defined by our experiences.
- Jesus didn’t care about the labels people used to describe him. Or, at the very least, the gospel writers don’t seem very concerned with mitigating Jesus’s association with people of questionable repute, such as drunkards, gluttons, and other such “sinners.” Maybe it was that bit in Isaiah about the Messiah being “numbered with the transgressors” that reminded them that the gospel is only good news for people who know they have no chance outside the one-way love of God. The apostle Paul says that he becomes “all things” to “all people” so that “some might be saved” (1 Cor. 9:22). And, my personal favorite, the writer to the Hebrews tells us that if we want to be with Christ, we need “bear the disgrace he bore” by going with him… “outside the camp” (13:13).
Ok, I’m done. On with the round-up!
Probably my favorite blog to read these days is written by my friend Julie Rodgers. Julie works with Mercy Street, a Christian ministry that provides mentors to inner city kids in Dallas, Texas. Julie sometimes calls herself a gay Christian, but personally believes that sexuality is only holy when it is expressed in a healthy marriage between a man and a woman, or in a faithfully celibate individual. Here is a great quote from the beginning of her post today about National Coming Out Day:
Christians often cringe around expressions of “gay pride,” and I understand the confusion in light of the fact that it’s often framed as a group of people rallying together around their “brokenness”. That’s not what’s happening. A better way to understand it would be: brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, who often grew up feeling ashamed, alone, scared and silenced are gaining the courage to tell tales of their human experience so they can be known more intimately and love others more authentically.
The rest of the piece is well worth your time.
From a different perspective, Wentworth Miller, the star of the hit TV show “Prison Break,” at a gathering of the Human Rights Campaign a few months ago discussed his recent decision to go public about his sexuality. Although Christians will certainly disagree with the secular perspective, the individual elements of Miller’s story are poignant and, at times, heart-breaking. The speech is short (10 minutes), and really should be watched by anyone who has never heard a gay person share their story.
Micah Murray, from RedemptionPictures.com, posted a collection of short vignettes (presumably from people he knows) that tell the various stories of how they came out to their friends and family. Some of them have happy endings… and some don’t.
Michael Kimpan, from the Marin Foundation, relates the first time someone came out to him, and shares some of the things he has learned since. Don’t miss the helpful Do’s and Don’ts section… you’ll find plenty of great advice about what to do if you ever find yourself in a conversation when somebody decides to come out to you.
The folks over at SpiritualFriendship.org are quite a prodigious group of thinkers when it comes to issues related to gender and sexuality. One of the writers, Matt Jones, writes in a two-part series (Pt 1 and Pt 2) about the events surrounding his decision to start coming out to his friends and family.