Tony is a Black man who lives on the edge of homelessness, with occasional bouts of sheltered living. Tony is also a gay man, but not completely out, largely due to concerns about his safety in the world he lives in. And Tony is also Christian in a very intense and Evangelical way, mostly, I suspect, as a way of dealing with his shame around his sexuality.
So when Tony came into my office and asked if he could talk to me, I knew this was going to be interesting.
I want to say upfront that while I know that there is no single Black Church Experience and that there are many positive manifestations of the Black male-led church, Tony is involved in none of those. Instead, he regularly attends a storefront Pentecostal church led by a power-hungry man who preaches prosperity theology with a side dish of shaming, who demands that people refer to him as “Pastor”. Like it’s his name.
One of Tony’s friends is Jimmy, and Jimmy is very gay and very out. Jimmy had been going to Tony’s church, and was recently “convicted” about his sexuality, and had recently been, at the encouragement of the pastor over there, committed to praying that God will take away his “homosexual desires”.
Earlier in the week, Jimmy had confessed to the pastor that it wasn’t working. Despite all his praying, Jimmy was still just a big old gay man, and this made Jimmy feel ashamed and made the pastor angry.
So at the Wednesday night prayer meeting, and at the leadership meeting afterward (that Tony was a part of), Pastor doubled down. They had a ‘Come to Jesus” meeting, Tony told me, where Pastor let it be known in no uncertain terms that being gay was a sin, against the law of God, and to prove it, they had a verse by verse reading of Romans chapter one.
Everybody in the room was supposed to read two verses out loud, and when it got to Tony, he was supposed to read verses 26 and 27 out loud.
For this reason, God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
There was a long pause while they waited for Tony to read.
“I can’t do it. I won’t do it.” Tony said. And then he left.
Pastor was upset, obviously. He isn’t used to being defied. He sent Tony several texts, basically threatening his eternal salvation if he didn’t repent and come back to church.
So Tony thought about it and came to see me. Because that’s sort of what I do. I’m the pastor you come to when you don’t have anyone else to talk to. The conversation went like this:
Tony: Pastor told me last night that my being gay was a sin, and that God was angry at me.
Me: Well, what do you think?
Tony: I really don’t think it is a sin. I think God made me this way. What do you think, Hugh?
Me: I think you’re right Tony. I don’t think it is, either, and I think God made you this way.
Tony: You do? (This two-word phrase was so filled with hope, tears, and pain that it almost broke my heart.)
Me: I really do. God made you, and God doesn’t make mistakes. You are exactly the way God meant for you to be, and God loves you, and God loves that you are gay. You being gay is exactly what God wanted, and it makes God happy.
Tony, thru tears: No pastor has ever told me that before. I wish they had.
Me: I really wish they had, too.
We talked a bit after that about what Romans chapter one was actually talking about, and I lent him a couple of books that would be helpful to someone from an Evangelical background. But mainly, I let him know he was loved, by both me and by God.
As he was getting ready to leave, I asked him if he would let me read another Bible verse to him. He agreed.
So I read Romans 8:38 and 39 to him.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Him: That sounds like it’s saying that nothing can come between me and God.
Me: That’s exactly what it’s saying.
He hugged me, and then, heading to the door, stopped and turned to look back at me.
“No pastor has ever told me that before, either.”
And he walked out the door.
# # #
If you are gay, and like Tony, you have never had a minister tell you that God is happy you are gay, then please, allow me to be the one to say it.
You are made, the book of Genesis tells us, in the very image of God. You are not an afterthought or a mistake. You are not defective. Your being gay was part of the plan, and has been all along.
And because every creator delights in seeing their creation being fully utilized, God is delighted that you are gay. Not just delighted that you are attracted to other people, but your expressing your sexuality makes God happy. In exactly the same way that it makes God happy that you like to paint, or that you like to run, or that you enjoy singing songs or making music.
Your being gay, realizing you are gay, seeking to express your gayness – all of that makes God giddy with joy.
And as to what can separate you from the love of God?
Not a damned thing. Not a single damned thing.