*A pseudonym. Matthew wants his story shared publicly but attaching his name would negatively affect family members in the CRC.
My story begins like so many others: a childhood being raised in a Christian family and attending the nearby Christian Reformed Church every week. My world seemed to revolve around the CRC community. Our family friends were mostly from within the CRC and my extended family – top to bottom – was Christian Reformed. Needless to say, nearly my entire life growing up was informed by the doctrine of the Christian Reformed Church. That is, until I came out as gay.
It took many years of pain and isolated struggle to come to grips with who I am. But when I finally did, it became clear to me that the CRC doctrine I had previously relied on for truth and stability no longer provided me that. To the contrary, it seemed to have abandoned me altogether – unable to love me for who I was or to recognize me as an equal brother in Christ. I came to realize that the Church and its teachings were largely responsible for why my journey had been so painful and so lonely. I was taught that I was inherently sinful – not in the same way that everyone else is sinful, but in a much worse and more shameful way. Through a culture of bigotry that ran just beneath the surface in the Christian community around me (conveniently hidden beneath smiles and pleasantries), it was clear to me that I would be cast out and condemned if anyone knew the truth. As a result, I knew even as a child that I had no choice but to suffer alone, drowning in self-hatred and shame. This was deeply traumatic and has left me with scars that still hurt to this day.
Fortunately, I grew up. I moved on from my Christian high school, attended Christian university, and ultimately attended a large secular university for postgraduate studies. Along the way I met so many amazing people – some Christian and some not. I learned a lot from these people. They each brought with them a worldview shaped by experiences that were different than my own. Honestly, it was a relief to learn that life existed outside of the CRC and that there was not just one way to follow God. The secret that the Church had tried to keep from me – that there were queer people like me everywhere authentically living their life for Jesus – was finally discovered. What’s more is that I also found Christians who were straight, white, and cisgendered who loved and affirmed me for exactly who I was. Coming from the church I grew up in, this was earth-shattering. For the first time I was seen, understood, and truly loved by my Christian community. It was then that I truly left the CRC behind. I saw that God had prepared a table for me and I went running. I have never looked back since.
It was in Christian spaces outside of the CRC that I first encountered other Christians like me. If I’m being honest, it was in these spaces that I first encountered Jesus. Well, at least a version of Jesus that finally made sense: one that loved radically, challenged religious authorities, and lived in the margins. This, I thought, is the Jesus of the Bible and the one I was always meant to meet. I have walked with him ever since.
But our path has not been without its obstacles. The deep-rooted trauma I experienced as a young, gay Christian has had its toll. There are times when I am so consumed with hurt and anger towards the Church and its people that I find it difficult to continue holding the hand of my Saviour. Like a child in a fit of rage I want to throw away my Father’s hand and get as far away as possible. This has led to times of spiritual drought and distance from Christ that leave me feeling broken and alone again. Even now, years after leaving behind the churches that hurt me, I can still fall into self-inflicted isolation from Christ: a remnant of the loneliness I felt as a closeted Christian. As much as this reality pains me, it is a part of my story just as it is for so many others.
However, I am fortunate in ways that not everyone like me is. I have a loving, supportive, and faithful husband who can be my spiritual rock when I falter. Contrary to the belief that same-sex relationships are inherently sinful and separate people from God, my husband challenges me to be a better Christian when I feel like giving up. He picks me up off the floor and pushes me back into Christ’s outstretched arms when I am struggling to do so myself. He does this for me like I did for him when we met and he had fallen away from his faith. When one is weak, the other is strong. When one becomes complacent, the other encourages them back into relationship with Christ. If you think it impossible for a same-sex marriage to lead people toward Christ, I can assure you that you are wrong. My husband has helped to heal so many of the wounds inflicted on me by the Church and that is one of the greatest gifts that the Lord has given to me. When we met, I had resigned myself to the reality that I would never see the deepest desires of my heart realized because I was taught that I could not follow Christ and have a family of my own. It was in this exact moment that God brought him into my life and told me He had other plans. We choose to follow Him, regardless of the rejection we face within the Christian community, because he brought us together when hope was nearly lost and has blessed us beyond measure. When fear and pain threatened to consume us entirely, he saved us. For this reason, and so many more, we strive to live by faith and to make Christ the centre of our marriage.
Leaving the CRC was not a decision I took lightly but it was a decision I made easily. Despite the hurt caused to me by the church, I did not leave because I thought the CRC was a lost cause. I left because I felt that the CRC saw me as a lost cause. I felt that if I could not either change or deny my true self, I was beyond salvation in their eyes. This message still rings loud and clear from the CRC despite recent attempts to right their previous wrongs. As a gay Christian, I feel it is important to let the CRC know that these attempts, although well-intentioned, have done very little to right these wrongs. Forming a committee made entirely of people with views that align with the traditional CRC beliefs, claiming to have given each side an equal voice, and then ultimately changing nothing does not make queer people feel any safer or any more welcome in the church. Acknowledging the pain and suffering that has been caused and listening to stories like mine, while a necessary step, can feel more like an inauthentic “checking of boxes” if nothing is then done to prevent that pain in the future. If I could ask one thing of the CRC it would be to genuinely examine the fruit that your tree is bearing. When it comes to the topic of LGBTQ+ Christians, that fruit looks a lot like hurt, condemnation, isolation from Christ, abandonment of faith, and, in some cases, death. We are suffering and we are dying because of these long-held beliefs and that cannot be changed simply by being “progressive” enough to finally acknowledge our pain. I am past the point of applauding churches for being willing to even say the word gay. More needs to be done. We deserve better.
I am writing my story not because I need to have my hurt acknowledged. I no longer seek apologies or retribution for the wrongs done to me. I write this for one reason and one reason only: for the kids in church today who are struggling like I did. My only prayer is that my words can somehow, in some way, ease their suffering and maybe prevent that suffering in the first place. Luckily for people like us, there are places where this pain does not exist. Leaving the CRC allowed me to find a church and a community where real change is happening. I have finally been invited to join a table where there is a seat set aside just for me – exactly as I am. A church where my son will never be made to feel condemned, rejected, or alone like I did. I thank the Lord every day that I no longer have to hide myself or my family. Where there was once pain, there is now joy. He has replaced friends and family who rejected me with others who embrace me. He has shown me how to love myself as the person He created me to be. He has made me strong where I was once weak. Although there are many who would think me lost or spiritually misguided, I am not. I am right where God wants me to be. I can now say with joy in my heart that I am profoundly grateful that God gifted me with being gay. It has opened my heart, made me into the person I am today, and shown me what it truly means to love as Christ intends us to love.