So, today’s National Coming Out Day,so I figured I’d share a few remarks on coming out and finally share a sermon I delivered this past summer as part of my internship. I officially started coming out of the closet about a year and two months ago, and this is my first time definitively saying “I’m gay” on Facebook/the internets (though I feel previous posts have made that pretty obvious). The journey I’ve been on since then has been one of the most transformative years of my life and I have learned so much about myself and those around me as a result.
To my friends, peers, and role models who were the first I came out to, you have given me a gift words simply cannot describe–a love and affirmation so deep that I hope to emulate it in all that I do moving forward. As I started coming out, a line from the Avett Brothers’ song “Perfect Space” really became my guiding philosophy: “I want to have friends, who love me for the man I’ve become and not the man that I was,” and I have truly found that in each of you.
To those of who, in whatever capacity, have been less supportive; to the kids in middle school who led me to believe “gay” was nothing more than an insult; to anyone who’s ever told me that homosexuality is nothing more than a sin or that “gay” and “Christian” are a contradiction; to anyone who’s ever told me that “love the sinner, hate the sin” bullshit; to those who remained silent during those moments: your words and and your actions (or lack there of) are more powerful than you may realize. To you, it may just be a joke or a comment on what you think scripture says, but to those around you it can be a weapon with powerful consequences. In those moments you have the power to change someone’s life for the better, but you’ll only do so if you truly believe that our liberty is bound together.
And lastly, most importantly, to those of you who may be questioning and growing into their identity (a process which never ends) and reconciling what everything means: hang in there, it truly does get better, and it is worth it. I need you to know that I love you, you are a beautiful part of creation, and I need you to survive.The world needs more people like you. If you need any support, encouragement, or just tips on how to make a good coming out playlist, don’t hesitate to contact me.
And now, the sermon I delivered July 12th:
He walked out of his apartment feeling gayer than ever. He is donned in full Pride regalia–complete with a rainbow flag cape, tie-dye t-shirt, purple shorts, and multiple miniature rainbow flags. As he continued down the street head held high he carries a poster proclaiming “FREE HUGS,” in rainbow lettering of course. He was not afraid as he boarded the metro bound for downtown, taking care to make sure that his rainbow cape did not get caught in the doors. When arrived at his station, he rode the escalator up to ground level and emerged in the sunlight like a gay Superman. He headed to the Supreme Court to complete his mission–to hug as many people as possible.
Needless to say, this was one of my favorite days of the summer.For seven hours I hugged more people than I would have thought possible–probably in the hundreds, I lost count after three. I listened to everyone’s story of how they got there, taking in everything that lead to that moment, and likewise shared my own story. I essentially allowed myself to be as gay as I possibly could. Having spent most of my life in the closet, I had a lot of time to make up for. There on the front steps of the Supreme Court I felt the strongest sense of solidarity and community such as I had never felt before. In each of own ways, everyone present served as a witness to the light, to the power that comes from living out your calling, which on that particular day meant donning as much rainbow as possible and gathering in that spontaneous party.
Much like John the Baptist, we were living out the lives we felt called to, except no one got beheaded that night. Discrimination was still a very real threat, but that day we didn’t care. Our King Herods–the Supreme Court Justices–had seen us and responded favorably.
John the Baptist’s calling was a lifelong mission–to prepare the way for one who is more powerful than himself, the Messiah. He preached the Word that Jesus would later bring. In a sense, he was the original hipster Christian, talking about the transformative power of the Divine and the promise of resurrection before it was cool, before even Jesus. He was not afraid to call people out on their hypocrisy. In fact, that’s what landed in this current plight. John was called to proclaim God’s will at all costs, even to the powers that be, even to those who may not respond favorably. He stood up for what he believed, even though it meant certain death. Even though it would’ve been far easier to let Herod’s adultery slide by this one time. But John was not called to take the easy route. He was called to challenge the empire. Called to end oppression. Called to stand for what he believed in, no matter the consequences.
Standing outside the highest court in the land shortly after they had delivered such a monumental decision, I couldn’t help but feel that it was really easy to be John the Baptist. I had joined a community ready to expose the deceit and harm of patriarchy, always ready to demand the equality we know we deserve. It’s easy and quite relieving to assume such a position of power when no one’s challenging you, but what about those moments when it isn’t so easy? What about those moments where you just want to give in and conform to the status quo? As much as we want to vilify Herod, do we often not take a similar path as him?
Herod isn’t too far removed from the complex systems of power that plague our society today. His actions come not from a place of vengeance or hatred, since we’re told Herod respected John. Mark even says that even though“John’s words greatly confused Herod, he enjoyed listening to him.” He only committed the act once his daughter requested it. Here Herod found himself at a tricky crossroad, trapped between his own respect for the prophet and the sick demands of peers. We may not behead anyone (at least, I sincerely hope not), but do we more often than not find ourselves facing the same basic conflict, ultimately giving into peer pressure?
I feel I do this every time I act on some aspect of my white privilege without even thinking about it. I feel I do this every time someone defines me by my orientation and I let them. I feel I do this every time a family member makes a borderline racist remark and I remain voiceless, for fear of what they’d think of me. I feel I do this every time I feel compelled to hide some aspect of my identity for fear of offending somebody with my “gayness.” With my exuberance. With my zeal.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to condemn acting like Herod. Honestly, it seems only human to follow his model. Herod meant well, after all; he simply wanted to please his peers and appear to them as a mighty and steadfast king, even if it meant acting against his respect for the Baptist. Herod’s struggle is very real and very relevant–does he honor that which amazes him–the Word delivered to him by John the Baptist? Or does he merely conform to the whims of the society and take the so-called popular, easy choice?
Herod’s decision proved deadly. Gruesomely deadly. He killed a prophet and kept his head as a trophy. Not because he wanted to, but because he didn’t want to do otherwise. Our simple acts of conformity may not end as morbidly, but are they no less harmful? I have long lived a life of passivity and casual acceptance of the norm. Believe it or not, in high school I was more of a blend-in kinda guy (at least compared to now).The kind of person who never did anything too eccentric for fear that I might possibly, somehow upset someone. Or someone might think I’m weird. Or that I just wouldn’t fit in (in retrospect, there was never any hope for that). I convinced myself I was happy conforming, even though it never felt quite right.
By the time I got to college, however, I elected to start changing that. Life is too short to be living someone else’s life, after all.Three years later and here I am in Washington, DC, a product of much changing and much coming out, in every sense of the phrase. Coming to Church of the Pilgrims has allowed me to welcome this radical calling to embrace every aspect of my identity and everything that that means–whether it’s hugging everyone I see in front of the Supreme Court or dancing through the streets of the nation’s capital with thousands of other LGBT folk during the Pride Parade. This summer has empowered me in ways I didn’t even realize I needed, and this sense of Pride is certainly something I hope I’m able to bring home with me to Tennessee (because God knows they need it).
Whenever I don my full rainbow regalia and become Captain Gaymerica, as I baptized myself, I undoubtedly encounter multiple people who ask why I do it? Why do I go to such great lengths and still exhibit so much energy? The simple answer is because it’s fun. The long answer is because I know what my past was like, and because I know that my story is entirely too common. I know that there are too many LGBT youth out there who are questioning how to deal with the “problem” of being gay, for whom coming out feels like an unreal possibility, who are calculating just how many pills it’d take to end it all. My simple hope is that they might see me, waltzing through the streets in my rainbow regalia rejoicing in the beautiful blessing of queerness; that they might see that being gay is not something to defend or explain but to celebrate and be glad in.
I hope to continue this ever changing calling even beyond this summer in my future ministries, in suburban Tennessee and rural Missouri and everywhere in between.I’m probably not up against any beheading-power-hungry kings (or maybe I am, I don’t really know what’s out there, I’m kinda naive like that), but I’ll still face opposition in various forms. For instance, my orientation has already begun to complicate my ordination process. But I know, in this instance, God is calling me to be John the Baptist; to be a witness to the light, and to challenge the status quo.
Benediction: Go now and embrace this radical calling to be yourself, fully yourself, and only yourself, without reservation, without care for what anyone else may think, for there is a promise of hope with God