Forrest Johnson loves Jesus because He loved him first. He lives and works in Orlando, Florida and loves quality time with his friends and recently attended Revoice 2019 where that happened in abundance. Check out his reflections on the conference as a sexual minority. You can reach Forrest at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Oh man, that really stinks..I’ll pray for you!”
This (or some slight variation thereof) was a common response I received throughout my college years when I first “came out” and shared my story of being a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction. I have zero doubt words like these were well-intentioned. But that didn’t keep them from reinforcing some deeply ingrained beliefs I held about myself: “I am different and too much for God or other people to handle,” and “I am not worth the time or effort to be known and loved deeply.”
As I continued to share my story with safe people over the years, a pattern emerged. The person would usually be very attentive, respond by thanking me for sharing, and then share a sentiment similar to the opening line of this post. And then after our initial conversation, well...that was it. We would never talk about it again. The topic would only come up again if I was the one to bring it up. Even though my story was becoming known to my friends, I still carried very deep shame and pain because, however much I craved it, I still wasn’t known and loved deeply. I still felt different and completely alone.
In early 2018, I heard about Revoice. For those of you who don’t know, Revoice is an organization whose mission is “to support and encourage gay, lesbian, bisexual, and other same-sex attracted Christians—as well as those who love them—so that all in the Church might be empowered to live in gospel unity while observing the historic Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.” And as someone who, by and large, has not been well-encouraged or supported in my own journey as a sexual minority, Revoice’s summer conference immediately appealed to me, so I signed up to attend. I benefited greatly from the teaching and workshops at the conference. However, I was unable to connect well with people or see any significant friendships come out of my time at Revoice that year, which was deeply discouraging. If I were to return for future conferences, I knew that connecting with people and fostering community had to be one of my major priorities.
Early in 2019, I decided to attend the Revoice conference again. A Side B gay Christian friend from Nashville who was planning to attend Revoice graciously connected me with the leaders of EQUIP. Once we connected, they invited me to be a part of their carpool and housing arrangements for the conference (pictured above). It was clear that God was working to connect me with a community of others like me through leaders from EQUIP and people connected to them.
Now that Revoice has passed, a couple aspects of this year’s conference stood out in how God used them to minister to me deeply and reveal more of His beauty. First was the atmosphere of community, fellowship and worship constantly displayed throughout the week. Rarely am I able to be in a space with literally hundreds of other Christians who experience same-sex attraction. In this space, I was able to share about experiences relating to my sexuality and be completely understood. I was able to share about my struggles with loneliness and fear, and about the frustrations over how misunderstood and unknown my life and journey with Jesus is. It was incredible! The joy of coming into this space and having my dignity affirmed as a fellow image-bearer of God freed me up to express that joy back to the Lord. In this space, I felt as though I was at home. I did not have to pretend that everything was fine. Being in a space where my life and experiences were known and understood, where I could experience love from Christ and others freely, that freed me to enjoy the Lord in His presence and to express my love for Him. Over and over again it was the embodiment of a great C.S. Lewis quote, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” For one of the very few times in my life in any space (Christian or otherwise), I could safely be authentic and real about my sexuality without fear of judgement.
Second, the teaching at Revoice was incredibly beautiful, refreshing, and life-giving for me. As I looked back through my notes, a couple of themes stood out to me. One was a near-constant exhortation to deepen my relationship with and love for God. I was reminded that I am already fully known and fully loved by God. As my relationship with God deepens, I can trust that He will work in and through me by the power of His Spirit. That is good news! Another beautiful theme that ministered to me deeply was the constant reminder that everyone is broken and has defects in their sexuality, not just sexual minorities. This teaching goes a long way towards humanizing me and others like me. I desire for the unique challenges I face as a sexual minority to be acknowledged in the Church and talked about without the stigma of being shamed and ostracized for an experience I did not choose in the first place. Finally, I was very encouraged by the consistency of the message that singleness and celibacy is an equal calling to marriage. I had an opportunity to attend EQUIP’s portion of the ministry leaders track where this message was shared, and I’m hopeful that the leaders who attended will utilize these teachings in their own ministry contexts. From my years in the church, I have seen and heard many more sermons, programs, and events that speak towards married people than single people. When people are not encouraged to determine if God is calling them to marriage or singleness and are not able to see the single and celibate life taught and modeled well in the church, those who are called to a life of singleness and celibacy can experience significant discouragement and a feeling of being “lesser than” those called to marriage.
Ultimately, the Revoice conference ended and I am back to my normal life, job, and daily routines. So now, coming down from the mountain top, why do I press on in my daily faith journey as a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction? First, I firmly believe that the biblical sexual ethic is true. I don’t believe that God intended any person to experience same-sex attraction, but instead that came as a result of the fall in Genesis 3. I also believe that God’s created intent will be restored in full in the new heavens and new earth as prophesied in Revelation 21. But, what does this mean for me in the meantime? As a Christian, I want to do everything I can to honor God by the Spirit’s power. To me, this means denying what my attractions might tell me I want and instead submit those to what God wants for my life, which is for me to love and serve Him because He loves me first.
Second, I press on in this journey because of the chosen family that God has richly blessed me with. Being around so many Christians at Revoice who could relate to and understand my experience as a sexual minority was invaluable, and these people quickly became a chosen family for me, particularly the leaders of and people associated with EQUIP. Even though the primary ministry of EQUIP is not to minister directly to Side B gay Christians, the relationships I’ve developed with these people have been a true godsend. Since the conference, I have kept in contact with many of them regularly via social media, phone and video chats, and instant messaging. Having regular interactions with so many who know the challenges and discouragements that come in this journey is invaluable. This chosen family constantly encourages me in my own walk with Jesus in so many ways. They remind me of His love and desire for me. They exhort me to seek Him in prayer and scripture. They pray for me and speak scripture into my life. And together, we explore and talk about our doubts. When I get discouraged, God has already used so many of these people as His hands and feet in my life reminding me of why I follow Him as a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction.