I don’t remember exactly when I realized I was gay. It was something I became aware of slowly, realizing somewhere during my middle school years that what I was feeling toward other guys was what people meant by “homosexual.” But I do remember being deeply afraid and ashamed. Both in the evangelical church and among my school peers, being gay was considered bad, twisted, ugly. There were no positive gay figures to be seen, and I was afraid that I could never share this secret part of myself. Being gay meant I was in for a very difficult life—that was something I knew before I could articulate it to myself.
All these years later, I’m amazed that these fears didn’t materialize. In fact, I am deeply grateful and consider it a rich blessing in my life that I am gay. I consider it a wise spiritual practice to count one’s blessings, so let me count the ways that I experience being gay as a gift:
- Being gay encouraged me to pursue an intimate and rich relationship with God at a young age. From junior high on I was aware that I couldn’t simply follow the rules and meet my family or church’s expectations for a good Christian boy. I discovered quickly that I had to push beyond easy categories and find a God who lived with me in the confusing wilderness. Because the ordinary language and rhythms of life didn’t work for me, I was forced to discover God authentically, for myself.
- God’s heart for the marginalized and outcast became clear to me because of my sexual orientation. In a lot of ways, I represent the most privileged group in the world. As a white, American, upper-middle class, educated young male, I enjoy unfair advantages right and left. Being gay required me to keep my ear open to hear Scripture’s clear preference for the overlooked, marginalized, broken, and isolated. These texts connected with me as I wondered if I could ever be loved, reassuring me that God was keenly aware of me and out for my blessing. At the same time, I was forced to recognize the reality of injustice and to join my heart with the broken and overlooked. Coming out publicly has been an expression of identifying with the marginalized, a way of releasing superiority and privilege.
- Jesus’ call to die to self connects with me in a special way as a gay man. Against the fairly common expectation in American evangelicalism that we can follow God without too much suffering, my life was shaped by the inevitable cost of discipleship. This is something gay Christians discover, whether they hold a traditional sexual ethic or are affirming of same-sex relationships. For traditional gay Christians, the cost of following Jesus is singleness, the hard work of forging new kinds of community in a church that often overlooks their existence, and the often persistent misplaced shame over their sexual difference. For affirming gay Christians, the cost often looks like bearing the rejection of family and friends, losing opportunities in ministry and church membership, and recognizing that their most meaningful relationship may go unrecognized by the people who matter most to them. What both sides have in common is the burden of being constantly in the middle of a cultural tug-of-war, yearning to find belonging and acceptance while feeling a constant pressure to justify themselves. Following Jesus means, above all, learning to bless those who disagree with and vilify you. As a gay person, this is a daily reality for me.
- My sexuality is an invitation to hospitality and grace. As a gay person I am keenly aware that my place at the table is tenuous. There are many places I am not welcome. So the image of Jesus sharing a meal with outsiders and society’s rejects has been very powerful for me. I am forced to wrestle with the tension theologian Miroslav Volf describes as “exclusion and embrace.” I am drawn to recognize that I am embraced by grace, and my inclusion at God’s table is an unexpected gift.
It is an unceasing delight to me that my sexuality, which I once considered a burden and fervently prayed to have “healed,” has become the holy ground where I encounter a gracious, wild God whose eye is on the forgotten one and who pursues me with love. And at the same time, embracing my sexuality carries a seemingly endless cost, as relationships strain and opportunities are lost to me. But this has been the most important lesson I’ve learned from my sexuality: Vulnerability is the place we find both God and our true self. All creative self-offering involves risk. All love opens us to wounding. Jesus led the way, emptying himself and exposing himself to harm in order to love us. For me, being gay is the way I experience the mystery of Christ’s life, as I seek to join him in vulnerable, authentic love by bringing my whole self to the table.
Ben Barczi served as Pastor of Spiritual Formation for over a decade at First Baptist Church, San Luis Obipso, CA. A graduate of the Renovaré Institute for Spiritual Formation, he is now a spiritual director and an M.Div student at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. He lives in Portland, OR, with his virtuous dog, Arete. He also serves as a spiritual director for CSA’s Oriented to Love program.