Day of Silence 2013

Greg White, Nazarene Ally Vice-President, wrote this piece for Day of Silence 2011. Greg grew up in Bethany, Oklahoma, and graduated from Southern Nazarene University in 2006 with a B. A. in Communication Arts and now works as a professional illustrator.  He is a proud member of Bethany First Church of the Nazarene, and strives to serve by fostering a grace-filled dialogue between the Nazarene Church and the LGBT community.

Day of Silence 2011

Today is the National Day of Silence, a day when students across the country remain silent in recognition of the members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community who feel compelled to remain silent about the truth of their identity.  As a matter of conscience, I feel I must break my own silence and come out as gay.  As someone who has had to endure the isolating pain of hiding his sexuality, I believe that I’ve been called to now be honest.  I’ve heard it said that it isn’t lying to not tell everything you know, and there may be some truth to that.  But to remain silent in the face of the ignorance that has led to so much pain and death in the LGBT community would be, I believe, a great sin.  The truth is that by remaining silent, I find myself complicit with a worldview that discourages honesty and integrity.  And as a person of faith, I think that the truth matters, even when or perhaps especially when it is confusing or inconvenient.

This is not a declaration of a “struggle” or a “lifestyle,” (two words that I would be quite glad to never hear again) but rather a state of being.  As Peggy Campolo, wife of evangelist Tony Campolo has said, “Madonna and I are both heterosexual women, but we do not share a lifestyle.”  More often than not, that word is used as a disingenuous way to confirm the presence or absence of a sex life, which I find to be a deeply personal bit of information, regardless of orientation.  “Hey John and Mary, I see you’ve been spending a lot of time together lately.  Have you been living out the heterosexual lifestyle?”  It’s just an unfair question, and one that I don’t intend to go into here.

What I want to talk about is an environment in which societal pressures such as shame, fear, and intimidation have been used to keep gay people closeted.  Issues of sexuality are, indeed, difficult ones to approach, especially when they may seem to conflict with our deeply held religious beliefs.  I’m sure that, had I not been forced to deal with homosexuality in such a personal way, I likely would have shied away from that challenge.  But to deny its existence, to directly or indirectly discourage others from being open about who they are can only have a negative impact.

I spent more years than I care to remember suffering in silence, hating myself, wishing I would die.  I projected a false self to the world, holding friends and family at arm’s length.  Alone at night, I would cry out to God to change me, to make me acceptable, to spare me from Hell.  I cut myself with razor blades and soon began to resent the God that I’d loved so dearly.  This year, the news has been littered with stories of gay kids committing suicide, unable to withstand the personal hell their lives had become due to the cruelty, silence and indifference they’d experienced at the hands of others.  And the negative impact isn’t isolated only to the LGBT community.  Churches, schools, and societies have robbed themselves of the chance to know these amazing individuals.  Creative, vibrant, loving people who could have had a powerful impact on the lives they would have touched.

I’ve heard the catchphrase, “love the sinner, hate the sin” uttered by spiritual leaders and laity alike, thinking somehow that if they say it enough, that love will become a reality.  But any gay person on the receiving end of that line can tell you that it rings hollow.  Sexuality isn’t something you do, but is rather a part of what makes you who you are.  It encompasses uncontrollable elements, such as attraction and the capacity to fall in love.  You can’t simply carve a person into pieces and decide which parts to love without it being interpreted as conditional love, which is a cheap substitute for the real thing.  Furthermore, I don’t believe it’s within the realm of human capacity to be able to project both love and hatred towards a person’s identity simultaneously.  I know because I tried, and discovered that I could find no love for myself as long as I hated that part of me.  If we are to truly change this pattern of self-hatred and fear, we must start by breaking down the walls of silence that keep people isolated.

My challenge to the broader community is to follow the example of some individuals I know and to stand up beside your LGBT friends with open hearts and minds.  Come alongside them with acceptance and love, willing to learn and grow with them.  I don’t demand that everyone come to believe what I believe, but ask that you would help to create an atmosphere that encourages openness and support for the LGBT community, free from the conditional love and condemnation that we’ve seen so much of.  Always be careful how you speak, because there may be someone in your midst who is weighing your words carefully, listening for signs of love or rejection.

For those of you in the LGBT community that are suffering in silence, to those who bear the scars of the past, for those who feel unlovable, forgotten by God, worn down, beat up or afraid, know that you are not alone.  You aren’t forgotten.  Don’t give up hope.  Don’t give in to bitterness, and don’t give up on life.

Please understand that this message is not intended to offend, but to simply state the truth as I see it.  My faith has always taught me that it is vital to speak the truth in love, not to hide it when it’s dangerous or taboo.  I know full well what this essay could cost me.  But if it can help one gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person feel less alone, or help one straight person to reevaluate their treatment of the LGBT community, I say the cost was worth it.  Because I want to be the kind of person that I needed to see when I was growing up and felt so alone.  In fact, I feel I must apologize for remaining silent for so long.  I’ve felt that God has been calling me to be honest for many years now, but I placed the acceptance of others ahead of what I knew was right.  And if that isn’t idolatry, I don’t know what is.

To each and every reader, know that I love you, and God does too.

Sincerely,

Greg

4 thoughts on “Day of Silence 2013

  1. I am a long ago graduate of ENC and grew up Nazarene. Your story is the same as mine. As a gay man I hid for many years fearing what others would think of me. I know that God made me and loves me, a gay man. Since I accepted this I have been free to live. I thank Him every day for making me who I am. Thanks for writing this Greg. I needed to read your words.
    Brian Borsos

  2. Thank you, Greg. This is a well-written piece. It opens the door to conversation in a welcoming way. That’s a difficult task, but you hit the mark.
    -Dee

  3. Good evening, I appreciate the time you put into this article. This is a very personal and powerful issue in your life and I respect that. I struggle with the article, and the other articles on this site because, while having open dialogue is the stated goal, I also read that the minority cannot bring about change at this time. Maybe I am incorrect, but it seems dialogue and discussion is not the goal but seeing the church of the Nazarene transformed to change beliefs in the area of same-sex relationships.
    When I try to discuss with friends who are gay, the moment I disagree or bring up examples of people who have left same-sex relationships, I am immediately condemned as a hater.
    To have open and honest dialogue, this cannot be the reflex fall back position, being called a hater or homophobic, when someone does not immediately accept the LGBT position.

    True dialogue and discussion means that both parties are open to learning from the other and making changes. I would ask how open the LGBT community is to changing their views concerning same-sex relationships? Thank you for the opportuni to share.

    • Paul,
      Thanks for commenting. Dialogue is critical to begin the process of understanding that current systems and ways the Church of the Nazarene deals with LGBT issues is flawed. We should always be striving to be a better version of ourselves and a better church. This is one area where the Church is extremely lacking.
      I don’t know you so I can’t make judgement statements about your character on how loving you are to the LGBT people in your life. You are right about dialogue being a two-way-street. From my perspective, I’ve had very little cooperation with Church leaders about forming phrasing and improving language in the Manual. My inquires into questions about the meaning of the infamous Pastoral Perspectives have all be ignored. So we have room to improve there.

      Picture yourself working for a corporation downtown. You are deciding what type of chairs should replace the old ones. So you picked ones with no wheels. You and your dept and the neighboring depts all benefit from this new type of chair. But the guys in IT need chairs with wheels on them to do their jobs. The chairs were picked without any input or consideration to what the smallest dept, IT, needed. IT’s work efficiency drops, dept morale sinks, and all attempts to get new wheeled chairs are rejected because “that’s not the type of chair we’ve ever had,” said the CEO. And since IT productions drops too, all budget decisions are decided by other people who don’t know anything about computers or that they even had an IT dept. Those who put wheels on there chairs are fired. And as punishment the CEO bans them from attending board meetings.
      After years and years of this, its a wonder there is anyone left working in IT.

      St. Paul puts it another way. In 1 Corinthians 12 He calls us the body of Christ and “not be uniform… just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ… The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

      Nazarene Ally is telling the Church of the Nazarene in plain words that there are parts of her congregation that are suffering because people won’t listen, won’t accept, and won’t act on their behalf. If we continue to dismiss the suffering of a people group, the Church will move into a place of isolation and irrelevancy.

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