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.