Recently I shared this on Facebook as a response to someone who takes a very absolute view of God and the Bible in regards to homosexuality. As I wrote this response I relived much of the emotion of the moments I mention in it. I share a personal story in this piece that I've rarely shared publicly. As I wrote it I felt compelled to share it here on my website too. Wayne, I completely feel the passion and sincerity of your beliefs. I understand your point of view very well because I once shared it.
I grew up in a family and environments that taught me everything you are saying here. I believed it so firmly that I went into ministry and became an independent, fundamental, Baptist pastor who believed the King James Version of the Bible was the only true Bible. I have read it through numerous times in my life. I have studied in depth. I went to seminary. I have read the authors you mentioned. I have listened to the great pastors of the generations. I sat under scholars and professors. Preachers and teachers. Workshops and seminars. I led large churches. I memorized more portions of the Bible than I could even count. I know my way around the Bible as well as any serious student of it. I was in church every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night. I went "soul winning" on Thursday nights. I wanted nothing more than to be a Godly man that could be used by God to bring others to him. I warned others of sin and hell. I preached the word as I understood it. I even planted a church from scratch in a foreign community and lead it to self-sufficiency in less than 3 years.
I tell you all this not to brag about myself, but to give you some background and credibility as to where I'm coming from.
It was taught that no one knew me better than God. No one loved me more than God. No one wanted to have a deep, personal relationship with me more than God. No one wanted me to do the "right thing" more than God. I was taught that God would lead, guide, and direct every step of my path if I acknowledged him in all that I did. I was taught that God would use his Holy Spirit to speak to me, guide me and warn me. I was taught that when I was fully surrendered to Him that I would know a peace that passed all understanding.
Consequently, I spent decades "surrendering my all" to God. I prayed, fasted, and read and studied my Bible. I spent hours on my knees crying out to God asking him to help me, cleanse me, free me, etc.
I was confused as to why churches would tolerate those who were prideful, bitter, backbiting, dishonest, lovers of money, unkind, those who stirred up trouble, power hungry, unloving,...and the list goes on and on. Yet I knew if one person found out I was gay, my entire career would be over almost instantly.
After decades of repeating the "confess and surrender" process over and over again, I grew weary of never finding what had been promised to me. In a last ditch effort I put myself into Ex-gay therapy with Exodus International. I spent nearly 3 years in individual and group therapy. I went to the retreats. I read the books. I listened to the national speakers. I prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed. No one wanted to be "not gay" more than me. I felt like the poster child of ex-gay therapy. I gave it 120%. I held nothing back. God knows all of this because he knows my heart better than even I do.
After 3 years of this and feeling incredibly discouraged and damaged, I emailed the director of Exodus International and asked him to please put me in touch with some men like myself who were farther along in their journey who could offer me some real encouragement. All of the men I knew on the journey were exactly where I was. He told me could not do that. When I asked why he said that everyone fell into one of two categories: 1. This was something they were ashamed of, dealth with and moved on, and would never share with anyone about it. 2. This was something they dealt with and moved on but they were afraid if they talked to someone like me, they would fall back into it.
Neither of those options were acceptable to me. I refuse to live in fear or shame. So on that day I had a serious, heart to heart talk with God. I reminded him of all the things I knew about him that I listed earlier in this post. I then said, “So God, you KNOW I’ve spent the last 30+ years doing things the way I was taught were your way. You’ve been with me on every facet of this journey. You’ve heard every prayer and seen every tear. You know my heart. You know my motives. You also know that it hasn’t worked. I’ve tried everything including 3 years of ex-gay therapy. I’m done. I have a life to live and I can’t live it as I have been. I’m going to step out now and put everything to the test that I’ve been taught about you. I’m going to live as a gay man even though I don’t exactly know what that means or what that looks like. But I’m done trying to not be gay. I asking you to do whatever it takes to let me know if I’m moving in the wrong direction. I will listen. I want you to speak to my heart as your child.”
I have never been more honest, or surrendered to God than I was in that moment. Today I’m happy to report that I’m happily married to my husband of 12 years. Together we raised my 3 children and now my grandchildren. My faith has evolved dramatically. I’ve come to know a God who is so much bigger and amazing than the one I kept in my little Baptist box.
The only way I could ever hope to experience the peace and joy of who I am today required me to be willing to question everything I ever thought I knew about God, the Bible, and religion. Once I gave God permission to reveal himself to me apart from all I thought I understood, only then did I begin to experience the beauty of life not controlled by fear and shame. I don’t fear the future. I don’t fear death. I am completely at peace with myself and with my god.
I now understand the mysterious moment in my church office one night when I sat at my desk weeping hopelessly and begging God to do something. Startled, I jerked my head up from my desk at the feeling that someone had entered the room. No one was there, yet my office was flooded with a warm, presence that engulfed me like the most beautiful embrace I had ever known. There were no audible voices or visible presence, but as clear as day a voice in my head tenderly said “You’re going to be okay.” That was it. I felt it, I heard it. As quickly as it entered, it left. I didn’t know what it meant, but for the first time in my life, a seed of hope was planted inside me. It would be many years before that seed sprang to life. But today I know the truth that was spoken to me. I am okay. Just as I am without one plea. I am okay.
I faced death in 2014 when I had 2 heart attacks and open heart surgery. I am so happy that I had the opportunity to stare death in the face. I took stock of my life and I realized. I am okay. I’m 100% ready to go whenever it is my time. Let it be known, Joel Barrett has no regrets. I lived. I loved. I'm at peace.
Joel Barrett LGBTQ Writer, Speaker, Gatherer