This Is My Story, This Is My Song
“There is no greater agony than
bearing an untold story inside you.”
bearing an untold story inside you.”
- Maya Angelou
OK...let's take it from the top.
I really want to talk about you.
Actually, I want to talk about God and you...about your relationship with Him.
Want to share the GOOD NEWS with you...
But first I need to tell you a little bit more about me so you'll understand where I'm coming from.
So, here goes...
There's certainly more to my life than this, but basically, two profound realities concerning my identity as a human being exist…realities of which I have been fully aware for practically as long as I can remember.
These two absolutes have been the major part of everything I am, have influenced every decision I’ve ever made, and have shaped my particular and perhaps peculiar world-view throughout the entirety of my time on this planet.
Both things were, in my opinion, completely imposed upon me, as I didn’t choose or ask for either one of them, and I came to realize early on that neither of them would ever go away.
But the thing that ultimately created what I always thought of as my “impossible situation” was the fact that, as far as the world I came from (the one I already told you about) was concerned, these two aspects of my being were completely incompatible...incapable of the possibility of any compromise or co-existence.
The first absolute of which I speak is what I personally believe to be the call of God on my life.
I am a fourth-generation minister from the classical (legalistic/fundamentalist) Pentecostal tradition. My father and mother and both of my grandfathers were and are ministers from that same tradition, one of my great-grandfathers was a minister from an equally fundamentalist tradition, and several (if not most) of my immediate relatives are also involved in ministry/church-work on some level, either full-time or part-time.
I certainly understand and appreciate my legacy and heritage, but my personal call was, I believe, unique to me, and was not the result of any reluctant resignation on my part to join the family business.
Ministry and church is all that I have ever known, but my own experience with divine direction and God’s anointing on my life is and has always been personally very real to me, and I’ve never for a second doubted its validity.
At the time of this writing, I am 53 years old, and am still, at least for now, the full-time Senior Pastor of the Charismatic megachurch (as I suppose it is still considered, according to church-growth definitions) that I founded right outside of metropolitan Atlanta, GA, over 26 years ago.
For about half of that time I have been the Bishop over a network of churches and ministries around the United States, in the Philippines and in Uganda called NOW MINISTRIES, which is currently in transition for reasons that I will discuss later. Having begun preaching at the age of 13, I am now in my 40th year of ministry.
I love God and, as I said previously, believe that He is real.
I was raised in the south (in the buckle of the Bible-belt) in old-school, old-time religion, complete with hell-fire and brimstone, and an absolute belief in an imminent end-of-the world apocalypse. I don't know if I can say that I really loved God as I was growing up, but I definitely feared Him. In fact, I was taught to fear God and the devil and hell and the possibility of losing my salvation and the possibility (if not probability) of missing "The Rapture" (see glossary of terms) and having to live through "the Great Tribulation" and the communists and pretty much everything else, as I remember it.
I also lived my whole life with another horrible fear, but I'll get to that in a minute.
The part about me being "on fire for Jesus" that I was telling you about began a couple of months before my 14th birthday when I received what we in the Pentecostal church referred to as "The Baptism in the Holy Spirit". That night I believed that I heard God call me into the ministry, even though my parents tell me that I was actually preaching when I was in diapers.
Anyway, after that night I began preaching immediately at my high school and on street corners and in public parks and in prisons and hospitals and anywhere else where a teenage kid could find an audience. I did personal "witnessing" constantly...knocked on hundreds of doors to share the Gospel...passed out thousands of Gospel tracts. I can't even begin to count how many people I led in "The Sinner's Prayer" during that period (which lasted for some years, by the way)...I led someone to Jesus nearly every day of my life back then. I was what we called a "soul-winner", and I was good at it. (All of these words and phrases in quotation marks can be found in the glossary of terms for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about)...
I was not just evangelical during that period...I was, in a word, obsessed.
I have my own thoughts about why I was so radically committed back then...hopefully some of the work I did during those years counted for something...but more than anything else, I believed that that was what God required of me, and I didn't want to disappoint or anger Him in any way. I guess I channeled a lot of my fear of God into trying to please Him by tirelessly working for Him that way...turned my childhood fear of hell-fire into a fiery teenage ministry that brought multitudes to a belief in Jesus Christ so that they wouldn't go to hell.
But the God that I believe in now is good and loving...in fact, I believe that He IS love.
I know He loves me, and I love Him back.
That's the GOOD NEWS I want to tell you about.
My theology has evolved over the years to a place of inclusion and tolerance/acceptance of other belief systems, but orthodox Christianity still holds my allegiance, and maintains authority in my life.
I don’t think that Jesus Christ is or ever would be as hostile and indifferent to people outside of Christianity as many of His “followers” are, but I do believe that He is the crucified and risen Savior of the world.
I am persuaded that the Bible, although obviously subject to the fallibility of the humanity through which it was written, was and is ultimately inspired by the Holy Spirit.
I believe that prayer works.
I believe in miracles.
I believe in the Kingdom of God.
I believe that the church is relevant to the world.
I believe that I am called.
For God's gifts and His call are irrevocable. [He never withdraws them when once they are given, and He does not change His mind about those to whom He gives His grace or to whom He sends His call.] (Romans 11:29 - Amplified Bible)
And Now for the Rest of the Story
The other reality is my sexual orientation.
I am a gay man.
I’ve always been gay, even though I didn’t know what to call it or how to explain it when I was a child.
I was born left-handed, but I was taught to live as a right-handed man in a predominately right-handed world. In the same way, I also believe that I was born gay, and even though there is no hard scientific proof yet that I am aware of to verify that, the fact is that I have had same-sex attraction for as long as I can remember, so whether or not I was actually born that way, my world-view was shaped as such so early on that I may as well have been.
This is an undisputed truth in my life, as far as I'm concerned, and yet I learned from a very early age that I had no choice but to live as a straight man in a predominately straight world, especially if I was going to be a Christian, much less a minister…and so I did.
The horrible fear that I mentioned above was the fear that if I were to let the important people in my life know about my orientation, they wouldn't love me any more.
Oh yeah, and the fear that if I admitted it I would go to hell.
Or be "turned over to a reprobate mind" (more about that later)...
I am a twice-divorced father of four wonderful kids, (three sons, one daughter) and the grandfather to two little angels who are the light of my life. I will explore later in this writing why and how I was married and sired children (and, yes, they were conceived in the conventional way, if you must know...
I'm trying not to turn this into an autobiography...just got to tell you this part.
As I said in the Preface, it's a book about authenticity...about the power of learning to be yourself, and about accepting the fact that God loves you just as you are.
I want to write something encouraging and empowering to those who have been bullied and beaten up by society, or by the religious community, because they are different or perceived to be different. The Bible shouldn’t be used as a weapon, and religion shouldn’t be something that oppresses people.
The bottom line is that God loves you regardless of your gender, race, nationality, ethnicity, body-type, belief system or sexual orientation.
You’re awesome in His sight simply because you are His creation.
Who in the world do you think you are to second-guess God? Do you for one moment suppose any of us knows enough to call God into question? Clay doesn't talk back to the fingers that mold it, saying, "Why did you shape me like this?"
(Romans 9:20 - The Message)
Anyway, to fast-forward the story and get to the incentive for writing this book, I finally "came out" to the whole world on Wednesday, October 13, 2010.
I actually came out to Debye before we were married (but we got married anyway...more about that later), and I came out to my parents nearly a year before I did it publicly. I came out to my kids not long after that, and then to my staff a little later, so October 13 of that year wasn't a shock for any of my immediate family or the people with whom I work.
But that night I shared something entitled, "A Real Message to Real People" with my congregation which became the most watched/heard/talked about message of my entire 40 years of ministry. In it I talked about these two realities...about my lifetime effort of trying to harmonize two personal absolutes which have been a part of me for as long as I can remember...one, the call of God on my life...the other, my sexual orientation.
I explained how I didn't ask for either of them, and how that, through a series of events including the amicable divorce that Debye had sought a year earlier, I had come to terms with both of them.
The tape of the service went viral on the internet almost immediately after I delivered the message, became for a few days the video with the most hits on YouTube, and garnered an unbelievable amount of unexpected media exposure in the following weeks and months.
The response to it was, for me, astounding.
On that Wednesday night I had no plan or outline of what I wanted to say...no script or pre-meditation of it at all. Had I known beforehand that the video was going to become so high profile, I would have no doubt phrased a few things that I said that night differently, but it was what it was.
But there was not one day in the following year that I didn't hear from someone somewhere in the world who wanted to thank me for it, or to tell me that it changed their perception of God or of religion or of people with same sex attraction.
Many told me that it changed or even saved their life.
Atheists told me that it made them want to believe in God again.
Straight people told me that it helped them come to terms with their gay friends and family members, or even with their own authenticity issues.
Some gay teens told me it kept them from considering suicide, and many of their parents told me that it opened up broken lines of communication, and brought much-needed healing to their families.
So even though the letter of the message wasn't perfect, the spirit of it apparently came through loud and clear, and for that I am very grateful.
Anway, there was a good bit of speculation at the time about my real reason for coming out when I did. On many of the "Christian" blogs that discussed my coming out ad nauseum, the rumor was that there was a gay sex scandal about to come out on me, and so I used the opportunity to get in front of the story and do some damage control, but that was not the case. No such scandal ever surfaced for the very simple reason that one did not exist.
No one outed me.
No one threatened to out me.
Even with Debye divorcing me, I could have gone the rest of my life and never publicly admitted to my sexuality...I could have just avoided the subject altogether, as many closeted celebrities and high profile ministers do.
Truth be told, if anything at all outed me, aside from an unprecedented number of gay teen suicides around that time, it was my own life's message of building the Kingdom of God with "Real People Experiencing the Real God in the Real World".
The truth really does make you free.
Anyway, that's my story...most of it, at least.
I'll come back to a few things written in this chapter later.
OK, let's continue...