Of all the theological statements by non-affirming Christians about LGBT+ people that are dehumanizing and heartless, this one tops my list. Fortunately, his writing style is very academic and not accessible, though I think if you were to put this statement into the common vernacular it would be so disgusting to so many that it wouldn’t be accepted at all.

What disturbs me most is that he says that the shame people feel when they are closeted is deserved. This is directly stigmatizing to LGBT+ people for their person-hood, not their behavior, because being closeted has everything to do with who we are and nothing to do with what we have done. Also, there’s a mention of us not being able to reconstruct in ourselves the image of God. Because apparently it’s destroyed when we come out. So yeah, he’s saying the image of God is for straight people or people who are pretending to be straight.

“The unnaturalness of homosexuality manifests itself in an almost universal experience of shame prior to coming out in the open. Thus, social pressure, homophobia, and other forms of ostracizing cannot be charged as the only culprits for intense shame among homosexuals. Paul contends that the root of this experience proceeds from ‘receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error’ (Rom. 1:27). Shame is therefore private before it is internalized, since internalization is a process of identification with shame. It is a formidable project indeed to reinvent oneself once the Creation pattern for humanness has been discarded. It is equally an impossible task to match the image of the reconstructed human with one which would incorporate fully the image of God.” -Miroslav Kis

Kis was an ethics professor for decades at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, at Andrews University. Let me just point that out again, the man taught ethics. This chapter was also presumably reviewed by the editors, three other seminary professors, one of whom was a psychologist, H. Peter Swanson. The other two are Roy E. Gane and Nicholas P. Miller (in case you were wondering). These are VERY well respected men in the Adventist church. And the paper was presented at a public forum on homosexuality in 2009 at Andrews University, flagship educational institution for the Seventh-day Adventist church. So it’s not like it slipped under the radar or was the thought of just one guy. There were lots of ears and eyes on this one. It can be considered representative.

With all the Adventist pastors saying how we need to love LGBT+ people better, I would just love to not have to be the one to point this stuff out. This is the problem. It’s not some rogue church members who are homophobic. It’s in the fabric of the educational and administrative system. Y’all have some housecleaning to do.

When I was a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist church there are a lot of things that just didn’t click with me. Since coming out as bisexual and finding myself in a more progressive space, a lot has become clear.

They say no one can be convinced of something that will cost them their job. It’s tempting to think that when I was a pastor I believed what I believed for the sake of my career. That’s probably not true, though. Becoming a pastor is a huge sacrifice for most people. We don’t go into ministry because it’s easy or lucrative, but because we are true believers. That slowly gets muddied along the way.

I often hear people say that pastors should be more open and authentic. I believe that’s true. However, in conservative churches especially, there are factors associated with the role itself that make it almost impossible to be open and authentic. Your role as a pastor places much higher scrutiny no you and your life. Many of us do little things like hide books (Harry Potter anyone?) because it isn’t worth the potential hassle. We might dress differently or avoid wearing jewelry in an Adventist church especially. There might be some more progressive opinions we tend to keep to ourselves if we are in conservative churches.

That’s because conservative church members generally prefer that the pastor be a bit more conservative than they are. And you never know when someone is going to call your boss (whether it’s a conference official or board members depending on your church structure). Even if your boss totally backs you up, you’ve still caused a hassle. Then there are the expectations of your board or your conference. When you are a pastor, the expectations can hit you from every direction, and the criticism.

I know a lot of people who have had little disagreements turn into big deals, with churches determined to kick them out. When that happens the family usually has to move, sell the house, take the kids out of school, spouse needs to find a new job. There are a lot of pastors walking around with genuine trauma because of the way they’ve been treated by their churches.

All that leads to pressure to present yourself just a little more conservative than you are, to take a few less risks, to be a bit more conventional. That adds up over a period of years. You can’t present yourself as different than you are without it having a real impact on your life. You can’t do it without eroding your ability to earnestly and wholeheartedly seek the truth.

All those little changes in how your present yourself add up in the end to prioritizing image over authenticity. Courage and vulnerability are both needed to seek the truth. It’s not so easy to wake up one day and manufacture these qualities. They are more like a muscle. If you don’t use them, they may not be strong enough when you need them.

When I was a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist church there are a lot of things that just didn’t click with me. Since coming out as bisexual and finding myself in a more progressive space, a lot has become clear.

I used to think that society had moved on from churches. I used to think the problem was one of relevance or messaging. I remember trying to figure out how to express Adventist doctrine in a way that would reveal its true depth and beauty. There are a lot of pastors trying to do just that, and a lot of books published on the topic. Those books help a certain segment of Adventism, but they don’t usually have any impact beyond that.

People aren’t looking for a church to make more sense or teach more compelling doctrines. People are looking for moral authority, and they don’t find it in church. Comedy Central has more moral authority than most churches (thank you Trevor Noah).

Churches have been trying so hard for so long to avoid controversy, or at least to avoid controversy that makes their conservative donors unhappy, that they’ve lost their moral edge. Churches are not addressing the injustice in society, because that’s too scary. Churches are the last to get on board with important social movements, because they don’t do so until it is demanded of them.

So when society looks for a moral leader to solve the real problems that are harming the vulnerable, no one thinks of asking a conservative church. That would only be a waste of breath.

I’m certain the old me would have been offended by this post. I’m sure I would have pointed to charity work or health ministries, but these are the easy way out. Churches love to do things for people so they can reach down and help. There is no controversy there. There is no risk.

I’ve realized that the church never holds a doctrine or a policy that does not support its own existence. One way or another every belief, every policy, ever “moral” issue is institutionally self-serving. There is no self-sacrifice, and no hunger and thirst for justice.

But the religion of Jesus should be the first to brave the storm, no matter what the cost personally or corporately. I think everyone knows that, from church people to those who never darken a sanctuary door. We all know what church should be, and that’s why many have no time and no respect for an organization that has become self-serving.

When I was a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist church there are a lot of things that just didn’t click with me. Since coming out as bisexual and finding myself in a more progressive space, a lot has become clear.

A lot of people aren’t just leaving churches because they were hurt or offended. A lot of people have been deeply rejected to the point of being traumatized. They have been told they are unworthy, broken, inconvenient, going to hell, unholy, rebellious, and the list goes on and on. These words have been the reward for sincere questions and difficulties in many cases.

When I was a pastor, it was easy to rely on the idea that people hurt people, the church doesn’t. Since I’ve left I’ve realized that there are structural reasons in churches why certain people get ostracized and others are protected. There are gatekeepers who decide which sins are disqualifies. Those gatekeepers are judging the severity of the sin on no other qualification than how much of a threat the sin is to the protection of the status quo in churches.

That’s why public sin is more severe than private. That’s why doubt is worse than judgementalism. That’s why stealing money from the church bring more immediate action than anything else. That’s why questioning doctrine is more severe than treating people with disdain.

All this amounts to treating human being as objects. Members are resources to the goals and objectives of the organizations. Those people who contribute most to the organization are most valued. Those who detract are shamed or even expelled.

People aren’t resources. When you treat them as such you end up deeply wounding them. People walk away from churches with lingering fear that they will burn in hell. They walk away angry and cut to the core. They often walk away forever.

The greatest form of healing is ultimately found in new spiritual communities that are people focused instead of institutional focused. Communities that prioritize healing can bandage the open wounds and calm the lingering fears.

When I was a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist church there are a lot of things that just didn’t click with me. Since coming out as bisexual and finding myself in a more progressive space, a lot has become clear.

The cold reality is that most people just don’t care about church that much. When I was a pastor, there was a subtle influence to think of people as invested in the church but maybe lacking some degree of inspiration.

Pastors might talk about pew warmers with a casual hint of disdain and be frustrated that people aren’t more dedicated. There was always for me a sense that these people feel that perhaps they know they should be more dedicated. Now I realize most people don’t even think they should be involved more. Most people don’t care about evangelism or church rules. They get something out of a loose affiliation, but not that much.

The biggest eye opener on this for me was how dramatically different people talked to me once I was no longer a pastor. When I was a pastor, in all my conversations people would pretend to care. When I stopped being a pastor they suddenly spoke very differently. I realized there were huge portions of the teachings of the church that a lot of people just plain ignore because they don’t believe them at all.

I should have known this before. Research has been indicating for years that larger and larger percentages of church members don’t believe basic Christian doctrine like the divinity of Christ, abstinence until marriage, and anti-LGBT+ theology. Those numbers are only going up. In the Adventist church you can add Sabbath keeping, abstaining from alcohol, and prophetic interpretation to the list.

This is the biggest problem of the church. Even though many people stay in the pews for one reason or another, their hearts really aren’t in it. Churches are losing the allegiance of its own members, but because many of them attend, and many of them give lip service to the pastors, the pastors don’t realize it.

People don’t need a revival, because the problem isn’t that they are lacking energy or Spirit. They need a church they can believe in.

I want to point you to this important Atlantic article, “The Scandal Tearing Apart America’s Largest Protestant Denomination.” There are a few crucial connections I want to make to point out why this matters for anyone who doesn’t want to demonize LGBT+ people.

Last June I joined a group of LGBT+ advocates at the Southern Baptist Convention. We started conversations and engaged people around the topic of the harm their theology was doing to SBC children. During that event I was often told that my “temptation” to homosexuality was no different than their pornography problems, temptations to be unfaithful, addictions, etc. I was told that we are all sinners and this is just my sin. I remember one pastor telling me that he has a terrible sin of food addiction and is just as much a sinner as I was. I asked him if he would ever lose his position. He said maybe that could happen. I asked him if it had ever happened in the history of the SBC. I hope he saw my point.

Last July I heard that one of my favorite Christian authors, Eugene Peterson, had come out fully supportive of same-sex marriage. He said he doesn’t believe it’s even an issue anymore, citing a gay man who is employed at the church he is retired from. Immediately the entire Evangelical Christian Network turned on him. LifeWay Christian Resources said they were trying to get in touch with Peterson to clarify his statement, and they would pull every one of his books from their shelves if he was supportive of LGBT+ inclusion. He is the author of the message translation of the Bible and dozens of popular books. Within 24 hours he had retracted his statement.

Now it has come to light that a man in a very powerful position in the Southern Baptist Convention is a sinner, too. Paige Patterson is both seminary president and a well-connected member of the old-boys network. He believes that women who are physically abused should pray until their husbands are converted. In the mean time, they should submit as best they can. When challenged on his statements, he’s only become belligerent. He said in defense of himself that he believes wives who suffer “non-injurious physical abuse which happens in so many marriages” should just pray their husbands through it. He has also objectified a 16 year old girl in a sermon. And worst of all, he covered for a friend of his who was molesting children. He is scheduled to speak at the next Southern Baptist convention. Some people are criticizing him, many are protecting him. The same LifeWay Christian Resources put out a statement denouncing Patterson’s words, but they haven’t said anything about pulling any of him many books from the shelves. The reaction of the Evangelical community over spousal abuse, objectification of teenage girls from the pulpit, and covering for child molesters is nothing compared to their rage at someone who would dare support sacrifice and fidelity in a marriage between people of the same gender.

So what happened to all those pastors who insisted that my “sin” was like their sin? The truth is that all along they have seen my sin as the worst of all.

And in case you are Adventist and you are reading this thinking that we are better, let me share with you a quote from the SDA Theological Seminary’s book, “Homosexuality, Marriage, and the Church,” page 198. “Robert Gagnon makes a strong case that, according to God’s Word, ‘homosexual practice is a more serious violation of Scripture’s sexual norms than even incest, adultery, plural marriage, and divorce.’ Only bestiality is presented as a worse sexual offense.”

The immorality here is deep. The arrogance of looking down at people in loving and committed relationships while encouraging spousal abuse and objectification of women is something I don’t even know how to break through. All I can do is try to shine a light, and hope that people who are involved in or support these systems will refuse to do so any longer. Men like Paige Patterson will never change. But he stands on the shoulders of tens of thousands of people who complacently support him. If that’s you, I hope you resolved today that you will no longer support institutions that bring shame to the name of Jesus.

What a year! There will always be before and after April 22, 2017.

Thank you to everyone who has loved me, supported me, and helped me to share a message of hope and confidence to LGBT+ people over the last year. Together we have made a real difference for a lot of people.

I won’t sugar-coat it, this year has been hell is so many ways. The first several months I was on a high of joy from coming out, but the last several months have been painful as I’ve tried to come to grips with my new life and all I’ve lost. They have also been healing months, and as I heal I see how much more I have gained than I ever had to lose.

I’ve come to see God and faith in a totally different light, one that has redeemed my faith and given me hope. My life has a new sense of balance and fullness. There are no more demons of doubt, fear, and indecision. I went from struggling with doubt to being liberated by doubt. With my new life is a new sense of purpose and joy.

To add to that joy, I’ve fallen in love with Beth Patterson, heart and soul, and I can’t imagine going through this year without her. She is such a gift from God, unexpected and extravagant. In church today I heard that we grow through pain and through love. Thank you, Beth, for helping me grow through love, because I’ve had plenty of growth through pain this year. And thank you for helping me hold onto faith and loving me through the craziness.

And now I step into year two of my new life, and I have a new project I’d like to let you all in on. I’ve started working on a book to help my Adventist brothers and sisters see how they can reconcile their faith and LGBT+ affirmation. This will be a labor of love, and I will need your help to make it a reality. But I am so, so excited about the opportunity we have to help so many who are struggling today. There will be more information to come.

Thank you again for being on this journey with me. I love you for it.

 

One year ago today I sent this letter to my employers and my local church. It was a bit longer before my employment was officially terminated, but for all intents and purposes, this was my last day as an Adventist pastor. After today, I will no longer be able to say “I was an Adventist pastor a year ago.” That part of my life and identity will slip further in the past.

That’s inevitable for all of us when we come out. For better or for worse, we lose a part of who we were when the world thought (or was able to assume) that we were straight and cisgender. Most of that is for the best, but as I read this I can’t help but remember who I was then, and the dreams that died forever that day. Perhaps it’s fitting that today I also turned in the last tax return I will ever file with an Adventist employer on it. I have now joined the ranks of those unemployable in the Adventist church.

So today seems like a good day to share something I haven’t shared before, the letter I sent to inform my church and conference of the changes I was making. In a later conversation they asked and I clarified that I hadn’t violated any of the teaching of the church, but that I would now be living by new convictions moving forward in both my teaching and in dating.

I chose an email because even though I wanted to be disruptive and start a larger conversation on a big scale, I didn’t want to be disruptive to the local church that I cared about then and still care about today. I’ve heard rumors that I came out in a sermon, or that the church marched me out when I did. It’s funny how those ideas make their rounds. Instead it was a quiet, uneventful email. That was best. I’m happy that things seem to have worked out for them.

As for me, I remember hitting the send button on this letter, and what most struck me that day is how right and good it felt. There was no wavering, no regret, and no indecision. Instead I felt relief, purpose, and freedom. It was simply the right thing to do, and that is something I have always known. I’m so grateful I sent this. I’m so grateful I allowed myself to become the person I am today, despite all the pain and difficulty I still experience. I thank God for what I’ve been lead to do, and for the crazy wonderful life I’m living.

So without further ado, here is the letter that changed me and my life forever:

******

04/17/2017

Elder [redacted] and Elder [redacted],

This is a difficult letter to write, because it will likely end my employment at the Arizona Conference. Working for this conference, my home conference, for the short time I have been here has been the fulfillment of my greatest wishes and dreams. It saddens me that it has come to this, but I don’t see any other way.

In short, what I have to tell you is this: I have come to a place of complete disagreement with the Adventist church’s teachings on same-sex relationships and transgender people. After much time spent in prayer, study, and openness to God on this topic, I am fully convinced that fidelity to the Bible means defense of LGBT people, their relationships, and their gender identities. It seems to me that a handful of tertiary verses with ambiguous application have been allowed to hijack the entire gospel on this topic.

Further, I have become acutely aware of the damage caused by our theology and find myself unable ethically to continue in silence while people are suffering, in some cases to the point of taking their lives. I cannot with the Adventist church stand quietly by, ignoring the pain, and steadily causing the reputation of Christ to lose the respect of those who care deeply for LGBT people.

Finally, only after coming to all these conclusions, and after spending hours in prayer seeking God’s will on this matter, I realized that this topic is more personal for me than most. I have come to affirm myself and my own sexuality. This is not only about my beliefs and teachings, but also about how I live my life. The truth about me is that I am bisexual, which means that I am attracted to both men and women. I believe I could be happily married to someone from either gender. It doesn’t mean that my sexual ethics have changed except in the one point of being open to dating women, but I still believe in fidelity, monogamy, and marriage.

I am tempted at this point to write a theological treatise explaining how I arrived at this point, so that you can see my heart and my reasons. But none of that would change anything. Its seems daily more clear that there is no room for disagreement on this matter in the Adventist church.

If you would humor me to write a moment about my connection to our church. My father, who recently passed away, was the first in my family to become Adventist. He was baptized at Enterprise Academy in Kansas. He convinced my mom to join the church when he gave her Bible studies on their dates. They raised me on Arthur Maxwell’s Bible Story books. I attended Adventist schools for almost my entire time as a student. Becoming an Adventist pastor was a fulfillment of my most cherished dream and a response to a sense of calling far too powerful in my life to safely be ignored.

Pastoring [local] Church has been the greatest honor of my life. It is the best church I’ve ever known, and they have loved me better than any pastor I know has been loved by a church. I am grateful to have been raised in the Adventist church and community. I certainly never planned to leave nor had any desire to. I expected to serve this church for the rest of my life.

That’s why coming to this conclusion and writing this letter has been nothing short of excruciating. It has been the greatest loss of my life. I believe that the Adventist church has let me down, caused me harm, and that I am sadly not unique in this. Many of us who are LGBT and our families have heartbreaking stories from our experience in Adventist churches and with SDA theology.

But I am forever grateful that in other ways this church has also done immeasurable good for me. I have been nurtured, loved, and most importantly I’ve been introduced to Jesus. For that I am forever grateful. I hope my connection to this denomination will not be severed entirely, though I know that for the sake of [local] church, it will be better if I make a clean break.

I thank you for the opportunity to serve in this conference these last couple of years, though I imagined myself spending many more here. I await your response.

Sincerely,

Alicia Johnston

Today’s blog is a real treat, it’s a guest blog from my friend, Amber Cantorna. Amber is the daughter of a Focus on the Family executive and also a gay women. She has shared her story of coming out and the painful loss of her family in the memoir Refocusing My Family. I read the book after I met Amber, and was amazed to hear the tragic yet hopeful story of my new friend. The book was incredible. I couldn’t put it down. Even though my story is very different from hers, I found myself nodding along. Hers is a clear, open, compassionate, and honest voice that is very important in the LGBT+ Christian community, and far beyond. I’m so happy to share her post with you today. You’re going to love it.

*****

Today marks six years since I came out of the closet. In some ways it feels so much longer. So much has happened in the span of those six years–I’ve fallen in love, gotten married to my wife, published a book, and started a non-profit for LGBTQ people of faith. Could it really be only six years ago that I was more scared than I’d ever been in my entire life as I prepared to tell my family morning?

And yet, it seems like yesterday. I can still see so clearly the stoic look that was on their faces when my parents and younger brother arrived to my house, barely making eye contact as they came in the door. It was as if they knew something was up.

I can still sense the tension in the room that grew with every word I spoke about my journey of reconciling my faith and my sexuality.

I can still hear the deafening silence that hung in the air once the words “I am gay” finally left my mouth. It was the most vulnerable I’d ever felt in my life.

And I can still feel the pain that struck my heart with a knife when my dad looked at me with anger in his eyes and said, “I have nothing to say to you right now,” and walked out the door.

That screen door slamming behind them as my mom and brother followed suit was the sound of rejection. It broke my heart into pieces and I collapsed onto the floor. I so desperately longed for love–for an attempt at understanding. But there was none. Our relationship had never felt so drained of compassion or void of connection in my life.

My family was the family that was always there for one another. Hardly a day went by without talking to my mom on the phone. Living within close proximity made it easy to stop by for a cup of tea or family dinner. My dad started working at Focus on the Family when I was three years old, so our home was steeped in family values, godly parenting, and meaningful tradition for as far back as I can remember. Homeschooled K-12, my mom was a stay-at-home mom and housewife, as my dad went off to do the meaningful work of strengthening families.

I never dreamed that my dad’s position at Focus would tear me

away from those I loved the most–but that’s what happened. The news of my sexual orientation tore apart the very fabric that wove us together and none of us were ever the same.

In the following weeks my parents compared me to murderers, pedophiles, and bestiality. They said I was selfish for doing this to the family and only considering what made me happy. They said they’d rather I turned my back on God completely, than pretend everything between me and God was okay.

And then they asked for the keys to their house back. And my world fell apart even more.

In the months following, we tried to find some common ground, but it never worked. I tried to maintain as consistent as I could to prove that I was still the same daughter they’d always known. I wanted their approval and I desperately needed to know that I still belonged. But as time went on, they pushed me further and further to the fringes–sometimes with their words, and other times with passive aggressive behavior. In time, I knew that I was no longer welcome as part of the family.

In the years that followed, I fell in love, got engaged, and married the love of my life. My wife and I will celebrate four years of marriage this June. We bought our first house, I published Refocusing My Family, and I founded a non-profit called Beyond to help other LGBTQ people of faith navigate their coming out process.

My dad still works at Focus on the Family to this day. And what I discovered was that their love, when tested, came with strings attached. In the end, their need to uphold their reputation and their desire to maintain appearances won out over their love for their own daughter. We haven’t spoken in almost four years. Completely cut off from both immediate and extended family, being authentic came at an extremely high cost.

And yet…it just keeps getting better.

Looking back over the last six years, I now know that coming out was absolutely the best decision I could have ever made. Being true to myself saved my life; it strengthened my faith, it gave me an authentic community where I could thrive, and it launched me into the ministry that I somehow always knew God had waiting for me.

In those days leading up to the most terrifying day of my life, I could only dream of the things I have now. Even though I had to let go of almost everything I’d ever known to gain it, I discovered a level of true and authentic joy I never knew existed. I’ve become more light, more free, and more happy than I ever was during my years of wrestling in the dark.

These past six years have been the best years of my life.

Yes, they have been laced with great sorrow and deep pain–experiences and hurtful words that I will never be able to forget. But the freedom of being who God has made you to be in its fullest form has made me feel more alive than I ever knew was possible.

In years past, my Coming Out Anniversary has been a day of solemn remembrance of what’s been lost and the price I paid for being true to myself. But this year, it is a day I celebrate because six years later (with some time and space in the rear view mirror), I see how valuable the journey has been.

If you are wrestling in the midst of that coming out process and still wondering if all this is ever going to be worth it one day, let me tell you my friends: it just keeps getting better.

You can read more about Amber’s journey in her memoir, Refocusing My Family, available on Amazon and wherever books are sold. If you are in the process of navigating your own coming out process, you can find resources at Amber’s website and keep an eye out for Amber’s second book coming Spring 2019 which will provide helpful tools to guide you along this journey.

Amber Cantorna is an author, blogger, and sought-after speaker on topics of LGBTQ and faith. As the founder and president of Beyond, she strives to help others reconcile their faith with their sexuality and successfully navigate their own coming out process. You can subscribe to Amber’s blog by visiting her website or follow her on social media @AmberNCantorna.

Often people who cause me the most pain are those who are genuinely and sincerely being as kind to me as they can. I find this confusing.

Most of the pain we cause each other happens in the gap between our own heart and mind and the heart and mind of the other. Rarely have I experienced a gap so large as the one between what I experience as a bisexual person when people who don’t accept my sexuality say things they believe to be kind.

Often traditionalists indicate that their words are kind, concilatory, and understanding. These same exact words fall on my skin like a slap and not the hand of mercy I know they were intended to be.

In fact, most of the people I know personally and who don’t accept my sexuality have been nice. Sometimes I’m even hurt by someone who doesn’t say a single word about my sexuality, even by those who reach out in concern, but who I know disagree with my decisions. I haven’t understood why.

This hurt I’m speaking about is not a mild aggitation. I heard one time that sometimes in prison someone marked for punishment will not be attacked outright. Instead one person after another will deliver a sharp and precise punch to their liver again and again, eventually causing serious injury.

That’s what it feels like. It’s taking another blow in the same bruised and battered organ, an organ I need to stay alive.

This analogy breaks down because in my case the injury is unintended, as hard as it is for me to remember that sometimes. But I should remember, because it wasn’t long ago that I probably did the same thing and was equally unaware and full of good intentions.

Still the hurt remains, and the anger that comes with it. I’ve had a hard time even understanding why it hurts so much. Why am I hurt by people who are trying to be kind to me? Am I just sensitive? Am I becoming the charicacture of the angry gay rights activist that I was so often warned about?

Managing my anger has been a big part of the last ten months since coming out. But managing is not enough. I also need to learn to deal with it. Dealing with my anger means forgiving those who have hurt me.

But how do I go about forgiving people who are trying to be caring? How do I forgive them when I don’t even understand the hurt or why it’s so deep and painful?

Often I find myself starting on a blog I’m unable to finish, despite knowing exactly what I want to say. I struggle to call people and having conversations that are important. It’s difficult to even keep up the ties with people I used to be close to when I don’t know how they feel about my life now.

It’s so hard to keep writing, keep working, keep trying to create change around this topic and advocate for LGBT+ Christians. Every act of advocacy meets internal resistance until I feel like I’m trudging through mud.

Why was I so bothered? Why couldn’t I just toughen up? Occasionally someone would even indicate that I needed to do just that.

Then one day it came to me, a thought I’d had a hundred times, but suddenly sharper and clearer: Trauma. I’m dealing with trauma.

Trauma is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot. It’s kind of like OCD in that people say it a lot without awareness of what actual Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is. “I have OCD” they say while they straighen out their bookshelf or pick the lint off their friend’s jacket. But that’s not what OCD is.

It’s similar with trauma. We throw the word around without knowing what it means. Real trauma, the type that is related to Acute or Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, means more than being hurt by something. Trauma is related to a real or perceived threat to one’s life.

I knew coming out was a legitimate struggle. Loss of place I experienced in the denomonination with which my life was inexorably entwined is no small matter. But in my mind it didn’t rise to the level of an actual trauma, not like the real threats that other people survive. I wasn’t assaulted. I didn’t think I was going to die.

But my search to understand my own pain has finally revealed what was perhaps obvious. This is real trauma. It’s serious. Whether I have an actual clinical disorder or not, I have experienced a legitimate traumatic event. Perhaps everyone does who comes out in an environment where their sexuality is not embraced and affirmed.

Being rejected by my community, as I have been and as many queer Christians are, is about more than hurt feelings. It’s a threat to my existance.

There are certain things we require to survive, literally to stay alive. We need water. We need food. We need shelter. And just as surely as we need these things, we also need community. None of us can make it in this world alone.

When I think of what my Seventh-day Adventist church community was to me, it’s evident that most of the meaning and joy I’ve experienced in life has been through them. Most of my resiliency and willingness to press forward and have hope for my future has come from this community as well.

Living my life without this support is something I never imagined. I was Adventist for life. But now, I must admit, I’m an illegitimate Adventist. My name only remains on the church books because church policy can’t always be enforced. I can never be employed in ministry by the church again, I can never be married to a woman in an Adventist church or by an Adventist minister unless that minister is willing to risk losing their job, and even volunteering at a church or getting involved in leadership would be fraught with difficulty and unease.

There are a couple Adventist churches that are exceptionally accepting and welcoming. Other than these churches, second-class is the best an LGBT+ person who is out can hope for in an Adventist church. I’d argue that this is true whether that person follows Adventist doctrine or not. The church doesn’t know how to treat out queer Adventists as equal.

I know queer Adventists who have found churches that are relatively accepting of them, but who know that they are always to a certain degree vulnerable to a new pastor coming in and changing everything. About the only thing I know for sure I can do unopposed is sit in the pew and give money, and even that is sometimes controversial (the sitting in the pew part, every church will take my money).

All of this amounts to a stark choice, participate as a second-class Adventist or don’t participate in the local church at all. So far returning to church has been impossible for me.

This loss may not come with the physical violence that we often associate with trauma, but this apparent innocence doesn’t make it any less potent.

If you know LGBT+ people, especially Christians from nonaffirming communities, they will often speak to you of the constant stress of remaining in relationships with people who don’t accept their marriages, way of dressing, or way of identifying.That can be threatening because community and family support are what we need to get us through times of transition, emergencies, and sometimes to help us get jobs or take care of children.

Too often this stress of not belonging goes unacknowleged or even unknown by those who are causing it. Perhaps speaking of being traumatized brings up defensiveness in those who are part of this rejection, yet who don’t intend to cause trauma, and who believe themselves to be loving and accepting. Many people take it for granted that if they are friendly, care for queer people, and state their beliefs as kindly as possible they are showing love and not causing harm at all.

If this is you, I see your heart, and I see that you are doing the best you can. What would be good for the LGBT+ people in your life is if you would explore this tension between what you believe is happening and what queer people are experiencing. I don’t think the church has adequately dealt with that tension.

Few LGBT+ Christians see this the same way as most nonaffirming Christians do. I think the reason why is that no matter how it is handled, rejection from one’s community is a legitimate threat to anyone’s survival in this world. We feel it. I’ve felt it since long before I could articulate it.

The way forward for me is in finding new ways to survive. I can’t simply grow tougher skin. What I can do is root myself firmly in my identity as a child of God. No matter how I’m treated, no matter where I do or do not belong, I have a place with God. And of course I’m also finding a new tribe who does appreciate me for all of who I am.

Even with all this progress, it’s harder still to learn not to turn to the Adventist community for the help I’ve always sought there. Like an amputee I keep feeling the phantom limb. It’s proving difficult for every part of me to accept the new reality of my outsider status. Yet just as it’s happening slowly, this healing also has an inevitability to it.

The less often I reach instinctively for the help that simply is not there and the more I seek sources of life that are open to me, the more progress I make. I’m gaining a sense of safety and a holistic kind of confidence that I will survive this. I’m starting to care less that I’m not accepted. I’m doing better than surviving. Life gets more beautiful every day.