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.

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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.