August is the month we get to welcome new full-time voices to the post calvin! Please welcome Gwyneth Findlay, who is taking over Bart Tocci’s spot. Gwyneth is a writer and editor working in publishing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She graduated from Calvin in 2018 with a degree in writing and minors in French and gender studies. She also writes for the new Calvin alumni fiction blog Presticogitation.

The first line of the book says, I always knew I was gay.

I always hid it from my parents and my church.

I hated myself. I wanted so badly to change.

Clockwork. The church wouldn’t let me lead Sunday school anymore. I hated that God would do this to me.

I spent years wrestling with Scripture. (This line is particularly important.)

Then, like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, it picks one of four paths:

(1)  But then I found this book/gay Christian organization/blog, and I realized I am loved and affirmed by God.
(2)  But I realized I am called to celibacy, through which I can please God.
(3)  So I left the church.
(4)  So I prayed, and God made me straight.

(1) and (2) get published a lot. (4) does too, in some circles, though it’s fallen mercifully far from common acceptance. (3) often seems so obvious that it’s not worth writing. Why would you remain with an institution that hates you? Why indeed?

The story is always heart-wrenching, always convicting. Almost always reliable in its early stages. So reliable that it’s hard to tell any other story.

I didn’t know I was gay until I was in college. (Deleted—someone might interpret your sexuality as a choice.) I’m not sure if I’m exclusively attracted to women or not. (Deleted—we don’t tell bisexual stories.) I didn’t have to read all the books, I just knew that God loves me no matter what. (Deleted—the reader won’t trust you if you haven’t translated the Greek by hand.)

We self-censor using these expectations, and hardly just when it comes to publishing (in books, on blogs, for video testimonials). I came out to my parents as “gay” rather than “queer” for two reasons: one, I wasn’t sure they would be able to comprehend the linguistic nuance amid the turmoil of learning the truth about their only child, and two, I feared they might push me towards relationships with men if the possibility were even peripherally available. I own stacks of books on Christian theology of sexuality, far more than I ever intend to read, because I’ve already arrived at the nearest anyone can get to a conclusion when considering theology. The books are a front; they suggest a deeper study that legitimizes my position to the naysayers and skeptics. And I almost never talk about the two and a half years when I dated a man.

In The Queer Christian (?) Book™, internalized homophobia is apparently lifelong. Even those who come to a full and affirming theology of their relationship with Christ have days when they struggle and doubt, days when God might not actually love them after all. Feelings of self-assurance are suspect. To maintain my legitimacy alongside these stories, I create a narrative where I, too, appear to have done “the work,” where I’ve amply suffered in order to deserve respect. Otherwise it seems I’m lesser: a lesser churchgoer, a lesser daughter, a lesser follower of Christ.

Prayer is also essential to the story. Self-flagellating prayer that seeks healing from sexuality is so distant from my experience that Christians who have survived it seem almost to have roots in another religion. Yet if my own coming out process had begun sooner, while I taught Sunday school and babysat congregants’ kids and attended youth group three times a week, I would be commiserating with these stories rather than delusional about their origins. Perhaps I, too, would flinch when a pastor calls for the laying of hands or when a well meaning neighbor says, “I’ll pray for you.”

The book always recounts events from the thick of the action. I lived at home. I went to church every Sunday. I volunteered with my youth group. This intimacy creates trust, and trust fosters understanding. I can see that you’ve really spent time in the scriptures. Your heart for Christ is clear. I may not agree with you, but I can respect your journey. For those of us with no such immediacy, trust seems unattainable. We want to tell our stories, but will anyone believe us?

There is the queer Christian story. And then there are the rest of us.

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