Little TalksEssays — By Daniel Ordonez on June 29, 2012 at 6:56 am
A week earlier I had emailed Adam, our church college group leader, expressing my desire to become closer with the group. I explained that the only way I thought this was possible was for me to be completely honest- I told him I was gay and asked his advice on sharing with the others; I told him what it was like growing up in the Catholic church and attending a private Christian school, being scared of who you are; I told him what it was like to be rejected from the community that reared you and what it was like to finally feel like you have a group to welcome you back.
His response was loving, in ways I wasn’t expecting. He respected my honesty and admired the courage it required. He acknowledged the difficultly and worry that did, and still accompanied my willingness to be truthful. He went on to say that I would always be welcomed as a member of his group and that regardless of orientation, God loves me. He thought it would be best for us to sit down and talk further about sharing with the rest of the guys.
I pulled into the pink and beige strip mall and tried to find a parking spot hidden in the corner- I knew it wasn’t going to be easy given my inability to keep down a meal since just after Christmas. I tried to pull myself from the tan leatherette seat of my MINI four times before I was finally able to break the shackles of my anxiety and walk to the small, Mission Valley coffee shop. We figured this location was the half way point between downtown, where I lived and Tierrasanta, where he lived.
I sat at one of the green tables out front waiting for Adam to arrive. After I noticed him pull in I got out of my chair to approach him, we hugged then went inside to order. He offered to pay with a gift card he received over the holidays- I remembered to order light: an iced passion tea and no pastry. We found a table outside amongst the man reading a newspaper and women in skirts eating salads. As he spoke my finger played with the condensation that layered the outside of my clear, plastic cup.
“Does your family know?”
“Since I was 19,” I replied.
“Have you shared with anyone else from the group?” He asked.
“Brandon and Matt have known for some time. They are both incredibly supportive but wrestle with the ideas of homosexuality they have grown up with.”
“It’s clear they love you and want nothing for the best for you,” he assured. “What has your experience with College Group been so far?”
Readily, I said, “It has been good. It’s the first time I have ever sat with a group of peers and felt like I could say anything about myself and be respected. There’s a small comfort in hearing your friends talk about similar struggles as your own.”
He asked if I was prepared for some guys in the group to not be as accepting as I might hope.
“I can’t keep hiding,” I said.
Every Sunday, as we walk into the Kearny Mesa auditorium where Flood is held, we are handed an artfully designed, tri-fold flier with announcements, prayer requests, and the verse to correspond with the nights message- I get excited on the Sundays they give us a quote that also pertains. I usually arrive a few minutes early and while the wooden, stadium-style seats fill, I look through the announcements- on a Sunday in late April I noticed there was a position available at the church offices and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to become more involved with the church, not to mention it was just in time for a summer job.
I requested an application the next day and the office secretary emailed one right away. I was sitting at my studio desk when I received it and immediately started to fill it out. It started with the basics: name, address, past employers. It then went on to ask about spirituality and my relationship with Jesus followed by my top five strengths and qualifications. I then entered my background check information and listed three references- at this point I was confident in my chances. I signed my name and clicked save. It was then that I noticed there was an additional page titled “Flood Integrity Statement”- this is the part that listed the rules I would follow if chosen for the position. I read through the statements that called for stewardship of time, talents, and resources; honoring God through modest dress; abstinence from excessive drinking, pre-marital sex, pornography, and homosexual practices. My fingers froze and the cursor stared me in the face, my heart sank to my belly. Not knowing what to do, I reached over to my phone, found the contact for Adam and dialed. I explained my hesitance in signing the document and asked him to clarify what constituted homosexual practices.
“Can I have a boyfriend?” He responded, “No.”
“Can I flirt with a guy?” Again, “No.”
“Can I hold hands?” The hesitation in his voice was noticeable as he voiced the last “No.”
Before ending the conversation he asked if I felt the position meant enough to deprive myself of those things- in that moment of defeat and shame, I didn’t have an answer.
I hung up the phone and wanted to disappear. I felt like the kid that didn’t get picked for middle school sports- not because I wasn’t good but because I had black hair.
This was the first time I was unable to do something because of who I am and it came from a community that I had reluctantly put a lot of trust in.
Shame has the potential to be a powerful thing and for nineteen years I hid behind its empty embrace and false comfort. Being honest with myself required an amount of courage I didn’t know I had and I hold not a single regret in the decisions I have made. The last five years have taken me far but I am nowhere near where I need to be. Over time I have noticed that homosexuality is rarely a topic of discussion among my friends in the church and this scares me. There are so many places where conversations are erupting and voices are being heard. While some groups are tearing walls down it feels as though people around me are building them up- grouting them with the certainty of their ecclesiological ideals.
There lies an injustice in asking people to deny their identity; asking them to promise not to love another man, another woman. Those words push people into dark closets of shame, repressing the life we are meant to live. There lies a responsibility on me and people like me to start the conversations, to harbor those words and push them beyond to definite claims about what it really means to be gay in the church. It is our responsibility to share our stories so that others can share theirs.
Every Sunday, for the last two and a half years, I have hidden as I walk into that high school auditorium. I quietly listen to and wrestle with the messages directed to my heterosexual peers and their significant others on a lone front. It is with this writing that I make a bold vow: I will no longer allow myself to be quieted by the integrity statements of those who do not understand the kind of love I share and to proclaim that companionship within the church as a gay man does not go against what God wishes for us.
Three weeks ago, the last time I attended Flood, there was a gay couple sitting three rows in front of my friend Matt and I, their arms positioned in embrace as they worshiped. This image gave me great hope: there are others like me and there is plenty of room in the church for people of all sexual orientations.