Saturday, July 20, 2013


It was a little after 9:00 on a cold, Chicago winter night. Our college group was spending a week serving, learning, and living on the city's South Side with a local ministry, and we had just finished dinner at a couple's home. As we walked the few blocks back to the ministry's office, a woman came around the corner. She gave us one look, and, in a low voice, she warned, "You boys watch out. There's a cop back there." 

I was confused. Watch out? For a cop? Why did we need to watch out for a cop? In fact, I felt safer knowing that cop was there, know. We were a group of white kids wearing expensive clothes walking through a black neighborhood late at night. Surely we weren't the ones the cops should be looking out for!

But then it dawned on me. I remembered what the ministry staff had told us earlier that week. White kids from the suburbs do come to this inner-city neighborhood on a regular basis. They come to buy drugs.

It suddenly made sense. I wanted to turn around and chase down this woman. I wanted to say, "Wait a minute! You have it all wrong! You think that we're here to buy drugs...just because we're white? As if that's the only reason we'd ever be in your neighborhood?"

Those words that I wanted to say, those perceptions and assumptions I wanted to all stuck with me for a few days. It made me uncomfortable, but as I reflected on that discomfort, I realized that it was temporary. It was limited. It was localized. At the end of the day, it didn't really impact my life.

In just a few days, I would be leaving this neighborhood and returning to my life in the majority. I would return to no longer worrying about society pre-judging me and my motives by the color of my skin. Store clerks would not watch me any more closely than anyone else when I went shopping. People would not lock their car doors when I passed by. Overzealous neighbors would not follow me with a gun when I walked around my neighborhood.

My mom never had to have the talk with me about how to avoid being seen as a threat simply by existing somewhere. I've never thought twice about getting into an elevator with a white woman...or anyone, for that matter. When driving through the gate of my Christian college after midnight, my friends and I could hold up slices of cheese instead of our school ID cards, and the security guard would simply wave us through, chuckling.

As I reflect on the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin verdict, I'm realizing just how much I don't understand. 

It's one thing for me, as a white man, to say, "this isn't about race!" It's another for me to realize that for thousands of my fellow Americans and brothers & sisters in is most definitely about race. It's one thing for me, as a member of the majority, to say, "I don't care what color you are! It makes no difference to me!" It's another for me to realize that many of my fellow Americans and brothers & sisters in Christ care very deeply about what color they are...that it makes a very big difference to them.

It's one thing for me to say, "Justice was served! It was a trial by a jury of peers! Let's accept the decision and move on." It's another for me to realize that, regardless of the trial's legitimacy, the verdict does nothing to calm or assuage the deep-seated fear and pain of these fellow Americans, my brothers & sisters in Christ. If anything, the verdict confirms those fears, it intensifies the pain, and my callous words of color-blindness only spit in their wounds. 

If I'm going to love my brothers and sisters of different races, I don't need to explain and argue to them why I'm not prejudiced. I don't need to tell them why my words weren't intended to be hurtful and why they should give me the benefit of the doubt. I need to be quiet. I need to reflect. I need to pray. I need to cry. I need to sit beside and stand in solidarity. I need to listen. I need to listen a lot. I need to keep listening until I think I can't bear to hear anymore, and then I need to keep listening. 

Then...maybe then...I can speak.

I don't understand prejudice. I don't understand race relations in America. I can't understand the depth of pain and fear and anger generated by George Zimmerman's not-guilty verdict. I don't know what a black mother feels now every time her teenage son walks out the door.

But I can't be content to sit here in this lack of understanding. I must listen, I must ask questions, and I must learn. I must be willing to admit that I've been blind, that I've been callous...that I've been wrong. I must let myself be shaped by the love of our Savior, love that isn't color-blind, but love that sees and values the beauty of diversity he created...diversity that leads us to greater unity. 

I'll admit, as I move towards greater openness with my story as a same-sex attracted Christian...I fear some elements of prejudice myself. You may be aware of the stereotype that gay men have a far greater tendency to be pedophiles. This stereotype, as false as it is, has already left deep scars on my soul. "Maybe I can't be trusted," my subconscious whispers. "Maybe I am just a sex-obsessed reprobate." What will people think if I sign up to serve in the nursery or with the youth group? As I deal with the deeply painful prospect of never raising and loving kids of my own, I find myself avoiding opportunities to love and care for other people's kids for fear of being misjudged or drawing suspicion. Now yes, of course, I am a sinner. I am capable of just as much sin as you are, and I must rely on the grace of Christ just as much as you do, but this stereotype has slowly led me and many others to believe the lie that we're much more capable of sin than anyone else. Not only are we more broken...we're more dangerous.

I want to be very careful about equating my experience with that of racial minorities in this country. But I do want to add my voice as we speak about the deeply painful impact of harmful stereotypes. For a black man to have to explain why he doesn't want to shoot or steal from you...for a gay man to have to explain why he doesn't want to molest your kids...can we get a sense of the deeply dehumanizing effect that can have? 

There's a lot I don't understand about racism and racial prejudice, but I want to learn. Before I speak, I need to listen. Before I claim my innocence, I need to consider where I might be complicit...or even guilty. I need friends of different races and cultures who can tell me their stories, who can teach me, who can show me different aspects of the gospel that I've never seen.

I humbly ask for the same thing as the Church moves forward in its conversation on sexuality. I ask you to listen. I encourage you to build friendships with those of different sexual orientations, not to prove that you hang out with sinners like Jesus did, not to preach and convince, but to love and be loved yourself. Whether or not your beliefs or political positions change, you will be able to engage in the conversation in a way that truly reflects the love of our Savior. You will no longer just speak theoretically of "gay people," but you will have names and faces and stories....names and faces and stories of people who you love and who love you back.

As I do the same, as I seek out friends of different races and ethnicities, when I discuss the Trayvon Martin case, I won't just think of a generic "them." I will think of names and faces and stories and tears. I will think of people I care about so deeply that their pain becomes my pain.

Christians are called to identify with the outcast, to stand with the oppressed and seek justice.

We're called to weep with those who weep, to mourn with those mourn. Right now, the African-American community is mourning. It's hurting. What will our response be, people of God?

Let's start by listening.

Grace & peace,

Your Brother Behind the Mask

***In the spirit of this post, I welcome your feedback. If you feel that something I've written lacks sensitivity or understanding, if I have a blind spot...I'll be the first to admit that I don't always understand. I welcome your thoughts and challenges, either in the comment section or via email at 

Thursday, July 11, 2013


"I struggle with same-sex attraction."

These words have rolled off my tongue quite a few times over the past year. As I share my story with a growing number of friends and family, the hardest part has actually been figuring out what words to use to describe...well...this part of my story. There is a lot of bulky language and creative verbal tap-dancing to avoid labeling...well...the issue? Ordeal? Condition?

The label I finally settled on was "same-sex attraction." This is a very clean, scientific sounding term. It sticks to the basics and makes no assumptions. I am a person who is attracted predominantly to persons of my own sex. That about covers it, right?

Lest anyone get the idea that I'm okay with this arrangement, I've usually added the words, "I struggle with" to my description. See, I'm not just same-sex attracted...I'm fighting it. I'm dealing with it. Don't worry, I hate this part of myself just as much as you do.

That's what I'm trying to tell you when I say I struggle with same-sex attraction.

But is that right? Is it really a struggle? What does that even mean?

[Okay guys, I'm about to do something all of my college professors hated, but at least it's not in my introduction. Get ready...]

Merriam-Webster (ah there it is) gives the following definition of the word struggle: "to make strenuous or violent efforts in the face of difficulties or opposition." Also: "to proceed with difficulty or with great effort." Both of these definitions describe different parts of my life...but do they actually describe how I relate to my same-sex attraction?

Let's take the first definition...strenuous or violent efforts in the face of difficulty or opposition. I do see this kind of struggle in my life. I struggle with idolatry. I struggle with arrogance and pride. I struggle with lethargy and gluttony. I struggle with lust.

How about the second definition? Proceeding with great difficulty or effort? I have plenty of this kind of struggle to go around too. I struggle with insecurity. I struggle with my appearance. I struggle with loneliness. I struggle with the messiness of community. I struggle with fear and anxiety.

But none of this answers my question. Do I actually struggle with that fact that I'm attracted to other guys?

I don't think so.

It's not something I ever chose for myself...nor would I if given the opportunity. But it's there, whether I like it or not. It's been there--for as long as I can remember--and if the studies are right, it's probably not going anywhere.

You could call this my sexual orientation. In fact, it'd probably be helpful to call it that...because I'm pretty sure that's what it is.

I don't struggle with my height. I don't struggle with my skin color or my ethnicity. I don't struggle with the color of my eyes, the sound of my voice, or the size of my feet. I don't struggle with my family of origin. I don't struggle with the fact that I'm an INFJ. I don't struggle with the fact that I'm a man.

I didn't choose or decide any of these things, but they all impact my life--to various degrees. The part I sing in choir, the shoes I buy, the position I play in basketball, the high blood pressure that runs in my family, the privilege I have in modern American society...all of these things are impacted by forces outside my control, for better or for worse.

You could say these things are part of my identity. None of them encompass who I am, but all together, they start painting a vivid picture of what it means to be me.

At the end of the day, our sexual orientation--who we are naturally attracted to--is one of these integral parts of who we are. It doesn't define us, but it has a dramatic impact on our lives and relationships. If you're straight, the fact that you're attracted to the opposite gender plays a pretty important role in your I right?

So why do I insist on referring to my sexual orientation in the same way I refer to my unhealthy diet or a sinus infection? Is it a bad enemy to be conquered? Like every other part of who I am, my sexuality has been bruised and broken by the Fall, but also, like every other part of who I am, it has beauty, it has purpose, and it is being redeemed. 

I wrote a post back in February (check it out's one of my favorites) about coming to grips with my sexual orientation, about the first time I was able to write the words "I'm gay" in my prayer journal, and about the freedom and relief it brought me to pray those words.

But here's the thing...those words have stayed in my prayer journal. They haven't escaped the leather bound cover [except in the picture above...but you get my point] You see, I'm still torn about the word "gay." It's taken on all kinds of meaning and connotations in our society. It's packed with mental images and assumptions. Many of these assumptions are unfair and based in stereotype, yet there they are. People hear me say, "I'm gay," and they assume I want to date, marry, and have sex with a man. Some will hear me say, "I'm gay," and no matter how well they know me or for how long, they'll see me as part of an agenda...aligning with the enemy.

There will be churches that will not hire me, simply because of those two little words.

That makes me anxious...and it hurts.

Because honestly, saying "I'm gay" says no more about my lifestyle than someone saying, "I'm straight." Your grandmother and Kim Kardashian might both be heterosexual, but that's likely where the similarities end.

My "gay lifestyle" probably doesn't look too different than that of many single, straight, Christian guys in their mid-20's. I watch football. I hike. I shop at Goodwill. I eat frozen pizza and lots of peanut butter sandwiches. Grabbing a beer with a few friends is my idea of "night life." My room's a mess. I'm not a good dancer. I listen to Mumford & Sons. I've never had sex. I go to church every week, but I don't read my Bible nearly as much as I should. I'm not saying any of this makes me better than anyone's just who I am. I'm gay, but I might not fit your stereotype.

I don't struggle with being "gay."

I do struggle with the implications of being gay, especially since I believe the Bible says that to act on my attractions would be contrary to God's will.

I do struggle with the loneliness that comes with singleness. I do struggle with the fear of what a life of singleness could look like. I do struggle with the shame of believing my brokenness is somehow worse than everyone else's. I do struggle with the insecurity that comes from living life behind a mask. I do struggle with anxiety in my friendships with other guys, always afraid of getting too close. I do struggle with anger when I hear fellow Christians make hurtful, ignorant statements about gay people. I do struggle to keep my heart pure...just like every follower of Jesus.

My identity is not found in my sexual orientation. I am not defined by the fact that I'm attracted to guys. My identity is found in Jesus Christ, and I am defined by His record. He is the foundation, the rock that the rest of my identity is built on. 

There are many different parts of my identity, many different facets that make up who I am. My sexual orientation is one of those parts...and it's an important one! But my identity is centered and built on Jesus. Each and every aspect of our identity is subject to His authority. My sexuality must be subject to Jesus, just like yours must. As I seek to take up my cross and follow Him, I believe that means laying down my sexuality at His up my desires, ever for a committed, monogamous same-sex relationship, and trusting that He is sufficient.

That is not easy. It's quite difficult, actually*, and it's rather controversial too. It's a struggle. 

So no, friends, I don't struggle with my same-sex attraction. I struggle with living faithfully as a child of the King. 

And that's what we all struggle with.

Grace & peace,

Your Brother Behind the Mask

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Breaking the Rules.

We were smack-dab in the middle of a sweltering Southern summer. No matter how bright the sun was shining (and it was bright), you still felt like you were swimming every time you stepped outside. It was that thick, wet, suffocating heat that makes you wonder how people even breathed below the Mason-Dixon Line before air-conditioning was invented. 

My high school basketball team was attending a week-long camp at a nearby Christian college, and we were making the daily trek from the dorms to the gymnasium...wearing long pants.

Yep, you heard me...long pants. Summer. Southern. Sweltering. All-guys Basketball Camp. Long pants. 
At least modesty in sports has improved over the years...

The college that was hosting the camp had a very strict policy that men could only wear shorts in their dorm rooms and on the basketball court. Maybe they knew something about legs that we didn't, but needless to say, the rule seemed a bit oppressive.

So just how serious were they about this policy? 

Well, let's just say that the emergency evacuation procedures, clearly posted in every dorm room, spelled out that in case of emergency, everyone must be dressed in proper "street attire" before exiting the building. It seemed they'd prefer us burn in a dorm fire than burn in eternal hell fire for letting a lady firefighter see our shapely calves. [slight exaggeration perhaps?]

Of course, I realize having to wear pants for one week of summer is nothing compared to some of the overbearing standards imposed on women year-round in the name of "modesty." (See this article and this "modesty heart check"

Guys have it easy. We really do. The usual line is that guys are wired to be visually stimulated, and therefore, it's the woman's job to keep her brother from stumbling. Meanwhile, guys are typically let off the hook, free to wear just about whatever they want (except at this particular college, where lower-leg nudity is still frowned upon)

Brett Harris wrote about this double-standard recently on the Rebelution blog, in an article called, "The Other Side of Modesty." His conclusion: "If girls should be modest, so should guys...If girls should consider their brothers in Christ, guys should consider their sisters in Christ." On one hand, this could be seen as refreshing. Finally! Guys are being held to the same standards as girls! If girls have to cover up at the beach, then so should guys! If girls are expected to do "modesty heart checks" before leaving home each morning, then maybe guys should consider their motives for wearing that small v-neck instead of the medium crew-neck. 

Upon further reflection, though, is Harris' solution really that refreshing? Is it even a solution, or is it actually part of the problem? Instead of shaming and sexualizing only women's bodies, are we not just doing the same thing to men?

We're reducing modesty to a culturally-influenced dress code, placing the blame for lust on the one lusted after, and buying into the lie that our bodies are inherently shameful and sexual rather than beautiful and glorifying to the Creator who designed them. 

Brett's article also brought something else to light in this discussion...for me, at least. Modesty is usually discussed in a very binary, black-and-white manner. Girls, consider your brothers. Brothers, consider your sisters. Ladies, guys are lust-machines, so watch what you wear. Gentlemen, show the ladies some respect and keep your britches up. 

But what about brothers and sisters who are not attracted to the opposite gender...brothers and sisters who find more temptation with members of their own sex? We can't just ignore it and pretend it's a rare exception to the rule. It's real. It's relatively common. It kind of changes our conversation. 

Back to basketball camp...Wednesday night was swim night, but of course, "mixed bathing" is a big no-no. (Could there be a more awkward name for something so non-awkward?) There were some other co-ed camps running at the same time as our basketball camp, so guys and girls were each assigned specific time-slots to use the swimming pool. The pool was surrounded by a very high wall, and behind the privacy of this wall, we could wear shorts AND take off our shirts! [gasp]

This extreme separation of the genders betrays an assumption that I believe is far more widespread than just this college. The thinking goes like this: when in the presence of the opposite sex, one covers up to prevent the temptation of lust. However, when in the presence of only one's own gender, such covering up is unnecessary. If the goal is to remove the temptation of lust, we're assuming that there's no such temptation in a gender-segregated environment. This, of course, is simply untrue.

For these kinds of modesty rules to make any kind of sense, we have to assume that same-sex attraction either doesn't exist or that it's an extremely rare anomaly. What was the responsibility of the other guys at the pool? They had no idea I might be attracted to them. (Heck...I was still in denial myself.) If one of them caused me to "stumble," where does the fault lie? If we're truly trying to remove the temptation of lust, then we either have to pretend that guys like me don't exist...or require guys to wear shirts in the swimming pool. And if we're taking this to the logical conclusion, we can't just limit it to the pool. What about living arrangements? Dorms? We again have to either deny that guys like me exist, isolate us in separate quarters, or require all guys to remain fully clothed at all times...even in their rooms. Do we see the absurdity of all this?

Let's leave high school now, fast-forward through college, and arrive at last year. I'm staying in the same hotel room with three of my good guy friends. These are guys that I love, trust, and respect. Guys that love Jesus. These guys are the first peers that I've decided to come out to. Our conversation that afternoon is incredibly encouraging. They listen well, they ask thoughtful questions, and they assure me of their continued love and friendship. They encourage me about the role my story can play in the Church, and their prayers for me bring tears to my eyes. They said all the right things, and they said them well.

But it wasn't just what they said that was so encouraging...their actions spoke far louder than their words. That is to say, their actions didn't change. They didn't treat me any differently. Back in the hotel room, they weren't afraid to change their clothes in the same room or even share a bed with me. They might not have even thought twice about this, but the message I received was one of trust, love, and acceptance.

Now what would the Modesty Police have thought about this? If I was a female, my friends' lack of "modesty" would have been quite inappropriate...not to mention sharing a bed! Now, of course, I'm not a female (important difference), but if our motivation in modesty is always keeping our brothers and sisters from stumbling, why were my friends' actions any different?

Because the alternative would have been isolation. It would have meant further confirmation of my otherness rather than my sameness. It would have said "You're definitely not a woman, but you're not quite a man. We're the same biologically, but you don't really belong here." But wouldn't that alternative have been the loving thing to do? Wouldn't that have protected me from temptation? If you're one of the Modesty Police, and the elimination of temptation is your top there any other option?

What did my friends' response communicate? It communicated that they saw me as one of them, still one of the guys, a brother. It communicated that they trusted me, and that they trusted Jesus. It communicated that they were committed to me...that they weren't going to let me go.

So many of our modesty rules are built around this core idea that we can eradicate temptation, and if we eradicate temptation, we can live holy lives. But we can't escape temptation. Even if you throw out your TV, cell phone, and computer...even if you never leave home, never see another person can't escape temptation because you can't escape yourself!

The best way to fight the battle with lust is not shame, fear, and hiding. It's relationship. It's friendship. It's community. For heterosexual guys, it's seeing women as beautiful sisters in Christ, sisters with gifts and talents and passions and a story....not just bodies. When we focus on covering up and hiding the body, we only draw more attention to it. We quietly feed the lie that bodies are sex objects...and shameful. We say "SEX! Don't think about SEX! Stop thinking about SEX! Why are you thinking about SEX? Why can't you stop thinking about SEX? Stop thinking about SEX! You're still thinking about SEX!"

For me, as a same-sex attracted guy, I must be able to see other men as my brothers in Christ. We have far more in common than we have different. This brotherhood happens the same way it does for most guys: friendship, vulnerability, accountability, common work, and shared basically, community. Pursuing this kind of community is not without its dangers. The rules of modesty and propriety, designed to keep the genders safely separate, also do their work of separation when applied to male friendships. My heart is an idol factory, and it will always be looking for something--or someone--to idolize.

What I'm trying to say is this: if I'm going to have friends, if I'm going to have community, I can't just run away every time I'm attracted to another guy. That's not the gospel. That's a recipe for a desperately lonely life, cut off from the life-giving Body of Christ. No, I have to separate attraction from lust...and learn to tell the difference. I must certainly guard my heart, but I can't guard it so tightly that I never let anyone inside. I must faithfully pursue holiness and purity in all areas of my life, including my sexuality, and I must believe and rest in the fact that Jesus has paid it all.

If my friends make it their priority to keep me from stumbling, they will keep me at arm's length. They won't let me into their lives; they won't let me feel like I'm one of them. They will keep their guard up. However, if my friends make it their priority to love me, they will respond like these guys did. They will welcome me in and let me know I belong....that I'm one of them. They will let me serve and love them as brothers...just like they serve and love me. And when I do stumble, they will be by my side to walk with me through it...and I too will be by their side when they stumble.

Modesty rules as a means to prevent temptation ultimately can't least not with any kind of sustainability. These kinds of rules lead to pride, judgment, anxiety, and shame. They work against community because they divide and separate. They point fingers and lay blame. They send the message that people are sexual bodies to be covered rather than images of God to be loved and appreciated. Modesty is not about what's on your body, it's what's in your heart. Of course, what's in your heart will ultimately affect what's on your body, but we must stop judging people based on outward appearance.

We must stop blaming our idolatry on our idols.

Instead of trusting our dress codes, we must start trusting Jesus and His finished work for us on the Cross. In that freedom, we can appreciate and rejoice in the beauty of those around us, seeing that beauty as a testament to our Beautiful Creator.

Grace & peace,

Your Brother Behind the Mask