This week the Washington Post ran a story about Christian Rock Star Trey Pearson coming out as gay. If you’ve not read the article, I would encourage you to do so before reading the rest of this post; especially the letter from Trey that concludes the article.
This post is about drawing attention to what Trey’s story reveals is missing in the ministry of most churches. If we don’t see what is missing, then we won’t fill the gap that needs to be filled.
As you read the article and ask yourself these two questions:
- When should the most important conversations have occurred with Trey Pearson?
- What was the effect of 20 years of silence upon how those conversations occurred when the silence was finally broken?
To help you identify the answer to these questions, consider the opening paragraph from a recent post.
Imagine you attended a church where your life struggle was never mentioned as an area to receive care, and, if it was mentioned, your struggle was the adversarial portion of a culture war commentary. How would your week-to-week experience of church be different? This is the experience of many people in our churches.
The saddest part of Trey Pearson’s letter to me was that it seems he struggled for 20 years in silence (assuming the now 35 year old’s experience of same sex attraction began in his teenage years). He grew up in a church that taught him to love Jesus, but where, at least to his perception, his struggle was not acceptable to talk about. His perceived options were “be silent” or “be gay.” From what we can tell, he tried the former for two decades and then chose the latter.
The epidemic of silence (with its accompanying isolation) is why I wrote Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk. As a church we cannot banish those who experience same sex attraction (SSA) to silence for as long as they can stand it and then scold them for identifying as gay when they can take it anymore. When our unwritten policy regarding SSA is “don’t ask, don’t tell” that is inadvertently what we do.
I’ve been saddened by how some conservative Christians have responded to the Washington Post article (and other venues that carried it). Many, at least from my perspective, seem to miss the point of this post.
Many have responded by condemning Trey for breaking his marriage covenant. Others have tried to highlight how tragic it is that his daughters will have to endure this divorce. Is breaking the marriage covenant wrong? Yes. Is it a tragedy that Trey’s daughters now have to navigate life with divorced parents? Absolutely. Trey acknowledges as much.
We can make these points. We can make them while balancing truth and grace (which we should admit many who claim to speak for Christ do not). We can make them with eloquence and polemical sophistication. But making these points to a 35 year old adult who has lived and led in an evangelical church for 20 years but never experienced a Christian culture that says, “Some Christians will experience unwanted SSA. We love you and that is something we can talk about,” is too little too late.
When should conversations have started with Trey? When he first began to experience SSA. How does that happen? Should Trey have spoken up sooner? Sure. But when churches speak of homosexuality in almost exclusively political and polemical tones (to the exclusion of pastoral and personal tones), do we expect a teenager to have that much courage?
What would the fruit of these conversations be? The only honest answer is, “We don’t know.” Might Trey have still chosen to identify as gay? Maybe. However, might not carrying 20 years of shame have influenced his sense of attraction? Possibly. Would being known (not feeling fake, as carrying a unsharable secret makes us all feel) and loved by his family, friends, and church impact a sense of inauthenticity and emptiness? Undoubtedly. Would it have helped him make a more informed choice about marriage, career, or children? Probably.
Christians ought to be involved in political and polemical conversations about homosexuality (so long as we are informed and gracious), but if the number of political and polemical conversations outnumber our personal conversations, then we will have missed the most important junctures to enter these conversations with the friends, family, and church members around us.
If you want to be part of the church being filled with people who are willing and able to have meaningful conversations and provide authentic friendship for those who experience unwanted SSA, I would encourage you to read Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk.