Salvation was always such an important part of my upbringing. We were constantly begged, pushed, prodded and manipulated to go down the aisle. If I got saved once, I got saved a hundred times. When the preacher started talking about hell and the rhetorical fires started tickling my toes, I especially felt the tug to make sure I was sure about all this salvation stuff. The older I got, the more skeptical I became of the saved rhetoric. With all the oppressive language and actions that surrounded us, I didn’t see anyone getting saved from anything. I actually began to wonder if getting saved actually made things worse. Then it started happening.
There was a man at our church I loved dearly. With seemingly magical powers, Brother Bobby captured my childhood attention and taught me about the love of God. Before then, I never thought that God could love me as an individual. Brother Bobby believed in me and taught me that God did too. I didn’t think Southern Baptists could teach like this. I asked him one Sunday morning what made him so different and he replied, “Just like you, I am growing into who God created me to be.” Months later, Brother Bobby was kicked out of our church for coming out as gay. Many years after, I saw pictures of Brother Bobby joyously smiling and holding hands with his partner. I knew Brother Bobby got saved.
I wrestled with my own sexuality for years. Whenever I found a man attractive, I just knew I was going to hell…probably penis first. Though I remained mostly attracted to women, I didn’t know what to do with this other piece of me. I kept it quiet. Then I grew close to Pastor Greg. For decades, Pastor Greg led Southern Baptist churches. I decided to open up with him about my sexuality and he assured me that God lovingly created me just the way that I am. A few years later, Pastor Greg called me while I was a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and told me that he was dying of cancer. When I made it to his bedside, Pastor Greg told me that he had lived his life as a closeted gay man. With tears in my eyes, I knew that Pastor Greg was finally getting saved.
Not long after, one of my classmates asked if we could talk. When we sat down late one night, Marcus told me that he was gay. If we were at any other school this revelation would have been less of a deal, but we were students at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Having contemplated suicide in the struggle to keep it quiet, I could see the visible relief in Marcus’ body when he told me. Later, Marcus came out and declared that he was a gay Southern Baptist pastor. I knew he got saved.
There are countless stories like these. People who got saved from hate and fear to live into the person that a loving God has created them to be. Unfortunately, the entire Southern Baptist system opposes such a salvation. I struggled with my sexuality and suicide throughout my early years as a Southern Baptist and my tenure at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Throughout this time, people consistently told me their secrets. Honestly, I now feel like I know more closeted Southern Baptist pastors than I do straight Southern Baptist pastors. Earlier this week, I asked people in our largely LGBT congregation at the Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ to stand if they felt like they were direct victims of physical and emotional abuse at the hands and mouths of the Southern Baptist Convention, Southern Baptist churches or Southern Baptist pastors. Hundreds and hundreds of people stood up and demanded that I tell their stories when I arrived at the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission conference.
From personal experience, I know that stories change lives. When Southern Baptists get saved, I see them blossom into amazing storytelling evangelists of the power of the love of God. I believe that God can work miracles. While in Nashville, I hope we see a few people get saved.