Since the album “Friends and Foes” was released this past Christmas, I’ve been fielding a lot of private messages with questions regarding my sexual orientation due to a song called “Lay Your Burdens Down.”
The simple answer to those questions is: Yes, I am gay.
I know this may catch some of you off guard or confirm some long held suspicions – or maybe you simply don’t care. Either way, it is something I haven’t felt the need or desire to share publicly until now. This is perhaps the most terrifying thing I have ever done in my adult life and it came down to a decision between my career and my integrity. I realize by sharing this I may have just destroyed everything I have built this past decade. Seeing as today is my birthday, it’s fitting that this marks the end of a journey and the beginning of new one.
When we released our first album in 2007, we were immediately classified as a Contemporary Christian band because I happened to write songs about my faith. Even Wikipedia labeled us as such. While I never considered us as exclusively part of the CCM genre, I realized that we were now in a position to have a profound impact on peoples’ faiths. For this reason, I kept my orientation to myself for the past 10 years of my music career. I did not want to be publicly identified by something that’s only a part of what makes me who I am.
The other reason I kept it to myself was for the sake of the other people playing in my band. Every member was aware of who I was and they were all supportive, even though most of them held traditional theological stances. Because of this, it felt unfair to subject them to the inevitable questions and scrutiny that would accompany a public declaration of my orientation. It wasn’t their battle to fight and I did not want to jeopardize their ability to make a living as musicians. That is why when Andrew planned to leave this past year, it felt like the right time to share it.
One of my early memories of Sunday school was a teacher telling my junior high class that homosexuals were possessed by the devil. That statement would shape the way I related to God for the next decade of my life. I wrote “Lay Your Burdens Down” during the pinnacle of that struggle when I was convinced that God hated gay people – even celibate ones or ones trying to “cure” themselves. I saw it as a horrible curse – a predetermined condemnation for those destined for God’s wrath. And there was plenty of rhetoric coming from certain parts of the church to bolster this idea. I felt incredibly alone even though I had come out to most of my close friends and family. At the time I could only write the first two verses and choruses and then I shelved the song for 2 years. I didn’t know how to end the song because I had no answer for the question I was asking: “Does God love me?”
It was the question I had been asking myself for most of my life. The one question I agonized over late at night when I prayed to what often seemed like a silent and absent God. And then one day the words came to me for the 3rd verse:
They say I’m ruined but I’m only human
They say it could be Satan, but God, I’m your creation
What is and isn’t sin, I’ll let it go and let you in
All this time I was praying, all this time you were saying:
“Come lay your burdens down on me.”
It hit me like a ton of bricks and I burst into tears as I sang it. The revelation fundamentally changed my perspective not only on homosexuality but on Christianity as a whole. I had spent the greater part of my life trying to appease the wrath of a God who wasn’t even angry at me.
I used to be the king of religious behavior modification. I thought if I was holy enough, pure enough, chaste enough, God would tolerate me in spite of my “struggle.” But my legalism quickly spread like a disease to others in my life. I would feel actual rage when I saw other Christians behaving in ways that I thought were not in step with holy standards. I was jealous of their freedom so I tried to oppress them with my own enslavement and self-loathing.
But over time I began to realize that the heart of Christianity was not primarily about behavioral change. It’s firstly about spiritual change. It is about making a broken soul whole again and restoring its connection with the divine. Something that religious law could never do. The power of the gospel isn’t about scaring people out of hell but healing and restoring people from within. The Christian’s piety is not a result of strict adherence to rules, but the inevitable fruit of a soul that knows it is loved and forgiven by God.
I don’t know all the answers and I am by no means the spokesperson for all gay Christians. I didn’t come out to make a political statement or to criticize the church. I came out because I hear stories every month about people like me who want to die because they think God hates them. And when I think about how awful it felt as a 12 year old crying late at night while my family was asleep, I want to use whatever limited influence I have to give someone like me a little bit of hope. I am still learning in my own journey, and all I can be certain of is that God’s love must be foundational in that pursuit. If we withhold God’s love from those who we deem unworthy of it, then the gospel has no power and it is just impotent religiosity.
Whether homosexuality is sin or not is of little importance to me nowadays. It’s not that I don’t think it’s an important question, it’s just not the most important question. I have learned that it is often our obsession with sin avoidance that prevents us from ever really pursuing God himself. Still, some of you are probably curious where I have landed theologically on this issue.
The truth is, I really don’t know. And I hope there is room in the dialogue for that uncertainty. As far as my own personal life is concerned, I have been single and will continue to be single for the forseeable future. Not because I am convinced of homosexuality’s sinfulness but because I am at peace with my solitude. I’m not looking for a relationship because I no longer buy into the cultural narrative that you have to be married and have kids to fulfill your life’s calling… or to be happy. That may be an unsatisfactory answer for those of you who like definitive lines, but it is my honest answer. If you are convinced that homosexuality is indeed a sin and think that my stance is too soft, then by all means you are entitled to believe that. But whatever your beliefs may be, not a single one of us has the power to exile someone from the fold of God. And if there is wrongdoing to be reckoned with, I have faith that God is good enough and merciful enough to deal with our mistakes. All any of us can do is live the best lives we can with the information we have at hand.
I have never seen the world more divided than it has been in the past few years. We have stopped listening to one another and we relentlessly declare rhetorical and literal wars on those we disagree with. There was a time in my childhood when my best friend told me he would kill a homosexual if he ever met one. Today, he is the first one to stand in harm’s way to defend me and people like me. That didn’t happen from arguing with him or hurling insults at him. It happened because one summer after college I told him my story. I showed him the humanity behind the homosexuality. I told him about the loneliness, the constant feeling of condemnation no matter how hard I tried to be good. I told him how one night I sat on a bed with a knife in my hand contemplating ending my life because I thought God had forgotten me. My story materialized something that he had always seen as an unrelatable enigma. It didn’t change his mind. It changed his heart.
For those of you out there who feel like there are parts of you that are too terrible or shameful for God, those of you who have cried yourself to sleep wishing you had been born a different person, I have been in those same dark places and I will shine a light for you as you find your way. Unload that heavy weight you’ve been carrying. It doesn’t matter if you are gay, straight or somewhere inbetween; your story and journey matter regardless of how different or abnormal it appears. Anyone who tells you God hates you has never really known him.
The devil’s greatest deception is convincing us that only another person can determine when we are worthy of love. But no mortal man or institution is the gatekeeper to the heart of God. All that he asks of us is this: “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Love one another and be free,