I’m Not Normal — And That’s Okay

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By Christian Brown // February 16, 2016

I remember very clearly the first time I got called a nigger.

I was in the third grade playing in an evergreen field when a lanky white boy decided that teasing me would draw a laugh from classmates standing nearby.

He was right, and in an instant what I already suspected was reinforced.

I wasn’t like everybody else. I was different.

For the last 16 years I’ve tried my best to not stand out, to fit in and adhere to the homogeneous standards placed on me, but I’m starting to realize that God may need me not be normal. In fact, he never uses anyone normal.

Whether you know it or not, I’m a triple minority.

Yup, I’m black, gay, and disabled living in a predominantly white, straight, able-bodied country. There’s nearly ever a moment that goes by without me thinking of one of my anomalies. While I’m undoubtedly blessed to live in the United States where I have many opportunities and privileges, I often wonder which anomaly will kill me first.

As a black man who has faced unjust discrimination from police in the past, I am always on heightened alert, careful of my dress attire, my demeanor, and response to white authorities.

In fact, a friend recently asked me why I’m always dressed nicely. His face turned somber when I revealed that I’m afraid of what would happen if I’m ever pulled over and not dressed nicely.

It’s an unfortunate reality as a minority in this country, always pandering to the highest power, unable to express yourself freely without the fear of retaliation.

I was prepared for maltreatment as a black man by a black mother, who spoke (and still speaks) in real terms about the setbacks and challenges awaiting me simply because of the color of my skin.

However, nothing prepared me for discrimination my sexuality brought.

Last June, the day after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, I came out as a gay Christian man. The punishment was swift as 90 percent of my friends walked away from me and/or never stood up to defend me.

My ministry collapsed and I had to start my life over from scratch.

Maybe that’s why I ran from my sexuality for so long. I didn’t want another minority mark on my forehead. I wanted for at least once to be in the majority.

However, God has revealed to me in recent months that He always uses special people, outcasts, weirdos, freaks to build His kingdom. Let’s not forget, the Jewish people are the minority group in the biblical narrative, constantly oppressed by larger, richer nations.

Esther was an orphaned woman that saved her people from almost sure genocide.

Abraham was an immigrant who traversed foreign lands on God’s command.

Hagar was an African handmaid and concubine who eventually became a single mother to Abraham’s first-born son, Ishmael.

Sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph went from being a Jewish prisoner in Egypt to second in charge of the entire city-state.

Daniel and his friends were prisoners of war in Babylon, forced to serve an unjust king.

Mary and Joseph were refugees in Egypt for nearly two years as King Herod, a Roman, sought to murder Jesus.

The woman at the well that Jesus later redeems was also a Samaritan with no husband.

And Philip baptized an African eunuch who wanted to know Jesus despite his darker skin and odd sexual identity.

I repeat, God never uses anyone normal.

So while the world gives me every reason to fear my minority status, I’m thankful that I serve a God who celebrates my diversity and never intended for it to be a crutch of fear and oppression, but rather something that adds color, character, and courage to His kingdom.

 

Christian Brown is an award-winning multimedia journalist, specializing in print and radio reporting around topics of politics, faith, and emerging communities. In 2015, he graduated from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism with an M.S. in Journalism. 

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It’s Time I Told You I’m Gay

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Photo by: Diana Crandall

By Christian Brown

When my best friend got married in 2009, I was thrilled when he chose me as his best man.

It was an honor to stand by his side at the altar and support him as his beautiful bride walked gracefully down the aisle to wed him.

I’ll never forget the flashes of joy on his face as she drew closer and closer. First, a grin and a giggle, then tears, plenty of tears.

Many things were running through my head at that moment, but there’s one thought in particular that still haunts me today.

“I’ll never get to experience this joy because I’m a gay Christian.”

READ ALSO: “Worship Songwriter Vicky Beeching Comes Out Gay”

I’ve never shared this thought publicly before. Instead, I’ve spent the last 15 years secretly trying to find a way to reconcile my sexuality and my faith. I’ve searched for cures and healings, fasted and prayed, invested in ex-gay counseling, studied the Scriptures, and considered lifelong celibacy.

My conclusion? I’ll never be happy unless I embrace both my sexuality and my Christian faith, even if it means getting the Church welcome mat pulled right from under my feet. I used to believe that being in a gay relationship was a sin.

As a result, I spent much of my young adulthood searching for alternative options, but to my chagrin, none of the Church’s “solutions” worked.

There’s been a lot of coverage of ex-gay Christians who left the “homosexual lifestyle” and much fodder over evangelical churches who have abandoned the conservative stance on homosexuality to welcome the LGBT community.

READ ALSO: “Leading Evangelical Ethicist David Gushee is Now Pro-LGBT”

For years I’ve hidden my true sexuality in order to avoid this conversation. I was afraid of losing friends, family members, and church membership, but even as the Supreme Court provided marriage equality nationwide this week, I feel like I must speak out. I have to tell the truth.

While the issue of affirming the LGBT community is still splitting up Christian leaders, I can say on a personal level, the issue has always divided me.

Taken during a school field trip to Washington D.C. in 1998.

Ever since I was 12-years-old, I knew. I liked other boys. An unsettling discovery for any young black kid growing up with an absent father and a strict, religious mother.

But what crushed me the most was the fact that I knew God hated homosexuality. Although it was never said directly, I learned early on where all these unrepentant people went – hell.

My upbringing in the Pentecostal church taught me that God loved everyone, but sinners who did not know Jesus had their place in the lake of fire. First on the list were atheists and homosexuals.

You can imagine the impact this teaching had on me. I sought every cure I could find. I prayed and fasted earnestly every night that God would heal me of these “nasty attractions.” I watched testimonies of “ex-gay” Christians who overcame same-sex attractions and became heterosexual.

“Lord, please let it happen to me.”

I joined ex-gay ministries online and received counseling from ministers who encouraged me to shed any gay identity and see myself as a “son of the King.”

Along the way, I dated women “in faith,” believing that my attractions would change once I met the right girl.

SEE ALSO: “Is It Possible to Pray the Gay Away?”

The result? Nothing. Nada. My attractions never changed, but one thing did change as a result of me trying to eradicate my homosexuality, I slowly began to hate myself.

Depression began to set in. I became verbally abusive towards myself using words I dare not repeat here. I knew I was a Christian, a part of God’s family, but I wanted to end my life.

Suicide was an option for me just like it is for so many LGBT youth unfortunately.

This is where I have to thank God. Contrary to what some might think, God does love the LGBT community and His sacrifice on the cross transcends race, gender, and sexuality. The Bible says if we only call upon the Lord we will be saved.

If it wasn’t for that hope, which I found in Jesus Christ, I know I’d be dead. But through the anger and emptiness, God was there – and I found solace in knowing that one day things would get better.

I decided to stop fighting my attractions and just accept them. But what would that mean for my future? I was left with two options: committing to lifelong celibacy or affirming same-sex relationships.

Honestly, neither one felt right initially. And maybe it’s because the Bible and Church doctrine aren’t on the same page.

SEE ALSO: “Largest ‘Gay Cure’ Ministry in the U.S. Shuts Down” 

Both Jesus and Paul the apostle address celibacy in scripture. When His disciples are ranting about the messiness of marriage and divorce in Matthew 19:10, Jesus says not all men can accept the alternative (celibacy), but only “those to which it has been given.”

Likewise, Paul encouraged unmarried Christians in 1 Corinthians 7:9 to remain single if they could exercise self-control. If not, he urged them to marry because that’s better than burning with passion and lust.

Although these scriptures appear quite clear, the evangelical church has had no problem mandating that gay Christians adopt lifelong celibacy because that’s apparently a better alternative to homosexuality. But is it?

Being gay didn't stop the fact that I love to worship God.

Being gay didn’t stop the fact that I love to worship God. And I did it with all my heart.

I’ll be the first to say I do not have the gift of celibacy. As a result, the last 10 years for me as a young adult have been torturous.

I’m of marrying age yet I cannot court a partner, cannot ever fall in love, and must suppress desires I have for a committed, monogamous gay relationship.

It’s not easy, and honestly, it’s not sustainable anymore.

I cannot imagine a life being celibate forever. Is it because I’m lustful and can’t live without sex? No. It’s because I’m human and can’t live without companionship. In recent months, I’ve been reviewing the alternative to lifelong celibacy – an affirming gay lifestyle.

SEE ALSO: “Pastor Tony Campolo Announces Support for LGBT Inclusion” 

It’s easy to fall into the trap of reading the Bible in a very literal way.

Most of the time, that’s a good thing, but there are moments when context is needed.

For example, 500 years ago, all Christians believed the Sun revolved around the Earth. They based this on scripture as the book of Psalms speaks of the Sun’s rotation (it’s rising and setting.)

When famed astronomer Galileo discovered that the Earth in fact revolves around the Sun, the Church excommunicated him and declared him a heretic.

Could it be that the six passages in the Bible that condemn homosexual practice were not directed at the modern-day context of it?

When it comes to homosexuality in the ancient world, both conservative and liberal scholars acknowledge that it had a different context in the Roman Empire.

First, the concept of an exclusive gay orientation didn’t exist.

While some men were known to have sexual encounters with both sexes, all men were primarily viewed as heterosexual. This might be why Jesus and Paul did not think to mention homosexuals in their conversations about celibacy. They both assumed all humans were heterosexual.

Second, homosexuality was viewed as an excess caused by lustfulness and a lack of self-control.

Matthew Vines, the author of “God and the Gay Christian,” explains this point better than me. But many writers of the time used alcohol as an analogy for lust. Just like an undisciplined person gets drunk, an inordinately sexual person commits homosexual acts.

It didn’t have to do with a person’s orientation; the ancient world believed homosexual acts happened when people got too lustful.

Do we really believe that today? Are all gay people just whoremongers driven by lust? I doubt even most conservative Christians would accept that philosophy. In the 21st century, we understand that being gay is something that is outside of a person’s control.

Last point on ancient world homosexuality, it usually involved man-boy relationships, temple prostitution, and the rape of slaves by their masters.

Bottom line, there was nothing redeemable about this practice so it’s obvious why Paul and Moses condemned it.

Fast forward to 2015, and you’ll see that the gay Christians in our churches today don’t want any association with evil lust, rape, molestation, or fornication. We just want inclusion, affirmation, and the ability to have the same loving, monogamous relationships and marriages heterosexuals are allowed.

While this might sound reasonable, a majority of Church leadership has not been persuaded that this doctrine is worth accepting, making it uncomfortable for anyone to truly own his or her sexuality and Christian faith.

SEE ALSO: “Evangelical Leaders Host Private Discussion on LGBT Inclusion at Biola University”

A recent Time Magazine article by Elizabeth Dias highlighted evolving attitudes on LGBT inclusion in the evangelical church, but it overlooked an important point – most Christians haven’t had a change of heart.

Using statistics from the Public Religion Research Institute, Dias highlighted the growing acceptance of gay marriage among young evangelicals, a bloc that doubled its support from just 20 percent in 2003 to 42 percent last year.

However, that doesn’t mean too much when more than 30 percent of the U.S. church world is 60-years-old and older. In fact, a Duke University study shows that 61 percent of America’s churches are led by a clergyperson over the age of 50.

SEE ALSO: “La Mirada Pastor Switches Opinion on LGBT Rights After Gay Son Comes Out”

Those numbers don’t bode well for LGBT inclusion when just 42 percent of Americans 65 and older think gay marriage should be legal.

That’s the lowest level of support compared to any other U.S. age group.

What does that mean for thousands of gay Christians? Coming out in support of same-sex relationships is a surefire way of being rejected by the American Church.

What does that mean for me? If there are no other solutions from the evangelical church on this, I will consider the possibility of a gay relationship.

(But for the record, I am not actively in a relationship nor am I seeking one now.)

Nonetheless, I’m likely to face immediate rejection from friends and family, but I’m not afraid.

God loves and accepts me. And it’s high time I did the same.

Follow Christian Brown on Twitter here and read his follow-up article “Three Things I Learned Since Coming Out As A Gay Christian.”

To Advocate or Not: The Answer is Unclear for LGBT Journalists

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By Christian Brown

Michael K. Lavers stumbled into LGBT news reporting at just the right time.

The year was 2003 and Massachusetts was an emerging epicenter for the latest lightning rod issue in American politics: gay marriage.

“I was in Boston, covering the first marriages in Massachusetts,” said Lavers, who now writes for the Washington Blade. “A decade ago, it was hard to find stories specific to the LGBT community. Now we’re not the only ones covering these issues.”

Lavers understands the participatory role LGBT journalists have in shaping the discussion concerning gay rights, but unlike others, he stands with those who regard objectivity over advocacy.

“In our news stories, people are very capable of expressing their views,” he said. “We’re journalists, not activists.”

However, high-profile journalists who decide what LGBT newsrooms report, disagree on whether it’s ethical for LGBT publications to openly advocate for gay rights or not.

“We do have perspectives — there are gaps between rights and that needs to be fixed,” said Matthew Breen, the editor-in-chief of The Advocate, the largest and oldest LGBT publication in the U.S. “You don’t act in an ethical vacuum. We’re not at all afraid to report on the negative things that happen.”

Breen, who started off as a publicist, before adopting journalism, cited the history of The Advocate as an example of LGBT news’ roots in advocacy.

“The Advocate started in Los Angeles as a result of bar raids in Silver Lake during the 1960s,” he said. “A lot of young queer people imagine the world as it is now, but that’s not the case. There’s a lineage that’s proceeded anyone alive today.

“It’s not a bias, but it is a perspective. It’s advocacy journalism.”

Similarly, Trish Bendix, managing editor of AfterEllen.com, sees her role as sometimes part journalist, part lobbyist.

“It’s interesting because when I am a queer person anything I do is kind of advocating for queerness because that’s what I am,” Bendix said. “You don’t want to be promoting a gay agenda, but you’re just promoting fairness and equality.

“If that means I’m an advocate because I’m writing that we should demand reflections of us in entertainment and our media then I guess I’m an advocate.”

Owned by cable channel Logo, AfterEllen.com is one of the largest lifestyle and entertainment news websites for lesbian and bisexual women.

“When we first started there wasn’t enough lesbian news or entertainment news to cover just lesbian stuff,” Bendix said. “That’s grown so much now that we almost can’t keep up. It’s a terrible problem to have — no, it’s a great problem to have.”

The Huffington Post had a similar “problem” in 2011 as coverage of LGBT political issues began to skyrocket.

“Huffington Post has a decidedly pro-gay marriage stance and Arianna [Huffington] wanted to embrace that and go with it,” said Curtis Wong, deputy editor of Huffington Post Gay Voices. “We do highlight the triumphs and setbacks of the LGBT community, but we don’t see ourselves as an advocacy publication.”

The reason why may be tied to who’s reading.

Wong said nearly 50 percent of Gay Voices readers are heterosexual. Another 50 percent are based outside of the U.S, he said.

“The Advocate has a gay-centric readership, but we have the main Huffington Post as our platform so a story on Gay Voices can be elevated and someone on the entertainment page can easily click to a Gay Voices story.”

When Wong started writing for the Huffington Post, he assumed his LGBT stories would focus on “a little about Lady Gaga and a little about gay marriage,” but he quickly realized the depth in LGBT news reporting.

“There are ordinary U.S. citizens and it’s our job to highlight things that happen,” Wong said. “Even if it’s not glamorous.”

With acceptance of gay marriage growing across the country, reporting on LGBT topics is becoming more common, but journalists covering gay news agree that more international coverage is still needed.

“The tide is shifting, but there are still other battles that need to be won,” Wong said. “Think about the things that happened in Russia and what happens in the American south and Midwest — LGBT news outlets will have to cover things like that for quite some time.”

In addition to looking aboard for LGBT news, Breen believes it’s time to advocate for people within the transgendered community.

“We’re approaching a point that we can talk about that in a responsible way,” he said. “Informed discussions — not about genitalia. We’re moving past the time when people are viewed as a curiosity.”

As more athletes and actors come out, being same-gender oriented is more openly accepted in the U.S. than ever. Breen said that makes LGBT journalists’ job easier and frees them up to chronicle the community in even more creative ways.

“Our goal is to describe and maintain our culture,” he said. “The achievement of rights is not the end of storytelling.”