- by Zach Spoerl -
I was sitting in Rev. Vance Rains’ office at the Florida State Wesley Foundation the first time I said the words “I’m gay” out loud to any other living human. I specify because of the countless memories I have of telling people in dreams, and also prayerfully informing my deceased grandmother, who I firmly believe would have come around after a few tears and boxes of See’s candies.
I really can’t remember all of that conversation, mainly because I was individually bottling up the million fears I’d dreamt this confession would bring to fruition and then sending them actually pouring out of my sweat glands. However, I distinctly remember how light I felt walking out those cheap white doors.
Vance hadn’t said anything incredibly shocking or profound, in fact he firmly stated that I would probably come to understand much more about this topic than he ever would, even after exercising his voracious appetite for books that he is so known and respected for. What I did hear, however, was that I was wanted. That I could be openly gay and still serve the church, be mentored and developed, known and loved, without a mandatory and prior change of my sexuality. In fact, I was encouraged to be honest about myself while first and foremost finding my identity in Christ.
So many have felt pushed away from the church because of their orientation, yet I was able to flourish there. We even started a secret group made of individuals, some who clearly identified as gay/lesbian, some inquiring, and some feeling pulled in every direction of the spectrum; but all struggling with the age-old question of “can I be something other than 100% heterosexual and still follow Christ, still find a place in the church?”
The secrecy was necessary as most of us were, at that time, literally shaking in our chairs as we silently freaked out concerning the conversations we were having out loud about being gay, or at least that’s how I was feeling. I truly believe honesty brings us closer to God, and to people. I remember that time period with an incredible sense of energy; for me, those memories literally vibrate with the freshness and zeal for life brought about by being sincerely who you are after 19 years of hiding it.
Growing up in a conservative Christian home, I was very insistent that I remain open to hearing God pulling me in either direction concerning the spiritual legality of my sexuality, as I had only ever heard the negative and traditional interpretations of the scripture and therefore did not want to abandon what most of my childhood community firmly believed in the pursuit of simply following my feelings. However, after more earnest prayer, vulnerable conversations, and youtubed sermons on homosexuality as described through verses in the bible than you can possibly imagine, I have come to a very different place of belief than in my uneducated youth.
Within the church, we offer the hope of real change brought about by the power of Jesus’ available and Holy Spirit. For example, those Christians who are caught up in lying, we encourage to pursue truth; those struggling with lust, purity; drunkenness, sobriety, and so on and so forth, each with practical ways to change toward the opposing and good characteristics of Jesus. However, when it comes to homosexuality, what hope do we have to offer anyone who is questioning, those who have prayed since preschool that God would remove this incredibly intimate part of their personhood?
The usual offer typically consists of prayer and/or therapy, both with the hoped end result of heterosexuality. If there were lines of people coming into our churches exclaiming the miracle of change from one spectrum of sexuality to the other this wouldn’t be as large of a question, but in all of my experiences this has never been the case.
And this leads me to my present situation. As a young Christian man affirmed, gifted, and excited for ministry, will I be turned away from the Methodist church? It’s kind to say “let’s be open and accepting and loving”, until you want to be a leader, until you want to get married, until you feel the call to pastor a church. At what point does being gay strip me of the opportunity to fully exercise the gifts and charisms graced to me?
We serve a God of stability yet one who changes in God's interactions with us; one of infinite mystery. God lives with us in a garden, floods our home, calls a people to be bound to God, leads them by fire, incites the birth of a messiah, asks us to have faith that God is close, that heaven is coming- THERE IS JUST SO MUCH TO KNOW OF God.
People have asked me why I look so hard into this seemingly never ending argument, why I can’t just read the scripture plainly and take it for what, at first glance, it seems to say. I feel a call to lead in the church. I have the desire to guide others and encourage the church. I have been given the gifts necessary to do these things, but within the Methodist church, I am held back. Why is it so crazy to believe that a God who has moved so mysteriously and drastically in the past is calling the church to live in community and hear God's voice together, and that God's voice may be calling the church in a new direction?
I’m now attempting to navigate the seemingly treacherous waters that surround any gay person hoping to work in the Methodist church. For the majority of my heterosexual peers, the next steps are pretty straight forward (insomuch as a call to ministry can be)- an internship, on to funded seminary with the promise of returned years of service, and a secure job placement fitting with your gifts and passions upon graduation. It seems to be an incredibly peaceful and well thought out process. But where do I go? Do I chance taking out loans to go to a Methodist seminary with the risk of never being fully ordained? Do I move on to a more open denomination where it seems my ministry would be more fruitful and unhindered? They who have ears, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. May we continue to pray, listen, and discern what the Spirit has to say for those in my position.
Do we stay, or do we move on and take our gifts elsewhere?
. . .
Zach Spoerl is a 23 year old human living in Tallahassee, Florida. As a freshly graduated exercise science major, he is looking for a job that will give him practical and meaningful ministry experience before heading off to seminary [notice this has nothing to do with his degree]. He is passionate about sweet chili sauce, worship, fostering an ecumenical spirit among the church, and living honestly as to honor and experience the only real and active God.