Why I Started The Integrate Project

(This testimonial was originally published on The Integrate Project on 05/04/2019)

Lying in bed I hold up in my imagination a man and a woman. It’s clear to me that my preference is on the man. “I think I’m gay.” Mostly I’m surprised by how unsurprised I am at this revelation. This isn’t news to me, it just took my consciousness a bit to form the words.

This is how I realised my attraction to the same-sex as an early adolescent.

I grew up in a conservative, Dutch Reformed church environment, attending a school that had been built by that church. I’m not sure how I knew what “gay” meant. I only ever remember hearing the term used in a mocking, frustrated or grossed-out way. Male peers at school laughing at an anecdote, “that’s so gay (read lame)”, my brother rolling off the couch to pull the chewed-up VHS from the player, “ugh, don’t be gay (read stupid)”, the young guys I looked after at church exclaiming “gayyyyyyyy” at the accidental touch of the arm from another dude. Nobody ever spoke about the possibility of being attracted to the same sex in those spaces. Actual gay existed only in the big, bad out-there.

My family, church and school were and are safe places to be, made up of good people who never meant anything malicious, they were just mimicking the wider Australian culture; I’ve always been on good terms with these communities. Still, I was in a tricky situation – I had a constant fear of being found out. Secrecy for life was plan-A. I was naïve to think that that would be sustainable.

I became a Christian when I was sixteen: by myself, in bed, reading The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. I think it was August of 2010? God, in a powerful way, moved into my life.

So, since I was a genuine, certified, saved child of God I had some stuff to figure out. I must have been 18ish when I told anyone else about my attraction to the same sex. First a friend from school, then a mentor, then some more friends on grade 12 camp, eventually my parents, later my pastor.

It was apparent to me that Jesus had lordship over my entire life, every facet of my humanity. I understood the major sexual ethic He calls us to when we choose to follow Him, and I’ve only become more convinced of that even as I’ve considered the alternatives. Obedience to God, meeting Him on His terms, means that I go without sex outside of marriage which, according the narrative of the Bible, is between two people of the opposite sex. It means that I live a life of celibacy. I’ve come to learn that that doesn’t mean a life without intimacy.

It was three years ago, when I moved cities, that I decided I would start talking about this part of my life as though it were common knowledge. This disclosure happened slowly on a personal basis and then very quickly as I started to speak more publicly. It became apparent that nobody, at least in my broad network, had done what I was doing. To my knowledge, I’m the first “out” evangelical in my local state.

I remember going to a conference in Sydney, hosted by a group that supports same-sex attracted people in The Church. I was anticipating meeting a bunch of fellow Australians who were, shall we say, further along than me. I met one, maybe two.

As I started to write and speak about this interplay between being a Christian who is also attracted to the same sex, I still had not heard of anyone else doing what I was doing in my country. I knew of/knew personally a bunch of people in the US and in the UK, but not really here in Australia. At the same time, I recognised just how hungry The Church was to hear from people like me. People were grateful for my candour. They wanted to know how they could love their friends and family who were gay. They wanted some nuance and humanisation in between the polarisation that the same-sex marriage debate was creating. They were eager to understand how the Gospel comes to bear on the life of someone who is gay.

Being in a fairly good position to provide these things felt like, and still feels like, a real privilege. It was humbling. But It was also exhausting and intoxicating at the same time. I learned early on that being public about something that personal requires a sober assessment of oneself. If that’s not there then it’s amazing how easy it is to start fabricating your past experience for the sake of what you want to be able to say, how easy it is to become dependent on being seen by others for your sense of self and purpose. For me, I’ve always been intensely introspective, and so there has been the temptation to spend too much time in myself reflecting, generating insights to share on my platform.

For me, and I believe this should be true of anyone wanting to do representative work, it has been integral to develop a solid framework with which to think about any authority I hold along with any vulnerability. (The brilliant mind of Andy Crouch helped me along. You should read his article, It’s Time to Reckon with Celebrity Power, on The Gospel Coalition, or his book, Strong and Weak.)

I’ve gained whatever small influence I have largely by my willingness to be open with my personal experience. That comes with the kind of authority that invites little scrutiny. Who would question my description of my own life? People don’t hold much suspicion about me, I think people tend to find me pretty trustworthy, largely because I’m so upfront with my internal life.

This being the case, I’ve felt the burden to have what I hope is a healthy level of self-suspicion about my motivations and actions. It would be far too easy for me to manipulate people because I can claim “vulnerable person” status. Simultaneously, since there are so few people doing what I’m doing in Australia, I could abuse that small platform for the sake of my ego, my sinful desire to be considered smart and brave and whatever else. In either direction, there is the persistent possibility of making this all about me, rather than God.

In light of this, I was considering, towards the end of last year, taking a break from the kinds of conversations The Integrate Project is designed to facilitate. Clearly, I’ve decided to keep going with this stuff.

We’re talking about a people group in The Church that needs leadership and empathy. I’m grateful that I became a Christian and was discipled in a world where Wes Hills and Ed Shaws and Sam Allberries and Nate Collinses exist. They had started to flatten the grass and brush before I even knew I needed the path they were making. This wasn’t something available to these people when they were coming to terms with their sexuality in relation to their Christianity, but I’m so glad they did because their openness gave me a set of terms and a narrative in which I could understand myself. I hope to provide the same incisiveness, honesty, kindness and role-modelling in my life and work for those that feel isolated, confused, fearful and displeasing to God.

It has been essential for me to find a way to feel and be integrated in the life of The Church and within myself, spiritually and psychologically.

As I’ve spoken to the broader community of LGB/SSA people, I’ve become convinced that this is needful for many of my brothers and sisters.

Because of the momentum I’ve gained over the last few years, my experience of being gay, my skill set, and my general mental stability it seems I’m in a better position than most to be able to do this.

But like I said, I don’t want to monopolise this sphere. I want to approach the work of The Integrate Project collaboratively both to make myself dispensable, and to create solidarity between LGB/SSA Christians in The Church. I want LGB/SSA Christians to feel ownership over the conversation that has been going on about them. I want to create a secure environment for this demographic so that life decisions are made in a less reactionary way and with more consideration, based on biblical principles, with a real sense of love in and amongst God’s people. I want us to have a more peaceable relationship with our Christian institutions so that a respectful theological and pastoral conversation is a greater possibility. I want the gay community to be softer soil in which to sow the saving message of Jesus.

I’m certain that the SSA/LGB Christian is for the enrichment of The Kingdom in our times. I believe that God is giving LGB/SSA people to the Church to refine it. I hope that God will make me humble, like Jesus, to bring comfort and truth to the marginalised. I pray the weight of evidence regarding the pursuit of obedience to Jesus while being same-sex attracted will come to season in our communities.

One thought on “Why I Started The Integrate Project

  1. Tom, Thank you for agreeing to catch up on Wednesday. I read your blogs and I encounter a deep thoughtfulness and integrity that is both winsome and helpful. It impresses me tremendously. I believe you are putting your finger on issues that the church needs to engage with more deeply and prayerfully, indeed, in some cases thoroughly repent of. I’ve sensed something like this myself, but couldn’t express it as clearly as you’ve done in the final paragraphs of your recent blog. Your words strike me as so prophetically relevant that I know I need to pay attention, both as a pastor and as a fellow-Christian:  I want to create a secure environment for this demographic so that life decisions are made in a less reaction and with more consideration, based on biblical principles, with a real sense of love in and amongst God’s people. I want us to have a more peaceable relationship with our Christian institutions so that a respectful theological and pastoral conversation is a greater possibility. I want the gay community to be softer soil in which to sow the saving message of Jesus. I’m certain that the SSA/LGB Christian is for the enrichment of The Kingdom in our times. I believe that God is giving LGB/SSA people to the Church to refine it. I hope that God will make me humble, like Jesus, to bring comfort and truth to the marginalised. I pray the weight of evidence regarding the pursuit of obedience to Jesus while being same-sex attracted will come to season in our communities. I can only say, Amen to that! As we meet on Wednesday it may help you to understand a little of what’s going on inside of me beforehand so we can make good use of our time. A few years ago I dabbled with a blog myself, but have not persevered with it. I find it takes a great deal of careful thinking and time, too much so for me. If you are interested, here’s the link to what I blogged: https://snichofam.blogspot.com/ I want to support what you’re seeking to achieve more openly and unreservedly, but I’m struggling a bit (I’m thinking particularly of the meeting you requested to hold at The Branch next month). It’s not that I disagree or am opposed in some reactionary way, it’s more due to my uncertainty and likely ignorance.  As I reflect on what I’m struggling with, and why, I can identify two things: 1. I don’t really know Tom Pugh. Although I’ve read https://transparent.blog I haven’t conversed with you face to face and heard your your mind and heart in person on these things. So I’d like to remedy that by getting to know you as a brother in Christ – that is, if you don’t mind. If this strikes you as an unfortunate hill to climb amidst everything else you’ve got going on in life I certainly understand and don’t mean to pressure you.  2. At present, I find the use of the term “Gay Christian” not just unhelpful but problematic, almost offensive. If I thought it was merely unhelpful I’d just live with it, but as I pray and reflect I don’t think I’m over-reacting. However, in the past I’ve been blind to other matters that the Lord’s had to open my eyes to, and can see this might conceivably be the case here. So I’d like to remedy that through the kind of pastoral conversation you’ve mentioned in your blog. I reassure you that I seek to converse with the same kind of openness and integrity you model so well on-line Tom.  Regarding this second point, on Wednesday I need and want foremost to listen to you and hear your perspective as one who has to live through this from the inside (not from the outside like I do as an opposite sex attracted Christian). So you know where I’m coming from, here’s a summary of what I struggle with about the use of the term “Gay Christian”: • Words matter. Terms initially used descriptively often become prescriptions, even an ascription (as has happened in western society with “gay”). • For me, the term “Gay Christian” adopts the self-identification of a group who frequently openly espouse views of sexuality and general morality that I can’t help but be deeply opposed to on biblical grounds. This is often done militantly and subversively (as in mardi-gras, etc.); which I understand is a reaction to the ill-treatment and pain they’ve so often experienced (and I haven’t stood in their shoes). • I think the term “Gay” will never resonate across the body of Christ as a positive and helpful term for widespread use or coupling with the term “Christian”. I think it goes too far in identifying with a sub-culture at odds with God’s ways to gain widespread currency in Christian circles. It comes across to me (and seemingly many other Christians) like an oxymoron. • SSA-Christian seems to me a far better term to use for numerous reasons: it avoids the mirky associations of “gay.” It succinctly identifies the core of the issue (being attracted to members of the same sex rather than the opposite sex) which is not in and of itself sinful; and is likely to be more widely accepted and still achieve the same goal.  I truly look forward to catching up on Wednesday. Every blessing.

    Steve

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

    Like

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