God healed my experience of rejection
I grew up in a non-Christian family. No one, even in my extended family, went to church except for the standard weddings, christenings and funerals. I attended a boarding school which was nominally Christian. We had Chapel 5 times a week and I sang in the choir at churches and cathedrals around the country. I went to church a lot, so I knew about God, but I didn’t know Him. My school ran an evening club, where we could hang out after curfew. The club was led by a couple of Christian teachers, and in exchange for getting free table football and crisps, we listened to them tell us about Jesus. I was fascinated by God. Each week I heard more of who Jesus was and what He had done for me. I was convinced there was something in it and so I was confirmed and I called myself a Christian, but in hindsight, I hadn’t actually given my life to Him. I still didn’t really know Jesus.
At 16 I came out as a lesbian. I was met with a mixed reaction. My parents and close friends were really accepting, but the wider school community didn’t respond kindly at all. I was already a ‘different’ teen, a geek and a goth, and adding gay to that mix definitely didn’t increase my chances of fitting in. I was already bullied and my sexuality became another weapon used against me. It all came to a head when some of the girls in my boarding house stuck a sign on my door saying, “Do not enter! Rape zone ahead!” I am thick skinned, but that hurt. There were also other students I knew of who were struggling with their sexuality and I hated that how I was treated might force them to hide.
I took the poster to my housemistress. She was a Christian, who used every opportunity to speak about faith. She looked at the poster, sat me down and said that she wasn’t going to do anything about the other girls. I was told that my behaviour had upset them and that my coming out was bullying them, as it left them feeling unsafe in their boarding house. I needed to think carefully, as I might call myself a Christian, but choosing to be gay meant I was wrong and evil and that I was ultimately going to hell. I was moved to a different boarding house, and the staff who led the Christian Union in the school tried hard to tell me who Jesus really was, but the damage to my tentative faith was done. I wanted nothing to do with the cruel God the housemistress spoke of, and even less to do with people who would follow a god like that. I had learnt that church was not a safe place for people like me and that God hated us.
Joining the LGBT community
A year later I went off to Sheffield University. In my first week I joined the LGBT society and I loved it. The LGBT community became my family; everyone looked out for and took care of each other. We all had the shared experience of “being different”. One of the roles of the LGBT society was to campaign for equality. I am a passionate person - marching, petitioning and waving banners are totally my thing. We often ran stalls to signpost people to support and to flag up key campaigns we were running. I spent many hours on those stalls. Over that time Christian students often came to speak to me, some to tell me I was wrong, others more graciously to tell me about Jesus. I was also told on more than one occasion that if I just came to Jesus and prayed, He would cure me of my homosexuality and make me straight, so I could be right with Him. They seemed surprised that I didn’t want curing and didn’t want to be right with a God who wanted to change me before He loved me.
Sometimes I would end up in longer conversations and I would tell them of how my housemistress had condemned me. “Why does God hate gay people?” I would ask them. Their replies of “You must not have heard right'' or “I am sure that isn’t what she meant” or even “Well, we’re all a bit evil and without Jesus we are going to hell, so she wasn’t wrong” at best felt like they were invalidating my experience, at worst blaming me for it. Mine wasn’t the only story like this within the LGBT community. My opinion of the church evolved; it was no longer just “not a safe place”. It was the enemy. If I found out someone was a Christian, that told me all I needed to know about them. My hackles went up, my claws came out and I was ready to fight. I would read the Bible so I could “out-knowledge” Christians. I prepared questions to catch out the ones who came to speak to me.
The truth of the Gospel
I left university and moved back home to Brighton to start training as a teacher. I also met a girl, got engaged and bought a house. To the outside world, it looked like I had it together. But the reality was I was lonely. The vast LGBT scene I had had at university was much smaller now. I had less time to party and my partner was controlling and didn’t like me making new friends. As part of my teacher training, I ended up placed in a Catholic school - not what I would have chosen, especially when my new peer mentor, Matt, turned out to be a Christian.
Matt was a friend of a friend and we arranged to all go out for drinks. During the evening the conversation turned to religion and with it my dislike of Christians. I told him about my housemistress. I was expecting the standard reply, and I was ready to fight back, but Matt disarmed me. He apologised. He acknowledged how wrong her reaction had been. He empathised with me over how angry I must be with the Church and God. His empathy, compassion and righteous rage on my behalf completely stunned me. He confessed to me that he wasn’t currently going to church; he was still quite new to the area and as an introvert was overwhelmed with going to a new church and meeting new people. I didn’t want to know God and I hadn't forgiven the Church, but I liked Matt, so I offered to go to church with him. Going to church for the first time was hard. I thought I would stick out, that no one would want me there, that everyone would judge me. I expected to spend my Sunday defending myself. But it wasn’t like that at all. Everyone seemed really excited to meet me and were quick to welcome me back.
Then my world crashed. My girlfriend, not happy with my new friendships and independence, broke up with me and kicked me out of our house. Because of her controlling behaviour, I had little access to my money. Matt, my new friend of only a few months, offered me space at his flat for as long as I needed it, rent free.
I continued to attend church with Matt and had now also joined an Alpha course with him. My view of the church was starting to shift. The combination of seeing my way of living fail and of seeing the kindness of someone I thought would be my enemy, allowed the Holy Spirit to speak to me in ways I wouldn't have previously thought possible. What had put me off church was the same thing that pulled me in - feeling like I belonged. I still wasn’t ready to be all in though. I had questions about God and being gay. I knew what the Bible said about homosexuality. But what did that mean for me? I didn’t want to believe in a god who said I was going to hell for being attracted to women, but I also didn't want to believe in a god who would give us a Bible to follow, but say we could believe the bits we wanted. Neither option seemed like something I could build my life on.
A few weeks later, I asked Matt, "Doesn't God just hate gay people?" He replied gently, “No, God doesn't hate people. But He does have commands for those who follow Him. He does ask that all those who follow Him lay down their life, just as He lay down His. He does say sex is for marriage and marriage is for one man, one woman." He was honest. It wasn't an answer that was easy to hear and he never pretended it was, but it was an answer I had waited a long time for. It was easier hearing it from someone who I knew cared for me and had shown me Jesus’ grace through his actions.
Welcoming LGBT people
When I look back at my story there are many things that kept me from giving my life to God sooner, not least His perfect timing. From my experience, I think there were three obstacles that put people from the LGBT community off coming to church, that are worth highlighting:
- Feeling judged. When truth is emphasised over and above grace, the Church can look like a place of condemnation, rather than salvation. In John 8, Jesus models a better way when He tells the woman caught in adultery that He doesn’t condemn her, before He tells her to sin no more.
- The “us” vs “them” mentality. This is true of both sides, but as Christians, it’s not something we should be encouraging. We have so much more in common with the LGBT community than we often think. We are both passionate and vocal about our values, we are both committed to doing community well, we both find our identity in something bigger than ourselves. The only difference we should be focused on is that we are saved and they are not. Not only is that difference not something we can take credit for, but it’s also, as 1 Timothy 2 says, a difference God doesn’t want to exist.
- Being seen as an “issue” and not loved as a person. It’s hard to see the God that is love through the actions of someone who isn’t loving you. God knows each of us intimately and pursues us individually. The best way for us to display this is personally. What does the person you are talking to fear? What do they need? How can you be an instrument of God’s blessing to them as a unique, and uniquely loved, person?
God’s heart of love
I gave my life to Jesus straight after that conversation with Matt. I love my testimony. I love how it speaks to the importance of loving people and treating everyone with the grace we have received in Christ. I love how it shows the difference one person can make to another, both negatively (when they fail to represent God well) and positively (when they let God’s love shine through them). But most of all I love how it shows God’s heart for the lost, in that He pursued me even when I had no interest in Him.
This article was originally published in the Summer 2023 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the Summer 2023 edition of Ascend