The Testimony — Oct 11, 2015

On a warm March day in 1988, there I was, a young 22-year old adventurer, standing alone on a sidewalk under the San Diego sun waiting for a bus. The Navy had just terminated my short career in the military by giving me an honorable discharge, and two intimidating military police unceremoniously escorted me off the base. Riding the bus to the airport as a rebranded civilian, I was ruminating and wondering who I was, where I was from, where I was going. A new chapter was starting in a journey, which began on a small-grains farm in North Dakota.

My second-generation Norwegian-American parents were a devoted and loving couple with nine children, I being the youngest. The townsfolk considered my immediate family as country, and holy roller. My paternal Uncles and Aunts, and cousins all dwelt within a couple miles of each other. We all went to the little Lutheran church on the prairie where our immigrant Grandparents had attended. We attended the same public school in town. My mom exemplified a positive faith in Christ, and Dad’s would grow later. We were a normal, agricultural family, and all was good. This was the basis for my identity – a resilient family, with a firm Christian faith.

As a teenager exploring my own identity, I knew I was different as I had feelings for boys and not for girls. It seemed everyone around me pursued the opposite sex, dating and getting married, and I had no interest. For my thirteenth birthday, Mom and Dad quietly gave me a sex-ed book by James Dobson of Focus on the Family. The book detailed the wonders of intimacy between husband and wife, and it left me confused. No one ever, if ever, talked in a favorable light about homosexual behaviors.

After high school, I went to college forty-five miles from home. There I learned I was good at partying. I discovered an adult bookstore with videos and magazines of stuff I had only fantasized. I was surprised there could be others like me. At the time, I believed I was disgusting because that is all I had heard about homosexuals. I wondered what was wrong with me, where did I fit in, where did I belong.

I quit college to join the Navy in 1986 – a chance to see the world, to become a traveler. Male camaraderie, learning life disciplines, and seeing new places in the U.S. – it was good; I was becoming a different man. While home on leave in February of 1988, I returned to that adult bookstore. I hooked up with an anonymous man, as this was what one did then. Things went bad, he assaulted me, and I landed in the ER. The doctor and the Minot police convinced me to file a report as this unknown assailant had accosted other men. They reassured me the Navy would never find out; as I was terrified the Navy would boot me.

I spent the day and overnight in the hospital for observation. I do not remember fully, but I believe I led my family to believe I had been in a bar fight, which was completely unbelievable. After the hospital discharged me that Sunday, my pastor drove me back out to the family farm. It was there I first came out to my parents and family, by disclosing the details of the weekend, and of my teenage struggles. Dad shut off his tableside radio, turned and intently listened – that just spoke volumes to me. Mom’s kitchen was always a safe place, and during those few days, Mom and Dad comforted me, sighed with me, reminding me I was their son and they would always love me.

Determining to put this chaos behind me, I returned to my ship in San Diego. Shortly after arrival, the Chaplain called me to his quarters to inform me the Minot Police Department had contacted our Captain. I was to begin immediate discharge proceedings. The Navy committed me to two weeks in a psych ward, and then assigned me with a DD214, JFX, RE-4. This was an honorable discharge, via administrative separation, due to personality disorder, for the convenience of the government, with no chance of re-enlistment. Yes, that is a mouthful, and not easily forgotten. I was then ushered off the base, back into civilian life, to start a new chapter.

I returned home to North Dakota desperate to maintain my life for myself with no regard to family or to God. After too many lonely drunken nights, I ended up with another man. In a panic, I decided to fix this problem by killing myself. I woke up in the ER; and after a week in the psych ward, they sent me under court order to the State Hospital. My family had hoped the hospital would cure me. The doctors diagnosed me with an ego-dystonic behavior pattern, and discharged me into outpatient counseling. My pastor came alongside and did a lot of listening that summer. I had been trying to prove my worthiness to please others, and simply not pursue a life in God. I surrendered my will, and asked God to help me understand His plan for this life. A new chapter began in finding out who I was.

That September I moved to Maryland to start a new job, discover a new life. I attended a Southern Baptist church with the self-assurance the past was behind me. I was involved with stateside missions trips, but the pastor would not allow me to work with youth ministry because of my homosexual background. Friends introduced me to a Love in Action Bible study. This was a Christian ministry formed to treat homosexuality as a condition to overcome rather than as an authentic identity to embrace. Nevertheless, I discovered some quiet gay bar in Baltimore, while still living the religious life in order to maintain the righteous identity I was building.

Without a doubt, I became a wreck trying to lead this double life. I struggled with suppressing the carnal longings. I tried suicide again to fix this, and I failed. I continued my path of self-loathing, internalized homophobia, mad at God for keeping me around. What was my purpose with God? He simply turned the page to start another chapter.

Starting in 1993, God directed me to study at an evangelical Bible College in South Carolina, whose motto is “To Know Christ, and to Make Him Known.” My major concentrations were in Biblical Studies and in Biblical Languages. The professors were passionate with Scripture, instilling a similar passion in me. I learned the message of grace when the Dean of Men nominated, and my floor-mates elected me to serve as Floor Leader for a year. For the two semesters of my junior year, I took the opportunity to study and sojourn in Jerusalem – the original context, land, and culture of Scripture. The Bible became a vibrant and living entity to me during those nine months exploring the hills of the Holy Land.

While at Bible College, I had applied for service with the Wycliffe Bible Translators mission agency. The summer before my senior year, I attended their in-depth application session in southern California. However, with a thorough background check, because of the Navy DD214, Wycliffe informed me there were areas of my life needing growth and change before moving ahead with membership. Devastated, I went back to college for my senior year assuming this homosexual condition forever cancelled my chance of serving God, especially on the foreign mission field. I was in a tailspin, rather befuddled. I knew God had called me, I knew I wanted to serve Him, but how? I graduated in May of 1997 and returned home to North Dakota hoping to find work, a new path.

In less than a month, at the invite of my Uncle and Aunt living in Tacoma, Washington, I once again packed my belongings in my car, and moved to reside near them. I was hoping I could find my path out there. My Uncle, a Lutheran pastor, often tried to console me God was fine with me being gay. His son who was in seminary attempted the same as well. I ignored them as best as I could because I knew I was not gay. I am a Bible college graduate. I immersed myself in church and Bible studies. I found another ex-gay ministry, Exodus International, attending their men’s group, and one-on-one counseling longing to conquer this homosexual condition. “Help me God,” I desperately prayed. Simply put, the ex-gay experience was more suppressing and denying.

After a year and half, I moved back home as my parents were aging, and I had been away for twelve years. Soon I moved to Minot, and discovered Internet surfing, which gave me opportunities for flings with men. I knew this was wrong. It had ended my career with the Navy. It had nullified my efforts for foreign missionary service. I so longed for it, but it could never be in my identity.

There was no one to talk with, so I wrestled on my own, screaming at God to fix me. I kept the struggles securely hid from friends, from family, from work. I did not know where to go, where to turn, what to become. I tried suicide again, and God spared my life. This time I slowly turned the page to self-discovery of accepting myself as gay. However, I wondered if I would be able to reconcile my faith in God while being gay.

In 2003, I moved to Bismarck for a new job as a print production graphic designer. Suddenly, I found myself with a gay community of friends socializing in public – this was new for me. I started attending the Lutheran church where my cousin was senior pastor. He and his wife introduced me to a lesbian couple living a solid faith walk, and to a gay man who had been a pastor. Could there really be such a thing as gays who were Christian? They introduced me to scholarly authors, opening Scripture in a stimulating new light. With my education in Biblical Languages, I dug in and discovered a depth to Scripture beyond the black ink on paper. Having dwelt where the collected writings had originated, I knew the Bible contains more than just the Western traditions, interpretations, and primary lessons learned in Sunday School. I prayed, and wrestled, and wondered. God repeatedly promised me His mysterious grace is exceedingly sufficient. “Fear not. You are My child,” He kept repeating in countless ways. I was beginning to discover an identity in Christ – loved as one of His gay creations.

Towards the end of 2004, I met another new identity – an activist advocating for positive reform. Marriage equality was on the North Dakota state ballot, and I wrote my first-ever LGBT advocacy letter-to-the-editor. I concluded the letter containing the phrase, “As a Bible-believing Christian who is gay…” Since then, I have written a dozen published advocacy letters, have testified before North Dakota legislative committee hearings, and have helped with a few rallies and protests. Oh the amazing friends that I have met along the way!

Around 2011, I began to rekindle my tuckered identity with despondency. Several close friends separated away because of the darkness I was becoming. Soon I even walked away from attending church. I was having trouble identifying all who I was and where I was going with life. The year 2013 saw a few significant health traumas. Since I had never developed a central emotional support base to help me, loneliness started earnestly courting me during those post-trauma periods. Interestingly enough, I chose to end a thirty-plus year dependent relationship with alcohol. It hurt. I began to experience life with raw emotion again, not numbed by alcohol. Social anxiety along with a general fear of life became good friends with me. Gratefully, towards the end of 2014, I found a new church home willing to give welcome, comfort, a safe place, and conversation with a wandering Christian who is gay.

This year, the North Dakota legislature again decided there was no need for fair and equal labor and housing laws. The fundamentalists were loud in their opposition, again. Indeed, it did rally more people to support the LGBT community and their families. A couple friends had separately asked me about Christians who would speak for us, so I started two Facebook forums. One is the North Dakota Gay Christians and Allies group for people to openly discuss the topics of faith and sexuality. I also started the Facebook page Prairie Rainbow for sharing positive and encouraging messages with Christians who are gay, especially here in the upper Midwest.

Simultaneously, I have a friend from Bible College who a few years back had entrusted with me his own coming out story while on the mission field. He, his fiancé, and I have shared lengthy phone conversations enthusiastically discussing faith, Scripture, and what it all means being gay. He and I acknowledge our college is entrenched against gays and lesbians. We have been working across the miles striving to engage positive conversation with other LGBT alumni, and our straight allies, through two different Facebook forums.

Living as an openly gay Christian might seem like a complicated, solitary path, but not exactly. Through it all, I remain dedicated to Christ as an activist of hope, a voice on the prairie reassuring people that plainly and simply, God is gay friendly. With all the fear, brutalities, and divisions past and present committed in God’s name, and in spite of my own doubts and distractions about faith, why am I still a Christian? Christ is one who gets me – the parts and pieces and the messes that make me. God challenges me to experience my life with integrity and joy. He accepts me as I lament or doubt, and continue to worship Him. He gives me a community caught up in the life of Jesus. Most importantly, I remind myself God will continue to refine the many different facets in my identity so I can serve Him authentically. I might not know who all I am, but I am comforted in His grace and mercy, no longer standing alone on a sidewalk.