My name is Simon, I am 40, I live in Redcar, England, and I am the founder of Embrace Teesside. I attend a lively Baptist church and I live with my boyfriend of around 18 years.
I was brought up in a Christian household by fairly conservative parents and I came out when I was 17. I slipped away from church and although I still prayed to God, it was mainly when I wanted something from him.
Since I first realised that I was gay I felt guilt and shame over it. I thought that the Bible said God hated homosexuality and that meant that he’d hate me. My guilt and shame led to anxiety and depression, as it does for so many LGBTQ Christians, and this led to me drifting away from church and away from God.
About 5 years ago I decided to come back to church and to make my own decision as to if I actually believed in God or not. The Bible seemed very farfetched to me and I had major issues with some of the stories like, for example, the flood. It seemed hard to believe in this God that no one ever saw, but my main objection was my sexuality. I was more certain that being gay wasn’t a choice for me than I was in the existence of God. So how could the Bible be correct if it condemned something that I knew wasn’t a wilful choice? Part of me continued to believe, read the bible and go to church and part of me felt it was too farfetched and wanted to walk away, but I was too scared that I was wrong to fully commit to that.
I started reading the Bible and got to Psalm 22, which I absolutely recommend reading. I was amazed. The Psalm describes what I instantly recognised as being Jesus on the cross, but it was written a thousand years before crucifixion was invented. This spurred me on to give Christianity a proper chance, but I was still wrapped with doubt.
I went to church regularly but kept myself to myself. I didn’t want to get close to people in case they found out that I was gay. I was open about being gay in every other part of my life, but not at church. Although my church is full of wonderful people who made it their mission to be welcoming, I put myself on the side-lines. I made friends in the church but that is largely because they are good loving people. I always felt uneasy about my place in the church because of my guilt about being gay and I never really felt a part of the church.
A few years ago, our pastor left and we spent a while without a leader. One Sunday in church I felt God say that he was going to send a new pastor who would help me. I wasn’t sure at the time if this was really God or if this was what I wanted to hear. But God did send a pastor who was young and energetic and who seemed like a really nice guy. I plucked up the courage to speak to him and I told him about the doubts and the guilt. He didn’t judge me and seemed to understand. We met regularly for coffee and chats and he talked me through a lot of stuff. He said that he didn’t know why the clobber passages said what they did, he said he had no strong feelings about homosexuality and he seemed to offer the acceptance that I’d never received from the church. We talked through my hurt about the way some Christians are with our community and he made a real difference. But the doubts didn’t go and eventually I reached the end of the road. Before going into church one day I told God I needed something from him. I couldn’t go on like this and if he was real, I needed him to help. I went in and had an experience that changed everything.
During the service we had a time of open prayer, where people from the congregation pray out loud. Someone, and I still don’t know who or why, read out a passage from Ephesians which said “My Grace is sufficient for you” and I felt certain that God was talking to me. It was quite a powerful moment for me and one that is difficult to explain. God was saying to stop questioning the fact that I was gay. Stop feeling guilty about all this stuff and stop feeling ashamed because his grace was all that I needed. This doesn’t mean that being gay is right and it also doesn’t mean that it is wrong, in fact God didn’t address that point. The point was to stop tearing myself into shreds over it and to trust him. At that moment the doubts almost entirely disappeared and I put a lifetime of guilt and shame behind me. God had achieved in one sentence what years of therapy had failed to achieve. Like all Christians I still have doubt, but now it’s manageable and not out of control like it was before.
Unfortunately, around this time we discovered that my partner had a serious illness and that news shattered our lives. Things became very difficult, but I see God in it. He gave me a set of friends that have been incredible and he gave me faith at the exact time that I really needed it.
Recently my partner proposed to me and this set off a chain of events that led to me starting Embrace Teesside. Despite the many wonderful friends in my church who were over the moon when I announced our engagement, the reaction wasn’t universally positive. Some that I had previously thought were fine with me being gay have turned out to be tolerating me. Some couldn’t look me in the eye, many who I thought were friends couldn’t bring themselves to even say congratulations. One person said “I’ll say congratulations and let’s leave it at that” and others have said very hurtful things behind my back. I have been very hurt by the reaction of some in the church and I am back to questioning if I have a place in the church. But out of the hurt something positive has come.
I have realised that I do not believe that being LGBTQ is a sin and I have realised that there isn’t anything totally affirming for LGBTQ Christians here in Teesside. So I started a Facebook page that led to an Instagram page and to this blog. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive with people saying that it has blessed them. That’s not me doing anything, that’s God working. The next step is a group here in Teesside for LGBTQ Christians that will be coming hopefully very soon. If you would like to be notified of details of that please get in touch.