"Finding My Way"
Defining for myself what my life would look like as an ex-gay was not an easy task. I didn’t really have any role models to look to, and it’s not like I could ask anyone for advice. The “gag order” that Pastor Rob had placed on me kept me from talking to anyone, at least initially. It was difficult to make genuine connections with people when something that was so core to who I was and what was driving me to Christianity in the first place had to be kept veiled. Eventually, I connected with a couple of younger guys, Brent and Anthony, in the church. They seemed to take their faith a bit more seriously than a lot of the other people at the church, and I was drawn to that. It took me a while to feel safe to do so, but I eventually shared my struggle with them.
Both Brent and Anthony were very understanding when I shared my story with them. They saw homosexuality as a form of demonic attack, and I was very comfortable with that. I didn’t necessarily like the idea of being stalked by a demon, but I was comforted by this way of thinking that externalized my problem and made it “not my fault.”
Anthony and Brent attended a Bible study on Saturday nights. It resembled more of a house church than anything else. I began going with them. I was nervous at first. Some people had cautioned me about small gatherings like this in people’s homes. There was the fear of the lack of the kind of accountability that comes from a larger church setting, and there was also fear that listening to a multitude of people who placed themselves in the role of spiritual leader would lead to confusion. Through these meetings, I encountered a number of young people, all of whom seemed to take their relationship with God very seriously. These were young people who were giving up their Saturday evening to praise, worship, and learn about God. How could this be a bad thing?
When Pastor Rob and others in leadership at New Promise found out that I was attending these outside Bible studies, they were very concerned. I was talked to about it. I was troubling for them. In their eyes, I was a new “baby Christian.” They were concerned that I might be getting fed things that were different than what I would be taught by them. This belief that there is a “right” way to view or interpret the Bible and a fear of anyone who teaches things differently from that individual’s or group’s viewpoint is prevalent in conservative evangelical Christianity.
As I look back on it now, the views of those in the Bible study group and the views of those in leadership at New Promise were really very similar at the time. Other individuals who participated in the group have, like me, moved on to a less dogmatic understanding of Christianity. In fact, there are a handful of people that I met through that group that I am still friends with today.
This act of rebellion, of stepping outside the “borders” of the community of New Promise, would mark me in a way. It’s a mark that would stay with me throughout my time with the church. Even when I was heavily involved and very close to the church’s inner circle, there always seemed to be this air of suspicion that I could or would be led astray by the teachings of others. I realize that it was born out of a sincere effort to protect me, but, looking back, it seems very cultish and controlling.
© Joshua Culbertson 2014