Monday, May 25, 2015

WBNS 10TV Story Regarding Interfaith Support for Marriage Equality

This is a link to a story regarding an Interfaith Service that was held in Columbus on April 26th to show faith support for marriage equality prior to oral testimony before the U.S. Supreme Court on April 28th:

WBNS 10TV Story Regarding Conversion Theapy

This is a link to a recent story that WBNS 10TV's Glenn McEntyre did with me regarding my experiences with conversion therapy and trying to change my sexual orientation:

My Story - Part 4

In June of 2010, I allowed myself to be drug reluctantly to the Columbus Pride festival.  I just wanted to stay on the sidewalk and hide.  The friend that I went with ended up marching in the parade with a group that one of his friends was in.  I watched the parade with a college professor that one of my other friends had helped connect me with so that I would have a guide for my first Pride.  As the parade began to file past me, I was prepared for scantily clad dancers.  I was prepared for the drag queens.  What I was not prepared to see were main line businesses with groups in the parade.  I also wasn’t prepared to see politicians marching to show their support.  Where I was from that would be political suicide, regardless of which party you were aligned with.  I was also not prepared to see churches marching in this parade.  

In the midst of all the craziness, I began taking pictures of all of the church banners, wanting to be able to go through them later and see what I could learn about them.  As I looked through the pictures later, I noticed that 75% of the banners were from United Methodist Churches.  This was interesting to me.  I also walked away with a rainbow colored wrist band from one of the churches, King Avenue United Methodist.  The one phrase that I saw over and over was “All Are Welcome.”  I wanted to trust that phrase, but I just couldn’t.  My old church would have told me that I was welcome.  They would have had other plans for me once they got me through their doors though.  The message that I needed to hear from a church was that I would not only be welcome but that I would be safe.

Columbus Pride 2010
Over the next few months, I would connect with a United Methodist congregation in my home town, and the senior pastor there would connect me with a former seminary professor of hers who helped connect me to Troy Plummer, the Executive Director of Reconciling Ministries Network, and Troy would help connect me to my current congregation which is Broad Street United Methodist in downtown Columbus.  It wouldn’t be until February of 2011 that I first walked through their doors.  My original plan was to just make Broad Street the first stop on a tour of churches until I found one where I fit, but I felt welcomed the moment I walked in and I ended up staying.

Columbus Pride 2011
In the 2011 Columbus Pride parade, I walked down High Street carrying the very banner that I had timidly stood on the sidewalk and photographed only a year before.  Each year, during the parade, I find myself scanning the crowd and wondering if there is someone else like me who just needs to hear the message that I needed to hear and to know that there is a place in the faith community for them where they can be loved and where they can serve.

~ Culbs

© Joshua Culbertson 2015

My Story - Part 3

It took me until November of 2009 to finally separate from my church.  I remember sitting down and looking at the church’s calendar.  There was a large multi-church prayer event that was going on during the first week of November.  I knew that I had to stay with the church and get them through that event, but I also knew that I had to get out before Thanksgiving and the beginning of the Christian holiday season.  I wouldn’t have felt right leaving them in the middle of the holidays.  I just needed to get away from all of it so that I could even begin to start sorting through my own thoughts and try to get some sort of understanding of where this left me with God or if this meant that my life as a Christian had come to an end.

The moment the prayer service ended, people began moving about, and I began shutting down my computer and light board.  I looked down and saw the pastor standing at the front of the sanctuary with people gathered around him.  I really wanted him to be alone when I told him what I had to say, but I also knew that I needed to do this tonight.  My heart began to race, and I broke out in a cold sweat.  I slowly removed my church keys from my key ring and stepped out of the sound booth at the rear of the sanctuary.  Trembling, I made my way to the front.  Some of the people had begun to disperse.  I approached the pastor and I pressed the keys into his hand and told him that I had to go.  Tears had begun to form at the corners of my eyes.  He asked me if we could talk, but I again told him that I just had to go.  Then, I turned and walked away.

As I stepped out into the cool evening air, I had no idea what the future held for me.  That church and the community of people within it had been my whole life for the past thirteen years.  It terrified me to walk away, but I knew that I had to do what was right, and being honest with myself and them was the right thing to do.  I felt so alone.  I remember looking up at the night sky and speaking to God as I walked to my car and saying, “I’m trusting You.  I’m scared, but I’m trusting You.”  I remember feeling the warmth of God’s embrace and hearing in my mind the response of, “Do you think I’ve brought you to this point to let you fall now?” 

That was a very dark night for me.  I had just walked away from everything and everyone that I knew.  I sat in my car for a few moments, and I contemplated just going home, but I knew that it was not a good time for me to be alone.  I remembered that another church was preparing boxed meals that night to be delivered to families that needed them.  This church had similar views to my own, and I knew that they would also not be supportive of my decision, but I also knew that they wouldn’t know yet of my decision, and I needed community at that moment.  So, I went and busied myself amongst friends and packaged the meals with them to be taken out and delivered to those who were in need.

Over the next few months, I began reading everything that I could regarding Christianity and Homosexuality.  It quickly became apparent to me that, regardless of which path I chose, someone with far more education than I had already laid out clear intellectual, scientific, scriptural, and theological arguments.  I began to get frustrated because I wanted someone to just hand me the answer.  In fundamentalist Christianity, many believe that it is possible to definitively know God’s mind on any number of issues and that there is only one correct response in almost any situation, and I just needed to find the correct response for this situation. 

During this time, I avoided contact with people from my former church.  I knew where they stood on this issue, and I knew that they would not be helpful with me considering any other way.  The few gay friends that I had begun to make reacted differently than I expected.  I had anticipated that they would try to convince me that I just needed to accept the fact that I was gay and move on.  Instead, they would simply tell me that they loved me and that they supported me no matter what conclusion I finally came to.  Their unconditional acceptance spoke volumes to me.
Finally, one day, I was venting to a friend about my frustrations with not being able to find the answer.  He gently but deliberately, grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “You can read all you want.  You can pray all you want, but, tomorrow morning, you’re going to wake up, and you’ll still be you.  Only you can decide what to do with that.”  I realized that he was right.  I had to take ownership of my own life and seek a path that was right for me.

It did eventually end up being a book that tore down the wall within me that told me that me homosexuality and my identity as a spiritual person needed to be separated.  It was, of all things, a young adult fiction novel that I had stumbled across.  It was called The God Box.  It was written by a man named Alex Sanchez, and it depicted the story of a young man who struggled with having grown up as a Christian struggling with his attractions to other boys and then finding himself confronted with a new student at his school who identified as both gay and Christian and didn’t see a conflict between the two.  Essentially, on an adolescent level, it was my story on paper.  By reading this story in a work of fiction, it was able to penetrate and speak to me in a way that the well crafted and researched non-fiction books that I had been reading were not able to.  I was finally able to get to a place where it wasn’t even necessarily an answer that I was looking for.  It suddenly stopped being about the answer and became more about asking difference questions, living comfortably in the tension that those questions created, and trusting God to make up the difference.  I was finding peace within myself, but I was still leery of churches or anything that looked like a church.

There were a handful of attempts at intervention on the part of folks from my former church.  One evening, a couple of the guys from the church invited me over to one of their homes.  They asked me very pointed questions, wanting to know if I was having sex with men or if I had a boyfriend.  When I responded “no” to both questions, they became very confused.  They couldn’t understand why I would identify as gay if I wasn’t committing gay acts.  I tried to explain to them that it was more important to me that, for me, it was more important to work through the identity piece first before I began to act on it.  There were also occasional confrontations when I would encounter someone from the church in public.  There were also some tense e-mails exchanged between myself and the pastor of the church.  Having spent a number of years living from their perspective, I understand that their actions are born out of a genuine place of love and concern, but it just helped to clarify to me that I could not step back into that perspective.

~ Culbs

© Joshua Culbertson 2015

My Story - Part 4

My Story - Part 2

For the next several years, I would continue on this journey to, through prayer and conscious awareness of my thoughts, seek to rid myself of my homosexuality.  If I found myself being attracted to a member of the same sex or if I fell to the temptation of pornography, I would heap guilt upon myself and struggle through the anguish of knowing that I was a disappointment to my church, my pastor, and to my God.  As time went on, I would occasionally, despite the pastor’s warning, share with others about my struggle.  The reactions were never what the pastor had feared they would be.  The reactions were always positive and encouraging.  Knowing that I had this support, sustained me in my struggle.

I began to date women and believed that, if I could just meet someone that that I had the right connection with, I could make things work.  If I took a girl out on a date and it went well, and I maybe was even rewarded with a good night kiss, I would be very excited to share the details of the experience of the straight guy friends at the church who were my support network at the time.  In retrospect, I realize now that the praise and encouragement that I received from them was driving me far more than the kiss itself.

In the fall of 2008, something happened.  Two gay teenagers began attending our church’s youth group.  Not only were they gay, they were dating each other and didn’t seem to show any strong motivation to change.  Convinced that my journey could be used to help them, in the spring of 2009, I asked the pastor if I could begin taking steps to establish an ex-gay ministry at our church to help others rid themselves of their unwanted same-sex attractions.  In order to do this, I figured the best first step was to find someone who was already doing it.  I looked up the website for the now defunct Exodus International.  The closest such ministry that I could find was in Columbus; so, I began making the journey each week to observe and participate with the group. 

Up until this point, my journey as an ex-gay, had been largely on my own.  I spent all of my time with people from the church.  I didn’t have other friends who were gay, and I certainly didn’t have any friends who were trying to be ex-gay.  One of the men in the church had had a brother who had been diagnosed with AIDS and had renounced his homosexuality before he passed away from complications related to AIDS, but this had happened before I came to the church.  I often wished I could have spoken to him or had someone else to look to that was further along in this process that I was.  His story was a source of encouragement to me though.  Knowing that someone else had walked this road before me gave me encouragement.  My interactions with this group were about to bring an end to my isolation in this effort to change.

As I began attending the meetings, I started to get to know more about the lives of the men in the group.  Each week we would gather and listen to some recorded worship music, watch a video, or hear from a speaker.  Then, we would go around a table and each man would be expected to share how his “sexual brokenness” had manifested itself during the course of the previous week.  Many of them were married.  They had children.  They had all of the pieces in place that I thought would make me be content.  Many of the men, married and single, continued to find ways to connect and engage in sex acts with other men.  One poor soul was a single man in his forties who had never acted out sexually with anyone in his life because he couldn’t bring himself to me with a woman, and he couldn’t accept himself as gay either. 

Coincidentally, around the same time, I had reconnected with two male friends that I hadn’t seen in years.  One was a former high school classmate.  The other was a former co-worker.  They had both gotten married to woman and each had had two children, a son and a daughter, with their wives.  Also, they had both subsequently accepted that they were gay.  Since then, they had each divorced their wives and had entered into relationships with their new partners.  As I looked at each of their lives, they both had great relationships with their ex-wives.  They were both amazing dads, and they both had great relationships with their new partners.  While the belief structure that I had at the time told me that they were still wrong, it was becoming more and more difficult to understand why.

The moment that finally broke me occurred during one of the meetings around August or September of 2009.  We were going around the table and one of the men was about to share.  He began sobbing.  He struggled to get himself to a point that he could share with us what was so upsetting to him.  When he could finally speak, he told us that he and his wife had been intimate earlier that week.  For those of us in the room, this seemed like something that should be taken as a good thing.  He went on to share that the reason he was so upset about all of this was that he wasn’t able to be with her sexually without fantasizing about a man while he did so.  He recognized that he was being unfaithful to her even in the midst of being with her.  In that moment, something snapped inside me.  I remember sitting back in my chair and asking myself, “What am I doing?”  I remained quiet for the rest of the meeting.  I knew that I couldn’t share with anyone there what was going on inside of me.  My whole paradigm shifted in that moment.  It stopped being about whether or not it was right or wrong to be gay, and it started being about what it is to live a life of integrity and authenticity.

The car ride home that night was filled with tears and praying.  I didn’t know what the future held for me at that point.  I didn’t know if I could still be a Christian.  I didn’t know if I could still be a person of faith at all.  All I knew that that I could not, with any level of integrity, continue on the same path that I had been on.  I had wrestled with that part of myself my who life, but I could not drag some poor woman into some sort of social experiment called a marriage in order to find out if I could ever love her in all the ways that she needed me to.  That night opened the door to a whole new struggle for me.  Over the next few months, I slowly began separating myself from my church.  Like many churches of this type, they employed a lot of multi-media during their services.  I was responsible for coordinating all of the media and lighting, and I had a team of people that worked with me to do so.  So, on the one hand, my conscience told me that I couldn’t just leave.  On the other, I knew that I couldn’t, in good conscience, remain in my position when I knew that my views may no longer be in alignment with the church’s leadership.

~ Culbs

© Joshua Culbertson 2015

My Story - Part 3

My Story - Part 1

Growing up in rural southeastern Ohio in the eighties and early nineties, I knew that I was always attracted to members of the same sex.  It would take me until about the age of 13 before I could, sitting alone in my own room, whisper the words to myself, “I’m gay,” but I’d always known that I was different, even if I didn’t always have the vocabulary or the willingness to use it.  I also didn’t need the proper vocabulary to know that the way in which I was different was not okay.  I knew that it was a part of myself that I needed to keep secret.  This shame and fear of exposure, over time, grew into self-resentment and a wishing that I could somehow divorce myself from that part that made me unlike the other boys at school.  I just wanted to be “normal,” to be like everyone else.

At the age of twenty, I began attending a fundamentalist non-denominational church.  I had become friends with one of the pastor’s sons.  Through him, I had become friends with some on the other young adults at the church as well.  Of course, I knew that those new relationships would cease if they knew my secret.  I was sexually active with other guys at the time, but I was always very careful to keep the two different parts of my world separated.  I couldn’t risk the embarrassment of someone finding that I was gay.

I began attending the church, and, after a few weeks, I made my way down front during the altar call at the end of the service.  One of the men from the church knelt with me and guided me through the sinner’s prayer.  I had given my life to Christ.  I was saved.  But I also had a secret.  I tried to tell myself initially that I could slowly stop having sex with other guys, but I felt guilty.  I knew that I needed to surrender that part of myself to God. 

This was all happening to me in the summer of 1996, and, in August of that year, a traveling singer and evangelist came to the church.  He sang and spoke in between each song.  At the end of the service, he asked that, if there was anyone in the congregation who felt that they had a mountain in their life that they could not get over, they would come down front to be anointed with oil and prayed for.  Well, I had no doubt about what my mountain was.  Still, I was terrified.  What if he, or anyone else, asked me what my mountain was?  What would I say?  I couldn’t tell them the truth.  Shaking, but believing that I was being obedient to God, I went forward.  The man prayed over me and never once asked what had brought me down to see him.  I left church that night relieved that I had been able to receive prayer for my struggle and trusting that God would support me in shedding my unwanted sexual desires.

Me in London, age 20
A few days later, I would confess my struggle to one of the girls that I had become friends with from the church.  She insisted that I share this with the pastor.  I was mortified.  How could I ever tell him this?  He would never what me to be a part of the church after this or continue in my friendships with his children.  To my surprise, he was very gracious.  He assured me that God’s power was sufficient to deliver me from homosexuality.  He told me that, in God’s eyes, my sin was no greater than any other.  I was so relieved.  I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted off of me, and, then, he told me something else.  He told me that I shouldn’t tell anyone else about this.  He explained that, even though all sin was equal to God, people would see my sin differently, and, to protect myself, I should not share this with others.  All the weight of the secrecy and shame that had just lifted off of me came crashing back down.  I told myself that he was right though, and that he was only speaking out of love, which I genuinely believe he was from his own point of view.

~ Culbs

© Joshua Culbertson 2015

My Story - Part 2

Let's Get Back At This!

Many apologies!  A lot has happened since I last posted on here.  I will do my best to catch you all up on everything and do better in the future to make regular posting a committed back of my schedule.  Up until this point, I have been sharing my story in small chunks.  I have recently been asked to share my story a few times as the subject of conversion therapy and efforts at changing a person's sexual orientation continues to be a hot topic in our society.  One of those requests to share my story came form the Reconciling Ministries Network.  This is for a post to their blog.  My original draft was far too long, but I've decided to share it on here as a multi-part post.  I will be putting that up as well as links to other recent events in my life.  It feels good to be posting again, and I certainly hope you will all be gracious enough to forgive me for my absence and come back to read.  Hopefully, the message of this blog reaches someone who needs to hear and know that there is a place for them regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or faith perspective.