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Coming Out: Confessions of a Closet Christian

// By: Stuart Coleman // October 28, 2013 // Originally published on //

For much of my life, I have carried a deep secret about who I was and what I believed. My family and close friends knew about my struggle, but for the most part, I kept my identity and beliefs to myself. Embarrassed and ashamed, I came to the conclusion that things like sexuality and religion were deeply personal matters.

As a PK, or Preacher’s Kid, I stayed in the closet for decades, secretly in love with a controversial, misunderstood man who changed my life (and the world). But then the issue was reignited this summer when Supreme Court rulings overturned both DOMA (Defense Of Marriage Act) and the ban on same-sex marriages.

Now, as special session begins to consider the Hawaii Marriage Equality Act of 2013, I realize it’s finally time to come out and declare the difficult yet joyful truth.

 Rising above my fears of judgment and years of shame, I can finally say it publicly: I am a liberal Christian who supports gay marriage. (But how can you be a bleeding-heart liberal and a Jesus-lover at the same time? I can hear some of you asking under your breath!)

Liberal Christians might seem like an oxymoron, but we are far removed from religious extremists like the old Moral Majority (who were more like the Vocal Minority) or their newer incarnation as Tea-vangelicals (who are more political than religious). Nor are we knee-jerk liberals who jump on every left-wing cause and are sometimes antagonistic towards religion.

For years, I was embarrassed by the harsh, self-righteous judgments of conservative fundamentalists and evangelicals who condemned gays, immigrants, Muslims or any other minority who didn’t adhere to their narrow beliefs. And I was equally disturbed by the silence of mainstream churches who didn’t stick up for their persecuted brothers and sisters.

Staying in the closet as a Christian, I only shared my faith with my family, friends and girlfriends. But then I began to realize that progressive Christians can no longer be silent and passive on this issue. As Christians, we are the namesakes of a revolutionary Jewish leader whose only weapons were teaching and healing, and we are called to take up his peaceful fight.

As an outcast himself, Jesus continually welcomed those who were neglected or rejected by society, and he embraced them with compassion, love and the cloak of justice. This man tried to heal the racial, political, economic and religious divisions of his time, and for that he was condemned to death by the leading religious authorities. (And believe me, just as Dostoyevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor” predicted, many would probably condemn him again today.) Just who was this radical and misunderstood man named Jesus and why are his Christian followers still so divided on this and other issues?

In his brilliant book “Breathing Under Water,” the Franciscan priest Richard Rohr writes that Jesus always referred to himself as the “son of man” and not as the “Son of God.” But many conservative Christians insist on idolizing his divinity, which can be dangerous and divisive, while failing to recognize his humanity, compassion and wisdom. “Remember, Jesus said, ‘Follow me’ and never once said, ‘worship me.’” Rohr goes on to say, “Jesus is not an exclusive son of God, however, but the inclusive son of God.”

Now that I’ve outed myself as a closet Christian, I need to say this: I am deeply sorry for the harsh words and hateful judgments of those self-proclaimed Christians who condemned gays, lesbians or any other children of God. These Christians seem to believe they can judge and condemn what they don’t agree with or understand. But if we all did that, the whole world would be condemned by our public judgments and secret self-loathing. “We are our own worst enemies,” says Rohr, “and salvation is primarily from ourselves.”

I also want to apologize to the soldiers who fought for our country and were then threatened or expelled from the military simply because they could no longer hide their sexual preference or pretend to be what they are not. For too long, Christians and the country as a whole tried to keep this issue in the closet through policies like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. This policy was especially hypocritical when so many women were and still are being sexually abused in the military.

Furthermore, I want to offer my inadequate apologies to the immigrants, African-Americans, women, Jews, Muslims and all those who have been hurt and marginalized by the harsh words and actions of fellow Christians. The list is too long to mention all those who have been hurt by religious extremism, but it’s worth remembering.

“We’re only as sick as our secrets,” a friend from church told me one day over coffee.

Dan was a gay ex-Catholic priest who had left the priesthood because he was sick of hiding his secrets and just wanted to be accepted for who he was. He had encountered Bishops who were protecting sick pedophile priests while attacking those who were honest enough to come out of the closet. I had to confess to being a little homophobic myself in my younger years because I was hit on by supposedly “straight” male teachers at our religious school and in church.

The good news is that gay friends like Dan and straight folks like me were able to find a common home in the Episcopal Church and many other progressive congregations. Bishop Fitzpatrick has written an eloquent letter to legislators on the gay marriage issue, and the Episcopal Church has joined an inter-faith resolution to support it. But since the ordination of Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop in 2003, factions of the Southern Episcopal Church have seceded from the Anglican Communion and threaten to continue dividing the church over this issue. Whether gay or straight, people have to recognize the simple truth: all of us are a little bent and broken, but we are still sacred children of God.

In the face of such controversial issues, Episcopalians and all Christians should turn to their Founding Father and Son for guidance. “When you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). The original followers of Jesus probably had a better understanding of what he meant than we do today.

“Knowing there was no such thing as an ‘inner room’ in a Jewish one-room house,” Rohr writes, “they would have known that he was talking about the inner self, what we would now call the unconscious,” or their inner conscience. On the eve of this special session on the Hawaii Marriage Equality Act, I would remind political and religious leaders that Jesus also warned in that same passage not to be like the hypocrites who pray loudly and publicly “so that they may be seen by men.”

Perhaps, Jesus’ command to go into our inner room to pray suggests that some things are so sacred and private—like our faith and our sexuality—that we should keep them to ourselves, our loved ones and our God. This does not mean we should go back into the closet or the policies of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But it does suggest that we should respect and uphold our God-given and constitutional rights to freedom, privacy and the pursuit of happiness.

About the author: Stuart H. Coleman is a surfer, writer and environmental organizer. He is the author of Eddie Would Go and Fierce Heart (St. Martin’s Press) and works as the Hawaii Coordinator of the Surfrider Foundation.

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