Last weekend reader Jenni emailed me the below.
I wrote to you before and gave you my testimony to include in your next book ["Wings on a Pig," ready soon]. I wanted to update you a bit on my situation. I have recently moved and started graduate school, and I have really enjoyed being able to start over here. Having finally decided that God doesn't hate me because I'm gay, I am choosing to live as a gay Christian here at grad school. My orientation and my faith are both integral parts of who I am, and I've been amazed at the wonderful people here who love and accept me just as I am and aren't bothered by either. I am getting to know people at my "open and affirming" church, people in my degree program, and also members of the campus LGBT group.
However, because I'm "out and proud" here, several of my fundamentalist Christian friends have become concerned about what they've seen posted on my blog or on my Facebook page. I had already decided to make National Coming Out Day my personal coming out day, when I'll place a picture of my empty closet on Facebook and post an article on my blog describing my journey to this spot. I knew that this would be a bit of a shock to my friends, especially my fundamentalist Christian friends (many of whom have already decided I must be a bit nuts for wearing pants to church, going to movies in theaters, and getting a tattoo), so I decided it would be best to come out to them by letter beforehand.
It was really hard to write the letter that I sent to them. I wasn't sure how they'd all react to it, but I was pretty sure that some of their reactions would not be positive, and, as I still haven't met a ton of people in this new town, I was afraid I'd be left alone.
I asked Jenni if she'd share with me the coming out letter she wrote and sent to her friends. Here it is (she said I could share it with you guys):
I am, obviously, super happy to be here. I have my own apartment and my own kitchen that I can use whenever, and sheets on my bed, and no one shouting or cussing in the middle of the night, and no maintenance men randomly walking through my house, and there's a Starbucks and a Barnes & Noble within reasonable driving distance from my house. And I get to study how to be a librarian. All of this is very cool. It's so nice to be able to be myself, probably for the first time ever.
I don't know how much you've been able to follow my blog, but it should be pretty apparent that I'm not a fundamentalist anymore. I did a lot of thinking and praying and studying about denominations, and some of the beliefs that used to be super-important to me and just aren't anymore. Absolutely I am still a Christian, absolutely I still believe in salvation, but some things -- mostly outward things like dress standards and music standards and whether it's okay to drink or play with face cards or whatever -- those things just aren't a big deal to me anymore.
It's unfortunate that you weren't able to visit while I was still in SF -- I would have loved to take you to my church there. It was completely different from [our old church], yet still completely amazing. I loved worshiping with other believers there and serving the community together. Some people might have been turned off by the guitars and drum set on the stage, or the fact that women were ushering, but those people really love Jesus. I loved being able to get to know people with backgrounds completely different from mine, with beliefs I was not familiar with, who still love God and want to serve Him.
The church I'm attending here is yet a different flavor -- different both from my church in SF and from [our old church]. I'm at a UCC church here. I'd never attended a UCC church before. They have a program they follow in the service -- with the pastor speaking parts and the congregation speaking parts and stuff -- and I'm definitely not used to that. I'm still in the church-shopping phase, so I'm not absolutely certain I'm staying at this church, but I definitely want to give it a try. The people are very friendly and accepting and welcoming of everyone.
Recently I've become more comfortable with aspects of my personality and who I am than I have ever been in the past, and I'm starting to discover more of the real Jenni, instead of the Jenni who's wearing a mask to make her parents happy or her college profs happy or her administrators happy. It's been a good thing and an amazing thing -- my body isn't nearly as tense as it used to be, and I'm meeting people who like me just because I'm me, instead of liking the teacher-face or the good-student-face or the super-compliant-child-face I used to put on. Because of that, I've been a lot more open about myself with those around me here.
It's unfortunate that we haven't been able to be in in touch more often (that's as much my fault as anything else -- I rot at long-distance communication), because our friendship is important to me. In fact, it's important enough that I wanted to make sure you know something: I am a lesbian. I have known this about myself since probably third grade, but because I was able to watch others' reactions to the GLBT community, I chose to keep this deeply hidden for a long time. I tried to seek healing from this, thinking it to be a super-huge super-scary sin problem, but through much thought, prayer, study, talking with my therapist, etc., I have come to the conclusion that this is not really the case.
Being here has been an opportunity for me to start over, for people to meet the Jenni I really am -- a person who loves Star Trek and NCIS and Bones, who likes to read and play with Legos, who loves cooler weather because it means she can dress in lots of layers and drink pumpkin flavored coffee, who still doesn't like vegetables no matter how hard she tries, etc. etc. My orientation is as much a part of that mix as my faith is, which is not a problem to people who are just meeting me, but might be a bit of a shock to those who knew me when I was a teacher, a college student, or a kid living at home. It wasn't until now that I have felt comfortable sharing this part of myself with those who are closest to me, but I respect you a lot, and value your friendship, so I didn't want to hide this part of me, or try to pretend to be something I'm not.
I understand that this was a lot to take in. Likely you have some questions or concerns and may wish to talk to me about them or talk to someone else or just have some time to process. I completely understand, and I am willing to enter into a discussion with you to address your questions or whatever. Like I've said already, you and your friendship are important to me, and because of my respect and love for you, I didn't want to live with you knowing only a façade of Jenni.
I asked Jenni how her friends had responded to her letter. She wrote me back:
One friend wrote,
"I believe that the Bible clearly teaches that homosexuality is sin. Therefore, giving into those temptations is sin just as giving into any type of sexual sin is wrong. Because of this, I cannot in any way condone your choice to pursue a lesbian lifestyle. That is where I stand. I am and will be praying for you my friend. My goal was to speak the truth in love. I hope that I have been able to communicate both of those things to you."
She signed this stiff letter with "sincerely," as though I was a business from whom she deserved a refund or something.
Another friend said,
"I don't think a gay person goes straight to hell, any more than any other person who has a sin problem - an adulterer, or a drunkard perhaps."
It got to the point where I didn't even want to check my inbox for fear of what would be lurking there. I actually decided not to be online after a certain time at night so that I wouldn't go to bed with all of these hurtful messages in my head.
But in some cases, I was wrong. Some friends were amazingly, surprisingly supportive. One friend wrote,
"You are the same person to me that you always have been -- I've always loved you as you are -- I've always appreciated your being real with me, and that I know that you are not unfamiliar with the Scripture, or unsaved :-) 1. I love you. 2. It doesn't matter that you are lesbian. I still love you. 3. I know that you love Jesus!"
Tonight I heard back from the last person in my recent rash of coming out letters. She wrote,
"I love you, my friend and am still proud to call you such! ... Are you pursuing a relationship, or just enjoying the single life for now? Don't feel like you must hide who you are ... ever. I am not going to judge you or act as if I consider you to be living in sin. I have no business calling the shots for anyone spiritually or personally. Know that I love you and support your right to choose. I know this probably hasn't been the easiest thing for you to tell some people. I will be praying with you my friend. I hope you are able to see God's greatest blessings on your life. And I look forward to our continued friendship."
Thank you, John, for writing what you do, and for advocating for love and acceptance, things I think Jesus approves of highly. I read your blog, and I remember that it will get better.
The next day, I got this in from Jenni:
Here's one of the responses to my coming out letter that I just got in. How in the world does a person respond to a message like this?
"Words can't even begin to describe how saddened I was to read your email last weekend, Jenni. I had noticed a few things on your Facebook that concerned me, but your email confirmed any questions that I had. Struggles and temptations aren't sin unless we give into them. I realize I'm not a writer, like you, and I'm not sure that anything I could write to you would convince you to come back to what you know is the Truth of God's Word. But please know that that is exactly how I am praying for you."
To me, this sounds like the opposite of love and support and concern. To me, this sounds like the reason we have so many GLBT teens who are depressed and/or suicidal -- when their friends and families say things like this out of their "concern." My first thought when I read this email from my friend was, "You didn't really read what I wrote. All you saw was the word 'lesbian', and you ran for the hills. This is a very big deal to me, and yes, I have spent years thinking and praying and studying and wrestling over it. Somehow I doubt you've studied the issue at all. Probably you are echoing just what you've heard from the pulpit, instead of wrestling through this issue on your own. Possibly you were well-intentioned when you wrote this, but now is not the time for 'tough love.' And you're basically saying that I'm a confirmed, permanent heathen, barring any miracle or answer to prayer. Thanks, but no thanks."
John, is there even any point in continuing a conversation with a person like this? I am relatively certain I'll not change her mind, and she doesn't seem open to admitting that there are, indeed, other interpretations of the Bible, and that maybe, just maybe, she isn't completely correct in everything she thinks. And I might not be completely wrong, either. In any case, where is the grace in this letter? I don't see it, and I can see now why so many of my GLBT friends have given up on Christianity. If it weren't for my open and affirming church here, I'd probably do the same.
The entirety of my next email to Jenni was: "I'd toss this person out of my life so fast she'd get whiplash."