07/30/2015 04:16 pm ET Updated Jul 30, 2016

I Once Was Lost, But Now Am Found. Was Blind, But Then I Came Out!

I was more than a blind follower or a casual experimenter in faith. I was a deep-seated convert and a wholehearted zealot -- I was a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Growing up, I spent most of my free time at church. I attended Vacation Bible School, went on mission trips, and talked shop with clergy. I studied the Bible like it was my job. I pored over it's pages, and it was a pretty big part of my family life: both my parents were church leaders, my oldest brother is a pastor, and another brother was a missionary. My childhood home was filled with conversations that revolved around scripture, so I know it like most people know a favorite movie.

I not only know scripture, but I aspired to follow its teachings. Take, for instance:
- love God above all else
- Jesus is God's son and he died for our sins, securing our salvation
- good works are pointless without faith in God
- drinking alcohol is a sin
- sex before marriage is evil
- foul language isn't pleasing to God
- homosexuality is an abomination
- the only way to receive eternal life is by trusting in Jesus Christ as your personal savior (the only alternative is an eternity in Hell)

These beliefs defined my worldview and dictated how I navigated relationships. A good friend of mine once pulled me aside to tell me that my religion had become foul, and nobody wanted to be around me. At the same time, countless people recognized my dedication to Jesus, and asked me to teach classes and lead small groups.

I lived this way for years. I knew intimately the world inside the covers of the Holy Bible, and I was firmly convicted that striving daily to be like Jesus was the only right way to live. I viewed people through a lens -- I believed that all those who had yet to believe in Jesus were in danger, and it was my job to share the Good News with them. I thought that the world was a closed circle and freedom through Jesus was everything else.

I would have continued in this life of faith, but something stood in my way. I felt I was neglecting a deeper part of me -- a visceral, uncontrollable desire. Then, something happened. I finally admitted a personal truth: I'm gay. In the same moment I came out to myself, I realized that my religion prevented me from living in the freedom of exploration, the excitement of curiosity, and the anticipation of answering some pretty tough questions. Religion was in fact the closed circle. I couldn't be gay and Christian. The two were at odds, and the effort to reconcile them was tearing me apart.

This realization is still ongoing, and it hasn't always been easy. As a matter of fact, it has been a lengthy awakening that has so far taken around a decade.

So what? Why does anyone care?

Well, maybe you're like me. Religion can make your identity seem less than ideal -- even to the point where it's oppressive. Now that I'm outside the bubble of faith, I can look back and see how confining it was for me. Don't waste another minute. It's okay to be exactly who you are!

Or, maybe you've known somebody like me. All I really needed was somebody to say, "It's okay to be who you are!" If you think you know someone in the closet, talk to them. You might be exactly what's needed -- permission to live truthfully!

Lastly, I need to apologize. I was wrong and annoyingly dogmatic. I am sorry that I used religion as a shield against homosexuality and to oppress others just like me.

I thought I was right, but now I can say that I have more to learn than anyone. I am so thankful to be living in a time when self discovery is applauded. It's becoming easier every single day, but for too many, the struggle is impossible to endure. Take heart! It's going to be okay because love always conquers!

Come out. Do it in spite of the people and circumstances that stand in your way, do it for the rest of us, and most importantly, do it because you deserve to be true to yourself! It's time! It's time to come out no matter what has been holding you back.