Bondage. Why is that a bad thing, some of you may ask? From the point of view of some gay men, and perhaps some women too, it may very well not be a bad thing at all. Whatever tickles your pickle, right?
But in the evangelical Pentecostal church in which I grew up, a different type of bondage was a very bad thing indeed. In this case, it was the "bondage" of my natural attraction toward men and the "lifestyle" to which I was destined to be enslaved, according to our church's beliefs.
Homosexuality is still considered by the evangelical church to be akin to any other addiction, including alcoholism, kleptomania, compulsive lying, and even pornographic obsession. And all these types of bondage are purported to be treatable, according to evangelical beliefs, through counseling, prayer, fasting, and even in some cases exorcisms.
I can still remember sitting in the second seat of the second row in that Sunday-morning service during which I finally decided that I was not going to let my sexuality "define" who I was. During that sermon, a thousand thoughts and emotions raced through my head. I may have looked well-put-together that day, but inside I was a mess, torn between my feelings and my faith.
Twisting recent media and statistics in a particularly cruel and confusing way, the pastor cited the gay youth suicide crisis as evidence in support of his message. "Homosexuals know inside that their life is empty," he proclaimed, "and they know that they are in bondage to Satan." As I internalized the sermon, I began to believe that not only were the feelings I had had since I was a little kid like chains holding me down and back from the promise of God, but they actually made me a slave of Satan himself.
Amid a fury of clapping, hand raising, and amens typical of evangelical services, the pastor soon declared there to be "hope for the hopeless, freedom for the chained, and a path out of the bondage." At that moment, I made a commitment to myself and to God to overcome this "bondage" and be set free.
As part of that commitment, I significantly stepped up my spiritual commitment and went all in for God to try to break out of my alleged bondage. I patronized the Christian singles groups, participated in the men's ministries, and volunteered to speak with the youth programs. Our parishioners loved my testimony of how I had come from a broken family to become a spiritual leader in the church. I became a darling of the congregation, and others would often tell me about how inspiring my renewed walk with God was to them.
Despite all these changes, my chains of bondage were still deep and wide. I did not dare share with anyone the biggest issue with which I was still struggling, and with which I had struggled my entire life. Deep inside, I felt torment and anguish because of the continuing bondage from which I still could not seem to be set free.
As I struggled to reconcile my learned faith with my natural feelings, I began to recognize a new kind of bondage that certain churches cruelly impose on their parishioners. The bondage of these churches goes beyond simply chaining their congregations to the fundamentalism of rogue denominations. It also involves the whipping and shaming of followers into submission, a true sadomasochistic relationship that is far from the love, acceptance, and glory of God.
One may try to suppress a perfectly natural feeling like same-sex attraction and love. We may believe we are overcoming the power of bondage when in reality we are suppressing the person whom God made us to be, foreclosing on the opportunity to love the person whom God intended us to love, and forsaking romantic and sexual love for a life of loneliness and celibacy.
The evangelical church is all about emotions and feelings. It is upbeat and contemporary, but also very deep and intimate. In the midst of these intense contrasts, many get trapped in the S&M of the evangelical church. But few manage to escape out of it and into the true light and freedom of God. Thankfully, I am one of the few.
"Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:14).