How a Tragedy Helped Me Accept Myself as a Gay Pastor

09/24/2015 12:01 pm ET Updated Sep 24, 2016

Five years ago on a crisp October morning one Sunday, I donned my robe and walked from my office towards the sanctuary, prepared to start service. En route, one of the members of my church informed me that my favorite childhood pastor was just found dead in his home. None of his current church members had seen or heard from him for a week, so someone went to check on him and found him lying on his living room floor. Days later, two young men were charged with robbing, stabbing and beating him. After assaulting him, they left him on his floor half-dressed, stole his car and emptied his bank account. According to investigators, he died at the hands of two young "gay for pay" thugs who informed police that when they left him, he was alive on the floor audibly praying.

That morning, I was convinced that my beloved former pastor died a tragic death not because he was gay, but because the church that he served demanded that clergy not be gay or condone the gay lifestyle. Although at that point in my life I had not yet accepted the truth of my own homosexuality, I did acknowledge that there were times throughout my development when I questioned, considered and thought that I might be gay. However, I always dismissed these feelings and pushed them out of my head. Yet after my former pastor died, I couldn't help but weep for him and eventually for myself, because deep down I knew we shared similar attractions. He was a good man. He was a hard worker. He was my friend. He was the best pastor I ever had. He was a talented minister, proficient leader and amazing confidant. Sadly, no matter how awesome he was, the idea of many in the black faith community was that he could not truly be who he really was: a gay, black pastor.

Working to accept my own sexuality was seemingly impossible because I served and worked in a church that said a person could not minister for God and be a homosexual. I tried hard not to be gay. I spent years begging and pleading with God to take away my same-gender attractions. I was raised to believe that being gay was wrong, that God hated gays and that my very soul would burn in perpetuity if I ever succumbed to that lifestyle. I didn't want to be gay. I didn't want people to pity me, relegate me to Hell, or dismiss all the many other wonderful things about me based on the one characteristic that they didn't agree with. I wanted to be a normal straight man, because in my mind, that was safe and acceptable.

The horrendous murder of my childhood pastor was a huge eye-opener for me. I wholeheartedly believed that if he felt free enough to walk in his truth and live a life of authenticity, he might not have met such a tragic end. Unfortunately, many faith leaders, ordained clergy and church folk believe that it is better to sneak, creep, lie and hide same-gender attractions than to live a openly gay life. The death of my favorite pastor caused me to wonder, what if he were able to settle down with a man? What if he were able to live his truth? What if he didn't feel that he had to be ashamed and hide his homosexuality? Would he still be alive? His death forced me to face the fact that I did not want to lead a secret life. I did not want the pressure and negativity that came with regularly denying to myself who I was.

Some in the faith community argue that homosexuality is a heavier sin than others because it is a lifestyle. Many of these individuals see homosexuality as something that a person must fight and never accept. I know that I could have married a young lady, bought a home, had children and projected a wholesome and idealistic family life. The problem is that this lifestyle would have been a lie as well.

Too often, individuals make choices to do what their families, friends, neighbors, church members and even strangers would have them do, instead of focusing on living their truth. I chose to appear on "Iyanla: Fix My Life" because I was tired of denying myself the truth. Living a lie is a depressing incarceration of the mind and soul. I wanted and deserved freedom. I owed myself and the memory of my beloved pastor what he was deprived of -- a life of truth. The truth still sets us free!

Pastor's Derek's story will be featured on "Iyanla: Fix My Life" this Saturday, September 26 and Saturday, October 3 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on OWN.

The horrendous murder of my childhood pastor was a huge eye-opener for me. I wholeheartedly believed that if he felt free enough to walk in his truth and live a life of authenticity, he might not have met such a tragic end. Unfortunately, many faith leaders, ordained clergy and church folk believe that it is better to sneak, creep, lie and hide same-gender attractions than to live a openly gay life. The death of my favorite pastor caused me to wonder, what if he were able to settle down with a man? What if he were able to live his truth? What if he didn't feel that he had to be ashamed and hide his homosexuality? Would he still be alive? His death forced me to face the fact that I did not want to lead a secret life. I did not want the pressure and negativity that came with regularly denying to myself who I was.