Change? That meant acknowledging I was different.
Difference was a source of pride as child. Whether it was in pursuit of academic excellence, a rejection of peer pressure, or a sense of Divine purpose, I never, ever hoped to be normal. The Disney film Meet the Robinsons, a favorite from the day I first saw it, formed an internalized belonging to myself, my beliefs, and my aspirations. I didn’t want to be defined by my context.
I was just different, more so than I ever imagined.
In my Lutheran (Missouri Synod) grade school, I gradually noticed I was infatuated with the boys in my class. This was in no way because I was close to them, but I was certainly captivated by their appearance. Millington, Michigan–a farming town of 1,200 people where I spent the first 14 years of my life–is not a particularly progressive community. Being a more effeminate child, and lacking the town’s historical passion for aggressive expressions of masculinity, I never quite fit the social fabric.
I never had the language to identify my experiences in grade school. My rural environment, conservative Christian family, and thoroughly Christian education never exposed me to a diverse array of possibilities. Homosexuality was just an aberration in the downward trajectory of a society marked for judgment by God, and having never really been aware of an LGBTQ+ person close to me, I didn’t have a frame of reference for that possibility.
There were moments I worried about becoming gay, tearfully expressing this feeling to my parents a few different times as we prayed for some form of deliverance or freedom from “the Enemy” (a modern Evangelical metonym for Satan and his legion followers). While never experiencing reparative or conversion therapy, this mindset of liberation from any besetting sin was an essential part of the Assemblies of God tradition in which I was raised.
Still, my sexuality just wasn’t yet a defining concern. I dreamt of a wife and kids, working in ministry or education, and living somewhere in the South close to my extended family. I even had several “girlfriends” (however you define this at such a young age), and nearly every experience was vapid, uncomfortable, and confusing.
Valley Lutheran High School, significantly larger and located in the larger nearby city, provided new opportunities for me to express myself. I didn’t spend much time trying to find a significant other. Girls, as hard as I tried to feign interest, just weren’t interesting to me. Given my social makeup at the time, they were the persons with whom I was most comfortable expressing my thoughts and feelings. Guys, aside from giving me uncomfortable feelings, simply made me angry and self-conscious.
Just over 2 years into my high school education, realizing that puberty was not delivering me into any form of attraction to girls (and instead into late-night searches centered around men), I said it for the first time: “I’m gay.” Before I had ever fully counted the cost or experienced genuine romantic attraction for a boy–I simply expressed my experiences as precisely as I knew how.
Having searched “gay Christian” in an effort to find context for these feelings, I happened across the work of the Gay Christian Network (now Q Christian Fellowship) and the very first affirming polemic I had ever read. Knowing there were some potential holes in the argument, I broached the possibility with my parents without identifying with the subject. Their quick dismissal was all I needed to know–the Bible says no, our bodies say no, and that’s that.
After a quick bout with “maybe this is okay”, I consciously decided it wasn’t, and I would be better off repressing every last sensation.
After graduating, I moved to Lynchburg, Virginia, to pursue a degree at Liberty University–founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr.–in Music and Worship Studies. This was an exciting time, and having been raised in Lutheran educational settings, I was ready for something mainstream.
Those first two years, as difficult as they were, were some of the very best years of my adolescent life. Riddled with feelings I couldn’t understand, I built the first deep relationships with other guys I had ever known, dove head-first into theology I never knew existed, and began forming an identity of my own even as I consciously disagreed with the institution facilitating this change.
One friendship in particular began to take on a new meaning for me that I couldn’t make sense of until it fell apart, codependencies laid bare for me to grieve. I had fallen in love with one of my best friends, a hall-mate, and realizing this was, in fact, what I was feeling, I decided it was time to take my experiences seriously and put some theological foundation beneath my weary Christian feet. That fall, I told my parents I was experiencing “same-sex attraction”, but was committed to fighting it and eventually marrying a woman.
Having waded into a harmful iteration of Reformed theology, my daily spiritual practice revolved around confessing the sins of thoughts, actions, and feelings that were manifestations of an errant sexuality, emblematic of humanity’s total depravity. I read and highlighted most of my ESV Study Bible, falling more and more in love with a perception of God that would ultimately undo itself.
I believed I could warp my desires into a semblance of holiness, and through a thorough engagement with Side B writers, seemed to find some space to remain as conservative as I was without entirely erasing my sexuality. Instead of attempting to change the basis of my experience, I hoped to sanctify it, publicly communicate it, and continue my work. This, in the spring of 2016, was the first time I began to see my identity as good and holy, even if parts of it only existed as part of a long, sorrowful obedience to God’s purpose.
Within just a few months of this new normal, I found myself asking: What of the Spirit’s fruit in LGBTQ+ Christians? What’s inherently sinful in a loving, reciprocated relationship between people of the same gender? How do I negate the experience of another self-professing Christian whose expression of self seems at odds with my sexual ethic? Why do I see Christ in these people?
An effort to answer these questions led me into a study of affirming theology, the eventual destruction of my epistemic framework, and most importantly, the firm and unequivocal belief that God loves, delights in, and affirms my unchanging expression of love as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. I would never be able to suppress or repress the way God fearfully and wonderfully made me.
On my hall, East 73, I met a boy in my Community Group, and we started dating. During my junior and senior years at Liberty, I came out as a queer Christian; I was intent on making space in my environment for people like me, even if it came at the cost of my own enrollment in the university. I publicly documented my experiences, my grievances, and advocated for an equitable campus at a school pervasively hostile to people like me.
In December of 2017, he proposed. In May of 2018, we graduated together. In September of 2018, I married him.
Now, Elliot and I live in Nashville, and I have the pretty incredible opportunity to work for a progressive and affirming congregation named GracePointe Church here in Nashville. I also work for Q Christian Fellowship, the place I first learned that I could be an unchanged, celebrated member of the family of God. My professional life is centered around non-profits seeking justice and compassion for LGBTQ+ Christians, and I couldn’t be happier.
Inherent to many LGBTQ+ Christian experiences is a need to change our identities and expression at all costs, so long as our faith remains intact.
Unfortunately, for many, the journey toward self-acceptance is marked by coercive, abusive environments. Many of us have been severely wounded in unimaginable capacities by the work of non-affirming organizations, conversion therapists, camps, and the like.
My mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing is better than ever thanks to my unapologetic embrace of who I am as a queer Christian.
Any effort to fundamentally change the identities of LGBTQ+ people is evil and anti-Christ. It is statistically corroborated as harmful, and no matter how well-branded the ex-gay front can be, it’s unquestionably responsible for the deaths of untold numbers of LGBTQ+ youth around the world.
If you hear nothing else, my LGBTQ+ siblings, know that you are wholly good, wholly loved, and wholly affirmed. We cannot and will not be reduced to the gender we’re attracted to, the clothes we wear, the mannerisms we embrace, and ways we express ourselves–we are people deserving of inclusion and affirmation. May we continue to show the world what God looks like and how God loves, and may our passion for justice be contagious.
The science is clear.
Our experiences are clear.
God is clear.
My name is Nathanial Green, and I am #unchangedLGBTQ.