I’m told that coming out of the closet involves risk on the part of someone who identifies with the LGBTIQ community. How will my family and friends respond? Will I be labeled as an outsider? When people choose to love these folks, no matter one’s convictions about sexuality, I believe that God is honored. The center of Jesus’ teaching was love of God and love of neighbor. To love one’s neighbor is to foster safety. When our actions, words, or cultural setting forces people into hiding, something needs to be overhauled by love.
I’ve blogged now for about 3 years (off and on) and for about 1.5 years with a bit of intentionality. My first site, Groans From Within, began the writing journey.
An early post I wrote raised concerns. I provocatively titled it: My Evolution Towards Theistic Evolution.* When a couple friends read this, I was accused of being an atheist. Someone then forwarded that article to my senior pastor at the time, attempting to get me fired from my youth pastor position. Luckily, my leader had an open mind on this particular issue. Yet, this incident drove me into theological hiding, with a determination to prevent this from happening again.
Then, about a year later, I left that church and moved to a new community. Up to that point, my site only displayed my first name out of fear that I would create “church problems.” I did everything in my power to keep my online life completely separate from my ministry. Essentially, I hid. I even created a separate Facebook page for church members (masking it by moving family and close friends over there as well) and a second Twitter account. Convinced of the separation between these two parts of my life, I decided to add my last name to the site and took blogging to a new level of seriousness. The crazy thing was… people actually started reading it! This still blows my mind.
Then, it happened. I received the following comment on the Groans From Within contact page:
Wow, you actually believe this stuff? Well, it [the blog] is titled correctly, however, you might consider this groan to be the gas pains from deep within your own bowels. I hope the church isn’t paying for your time to produce such…wow.
After checking the name, email, and IP address, I knew exactly who left the comment. The following week, this person sent a five-page email to the pastoral staff and church board about why his family was no longer attending the church. And guess what, half-a-page was devoted to my “liberal” blog with the final sentence quoting a passage about false teachers being in danger of destruction. My guess is that they found my site through a Google search, in hopes to find dirt on leaders in the church. That week, I made the painful decision to set the blog to private and announced that I would be fasting from blogging indefinitely. This was a spiritually rewarding time, but in all honesty, the blog shutdown was mostly driven by an impulse to hide.
After a few months of fasting, I reinvented my site and moved to a new domain. This time I determined to keep church and social media separate. Google search engines couldn’t find my new site, The Pangea Blog, and I chose to only use my first name. These steps certainly would hide my identity enough so that I wouldn’t get outed. But no such luck. Someone on my email update list was a spy and sent word to all the people who were angry at the church I worked at. Tensions rose among the more conservative crowd, but luckily at the close of the fiscal year, my “church planter residency” came to an end. The timing of this prevented greater dissension in the church. My attempts to hide didn’t work. Instead, hiding held back a part of who God designed me to be.
At the end of April I decided that I wouldn’t live in the theological closet any longer. First, I changed the settings on my site to be findable by search engines. Then, I added my last name and pictures of myself to the blog. Within two weeks, I was invited to write for Emergent Village, Tony Campolo’s Red Letter Christians, and Patheos. The month of May quadrupled my all time page-view record and suddenly people started stopping me in grocery stores and through random situations, telling me that they read my site on a regular basis. Emails began flooding in, and opportunities to write and do ministry emerged. When God took me out of hiding he led me into situations I never thought possible. All this happened when I took the risk of “coming out of the theological closet.”
So, I ask you: Are you in hiding? Do you feel that if you were authentic about your convictions that you would be rejected? Is there a part of your soul that feels like it’s deteriorating as you hide who you really are? If so, I understand, and want you to know that you don’t have to hide any longer. I’m not suggesting that you make any rash decisions, but rather invite you to consider that hiding might be holding you back from your kingdom potential. My prayer is that you will find freedom from your theological closet and that a community of radical Christ-followers will surround you with support.
Kurt Willems is an Anabaptist writer and pastor who is preparing for church planting next year by finishing work towards a Master of Divinity degree at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. He writes at: the Pangea Blog and is also on Twitter and Facebook.