Prayer House

Prayer House

Her

Colors of Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka dance on her olive skin, sunlight filtering through their flags. We sit with coffee between us at the local prayer house in the bookstore, while further in the building, diligent worshipers pace, kneel, cry.

But we are not pacing. We are not kneeling. We will be crying.

We’ve been laughing about nothing and everything for at least an hour. The coffee is now lukewarm, and as the exchange dies down, the only thing that drowns out the silence is screeching milk and cherished memories…

…Kidnapping my best friend on his birthday to watch one of the most disappointing sunrises in history.

…Napping on a mini-golf bridge after watching the elderly powerwalk through the mall.

…Dancing besides a pond under the moonlight after bailing out on Homecoming — the silence and discarded Chik-fil-A wrappers far better company than the beating music and throbbing bodies.

I smile as the memories return. Every moment meaning so much…

…meant so much.

“This has to end. We’re going in separate directions.” I don’t look up from my not-hot coffee.

I coach myself with the wisdom of an adult as the painful words exit my mouth, unable to be redacted.

But I’m not an adult. I’m sixteen.

You don’t think about mature things like marriage and kids and careers and all those heavy but lovely things at sixteen. You’re barely thinking about college. Instead, you should be thinking about the latest video game that just came out, the acne that refuses to go away after you’ve spent hundreds of dollars on skin care, the cliques at school that you both hate and want to be a part of, what homework you forgot about over the weekend, and, most importantly, cute, annoying, immature love.

But not for me. It’s always been heavy.

Love. It’s no joking matter. It’s for keeps. It’s for a future together. For marriage. It’s for propagating the world with more of your acne-ridden spawn.

So this had to end.

I take a deep breath. I muster courage. I act mature.  

“We’re going in different directions. You want to move to Africa and be a missionary, and I want to move to the city. I love you, but we’re eventually going to have to part ways, and that’s not fair for either of us. We need to stop now before this hurts worse than it already will. I can’t be your boyfriend, but the man who gets to be your boyfriend down the road will be so lucky to have you. You’re amazing! We’re just not going in the same direction. We need to end this.”

Silence floats between us. Then comes the foreshadowed crying.

Through soggy eyes and a weak smile, she looks at me and says, “Thank you… of all the things you’ve done, this is the moment I have felt most loved and cared for by you because you fought for my heart.”

I smile back at her, matching her tears. Of all the moments, of all those unforgettable moments, this is the one that she felt the most cared for — the moment we say goodbye.

Dad

We get out of the car. Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka are nowhere to be seen. Tonight, there is only one flag: the United States stands at half-mast. Someone has died.

There’s barely any wind. Just enough to have the cleats knock against the pole, clanging as we walk towards the prayer house doors.

My dad leads me forward. His pace is quick and determined.

“Pick it up.” He calls but doesn’t look back. His gaze is fixed on the door.

I quicken my pace but don’t look up. My eyes gaze at the ground, and my hands fidget in my pockets.

I don’t want to be here.

The two of us enter the main prayer room where he points to a chair, telling me to take a seat.

Still no eye contact.

He exits the room, leaving me alone with nothing but a massive globe slowly rotating for company… well… that and a pungent smell.

It’s hard to describe. But anyone that’s been to the prayer house knows it well. I grasp for the source of it. Clean sweat or sweaty cleaner. Makes sense.

Thousands of men and women have laid prostrate in this room, sobbing into that dated carpet. For years, desperate teens have paced and rocked and jumped till sweat danced down their bodies, joining the tears. They both find a final resting place in that rug.

Faithful custodians have attempted to remove it, day after day, but it hasn’t worked. The smell refuses to leave, only now the salty musk is accompanied with a hint of freshness.

The mingled scents produce a comforting affect; it’s as if hard labor will bring about cleanliness, as if simple tears and sweat will produce purification.

That’s why my dad had brought me here — to purify me with sweat and tears, to make me clean, to make me straight.

That’s right. My dad brought me here, to the house of prayer, to “pray the gay away.”

It was the only thing he could think to do after catching me looking at gay porn just moments prior.

 “What are you looking at, Brandon?!” The screen had frozen while my heart did nothing of the sort. It threatened to burst out of my chest, just like my secret, a secret so dark and shameful, I had been hiding it for five years.

But here it was. Frozen. In the open. For my dad to see. And I was terrified.

“Brandon. What. Is. That?!” His finger pointed to the screen, shaking in rage. He kept asking the same question over and over and over again, as if asking it enough would change the answer: his son was looking at gay porn.

But the relentless questions didn’t resolve the problem. He had to find a different solution.

The prayer house.

My dad returns, looking directly at me. He finally looked at me. But he didn’t meet my eyes. It’s as if my sin were his. He doesn’t say a word. He touches me on the shoulder and motions me to follow, leading me out of the main room into a side corridor.

He opens a closet and closes it behind us. The irony is palpable, stronger than the clean musk.

And there he prays. But he never says the word “gay,” as if saying it would make it real.

Instead, he closes his eyes, and looks with his soul to a reality he wants to see — a straight son, and maybe if he prayed hard enough, sweated long enough, and squeezed those eyes so tight, tight enough to form tears then maybe the reality in his mind would become real. Maybe his son would be made clean.

But just like that clean musk, the smell refused to go away. The gay refused to go away. And as the father prays, his son stands in shock. Frozen. Exposed. Like the men on the screen. But now it’s him. Sitting in a closet. Again.

Him

Outside my windshield, hundreds of American flags flap violently in the wind, just like my stomach.

It’s as if I had swallowed an entire hive of bumblebees — they refuse to be still as questions knock in my chest.

What will it be like?

What do I do?

Who pays?

Should I be wearing something less nice?

Were skinny jeans too much?

Am I caring too much about what I wear?

Should I care less?

Does he care?

Should I pretend like I don’t care?

What’s that smell?

We had been talking via text for weeks, never hearing each other’s voice. Then, we mustered the courage for a phone call, never seeing each other’s face. Then, we FaceTimed, never letting our bodies touch.

But now it was time. Now he was on his way to meet me. Now I was panicking.

At the prayer house.

The prayer house where I broke up with my girlfriend.

The prayer house where my dad tried to pray me straight in a closet.

And now, the prayer house where I was going to meet up with a man for my first gay date.

The bumblebees refused to be silent.

Is this what it’s supposed to feel like?

Am I supposed to feel this much?

Care this much?

Ask this many questions?

Did I put on deodorant?

Do gay guys care if you wear deodorant?

Do they want you to smell nice like girls do? Or do they want you to “smell like a man”?

I sit in my Jeep in silence. My mind, nothing but silent. The flags whip.

Then his Jeep appears in the distance.

My stomach lurches as the bees swarm louder.

Am I really doing this?

What will everyone think?

Do I even want this?

What happens if it goes poorly?

What happens if it goes well?

WHAT HAPPENS IF IT GOES WELL?

I really can’t remember if I put on deodorant!

He pulls up adjacent to me.

He smiles.

We roll down our windows together.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

The bees stop.

The questions stop.

And all that can be heard is the thunder of the flags as they violently thrash as two men hold each other’s gaze.

How Can I be Gay and Christian — A Look into My Methodology

In recent news, there’s been a convergence of two major groups: Christians and the LGBTQ+ population, two groups that are normally at odds with one another. These animosities are beginning to reach a boiling point as more and more entities are choosing to create space for both identities, challenging the conception that they are incongruent.

An openly gay Christian man is hoping to become the Democratic party’s presidential candidate for 2020; a gay Christian dating app is hitting the market this year; and some Methodist churches are fighting against a recent vote within their denomination, a vote which labels homosexuality as a sin.

As I share these stories, I know there are individuals and communities alike who are angry. The reason I know this is because I’ve experienced it. As I came out as a gay Christian, friends threatened hell, parents left the room, and strangers blasted me about how I’m not actually a Christian. Even with the launch of this post, comments have soared on social media with people arguing vehemently their point and how they’re right.

When Mayor Pete Buttigieg, an openly gay Christian man, announced his intention to run for president, crowds screamed “Sodom and Gomorrah,” and major Christian figures like Franklin Graham demanded his repentance. Side note: why hasn’t Graham demanded repentance from other presidential candidates for fraud, embezzlement, infidelity, lying, or pride? I digress.

It’s as if the words “queer” and “Christian” are combustible, but instead of a chemical reaction, there’s an explosion of emotion and opinion.

But why? Why the knee-jerk anger, especially from a people whom Jesus said are supposed to be known by their love? Why is it that I’ve seen multiple YouTube videos of Christian parents throwing out their gay children, while I’ve never seen a Christian parent throw a coming out party for their child? Why is it that, according to San Francisco State University’s Family Acceptance Project, highly religious homes are far more likely to kick their kid out for being gay than non-religious parents?

One reason: the Bible, more specifically, how Christians relate to the Bible.

I was defined by being an Evangelical Christian. That identity permeated every moment of my life. At a very young age, I remember coloring in the pews as my dad played the drums and my mom led the Children’s Ministry.  As I grew up, I started volunteering with children and youth at a very early age. I was at church at least three times a week. But I was just getting warmed up. Following my high school graduation, I attended a Christian leadership academy, became a youth pastor, served as a missionary in Europe, and led worship at multiple churches. All of my immediate friends and family were and are Christian. But when those closest to me were confronted with my existence as a gay, Christian man, the majority felt torn, torn between obeying a book or loving me.

“Brandon, I’m trying to love you and your brother,” my mother said through tears, months after my younger brother came out, “but I’m caught between obeying the Bible or loving my son. It’s so hard!”

Without this book, my mom would have no problem loving her sons. Without this book, my friends would not be apprehensive about standing with me on my wedding day. Without this book, people wouldn’t feel pulled in two directions, unable to decide, and scared to form an opinion.

What does this mean? Is the Bible a bunch of garbage written by European men to manipulate and control the populace? Some would argue this opinion. But that is not what I am arguing.

As I said above, I’m a gay Christian man, and many would challenge my existence, claiming those two identities cannot cohabitate one body. But my argument is that they can. My argument is that Christians have been relating to the Bible poorly and that there is a relationship we can have to scripture that allows mothers to love their kids and sanctions peers to stand by their gay friend’s side as they declare their vows. And just as many of my opponents would start with scripture, asking me, “But what about Sodom and Gomorrah? What about the two verses in Leviticus? What about Romans one?” (As if they are the first person to introduce me to these scriptures, which I’ve been aware of for the majority of my life because they directly affect me.) That’s where I would like to start — scripture.

There are six verses in the Bible concerning homosexuality. Six. For comparison, according to Blue Letter Bible, there are 16 passages on divorce, 62 verses about pride, and 111 verses concerning money.

For those of us who are gay and Christian, we call these six passages, the “clobber” passages because most Christians use these verses to clobber us. Regarding these verses, many publications and organizations, such as The Reformation Project, QCF, Unclobbered, God and the Gay Christian, Torn, Bible Gender Sexuality, Changing Our Minds (to list a few), all talk about how these verses are contextual and are actually not talking about homosexuality how we think of it today. They are either talking about idol worship that included using boys for prostitution, pedophilia, or a lack of hospitality to the foreigner. They were not talking about loving, committed gay relationships.

But people would argue, “You can’t read into this. You have to take the Bible for face value. It says what it says.” If that is the case, women should be silent in church (I Corinthians 14:34). If that is the case, we should not allow divorce on any grounds but infidelity (Matthew 19:9). If that is the case, we shouldn’t have tattoos (Leviticus 19:28), we shouldn’t eat meat with blood in it (Acts 15:20), we should yield to corrupt government (Romans 13:1-7), and we should cut off body parts when they cause us to sin (Matthew 5:29).

My list could continue for far more than a paragraph, but I think you get it. What’s my point? My point is that we contextualize all the time.

How is it fair to contextualize certain parts of the Bible and then not others? We have to look at what was applicable for ancient Israel or the early church and translate it for those of us who live in a modern world. Scripture cannot stay locked in a cultural vacuum, and I’m not just saying this because it benefits me. I’m saying it because it’s exactly what the early church did in Acts.

In Acts 15, there’s massive dissension concerning Gentiles (non-Jews) who are being baptized. Many are saying that they should be circumcised and follow the Jewish law in its entirety, a list of over 600 commandments, including two of our “clobber” verses about homosexuality.

In the end, it is determined by the 12 apostles that the Gentiles shouldn’t be forced to obey the law. They scrap it altogether. Instead, they gave them four rules: don’t eat meat offered to idols, don’t consume blood, abstain from sexual immorality, and don’t eat meat that was strangled.

In one meeting, the whole law is ruled inappropriate to a different culture and new instructions are given to non-Jews. Why? Who gave the apostles the right to change the rules?

Jesus.

“Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,” Matthew 16:19.

So where’s the law? Should we just scrap all forms of morality under the grace of Jesus Christ?

No. Instead, Jesus gave us a new law. Well, two, actually.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments,” John 13:34.

Not some of the law. All of it.

The apostles gave instructions that would help the Gentile believers serve God, to help them obey the first law. They did this from a place of love, obeying the second law. They were obeying the teachings of Christ.

In spite of the six verses in the Bible about homosexuality, Jesus doesn’t mention homosexuality once during his time on Earth. Instead, he talks about love — about loving your God, about loving your neighbor, and about people knowing you’re one of his disciples because of your love.

Can we say that this is true? Do people call Christians “the most loving people”? Are we known by this today? No, instead we’re known as judgmental and ignorant and hypocritical, picketing queer political candidates and abortion clinics.

Is this love? Or have we done what early enemies of the church did — reimplementing the law out of fear?

As a gay Christian, I know I can exist and hold to my faith because, one, there are contexts to the verses we use to batter LGBTQ+ people that need to be considered, and two, Jesus’s commandment to me was not to be straight. His commandment to me was to love my God and to love people, that’s exactly what I intend to do.