Greg Johnson is lead pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, the host church for the Revoice18 conference. He is the author of The World According to God: A Biblical View of Culture, Work, Science, Sex & Everything Else (InterVarsity Press).
“Bill, I’m gay.”
The word vomited out of my mouth. I had never actually said it before. Not out loud, at least. We were in a mostly empty chapel on the grounds of the University of Virginia, and a dozen or more Campus Crusaders were gathering up on the stage to pray. Bill looked up at the stage, then back down at me.
He nodded toward the door. His tone was hushed. “How about we step outside and talk,” he said. “Someplace more private.”
I imagined that everyone had heard me say what I’d said. I glanced up as others quickly averted their gaze. “I don’t care, Bill,” I told him. “I have to get this out. I’ve never told anyone.”
This was the early 1990s, and I was a newly minted follower of Jesus.
I wasn’t raised Christian. My dad was a senior executive in the federal government, and I was raised in a good secular family in suburban Washington, DC. I had never gone to church or synagogue. I had never read the Bible. I definitely did not believe some ancient Near Eastern sky god was secretly pulling the ropes somewhere. A friend named Spencer once told me I was an atheist. I didn’t argue.
There were two sons in our happy secular household. I was the gay one.
My ‘Velvet Rage’
Though I made crude attempts to hide it, something about me always appeared different. At age six I asked for an Easy-Bake Oven and a miniature porcelain tea set for Christmas so I could serve a proper English afternoon tea with my stuffed animals. Somewhere there’s a photo of me holding a miniature teacup between my thumb and index finger, pinky sticking out like a rainbow flag. I got my Easy-Bake Oven. But then I was sentenced to not one but two terms on a boys’ soccer team.
It didn’t work.
At age 11 the realization hit me. The fact was that I felt toward other guys the way they felt toward girls. 1984 was a terrible time to realize you’re gay. As the year progressed, around 100 gay men in the US were dying of AIDS every week. It would grow to nearly 1,000 per week over the next decade. All the young men like me were getting sick and dying. And the kids around me were cracking jokes about it. The shame was crushing me. I lived in constant dread that someone would find out. The school locker room left me in a state of near panic. What if I saw something? What if it affected me?
On the first day of seventh grade, I sprang into action. I decorated the inside of my locker with a dozen shiny yet tasteful pin-ups of Madonna. Holiday. I was fitfully trying to conceal what psychologist Alan Downs calls the “velvet rage” of shame and self-hatred, hoping to make myself lovable and normal and definitely not queer. I had no idea Madonna would become a gay icon.
So there I was. A gay atheist teenager trying to cover over my shame.
The thing that began to crack this whole life open happened in the summer of 1988, as I watched pro-life protesters get arrested in Atlanta. I can’t say I had any sympathy at all for their cause, but I was deeply struck by the fact that these clean-cut, middle-class people who had jobs were willingly going to jail for something like an embryo. Jail occupied a most terrifying place in my 15-year-old imagination. Jail was the place where people like me got raped. Clearly, these Christians were serious about what they believed.
That year I was assigned a school project to write a paper on a controversial issue. I chose abortion. And as I spent hours researching the topic in libraries, I felt my heart begin to sink. I realized what this was. That realization left me in a very difficult place.
Did I believe it was wrong to take human life? If it was okay, then human life had no meaning or value at all. But if I concluded that it was wrong to take human life, then that would mean that evil was real. And if evil was real, then goodness must be real. And for goodness to be real, there must be a ground for goodness. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was sliding down the slippery slope of the moral argument for the existence of God. By the time I graduated high school, I knew there had to be something to it. I suspected that the god I was beginning to believe in was the Judeo-Christian God, mainly because I had seen Christians willingly give up their freedom. But I knew nothing about this God.
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Source: Christianity Today