My journey to becoming the ex-Christian, gay, career-struggling, divorced, single dad I am (and love) today:
I was brought up in one of those homes where we weren’t allowed to watch “The Simpsons,” but my dad, a deacon at our Southern Baptist Church, was screwing a co-worker. I was timid growing up, afraid to leave my room wearing too much black because people would think I wasn’t happy in God enough, and nervous to display interest in jogging or piano for I would get off-handed comments from family members for doing something out of the box.
I grew up religious, and I’ll call it that. “Religious.” I’m not going to play the game where people claim it is “a relationship with Jesus, not a religion.” I’ll say “religious” because you know what I’m talking about and who I was. I’m one of those that would have said I wasn’t religious because it was a relationship. I did it all, and I wholeheartedly meant it all too. The Bible was my favorite things to study, and I had experiences with prayers that seemed authentic. I was a youth pastor. A leader. I went on mission trips, and I wrote Christian articles and a novel. I even acted in Christian cable sitcom (this is kind of embarrassing). My talents were for my faith and getting others to see my faith so they would join in.
At the age of 14, I felt that I was being called by God to become a pastor so, after high school, I studied the Bible a lot and went on to get a 4-year degree in Biblical Studies and Theology. Church planting was my goal or pastoring an established church, but in the meantime, I’d study and learn at my church. I met a woman at church, and we got married and had a son together. A couple years into our marriage, I found out that she was unfaithful to me with a guy that she met online. I took her back 3-4 times, hoping I could save our marriage, but it wasn’t meant to be.
But this is where things started to turn on their head. My ex-wife wasn’t the villain of this story. In fact, we are friends now as we co-parent a lovely little boy (4 years old as I write this; in love with everything Batman, Octonauts, and his favorite movie, “Back to the Future III”). When I found out about the unfaithfulness, I turned to our church for help. Two men volunteered to help her and I both separately and together in weekly meetings. “Counseling” they called it.
I was heartbroken by what had happened with my wife. I was reliving the dark childhood of my parent’s all-too-public divorce and being yet again the Christian kid with the deep, troubled family issues. Also, in the middle of this, my best friend died suddenly of heart failure. He was twenty-something years old and died suddenly. No warning signs. Just gone when I needed someone the most.
A phrase from this time haunted me. “Brady, if what you say is true…” I heard this practically every time I opened up about what happened to even my closest friends. I want to believe they were trying to express disbelief of the horrible things that were happening, but the way it felt was as if I was making it up, exaggerating, or lying. I feel that a lot of times, people are too often preoccupied with always being on the “right” side that they keep people at arm’s length so they never get egg on their face.
The two men at the church were unhelpful in their “counseling.” They constantly used terms that shared the blame of the unfaithfulness on both of us 50/50. I was told, “Brady, when you talk about your feelings, you sound weak and not like a leader.” I was told, “Christians never have a reason to raise their voice” after second or third time I found out she was still talking to the guy she met online. After a while, I saw what was happening: She was being forced by them to do and be someone that she didn’t want to be. They wanted so badly to “fix” us that nothing was going to get in their way. Not even reality and definitely not empathy.
When she filed for divorce, I was told that I needed to beg her to stay and not go through with it. I received texts messages of how I need “man up” and come crawling back to her, but I wasn’t the one leaving. I refused to beg her from leaving because I had done that already, and I couldn’t control her. Honestly, part of me felt sorry for her because she wanted out, and we were making it so hard. This is what she wanted, and my professional counselor was astonished that they would ask me to do so. During that time, I also told them that they weren’t qualified to counsel us because they were clueless on how to actually handle a complex situation like ours that involved my son, families with mental health complications, and more. They didn’t like me questioning their abilities, on which they had no formal education.
A couple days later, a friend of mine from the church came to my apartment crying. He had told me that during church that Sunday, which I didn’t attend, the leaders of the church told people that I wasn’t willing to work on my marriage and that I was under what they call “Church Discipline,” which means I was to be treated as an “outsider” of the faith, that conservations needed to be limited to bringing me back to the faith, and my membership was made inactive. I was not told that they would be doing this. The people I needed to most were forbidden from real-life contact with me; a friend’s kid expressed that she was nervous when her dad said anything to me because she thought the family would be in trouble with the leadership. I was floored and heartbroken.
I lost my wife, my best friend, my church, many friends, career (divorced men are trusted much in the ministry, especially if their home church has turn away from them), my current office job (I was fired from my job of six years for being too “distracted”), and the majority of the time with my son at this time.
I wasn’t ready to give up on my faith, my family, and my future. I tried to attend a new church, but they were contacted by one of the leaders of the first church from which I was disfellowshipped. They were “warned” about me and my rebellious spirit as I was “avoiding church discipline.” I couldn’t get away. But my fight wasn’t over.
I found a third-party pastor that knew me and the church that disciplined me very well. He met with us for three months, promising to give his opinion only after he heard all of the facts. I can’t express how much this man helped me. He patiently listened for hours of meetings over three months, empathized, and finally determined that the church was out of line for what they did. One church leader finally apologized in depth. He admitted to disregarding me for the sake of trying to fix us. He admitted to treated me like I was being dishonest when he knew I was being truthful. They agreed that they owed me a public apology because they literally told false things about me in front of the whole church on a Sunday Morning.
I thought this would be the end, but one month went by. Two months went by, and I realized I was left alone again. I had to boldly press them to get the ball rolling again if I wanted anything to happen. Finally, they invited me back to apologize in front of the church. They later asked me if I would come back, and I had to say no. An apology isn’t an invitation to come back that I’m obligated to accept. By this point, some of the new people only knew me as “the guy that wanted to be a pastor but didn’t want to work on his sacred marriage.” I respected myself and moved on from there.
I tried to keep up with going to the new church, the one that I had to defend myself even to visit after the lies were spread to them. It is hard as an adult to make friends, but I knew the importance so I talked to some of the young guys in the ministry and told them how badly I needed friends because mine were mostly gone, distance, or not sure how to process our divorce. They prayed with me and said they would stay in touch to make sure I was okay. I never really heard from them again.
There is one thing that I need to tell you about myself. Something I was too scared to talk about for over a decade. Since the age of 14, I remember being attracted to guys, and it was torture for me. If you think being attracted to someone that is the same sex, being gay, or eventually wanting to act on those feelings, I would challenge you to read my prayer journals from the ages of 17-25, where I constantly expressed my shame for who I was and guilt for what I wanted to do but couldn’t. I begged God to take it from me because I wanted to be godly; He never did. If it was a choice, I sure as hell didn’t make it. I finally became open about my attraction to my friends, some family, and church leaders even before I got married. My ex-wife knew before our first date even. I fought those feelings forever, and never acted on them.
Until I couldn’t anymore.
After being disciplined out of the church, left by my wife, avoided by some friends, I finally started to date men. I realized I was indeed a gay Christian. I was outed to my family, and a family member tried to have my son taken away from during the nights because “even if I didn’t molest him, one of my friends may.” Now I was losing my little remaining sense of family.
For the sake of integrity, I came out on Facebook as a gay Christian. People lost their shit. There were over 250 Facebook comments, messages, and emails about what I do with my body in my own privacy. I had to laugh because during this time, a local church leader at separate times, secretly approached a friend of mine and myself for sex. He got no hate mail for lying, but I got many because I was honest. People offered support while others said I was going to hell, spitting in Jesus’s face, giving Jesus black eyes by the beating I was giving him, and turning my back on everything I was.
One part of that was true: I had changed a lot. This opened my eyes. I no longer identified as a Christian because I couldn’t fit the expectations. Even toward the end of practicing Christianity, I was afraid to be open with what I believed because I knew I would get attacked. Like when I started to believe that the Bible is written in many genres, and I believed that some genres that aren’t supposed to be taken literally even though they teach the same lessons. When a popular Christian Worship Band mentioned that they believed that way, they were attacked, told they were going to hell, and that they turned from the Faith. Sound familiar?
I know what a lot of people will say to this, but I’ve heard so many things like how I shouldn’t look to people in the church because they will fail me. I say there is a difference between failing someone and being in an abusive relationship; I fell in the latter. If a friend had a boyfriend or girlfriend that treated him or her the way the churches treated me, I would have encouraged him or her to get the hell out quickly.
After I came out, many of my friends stopped inviting me to their weddings (one couple met through me and were in my wedding), many didn’t know how to talk to me, and that’s okay. I was outside of their culture now, and they were out of my new culture.
So I started to take my life back. Some of the most loyal friendship stuck with me for, which I’m forever thankful. I worked to make new friends and to raise my son (the court granted me half-custody, which is uncommon in my state) with empathy and understanding of people different than him.
I believe many Christians want to feel good if they are nice to someone and lure them to visit a church or to joining the faith, but when it comes to when something bad or abusive happens in the church, I’ve seen so many deny it or sweep it under the rug. “Just move on,” they say. “Don’t be bitter.” “Forgive as God forgave you.” A married 25-year-old woman had sex with a 16-year-old friend of mine when I was in youth group, and it was never addressed to us; they both split town to keep it hush hush. I’ve seen a former pastor jump town after he swindled from a radio station and his friend, a member of his church. A former friend of mine wouldn’t answer my phone calls when my ex filed for divorce because to find out, he was cheating on his wife, burnt a lot of bridges defending himself, but was later offered a worship leader position because he was talented with the guitar and singing. I’ve even seen people that claim spiritual abuse, using spirituality to either knowingly or unconsciously manipulate or bully someone, just doesn’t even happen. Ever. I realized this is what it must feel like for someone to come forward after being abused, molested, or raped just to encounter a system that often minimizes a victim’s experiences to protect the offender. You can’t have it both ways of taking credit for the good and excusing the bad.
Also, I know that people will shout, “Not all Christians are like that!” This is true, and I would never accuse all of them of being bad or count what happened to me against all of them. Sadly, this happens on both sides of this “us vs. them” conflict between Christians and homosexuals. I wasn’t out to convert Christians to homosexuality, but trust me when I say I have am still often categorized by stereotypical misunderstandings, such as having not being trusted with my son for overnights, being weak for leaving the church when “the first sign of trouble came up,” or going through life struggles because I was opposing God (in all actuality, it was those rouges that claimed that they were working for God but weren’t that made my life hard). This “us vs. them” narrative isn’t helping anyone.
I didn’t leave Christianity to enter a perfect gay utopia either. Where I am, the gay community is known for being shallow and often not welcoming to the gay, overweight, career-struggling, divorced, ex-Christian, single dads in their late 20’s and 30’s struggling with depression and anxiety like myself. Besides, I’m a little weird and may never find never that idealistic acceptance I’ve wanted since a boy. That’s fine as long as I’m honest about who I am and stand proudly, which I do.
When I became vocal about what happened to me, I was accused of being bitter. Once aware of this tactic, I began seeing it everywhere. “You’re just bitter that this happened to you, and you need to forgive and move on.”Speaking out is not bitterness. Holding someone responsible for his or her actions is not bitterness. Speaking out is healing and healthy if done correctly. “Correctly” doesn’t always mean that everyone is comfortable when you speak either. People should be uncomfortable because what happened wasn’t right.
I don’t want to be viewed as an enemy of Christianity. In fact, one of my major motivations in me sharing my story is to help people that are going through the same thing. I know that there are churches that would accept me for me, but I left the faith because that was what was right for me considering my experiences, my beliefs, and mental health. But if I could keep someone from losing a culture that’s important to them, I would. Let’s treat each other with empathy and respect for who he or she is in this moment instead of trying to change him or her to fit the molds of who we want around us. We vote for the people that are actually in our community, not for how we want those people to act and be. This will change our politics, neighborhoods, and my son’s generation.
TL;DR: I’m basically Kimmy Schmidt
Founder of The *Life After