by Joe LeBlanc
As I lay on this motel bed, I look down at my pants. My underwear waistband is loose. For over a month now, I’ve been on what’s known as a “Daniel fast,” only eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. I’m not doing this as a part of some sort of diet: as I’m told, I’m doing this to move the heart of God. And I believe it.
Even though I had a direct flight from Northern Virgina and it’s only 9 PM, it’s been a long day of travel. I haven’t had anything to eat because I’m preparing myself for tomorrow when I will only drink water. I notice the micro-fridge in my room and chuckle, knowing I have no use for it. With nobody to talk to, nothing to do, and nothing to eat, I fall asleep.
The next morning, I head down to a convenience store to pick up a couple of bottles of water. I place them in my backpack: the only thing I brought with me on this trip. After slipping it back on, I start walking down to the rail station. A man passes by and I say “hello.” He beams a smile and flashes me a peace sign. San Diego seems like it’s on a different planet than the one I flew in from the day before.
The train takes me to Qualcomm Stadium where people are already gathering. We make our way to the Astroturf and some of us set up blankets. A large stage is assembled in one of the end zones where praise and worship leaders are tuning their instruments.
Today is the Saturday before the election. At this point, it seems fairly certain Barack Obama will win. But his presidency isn’t all that’s on the line. California is also considering Proposition 8, which if passed will amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages. Today we are fasting and praying that Proposition 8 will pass.
We are gathered in what Lou Engle is calling a “solemn assembly,” repenting for the sins of our nation. The music starts and we are led in prayer, representing all nationalities and ethnicities present. Even though it’s November, I’m sitting in direct sunlight and beginning to break a sweat. I’m drinking water, but it’s not enough, so I move into the bleachers where there’s partial shade.
This solemn assembly alternates between worship music, prayer, and preaching. As we move into the afternoon, the concession stands open even though Lou insists this was against his wishes. The scent of nachos and fries faintly wafts throughout the stadium. Some people cave.
Around 2:30 in the afternoon, the atmosphere shifts. The prayer and worship gives way to a lineup of special guest speakers. Dr. James Dobson has flown in from Colorado and gives a talk. One by one, each of the speakers gets up and mentions the importance of what we’re doing today, stressing how we need to stand up for the truth in a culture set against us.
All of this time, I’m not only fasting and praying for Proposition 8, I’m praying and fasting for myself. I know I’m attracted to men and I’ve struggled with lust and porn. Even though nobody has promised it, I’m hoping something will happen at this solemn assembly. Maybe a “healing line” I can hop into and be delivered from my attractions, which I believe are causing me to stumble. If I can get delivered here, I believe I’ll be ready for whatever God has in store for me next.
There’s been a lot of talk so far about culture, convictions, and policy, but nobody is really talking about people. That all changes in a moment, when they bring up a woman and give her a moment to share her testimony. She shares briefly, then begins to pray.
“Father we just pray every person out there, every person who’s in bondage to same-sex attraction…”
That’s me: I’m in bondage to same-sex attraction. My hopes are instantly raised for a healing line. What more appropriate place to pray for people than here? If they start one, there’s absolutely nothing at all preventing me from going up and receiving my healing. Only a few close family members even know I’m out here and none of them are going to tune into a 12-hour prayer and fasting marathon. When I get on the plane in a few hours, I’ll never see any of these people ever again.
The service continues.
We go back to alternating between prayer and worship for a bit, then Lou gets up and talks about the cost of running TheCall. He’s looking for people not only to help cover tonight’s event, but for ongoing partners to help them continue holding solemn assemblies. He asks those who are going to make a financial commitment to stand up. I’ve already been giving for a few months, so I stand up. I look around. It seems like only a few dozen people are standing out of several thousand. I’m slightly embarrassed, slightly disappointed, and still hoping for my healing line.
I need to leave the event an hour early so I can catch my red-eye flight back home. I’m losing hope for a healing line, although still riding high on the emotions of the event, the spiritual atmosphere, and the sensation of fasting. A woman I’m sitting next to offers to pray with me. As we pray, she has a prophetic word for me: God is going to give me a voice. I thank her and then leave for the airport a short while later.
“Where do I sign up to counter-protest,” a woman with a concerned look on her face asks.
“I’m not quite sure what you’re talking about,” I reply.
“There’s going to be people protesting the conference on Saturday and I want to sign up to counter-protest,” she explains.
I’ve been sitting at the registration desk for a few hours and haven’t heard anything about a protest or a counter protest. I’m not quite sure how to respond or if this woman is even supposed to be anywhere near the convention center. Without any helpful information to offer, I think of the most polite way of ending the conversation.
“I think you just show up,” I suggest.
“Oh, okay,” she responds as she disappears into the crowd of people migrating into the auditorium for the first keynote session.
“Another over-eager ally,” I think to myself. If protesters were to come and protest the Gay Christian Network conference, I’m confident we’d be able to handle it. Most anti-gay protesters are cartoon characters to begin with: they hold ridiculous signs and chant unkind things, but that’s about it. You don’t have to talk with them and they generally avoid doing anything that would land them in the back of a police car. With or without allies, we have this covered… assuming anyone shows up to protest.
After all, this is Portland. It’s known for its progressive, LGBT welcoming culture. Protesters aren’t going to have even a remote shot of changing anyone’s mind here.
LGBT allies, as I’ve come to learn both from stories and personally, are a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, there are the friends and family members. These allies watch their loved ones become targets in culture wars, receive unhelpful advice, hear hateful things said about them, and face discrimination. Many genuinely make themselves available and can truly empathize with LGBT people.
On the other hand, some allies add LGBT rights to the ever-growing list of progressive causes they support. Human Rights Campaign stickers get wedged between the ones for the local NPR affiliate and “Coexist” on the bumpers of their Priuses. While some have a true passion for social justice, many just wish to be seen as “right.”
I feel as though both types are showing up this evening. I’m registering LGBT couples, straight couples, moms, dads, friends, and church groups. The noise fades as the first session starts.
Thirty-six hours later, I check my phone while getting ready for the last full day of the conference. I do some quick, conference-related searches on Twitter and Instagram to see what people are up to. A photo of Westboro Baptist Church picketing in front of the Oregon Convention Center turns up. I’m not entirely surprised. And yet I am surprised: there’s a brilliant rainbow above the crowds! Thanks to Portland’s ever-present rain and a few patches of sun, this hate group is rebutted by a natural symbol of God’s promise to never again destroy the earth.
The two-stop ride from the hotel to the convention center is quick. I’m feeling very up beat, although in need of some coffee. The protesters are still there and I’m completely unconcerned. As I leave the train, a conference volunteer approaches me. He explains the situation and offers to have volunteers escort me into the convention center if I prefer.
In addition to the volunteers, there’s a line of people formed in front of the protesters. They’re singing songs over the hateful babble, holding signs with encouraging messages, and trying to stay warm in the not-quite-freezing temperatures of early January. At this point, I’m assured getting into the conference this morning will be uneventful beyond what I’m seeing.
There are some lingering rain showers and the warmth from the train has now left me. I make my way across the street and begin to walk towards the building. There are actually two lines of people: one blocking the protesters and another facing the first line, forming a sort of roofless tunnel to walk through.
As I walk through this tunnel of counter-protesters, they sing and cheer for me. I was so confident heading down here this morning, thinking all of the counter-protesting was unnecessary. But as I walk through this tunnel, I realize this isn’t about the protesters or my safety.
In the past, I’ve judged people like the ones standing in this line. Their doctrines have been too liberal for my tastes, their beliefs haven’t entirely lined up with what I think is true, and their spiritual practices haven’t produced the kind of transformation I see in other Christians. Some of them, in my estimation, have substituted progressive social justice for the truth in an attempt to win the favor of secular culture.
But today, I’m confronted with a healing line. It’s not offering the kind of healing I was looking for six years ago. It’s not one I’ve sought, but it’s one I desperately need. This line is using love to heal my judgmental attitude. As I walk through, I’m receiving the kind of unconditional love Christ commanded us to show each other. It’s a love transcending politics, gender, socioeconomic status, doctrine, education, nationality, sexual orientation, knowledge, ethnicity, upbringing, and every possible way we differ from each other.
I choke back tears as my emotions overwhelm me. Even though I’m not fully realizing what’s happening in my heart, I know something is changing and there’s no going back. I just let it happen and walk through this healing line, holding Andrew’s hand every step of the way.
by Joe LeBlanc
Every once in a while, I encounter someone who uses the phrase “hate the sin, love the sinner” (or a similar variant) when talking about an LGBT individual. While it’s disconcerting for me to hear a phrase like this, I’ve learned how to stay calm and believe the best about people. I’m not generally a confrontational person, but I feel it’s important to speak up when I can do so in a way that will be heard.
This week, I encountered a variant of “hate the sin, love the sinner” in a discussion about meeting a drag queen. This is part of the response I offered:
Phrases like “hate the sin, not the sinner” are not appropriate for two reasons. First and foremost, we are all God’s children created in his image, regardless of the status of our relationship with him. If we must use few words to describe the people around us, “sinners” is the last we should reach for.
The other reason “hate the sin, not the sinner” is not appropriate is because it is only used when talking about LGBT individuals. It is never used to describe people who engage in sinful behavior such as gluttony, gossiping, or lying. This is an alienating double standard that has no place in the body of Christ.
by Joe LeBlanc
One recent evening, I was at home reflecting on the past year. While I knew I’d be in for a ride, it’s proven to be more confusing and exhausting than I’d anticipated. There have been so many times where I’ve prayed, as though I were filing bug reports in the tracker of a software project, but never heard anything back.
“God, I really need you to take a look at the tracker. I’ve filed several issues and haven’t heard back on them.”
“Yes Joe, I see them.”
“Well, I’d really like to hear back on these issues, you see. I’ve marked the severity on many of them as ‘critical’ and the priority as ‘urgent.’”
“Indeed you have.”
“So what are you going to do about them? They involve relationships that need to move forward and promises you’ve made to me.”
“For the moment, nothing.”
“NOTHING?!?! But they’re important to me! I’m in more emotional pain than I’ve ever experienced in my life. My world is turned upside down. My questions still have vague, unsatisfactory answers. I don’t know how much longer I can endure this.”
“I want you to learn another programming language.”
“What?!?! God, my problems right now have nothing to do with my technical skills. I already spend too much time on the computer as it is. There’s plenty of time in this life to learn as many programming languages as you need me to. As soon as all of these relationship issues are sorted out, reviewed, and resolved, I can get on that programming language.”
“Relationships take time and work, Joe. You need to learn another programming language now because I’m going to use it in your life later.”
“Oh, I see. You need my help to clear out the backlog. Just tell me the next step in making my relationships work and I’ll do it. I realize it’ll take time and maybe I’ll have to re-prioritize some of these issues…”
“No Joe. You have made as many moves as I need you to. It’s now time for you to work on something else while I work on your relationships. I have someone picked out for you, but you have to wait.”
“Is this someone a man or a woman?”
“Not gonna say.”
“But I want to be prepared!”
“You’ll be prepared. But the timing has to be right. For now, you need to focus on other things.”
“God, I’m just in so much pain. I really want to resolve some of these issues and archive them.”
“They’re not ready to be resolved, Joe. I sent my one and only son to live on earth. He lived there just a little while longer than you’ve been alive. He was perfect and never did anything wrong. Yet he experienced the ultimate betrayal and had to deal with some of the biggest hypocrites in history. He experienced every type of pain imaginable and suffered an excruciating execution. He did it all so you and I can have this relationship.”
“God, I know all of that. I’ve been told all of that since I was a little kid. I believe it with all of my heart. I love you and I know you love me. But I feel like I’ve wasted so much time and that it’s about to run out. I’m getting very panicky and anxious.”
“Cast all of your anxiety on me, Joe. You’re exactly where I need you and you’re doing exactly what I want you to do. I care about your relationships and they’re not going to languish. I know it seems like this part will never end. I know it’s painful to be single while you watch all of your friends get married. But I’m preparing an immensely incredible story for your life. If you know any more now, you will be tempted to skip to the end and make it work by your own efforts. This pain you’re experiencing will help you remember how precious people and relationships are. This is going to give you a deep well of strength for times when you’ll need it.”
“But you’re going to have to trust me. You have the choice Joe: you can go off and try to make things happen in your own power. And it may even work for a little while. But you’ll miss out on the promises I’ve made to you. My promises are good and I’m not going to make a fool out of you or torture you. I’m going to use you and so many other people to help transform this world. But you’re going to have to trust me now and focus on this programming language in the meantime. So will you do it?”
At this point, I pause. So many times, I’ve treated my faith as a black and white thing where making the right decision will always be obvious, if not easy. I genuinely wish I could get some closure on the things disturbing me. I wish more people understood the pain and confusion I go through.
But I know that God does not lie. I do not need to worry about things I cannot control. He will keep his promises.
So I’m learning Ruby.
by Joe LeBlanc
When I imagined this moment, it always looked something like a dinner party where I’m holding up a perfect crystal champagne flute. It’s filled to just the correct height and foaming ever so slightly. I have principled answers, articulated from a position of both reason and experience. People I’ve never met are gathering around, instantly gaining understanding and standing in awe. The wise become wiser still, and the not-so-wise are quieting to think. This is a glorious triumph, both for me and for everyone sharing in my plight.
Instead, this moment looks more like a Monday night in front of the TV where I’m holding a piece of pottery done by a beginner. It’s a mug… no, it’s a bowl… actually it is a mug, but it’s a bit wide and the handle chipped off. One side has this awkward lip and the entire surface is uneven. I can only fill it up to about two thirds of the way because there’s a hairline crack where the top of the handle broke off.
It’s currently holding some Swiss Miss cocoa, complete with the little globs of mix that never fully dissolve and the already evaporated micro-marshmallows. I’m drinking out of this mug because it’s all I’ve got. I usually put the mug back in the cabinet because even though it’s special to me, most people don’t want to see it.
I sit by myself, perplexed and alone. I debate on whether to read or call it a night. It’s in this moment I realize no matter what I say or how I present it, there will still be people who don’t get it. But then I realize it’s okay for me to be misunderstood.
I’m mulling a bit of my recent past. My life is one where my faith makes sense. There are persuasive answers to many difficult questions. I’m a part of a local church where I worship, pray, listen, and serve along with everyone else. Life is going well: I have a good education, an incredible career, health, and friends.
Despite all of this, I’m finding myself in a situation where I’m trying to make an answer fit into nagging questions I’m faced with. I’ve previously stalled, hoping the situation would go away or change. Or maybe the answer will fit on a 43rd try, even though it didn’t the other 42 times.
Instead of making another attempt, I’m realizing this isn’t ever going to work. Trying to make my life look like everyone else’s isn’t holding up. These unanswered questions are slowly grinding away the walls of my heart.
I’m coming to the conclusion I have to not only admit I don’t have the answer, but that I have these questions to begin with. I’m realizing faith isn’t really faith when it’s conditioned on knowing an answer now. Even though it can be painful and confusing to not have answers, you have to move on in spite of the questions.
But that doesn’t mean you have to hide them. I’m no longer scared of what people think of me, and I realize it’s worth sharing these questions, even if people misunderstand me. So I’m pulling this mug out of the cabinet and turning it around so you can see the questions etched on the surface:
Whom will I marry?
Will I be alone for the rest of my life?
Why do I find men attractive?
Is God planning some miracle I have yet to experience?
And given these questions, what should I be doing now?
I don’t have fitting, satisfying answers for these questions. And I’m okay with that. If you’re a person asking yourself similar questions, you’re not alone. In case you’re still wondering why I have them, let me introduce myself:
My name is Joe. I’m an out and humbled gay Christian.
by Joe LeBlanc
I am split between two worlds, O God
both war for my sexuality day and night
both filled with anger and confusion
both certain they hold the truth
The long and narrow path is rocky; lonely
my shoes don’t fit
I watch a friend attempt it
I cannot walk it for him
And yet, the view from here is beautiful
the freedom is exhilarating
the sun illuminates everything
the wind drowns the noise from below
Your faithfulness cannot be captured into moments
it is complete and perfect
it corrects my path gently
it is continually fulfilling the call you’ve placed on my life
And you will not let me go.