“Our ability to stay with God in our closet measures our ability to stay with God out of the closet.”
Thus wrote 19th century Methodist minister, E.M. Bounds in his book, Power Through Prayer. Because he was writing some time ago, Bounds referred to one’s “prayer closet” as the private place of prayer, based on the KJV of Matthew 6:6.
The spiritual point is almost lost in how silly it sounds to twenty-first century ears. After all, we’ve been using “closet” colloquially to mean a place of secrecy and shame for gay people for decades.
That’s the basis of the phrase “coming out of the closet,” or more simply, “coming out.” It means the self-disclosure of one’s orientation, which for so many has been an act of courage. Courage because of the ramifications it can bring: social cost, complete rejection and even threat of death. To be out of the closet for most of history was literally dangerous.
We like to think in 2017 that this would be different, but gays and lesbians still take a risk by coming out. The threat of being “outed” unwillingly can still loom large. That’s why National Coming Out Day remains a beacon; it gives voice to those who were for so long voiceless, a chance to step out of hiding.
Here in Boston, like other politically liberal places, Coming Out day is less about trepidation and more about celebration. The tone can be triumphant, reflective of how far the gay community has come. Indeed, the relative safety of those in the LGBT community here should be celebrated, compared to the violence and discrimination gay people face in some other parts of the world.
But what does it mean for those of us who experience same-sex attraction, who have bound ourselves in love to the Lord Jesus Christ and want to serve him with our sexuality, even through self-denial? Is Coming Out Day for us, too?
I think it can be. Many of us have carried this secret weight for years, perhaps even marrying opposite-sex partners hoping to “make ourselves straight.” We have been wracked with fear that even though we love the Lord, there would be no place for us in his body if people knew. We have prayed for God to take away our orientation, and sweated and nervously laughed when gay jokes or misguided commentary have come from the mouths of our brothers and sisters.
But there is hope that this can be different. While secrets fester in the dark and threaten to own us, disclosure can bring intimacy, accountability, and new life. To be known and appreciated in all parts of our life can be transformational. Even more, it can give courage to the others just like us in the church who tremble with fear that perhaps they could never come out. We can be a part of the change we want to see.
Now, I DO NOT mean you need to tell the whole church or world your business. Some may be called to that, but not all. But I do mean that we were never made to do the Christian life alone, though something as deep as our sexuality should only be put into the hands of those who have shown themselves trustworthy. We can’t wait for the church to be perfect, for our own sanity, but we can start small. If you feel like you can't think of anyone safe enough in your own life, pray that God would reveal to you, or provide for you, such a friend.
This brings us back to Bounds. It’s not just that revealing our sexual orientation takes bravery, which it does. As followers of Jesus, it also will require spiritual power and protection. To come out while a Christian, especially one committed to the Bible’s sexual ethic, is bold and confusing to the watching world, and sometimes even to believers. You will be misunderstood, perhaps maligned. To stand with God “out of the closet” will in strong measure relate to how we’ve approached him “in the closet”, that is, in our secret times of prayer. Do you trust him?
His face towards you is complete love, and not a shred of condemnation. He has promised you every help along the way to honor him with your body and mind, and longs to give you family through his people. Take strength from his character and promises and Spirit. Gather courage from drawing close to the One who sees you, hears you, and loves you. For the sake of yourself, you can come out. For the sake of the church, you can come out. For the sake of the world, you can come out. Like Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb, you can come out! This can be a day for you, as well.