While in Long Beach California for The Reformation Project’s National Conference I had the opportunity to be photographed for the #FaithfullyLGBT project – an effort to share photos and stories from LGBT+ Christians across the country. It was really an honor to contribute my voice and likeness to this campaign. I wrote responses to three questions that were asked by the campaign and I thought I would share my responses here to give a little more insight into me and my journey.
Name: Darren Calhoun
Faith Tradition: Non-denominational
Sexual Orientation: Gay
Gender Identity: Cis gender (He / Him pronouns)
1. Discuss how you reconciled your faith with your sexual orientation.
I’ve been on a long and often painful road when it comes to the tensions I’ve experienced around my faith and sexuality. I was told by some of the closest and most important people in my life that being gay would be not only a hinderance to my ability to serve as a minister, but also to my relationship with God. In my teen years, I woke up daily trying to figure out how to choose not to be gay. In my college years, I committed myself to spiritual leaders who asserted that I could be “delivered” from my same-sex attractions. I was so committed to my faith that I willingly gave up school, my business, family and friends — nothing was spared in my pursuit of being pleasing to God.
What I didn’t expect was that God wasn’t looking for all those sacrifices from me. As I gave up more and more, I eventually found that those were the expectations of people who primarily sought to control or eliminate what they didn’t understand. As I entered my late 20’s, I could look back and see how God was showing me that I’m loved fully as I am. This love of God set me free to question what people were saying about how God wouldn’t love me or accept me as a gay man. Eventually with the support of other Christians who had a deep understanding of unconditional love, I found my way out of toxic and controlling churches, and into Christian communities that could affirm their love and God’s love for me no matter what.
2. Describe where you are currently in your journey with God.
Now I’m getting to know myself as I am, not as I felt I ‘should’ be. I’m slowly peeling back the layers of condemnation, years of filtering myself, and challenging myself to be seen and loved as I am. I still have to fight the feeling that one of my pastors is going to tell me something horrible like the pastor who told me that I didn’t know how ‘damned’ I am. I’m discovering just how deep, wide, and unchanging the love of God really is — for me and for everyone else. When I realized that God could love me unconditionally, it freed me to see how others could be loved the same way. Because of that kind of love, I’m working to make the church a safer place for everyone, especially LGBTQ+ people. This is what I feel called by God to do.
3. What is the one thing I want to tell non-affirming members of my faith?
Being welcoming of LGBTQ+ people but not affirming them still comes at great cost for the LGBTQ+, questioning, or struggling person in your midst. What for you may be an abstract or theological construct, has deep ramifications for the person to whom it applies. Having church policy that limits access to serving in the community or pursuing family in the form of marriage has a quiet but erosive effect on us in ways that are often invisible to you. Our validity and life experiences are often erased from spaces that haven’t made room for us to be our whole selves. Our futures are uncertain in churches that have a multitude of supports for marriage and raising children, but nothing for life-long singles as many non-affirming churches expect us to be. When we can’t enter into many of the celebrated milestones of church communities (like finding love, building a family, building a life with and publicly affirming your spouse) we are reminded over and over that we simply cannot fully belong. Good intentions and faithfulness to your interpretation of scripture will not overcome the ever-present reminders that because of my orientation (or gender identity) that I can never been FULLY accepted. This is a reality that non-affirming churches need to wrestle with in ways much deeper than answering the question “is homosexuality a sin?”.