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)
Questions: 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?”.
This morning I had the privilege of sharing a tiny bit of my testimony at Urban Village Church. Check it out!
Here’s what I originally wrote:
I’m Darren, born and raised here in Chicago on the South side and I currently live in East Garfield Park on the West side. I was raised as an only child but have a TON of cousins that were like siblings… Siblings that could go away after they broke my toys.
Growing up, one of my cousins – Mike – was ALWAYS getting in trouble. It wasn’t that Mike was necessarily up to no good. In fact, Mike was usually somewhere being quiet while his younger brothers and the rest of the cousins were wreaking havoc. But Mike’s father (big Mike) had this idea that because Mike was the oldest of his kids, he was always to be “responsible” for everything that went on. Therefore, anytime anything happened, Mike was the one getting yelled at first. It became a running gag for us. To this day we look at Mike ask why he let the most unrelated thing happens.
That’s a humorous way of thinking about how sometimes things that happen to us, aren’t always our fault or even about us. In my own life, I’ve seen this in in a few ways. While my parents weren’t like Mike’s Dad, I did learn early on that stuff happens — these things, for better or worse, impact me and others.
About 16 years ago, In the church I attended during and after college, I had some of the best and worst experiences of my life. In college I co-founded a campus ministry and would be ordained only 8 months after it’s launch. This ministry had a profound impact on the university campus but it would be years before we began to realize how toxic that church was. One day when I have more time I can tell you about how during this season I struggled to sort out my sexual orientation and my faith; How I was taught to be ashamed of my own testimony. How at one point I was living in the basement of a church at the direction of it’s leadership and cut off from my school, my business, friends, and even family for the sake of “getting delivered” from homosexuality. All of that is the back story to what God would one day do to transform my experiences into something that would help countless others.
You see, that experience set me up for a few things. Here’s three of them:
1) I learned that my experiences matter. The things that happened to me aren’t isolated or even rare. Lots of people have been wounded in church and something needs to change.
2) I developed an amazing amount of compassion and patience for people who use religion or their power to control and manipulate others. I think fear and ignorance drive people to do terrible things to others. However, Love Wins over fear.
3) I realized that I could affect change. Equipped with nothing more than my story and my faith, I help leaders, parents, and friends of LGBTQ+ people understand the negative ways they may have impacted people like me. Now, because of my willingness to be vulnerable with my experiences, churches and institutions are changing their policies, families are reconciling with estranged loved ones, and communities are becoming safer places for everyone.
I think there’s something powerful about the way that our stories can work together for the greater good. The trauma that at one point made me despair life is now the fuel for my ongoing work for justice, inclusion, and reconciliation. It’s not easy and most of the time there are road blocks. I have countless frustrating and triggering conversations – sometimes with people who totally ignore or disregard me. There even are times where it feels like things simply won’t get better. But that’s when I have to pause and take a long view of what’s happened up until now. I’m reminded of how back then, my RIGHT NOW seemed impossible!
I don’t believe that God necessarily sets us up for bad experiences, but I’m confident that God eventually makes something beautiful out of them. I’m hopeful that when I go through hard times that something in that experience will be useful for someone else along the way. I believe that like the song we sang earlier, when I give myself away, that God would use my giving for something awesome.
I had the opportunity to share a quick bit of my testimony and some thoughts about how church leaders can engage with LGBT Christians. The Imago Dei conference is a response to the Association of Certified Biblical Councilors conference which happened this week and included LOTS of damaging ideas about LGBT people and how to help them. The video is about 21 minutes long. Check it out here: http://imagodeisummit.weebly.com/summit-sessions/darren-calhoun
I am Darren Calhoun – beloved by God and a follower of Jesus. For the past 15 years, I’ve earned a living as an entrepreneur and professional photographer. My church community is Willow Chicago, the downtown campus of Willow Creek Community Church. There, I’ve served as a volunteer for eight years in various parts of our arts ministries including leading worship. At Willow Chicago, our worship team has two paid staff positions and I am part of a team of six volunteer leaders who complement the staff roles. I love being able to serve our church community in this way. I also volunteer with other organizations that are working on causes that are close to my heart like anti-violence initiatives in Chicago and racial reconciliation efforts.
I am gay. As a Christian, I’ve been on a long journey to reconcile the reality of my orientation with the various views that the church world has on the topic of people who are attracted to the same sex. Before coming to Willow, I was part of a church whose leadership promised that I could be ‘healed’ of my same-sex attractions. I spent years seeking God and obeying the leadership of that church – eventually sacrificing relationships with family and friends, quitting college, moving to another state, and living under 24-hour supervision inside the church. All of this was done in the name of being ‘healed’ and in hopes that I could be accepted by God. During that time I became more broken and unhealthy than I’d ever been and at times despaired living. I eventually was reminded in scripture that God’s love didn’t look like what I was being subjected to by that church.
I am loved. At Willow I found a community of people who were willing to love me authentically. I was warmly welcomed by a gathering of believers who reflected a biblical demonstration of God’s unconditional love. I am surrounded by a community of Christians who are fully committed to loving God and loving one another. In this context I was able to begin a journey of celibacy and prayerfully discerning what that means for my life. This has been a profoundly personal spiritual pursuit to reconcile my deep love for God, his word, and the cards I’ve been dealt. The decision to be celibate isn’t a quick or easy one and I’m engaged conversations with my church community to see what it looks like to truly support someone who has made this counter-cultural choice. I think it’s important that we figure out how the church best facilitates lifelong relationship, intimacy, and support for people like me. That’s my journey thus far, but it doesn’t represent the journey of every other believer with the same orientation as mine.
Because of my many experiences and inspired by the stories of other Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Same Sex Attracted people, I participate in intentional conversations about how the church can be better for everyone – especially those at the margins or who have been pushed out. I think this is an important, nuanced, and delicate issue that needs a variety of voices speaking into it. My perspectives are my own and are not on behalf of my church community. That said, I understand and respect the theology of my church, and the intentional journey our leaders are on to live that theology while being a place of profound love, grace and engagement for the LGBTQ+ community.
I hope to be part of equipping churches so that they are safer and more inclusive places for everyone who matters to God. This is why I’ve chosen to be part of efforts made by organizations like The Marin Foundation, which seeks to facilitate dialog between various people and groups on topics relating to the church and LGBTQ+ communities – groups who might not otherwise listen to one another. This same value informed my choice to be part of The Reformation Project’s Atlanta Regional Training Conference. I was invited to the conference to co-facilitate a full-day Academy for Racial Justice workshop. I also had the pleasure of sharing in a panel discussion titled “LGBT 101: starting the conversation” about how to thoughtfully engage in dialog with LGBT people. Lastly, I was part of a panel discussion that took a candid look at how race and LGBT identities intersect. Because I think it’s important to be inclusive of various perspectives and was happy to share my thoughts as a Christian who is black, gay, and celibate. I was happy that I met other Christians at the conference who are on similar journeys as me as well as Church leaders and parents who thought they might be singled out for having a traditional view of scripture on these topics. We were all welcomed to the table.
So in getting to know me and what I’m about, keep this in mind: everyone has a story. Through my photography, my social justice and activism, and through my engagement with various faith communities, I try to make stories known and foster compassion. If the church is to be all that Christ calls it to be, then we must love God and love people. It’s difficult to truly love someone you don’t know, but when we get to know their story we set the stage to know and love them like Jesus.
This entry is more of a personal one but also about the work I’m doing to build bridges with the Lesbian Gay Bi Transgender & Queer (LGBTQ) community and churches. In the last few months I’ve had opportunities to share with the media the need for improving the relationship between these two communities. For the past few years I’ve been volunteering with The Marin Foundation – a nonprofit that’s sole purpose is building bridges between these two communities. In recent months I’ve had the opportunity to share my thoughts and story in a feature with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), through an interview on the Love is an Orientation DVD and most recently in an interview for the show Different Drummers. Take a look at the video to get quick (10min) idea of what this is all about.
I’m one of the guest panelists for some authentic conversation about being single. There will be refreshments and a Q&A session. I hope to see a few familiar faces that night. Everyone is welcome and there’s no admission charge. I hope to see you there!
Darren Calhoun is a creative professional and Christ-follower who approaches life with the perspective that life is about stories and relationships.
Darren’s story centers on being born and raised in Chicago. He’s a native south-sider who currently lives on the west side of Chicago in East Garfield Park. Darren has been engaged with various groups and activities in his 31 years of life. From leading youth retreats in Elementary and High School to founding a campus ministry and being ordained as a Lay Minister in college, and now participating with community organizing and social-justice initiatives, Darren has been engaged with serving others for more than 17 years.
Currently Darren is a member of Willow Creek Community Church and serves on the leadership team for the Arts Ministries at the Willow Chicago’s Downtown campus. Professionally, Darren helps nonprofits, businesses, artists, and individuals to effectively capture and communicate their stories using the media of photography, graphic design, and internet technology. Through his company, Quick Click Media, Darren helps to capture the very essence of what people do and why it matters in the world.
Darren’s personal story is also marked with the facing and overcoming the challenges of healing from relational and emotional brokenness, and even church abuse. Taking advantage of books, professional therapy, groups, and long talks with trusted friends, Darren has overcome great challenges. He’s positioned himself as a trusted resource for others who have or are struggling with addictive behaviors, unhealthy relationships, and self-esteem issues.
As Darren’s remarkable story continues to unfold his greatest joy is in seeking to glorify God by being a man of integrity in all he encounters both personally and professionally.
As you may know, the Clifton StrengthsFinder measures the presence of talent in 34 categories called “themes.” These themes were determined by Gallup as those that most consistently predict outstanding performance. The greater the presence of a theme of talent within a person, the more likely that person is to spontaneously exhibit those talents in day-to-day behaviors.Focusing on naturally powerful talents helps people use them as the foundation of strengths and enjoy personal, academic, and career success through consistent, near-perfect performance.
Below are my top five themes of talent, ranked in the order revealed by my responses to the Clifton StrengthsFinder.
How well do you think these themes describe me?
People who are especially talented in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.
People who are especially talented in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters.
People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.
People who are especially talented in the Developer theme recognize and cultivate the potential in others. They spot the signs of each small improvement and derive satisfaction from these improvements.
People who are especially talented in the Adaptability theme prefer to “go with the flow.” They tend to be “now” people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.