The spiritual journey of a gay Christian
Justin Lee (‘00) was raised a Southern Baptist in his home state of Tennessee. Lee said that in high school he was the “unintentionally obnoxious Bible geek kid,” which explains how he earned the epithet “God Boy” from his classmates. He was outspoken against homosexuality.
Photo courtesy of canyonwalkerconnections.org
Although he did have feelings for men, Lee thought it was just a phase he would grow out of. It wasn’t until his senior year of high school that Lee started considering that the word “gay” might apply to himself. And that set off his transformation.
Lee is the founder and executive director of the Gay Christian Network, a non-profit ministry organization of more than 20,000 people who support Christians who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, and the people who care about them. His new book, TORN: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate, came out in 2012 and has garnered national attention and acclaim.
When Lee arrived at the university for his freshman year, he faced not only the typical emotional struggles of a college freshman and the academic struggles of a Reynolds Scholar, but also many issues regarding his sexuality. He wasn’t sure who to confide in, what it meant to be gay and how would it affect his religion.
“I started looking to meet other gay people on campus, and at the time, the environment on campus was very different in terms of gay folks and conversations about gay folks,” said Lee.
During his first year, Gay and Lesbian Bisexual Awareness Group (GALBA, which later turned into the Gay Straight Student Alliance) had “basically dwindled down to one person.”
Lee was also involved in Christian groups on campus. “They didn’t quite know what to do with me,” he said. “My Christian friends spent a lot of time preaching at me to become straight. And it became very difficult for me to hold on to my faith, which was the core of my life, and my identity and my future.”
In 2001, after his graduation from Wake Forest, Lee founded the Gay Christian Network. “We wanted to create a space where everyone could feel welcome, and know that even if we didn’t all agree on everything, that we could still love and support each other and pray for each other. That’s really where the Gay Christian Network came from.”
Although Lee hasn’t been back recently, he believes that things have changed for the better on campus.
However, he notes that it can still be very difficult to be LGBT and Christian on campus.
“There’s this sense in much of the culture that you kind of have to choose. For folks who are both, it can feel like you’re caught in the crossfire of a culture war.
That’s why the subtitle of my book is Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate. It’s not gays vs. Christians,” Lee said. “There are a lot of Christians who love gays and vice-versa. For gays and Christian folks at Wake, it’s important to keep the doors open for dialogue.”
Sharing stories may be one of the best ways to go about keeping those doors open. For LGBTQ, it could be a coming-out story or what being gay means to them. For Christians, it could be sharing some of their religious experiences.
“The more we share our stories and listen to other people’s stories, the more this becomes about people instead of issues,” Lee said.
“As long as this is about issues, we’re just going to keep arguing,” he pointed out.The university does have resources for any LGBTQ who may be struggling with their faith, whatever his or her affiliated religion may be.
Angela Mazaris, head of the LGBTQ center, stated that an integral part of the center’s mission is to meet people where they are in their faith journeys.
The LGBT Spirituality Group, led by the Wake Forest Baptist Church, meets on Sunday evenings to discuss questions of spirituality.
Graduate assistant April Johnson also deals explicitly with LGBTQ issues and spirituality issues.