The Jonathan Nichols Story: Growing Up Gay in the IFB Church

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What follows is a brief excerpt of a story about Jonathan Nichols. Jonathan grew up in the Newark Baptist Temple,  the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church (IFB) pastored, until recently, by my wife’s uncle, James Dennis.  The Pastor (Jamie) Overton in this story is married to my wife’s cousin. He and his family are now missionaries.  Polly’s parents have attended this church since the late 1970s. The Christian school in this story is the Licking County Christian Academy in Heath, Ohio. It is owned and operated by the Newark Baptist Temple.

The following story is excerpted from Part One and Part Two of Jonathan’s story:

My story is going to be slightly different than the others featured on this blog because I actually never attended Bob Jones University. However, before you stop reading, you should know that I would be finishing up my freshman year at BJU had I not been outed in high school, expelled, and ultimately forced to leave home. My parents are both BJU alumni, and the principal of my Christian school in Ohio was a BJU-pusher. In fact, while I was growing up, BJU was presented as the only viable choice of college by my family and a few teachers. Because of that, my story isn’t too different from the others here, I just went through the same things earlier, before I actually went to college.

I grew up in Newark, Ohio and attended an independent fundamental Baptist church since I was born. That church was more conservative than Bob Jones, and my parents were more conservative than the church. My mom, the church pianist and school music teacher, was forever busy taking the “sensual” triplets out of songs like “Some Trust in Chariots” and campaigning against songs like “As The Deer” and Bow the Knee.” As you can probably deduce from that, practically no modern music was allowed in our household either. I grew up on classical music and only classical music and quickly learned that there was no such thing as likes and dislikes when it came to music. There was just good and bad. You are to listen to good music and not to listen to bad music. What music you “like” has nothing to do with anything.

That mentality was carried into every area of life.

I suppose being the music teacher’s son allowed me to be a little gay boy without thinking anything of it or being called out about it. I was totally into music and art and pretty things, and nothing was weird. I would play with scarves without feeling odd. Well, without feeling too odd. I knew that none of the other guys my age were playing with scarves. Fortunately, I didn’t think about it too much.

Ok, so I can’t really credit my discretion for keeping me in the closet for eighteen years… Like I said, I played with scarves and wasn’t careful about making it known that I was a musician and not like those “other” guys. The atmosphere was so anti-gay that no one even bothered to think that there could be a gay kid growing up there, regardless of how obvious I made it. Besides, I was still a kid. I didn’t even know what it meant to be gay. Heck, I didn’t even know that it meant anything besides “happy.” So in the minds of the church and my parents, there was no way I could have chosen to be gay yet. And since being gay is a choice, that meant that I was a good, straight little boy. Just like God intended. Right? Totally….

….wanted so much to be able to be honest with someone that I was actually in contact with. I hinted to my closest friend that my friendship with Ryan wasn’t just a friendship. She was, naturally for someone in our atmosphere, worried for me. So, despite her promises that she would trust me to do what I felt was right, she went to my youth pastor for help. He promptly told the senior pastor, who is superintendent of the school. The next day, I was called into Pastor Dennis’s office for questioning. Pastor Overton was also in the room, sitting to my left with a legal pad and a pen, taking notes. Dennis tried to start off nice enough, but it was obvious that they found out. I decided that a clean breast of the issue would be best, and went into my research on the matter, hoping at least to get an opposing rebuttal and at best to convince them. How naive I was. . . I don’t remember much of that conversation, but one thing rings vividly in my mind. I mentioned that the Greek word malakoi in I Cor. 6:9 was never elsewhere, in the whole of Greek literary writings, translated “effeminate.” It carried a whole different connotation. His response? He turned around, pulled his Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance off the shelf, looked up the word, and pointed to the definition. He never for one second imagined that Dr. James Strong was not infallible and that his concordance was not holy writ. In those several hours, my pastor beat me down. Hard. I was totally conquered, save in one regard. I would not tell him who I was “dating.” I did not see that it was my place to get someone else, especially someone I loved, in trouble like this. Dennis found out anyways. He had me break up with Ryan. I cried all night…

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5 Comments

  1. Geoff

    It’s probably because I’m getting on (older than Bruce) and I grew up when homosexuality was still illegal in the UK, but I get very angry when I see this sort of story.

    If homosexuality were truly a ‘lifestyle’ choice then fine, but it’s not. That’s not my opinion, it’s undisputed fact. People are entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts. Homosexuality is genetic, and indeed is much more than a simple ‘binary’ issue.

    It’s all very well the religious folks doing their own thing that doesn’t harm others; on the whole ignore them and hope they’ll go away. On this issue, however, they are totally out of order and need to be exposed as the cruel bigots they are. This is the type of harm that unfettered religion not only tolerates, but encourages.

    The next time a believer asks me why atheists are becoming more militant I’ll know what to say, and it won’t be pretty.

    Reply
  2. Brandon Smith

    I grew up gay in a conservative (but slightly less-conservative than this story) Evangelical/Charismatic/Nondenominational homeschool family in Texas (of the IBLP/Bill Gothard variety, if you’re familiar). One distinct difference perhaps between my experience and the typical IFB home was that the usual legalism was blended with the softer and more loving side of liberal “do-good-for-the-most-destitute” Christianity.

    I’ve been voraciously reading your blog the last few days. When I was going thru the trauma of coming out at 18 and being rejected on various levels by sundry people for being gay, I didn’t even really have time to fully process my feelings and thoughts about the religious side I was simultaneously abandoning. Seven years on, and many of your posts have brought me to tears, or caused me to reexamine old teachings and ingrained beliefs.

    Thanks for writing.

    Reply
  3. Brian

    Christianity is about hatred they call love. It is the epitome of doublespeak in this hemisphere. One might claim that politics surpasses religion in terms of doublespeak but I think that can be disputed. Religion hates the natural human being and is predicated to destroy human freedom. Politics is slightly more benign. 😉
    I surmise that I am classified as bisexual because when I was in my early 20’s I lived with another male, loved him and desired to spend all my time in his presence. My fantasies tended to heterosexual images though, even while in a homosexual relationship. I now look on it all as about sensuality in life and not black and white sexing of bipeds. I eventually married a woman I fell in love with and we have been married for over two decades and have two kids now testing their wings at the edge of the nest.
    I am so sorry to have to admit that the world has not changed fast enough to publicly call out the Church for its long hatred of people. Churches that hate and preach against human sexuality are viruses that need to be treated. The Bible is used as a hammer to nail children to wooden lifestyles not their own and the bloody massacre of childhood is done proudly by bastards like Steve Anderson and other men who love to hate. Steven Anderson must be endured because it is the cost of free speech and free speech is worth having complete human wreckage like Pastor Steve on a podium. It reminds us how sick people can be and are, how important it is that we love and allow our children to choose their own directions, to be free and not harmed as Steven surely was as a kid. It grieves me to know that Jonathan’s story is a common one, very common but I am encouraged that he finds platforms to tell the truth. If there was a religion that was worth keeping, it would be one that allows Jonathan to tell the truth and to live in freedom from hateful systems of human destruction like the IFB Church.
    My best wishes to Brandon too for questioning and being brave enough to feel things without denial overtaking him, without the church smothering him. I agree entirely with Geoff that we need to speak more militantly, more emphatically in the faces of those who openly hate and systematically destroy lives while singing hymns and smiling in Woo-dom.

    Reply
  4. Charles

    I was just wondering if anyone here has ever visited the John Pavlovitz website at the following safe link:

    http://johnpavlovitz.com/

    John is a Christian pastor who works with the homosexual community and is highly regarded by that community. I am just letting you know that he and his church are out there if you or an LGBTQ friend or relative ever wants to know. Some churches are very accepting and supportive of LGBTQ people.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I’m familiar with John’s work. He and I had somewhat of a casual friendship until he wrote a rather caustic post about atheists. He did ask me to write for a new project he was working on, but I never heard from him again. ‘Tis the nature of digital relationships. That said, I think John can be quite helpful to people who are LGBTQ and still want to be Christians. I think his approach to the various Scriptures dealing with sexual matters lack intellectual rigor and can be, at times, revisionist. And maybe that’s what needs to happen; liberal/progressive Christians need to write a new Bible, one that reflects their theological/political/social viewpoints. This, in my opinion, would be the only way to make the Bible LGBTQ friendly.

      I encourage LGBTQ people to check out Unitarian-Universalist churches — a sect that truly accepts people as they are (even atheists who are looking for some place to give the a sense of belonging and community).

      There is plenty of work for all of us to do when it comes to advancing LGBTQ civil rights and equal protection under the law. John is doing a good work, and for that I commend him.

      Reply

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