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


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…

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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

    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.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      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.

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    It’s downright sad but very comical how people will view sissy boys as normal, genetically confused or born to be girls. Thankfully now to you types you got this transgender idiotic excuse to hang it on. It could not be proven queers were born that way so they use the trans game.

    Sodom & Gomorrah don’t do nothing for you’s as you’ve tried to explain that away. For thousands of years we’ve had dopes that have tried to make the unnatural natural but it just don’t fit. God’s got it all locked, those that are queer & those that support it all have a chance to turn from it & repent, if not it is clear what will happen. We don’t need the fake fruitloops like the Steven Anderson fake church that preaches death to queers, that dude obviously has homo tendencies deep inside that trouble him. Queers is very welcome in church allthough you may be uncomfortable hearing truth but it’s up to you to repent. I’m with the late Charles Worley that we should fence off an area such as Ohio or California to herd them into

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Says a “sissy” man who hides behind a fake persona.

      Men like you seem to be the ones with latent homosexual desires. Time to give in to who and what you really are. 🤣🤣🍆🍆🍆🤣🤣

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      So…just so I understand…you think you are morally superior to Steven Anderson because you prefer to put “queers” in concentration camps??

      I can see using any form of logic with you is pointless. So, I will just be direct, you are nothing but a homophobic, transphobic, hate spewing, self righteous, pompous, knuckle dragger. Note, before whining that I have insulted you, I just want to be clear…I did. Don’t like it? Well, I guess it may be uncomfortable hearing the truth.

      You are so lost in hate and arrogance that you can’t even read and comprehend your own religious guide book. I can give you some hints. 1) Focus on the red (with you anger and hate issues that should be easy). 2) ignore the specks 3) those who speak on mountains may be making important points 4) study the art of thanking your god that you are not like these other people, 5) did god explain the true sin of sodom?

      You probably won’t figure them out. Even if you do figure them out (honestly these are easy), you will find some way to twist the words to fit your narrative.

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      People like Harland aren’t just bigoted, their lack of education combined with an insular indoctrination renders them incapable of rational thought. They can, presumably, see around them that there are any number of differences in human beings: some are left handed, some are tall, some are overweight (regardless of lifestyle), some are born with incurable diseases. So why, oh why, can they not get into their thick heads that some people are born in a way that doesn’t conform with what we traditionally regard as normal? It’s so obvious that this happens that the abnormal thing is to think that it doesn’t. The truly sad thing is that if Harland has a child who is gay, or whatever, then that child will never be able to have a reasoned conversation with their father, and will be denied the help that inevitably they will need.

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        Bruce Gerencser

        You got me thinking about being “born that way.” We accept all sorts of differences except being LGBTQ.

        I’m left handed. Hopelessly left hand, left footed, left everything. I was born with a big head, which as an adult takes a size 8 (64cm)hat. I’m six foot tall, yet my inseam is 29 inches — 5-7 inches shorter than “normal.” I wear 4e and 5e wide shoes. I was “born this way,” yet no one denies I am who I am except my third grade teacher who spent the school year trying to get me to write right handed.

        We have thirteen grandchildren. It’s been a joy to watch them grow older, each becoming who they are meant (not in a religious sense) to be. Our youngest two grandchildren spent the evening with us — a three and five year old. Bath time, one boy loves the water. Maybe he will become a scuba man some day. The other boy has diagnosed sensory issues. He tolerates the water, but doesn’t want any water on his head. Freaks out if you try. Same dad, same mother, two very different children. I love ❤️ them just as they are. If one of them someday said he was gay, my love ❤️ for him wouldn’t change one bit. Two years ago, our youngest son — who just turned thirty — told us he was gay🌈 . We love ❤️ and accept him as he is . . . Period . . . No strings attached. It cost us nothing to be good, loving ❤️ parents. Yet, the Harlands of the world — allegedly devoted followers of Jesus — despise, hate, and wish death upon LGBTQ people. And for what reason? They are different from him. Religion has robbed Harland of the ability to be a kind, thoughtful, accepting human being.

        Fuck the Harlands of the world 🌎🤬🤬

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          I want to say that I respect you very much, Bruce.

          You are one of those (very few) people who are not afraid to change their views – in this context, with regards to LGBT acceptance – and admit it publicly. (I will always remember your story about you having to refill a gay shopping mall employee’s soda cup). And by doing so publicly, you give voice to the truly voiceless.

          I don’t think my family, many of my friends, and the society I grew up in would ever tolerate me being other than a good straight married Christian man (which I am not, unfortunately for them).

          Love is conditional on “honour” and “virtue”. No, it doesn’t mean that my parents or family or friends don’t love me. But I always know that my parents’ first love is and will always be the Evangelical Jesus. I know how that feels, after all, the Evangelical Jesus was practically my “boyfriend”, but he broke my heart.

          I am really glad to hear that you love your family and grandchildren no matter whether they fit the standard of what’s considered “normal”. It gives me a little bit of hope for this hopelessly polarised world.

          (I do have a generally pessimistic view of humanity. I was, after all, schooled in Calvinisim. You can take a boy out of Calvinism, but you can’t take Calvinism out of the boy. At least, not completely.)

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