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So Long, Jesus

so long jesus

A guest post by Neil Robinson who blogs at Rejecting Jesus

I fell in among Christians when I was teenager. A friend – let’s call him Simon – thought it would be a good idea if we joined the YMCA. This was long before the organisation became synonymous with the Village People and hangin’ out with all the boys. The YMCA I encountered was markedly evangelical. Once we’d visited a few times we were ‘invited’ to one of their young people’s meetings. I can’t remember what snappy title these meetings went by, but essentially they were a mixture of worship, bible reading and ‘teaching’. Sometimes there’d be a guest speaker who would tell us all about their relationship with Jesus, which, in case we had any doubts, was just marvellous. Before long I was giving my life to Jesus too, though in the long run it turned out to be only a temporary loan.

Occasionally, one of these guest speakers would talk about relationships, those with other human beings, and sex. From them I learnt that sex was almost always wrong: sex before marriage, sex outside marriage, sex with yourself – all of them were sinful. Even imagining sex and fancying someone (which qualified as lust) were wrong too. Who knew? But the most sinful, wicked and sordid sex of all was sex with someone of the same sex.

I had already had a relationship with another young man, Sam, at school. It hadn’t seemed wicked or sinful at all; quite the opposite in fact. But these people, these Christians, seemed to know what they were talking about. And hadn’t I given my life to Jesus? He detested homosexuality, or God did anyway, so Jesus must’ve felt the same way (actually this was all in the present tense, Jesus being alive and monitoring us from Heaven and all; Jesus detests homosexuality, they’d tell us.) Sometimes they’d read verses from the bible that proved it.

And so I started to suppress my feelings. All things considered, a retreat to the back of the closet (not that I knew this terminology back then) seemed the best option. It was what Jesus wanted, or so I thought. I started to deny myself for him, as he insists his followers should (Matthew 16.24). I began a life of self-deception. Which would’ve been fine, except it’s impossible to live a lie in isolation. Others invariably become involved.

Once Born Again™, I’d become involved with a local church, where my friend Simon took it upon himself to play Cupid, fixing me up with Jane. I was more than a little surprised a girl could be interested in me, but figured, in my flight from myself, that as she was interested, I should make the most of it. Sex wasn’t much of a problem: as good Christians, we may have played around a little, but we stayed away from what the church liked to call ‘pre-marital intercourse’.

It wasn’t long, though, before Jane wanted to marry – she really wanted to get married. I wasn’t so sure and told her about my escapades with Sam, adding of course that I had since renounced such sin. She said that as long as it never happened again, she had no problem with my past transgressions. I felt pretty sure it wouldn’t happen again. After all, Jesus and his Holy Spirit were taking care of my old nature.

So Jane and I married and over time had three children. While I was very much involved with their upbringing, I would often feel I was ‘letting the Lord down’. When, as happened on holiday once, a group of younger men came round a corner minus their shirts, I found myself instinctually admiring them. What self-crucifying shame I would feel after occasions like these. I would even confess such ‘sins’ to a senior work colleague, a devout and very genuine older lady. I’d spare her the details of how exactly I’d ‘let the Lord down’, of course; I could never have brought myself to say I’d been turned on by naked male torsos. But somewhere deep within me, I longed for intimacy and closeness with another man. I knew this was strictly forbidden so buried my desires deeper and deeper, suppressing and subjugating something vital about myself. I was on course, though I didn’t recognise it, to making myself ill. I was convinced that I was doing the right thing – for myself, for my marriage, and for God.

My marriage, however, was in trouble, for a whole host of largely unrelated reasons. This, together with pressures at work, where my boss’ affair with a female colleague was creating some serious problems, made me question whether God really cared. When I needed him most, petitioning him for the wisdom to deal with these problems, the heavens, as the scripture almost says, were as brass. God, it seemed, just wasn’t interested. Perhaps, I started to wonder, he wasn’t even there. Added to this was the internal pressure I was still subjecting myself to; the tension and stress of sublimating my true nature. I was deeply unhappy. While the situation at work was eventually ‘resolved’ (by my finding a better job), I had become chronically depressed and remained so for several years.

Very slowly, I came to the realisation that in becoming a Christian, I’d assumed a role that had led to me denying my real self and pretending I was something I wasn’t. I’d become convinced, by my church community, that God was doing a great work in me, sanctifying me and making me increasingly Christ-like. But the more I acted out the part, the less like my genuine self I had become. How could this have been right for me, or anyone, in terms of personal happiness and well-being? Adopting any ideology is to add a fake and unnecessary veneer to life that serves only to mask your true identity. Replacing who you are with a predetermined set of religious beliefs is mere play-acting. Denial is not a solution; embracing your self is.

Once I had reached my fifties and the children were grown, Jane and I separated. I had reached a point where I knew I could no longer keep suffocating my feelings; the mind is not designed to be a pressure cooker – something has to give. I started to accept, though not yet embrace, my innermost nature. The relief was immediate and tremendous. I felt I had found myself and I didn’t care that society might not particularly like what I had I found. I had to be me, and not the uptight, miserable person I had become by denying my essential self. I squared up to the exciting yet daunting prospect of starting over, and acknowledged that if I were to have a new relationship it would be with another man.

One day, walking home from work, I began entertaining the idea that there was no God. And just like that, a Damascene experience in reverse, the dominoes fell. If there was no God, there could be no Son of God and therefore no salvation plan, no being born again, no renewal of the mind, no supernatural, no heaven, no hell, no answered prayer. The scales fell from my eyes and everything started, finally, to make sense.

Over time, I came to like myself – imagine that! All I’d felt for most of my life, since the time at the YMCA, was self-hatred. That was what Christianity, what Jesus, had done for me. Arguably, it had also ensured, by keeping me firmly in the closet, that I hadn’t died prematurely during the AIDs crisis of the 1980s. Perhaps though I’m giving it too much credit.

I’m ‘out’ now, in every sense: to my wonderfully supportive children, to those who read my blog, and to friends who stuck by me. Match-maker Simon, he who suggested going to the YMCA all those years ago, cut me off more than a decade ago; as a born-again Christian, he regarded homosexuality as beyond the pale. His ‘principles’ meant more to him than our long-standing friendship. I still miss him, very much.

I don’t miss God. I have a sense of authenticity and my energy goes into living, not denial. I’ve become involved with the local LGBT Centre and I now live, thanks to Covid lockdowns, with a very nice man, my partner Dennis. I’m very happy and feel, at long last, I really know what life’s about.

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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  1. Avatar

    Hi Neil, this story really resonates with me (except that I never married a woman and that I’m a few decades younger than you).

    It is interesting to note that most modern “ex-gays” or “celibate same-sex-attracted (SSA)” Christians are allowed to speak of their ever-present “struggles”. Just a few decades ago, “ex-ex-gay” like John Paulk and Yvette Cantu were expected to say that they experienced “complete healing”. Now, their successors are “allowed” to be honest with the “thorn in their flesh” – it still carries a lot of stigma though since Christians do love acting superior to other people. Nevertheless, there is now a grumbling concession to the fact that conversion therapy may not always work (well, if you ask me, they NEVER work).

    As for your experience with shirtless men: it is a universal phenomenon among closeted gay men. One “celibate SSA” Christian whose writing I used to follow once recounted a particularly harrowing holiday experience. He was alone on a beach, reading a book, when an attractive man suddenly entered the scene, took off his shirt, and started sunbathing next to our poor narrator. He said he was angry at God for a moment. And there are many many others with similar experiences. Some of them start treating Jesus as their boyfriend or idealising the bonds of “chaste (same-sex) friendship” in order to cope.

    All these made me stop and realise how dysfunctional all these people are. I don’t want to live my life with the constant fear that, as one of these leaders said, “every comely man is aimed at me as if a loaded gun”.
    Unfortunately, it is rather difficult for me to extricate myself from this environment – it requires migration to a more accepting place (most countries in the world are not necessarily LGBT-friendly and Evangelical Christianity is a popular export commodity). And yes, I am also surrounded by potential Simon-equivalent.

    Nevertheless, thanks so much for sharing your story. I hope the future will be more accepting of LGBT people.

  2. Avatar
    Neil Robinson

    Thank you, Kel. I think the first step along the way is accepting who we are. Our same sex attraction is not a sin, aberration or perversion. It’s not even something we asked for (though I wouldn’t be without it now.) There’s a great inner peace that comes with this acceptance.
    I’m sorry you can’t go further than this in the environment you’re in. It’s difficult enough in supposed tolerant, liberal societies with their abundance of Simons. I feel for you and your predicament and hope one day you’ll have the freedom to enjoy the relationship you need and deserve. Best wishes, Neil

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    I was in college 1988-92, and during my time there the Lambda organization for LGBTQ grew. Supported by one of the campus deans, the organization allowed a safe space for students to come out, to commute with other LGBTQ students, and introduced the rest of the student body to LGBTQ issues. I became friends with some gay men, and those relationships really changed my views away from the bigotry and condemnation I learned from evangelical Christianity. 30 years later my kids are in college, and they say most of their peers don’t tolerate anti-LGBTQ sentiment. That’s not to say that their LGBTQ peers don’t face obstacles, but it seems that the majority of their peers are accepting and affirming of LGBTQ people. (My kids have personally tried to “teach” their grandparents about LGBTQ issues, especially as one of their first cousins is gay and her partner is nonbinary.)

    Thank you for sharing. It is hard how fundamentalist religions treat people who do not conform to one specific set of rules for life instead of offering support so people can live their best lives.

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      Undoubtedly things have got better for LGBT people over the years but still standing against that progress are evangelical churches. They inflict wounds on themselves in the process as more and more people find their intolerance unattractive. We press on!

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    Neil, I’m saddened by all the years you felt obligated to deny your true nature, not just for you but for so many other people like you, who were and still are caught between the rock of who they really are and the hard place of religion. But rocks, carried by flash floods, carve canyons in the Southwestern US. Rocks win over hard places, as you and many others have illustrated. Alas, the process is violent to your psyche, just like the flash flood is violent, and it’s very sad that it must be so.

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      There are still many people who can’t be who they are, Karen. I’m a trustee at my local LGBT Support Centre where many young people struggle with their sexuality, often because those around them tell them it isn’t acceptable. This makes life so hard but our great staff are there for them.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    Neil–I am a transgender woman and your story has parallels to mine: Like you, I tried to use my participation in an Evangelical Church and, later, marriage to an observant Jewish woman to deny myself to myself and others. I therefore felt, viscerally as well as vicariously, the pain and loneliness of your years in the closet and the relief of your self-acceptance and the love of others you can now enjoy as your birthright.

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Bruce Gerencser