Dear Conspirators for Awesomeness: Allow me to introduce Darren Bouwmeester. Darren and I met through our common space in the blogosphere when I discovered his site, Momentary Delight, and at about the same time he landed here at The Awesomeness Conspiracy. I’ve invited Darren to share some thoughts here with you faithful readers.
I hope you’ll enjoy Darren’s thoughtful contribution. Please visit and support his sites.
By Darren Bouwmeester
I grew up in a conservative Christian home and attended an evangelical Christian school for much of my youth. In High School, I wasn’t the most masculine guy. At one point, the high school gym teacher called me out and ridiculed me in front of my classmates, questioning my sexuality. He didn’t really need an excuse, since he was our football coach and I was an awkward undersized sophomore. That said, when one of your teachers bullies you in front of your classmates, it’s pretty much open season. In the end, it didn’t really matter that I wasn’t gay. My coping strategy was to withdraw and do my best to disappear in plain sight.
Throughout my twenties, as someone who was still insecure about his sexuality, I felt like I had to prove myself and my manliness. In retrospect, I can’t say enough about the hurt that is caused by insecure people like me, who act out of fear and loathing (for themselves) and feel they need to project an image. You want to show that you’re okay and show your bona fides. As a result, I said and wrote things twenty years ago about LGBT people which I deeply regret and which mortify me.
Still later in my thirties, I was part of a Southern Baptist Church. We had a don’t ask, don’t tell approach to sexuality. To the best of my knowledge, every child at that church was immaculately conceived. During this season of life, one of my best friends at my workplace was gay. I knew he was gay. He knew that I knew he was gay. But we never talked about it. Yes, this was the South, and this was probably his defense mechanism. You don’t talk about these things. Moreover, he knew I was a Southern Baptist, and didn’t want to make me uncomfortable, or rock the boat. So, we worked together for two years and we talked about my wife, my kids, our hobbies and workplace politics, but we never talked about the fact that he was gay. I can’t imagine what he probably thought of me. If I could speak to him today, I’d apologize to him. Clearly, he felt that it was not safe for him to speak to me about his life. It’s ironic, isn’t it? As a follower of Jesus, shouldn’t people feel safe around me? Shouldn’t people feel like I’m approachable and accepting, much in the way that people felt around Jesus?
Now in my forties, I’m married with two young daughters. I confess that much like our nation, my attitude toward LGBT people is evolving. Having lived in religious settings, where it seems like we were always condemning people for various reasons, I don’t feel like I want to condemn anyone anymore. In many respects, I feel that LGBT people have a lot to teach me. As someone who has had his own sexuality questioned, I know the hurt and pain of being marginalized and the pain of being made to feel “less than.”
If I could say anything to LGBT people, it would be Jesus loves you. I would also ask them to be patient with me. I have a lot of hang-ups and I’m still figuring things out. I would also apologize for whatever hurt they’ve experienced from me and from my fellow Christians.
When we look back on our life, we might question God about our life experiences. Why God? Why God did you let this happen? Why did I have this past experiences? Sometimes, with the questioning comes anger. As I grow older, instead of simply getting angry, I’ve tried to see my experiences as gifts.
How do you teach a person empathy and compassion? I suppose there are people out there who might be naturally empathetic and compassionate. I’m not one of them. I’d like to think that through my own life experiences and even the pain I’ve experienced, that God is teaching me compassion, humility, kindness and empathy. If there’s a purpose or meaning to be found in my past experiences, this is a pretty good one.
As someone who lived in a very legalistic Southern Baptist Church (and I’m not saying that every Southern Baptist is a legalist), I’ve known the weight of condemnation and guilt. The Jesus I follow is not about condemnation or guilt. My reading of the gospel shows a Jesus who welcomed sinners, the broken and the hurting to his table. Overjoyed that Jesus would let me sit with him, how can I refuse anyone else a place at this table.
The highest law in the New Testament is love, to love God and to love people (Matthew 22:36-40). While I admit that I’m likely totally wrong on any number of topics, including matters of faith, I’m nonetheless resolved that if I’m to be wrong, I’d rather err on the side of love.
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)