Pride, Prejudice and Pain

Dear Pride Preparers:

During my first year in college I attempted to join the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) that held a weekly campus meeting, but after three or four gatherings, I stopped attending. It was no crisis of faith; I just found their meetings and Bible studies too saccharine and a little paranoid. Their focus—near obsession—was how, because we were Evangelicals, we were persecuted by the academic world hostile to our existence. I just didn’t buy it. While the University of Chicago community provided little encouragement for a Christian Evangelical worldview, at worst I found the environment indifferent, not hostile.

From those IVCF Friday night gatherings, however, I did make friends. We started a small study group that rotated between the half dozen dorm rooms of our regulars. Eventually an upper-classman, John Smith (yes, his real name), moved into an apartment, so we regularly met there. One of our members, another John, changed my worldview, and for that I have always been grateful.

From a distance John was easy to recognize. He stood 6’5” and weighed 127 pounds. After study and snacks at John Smith’s, the other John and I walked back to the dorm. He asked if we could talk—he had something he needed to get off his chest. We sat in my room for a long time (my roommate seldom came in before 2 AM, so we had plenty of time). John talked about his upcoming organic chemistry mid-term and other course-related anxieties, and then he burst into tears, tears that grew into sobs. Through his gasps John informed me that if he were to allow his desires to run free in his heart, he would have to admit that he was a homosexual. He curled into a ribbonlike ball on the floor of my room and wailed, crying out for God to deliver him and for me to forgive him.

Up until that moment, I had never had a conversation with anyone about their sexuality. I had been taught that homosexuality was wrong, being pointed to some vague Biblical references about sinful desire and sodomy. For the most part I saw the world divided into two kinds of people, straight and perverts, except John was no pervert. As he sobbed, I realized his tears were beginning to puddle on the floor; I wanted to say something to console my friend, but before I could form words, he continued his ‘confession.’

John had become good friends with a group of Pentecostals who weekly took a van to Evanston where they attended Sunday services at the only church in the Greater-Chicago area that they deemed ‘truth teaching.’ After worship they would have a lengthy prayer service for deliverance. John had confessed his orientation to them, and they prepared an all-night prayer vigil for his “healing”. John told me that they had been so loving, so kind, so attentive to his need that when they prayed so fervently, he didn’t want to disappoint them. So, he announced to them his divine deliverance and healing. Except John, now shaking and convulsing, told me he wasn’t healed, he wasn’t delivered and now he had lied to righteous people. “I do not deserve to live; I do not deserve to eat, please pray for me!” John cried, “I don’t think God listens to me anymore.”

In that moment I experienced a sudden reorientation of my own. I realized what I had been taught to believe was a lie. I prayed for and with John that evening, not asking for his deliverance but for his acceptance, acceptance for who he was, as he was, a child of God loved by God.

The following fall, John didn’t return to campus. One of his friends said he had been hospitalized and wasn’t coming back. I sent a few notes to his home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin; they were unanswered. I learned later that term that John had died.

It’s now nearly forty years later, and it's June, Pride Month; this time every year I remember John—valedictorian of his high school graduating class, honors chemistry student at the University of Chicago, kind, good-humored, compassionate—a young man who had put his faith and trust in a “Christian” community, a community that not merely failed him, but also assisted in his death.

And so, as I have done every year around this time, I pray for every person who does not feel they “fit” into the world or the skin into which they have been born. I pray for a church community that seeks God’s welcome beyond their social discomfort. I pray for John’s forgiveness.

Seeking to discover and live the full meaning of grace, I remain,

With Love,
Jonathan Krogh
Your Pastor