Perhaps you’ve heard and perhaps you haven’t yet, but Trey Pearson of Everyday Sunday just came out as gay about a day or two ago. This follows similar coming out stories by the likes of Vicky Beeching and Jennifer Knapp who have gone on to lose much of their music careers, with Beeching instead moving on to religious commentary and other projects in the UK, including a book that she’s currently working on. But at any rate, just like those other coming out stories, this one has already generated its own fair share of controversy and reactions from the general Christian populace, both positive and negative, as larger outlets such as Yahoo and Religion News Service have picked up the story.
Unsurprisingly, there have been quite a few opinionated responses coming from a handful of Christians, with many lamenting the fact that he has chosen to come out after having married a woman and having children among other things, and this is specifically what I want to address in this post. With more and more people finally acknowledging the basic fact that being gay or lesbian or bisexual is not a choice any more than being straight is a choice, what I’ve seen is that many Christians have instead chosen to go the route of lambasting Pearson for his decision to come out now after having been married to his wife for over 7 years and having had children with her, and I think that perhaps I understand a little bit of where that’s coming from, as misdirected as it might be.
Here’s the thing: I agree that there’s no way for most people to even grasp what kind of difficulties he and his family must be going through right now, and that is something lamentable, just like the fact that his general situation tragically isn’t too uncommon in Christian circles, but I disagree that his decision was the wrong one. I’ve read quite a few stories similar to his over the years, of LGBTQ Christians who have married someone of the opposite gender because the church refused to accept them as they were and essentially gave them no other options if they wanted to be a part of the larger Christian community. The church told them to find a way to be straight, or at least pretend to be straight for a while, or face what basically amounts to excommunication. I even personally know of at least one friend who has experienced this series of events in their own family, whether it was in their immediate family or extended, and it seems to be just as messy as many people on the internet are assuming that it’s going to be for Pearson, because I think that’s true. Whenever this happens, it’s always quite the sticky situation to sort through, and the unfortunate thing is that these kinds of situations can always be prevented, though perhaps not necessarily in the way that you might think.
It’s true that he chose to marry a woman with hopes that perhaps he might actually be able to fulfill his fantasy of becoming straight and fitting into Christian church culture, but I would argue that it’s also true that the entire set of circumstances that led him to that decision were put in place by the church and that we can learn from that.
Think about this. The church is obsessed with marriage, particularly straight marriage. It seems to be one of the unwritten rules of being a good Christian that you will get married someday and that it will be a straight marriage. This is the subliminal message that gets preached in probably every single church in the United States, that if you aren’t married, or perhaps don’t want to be married, that there’s something wrong with you, that you haven’t pleased God enough, that God just hasn’t sent the right person to you yet, or some other kind of old Christian cliché like that. It’s an addiction and an idol, and it’s one that I think maybe the church isn’t aware of yet or doesn’t want to address because it would be too uncomfortable, since marriage is such a good thing, which is what they keep telling everyone.
But this is a problem. This obsession with marriage creates harmful and toxic dynamics and assumptions that blind us from being able to recognize any other kind of close relationships or even singleness for that matter, which I think is something that the church likes to say is good, but also something that the church hasn’t modeled for us. If you think about it, a good number of key Biblical figures were never married that we know of like Elijah, John the Baptist, Paul, and Jesus Himself. And that’s part of the reason why I’m still at a loss as to why the church doesn’t know how to talk about singleness or why the church has such an odd inclination toward marriage when it’s definitely not the most important or central thing that’s talked about in Bible, even though that’s what any outside observer of American Christianity might tell you.
All of that being said, while people keep decrying Pearson for his decision to come out because of the impact that it will have on his marriage, I have to say that while he definitely did make the decision to get married to a woman and to come out, I also strongly believe that perhaps the church environment that he grew up in and that many of us have grown up in has set us up for failure, especially, ESPECIALLY if you happen to identify as LGBTQ. Again, think about it. At the time what else was he supposed to do? It’s circa 2007 or 2008 and everything he’s ever heard about being gay is negative, and maybe not even negative but downright toxic and poisonous to his spiritual life and spiritual health. You hear over and over that being gay is an abomination and that God hates you, especially during that time period, or really any of the last few decades and beyond. Reparative and conversion therapy are in vogue and you hear that you can become straight if you just pray enough, if you just believe hard enough, if you just repent hard enough. So, naturally, you think that maybe if you marry a woman that might just do the trick, that it might make you straight, and maybe you even believe it (again, this is just some speculation coming from my own experiences and experiences of others who have gone the same thing since his full story hasn’t been published yet), but after a few years you come to the crushing conclusion that it didn’t work, that you’re not straight. And so what are you supposed to do?
To all of the critics, does that sound like a real, free choice now? I don’t think so. I think it sounds like spiritual bullying and a demand for conformity dressed up with lots of spiritual fanfare.
Beyond that, it might seem that a lot of the same critics are truly concerned about his wife and his children and his marriage, but are they? I’m not sure. I’m not going to be the judge of others’ intentions, but I think that something they’re missing is that perhaps staying in that marriage wouldn’t really be fair to his wife either. If you think about it, she deserves someone who’s going to be able to love her the same way that she loves him, and with the most respect for Pearson possible, that’s not going to be him, because I think that it’s just a fact that his current marriage relationship with her is never going to be the same as a marriage relationship with a straight man who loves her. Now, I’m not a parent, so I can’t speak for the situation with the children, and I truly hope that all goes for the best – God’s grace to them – but I think that if they’re going to separate, I do think that’s the most fair thing not only for him, but also for his wife, because with all the grace that he has attributed to her throughout all of this, I think that without even knowing her, she deserves someone who can love her the same way that she’s going to love him, and I think that’s something that people are missing when they talk about him throwing away his marriage or tearing his family apart. It’s true that his family situation is going to be quite different moving forward from here, but for lack of a better word, it was broken to begin with in my opinion, again, with no ill intent towards him or his wife. I just don’t think that mixed orientation marriages can realistically work, and perhaps I’m wrong, but that’s what I also see as being the case here.
In light of all of these reflections, I fully support Trey in his coming out and pray for peace and strength as he begins navigating this new journey, especially with regards to how his family dynamic will likely be changing. It’s not going to be easy or smooth; that’s almost a guarantee, but I do think that he’s demonstrating quite a bit of bravery in coming out now, especially considering all of the different factors at play in his specific coming out story. People might disagree with that, but what he’s done and what he’s doing takes an incredible amount of guts and courage to do, particularly in 2016 when it seems like LGBTQ people, but almost even more so LGBTQ Christians, are a favorite target of the mainstream evangelical church and Christian community, a large segment of people who might never experience the fear, anxiety, and mental stress that come with trying to live a lie and put up a façade day in and day out, all the while praying that you’re doing the right thing and perhaps constantly fearing God’s wrath or what will happen to you if you do accept your own identity, depending on what kind of church tradition you were brought up in.
Something that I’ve thankful for is that Pearson’s story didn’t end in suicide or some other darker alternative that is all too common for LGBTQ people in Christian circles, or perhaps was more common, since that appears to be changing at least a little bit as the years pass. And contrary to what many fundamentalists or critics might be saying, I think that the recent string of high profile Christians coming out is not a sign of moral decay or backsliding within Christianity, but rather, I think that it’s an indicator that God is not confined to the little boxes that we might put Him in or the stereotypes that we might draw around Him. I think that it’s a positive step towards a more inclusive church for both affirming Christians and also maybe for non-affirming Christians who still know how to show grace and respect the convictions of others, which I also believe is an incredibly crucial piece that the church will continue to struggle with in the coming weeks, months, and years.
So, congratulations to Trey Pearson on coming out and being able to accept who you are and perhaps feeling a little freer and maybe even a little closer to Jesus as a result. It’s a scary and nerve wracking thing to do, especially in the spotlight, but I think that this will just help make coming out even more normal, so that people don’t have to feel afraid of it. I hope that moving forward people will see the negative reactions and learn how to be more graceful and loving, and I also hope that people will see the positive responses and know that their faith and their identity are compatible, that they aren’t dirtier or more sinful just because of who they are, that they are still image bearers of the Father of Lights and that they are so incredibly loved.