This is an account of something that happened almost 17 years ago. To my knowledge, everything I am writing about is true & accurate from my perspective and memory. Billy’s name is being used with permission and he has come along side me for the writing of this post.
This letter has been a long time in the making. I hope this letter will express to you (and hopefully many others) some of the most important thoughts and feelings I have ever shared. I am known for being longwinded once I get talking or writing on something I am passionate about, so I will try to be as concise as I can be so as not to lose you…but I pray and hope I leave nothing out that will take away from what I need to say…what I must say.
I need to apologize to you for “that summer.” I want to say I’m sorry and I want to remember out loud here, so I never forget or make the same mistakes that I know caused you harm. I want people to know what I have to be sorry for….what so many need to be sorry for….
I’m wondering if you remember the summer of 1996 as vividly as I do. It was so huge for me for so many reasons (I met my husband for one, probably one of the few positives from that summer), but I know it’s unforgettable for you too—and not for good reasons. My heart breaks still, that I was such a big part of something that I know was so horrible and gut-wrenching for you.
I remember flying home to Virginia for that summer, excited to be on my own (sorta) and able to hang out with you and other friends from school and church. Friends I missed SO much after my parents moved us to Ireland two summers before. I remember being eager to call you and organize a time we could hang out and catch up. You were one of my most faithful friends after the move and looking back, I understand more now why that probably was. You had been the MK (missionary kid) when we were in elementary school and you had left your childhood home in Ecuador to return to the states, which really hadn’t been your home yet. You of all people knew, really knew, what I was going to face moving to a foreign place and being “the outsider”. You knew and you kept your letters coming; you wrote me SO much and to this day, I look at those letters and see them as the ultimate picture of your true loyalty.
So you had been writing me and I had been writing you and now we finally had a whole summer to hang out…the summer before our senior year in high school…it was gonna be great!
I called you up and we were talking….chatting away…I mentioned something about our parent’s thinking we were going to date one day and I might have said something about how I didn’t think that would happen, but I wasn’t sure because you were my best friend. You then said to me “Katie, that won’t ever happen….” And you paused, I wasn’t sure why you sounded so serious, I think you were waiting for me to ask “Why?” but I don’t remember if I did and you said “….because I’m not like that, I mean, I don’t like girls”….”Billy are you saying what I think you are saying??”….”Yes, I think so…” I want you to say it, I want to hear you say it, so I know…”….”Katie, I’m gay…”
I don’t remember the rest accept that my head was reeling, my heart was in my throat, I know I began to ask you lots of questions. I think I asked you if you were “sure”….I think I asked you if you “knew what THAT meant???” I was dying inside…I wanted to scream…because to me, you might as well have told me that YOU were dying….with everything I had been taught at church and in the Christian School we both attended, what you were telling me was equal to telling me that you had sold your soul.
I remember getting off the phone with you…it was dark….it was fairly late, which meant it was super early in the morning in Ireland. I was devastated and could not wait until morning to call my parents. When I called, my Dad answered the phone, and it was obvious I had woken him up. I didn’t hesitate, I didn’t stall, I answered back in a sob…I’ve only had a few times in my life where I can remember being so upset, that my body literally pushed my cries out….I’m sure I sounded like a wounded animal….I was beside myself as I told my Dad about our exchange. I didn’t know what to do….you had “confessed sin” to me and told me that your parents didn’t know and that you weren’t ready to tell them yet. I told this to my Dad….my Dad who also considered your parents friends and your Dad (our church Missions pastor!) a mentor. Dad quickly advised me to get in touch with our church’s senior pastor and ask him for counsel on what I should do.
Right away the issue seemed to be about how to get you to “confess” to them and repent of your sins….Being just 17 (being a very naïve and innocent 17 too) and thinking anything church leadership (and my parents) advised me to do MUST be right….I contacted our pastor. He told me to come in so we could talk. My plan was to not give your name…and I think I started off doing that, but either he let me know he knew who I was talking about, or if I felt secure enough at some point, believing it would all be confidential, so I said your name.
He told me that I needed to get you to confess to your parents that you were “living in sin” and get you to “repent”—and that I had two weeks to do it. IF I could not get you to do that, then we would have to go about the biblical way of confronting people in the church: have you come in to see the pastor with me and we would both confront you; then if you still wouldn’t “repent” and let your parents know what was going on, the pastor and I would go to your parents and tell them for you.
I remember feeling such pressure. I remember feeling so horrible because you were one of my life-long best friends and now I had betrayed you once and was being pushed into a situation where I would probably have to betray you again. I remember questioning our pastor about the “timeline” he was giving me…why was it so short??? Am I going to have to lie to get him to your office??
You and I hung out…I remember pestering you with questions….even asking you if you had ever been abused as a child, because maybe that triggered it (AHHH, the ignorance!!). I pleaded with you to tell your parents…begged you. But you kept telling me that you just weren’t ready.
Finally I let our pastor know that you weren’t budging. I can’t remember how we got you to the church, but I think he called you saying he wanted to chat, but didn’t tell you I would be there. I got to the church ahead of you and ran into one of the other pastors in the foyer….he was part of the “executive team” that our head pastor had to talk to about “such matters”, so he knew I was there. He stopped and told me how proud he was of me for being so courageous. At the time, I felt good that he thought so highly of me.
You got to the church, saw me there, saw our head pastor and I saw it “click” in your eyes. You knew, but you went with me into his office anyway. He knew that you knew and wasted no time in saying something like “Billy, you are living in sin and you need to stop and you need to tell your parents…” Without skipping a beat you looked right at him and said “Frankly, I don’t think it’s any of your damn business…” and then you got up and walked out. At the time, I was floored and devastated, but looking back, I think what courage and guts it would’ve taken to do that, that day!!
As soon as you left, I looked at our pastor and said “What do we do now?” He told me that we would call your house and if your parents were home, then he would go over…I could go if I wanted. At that point, I felt horrible for what had just happened and was sick thinking about him telling your parents….I knew I needed to “finish what I started”, so I said that I would go. He got your parents on the phone, they were home and he asked if we could come over.
We got to your parents’ house and he was pretty quick to the point…again. From memory he told them and I sat there, just confirming what he said. I’ll never forget your parent’s reaction….and I know you know how they felt about it, more than I ever will….but the tears flowed…and we all prayed.
After all that, our pastor took me to his house, because he had to go back to the church, but I was obviously devastated and his wife said she would chat with me and bring me home later. I sat there and listened to another, Godly person who was part of our fast becoming “mega-church’s” hierarchy, tell me how “brave” I was and how I had done the right thing and honored God by the choices I made, even though it was hard. I listened and I am sad to say, it helped me feel better…I felt important…grown up….like I had just made a lot of really “Godly people” proud of me, so surely it would all work out.
I think I spent the rest of the summer apologizing to you for “how things went down”, because I knew I had not been truthful with you, in order to make sure you went to the church for that meeting. I felt more awful about lying to you than anything else. Miraculously you didn’t hate me and you seemed to forgive me pretty quickly; though you did let me know that I was NOT a favourite of any of your high school friends when you told them what I did. To this day, I’m not sure how you kept being my friend after what I did…or at least how you seemed to let it go so quickly…but then I guess it’s just one of the many things that speaks of your unmatched character and selfless love.
I went back to Ireland after that summer very skinny because by the end of it all, I could no longer eat without getting sick. The whole experience had been so stressful and I was just happy to get home to my family by the end of it. We still kept in touch, but I’m not sure how much and the following summer, we hung out before we went off to college/university. You had become very secure in who you were and in “being out” while I still tried to be as close to you as we were in the past, while questioning your “choice” and weakly trying to convince you to “change”. It was a rough summer and I remember feeling tension, a bit, between us. You were great and continued to be my faithful friend, but I struggled with what I had done and felt very insecure in my friendship with you…it took me awhile to really forgive myself, even though your forgiveness had been swift and total.
We went off to college and went our separate ways. Neither one of us kept in very good touch, but what happened “that summer” was something I replayed in my mind often and from pretty early on afterward, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, I knew how everything happened with our pastor and you being “outed” by him before you were ready, was wrong…just plain wrong.
I look back at this summer as one of the lowest, most stressful times of my life where I am genuinely ashamed of how I acted, the choices I made and the hurt I caused. I also look at how “the church” handled it all and I am appalled. I try to say to myself “Well, this was like 17 years ago, everything was different then, surely they would respond differently today…” and maybe they would, but the fact is, you were not respected and it was more important to church leadership to get you to “confess and repent” so as not to cause a church scandal, rather than to get to know you and just love you where you were at. They were more concerned about being right, than being a safe place for you to fall….to go to and be loved while seeking counsel. I remember you telling me that you never felt like you could talk to any of the pastors about it all, when you were wrestling with it before coming out, because of all the gay jokes that went around youth group and how the youth pastors took part and/or did nothing to stop it. I think of THAT and it makes me so sad…so sick in my heart. As far as I know, no apology was ever given to you for how this all had happened…no one has ever looked back and confirmed that the way you were treated and your privacy totally disrespected, was wrong. You know it was…I know it was…I think the people in authority who called the shots have yet to really know it. If they do, they obviously haven’t felt any conviction to reach out to you and that ultimately disgusts me.
Another interesting side note, is that after all this, the two pastors who were the main ones involved in encouraging me to do what I did, who sung my praises and made me feel like some uber-spiritual ingénue, had very little contact with me after all this was done and put to rest by them. I look back at that time and see where I first experienced blatant spiritual manipulation that bordered on abuse, in terms of how they pulled me in and then cast me aside once I had done their bidding.
I remember a few years after all this happened, I was driving home late one night. Can’t remember where I was coming from, but at a stop light I looked over and there you were, alone in the car next to me on the road. I saw you and I instantly KNEW I needed to follow you to wherever you were going. We had not spoken or seen each other in months, if not a year or two, but I knew in my heart I needed to let you know, once and for all, how sorry I was….how full of regret I was, for what happened that summer….for all of it. Luckily, you weren’t going far and you pulled into the parking lot of the Starbucks where you used to work. It was late, not many cars around, you were meeting friends I assumed. You parked and got out of your car, I jumped out and called to you….I walked up to you and you seemed genuinely happy to see me. I remember I started crying almost right away…and I just poured out my heart about how sorry I was for what happened “that summer”…how I knew now the way it all happened was so wrong and I should never have let myself be a part of it…I asked you to forgive me. You smiled….you comforted ME…and you said “Katie, it’s okay…I grew up in that church too…I know how it was…” And I think I just kept crying….so much guilt and emotion and sadness for a piece of our friendship that I felt like was destroyed, just poured out. And that was it….we chatted a bit more…I calmed down and I think we agreed to catch up properly some time.
So that’s how it all happened….that’s how I committed the biggest betrayal in my life up to this point. I had never done anything like it before this incident and haven’t done anything like it since. I like to think of myself as being a loyal person & friend, but I know if anyone read or heard about this incident without knowing me at all, they would come to a very different conclusion. This is a story that I am ashamed of and the only thing that makes me not totally loathe myself over it still, is knowing that you and that summer helped shake me up enough to start thinking for myself more…on this matter and many others.
A lot of time went by…we kept in sporadic touch and I even invited you to my wedding, but you were on vacation during that time. Our contact was minimal leading up to and after I got married, but because of that whole experience, the ground work was laid, a journey was started for me on how I would view this “issue” in light of my faith and in light of what I was raised to believe the “Bible said” on this. The events of the summer of 1996 would shape my perspective and eventually drive my passion to speak out in defence of you and so many others.
Then Facebook happened….we got back in touch more often….and you, along with another gay friend that I went to school with at Moody Bible Institute, shared two things with me in a matter of months of each other that turned my worldview on this, upside down. I could no longer just “hate the sin but love the sinner”….there was a battle going on….
(To Be Continued)