In August, I interviewed my friend Jonathan about his experiences growing up as a gay Seventh-day Adventist. A week later, once the article was finally ready for publishing, I called him with bated breath. We whispered a prayer – he at a laundromat in Montreal and me, at my apartment in Ottawa. Then I pressed, “publish.”
“It’s done,” I remember saying.
“Yup… we’ll see what happens,” he said.
“No one reads my blog anyways,” I reassured.
I was so wrong.
The post was shared almost 800 times on social media and continues to be my most viewed post to date (2775 views at the time of writing).
Basically, everyone and their mom saw the post. And it was well received. And people started contacting Jonathan. And Jonathan started to feel like an overnight celebrity. And then the fame started to go to his head… (lol).
So we talked about how we ought to use the post as a launch pad for something… what? We weren’t sure. But apparently, we hit a nerve and pinpointed a need in having the conversation. (That said, if any of you have any ideas of how we can keep the conversation going, please let me know. Jonathan and I thought about a podcast…or a YouTube channel… We’re open to ideas).
At the very least, we knew that we needed to do a sequel. Jonathan and I finally set aside some time to Skype each other and talk about the aftermath and next steps. So here it is: “Growing up as a Gay Adventist, Part 2.”
Simone: Let’s talk about our initial fears and misgivings about writing this piece.
Jonathan: Well, obviously, I was very worried. The first thing that was on my mind was…you know… I didn’t think that a lot of people would see this. I was really thinking that close family, maybe some friends, but other than that I didn’t expect it to go viral as it did. So my fears were very limited – backlash from family or tensions with them. A high worry was that I would never be able to play the organ in an Adventist church. So those were my fears.
Simone: My fears were that people would think that I was trying to push some kind of agenda. I thought that it would affect my future employment prospects – that secular people would somehow… I don’t know… read between the lines and think I was secretly homophobic or that church people would think that I was a gay-sympathizer or pro-gay (for the record, I’m pro-people. “Live and let live” is my maxim). I wondered how friends and family would respond. I wondered if people would wonder if I was gay – like a closeted lesbian, especially since I’ve always been single. I thought that I might never be able to assume church office ever again (that fear ended up being unfounded – I got contacted by the nominating committee this week). I thought that my ordination as an elder would be revoked. *Simone and Jonathan laugh* I thought that we could get disfellowshipped…
Jonathan: Well disfellowship was not my fear. It takes a lot to be disfellowshipped. My worry was if I found a SDA church, I wouldn’t be able to transfer my membership because they would be like “we’re not taking him.” *Simone and Jonathan laugh*
Simone: So yeah. I was afraid that… I don’t know… the article would not be very well received, especially in religious circles.
Jonathan: Yes. That was another… I thought that there was going to be a huge retaliation. But surprisingly there wasn’t.
Simone: Yeah. The article was shared over 750 times on Facebook and around 30 times on LinkedIn according to my blog stats. It is the most viewed article on my blog of all time.
Jonathan: Now if you were to tell me that the night before we published it …. That would have influenced my decision on whether or not to put it out there. I honestly thought that we would get maybe a 100 views – I wasn’t even thinking shares. I honestly thought two people would share this – me and then my cousin… other than that… 750 times? That’s outstanding. I mean we saw the comments coming in…but …you know I purposely made sure that the day after we published that I would take a weekend camping trip in northern Quebec– literally no internet access ‘cause I would still worry about the ramifications of this [The article was published on a Thursday night]. So a buddy of mine and his wife took me out camping… and I think you called me on Sunday saying we have 300 shares… but oh I forgot to mention that on Friday morning, I had few family members text me… I had people, who I didn’t know, reach out to me on Facebook Messenger, I had family members call me… So on Friday, it was already bigger than I expected but then on Sunday I was like oh my gosh – this has exploded.
Simone: I’d like to add that we… *Simone and Jonathan laugh* …remember when we prayed about this before we did the interview and before I pressed “Publish”?
Jonathan: I remember where I was… I was at the Laundromat. When you called, I was like I have to stop folding these clothes and go outside and walk…
Simone: Yeah. Good times. I was in my apartment and I knelt beside my couch and we just asked the Lord for protection *Simone and Jonathan laugh*
Jonathan: We did ask for protection.
Simone: … and that He’d do whatever He saw fit.
Jonathan: …and if there were consequences, at least the article would reach the people who needed to read it. Reach the people necessary and bypass the people who didn’t need to see it… and that’s how it’s kind of worked out.
Simone: *Nods head in agreement* So what has happened since we posted that article? You mentioned that people reached out to you.
Jonathan: So before I can answer that question, we have to examine why we needed to publish this.
Jonathan: And the main motivation for this was, as I said in the article, I didn’t feel that I needed to come out publicly but there was a significant tragedy that happened in the US in June which…
Simone: You’re talking about Pulse…
Jonathan: Yes. It really led me to the forefront to come out. I didn’t want people to see the Pulse tragedy as numbers. I wanted them to see them as humans. And the best way for church people to see a minority group as people, as neighbours, and remove the many stigmas, was to reveal to them, to show them that a young person they know as an upright citizen, Christian and to put a face to that number –was to come out as a gay person! Ummm… because you know days after that tragedy, I kept reading the stories of these young people – young men, women, mothers slaughtered at the nightclub and hearing the survivor stories I understood I really needed to – it was a push for me to say this is what needs to happen – we need to talk about this to make this tragedy relevant to our little [Adventist] bubble.
So this was really the catalyst to finally set a date to come to Ottawa to do this important interview with you. Now I can answer the question of what has happened.
My previous thoughts have been changed. I didn’t receive – we didn’t receive any huge backfire and any malicious comments. I’ve had had friends reach out to me who I haven’t talked to in years. I’ve had aunts talk to me. I’ve had friends here from Montreal. Adventists, non-Adventist friends… I’ve had people in the church… older generations talk to me. And then beyond my friends within the Adventist bubble, there were hundreds of other people who commented that just kind of put me in a place of like – wow, I have faith in our [Adventist] people… I didn’t realize that there was a need – this conversation met a need, and I think after the first two weeks after we published, I kept rereading the article to figure out why was this so popular.
Simone: I did too. I kept rereading it to figure out and understand why it resonated so much with so many people.
Jonathan: And this is the thing that I think you and I can agree on Simone, because we’ve talked about this before – it was a basic, no judgement conversation between two different people – it was a civil conversation. We had two opposite spectrums being represented, on one hand, you have a black, heterosexual woman and on the other hand you have a white, gay man and we were able to have a conversation, and so many times in church and in the Adventist bubble, what do you get? You get preached… and preaching isn’t wrong but it doesn’t allow the other party to give its perspective. You know if I was able to write down exactly what I said to you but in a prose format and not have an interview style, I don’t think it would’ve resonated that well. Because 1) people would see it as biased and 2) it would just be too long and people would lose interests quickly. But to have a back and forth…
“…it was a basic, no judgement conversation between two different people – it was a civil conversation. We had two opposite spectrums being represented, on one hand, you have a black, heterosexual woman and on the other hand you have a white, gay man and we were able to have a conversation, and so many times in church and in the Adventist bubble, what do you get? You get preached… and preaching isn’t wrong but it doesn’t allow the other party to give its perspective.”
Simone: …a dialogue…
Jonathan: …people were able to keep up with it and process those segments that needed to be taken.
Simone: I also think that people were able to see that we could still be friends, even if we may not necessarily see eye to eye on everything. There was a basic level of respect and compassion and like you said, no judgement.
Jonathan: And, I think that’s what, you know, the church kind of needs or what people are drawn to. Oh and another thing that we were both discussing a week or two weeks after publishing it – there was no mention of hell in the article…
Simone: …or condemnation…
Jon: …and I think that’s what made it a positive piece.
Simone: I agree. We were open, and obviously our friendship has created the kind of safe space for you to be so open and vulnerable with me. And you’ve done the same for me too. I can tell you things about myself, and know that I will not be judged…
Jonathan: …just… maybe a little… *Simone and Jonathan laugh*
Simone: No, but honestly. I remember when I had you come over to my place in Montreal to help me mark papers for the high school English class that I was teaching at the time, and you came into my apartment and you had a juicy story on that day and you were like, “I’m just gonna tell you” — whatever the story was at that time – “I’m just gonna tell you what happened because I know that this is a no judgement zone.”
And I’ve always been glad that you knew that my apartment (and your place too for that matter) were safe spaces – places of no judgement.
That was a very refreshing realization I had. All of my friendships with men give me a glimpse of what I’d want mirrored in my own future marriage. And when I think about the kind of romantic relationship I eventually want, our friendship made me realize that I want a relationship where there is no judgement. Because I now see what being non-judgmental can do for a relationship. Like, it would be so refreshing and I’d feel so safe and at ease if I had a judgment-free marriage.
Jonathan: For me I’ve actually thought about that topic a lot. But maybe we should leave it for our next piece.
Simone: In terms of reception on my end, I would “Google” the article from time to time and search for it on Facebook to see what people were saying, and basically the comments were overwhelmingly positive. Like people were saying “thank you” or “how beautiful” or “Jonathan is so brave” or “thank you Jonathan” or “our church could really learn a lesson” you know? Umm… I was quite pleased. I mean, there were one or two comments about how Jonathan needs to acknowledge his sin and repent, but they were the anomaly.
Jonathan: I was again shocked – how the sharing just kept increasing. I had people sending me 1000 word, 2000 word private messages on Facebook about how it helped them view other LGBT members. I’ve had family members send me texts that were so long that they had to be turned into an e-mail because it couldn’t be fit into text. I had phone calls with individuals who I never knew before. So for me, it was just… astounding.
I did not think it was going to go this way. I thought some family would read and be like “finally!” Like “this is big news?” *Simone and Jonathan laugh*
Simone: People reached out to you for help and support basically.
Jonathan: They did. You know, I’ve been very fortunate to have many good friends. I can say that I have been able to choose good friends and they have always been supportive in any type of situation. But I’ve realized many do not have a safety net. So, when there were some comments and phone calls from various people, I was willing to talk to them and answer their questions and give them a new perspective because some people just called or Facebook messaged me to have their own interview with me – with questions that were not even asked in the initial post. For me I was very comfortable in answering them…
Simone: Do you mind if I ask what were some of the questions?
Jonathan: Some of the questions were along the lines of are you looking for somebody? Are you actively dating? How do you feel about that? Some were more personal… you know… what comes after dating… how do I feel about that? When I get married? Would I get married in church or in court? And these are questions I’ve already asked myself so I was already prepared for them and have lived with these questions for years. And that was just some people. Some people just wanted to know how I dealt with it. Was I ever depressed? Do I ever think about it? On the other hand, some people didn’t ask any questions and just told their story.
“…that’s the beautiful part – that you sharing your story gave other people courage and permission to share theirs with you.”
Simone: And I think that’s the beautiful part – that you sharing your story gave other people courage and permission to share theirs with you. And I see it time and time again when I blog – whenever I post a post that is vulnerable or revealing or transparent, I often get messages from people who tell me what they are going through, and who wouldn’t have otherwise, had I not had the courage to be so transparent in the first place. I’ve truly been able to connect on a deeper level with many of my friends and other people around the world because I put my life on blast on my blog.
*Simone and Jonathan laugh*
Jon: Well you know, that’s true. There was one person – a friend of mine – he read the article. He said to me, “You’re too much of an open book.” And I replied, “is that all bad?”
Jonathan: Is that all bad? There are different scenarios but people are all dealing with the same thing. We’re all struggling with the same things. We start categorizing people and ranking their problems, and believe that the world is more complicated than it really is. The worst thing that can happen from being an open book is that they won’t listen to you and they’ll repeat the same mistakes you did. It’s ok to be an open book – people appreciate it.
“There are different scenarios but people are all dealing with the same thing. We’re all struggling with the same things. We start categorizing people and ranking their problems, and believe that the world is more complicated than it really is. The worst thing that can happen from being an open book is that they won’t listen to you and they’ll repeat the same mistakes you did. It’s ok to be an open book – people appreciate it.”
Simone: Exactly. I totally agree. And I think that’s why I share so shamelessly, because I now know that I’m not alone. That no matter what unflattering detail about my life is revealed, I’m not the only one. And I think that’s what this post did for a lot of people. To help them realize that they are not alone.
Jonathan: Now, can we expand on this?
Jonathan: Like, we’ve talked about this a lot about how can we capture this – make a private group on Facebook for people to talk. If people want to contact me directly, it’s fine – I can still give out my phone number, but it shouldn’t be limited. People’s stories – you’ve heard my story – now it’s time to hear other stories. Again, we have no agenda. We are not here to protest the current situation. I just want to make a space where dialogue continues…
Simone: …and, I would add, where connection can be fostered.
Jonathan: Connection. Yasss.
Simone: ‘Cause I think a broader conversation needs to be had and continued and perpetuated… Oh yeah before we end this talk please tell us the organ story again!!
Jonathan: So, in my home church in Port Charlotte, Florida, a number of people have come up to my sister and have shared their thoughts on the article. So most of the time when I call her – she shares many stories. One story in particular that struck a cord with me because its an answer to prayer, was that a church member, now I remember her since I was a little kid, she came up to my sister and said that she read the article and she immediately called up the pastors – the senior pastor and the youth pastor to have a meeting about this article.
Simone: Eh eh.
Jonathan: *laughs* So, yeah. I was worried too. My sister was keeping me in suspense. The woman shared the article and asked the pastors “should Jon ever come back to our church, would he be allowed to play the organ?” And both the pastors said, “Yes,” much to my surprise. And the woman said, “Good.” She was very pleased. She then said something to the effect of “There’s nothing wrong with this boy.” So to me, I was … again…shocked.
I wasn’t planning on going to the Port Charlotte Adventist Church for Christmas but there’s a wedding happening in Florida so I think I might have to visit them and say hello to my church family. To let myself acknowledge them, for their endearing comments through my sister, and say thank you!
Simone: And thank you Jonathan. Thank you for being my friend, and thank you for sharing your story.