Valentine's Day of 1884 was a very bad day for Teddy Roosevelt. This was 17 years before the young New York statesman would be elected president of the United States.
Roosevelt had been summoned back to New York City with news that his young wife had given birth to their daughter and that his mother had fallen ill. By the time he made it back, he was met with the news that his mother had died and his wife was now very sick after having given birth. He rushed to her side, but she died in his arms hours later. She was only 22.
Roosevelt was an avid journaler and kept a lengthy diary about his life. Since meeting her six years earlier, he'd filled most of the pages with romantic reflections on his love.
True to his habit, he logged some thoughts on that dark day as well, penning eight sad words...
The light has gone out of my life.
I never quite knew how to process stories like this.
I'd never been in love, so I couldn't comprehend something as powerful as, "The light has gone out of my life."
I mean, I'd lost my dad, but I was pretty sure that was different than losing a spouse.
It was around 2012 when I really began to feel the implications of living life alone. I was on the lifetime singleness track, but it was getting harder. My life of adventure and community was great, but I was still sad.
I was still anxious.
And my soul was unsettled.
I was on this track, because that's what I believed God wanted me to do.
I believed that the Bible was clear that gay relationships were wrong and that God wouldn't bless them, no matter the conditions. My theology had always been very conservative, and I'd heard lots of preachers talk about what bad things could happen when you tinkered with God's words.
I believed that, ultimately, the message of the Bible was about Jesus saving sinners who couldn't save themselves.
But I also believed that the Bible was an incredible guide for life. I believed that living according to the practical wisdom of the Bible would make anyone happier and healthier. I believed that anyone—atheists, Australians, Muslims, fishermen, doctors, Nigerians, exotic dancers, and Buddhist monks—could all benefit from many of the principles in the Bible.
For example, whether you're a Christian or not...
...NOT stealing will make you happier and healthier.
...NOT killing others will make you happier and healthier.
...NOT lying will make you happier and healthier.
...NOT being a glutton will make you happier and healthier.
...NOT being angry or vengeful will make you happier and healthier.
...loving your neighbor will make you happier and healthier.
...practicing justice will make you happier and healthier.
...serving others will make you happier and healthier.
...living with the "fruits of the spirit"—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—will make you happier and healthier.
I believed that a right understanding of God—theology—would lead people into greater human flourishing.
"Human flourishing" is a term that's become popular amongst evangelical authors lately. Big names like Tim Keller, Andy Crouch, Miroslav Volf, and others have all written extensively about the topic.
The Christian idea of human flourishing is that God created the world in a perfect state and will one day return it to a perfect state, therefore it must be His will for humans to flourish in the meantime. It's the belief that individuals flourish when they live life God's way and that societies flourish when individuals are flourishing.
Others have explained human flourishing using the Hebrew idea of "shalom." Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., is a theologian and former seminary president. He explains...
In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight--a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights
I knew this to be true from personal experience. Practicing my faith had brought flourishing in so many areas of my life. Being true to my faith had brought shalom.
I learned lots of amazing principles about life growing up in church, my Christian high school, and in college ministry. I'd absorbed all that good teaching, and it had made me a better person. Being deeply embedded in a Christian ecosystem had forged me into the man that I was. I was happy (mostly), healthy, hard-working, loving, and kind. I wasn't these things because I was so great. I was these things because of Jesus and because that's the life I saw outlined in the pages of Scripture. He'd made me into that person, and I was a different man because of it.
There was a disconnect around sexuality.
If living God's way leads us into deeper shalom...
and if God's best way for me was a lifetime of singleness, then why was my sadness increasing?
Why was the pain of loneliness getting worse?
Why was I so stressed? Why was that stress exploding into anxiety, sending me to the hospital, and beginning to affect my mental health?
Why was it that the more I pursued Jesus and faithfulness and Christian community, the more desperate I felt?
Why did this feel like the opposite of human flourishing?
This didn't compute. Following Jesus had always brought me more peace, not less.
So I began to investigate. I began to research, seeking out points of view from other conservative Christian theologians and writers....
I came across lots of articles about how homosexuality was inconsistent with human flourishing...
"It's not part of God's original design. It's disordered."
"Gays can't procreate. If everyone was gay, we'd go extinct..."
"Gays are obsessed with sex..."
"Gays have tons of sexual partners...."
"Gays don't believe in monogamy..."
"Gays are mentally ill..."
"Gays are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol..."
"STD's. HIV. AIDS."
To me, all those things seemed like the result of a hyper-sexualized gay culture, and I never wanted that. I could identify with gay culture about as good as I could identify with bedouin monks or the King of Saudi Arabia. That felt so foreign to me and a million miles away from what I deeply desired.
I also read a lot of really kind, moderate Christian writers who said they had deep respect for same-sex attracted believers.
They talked about how noble it was to forsake love and companionship to be faithful to Christ. I cried when I read these articles, because it felt good for someone to finally recognize how hard the journey was. Their words were grace to me.
I noticed that when the big-name evangelicals taught about the gay issue, it was always about the act of sex and never about the desire for companionship.
It was never about finding love or not being lonely. It was always about gays just wanting a pass to have sex. But I knew my desire for sex was way less than my desire to have someone to do life with. I hadn't talked about it with any other gay people, but I suspected I wasn't alone in this. Plus, I didn't think straight people got married just for sex. I thought they got married for other reasons like companionship and intimacy.
I read evangelical writers who said that homosexuality was bad for society because it was anti-family.
But I'd read about gay couples with kids who seemed really happy. They seemed to be flourishing, and their kids seemed to be doing okay. I believed with all my heart that every child deserved a mother and a father. But what about orphans or kids in foster care? Would it be better for them to have no one or be adopted by two moms or two dads? I honestly didn't know, but I thought a lot about it.
I saw a lot of Christians blogging about how we're called to "hate the sin but love the sinner."
I'd heard this phrase a million times in reference to homosexuality, and I'd always agreed with it.
But then I began to wonder why the church had done such a good job hating the sin of homosexuality but such a poor job of actually loving gay people. I'd seen support groups for lots of other sub-groups in the church—youth, young couples, divorcees, alcoholics, senior citizens. But I'd never seen anything for gay people other than the occasional reference to reparative therapy.
I'd seen the kooks from Westboro Baptist on TV holding their "GOD HATES FAGS" signs, and it was easy for me to dismiss them, because I knew they didn't represent the faith I knew or the believers I knew.
But then I wondered, if churches "loved the sinner," then why wasn't that said more loudly? Why didn't they march in Gay Pride parades with huge banners that screamed "YOU ARE LOVED!"? It seemed like we'd done a great job of letting the world know we hated the sin of homosexuality but a poor job of actually loving gay sinners.
In that same season, I researched the Christian views of singleness and marriage.
I came across two unrelated Bible verses that were often quoted...
"The Lord said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'" - Genesis 2:18
(The apostle Paul speaking) "Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do." - 1 Corinthians 7:8
Some people pointed to the Genesis verse as evidence that men don't do well alone and need to be married.
Other people pointed to Paul's statement as evidence that singleness was perfectly okay, even perhaps the preferred option for the Christian. And then I wondered: If that's true, why do so many Christians get married? Why do so many run from singleness as fast as they can? Why do so few people accept Paul's clear words about the goodness of singleness? And why did my singleness feel so not good?
I also researched marriage and singleness from a sociological perspective.
I came across data that showed that in almost every category, married people fare better than single people. Single people...
These aren't fun discoveries when you've got 50+ more single years ahead of you. Though it was surprising, it made sense to me.
My whole life, I'd been taught that God's design for the world was men and women getting married and making babies. This formed family units which were the building blocks of society. So it made sense that the institution of marriage would lead to great human flourishing.
Across the centuries, the Christian church has been a resounding cultural voice, advocating for marriage, children, and family. I think that's a great thing, a shalom thing.
And this left me sad—knowing that the approved path for gay people in the church was, statistically, not one of shalom.
I took all this in.
I thought about it.
I prayed about it.
I thought about my weird last few months.
I prayed some more.
During that season of my life, I was still coming out to people. Once every few weeks, I'd sit down at a table with a friend and have "the talk." I'd gotten much better at it and could do it without crying by then.
I met with a friend at a brewery, a really nice guy I'd known for about five years. We didn't see each other that often, and this was the first chance I'd gotten to talk to him about it.
I came out. The conversation went well. He reacted really kindly and told me he still loved me. Another kind response. Another success.
Then he shifted the conversation a bit. I was about to get some of his thoughts on the matter...
"Well man, thanks for sharing. Ya know...I think we've made the topic bigger than it should be. I think homosexuality is just like any other sin."
I smiled and nodded and didn't really say much. I saw his point.
I knew what he meant. He meant that all sin—the little ones and the big ones—separate us from God and that we need forgiveness for all of it. I'd been taught that all my life.
But as I set down my IPA, got in my car, and drove home, I remember thinking...
Is it though?
Is it "just like any other sin?"
If I'm not "acting on it," then how is it a sin? Is the mere existence of same sex attraction a sin? Is the existence of the desire to steal, kill, or lie a sin? Is it a sin to just want to steal? Is just being tempted to lie a sin? Or is it the actual committing of it?
Do those other sins demand a lifetime of singleness even though you're not actually doing them?
And when resisting those sins, do you find yourself sadder, lonelier, more anxious?
These were questions I wanted to ask my buddy after we met. I had lots of questions back then.
But it was okay. I always had questions. I was used to the questions, the wondering, the pondering, the researching.
People fighting big battles are used to the mental milieu of uncertainty. It's just another day to them.
Questions come and questions go.
Sometimes you find answers and sometimes you don't.
It is what it is.
Get over it, Brett. 👊
All photos by Sterling Graves. Copyright Blue Babies Pink & Sterling Graves.
B.T. Harman is the creator of Blue Babies Pink, a Southern Coming Out Story in 44 Episodes.
B.T. is a consultant, writer, and speaker living in Atlanta's historic Cabbagetown neighborhood. He was previously a vice president for Booster, an Atlanta fundraising company, where he helped the organization raise $150 million for elementary schools.
B.T. is passionate about storytelling, leadership, good design, Seth Godin, SEC football, Chick-fil-A, Taylor Swift, archaeology, European Travel and CS Lewis.
To learn more about B.T., visit his personal site at btharman.com.