Robbie Louth reflects on using his Journey Grant to travel to Portland, OR over the summer.
It was mid-June around 4 a.m. when my alarm clock began blaring. I knew, as soon as that sound erupted throughout the bedroom, that the next week would change my life. How exactly, I wasn’t sure.
As my boyfriend pulled the car into the terminal drop-off zone, I began feeling sick to my stomach. I had never traveled alone before. Heck, I had barely traveled at all before! Here I was, ready to embark on a journey that, while exactly 1,496 miles away, hit close to home. After getting out my bags, I kissed him goodbye and made a vow to myself: Portland would change the way I look at myself, my life, and even my relationship with Trent. Portland would change everything.
A few months prior, while in the midst of a human rights research project, I walked into Dr. Gary Armstrong’s office an emotional wreck. Normally, this would have been caused by the sheer stress of the project, but this time, it was the research findings that caused me to feel confused, scared and, most importantly, betrayed. My research was attempting to answer the following question: should religious liberty be limited when the religious activity results in human rights violations? With Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014 as my basis, I discovered that not only were American-Christian missionaries directly involved in the passing of the bill and the cultural violence towards homosexuals, but also that a Kansas City-based Christian movement had significant blood on their hands. Unfortunately, my own feeling of betrayal stemmed from my involvement with this group in high school and my first semester at William Jewell College. I had supported a group by word and deed that was killing my own people.
I decided that day that I would use my Journey Grant to travel to Portland, OR to visit a couple I had known from my high school days. I knew they were the only ones in my life that could help me embark on a new faith journey, one which included my identity as a gay man.
The trip began like any other, with tourist attractions, public transportation and happy hours in the evenings. It was during these happy hours that I was able to work through my religious shame in one of the most un-churched cities in America. Rob and Corrie, a devoutly Christian heterosexual couple, had both grown up in this Portlandia culture full of hippies, organic foods and political liberalism. It was with them that I was able to talk about my experiences with trying to rid myself of the “thorn in the flesh” known as homosexuality. I was able to let go of a lot of hurt as we discussed my trip to an ex-gay camp in Texas my freshman year of high school, going through previous pastoral counseling, and even the exorcism that I underwent my freshman year at Jewell. Most teenagers go through these and other events because their Christian parents force them. I was so devoutly religious that I did these things to myself. Now, with these things behind me, I had one question to answer: can you be a Christian and gay?
The last event I went to in Portland was Northwest Pride. It was at this event that I discovered a complete contrast between Portland and Kansas City. At Northwest Pride, half of the booths were religious organizations. I was shocked that they were there in support and not yelling obscenities like “God hates fags.” Almost every denomination was represented, from the Episcopalians to the Evangelicals to the Roman Catholics. All gave the same message: “You are beautifully and wonderfully made.” For someone who was told so long by the Church that I was sick, dirty, sinful, and deserving of death, this was like a glimpse into Heaven itself. I discovered that God doesn’t always fit in the box we put Him in. The people of Portland helped me see that, and I am forever grateful to the College for providing me the opportunity that changed my life.
I no longer hate God for the way He created me. I celebrate Him because of it. I am a Christian that just so happens to be gay. And that, dear friends of the Jewell community, is perfectly okay.