Why My Coming Out Matters to You
July 5, 2017
Pieter Niemeyer and his wife, Susie, have been married for 22 years and have three children. In 2015, Pieter came out to his family as a gay man, and has since then come out more broadly, including being interviewed for Daily Xtra. Pieter pastors at a Mennonite church and runs a website called MennoQmunity. Below is an excerpt from a reflection he gave at his church after coming out to all the church members.
My wife Susie has called me a “coming out tank.” Why? Because I have come out to well over 200 people, mostly face to face, and in a rather short period of time. The path we chose was to take small steps—mostly one-on-one or small group conversations. We would ask people to guard our conversations by holding confidentiality. When I explain to others how our faith community successfully upheld this confidentiality, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude, for this is a gift that was given to us by our community. Over the course of coming out, I have heard a tremendous amount of encouragement. In the midst of it, I also heard comments like: “It doesn’t matter,” “It makes no difference,” “Itʼs not my business,” or “It doesn’t change anything.” I understood these comments to be intended as reassurances that our relationship wouldn’t be negatively affected by this disclosure.
I am grateful for such a message, and yet as I heard these comments many times over, I began to think to myself, Well, it really does matter, it does make a difference and it is your business. I began to feel that these phrases actually needed to be unpacked more. My goal is to explore the deep faith reasons for why it matters, why it makes a difference, why my coming out really is your business, and how things really do need to change.
My goal is to explore the deep faith reasons for why it matters, why it makes a difference, why my coming out really is your business, and how things really do need to change.
It matters because we believe we are the body of Christ; therefore, we are interconnected. Paul’s argument is that when one part of the body suffers, or is honored, it affects the whole body. I, as a member of the body of Christ, suffered as a gay person in the closet. We together as LGBTQ+ Christians have experienced pain and suffered invisibility as members of the body. Once we have been fully seen and heard, and reconciliation has been offered and received, then we can say it doesn’t matter. In the meantime, there is work for you to do. We are not there yet. It matters what we do, or do not do, with our own bodies within the body of Christ. This requires careful attention. So it matters, because we are members of the body of Christ, and we are to care for each other.
It makes a difference because there is a difference. I am not the same as you, if you are straight. Growing up straight in a straight personʼs world is no struggle for you. Growing up gay in a straight person’s world is all about struggle. It makes a difference because there is a difference. I look forward to a time when it really doesn’t matter. But we are not there yet. So it makes a difference because we are members of the body of Christ and in our difference we are to care for each other.
My story, our stories as LGBTQ+ Christians…they are your business. Business as usual only benefits straight people. Power and responsibility lie with you. The status quo doesn’t allow for generous space for LGBTQ+ Christians to be who they are without being at variance with our confessions of faith and church doctrines. Because we are members of the body of Christ, it is your business as we care for each other.
So what does it mean to care for one another? For me, it means that you listen and hear my story, and don’t assume things regarding honesty or dishonesty. Let me illustrate this through a conversation with my oldest brother. When I came out to my brother, he didn’t congratulate me for finally being honest about myself. Instead, what he offered me was an apology, saying he was sorry our family had not been a safe place for me to come out until now. This revealed to me that he got it. I didn’t always know how to hold my truth, because the larger world wouldn’t hear it.
I didn’t always know how to hold my truth, because the larger world wouldn’t hear it.
For those courageous enough to come out, or who were forced out, or who had no option of ever being in a closet in the first place, the world at large often punished them. Therefore the wisest thing was not necessarily to come out, but rather to stay safe. The lack of safety did not stem from LGBTQ+ people, but from straight people. As I shared my story, many people were concerned and afraid for me and my family. I was often told that I was being very courageous. Why? It really isn’t an issue of dishonesty, is it? Itʼs an issue of safety. Thatʼs why people are in the closet.
So it does matter. It does make a difference. And it is your business.
I was afraid. There are others who are afraid within the body of Christ. Because we are a body, it matters how we care for one another.
Caring requires creating safe communities.
Caring requires educating ourselves.
Caring requires listening carefully to those who have been marginalized.
Caring requires honest reflection regarding power, privilege and responsibility of action. Is it really the responsibility of LGBTQ+ people to be brave and come out, or is it the responsibility of straight people to make safe places for all, and not just themselves?
Caring doesn’t require agreement; it requires generous and gracious space.
Caring doesn’t ignore problems in the body; rather it pays careful attention.
Caring requires us to model the radical hospitality of Jesus.
So here we are, listening because it matters, so that it will make a difference in our business of caring.
This excerpt first appeared on the Generous Space blog and is reproduced here by kind permission of the author.
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