Okay, I’m blushing. Big time:
As published on April 10th, 2007 • The Leaf-Chronicle (Clarksville, TN):
By Stacy Smith Segovia
At 35, David W. Shelton seems like a guy who has it all figured out. He is the pastor of a local church, a graphic designer, a photographer, a respected local activist and the author of a new book.
Shelton’s greatest pleasures in life come from his faith in Jesus Christ and from the committed, supportive relationship he shares with his life partner, Curtis Davis.
But Shelton was in his 30s before he even started to figure things out — or achieve reconciliation of his two selves, as he would describe it. From puberty to age 30, Shelton spent much of his time denying to himself that he was gay, or praying to God begging that he no longer be.
Shelton’s book, “The Rainbow Kingdom: Christianity & the Homosexual Reconciled,” published late last year through Lulu.com, is the result of Shelton’s realization that he can be Christian and gay, and his desire to spread that peace to others.
Shelton hopes he can help some gay Christians avoid the trials he experienced.
“I was a good, godly Christian. I lived my faith more and more each day. I prayed. I read my Bible,” Shelton writes in a story about his childhood and young adulthood on the “Through the Looking Glass” section of his Web site. “I was also attracted to men. I agonized night after night and asked the Lord to take away these feelings. Tear-stained pillows became common, as I would try to break away from what I thought were chains of bondage.”
Facing the truth
It wasn’t until 2002, after 15 years of trying to rid himself of his gayness, that Shelton found it possible to build a relationship with another man. He met Davis, 34, in January that year, and the two stayed up talking from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. Even as their relationship deepened, Shelton fought against it.
“I had to face my own reality as the evangelical fundamentalist Christian that I was and in some ways still am,” Shelton says. “Over time, I began to realize I was falling madly in love with this person. I finally had to face my own demons.”
Shelton says Davis had “the patience of a saint” during the first year of their relationship.
“There were so many parts of my life I had to reconcile. Those two were seemingly polar opposites of each other — being gay and being a Christian. I struggled with it for much of my adult life,” Shelton says. “Once it became obvious that I was very much in love with this guy here (Davis), I had to do a lot of soul-searching, not for justification, but for reconciliation, which is one of the most important parts of the Christian faith.”
A new mission
Since coming out in 2004, acknowledging publicly that he is gay, Shelton has become an outspoken advocate for gay rights. He was a founder of Clarksville’s Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG) group, a founder and for the last year pastor of Christian Community Church of Clarksville, and writes columns posted online and letters to the editor of The Leaf-Chronicle about issues such as gay marriage.
The biggest leap in his activism to date, encouraged by the former publisher of “Christian Living” newspaper, Sally Portner-Miller, is the publication of his book, “The Rainbow Kingdom.”
“I’m really proud of David for the leaps and bounds of faith he has taken to write this book,” Davis says. “The journey he’s been through — I believe it will help the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered) community.”
Shelton says the book is written for people like him who are trying to figure out how to live their lives as gay Christians.
“I wanted to write it to myself five years ago,” he says.
It is also written for friends and family members who are struggling to accept their gay Christian loved ones.
“It’s not confrontational,” Shelton says. “It’s simply providing an outlet and an opportunity for people to find some hope of reconciliation. We’re all very much a part of the same community — one blood, one Baptism, one faith.”
Three unhappy options
Shelton says for too long, the choices available to God-loving gays were dim and dimmer. He identifies three possible paths for gay Christians:
- “Try not to be gay. Try to suppress that part of your life,” he says. “Most people that are gay and Christian, that’s the first thing we try.”
- Leave the church, which Shelton says is as painful as any divorce.
“I’m gay; I have to accept it. They don’t want me, so I’m going to walk away from the faith,” Shelton says, describing that path. But the losses are enormous. “Something inside you starts to wither away,” he says. “A person’s spirituality, I believe, is a core part of that person.”
- “Say, ‘OK, I can do both,’” Shelton says. That means being publicly Christian, and privately, secretly gay.
“I think it’s hard for someone who’s straight to understand what someone goes through to be gay and Christian,” Davis says. “The Christian church at large has not been welcoming to homosexuals. That inflicts a lot of pain on the psyche for someone who grew up in that tradition. The struggle can become very serious.”
Davis, who struggled mightily himself during his Christian upbringing, says the damage can be immense.
“There’s a lot of pressure on gay people, especially gay Christians, to be closeted,” Davis says.
His hope is that Shelton’s book, as well as churches’ and individuals’ messages of acceptance, will encourage people to leave their precarious hiding places behind.
“Otherwise, it’s a constant fear: ‘Will they find out? Will they find out I’m gay? Will I lose my entire social web?’” Davis says.
A fourth option
Shelton proposes that there is a fourth option for gay Christians.
- “Is it possible to reconcile evangelical Christianity with being gay? Is it possible? The short answer is ‘Yes,’” he says. “That fourth class of people is something we haven’t heard much about.”
Shelton says people can “get away from trying to fix their gay identity, or absolve their gay identity, and be the child of God they were meant to be.”
Through his writing and his church, Shelton hopes to show people who have been harmed by the Christian church that they can return to their faith and find love and welcome.
“I want to serve the people who have been hurt, wounded, crushed,” he says. “I want to minister to the walking wounded — that’s a hard thing to do. A lot of people, when they have arrows sticking out of their backs, they don’t want to talk about God.”
He offers a message of God’s grace, hope and love with no expectation for how people will react to it.
“This is the path I’m taking. I invite people to join me. The good news is Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world. And he was resurrected, which is what we celebrate on Easter,” Shelton says. “The grace of God is for everybody. That’s my mission. That’s my message.”
Shelton doesn’t require people to be Christian to be his friend, nor accept Jesus Christ as their savior to attend Christian Community Church.
“My hope is to be a light. If somebody wants to be a part of that, great. But God didn’t give me a hook. If I offer it with a hook, then everything I’ve said, the message, becomes bait,” Shelton says. “Love is giving without the hook.”