I was born the partially sighted, gay, younger son of two loving and (thank God) more or less accepting evangelical parents in the suburbs of the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California. I have been “legally blind” since birth, due to my optic nerves not having developed properly during my mother’s pregnancy. My vision has improved throughout my life, so that I can get around easily enough and only have trouble seeing things when they are more than a few feet away from me.
I’ve had a fairly tumultuous history with Christianity. The church has been the one place in my life where I’ve felt accepted as an overweight man with a visual disability (unfortunately, even the gay community doesn’t really make space for the disabled, and growing up with a disability in school resulted in my experiencing a fair bit of bullying and trauma).
At the same time, evangelical Christianity did not make room for my emotional experience (I’ve struggled with depression since I was a teenager) or my sexuality. These two overlapped during my adolescent years, as I began to recognize that I had a strong leather fetish early on in high school (I was tying myself up before I hit puberty, but I didn’t have a conceptual frame to put that in). I was also attracted to boys as early as I can remember, but I was rather good at denying it (I’d get into arguments in the patio of my evangelical Presbyterian church about how Matt Damon was better looking than Ben Affleck, then follow it up with “…but I’m not gay”).
I felt profound shame for my emerging sexuality due to the homophobia and erotophobia of my evangelical upbringing, combined with the death of a close friend my junior year in high school and another friend my senior year in high school, led me into a period of rather severe depression and anger with God. I attempted to hang myself in my bedroom closet when I was 16, though I fortunately misjudged my height, freaked myself out, and managed to get out of it.
I followed a friend to Westmont College, because it was a small school (I had felt lost at my 4,000 student high school), and the campus was pretty. I was depressed for my first couple of years there, feeling like an exile in the evangelical world without any real deep friendships. Fortunately, I was able to get off campus for a semester (up to the Oregon Extension [http://oregonextension.org/]
, an off-campus program for the Consortium of Christian Colleges that has been a bit of a haven for the misfits and exiles of the Christian College world. There, I was able to be extremely emotionally vulnerable and come out about my leather fetish without experiencing the rejection that I assumed would happen.
When I got back to Westmont, I was able to find an undercurrent of disaffected students, including some LGBT Allies. While I still wasn’t ready to come out of the closet as a gay man, I was able to observe a couple of other friends come out as gay and bisexual, and through their struggles I learned that it was possible for people of deep faith to live out their sexuality with integrity.
After college, realizing that I wasn’t cut out to be a teacher, I decided to go to Fuller seminary to become a minister, hoping to “convert the church to humanity.” By this point, through the example of my friends and some professors who had taken the time to mentor me, I had realized that Christianity could be much more emotionally nuanced and accepting than the evangelicalism of my youth. I entered ministry wanting to embody the compassion and acceptance of the God who I believed, and still believe, travels with us through the hell of life (or the “valley of the shadow of death” if you will….)
I fell pretty hard for a straight friend of mine during my second year in seminary. For the first time in my life, I realized what it felt like to be sexually attracted to someone (Before then, I’d had a couple of asexual romances with women by this point. I almost proposed to a girl who had to get in a fight with me just to get me to hold her hand.) Over the next couple of years at Fuller, I came out as gay to my friends and family. This was a terribly painful time, as Fuller's community life standards remain homophobic. I remember having to sit through a New Testament Ethics class where we debated on a weekly basis a "case study" of whether a lesbian couple should be allowed to join a church. At this point, I was staying closeted, because I still felt called to ministry and the Presbyterian Church (USA) was not, at that time, ordaining non-heterosexuals. Thankfully, due to my having watched friends wrestle with God and their sexuality at Westmont, | didn't doubt that God loved me -- I just couldn't figure out how to follow the call to hospital chaplaincy that I believed God had planted in my heart.
Thankfully, one of my friends connected me with a professor at Fuller who had helped Mel White through his process of coming out at Fuller. This pastor and mentor helped connect me with MCC Los Angeles, where I was able to find a religious community that accepts and loves me as I am. For the first time, I did not feel alone in worship. Over time, I began to even accept that God loves me as this community was able to love me. As I experienced that love, I found a new freedom that allowed me to bring all that I am, including my sexuality, into worshipping the God who loves all that I am.
I left the Presbyterian Church on the eve of my ordination in 2006, and restarted the ordination process with MCC, which came to a conclusion on May 6, 2011, when I was ordained as Rev. Darren McDonald at MCCLA. I am currently serving as volunteer clergy at MCC Portland, where I am helping the church focus and develop its social justice ministries while working on my second master’s degree in family therapy at Lewis & Clark College (a blessedly secular school that embraces me and my sexuality)
I am now helping organize and lead LGBT alumni groups for Westmont College (I am one of the original 31 students that signed a letter outing ourselves to Westmont College last Spring [http://westmontlgbt.wordpress.com/]
a list that has now grown to 50 out alumni and 160 supporters) and Fuller Seminary. My hope is to help network the LGBT alumni and student groups that are popping up at various Christian schools with the hope that we might be able to share ideas and coordinate efforts.
I am deeply grateful to SoulForce for the work that it's doing (and hopeful that an Equality Ride might make its way to Westmont & Fuller one of these years)
Rev. Darren McDonald