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Today’s conversion story comes from Adam Morris, a Texan who was confirmed in the Catholic church, converted (with his family) to a Southern Baptist congregation, became a Southern Baptist youth minister, and then lost his job when he came out of the closet. It’s by no means a simple conversion story, but Adam believes the process has strengthened and simplified his faith.
I am Adam Morris. I live in a small town in Southeast Texas called Beaumont, or as its residents fondly call it, “Boremont.” I am 22 years old and just graduated from college with a degree in political science and am working in retail.
I actually grew up in small towns outside of Beaumont, one called Fannett and then Sour Lake. All through high school I was the good, smart kid. I was at the top of my class and a leader in my youth group at the Baptist church I attended. I never partied or did drugs, I started teaching the junior high boys’ Sunday school class my senior year, and was the president of the Christian club at my high school.
The August after I graduated, our youth minister resigned and left. By the following January, at the age of 19, I was voted in as the Interim Assistant Youth Director (however, it was treated more as a co-youth director position). I taught a class every Sunday and the whole group every other Wednesday. I planned the trips and fundraisers, and I was there to counsel the youth. I was convinced that this was the job for me — the calling on my life from God.
The position kind of put me on a pedestal of sorts, partly by myself, and partly by others. I had become the shining star of youth, the model young Christian man. I did everything from serving in the nursery to the media team to helping the secretary. I was even the Vacation Bible School director. Church WAS my life. Then it all started to come unraveled…
Please describe your conversion experience or process:
My conversion road has been a winding, mixed one. I went from being Catholic altar boy to associate youth director for a Southern Baptist church to an almost dropped-out, “emergent,” gay Christian.
I still consider myself a Christian. I just don’t claim a denomination, or go to church on a set-in-stone basis. I follow and believe in Christ. I base my life on the “red-lettered” parts of the Bible.
What events led to your conversion?
I was born into a Catholic family, and not just “Christeaster” Catholics. We went to church every Sunday and to CCD during the week, and even some of the special services. By first or second grade, I had become the youngest altar boy. And then we went to church even more. Sometime around the time I was in fifth grade, my parents started to have problems with the teachings of the Catechism and had begun listening to other preachers like James Dobson. Soon after, they converted to being Southern Baptists. And of course, considering my age, I converted also and, as they did, “became a Christian.” Looking back now, although I had never “walked the aisle” or said the special prayer, I think I was a Christian. My life and beliefs were the same, for the most part. One main difference was I read the Bible all the time, especially the Old Testament — thus ensuring that I could dominate at Bible drills and trivia.
Once Baptist, we continued going to church. We went to service on Sunday morning and evening and on Wednesday. My parents started volunteering more and joining committees. And, as I came of age, I did the same. I took an active role as a student leader in the youth group. And as stated earlier, my church commitments grew and grew until eventually I was in almost every aspect of church life. I was there more than home and school on some days. It was, very much so, my life. And that is where my second conversion began.
It started off as a growing distaste for organized religion. From the inside, church is not pretty. I quickly learned that church people are some of the meanest, most two-faced people. The gossip and laziness and complaining that went on started making me rethink my “calling” to youth ministry. To be honest, I was never a hardcore Southern Baptist. I got in trouble for using Rob Bell’s NOOMA videos as lessons, I drank [alcohol], and wasn’t all that fond of potlucks. But for the most part I was able to ignore my misgivings and move on. But the doubt began to pile up, and doubt was not encouraged. In fact, when I expressed it, I was told to stay firm against the devil’s attacks and pray because any doubt was from Satan. I was taught that God didn’t like doubt and I needed to avoid it.
But hiding it just made it worse. And things began to happen that caused my doubts to grow. First, my pastor asked me to resign from every position at my church because he found out that I was gay. My parents made me go to counseling for the same thing. I went from being the golden boy of my church to barely being greeted. That was the final straw. So I left, I tried other churches, even worked at another, larger Baptist church as part of the media team for their televised services. But the doubts were still there and it felt like God had disappeared. I never quite became agnostic, but for a brief period, I was close. I began to doubt if God loved me or was even there because all the Christians — who were supposed to be his ambassadors here on earth — were hateful and judgmental and fake.
How was I supposed to believe in a God who hated me for something that I could not help or change? [Being gay] wasn’t a choice. I never chose it. Why would I choose to ruin my life and make it harder? But through the writings, blogs, and videos of several authors, I began to realize that God was there, welcomed my doubts, cared for and loved me, and was NOTHING like those Christians who claimed to represent him. God is truly love.
And that brings me to where I am now. I am a Christian, I love Jesus, I am gay, and I still do go to church every now and again. But I don’t like organized religion, nor do I need it to know God. I don’t feel guilty if I miss a Sunday. And I don’t claim a denomination — or any label really — though I am often labeled by other Christians as “emergent” or “liberal” in my theology. I simply believe that Christ is love and loves everyone as they are, and I, as his follower, should do the same.
What kind of impact did your conversion have on your friends and family?
My first conversion from Catholic to Baptist really had no effect on me. I was young and largely sheltered from any negative reactions. I do remember that my extended family, who were mostly Catholic, were confused as to why we made the switch. But as far as I know there were no real negative reactions from family or friends. With that said, however, I do remember one negative reaction…from our priest. He was very old-fashioned and we were one of his favorite families. When he heard we were leaving he asked to come visit, and was not happy at all. I don’t remember much other than him using one word that scared the hell out of me: anathema. Basically, he said, we were committing the ultimate sin by leaving the church and we were doomed with no hope, a form of self-imposed excommunication.
My second conversion — when I left the church, and when I came out — was completely different. I lost friends and got many a thinly veiled negative reaction. My pastor, of course, asked me to resign. My discipleship partner, who was a strict Calvinist (and lover of pastors like John Piper and Mark Driscoll), stopped meeting with me when I said I was gay and couldn’t change it. He even argued that he had to question whether I was really saved or not. A close friend said she could no longer include me in her circle of close friends because my lifestyle was not one she approved of. My parents first made me go to counseling to be “healed,” but I grew tired of hiding and denying my homosexuality to keep the peace. Eventually they asked me to move out. And although I am still on good, speaking terms with them, it hurt that they would do that to me. Many friends supported and stood by me and loved me for who I was. They were there for me when I needed to cry or vent. Some even convinced their parents to open their homes to me. But I did lose a few. To this day, I still get texts, emails, and Facebook messages and comments telling me to turn back to God and that every bit of bad luck is because He is trying to get my attention. To this day, I still find it’s hard to deal with the fact that people would change or leave me because of a part of who I am.
What advice would you give someone going through the same experience or contemplating a similar conversion?
1. Always know that it is OK to doubt. No matter what your preachers or Sunday School teachers or anyone else may say, it’s OK and even normal. God welcomes those doubts because it helps us grow in our faith as we look for the answers. Never feel guilty for that.
2. For those who may be gay, or know someone who is gay, I want you to know that God loves you. He doesn’t make mistakes and has not, nor ever will, turn his back on you. It is possible to be a Christian and be gay. Jesus loves and accepts everyone. Those who judge and condemn and hate and say that it’s a choice will have to answer one day for the disobedience of what Christ called one of the most important commandments, love thy neighbor. One day the Church will look back and realize that this issue is just like when they suppressed African-Americans and women and, just as with those issues, they will be ashamed of their wrongdoing. The Church may have turned its back, but Christ never will. So don’t turn from Him.
3. You don’t have to be part of a church to worship God. All that matters is your relationship with Him, and you don’t need a building or a routine service to do that. What you do and how you worship and grow in your faith is between you and Him. And you should never feel bad or wrong for that.
What are three things you have learned in the process?
1. I have learned to live my life with no regrets. I have made mistakes, but I don’t regret them. I made them and learned my lessons, and those lessons and mistakes are part of what have made me the person I am today. And dwelling in the past, and regretting, simply holds you back and keeps from living today to your fullest. God intended us to live full, happy lives. Not lives filled with regret and pain.
2. I don’t have to apologize for who I am, nor should I ever. God made me and loves me, and He doesn’t make mistakes. For those who judge and don’t get to know me, they are wrong. God loves me for my good and bad, my flaws and mistakes, and everything else that makes me me. The people who truly love me will be in my life no matter what I am or do. I don’t need fickle friends or people who say they love me, but show otherwise with actions because they aren’t true friends and won’t be there when you need them the most.
3. My faith is between me and God. I learned that I don’t need a set of rules like in Leviticus or a denomination or even a church building and worship service. You can be Catholic, Baptist, emergent, or a church drop-out and still be a Christian. We worship where and how we feel is best. Being a Christian isn’t about where you go, what you sing, or what “brand” of Christian you are. It’s about whether you follow the basic example Christ gave us in the red letters: love, hope, charity, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. That’s the code of conduct we should live by, not a certain denomination’s or preacher’s ideas.
Thank you for sharing your story, Adam. You can get in touch with Adam on Facebook.
Previous posts in the “conversions” series:
• Trav Fecht: From Contemporary Worship to Liturgy
• Christy: From Fundamentalism to Non-Religious Spirituality
• Ryan Hadley: Christian to Atheist
• David Johndrow: Congregational Church to Charismatic Episcopalian
• Jeremy Myers: From Senior Pastor to Church Dropout
• Mike Wise: Christian to Agnostic to Christian
• Jessica Gavin: Universalist to Seventh-Day Adventist
• Torie Brown Hunt: From Southern Baptist to Mormon