Throughout the Easter Season, we are hearing some of the stories of people in the Kippax community about how they are living their “next chapter”, following on from the unfinished resurrection story in Mark 16. This is Joel Pearce’s “chapter”
Good morning everyone, and thank you for allowing me this opportunity to share with you what the next chapter of the Easter story means for me.
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Joel Pearce, and I’m a horticulturist by trade. I work in a nursery and run my own garden maintenance business.
I’ve been here at Kippax for about a year and a half now, and I came here during a time of great change in my life.
In October 2013, my wife and I decided to end our marriage after being separated for three months. It was at this time after having battled depression, anxiety, self loathing and internalised homophobia that I chose to come out as a gay person and begin my journey toward self acceptance.
I have been involved in church my whole life, and 11 years ago when I moved to Canberra as a 16 year old I started attending Pentecostal church, where I became very much aware of my homosexuality. I confided in the some of the youth leaders about how I thought I might be gay, and I heeded their advice to undergo an exorcism and a program of reparative therapy, as I was told this would ‘heal’ me of the apparent illness of homosexuality. I was told many times that to acknowledge one’s homosexuality is a sin tantamount to blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, and that the consequences of such a sin would be an eternity in hell.
Now, I don’t have the time here this morning to detail step by step what happened from this point on, but what I can share with you is that these experiences as a 16 year old started me on a painful 10 year journey marked by depression, anxiety, self loathing and internalised homophobia.
This journey lead me to believe a lot of untruths about myself as a person. These untruths forced me to live in denial for many years, and also lead me to pursue a 7 year heterosexual relationship and 3 year marriage in a vain attempt to be ‘healed’ of my homosexuality and become heterosexual.
When my marriage ended, and I came out, the church that I was attending prior to Kippax was not accepting of me or of the struggle that I had been through.
I was involved in this church in leading the singing, m’c ing the Sunday service and in other ministry groups. The pastor refused to accept me as a gay person, and gave me an ultimatum. He told me that if I went back in the closet, and did not proceed with my divorce, I would be able to continue in my role. If I chose to live as an openly gay person, and get a divorce, I would be permanently stripped of my ministry roles, and treated as a non Christian by the church’s leadership.
I chose to leave this church in favour of a church, that would accept me for me, without strings attached, and this is how I came to be involved here at Kippax.
Since October 2013, when my marriage ended and I came out, I have reconciled what it means for me to be both openly gay and openly Christian, I have come to understand that for me the two are not mutually exclusive, but simply facts about who I am as a person.
Since that time, I have also been writing a book which details my 10 year battle for self acceptance. Off the straight and narrow: my journey toward a life of authenticity is nearing completion, and has been a very cathartic and affirming process for me.
Since October 2013, I have also made some wonderful new friendships with people who have gone through similar experiences as myself through an online Christian network called Freedom 2 be. Friendships, which have helped me understand that my experiences are relatively common, and that there is always support available.
Since October 2013, I had for the first time, the wonderful experience of failing in love for the first time, and experiencing what others often take for granted.
Having this relationship helped to me heal, and to understand that the lies I was told by my former church regarding homosexuality and same sex relationships, are just that, lies.
So, having been through all that I have, and having come to a place of genuine peace about it all, what’s next?
This question of what’s next for me, also ties in beautifully with the theme we have been exploring over the Easter period, what’s the next chapter in the Easter story.
As Gordon shared with us on Easter Sunday, Mark’s Gospel has a rather obscure and unfinished end. ‘Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.’ Mark 16:8
I feel as though I can very much relate to these women in Mark’s gospel. I know what it means to be afraid, and to feel like you’re only option is to run away and not face the reality of what’s in front of you.
However, it has been in my times of recent deep reflection that I have come to understand that for me the next chapter in the Easter story, and indeed the next chapter in my life, is about letting go of fear, and allowing the resurrected Jesus Christ to write in and through me the next chapter.
If I were to write the next chapter of Mark’s Gospel, I would frame it something like this: Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid…
But after a time of quiet reflection they let go of their fear, they let go of the lie they held onto that Jesus was dead, and instead chose to believe that he had risen in great power and victory over sin and death.
For me, the next chapter in the Easter story is essentially about letting go and letting God. Jesus’ death and resurrection allows me to let go of fear, depression, anxiety, internalised homophobia, and self loathing.
Jesus death and resurrection allows me to let go of the labels that were imposed upon me. Demon-possessed, abomination, sick, perverted, a danger to children, a blasphemer of the Holy Spirit, have been removed and replaced with new truthful and life affirming statements. Blessed, infinitely loved, child of the most high God, are a few of these new truths that I have embraced.
One of the biggest lies that I have let go of in my life, was the lie that I believed for many years that I cannot be both gay and a Christian, and that in order to be a genuine Christian I must continually deny and reject the truth about my sexuality.
When I came to understand that my sexual orientation was not a choice, or a defect but simply an innate fact about who I am (such as being tall) a great sense of freedom and empowerment came over me. When I came to understand, that I am no different from anyone else, in that I want to love and be loved, and that through no fault or choice of my own I can’t have this with a woman, I let go of so much baggage, and began to truly walk in freedom and truth.
Jesus declares in John 8:32:
‘You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.
I stand before you today as a living breathing example of this.
So, moving forward, how do I live out what the next chapter in the Easter story means for me? What affect does this have on the people around me.
This is a very pertinent question. The sad reality that I have come to know is that here in Australia, the lucky country, the great South land of the Holy Spirit, we have the highest rate of youth suicide in the world. The leading cause of death for men between the age of 15-44 is suicide, and that young people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex have a five times higher risk of developing a mental illness and committing suicide than that of their heterosexual peers.
It is also a tragic reality that the rates of drug addiction and homelessness are much higher in the LGBTI community, than they are in the rest of the population.
These statistics break my heart, and forbid me from remaining silent and turning a blind eye and a deaf ear.
For me the Gospel, and the story of Easter are the winds in my sails, my drive, and my passion, to see these statistics turned around and no longer the truth.
For me, the next chapter of the Easter story is not just about letting God of fear and letting God shape something new in me, it is very much about making a personal commitment to be a part of the solution, and not a part of the problem.
For me, the gospel is not the story of Jesus, it’s Jesus himself. The gospel is Jesus giving of himself for the benefit and salvation of all humankind. For me the gospel is Jesus engaging with a broken, and hurting humanity with no other agenda that to lift up and set free.
This is a message that I believe with all my heart will save lives, and will prevent much heartache and distress.
My heart’s desire is to see the horrifying statistics of suffering for LGBTI be nothing more than the truth of times gone by, and not the reality of the present, or the likelihood of the events and reality of the future.
The next chapter of the Easter story for me in the context of my Christian walk, and my sense of call is to let go of fear and take hold of the truth of God’s transcendent love for all humanity and his unyielding desire to see all people regardless of age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, education, background or beliefs come into right relationship with God, and find their sense of belonging in his kingdom.