In early January, HONY (Humans Of New York) did a story on Dr. K.C. Bugg that went viral. Level Ground had the privilege of following up with K.C. to hear more about his story at the intersections of faith and sexuality.
Thank you to Jonathan Stoner for such engaging, thoughtful questions on behalf of Level Ground. And a big shoutout to K.C. for sharing with us!
Level Ground (LG): In Justin Lee’s book Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christian’s Debate, he talks about coming out as a young man and the unique challenges of being a young gay man continuing to hold onto his faith in the context of the conservative evangelical church world. He says he didn’t know where he fit in because was “too gay for Christians and not gay enough for the gay community”.
What was your experience like of trying to reconcile your Christianity and your sexuality in the context of your faith community growing up? Who did you talk to when you needed a listening ear?
K.C. Bugg (KB): I was closeted until I got divorced when I was 36. I was too ashamed to talk to anyone about it before that and even a few years after coming out. It takes a while to take off the shame you have felt all your life.
LG: What we have witnessed in our country and in our churches in the last decade, particularly the last year with the rise of President-elect Trump, has led to an increase of political polarization due to seemingly irreconcilable differences over social issues like the morality of homosexuality and gay marriage that are threatening to tear our country and our church communities apart.
Do you think anything can be done to bridge the political and theological divides? Do you think it's possible for people of faith to talk to each other, love and care for each other, and work together in spite of having different, even opposing, stances on sexuality?
KB: Yes, and I’m very grateful for straight allies who take leadership in the discussion. I believe the single thing that will bring the two groups together will be for people who believe that homosexuality is a sin to get to know gay individuals. Unfortunately, the history of judgement, shame, and condemnation can prevent those relationships from forming. It just doesn’t feel safe.
LG: There are 6 passages in the Bible, often referred to as the clobber passages by gay affirming Christians. Many evangelical Christians who argue that homosexuality is a sin point to these passages as evidence that homosexuality and/or gay marriage are incompatible with Christian faith & practice.
What do you do with those passages as a gay Christian? What is your relationship to the Bible now?
KB: My relationship with the Bible has evolved over the years. I don’t take everything in there as literal as I once did. I try to read all of it in the context that it was written, including those 6 clobber verses. Those verses used to haunt me and were so confusing because I knew in my heart that God didn’t have a beef with me being gay. I feel so many people worship the Bible instead of the God that is being written about. I’m going to take my cue from what God has shown me to be true in my heart.
LG: “Love the sinner, hate the sin” has been a popular catchphrase evangelical Christians have been using for years to describe their posture towards the LGBTQ community. Have you heard Baptist minister Tony Campolo’s rebuttal? He updates Jesus’s message on taking the plank out of our own eye to explain that, "Jesus never says, 'Love the sinner, but hate his sin.' Jesus says, 'Love the sinner, and hate your own sin.” Oftentimes it seems like Christians are great at hating sin - especially what we deem to be other people’s “sins” - but struggle with loving “sinners”, ourselves included.
What do you say to evangelical Christians who use the expression “Love the sinner, hate the sin”?
KB: I would tell them that it’s not that simple. It’s never that simple. I’d also encourage them to get to know someone who is gay or a gay couple before they deem their love as invalid and sinful.
LG: We’ve touched on this a little bit already, but when it comes to questions about being gay in the United States of America, it almost goes without saying that a big part of the debate for many Christian denominations is over the issue of performing same-sex weddings and internal debates about receiving gay couples and whether or not to allow openly gay church members to serve in any capacity in the church, even for gay congregants who are Side B and celibate. To many traditional faith-based groups and churches, gay marriage and gay congregants are perceived as a threat, a clear and present danger not only to the traditional form of marriage but also to the so-called “purity” of the church. Have you experienced or witnessed this?
What would your advice be to gay Christians attending theologically and socially conservative churches who have a heart to serve in ministry but have had the door to ministry closed to them?
KB: I haven’t experienced this personally because once I came out I began attending churches that were gay-affirming. I’m fortunate to have lived in areas where those congregations are readily available. My heart goes out to those who live in areas where such communities of faith don’t exist. I would encourage those who want to be involved in ministry to look for ways outside the church walls to minister to others. God can use you anytime and anywhere. You don’t have to do it through a local church. Just be open to where God might be leading you.
Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with your family and how it has changed or evolved over your life, especially regarding your faith and sexuality?
KB: My relationship with my family regarding my sexuality continues to evolve very slowly. I’m sure they would rather me be straight and married. When I first came out to them 14 years ago, they were pretty upset and some were worried about me going to hell. Today it's more like they tolerate it, which is way different from affirming and accepting. It’s very don’t ask don’t tell, which is sad because they are choosing to not be a part of my life.
LG: You’ve said that when you moved from Los Angeles to NYC you had a hunch that you would run into Brandon Stanton, the creator of Humans of New York and sure enough you did. How did this come about and why were you so sure that it would?
Can you give us a little of the backstory?
KB: I started following the Humans of New York blog before I moved to NYC because that is the thing I love most about the city—the people who live here. Not sure how I knew that I would meet Brandon, but I always had a strong hunch that I would at some point. So much so that I already knew what I would be talking to him about. When he approached me in the park that day I smiled and told him that I’d been waiting to meet him. It felt like a God-moment.
Now that the Humans of New York story has gone viral, have people been contacting you who might be navigating a similar path to the one you have walked?
KB: They have! I have appreciated the opportunity to remind some folks that they are loved just the way they are and to stay true to their authentic, God-given self. What I have found most inspiring are all the affirming comments that people are leaving.
What is your advice or hope for others who are walking this challenging road of integrating their faith and sexuality, especially in the context of non-affirming families or faith communities?
KB: For anyone struggling to accept themselves, it must feel like a warm blanket. I’m grateful and humbled to think that my story has sparked such encouragement and discussion.
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