Aaron B. Jones-Wade knew from a very young age that he felt something different toward men. Pious during his youth, he struggled with his attractions, yet eventually came out to his mother -- twice. The first time, she kicked him out. After he tried "playing straight" for a while, he came out a second time; she reluctantly accepted the truth.
Now a minister, Pastor Jones-Wade has not only embraced his sexual orientation; he also assists other gay and bisexual men and women who want to stay connected to their spiritual side. As head of The Community Church of Washington, D.C., with his husband as "first gentleman," Jones-Wade shares how gay and bisexual men can connect their spirituality and sexuality.
You recently conducted a workshop about spirituality and sexuality. What's the connection?
Everybody has a sexual identity and a spiritual identity, but I learned from the workshop that the young seem to experience a disconnect between sexuality and spirituality. Many participants felt that spirituality meant religion and institution and that if you are spiritual, then you have to have a certain doctrine of belief. And because in most doctrines homosexuality is considered "wrong," they had detached from their spirituality, since what was most important for them was the sexuality piece. They felt that they could express and gain some level of enjoyment and enlightenment through their sexual practices: "It feels good when I have an orgasm. Therefore this is my spirituality."
I tried to show them that there doesn't have to be a disconnect. You, as an individual, have both a spiritual and sexual side that lives inside your body. At the end of the day, be able to walk and remember that God loves you and that it's okay to have sexual experiences in a healthy, holistic way.
How did you talk to the participants about walking that line, when traditional doctrine often says that we're not supposed to have sex before marriage?
That's religious institution. The workshop wasn't about giving folks permission to have sex. People are going to have sex regardless. My premise was never to even start there. My premise was to prepare them for sexual expression. If you choose to masturbate, that's a sexual expression. If you choose to engage in sex with another person, that's a sexual expression. Even if you don't have sex, that's a sexual expression.
What about HIV/AIDS? Do you address that in your workshop?
Absolutely! That's a part of it. I believe that looking at healthy ways to express one's sexuality is an important piece to respecting one's spirituality. Not to say that folks who have unprotected sex are not spiritually inclined, but if you honor your temple, you will say, "Let me practice safe sex."
What can young gay men do to reconnect with the church, and what can churches do to bring them back in?
The young male has to get into a space where he can be honest and authentic with himself -- God already knows him. And then find a place that will allow him to grow from right where he is. You can't say that all mosques, temples and churches are homophobic.
You have to do some research and talk to people. Folks who are Jewish or Christian or Muslim might be monotheists, but we're not monolithic. We don't all believe the same thing. I believe in Christ, but I see Christ from this side. Someone else may see him in another way.
The leadership has to make a commitment to start somewhere. It may not be jumping into the deep end; it may be starting in the shallow end and getting their feet wet. The church has become so heavenly bound that we're no earthly good.
We need to have some honest conversations around sexuality. We don't have to start with homosexuality -- just start talking about sex and puberty. But as long as the church doesn't talk about sexuality, folks are going to continue to die. They are going to continue to run away from the church. Agree to a step that the church can take as a whole to move in the direction of consensus.