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The Valley of the Shadow of Death

By Fernando Alcántar ~

Facebook keeps making friend suggestions of people who de-friended me when I came out of the closet and To the Cross and Back was published. Understanding how the Christian mind works, I get it—they are afraid of my story.

Chapter 14: “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” is one of the hardest passages I have ever written. Leaving (what I believed to be) Christ and Christianity was so difficult that it literally drove me insane, taking me to a place so dark and painful it is hard to believe I made it out alive—the story forever bleeding on those pages.

When I came out of the closet as both atheist and gay, I came in the most vulnerable state I had ever been to the people who meant the most in my life. I visited people around the country, spending time with them, laughing, drinking, joking, crying, and at the end of the conversation I told them where I was, that I loved them, and that I wanted to stay part of their community. And over and over I was told that I was going to go to hell, and that God told them they couldn’t stay in community with me anymore now that I was in darkness. The first time I heard this it shred me inside. I was limping my way into a terrifying confession, coming out of a closet very hard to come out of after I had been such a high profile Christian leader, to the people I believed to be a “close friend.” After the 4th or 5th, I started to expect it. By the 7th or so, I started not to care. I was coming out for me now, and not for anyone else. Though some were shocked but accepting, I felt horrified about the Christianity I used to be a part of.

Once I came out to my family and closest friends— and knowing word was going to start spreading, I decided to film a coming-out-video so I could share the story in my own way. I planned its release. Three weeks before, I posted a message on Facebook to all my friends in the Foursquare denomination that I served as a state leader. Two weeks before, I thanked everyone with Mexico Outreach and Azusa Pacific University that I served as an international missionary. And a week before, I thanked everyone in the United Methodist Church that I served as a denominational leader. I thanked them for the time they spent with me, the lessons and support; and the response was very sweet each time. And then I posted the video… and all hell broke loose.

I was nervous to the point of an ulcer that night. I remember it so well. It was a Friday night because my intention was to shut down my computer and not care about the world until Monday. I was so anxious that I felt my intestines would burst. I was alone crying in my living room, trembling, gasping for air looking for an excuse not to do it. When I finally pressed SEND, a huge realization came to me. I’ve heard some people say they felt peace when “hitting send” because everything was finally out. But for me it was a state of sad clarity because I feel I realized how they would respond. I knew that it would be the end of the relationship we had. I know they’d say they loved me, that they’d pray for me, but that I’d be on the naughty list and they’d no longer take me seriously.

I thought I was going to loose my mind. I left and went to the nearest liquor store and got a few rounds of the strongest thing I could think of and downed one, two, three of my prescription pain killers hoping to ease a little bit of the pain and anguish I felt. Getting completely wasted was the only way I could calm down, stop shaking, and prevent my insides from bursting. I knew I hadn’t just come out of the closet—I had dropped a nuke on that mother fucker!

Come Monday morning, my Facebook wall was filled with messages of shock, patronizing “I’m praying for your soul” messages, some support with a nice “you’ll see the light later” tones, and some wholehearted unequivocal love. In the private messages they told me to fuck off, that I would burn in hell, that I was unnatural, that god was disgusted with me, and that I was a disappointment.

Just a few days earlier, a young man from New York whom I loved dearly, sent me a message telling me I was one of the people who had most impacted him in the world, that he owed me an incredible debt, and that I was his role model. Nothing had happened between then and now. But when the video came he says, “I said that before I saw your video,” that he took everything back, that I was a traitor, and that he was ashamed of me. Nothing had happened in between, except me coming out.

But it was in the deafening silence from the larger number of loving Christians who just a few days ago had declared their love for me that I found the spirit of the true Christian culture I had been a part of. Activity online decreased exponentially from “friends,” as it did in real life. But what was I expecting?

As a Christian friend recently said,

And I thanked him for a candor most of them didn’t have the balls to accept.

I wrote my book for THEM, and now I wish I hadn’t done it. I had a love for them in mind that they’ve proven to be far from deserving. That community of Christians showed they care more for a Christian story than for my humanity and wellbeing. A former close friend from the cult I was a part of in Mexico said she didn’t need to read my book because she saw the “live version,” that I was sick for being gay, and that “when you crawl back with your tail between your legs… I may read that one.”

There are only two things Christians can do to diminish the reality of my story: throw insults at my identity and intelligence, or try their darnest to ignore it altogether and say a quick prayer for my lost soul. My journey To the Cross and Back is a threat to the weak foundation of their faith.

Some loving Christian friends reading this will probably try to apologize for those “other Christians” who "don’t understand compassion like they do." But for those on the side of Reason, you understand, we don’t love and stay by the side of brothers and sisters on this planet because “it is written”—we simply love because we can and we think because we must. I am proud to be a part of your community. The next chapter in my story will be written for you—those who appreciate humanity when it happens, not only when it suits a personal version of truth. For you, humanity is truth, and that is a love I want to be a part of.

Fernando Alcántar is a former denominational leader for the Foursquare Church in Mexico and the United Methodist Church in the U.S., international missionary leader for Azusa Pacific University, now a gay atheist activist and author of To the Cross and Back. Follow him on Twitter @FernandoMosheh, and read more on his website at