I’m a cult leader. Unsaved. A sinner in desperate need of repentance. An unwise, immature good-for-nothing.

I’ve been called a lot of things since cofounding YOB; it’s been an eventful couple years. An eventful couple weeks especially.

Hate comments don’t affect me like they used to. And they used to tear me up. My heart used to plummet, and I wanted to respond to every vitriolic tweet and email and comment and convince anyone who didn’t get it — didn’t get me — that no, really, I’m a good guy too, just like you, regardless our theological or philosophical disagreements, and you need to understand this or I can’t have peace.

I just couldn’t go to bed knowing someone out there thought I was misguided or evil.

Now, I don’t care as much.

(I still care a little.)

These days, I look to my left and right and see people — brothers — intimately journeying alongside me beyond a blog, arms wrapped around me, prayers uttered with me and over me, over and over, with Jesus at our helm. They actually know me, and they remind me who I am; I’d be lost without them.

I take a breath. A couple deep ones. And I’m okay. The escalated heartbeats ease and sweaty palms cease.

What was meant to inflict or derail does not land, does not accomplish.

It’s taken me 31 years of getting here on this journey, though. Wherever “here” is.

~ ~ ~

My Jesus journey started as early as I can remember. I grew up in a Christian home and don’t remember a time not going to church, not going to VBS in the summer, not having family devotions in the living room.

Not praying, not reading my Bible, not inherently knowing I was made for a purpose and loved by God.
Jesus was everywhere, and at some point in my upbringing I invited him into my story. I don’t recall the initial moment, though I do remember all the other subsequent moments of paranoia. Asking him over and over to save me, not to forget me, to make sure I was in his Book of Life and not any other book.

All this before I even began to process, understand, and accept my sexuality. My fallenness. My hopeless propensity to lust and envy and worry and sin.

It’s fair to say that my Jesus journey started more as my culture’s than my own. My parents’. My Christian school’s. My church’s.

Day by day, week by week, I hopped on school buses and rode in the family minivan from Jesus-realm to Jesus-realm because that was my life, it was expected of me, and I had no reason to think or do otherwise.
Middle school saw my first and worst drifting away from Jesus. A thousand-mile move from the only home I’d ever known left me bitter and abandoned for a couple years. Everything that was once sure and lovely turned uncertain and rotten.

How do you still trust a God who can — and quite often does — sweep the rug out from under you?

High school sapped me of my strength and personality. Bullied for my acne and quietness, I didn’t want to be seen by others. Friendship eluded me, or maybe I eluded it. Especially among my fellow males. I sexualized my classmates from a distance and didn’t dare approach them as an equal. Another boy in their midst.

A lot changed from a Jesus-filled childhood to tarnished adolescence.

And yet Jesus survived. Took root in my heart. Started to grow. When I had no male friends and couldn’t tell my parents or anyone else about my daily struggles, sexual and otherwise, I had him. I read my Bible and prayed and journaled and clawed and climbed back to him as high school turned to college and as college turned to the great unknown of adulthood.

I moved three thousand miles away to live with someone I met off the Internet, and I learned what it was to live with men and make my Jesus journey mine and mine alone. Not my parents’. Not my Christian school’s. Not my church’s or my upbringing’s.

I found my own church, joined a small group, got baptized at 25, worked at several Christian camps, and put better into practice a faith instilled from childhood. Talked about Jesus with kids and served alongside them in nursing homes and soup kitchens.

I started writing more unabashedly about my journey with faith and sexuality, and I realized I was far from alone amid an often disconnected Church.

Over the ensuing years, I experienced a disconnect between White American Republican Jesus and one who often looked more like a Democrat. Someone intensely focused on the poor and orphaned and widowed and outcast.

I certainly experienced a disconnect between the American church that I felt ignored me and this Jesus who relentlessly followed me from coast to coast and chapter to chapter.

I gave up on church for a while. Social anxieties aside, I couldn’t find my belonging place.

I hit the road for a year. I experienced Jesus in the mega-churches of Hillsong New York and the mini-churches of Scum of the Earth Denver. Saw him so clearly evidenced in people’s homes and coffee shops. In prayer and story.

This Jesus, I realized — he was everywhere. Whether we chose to take off our blinders and see him in the least likely of places or not.

Finding community in church has been a lifelong struggle. The church isn’t perfect. The church is actually quite awful in many ways, and I understand why folks — especially the LGBT+ community — give up on the church.

But instead of growing deeper jaded and spiteful, I want to do something.

I used to think church and community needed to be served for me on a silver platter. Now I realize I am the Church. I am the Body.

As a classic Casting Crowns song goes:

If we are the Body,

why aren’t his arms reaching?

Why aren’t his hands healing?

Why aren’t his words teaching?

I have a role to play in this story. As do you. If something is broken, I can fix it. You can fix it. We can aim toward restoration. We can join forces and recruit other body parts to help, too.

We need not wait around for millennia and complain and complain and complain. We need not play the victim any longer.

We need not bury our talent in the sand as a searching world hungers for our stories.

~ ~ ~

Your Other Brothers was born in 2015, and I’ve seen a lot of restoration already occur in this community. Previously broken relationships with the church and family and Jesus himself have found new life.

The struggle doesn’t disappear with Jesus. But his presence moves mountains. Shadows turn to the light, and lepers find arms wrapped around them.

Impossible things have already been done in YOB and will continue to be done in Jesus’ name. Hope and humility and brotherhood and courage and vulnerability are spreading.

YOB hasn’t been a perfect venture. Mistakes have happened. Miscommunication and unmatched expectations and people leaving the boat to swim another direction for various reasons.

Mistakes will continue to be made.

I am not an infallible leader. The critics are correct; I am indeed a sinner in desperate need of redemption. I recognize this daily.

I’ve never seen myself as much a leader; I still can’t accept it some days. That quiet isolated kid with acne and secret fantasies, a leader? A leader for dozens and hundreds of people — men — around the world, no less?

It’s been a long learning process, leading this community and ministry. The larger YOB grows, the louder it gets in here.

You’re not conservative enough.

You’re not progressive enough.

You shouldn’t call ourselves “gay.”

You shouldn’t use “SSA” anymore.

Just accept your sexuality.

Just ignore the culture.

I liked things here better before.

I’ve heard that if you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing nobody. I’ve never experienced that truer than the last few weeks.

I can honestly say I’m doing my best. I quit an excellent paying full-time job last summer to pursue YOB full(ish)-time, and I have no higher work priority thanks to our faithful Patreon supporters. Of posting blogs and recording podcasts and shooting videos and otherwise telling stories in diverse, dynamic mediums to reach even more searching people.

Sculpting a community in the process.

I communicate often with our other authors, and we’re always talking about how to improve YOB, amplify our Patreon’s Facebook community, and otherwise grow in the healthiest way possible.

We’re shoring things up behind the scenes, establishing a leadership team with a more cohesive spiritual foundation and defined outlook on sexuality. Over the coming months, this will hopefully translate to a stronger blog, podcast, video channel, and whatever other storytelling ventures we pursue moving forward.

We won’t please everybody. We’ll certainly offend many. And I’m totally fine with that. I’ll be called “cult leader” every single day if it helps just one person find Jesus through the rubble.

At the end of the day, there’s room at this Table for quite a number of folks: liberals and conservatives and singles and marrieds and “gay” and “SSA” and queer and bi and straight and men and women and genderqueer and believers and would-be believers of all stripes.

If someone wants even a hint of Jesus, I want him to find our community and an open chair at the Table just for him. I want her to realize she’s not alone in her messy pursuit of this same Jesus we’ve discovered. This Jesus who calms the chaos and loves the loveless.

I need this Jesus now more than ever, need him to provide just what I need. Not a surplus, not a drought.

But enough.

I’m realizing now more than ever has given me just the right amount.

The right brothers.

The right church.

The right pastor.

The right city.

The right home.

The right ministry.

I’m thankful for all who have joined me — us — on this wild and winding Jesus journey. It will continue to be a work-in-progress. It will never “arrive.”

Ultimately, YOB will be whatever we all make of it

For as long as YOB exists and I remain its editor, I will aim to place the name of Jesus at our center. The point on the horizon this ship is constantly sailing toward.

Not our sexuality.

Not our friendships.

Not “community.”

But our Savior.

This Jesus. His name is above all names. He guides my steps and days. He leads this community like a north star in the night. He brings purpose to the void, and He is all I have to live for; without him, I have — indeed, am — nothing.

Call it a “new direction” or a clearer translation of how I’ve seen YOB since the start: a community desperate for Jesus. For more of him in our lives. For the world to know him, too.

My 31-year Jesus journey leads me here. Wherever “here” is. Broken on the floor. Echoes of the past ringing in my ears. Doubts for the future always shadowing my vision no matter how many tears I blink away.

And yet his helping hand reaches me. Lifts me to my feet. Beckons me to pick up my cross once more — like before, like always — and follow him.

Because if we are the Body, why aren’t his feet going?

Where has your Jesus journey led you? Have you struggled with integration in the church? When have you felt Jesus help you or let you down?

About Post Author

    37 Comments
    • Reply Bradley Joel Morton

      16 July 2018, 2:29 pm

      “Where has your Jesus journey led you? Have you struggled with integration in the church? When have you felt Jesus help you or let you down?”
      For many years I blamed God (and Jesus) for what fallible men had done, I walked away from church and swore I would never go back I blamed God for my SSA and for David’s death. I blamed God for so much prejudice in the church and that I would always be an outsider.
      Then a funny thing happened: I had a near death experience, one timed to occur exactly on the anniversary of David’s death. I was totally infirmed and confined to a wheelchair. My mind had been totally erased. I had to depend on the God that I despised just to begin to walk again. He began restoring my memories, including all the ones that had been repressed and forgotten. I had no choice in the matter, but this time I dealt with my past from a Christian perspective.
      It isn’t easy to trust the people you grew to hate for so long. Most of them have accepted me as family. God then did me a huge favor: He showed me where David’s grave was. It was so I could begin to grieve for him. I refused to do so at the time of his death. Almost all of my sexual problems could be attributed to my not grieving his death. Then He gave me hope, by revealing that he had a brother and his name. It was so I could contact him; he is a pastor who gave me scripture from Matthew 22:32 (…God is not god of the dead, but of the living.)
      I recently got baptized. I got a massive applause as I came up from the water; this from the people who know what I struggle with daily. I have family connections that I did not have before. God restores all things. He came for me because I wouldn’t go to Him.
      Accept Christ now! Don’t wait until you are nearly dead to find Him! He gave me the second chance that I didn’t deserve. He might not be so generous with others.

    • Reply James Thomas

      16 July 2018, 4:51 pm

      Hi Tom,
      Thank you for sharing and writing this post. I can really appreciate how you are able to look back and reflect on how everything that you have experienced throughout your life has lead you to your current state and that you are able to really leverage those experiences in fulfilling the purpose God has for you. It seems like you have a clearer vision of what God is helping you to accomplish through YOB and it is very apparent in everything you do with that God is for you and working through you to help this community continue to grow and keep focused on Jesus himself and not so much on the commonalities which brought us all together. I hope one day to have that same level of clarity and purpose in my own life. I’m excited to see what you have yet to do. Much love brother.

      • Reply Thomas Mark Zuniga

        18 July 2018, 10:55 am

        Nothing is wasted, James. I’m fully convinced of this. I’ve seen too much brokenness and disrepair see redemption’s light ever to think otherwise. Even the struggles of today have this hope thanks to God’s provision in years past. I hope you indeed find this clarity and purpose from God. Keep striving for him, brother. He is worth the climb.

    • Reply Shaq

      16 July 2018, 5:04 pm

      This is great! I don’t ever comment, but have been reading posts and comments (which I often also avoid) and I’ve been encouraged a ton by how you all respond so well to criticism, cynicism, and impatient unkindness. Thanks for encouraging us to slow down, look to our own hearts and failures, and respect how others live without freaking out about it all. I’m more mature because of all this stuff, so THANK YOU!

    • Reply John Stevens

      16 July 2018, 6:37 pm

      Hey Tom! That is an excellent summation. And you are not going to go wrong in trying to keep Jesus in the center. When you fail or move off course, just move back to him. And I love your phrase about just one finding him in the rubble. It has got to be more than that as there are so very many hurting and despoiled, but even one is precious. I join you in that. My journey in this community has not been without a fair share of rubble. I have wandered off at least a couple of times out of frustration or bewilderment. The first “friend” i made here is now apparently in prison for a sex crime. That was difficult, to say the least. But I have established many strong friendships here that helped me see Jesus more clearly and clarified my vision of my broken self. I will always be grateful to you for having the courage and vision to make that possible.

      • Reply Thomas Mark Zuniga

        18 July 2018, 10:51 am

        We will fall or move off course often. I will certainly fall or move off course often. Thank you for that reminder that we, and I, can always recenter.
        Keep pushing through the rubble, John. Grateful to have you among us.

      • Reply Thomas Mark Zuniga

        18 July 2018, 10:51 am

        We will fall or move off course often. I will certainly fall or move off course often. Thank you for that reminder that we, and I, can always recenter.
        Keep pushing through the rubble, John. Grateful to have you among us.

    • Reply usnstang

      16 July 2018, 7:01 pm

      “At the end of the day, there’s room at this Table for quite a number of folks: liberals and conservatives and singles and marrieds and “gay” and “SSA” and queer and bi and straight and men and women and genderqueer and believers and would-be believers of all stripes.”
      Damn. Powerful words here. This expression of faith is the first time I have ever read anything that made someone like me feel included, wanted and seen here at YOB.
      I am liking this story and where you are going and growing.
      Keep your stick on the ice.
      daemon

    • Reply bluzhawk

      16 July 2018, 7:32 pm

      Great post, church could sure learn a lot from your post about Christ being the center in the face of differences. This journey has helped me realize that brothers who love Jesus, whom God has brought in my life, are one of His greatest blessings. Brothers & sisters in whom Christ is, are holy and they help me see Jesus better. If faith is a heart issue of loving the truth, I’m not going to let my understanding, which always proves itself limited, separate me from those God has given. Everyday we can help those in our lives on their journey into Christ, but only as we’re in each others’ lives.

    • Reply Bradley S

      17 July 2018, 1:08 am

      Tom. I love you and the work you’ve done, but I’m struggling to reconcile a leadership team with what drew me to YOB in the first place.
      There’s room at the table….but at the head of the table there’s a bunch of Protestants and/or evangelicals? Is there no room at the head for Catholicism, Mormonism, Adventism, Jehovah’s Witnesses? Did not the savior himself choose men from various backgrounds to form his leadership teams of 12 and 70?
      To make it clear — I’ve never wanted to lead or blog,
      However, a leadership team that is not inclusive of minorities within Christianity ultimately further drives a wedge, in my opinion, between blogger and reader, between leader and follower. Between author and patron. I always had felt welcome as a Mormon before in the community (with the exception of two fellow patrons), but I feel staying connected to YOB would have been the first step in me having a scarlet M plastered on my chest…which, combined with financial issues, is ultimately why I left.
      I’ve always loved what you guys put out. The content has been amazing and the friendships have been incredible. And maybe it’s my past wounds talking, but I struggle with this leadership team talk.

      • Reply Thomas Mark Zuniga

        18 July 2018, 11:05 am

        Bradley. Brother. I feel you. I really do. As someone who has supported us from nearly the start, your perspective carries much weight. I can see how this leadership team would cause concern on your end.
        My hope is that you’ll continue to give us a try. That our posts and podcasts and videos will continue to resonate and give voice to elements of your own story. Ultimately, YOB would no longer exist without this particular leadership team. I certainly couldn’t exist here without them alongside. I hope with this surer foundation in place, YOB can not only survive but thrive. We’re still learning as we go, and I hope you’ll continue to journey with us.
        No hard feelings whatsoever about leaving the community if that’s indeed the healthiest move for you. I respect that decision. I want the best for you, brother. Thanks always for being real, Bradley.

    • Reply Ashley Lavergne

      17 July 2018, 9:51 am

      Loved this post! Powerful stuff man and I can’t wait to see what’s ahead

    • Reply Paul Miller

      17 July 2018, 8:20 pm

      At 64, I am discovering that my journey has taken me to places I still cannot believe I stepped into. I did find myself being part of a ministry that took on cult-ish overtones…and experienced great pain and difficulty to leave it. I did discuss my sexual struggles with seemingly trusted friends, only to experience censure and “Christian discipline.” I have read your story and ached; I have also read your story and rejoiced. So much more is now in place for us as a community of pilgrims than there was for others of my generation…what a merciful heavenly Father we walk with! I am so very, very glad you are my brother. I am carrying you in my heart today in my daily prayers, and giving much thanks to God for the astonishing courage, wisdom, creativity, and godliness that has enabled you to work with other like-minded brothers to fashion this place of community. Thank you for letting me belong here! I would probably join others at your retreat to rise and embrace you to my heart…even as I am doing now.

    • Reply Marshall R

      18 July 2018, 12:55 am

      Tom,
      I have never been called a cult leader or most of the other insults hurled at you lately. I think the worst thing anyone said about me was that I had a boyfriend when I didn’t. Still, I can appreciate a little of the difficulty you have faced leading YOB.
      Thanks for pressing forward instead of giving up! There are still many lonely people out there who need what we have!

    • Reply Kendall Pipes

      19 July 2018, 2:13 am

      @Tom,
      Thank you for this thought provoking and truly inspiring post. This is some of your best writing I’ve seen yet. There is strength in your vulnerability and power in the way you boldly uphold the Turing of God’s word and the standard of this community.
      Since I found this place over a year ago, I have not felt so connected to all of you as I do right now. Family fights! That’s a part of it. And i can feel the passion each of us has for following Jesus and pleasing the father. May that passion lead us forward in the week’s months and years to come.

      • Reply Thomas Mark Zuniga

        19 July 2018, 10:06 am

        Gosh thanks so much, Kendall. Encouraged and blessed by your words. I echo those prayers for passion and direction as YOB continues onward. Glad to have you here among us, brother!

    • Reply Ryan Burger

      24 July 2018, 7:24 am

      For as long as YOB exists and I remain its editor, I will aim to place the name of Jesus at our center. The point on the horizon this ship is constantly sailing toward.
      Not our sexuality.
      Not our friendships.
      Not “community.”
      But our Savior.
      ———————————-
      Tom, I loved this part! Neither my friendships nor my community can bear the weight of all I have wrapped up in me–all the longing, all the heartache, all the hope, all the neediness. I am such a high-maintenance person; AMAZINGLY God loves high-maintenance people. But we can’t sustain each other, at least not so simply. We need a savior who can bear the full weight of all of that.
      As always, thanks for all the blood, sweat, and tears you’ve invested here, Tom.

    • Reply Dan Perron

      25 July 2018, 7:16 am

      Well Tom, as usual, you never fail to surprise me by your willingness to be open to possibility– the that is moved by God’s Holy Spirit. Your grace-filled message inspires me to respond with a huge AMEN my brother. Walk in His grace and remember that being accountable is not the same as being wishy-washy or vision-less. You can only lead if you have a vision: a vision of Christ and of His Church. I love that all Christians are welcome here. I love that I can speak from my experience of Church, life, community and being SSA or gay in identity and still be heard. That is the richness and beauty of this community. If it means that some are offended because you refuse to move away from your vision…so be it. Most of us have come here because of your inclusive vision. Many of us have been hurt by other Christian visions that rejected us. Here I am embraced. Like you, I am a sinner, called to follow Jesus. I don’t do it perfectly but every day I pick up my cross and follow Him. Thank you for inviting me and welcoming me into your community. Thank you for the love and commitment you have shown by not walking away when criticized and attacked for embracing a non-traditional vision of Church. May our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ continue to bless your ministry.

    Write a comment