The Fellowship of Christian Athletes is a nationwide organization that often uses college athletic facilities to host weekly meetings. On the nationally ranked 2003 Colorado Buffaloes women's basketball team, FCA exerted a strong influence, and nearly half of the players attended meetings and Bible studies. That included espnW's Kate Fagan, who recalls her experience in this excerpt from The Reappearing Act: Coming Out as Gay on a College Basketball Team Led by Born-Again Christians.
The FCA's sexual purity statement reads, "Neither heterosexual sex outside of marriage nor any homosexual act constitute an alternative lifestyle acceptable to God."
"What's going on with you?" Dee asked, as we walked toward the home of Chrissy, the FCA leader and host of that week's Bible study. Chrissy's house was a suburban wonder, deftly constructed to look different than the houses on either side, when actually just the kitchen and the garage had switched places on the blueprint. A long cement walkway intersected the front lawn, and the bright sun was reflecting off it. I held my Bible in my right hand, squinting.
"What do you mean?" I said, even though I knew exactly what Dee meant and why she was asking. For the past 48 hours, ever since meeting Cass, I had lived mostly inside my own head. I had heard very little of what Dee said to me, and I think she finally became intrigued about why I had checked out of our usually interesting conversations.
"You ... you're totally vacant," she said, then paused. "No, that's not right. You're the opposite of vacant. You seem consumed. So what is it?"
I could talk to Dee. I could tell her anything. I knew that. And I wanted to talk to her, right then and there. I wanted to stop in the middle of that blinding walkway and unload everything, letting the words and emotions spill between us. I believed she would help me carry all of it. If I asked her, she would get back in the car with me and drive away; she would skip the Bible study so we could talk. I opened my mouth and breathed deeply. Then I shook my head.
"I'm not sure yet," I said. "But when I am, I'll tell you."
She considered my words and smiled.
We walked into the oversized front hallway of the house. There were rooms sprouting in each direction, an endless sea of off-white carpeting. The girls were in the back room, "the TV room," which featured a floral couch, frilly curtains, and one square black TV in the corner, on top of an oak chest. I took off my sneakers and shuffled through the house. Dee trailed me, her size-13 feet like paddles.
"Ladies!" Chrissy raised her arms in celebration when she saw us and rose from the carpet, where she had been sitting. At Bible studies, many of us chose the hardness of the floor over the couch, as a show of humility in honor of Jesus. Those who ended up on the couch, when the circle of people on the floor was too crowded, almost had an air of frustration, as if sitting on the floor scored more points with Jesus. It was the Christian equivalent of holding the door for a woman with a baby stroller—a simple act, at little inconvenience, with a Good Samaritan payoff.
Chrissy wrapped me in a long hug, rocking me back and forth; then she did the same with Dee. "We're so glad you're both here," she said. "I was just about to start today's lesson."
I sat down on the corner of the couch and hugged a pillow tightly to my chest. Dee sat on the other end, with two people between us. My Bible rested on the arm of the couch, precariously balanced. I placed my palm on the leather cover and steadied the book. I was attending the Bible study out of habit and desperation. Could Jesus actually give me answers? I wanted to believe what my teammates had told me, that he could calm my heart and provide peace. Because at that moment, the pull of what Cass had introduced into my life possessed the energy of a tornado, whereas Jesus was like a little face fan blowing in the corner, barely disturbing a strand of hair—and about to get swept away in the oncoming storm.
I had prayed just the night before. Take this away, God, please. Make my heart still and calm again, and I will follow you. I promise I will try harder. I uttered these words in the middle of the night, wide awake in my corner bedroom, the lamp on my nightstand providing a circle of soft yellow light, like a halo, in the darkness. I was kneeling, my elbows resting on the mattress, my forehead pinned to my clasped hands—the very picture of desperation. I even stopped praying for a second to recognize what a cliché I had become. I took a snapshot in my mind, told myself to never forget the kind of emptiness I felt and the weakness I was displaying. I asked Jesus for help, over and over. And then I waited.
Jesus didn't show. An hour later, with my heart still feeling unhinged and my hands trembling, I pulled myself onto the bed and chastised myself. What the fuck was I even thinking? I was pathetic, hopeless, and maybe even gay. But how was that possible? I couldn't be gay. No way. No. I just couldn't. That would explode like a bomb in my life, sending everyone—friends, teammates, coaches, family— scattering.
"So ..." Chrissy began, opening her Bible. "Let's turn to Romans."
I pulled my Bible onto the pillow on my lap and quickly breezed through it, like it was one of those picture books that make a movie when you flick through the pages fast enough. I fixated on the upper right corner to see if I could spot the word "Romans" flying past. Fuuuuuck! Was Romans in the Old Testament or the New? Seems like Romans would be in the Old, because wasn't Rome important a really long time ago? But then again, everything in the Bible was a long time ago. It's not like the New Testament has a "SoCal" chapter. Without moving my head, I darted my eyes to the right, to the girl sitting next to me, to get a roundabout idea of where Romans was located. She was a little more than midway through the book and was carefully turning pages one by one, the final slowdown before pulling into her Bible parking spot. I recognized her as a volleyball player. She knew exactly where to find Romans.
"Turn to Romans 1:26," Chrissy continued. She was looking around, waiting for each of us to look up, which signaled we had read the verse and were ready to absorb some wisdom that would complement God's words. I finally found Romans and lifted my head, without having read the verse, because it felt like everyone was waiting for me. Chrissy nodded, so I nodded back, little puppet that I was. I'm ready! Once she started speaking again, I looked back down to check out Romans 1:26.
"This lesson has been weighing on my heart for many weeks," Chrissy said. "I want each of you to come at this verse with an open heart and mind, and to know that we are in a safe space, surrounded by God's love."
I pinned my finger to the tiny number 26 that existed like a footnote on the extra-thin paper. I began reading silently: "Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones." My eyes darted to Dee, to see what she was doing. Her head was tilted down, her eyes on her own Bible; I could see them moving from left to right, then back again. She seemed to be reading the verses surrounding The Verse, looking for additional context. I looked at Chrissy, who was also engrossed in her Bible.
"Let's read God's word together," Chrissy said a moment later. "Romans 1:26 says, 'Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.'"
Chrissy closed her Bible, but her hand was still bookmarking the page. She looked around the room and asked, "Who here struggles with homosexuality?"
The words hung in the air, like a basketball that would decide the outcome of a game, in that moment where it's still going up, just before it starts coming down.
Who here struggles with homosexuality?
That Sunday in the back room of Chrissy's house, I kept my eyes on my Bible, pretending to be busy absorbing a side dish of Romans—I just can't get enough of this stuff!—while we all waited to see what would happen next. Chrissy, a former college volleyball player, was tall and stocky, with long blonde hair. She was married to a guy who had played football at Colorado and, briefly, in the NFL. I think many of my teammates thought she was living the Christian dream: a God-fearing husband who led the couple in nightly prayer, an oversized house in the suburbs, a job with FCA that she seemed passionate about. But I always sensed a hint of sadness in her that she seemed to paint over with a too-bright smile.
Chrissy seemed to think the day's lesson would turn into a conversation, that one or two of us would confess to homosexual thoughts, and the rest of the group would lay their hands on the sinners and ask Jesus to wipe our minds of unnatural desires. But that didn't happen; none of us said a word. We just sat there in silence for the longest minute ever. There were eight of us at the Bible study, including Chrissy. Four girls sat on the long floral couch, with me on one end and Dee on the other. On the floor in front of us, sitting at the coffee table, were Sasha and two volleyball players, all three of them holding pens suspended over blank sheets of paper, seemingly ready to jot down names if necessary. I pretended to check the clock on the back wall, taking a quick, sweeping look around the group to see if I could detect a tick or a slight grimace on anyone's face, something external that would reveal the internal struggle.
"Then I'll start us off!" Chrissy said finally, and much too cheerily, launching into an awkward speech sprinkled with Bible verses. "It's not unusual for women playing team sports to struggle with feelings of homosexuality. We all spend so much time around one another, it's easy to confuse feelings of respect and admiration for carnal desire. But God tells us there are different kinds of love."
I stayed still in my little corner of the couch, because even the slightest movement might draw unwanted attention. Why was Kate fidgeting during this lesson? Was something making her uncomfortable? I could picture Sasha turning over her shoulder— she was sitting at my feet—and asking, "Is everything OK?" But at the same time, I knew I needed to behave somewhat naturally, otherwise someone might become suspicious. Kate seems to be holding her breath. What's got her so tense? Homosexual struggles, perhaps? I coughed, trying hard to make it one of those coughs that says, "No big deal everybody. I'm totally at ease right now and tuned into the lesson—just coughing because I had to cough."
Chrissy continued: "Who here knows what 'agape love' means?"
I saw Sasha start to raise her hand, then stop, realizing we weren't in a formal classroom. "It's a godly kind of love," she said. "It's not a sexual love, but a pure love, one human being for another—a loving friendship, which God blesses."
"Yes!" Chrissy exclaimed, smiling. "Exactly. And the key part of 'agape' is that God smiles on those relationships. They please God. He takes great pleasure in seeing his children love one another." With a smile still pasted on her lips, Chrissy allowed us all a moment to process the soft, beautiful wonder of a godly friendship. Agape ... the word itself sounded lush and radiant, and I noticed that she seemed to be staring off into the distance, as if watching puppies play.
Suddenly, she frowned. "Homosexuality is the opposite of agape," she said. "And I know this intimately." She closed her Bible and laid it down in front of her, a signal that the upcoming lesson would come from Chrissy's heart, not God's word. "A good friend of mine struggled with homosexuality while we played college volleyball together. It was heartbreaking. We spent many tearfilled nights together as she battled to rid herself of these unwanted feelings. What I learned is that no one chooses to feel this way, but they do choose to either fight the feelings or succumb to them."
She did not say what her friend had chosen.
Chrissy was resting her elbows on her thighs, her hands dangling over the edge of her knees. She dropped her head for a second so we could all process this hard-earned wisdom. I used the free moment to glance again at Dee, who had a far-away look in her eyes. When Chrissy started speaking again, she took us on a tour of the Bible, making pit stops at all of the key anti-gay verses. I made a show of flipping through my Bible, but I abstained from seeking out the specified passages because I had seen them all before, and reading them again in that moment would have been too much self-flagellation. Chrissy kept talking, hammering home each verse with an anecdote or two. Finally, she paused and looked at each of us with deep and soulful eyes, wrapping up the lesson with this final thought: "Ladies, my beloved sisters in Christ, we can find answers to all things if we read God's word with our hearts open to receive his grace. Please know that choosing to live a homosexual lifestyle is a choice against God."
She waited a beat, then shook, as if trying to rid herself of a bad case of the heebie-jeebies. "Now that that's done, let's pray!" Chrissy said enthusiastically, offering her hands to the women nearest her. "Heavenly Father, we come before you humbled by your awesomeness ..."
I could not leave that house fast enough.
Excerpted with permission from The Reappearing Act: Coming Out as Gay on a College Basketball Team Led by Born-Again Christians by Kate Fagan. Copyright 2014, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.