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I Was Searching for Acceptance and Connection in My Faith. Here's How I Found It and You Can Too

I Was Searching for Acceptance and Connection in My Faith. Here's How I Found It and You Can Too

By Matt Jacobi-Caprio
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When I set out over two years ago to lean into my connection with God, I promised to jump all in. That meant attending church every Sunday, volunteering, meeting people in the church community, attending Men's Christian Connect groups, worship nights, and holiday events, and not turning down any invitation. I went in with an open heart and without judgment. I was seeking not to be judged by others within the church community, so I felt my duty was to do the same.

Fast forward to today, and my husband and I are settling into our place of worship better than I ever expected—so much so that I am proud to say that we call ourselves Christians. In many ways, we have always been men of faith and believers, but it felt limited because we never had a place to gather or were open enough to learn more about what being a Christian meant.

I had always associated Christians with people who judged me, considered me a sin, and looked down upon my marriage. I ask you to give me and everyone with that very notion grace for thinking that. Personal life experiences layered with some of society's narrative about faith, and yes, even some Christians not acting as Christians contribute to those feelings. I wore a lens that saw elements of Christianity as hypocritical, judgy, and painful. But, as I stand a bit taller and wiser today, I now look at faith differently and have a deeper understanding of what it means to be a Christian. I say that while still having a compassionate heart for others with pain with it. The surrounding noise and long history of hurt can be overbearing, but I intend to clear that painful fogginess and hopefully bring God's loving light to anyone seeking his comfort and love.

My early months of attending church were navigating how to connect and listen while battling my defensiveness and seeing through my concrete walls that were built so tall, especially since coming out. You may know what I am talking about, depending on if you've felt hurt by religious organizations or had negative experiences surrounding faith. Hurt makes many of us put up shields to prevent ourselves from getting hurt again. I would even say we often are just waiting to get hurt, almost like having a validating moment to our fears. Perhaps, that can be associated with being disappointed by past faith experiences and other areas in life that were supposed to bring us comfort and love. How often have family members failed you? How many times have your friends betrayed you? How often did you think you were in a safe situation but later found out it was nothing but the case?

I remember waiting for my pastor to say something that was going to be hurtful. I was also waiting for someone within the church to approach my husband and me and make us feel like we did not belong. Again, all of those fears can certainly be understood, but I now see them as blockers from getting closer to God. I was destined to fight through those thoughts, but that took trust from both sides. I needed to feel safe in many ways and show that I, too, could be trusted. Our world is at a heightened point of not trusting each other because of so much deep history, blanket lies told, and misinformation, but also the act of cancel culture that we've seen so much.

I would love more eyes on God, and I would love for more people to have similar experiences like I've had when it comes to church. But I also know that faith is personal and not one person gets the same kind of experience. My goal is to never push faith onto anyone, but if my story helps someone in any shape or form, then mission accomplished. Our personal stories should be used to inspire others, and I am using my own to stir up the conversation around counterculture and hopefully bring more eyes to God or whatever they believe is their higher power.

Here are some points I've learned that have brought me peace and an even greater sense of clarity regarding my faith. I get that there will be some people reading this who don't believe in my words or simply don't want to hear any kind of "preaching" about God. I understand. Full stop. However, I do know what it's like to feel like you are on the outside walls of faith, trying to find a flicker of acceptance and connection. I hope my own experience serves to be just that.

Remember, We Are All Human.

There is this one song my faith sister, Kaley O'Kelley, sent me earlier on in my journey that I listen to repeatedly. It is called "Who You Say I Am," and it expresses words that rock my soul. These very words have been echoed in sermons at my church. "You are for me, not against me" and "I am a Child of God" are lines that are so powerful and reflective of what it means to be a Christian. God is never against anyone, and if you believe that you are a Child of God, then you know he made you, is here for you, and loves you no matter what. You don't need to go to church to be a good Christian. You don't need to volunteer or donate to be a good Christian. It is about having your relationship with God and loving as Jesus did. There is no such thing as a perfect person; quite frankly, that just sounds exhausting. We are all human, and everyone is doing their best. What we can do is encourage each other, connect more as a community, and give one another more grace. To act or be righteous against anyone is not what God wants.

Don't Let The Word "Sin" Turn You Away.

This was such a trigger word for me. Every time I would see it pop up in my life and early days in church, I would immediately get undone, waiting for a follow-up verse that tore apart my marriage. Why? Well, I can't tell you how many comments and messages I have seen that associate gay marriage with a sin. What did Jesus say about being in a loving, committed same-sex marriage? Some define "sin" as anything that gets in the way of God. So, I ask: How does my marriage and our devotion to our faith and daily attempt to do our best to love like Jesus "get in the way of God?" Don't let the word "sin" make you feel a certain way or discourage you from finding a church. We can dive deeper into all the different ways people get distracted from God another time, but God himself is the only one we have to answer to as a Christian. And, let me tell you, I pray and talk to him constantly.

Challenge Yourself. Connect With People.

Is there a part of you that feels like our world is getting too comfortable with hiding behind computer screens, text messages, and social media platforms? How do we return to the days of feeling like we can rely on our neighbors, make new friends, and build communities where people feel safe? As I mentioned before, having trust is a big part of that, but for us to build trust, we need to build bridges that are secure with hope and grace. Being part of a community does not mean agreeing on everything. That is not how people learn. That is not how hearts open. That is not how grace is given. I encourage people to lose that expectation that we should all think alike on every topic. Recently, I challenged myself by doing something I would never in a million years consider. I went to a Men's Christian Retreat with guys from church two hours away from my home, knowing I would be the only gay person there. At first, my fear took over me, and then I remembered my mission from the beginning— not to turn away from an invite or opportunity when it came to my Christian faith. I also had such a welcome of support from my new friends and pastor. My takeaway from the retreat has moved mountains within my soul, and I can confidently say that God showed up in many different ways. Through conversation, music, prayer, and gathering together, I have seen the goodness of God shine from simply being united.

If you are in a place where you want to find a community of faith or a place of worship, I challenge you to keep asking questions and continue your search for what is right for you. Don't let anyone knock you off your path but do ask questions and meet with people such as church leaders and other believers. A true person of faith will always stand with you and have open arms of kindness and a heart full of welcome. Any sign of judgment or lack of compassion does not reflect Jesus.

There is a seat at God's table for everyone. It is always an open invitation.

Matt Jacobi-Caprio is a writer, advocate, and voice of truth. His early career began in TV at ABC News in Phoenix. He later worked at E! News, and he continued his on-camera career as a TV personality, starring in two reality shows. Today, he is a Chief Operating Officer for an award-winning creative agency. Jacobi-Caprio and his husband, Nick created the first Barbie same-sex wedding set. Learn more at mattjacobicaprio.com.

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