Brian Johnston and Donnie Christian will celebrate their fifteenth anniversary next year. Brian, a message therapist, and Donnie, an office manager, have been through a lot in that time. From two cross-country moves, to two house remodels, to owning and eventually selling a 65-cow dairy, to surviving strained familial relationships, there is one thing they both feel has brought them through and been a constant source of strength -- their faith in God. 

Together, they attend Covenant of the Cross, an affirming congregation in North Nashville. Donnie grew up in the Assembly of God tradition. His grandparents adopted him when he was a baby and instilled in him the importance of a personal relationship with Christ. Going to church two or three times a week was not uncommon. As a young boy, Donnie described himself as “a very quiet child.” However, even then, Donnie knew there was something different about him. 

“When my grandmother would get the new JCPenny catalogue, what section did I turn to first? The men’s section," Donnie said. "I didn’t understand it. I didn’t know why. I just knew that was where I wanted to look.” 

In his early twenties, Donnie met the Minister of Music’s son. And for a few months, had one of  his first relationships with him. Eventually the Minister and his family were relocated and moved to another state. However, that relationship taught Donnie one thing. Despite what might have been the common teaching of the church, Donnie felt that it was definitely possible to live in a committed relationship with another man.   

Brian also grew up in the Assembly of God church. His father was a minister. His grandfather was a minister. Even his great grandfather was a minister. There was never any real question as to whether he would be involved in the church. 

“You just did it,” Brian said. “The environment I grew up in was very strict, very fundamental, very disciplined.” 

Brian’s family owned a dairy farm. So first thing in the morning, they got up, milked the cows, did additional chores, had breakfast and family devotions…and then started the day. “I kinda miss that life and the discipline that came with it,” Brian said. 

In the 70’s, Brian’s parents were divorced. His father quit preaching. But Brian was still very involved in the church. At that young age,  just like his future partner, Brian knew there was something different about him. But he didn’t have the knowledge to pinpoint that difference. However, he did know this. “Bo Duke was gorgeous!” says Brian. 

While he was a young teenager, both of Brian’s parents remarried. Brian lived with his father and stepmother on the farm and occasionally visited his mother and stepfather. His stepmother verbally abused him. His stepfather molested him. Brian was out to his family, even at this young age. But his home environment was filled with turbulence. The faith values he grew up with were at odds with the fact that he was gay. At that time, there was no conceivable way to live as a gay Christian.   

The turbulence at home led Brian to feel he had no way out but to commit suicide. Fortunately, he failed. 

After Brian graduated from high school, he got married. This wasn’t perhaps the wisest decision, but according to Brian, “That’s just what you did…it is what was expected.” Six months later, the marriage was annulled. 

A few years later, there was a turning point in Brian’s life. “I had a dream…and it was very clear. God was speaking to me and told me He had some wonderful plans for my life.” God works in many ways. His ways are higher, His thoughts are greater than anything we can ever conceive. Brian happily told his father about this revelation. But his father wouldn’t believe it. He felt God had never spoken to him in that fashion, and had no reason to speak to Brian this way either since he was a sinner. 

Several years later, Brian finally met Donnie. Brian tried to get Donnie to go out with him, but for a variety of reasons, Donnie refused. Eventually, Donnie gave in and they dated for one month, and moved in together. Donnie is quick to say, “I wouldn’t recommend that to everyone.”   

“Yeah, we went from dating to being an old couple in one months time!” adds Brian. 

At that time, they were living in Missouri and made a huge commitment to each other and bought a 160 acre farm. They rebuilt the dairy and the house and bought all necessary equipment to begin a dairy business. Five years later they sold the farm, moved to Arizona, and one year later on to Tennessee.   

While they were moving to Tennessee, their moving truck was in an accident. Luckily, they were insured, and were able to buy a house shortly after moving here. Like the house they had previously, they have gutted it and are in the process of installing new dry wall, plumbing, electric work, flooring, insulation and siding.   

“When we moved to Tennessee, the faith part of our lives took off,” says Brian. In a sense, it was like going home again to the faith they knew as children.   

“We also started tithing," Donnie said. "Initially, it was what we could give. But now, we tithe 10% plus of our income. It comes out first. We know with that commitment and faith, everything else will be taken care of.” 

How have they managed to survive so much change?  “Our walk with Christ is our foundation. But even that isn’t static.  It has grown over the years as well," Donnie said. 

Brian’s father used to say, “I will never accept the lifestyle you have chosen.” However, four years ago, when he was visiting in Nashville, something had changed. He was able to fully observe Donnie and Brian. He saw their faith. He observed their commitment to each other. He then said, “I will never understand your lifestyle, but Donnie knows I love him and he is part of our family.” For an ex-minister in the Assembly of God Church to say that is nothing short of miraculous. That night, as a family, they sung hymns for hours before finally going to bed. “I had waited for that my entire life,” says Brian. 

“Do we have a perfect relationship? No. We never had a preacher tell us we were going to love each other forever…we just knew we were going to,” Brian said. 

Since moving to Tennessee, Brian and Donnie have established a full-time massage therapy business. Brian is the massage therapist, and Donnie is his office manager. 

“I am blessed to have a built-in office manager!” Brian said. 

Many wouldn’t consider massage therapy to be a gift from God. But Brian’s ability to sense pain and provide relief, and Donnie’s administrative abilities clearly illustrate the fact that God gifts us with a large variety of abilities.  

Twenty years ago, Brian had a dream where God told him He had some wonderful plans for his life. Twenty years later, Brian has a partner who loves him, a successful business, a home and a church family to love him and continue to nurture him in his faith. God keeps His promises!

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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