IAmProject co-founders Michael Stark, who was a professor of theology and philosophy, with Denver psychotherapist Isaac Archuleta, at CPR on May 26, 2016.

(Stephanie Wolf/CPR News)

Fearful of disappointing his parents, Isaac Archuleta says he carried a big secret for years. Now he's founded a nonprofit to help others deal with similar issues.

Archuleta says he knew at 12 he was gay. But his mother and father were conservative Christians and pastors. After years of struggle with his identity he says he found that being gay and being Christian didn't have to be in conflict.

Archuleta is now a psychotherapist in Denver and the co-founder of the IAmProject, which offers resources to address cultural rifts that may exist between conservative Christians and LGBT people by getting them to talk to each other.

Archuleta spoke with Colorado Matters host Nathan Heffel. Highlights rom the conversation:

On how his mission began:

When I was 12 years old in this conservative Christian environment I experienced something that we call the ego split, where parts of me are called clean, like my intelligence, but parts of me are subtly called dirty, like my attractions for men. And so in this ego split, as we call it, I wanted to find healing. That's what I thought was best for me as a conservative Christian. So I pledged my life to figuring out the disorder -- that's what we used to call it, the disorder -- that homosexuality was and if I could fix it then I could become a psychotherapist and then I would help everybody else fix that. So I was so hopeful that I would find the "cure" that could save all of us from the "doom." You know, the "doom" that we were facing.

On how seminary offered a course correction:

I went to seminary just down the road here and I found incredible love and acceptance that I had never experienced anywhere. The seminary is a conservative seminary and they would say that homosexuality is a sin, still even to this day, but being a psychotherapy student I found a lot of empathy and a lot of compassion and I also worked with a psychotherapist who is open and affirming, meaning he embraced my sexual orientation as a clean part of who I am. And so it was in that environment that I experienced a self-concept shift. I began to see myself as not this person split in half between dirty and broken, but I began to feel integrated that all parts of me were clean.

On praying God would kill him if he was truly a sinner:

I was driving home from class and I was in the car that my boyfriend had bought me and I began praying: 'Lord if this really is a sin that will doom me to hell, I want you to kill me on the way home. I don't want to commit a sin that will doom my life to hell so if you can spare me from that by killing me on my way home then I might have a chance of actually making it to heaven.' 

On whom the program targets:

A closet of progressive minister. Someone who is open and affirming for the LGBTQ community. In other words, a minister who would say that homosexuality is not a sin and homosexuals won't go to hell. They're closeted because in the conservative churches they are not able to talk about this openly from the pulpit because they're afraid of losing money or losing parishioners from their congregations. 

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