I received this post from a friend who requested anonymity. I appreciate his willingness to share this very personal struggle.
I hesitate to write these words and I write with anonymity because I am not so bold as others who share their struggles. At the recent Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Albert Mohler responded to a question and gave an impassioned plea for the evangelical community at large to repent of half-truths it has told and homophobia it has displayed towards those in homosexual relationships and struggling with same-sex desires. In a limited sphere of the blogging world, at least, Dr. Mohler’s words created a firestorm of accusations, exaggerations, and supposed offense.
Yet can we not for a moment set the rhetoric aside and examine the bigger picture and the broader question here: how should our churches seek to minister to those struggling with same-sex desire?
I write with anonymity because I stand on the inside of this issue. I am foremost a follower of Jesus and serve in ministry as a pastor. I stand inside the church. I am also a man, who like most men, war against and combat lust towards women. Yet with this, I also war against and combat lust towards other men. I stand inside the struggle. If I never made a comment about that second part of my lust, I would be seen as normal. There would be no issue between me and my ministry so long as I dealt with the temptations in the proper way and did not cave to fulfilling such desires outside of marriage. But by interjecting the second the game changes. Even though I have never pursued a relationship based on those desires and have the accountability of certain beloved friends, I have heard enough words spoken by church people including members of my present church to know that I would be out of a job if such thing became public knowledge. Perhaps this is the homophobia Dr. Mohler spoke about?
My story defies most I have heard. Growing up, no one abused or molested me, nor did anyone attempt to. I have no “daddy issues.” My father is a good man who worked hard yet made sacrifices to spend time with his children. He has been by my mother’s side for over 40 years. They are well on their way to growing old together. I love my father and have had and do have a great relationship with him. I have been in church all my life and a follower of Jesus for most of it. I never did drugs and rarely drank. There are no deep-seeded psychological issues in my life.
As a boy, I chased the girls. In the second grade there were eight throughout the year that I secretly desired to marry. In the third grade one girl sat next to me who shared a name similar to mine. I liked her and our names made for cute word play on my Trapper Keeper. She didn’t share the same thought though. But, I was just a boy.
When I started my journey into manhood, like with all boys, hormones started pumping, wires became crossed, and new feelings emerged. As with most boys, I began to see girls in a different light. At the same time, similar feelings emerged towards other boys. To say there was confusion is an understatement, especially since at the time I didn’t even know what “gay” or “homosexual” meant.
As I grew so did my desires and so did the confusion. At times it seemed that girls were the object of my attraction and the guys thing was just a fluke. At other times it reversed. Deep down I knew being attracted to guys wasn’t right. When I came to learn the definition of terms, part of me feared I was gay while the other part denied it completely. I felt disgusted at myself and prayed over and over for God to take those homosexual feelings away. I didn’t want to feel that way and I certainly did not choose to feel that way, yet the feelings would not go away.
Along the way I started hearing more and more about homosexuality in culture and in the church. Ellen came out on her television show. My church joined a convention-wide boycott of Disney. “Faggot” became a popular pejorative term at school with its scathing bite launched at me several times by others who didn’t know a thing about me. Fellow church members and even well-intentioned family members talked about how being gay was nothing but a choice.
Confused. Angry. Bitter. Depressed. I was all of it. I didn’t know if I was gay, straight, or something in between. I just knew how I felt and I knew I hated myself for how I felt. I was bursting with need of someone to confide in, someone to talk to, but I saw no place to turn. On the bitterest days I wanted to end my life but I was too afraid. Hell scared me and I was half convinced that Jesus didn’t die for and wouldn’t save someone who felt like me.
And that’s all I had—feelings. I did dive headlong into pornography when I was in college. But other than computer images I never acted on those feelings, though several times I wanted to. But I can imagine how much more difficult and intense such loathing is for those who have.
Then something happened: I learned the richness of the Bible’s story concerning the depth of sin and the awesome nature of the Gospel. I came to understand my sin nature—the cause of the desires could be a litany of things, in my case I have no doubt it is something biochemical or genetic—but even then its root is the corruption of sin. My temptations and desires are my temptations and desires, they’re a part of my own story yet even if the minute details might be different than those of another person, we still share in the “temptations common to man.” And my identity is not bound in my desires and feelings but in Christ and his work on the cross. Technically, I suppose, a person could call my desires “bisexual,” but as a Christian set free by Jesus I choose to fight to walk in his way and live in obedience to his word.
Some people can stand and say their same-sex desires went away when they turned to follow Jesus. Thank God for that and their testimony. I am one who cannot say that and I don’t know if I ever will be. But the fuller reality of the Gospel gives me hope.
Yet, even with the fullness of hope, I still struggle. There are still moments where I may take my eyes off the cross and relapse into anger, bitterness, and depression. Often in those days I feel like I need someone to talk to and someone who will pray for me. God has blessed me with some good friends who know about this issue and struggle, yet the closest one is 8 hours away. Can I call or email? Certainly. But there are times where you need someone who can help bear your burdens as they look you in the eyes and put their hand on your shoulder.
This purpose is one of God’s designs for his church. Yet even with the realization of the Gospel, I still face the fear and doubt of so many others who struggle. The fear that if I tell my church I will be ostracized. Especially as a pastor, if I tell my church, I will be fired. After all, I have seen how some of the youth react to the “bisexual” girl who sometimes comes to youth group. I have watched how they ostracized that girl who ended up pregnant. I have heard how they rolled their eyes, shook their head, and sighed at the guy who talked about his struggle with alcohol.
Such reactions are sad. Such reactions are wrong. Such reactions are sin.
How we should minister to those struggling with same-sex desires is a part of the broader picture of how we should minister to those struggling with a variety of sins and temptations.
1. We show gentleness and grace (Galatians 6:1-2, Romans 15:1). In Ecclesiastes, Solomon wrote that two are better than one, for if one falls the other is there to pick him up. We all stumble and fall in our own way. We might think a particular sin or temptation is more grotesque than another, mainly because it is not what we experience. Yet every temptation a person faces has a root that is common to man. Every temptation we face, at its core was faced by Jesus, yet he was without sin. The temptation to same-sex desire is no more heinous than a temptation to heterosexual lust which is no more disturbing than a temptation to gossip. We can either force each other to struggle alone against such temptations and sins or we can be the body of Christ and lift each other up in the heat of the struggle and war. And we do so with gentleness and grace, knowing the struggle and agony we sometimes face in our own temptations.
2. We confess our sins to one another and pray for one another (James 5:16). Truth be told, I have rarely seen a church where a person has stood up and confessed their gossip or anger let alone those seemingly more shameful desires of sexuality. Most of us in our churches are not honest with each other and with ourselves. Our prayers are generic and usually focused on health issues. Maybe we are so concerned about physical health because the deeper issues of spiritual health scare us too much? Maybe when those who have the more “acceptable” temptations share their struggles it will begin to create an atmosphere of love and trust with those who fell more “shameful.” Then the walls can come down, the body can love and build itself up, and we will see the Spirit move in a much more meaningful way in the church.
3. We constantly speak and sing the Gospel to each other (Colossians 3:16) and that includes reminding each other about our identity in Christ and not in the world (3:1-4). Like I said of me: finding out who I truly am in Christ may not have made my struggles and desires go away but it brings a help and comfort I lacked before. And so it is with all of us. Will we see ourselves and others as we are in the flesh or as we are in the cross? In the flesh we will complain, make others feel shame, and cause both them and ourselves to hide (it was in the flesh, after all, that Adam and Eve dove for the bushes when God walked in the garden). In the cross we will forgive and find forgiveness, we will move from shame to joy, and from hiding to basking in the light of love and sonship. Yes the light will expose our darkness, but it even more it will tell who we are as children of the living God.