Homosexuality. The topic is at least uncomfortable for many. While a growing number of denominations consider the possibility of ordaining homosexuals, and while government and media continue to catechize the public in the articles of tolerance, many evangelical and other leaders have encouraged strong political reaction. While I do not think that everyone's politics is my business, I do think this type of reaction from a publicly Christian group often only alienates sinners from the one divinely appointed agency of reconciliation to God, Christ's Church.
It should not surprise us too much to see seminars "re-imagining God", and to watch the world "re-imagine" morality, when Christians in America have been re-imagining their theology for decades. Many may have by now forgotten that the Christian Church, with the Gospel, does not offer condemnation and hatred for sinners, but freedom and peace. From us sinners, saved by grace, men and women who struggle with or practice homosexuality deserve only compassion and respect. They deserve our compassion because we, too, are sinners and ought to be aware of the burden of sin and shame that would be ours without Christ. They deserve our respect because they, like us, are creatures who have been granted dignity, bearing the imago Dei — the image of God. Even Christians and churches whose hearts are full of compassion, and who offer special programs and outreaches to the homosexual community would do well to consider what kind of freedom and peace is offered, because not all kinds of freedom and peace have been promised.
I believe, with Augustine, that there is nothing a man seeks more than his own happiness, and further, that it is good and right to seek the best happiness, namely God, in the best way, by faith in Jesus Christ. Supreme and eternal happiness is no cheap thing, yet it is bestowed upon believers as a free gift of God, or at least, for now, the sure hope and promise of it. Such sure hope is cause for great comfort and no unwarranted joy. But that does not seem to be the happiness with which most of us are concerned these days.
This presents a great problem in modern evangelical Christianity. Those who have expected and waited for happiness have found despair and those who sought liberation have found themselves in oppressive bondage. There is a huge number of people trying to act happily and avoiding the reality that they are in pain. There is an even larger mass who, realizing that they are in pain, spend millions of dollars on supposedly Christian self-help and psychology books and counseling services to fix their apparently surprising problem of depression, or rage, or dependency…pick a dysfunction. There are a number of people who just leave the church because it can't deliver the goods. And there are some who, by God's grace, come back. Let me tell you about one of those.
I remember pain even in my childhood, and I remember my idea of Christianity in my childhood; that is, that Jesus ought to make you happy. When I was a boy, I loved Jesus as far as I understood him. He seemed quite lovable. He did miracles and healed people. He even loved us so much that he died in our place that we might live. But for some reason, Jesus did not make me happy. Of course there were times when I was happy, with my family, with friends, and I have been showered with good blessings from God throughout all of my life. My predominant disposition, however, was one of sad and lonely insecurity. This did not seem to square with my religion, and as I grew in knowledge and wisdom, however feebly, this discrepancy began to concern me. The concern was evident at retreats and summer camps where I rededicated my life to Christ innumerable times, hoping that this time Jesus would come through, or that I would maintain enough virtue to finally gain his favor. I was always disappointed. While I did not ever renounce my faith in the Lord, my quiet rebellion would reveal my sad and disenchanted unbelief, and I would begin my search for happiness from other hands.
I maintained a presence at church throughout junior high and high school. It was a good social outlet and the source of many good friendships. I was the president of my junior high youth group and later, of the senior high group. I was a good student, too, and found satisfaction and approval in my academic work. But, like most young men, things really got complicated when puberty hit and all kinds of new things began to interest me, because then, all kinds of new things began to bring me pain.
Early in high school, I began to be more concerned about that which worried me a bit in junior high. I thought that there was something about my development that was not like the other boys, in terms of my interest. As my hopes with my first and unrequited love were dashed, my hopes with all of her kind were dashed and the alternate door was opened wide. I began to explore, only in my mind, a sexual interest in my same sex peers. I cannot describe to you the sense of shame that accompanied every homoerotic thought and fantasy. I cannot put into words the very real feelings of isolation and absolute aloneness that were mine. In spite of my shame, it was I who continued to think and fantasize to my own peril. It was I who was seeking happiness and delight in created things rather than the Creator, however restrained in action. The temptation, wherever from, did not bring my shame, but my own desire to yield. In the midst of my shame, I wished and prayed to be delivered from such unspeakable perversion.
My years at college brought more freedom than I handled well and all I remember clearly is being drunk. For the first two years, my solace was alcohol. There is little else short of suicide that can so ease emotional pain, hide shame, and bring a kind of happiness and relief to a person than to be drunk, and I was too much afraid of what death held for me to try the other, though I thought of it often. For the remainder of my college career, I became intoxicated with this world and with myself. After alcohol had nearly cost me more than I cared to pay (in terms of University privileges, etc.) I joined Alcoholics Anonymous (which has become a place where you go tell everyone about your incontinence and all agree it's a disease). I was on the wagon, hitting the books, making the grade, earning respect, and hoping for happiness. In my fraternity, I was one of those running the show, trying to keep our charter on the campus while still allowing for a good time to be had by all. I attended church nearly every Sunday, and while the sermons and Bible stories did grip my emotions, I was not yet so grateful as to be obedient because what little obedience I had displayed seemed to avail little. After all, God had yet to deliver to me the happiness everyone at church seemed to possess, and my prayers of deliverance, my prayers to be normal, seemed to fall on deaf ears.
I still considered the few rules of Christianity I had kept in order to muster some assurance of salvation-namely, my very technical virginity, and the fact that I had yet to give in to my homosexual desires. All the while, I prayed that I might not be given an opportunity to sin in that way because I knew that I was incapable of resisting, so ready I had become for the reality from years of fantasy and uninhibited desire. Also fearing the true state of my soul, I pleaded to God to show me mercy on rare occasions in which I realized my sinfulness. In exchange, I promised that I would "do better." I was confused, disillusioned, and proud. I was as lost as any sheep of Christ's has ever been. But, happily, I have a very good Shepherd.
During the last semester of my undergraduate curriculum, I finally talked about it-first with my psychologist whom I was seeing for my depression, and later with a friend in my fraternity. My psychologist was a member of my family's church, though not in a "Christian" counseling practice. I trusted him, as a Christian, to counsel me applying the best of psychology and biblical morality. (I was afraid to go to a non-Christian psychologist for fear that they would encourage me to act on my homosexual desires.) He was a tremendous help to me, at first. We worked through my "irrational" depression, some bad relationships, and some hurtful experiences. After about a year of therapy, I finally felt comfortable enough to share with him my greatest source of shame, my deepest darkest secret, my greatest fear, and my strongest desire. I remember with what great fear I told him, "I think I might be a homosexual." I don't remember his initial reaction. I do recall that within a few months it had become a very comfortable and enjoyable topic of our conversation. My therapist never told me it was wrong or that I was bad. I just had some experiences that led me to certain attractions and the morality of acting on those attractions and desires was left for me to decide. There was a conspicuous and isolated vacuum in which my struggle took place.
I had long ago ruled out the possibility of speaking to anyone at my church about my problem. Their sensitivity and understanding had been made manifest with a sermon on the great evils of the homosexual community, the great crisis in our denomination's policy on homosexuality, and the story of one man who was healed of his homosexuality, got married and lived happily ever after, the end. Surely, I thought, it cannot be that simple. Surely you cannot know what you're talking about up there, "Mr. Straight Preacher." Besides, God had already had his chance. He had seen my tears, my shame, and my broken heart. He had heard my cries for deliverance. And he had done nothing. After hundreds of agonized prayers, he had not taken away my desires and removed my temptations.
I had not yet fully resolved to live a homosexual lifestyle, but I could think of no greater thing on earth than to have a boyfriend. If I could make that jive with my Christianity, that would be icing on the cake. I found a gay and lesbian organization in the yellow pages and called to find out where to meet people. As it happened, there was a gay men's discussion group which met weekly to discuss issues and offer support to one another. There was also a Metropolitan Community church (MCC) which welcomed gay and lesbian members. I thought this would be a great opportunity to meet some real gay men and women and find out how they reconciled their Christianity with their homosexuality.
It turned out to be where I met a very special young man to whom I was instantly attracted. After a few group outings and a few phone calls, I discovered that the feeling was mutual. I was a little surprised and not a little more delighted. We started dating and it seemed to be the most wonderful and happy time of my entire life. I was on cloud nine. Here was someone I loved who loved me in the same way, at the same time. The very thought of giving him up brought tears to my eyes and a great sorrow to my soul. As a result, I did not think of it often. Instead, I set about the task of proving to myself that mine was no sin and that the church had held a wrong and near-sighted view for millennia.
Of course, there is a great deal of pride in such an endeavor, but pride is a very good dissipater of shame. The shame that was mine was not bearable without a very great dose of disillusioned self-love. "Gay pride" is an existential necessity for the homosexual, and it crept upon me, unaware. I felt free. I felt happy. I felt satisfied. How? By contradicting and disobeying my parents, my Church, and their God. These were my tyrants and tormentors, pressing me into a mold I was not made to fit because it had been manufactured by fools. But I had opened my eyes and seen their pitiful blindness. I, the wise and finally happy, would hear their impious ravings no longer. I would not submit to their closed-minded and hurtful authority. Furthermore, I was on my way to discover a god who did not damn me and my life's only delight.
Parents and churches (who seem wrong) can be written off relatively easily. God, however, requires a bit more care, because suddenly matters of eternity arise which cannot be ignored with impunity. Regardless of what I wanted to be true, the sinfulness of homosexuality remained a possibility in my mind and it caused me some concern. I sought counsel from many books. By the grace of God, I was temporarily unemployed and was able to spend my days reading voraciously. I found several Christian authors who brought their several "cures" and sin management schemes to bear on the issue. I also found theologians and biblical scholars who advocated homosexuality and attempted to show that biblical prohibitions did not exist. Sadly, the Christian authors offered nothing to refute their claims. What they had assumed, I needed proven. The MCC was offering a Bible study entitled "What they didn't teach you in Sunday school" which was intended to assist gay and lesbian people in reconciling their present lifestyles with their prior and apparently misguided instruction. These were sometimes encouraging, but I felt very uneasy about a number of things. First, in the theological books and biblical studies which advocated homosexuality, even though I am no philosopher or logician, all their proofs seemed very laborious and weak. I was not strongly persuaded, even though I longed to be. Second, was that the Law of God was mocked in the "church."
In the class at MCC, the ceremonial codes were not appreciated for their symbolism, nor recognized contextually as good commands from a holy God. The preacher (a lesbian woman who I tried in vain to accept as a legitimate ecclesiastical authority) led the class in reading a list of laws and laughing out loud at their absurdity. I was not amused and did not return to that class. Finally, although my conscience was severely seared, it was not yet dead (soli Deo gloria) and, though my sin was great, my God had not "given me over" forever (sola gratia). I tried to convince myself that God wanted me to be happy, that having a boyfriend made me happy, and therefore, God wanted me to have a boyfriend. My prayers and worship of God were greatly strained and artificial. I am amazed at his great patience and grace by which he heard my prayers. I tried to picture a Jesus who encouraged me to be gay and my heart was made to recognize the blasphemy and idolatry my blind mind would not yet admit. All the while, the true Jesus continued to make intercession to the Father on my behalf. I was plagued with a guilty conscience which I tried to chase away with sociological and psychological rationalizations to no avail.
I went to the pastor of a local non-denominational Christian church I had attended occasionally to discuss the matter. I needed another perspective and I wanted to hear if there was a reasonable argument against the advocates of biblically-endorsed homosexuality. I told the pastor that I was searching for the truth and was having trouble finding it at the MCC. I told him that I was a Christian. I told him that I was homosexual and that I was in a relationship which I enjoyed very much. I explained arguments to him regarding the meaning of several apparent prohibitions in scripture, expecting to hear a rational attempt at refuting them. Instead, I was accused (perhaps not wrongly, but definitely prematurely). He claimed I was guilty of twisting the scriptures in such a way that adultery and bestiality could be deemed acceptable with the same logic. My Christianity was questioned and I was judged. I was informed that homosexuality is found at the end of a personal journey on a long downward spiral of sinfulness. It was made known to me that my membership in that church would be neither welcomed nor allowed. These were not merely impressions I gathered from the meeting, these were explicitly stated by this pastor.
This was a tragic meeting in several aspects. First of all, I was personally hurt by the man's words for me. I sought compassion and help in my desperate and tiring struggle for truth and found none. The meeting only further alienated me from the church and caused my suspicion and animosity to increase. Second, my questions were unanswered. I sought a reasonable argument for the church's position, placing arguments against it before the pastor, begging him to refute them soundly. I feared that I was twisting the Scriptures, and I had hoped that everything could be determined by honest and rational investigation. But this pastor was in such a hurry to negate my salvation that he forgot to refute my arguments. Third, I was prohibited from membership before I had even asked about membership. The pastor was so anxious to outwardly defend "family values" that he neglected to consider my repentance as a possibility. I knew that there was much amiss at MCC because their "grassroots" theology had produced a number of strange sermons and odd heterodoxical notions like "the spark of God in our little finger." I had asked him if I might attend services in order to hear the Word rightly preached and, following his decree regarding my membership, it was made clear that my attendance would be only reluctantly allowed. I did not think it would benefit me to return, so I did not.
Shortly after I had decided that the Church was not reliable for my moral instruction and that she was, in fact, my guilty oppressor, I dropped the bomb on Mom and Dad. There was shock and silence in that first conversation. That was followed by several other awkward exchanges over the telephone. I spoke with them about my search for truth and what I had so far found. They were not perfect, but they handled it very well. I mourn the fact that I tried to persuade them to believe my lies, as if it were possible. These folks had raised me. I was not their instructor. But with what great patience they listened to me. With great grace, my father wrote to me in his own hand what he had studied with his own mind. He affirmed the Church's traditional belief and he could not rationalize a compromise, but he loved me still. They prayed for me and they wept for me. Of course I wanted them to be happy for me, but that just was not going to happen. I pitied them, because they could not understand, but I was resolved to love them and honor them still.
I continued to struggle with the rightness of what I was doing. The mainstream Christian authors I read seemed only to assume the immorality of homosexuality without refuting the arguments of the advocacy position. I was begging for a reason to believe God, but refused to believe a silly, arbitrary, unloving, and capricious one. I thought I had reason to believe that the God of the Christian Church was arbitrary and unloving. Had he created me this way? Did he want me to be happy? Could I be happy any other way? I listened to Christian radio hoping to hear the topic discussed without the unavoidable sensationalism, hatred, and fear-mongering. I wanted to hear the truth in love-not love devoid of reason and truth, nor truth in the absence of love or reason. I was hoping for either vindication or conviction. I got both, but neither was what I expected.
In God's loving providence I began listening to the White Horse Inn. The honesty and humanity of the hosts seemed like a breath of fresh air, and the sound reason and systematic approach to the Word was for me a new and wonderful thing. I never heard homosexuals bashed on their program. I also picked up a copy of Michael Horton's book, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace and began learning about a Gospel which actually sounded good. I was beginning to understand the real "amazingness" of grace for perhaps the first time. Shortly after this, I began to lose my contempt for Christianity and the church because I had heard the Gospel. Could I have gone to church for so many years and missed the point? I was hearing some very good news, indeed. I learned that God doesn't just encourage people to save themselves, he saves people. I was intrigued with a God of grace, whose Law was good and whose character was impeccable. I was attracted to the notion of a God who intended his church to transcend the city of man and be more than a combination country club/PAC. This new God I was confronted with was sovereign and powerful. He was the author of decrees and laws which were more significant than guidelines for happy living. This was a weighty and just God who also shows mercy. This was the God I believed in! The only question remaining for me was: how much mercy would he show me?
Having heard the Gospel, the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16), with new clarity, I received by the same power of God a gratitude for his grace to replace my contempt for his demands. I was finally shown a God worthy of my obedience and, by comparison, I was shown my great unworthiness. I began to be resolved that I should obey him but by this time I had grown too foggy-eyed to even know the truth of the Law. I really did not know if I was right or wrong. I read the Bible passages over and over. I wrote out somewhat cogent arguments from all that I had studied, both for and against my behavior. My mind was a throbbing pendulum and my heart was as constantly fluctuating. I knew I had to decide. I set the arguments before me and I prayed for wisdom. Still, the Lord in his great mercy heard my prayer. My God removed scales from my eyes so that I saw what I did not want to see. I saw what would be required of me and I wept. To remember and write this brings back the agony, but that is my old man. I await that old man's death with eagerness. For he has sinned so against my beloved God as to require great lengths for my salvation, even the death of Christ Jesus with whom he died and was vicariously punished. But that loss which I still sinfully mourn is, in truth, nothing but gain. Though I am guilty, it is good and right for God to show me my sinfulness by my own sin, and to show me my foolishness by my own idiocy, so that I may be driven from them and into his arms of grace.
So I ended my relationship and turned from that sin. But can you see with what long-suffering patience my God brought me again to himself? It was not without a great deal of pain and fear that I left that life behind. But this God of ours is full of grace and love for his children, for he ministered to me then in several beautiful ways. He did not stop my pain, nor did he stop opening my eyes, for I then saw much more evil in me than simply my sins of commission of sodomy. My evil brought me nothing but grief, and so great is my evil that my grief was also great. There were friends of my family in California who had been praying for me with my parents, unbeknownst to me. I do not know how many hours they spent with me on the phone over the following weeks listening to me, encouraging me, telling me that God is good, giving me hope when I had none. My devastation was severe and my repentance was full of horror. But they comforted me with words of truth and of grace from our Lord. I am thankful for them.
My conclusion is not "happily ever after"-not yet. I can't say that I'm a happier man than I was. I can't say that I always feel like the hole in my heart has been filled. I can't say that all my felt needs are being met. I can't say that my desire for sin is gone. I can't say that I no longer experience homosexual attraction. I really want to be happy and filled and realized and satisfied and holy and straight. But I'm not. However, I can say that my happiness is different. It is rarer and its basis renders it more significant. My felt needs are not met and I thank God because I am often stupid and I think I need stupid things. As a Christian, my desire for sin is met now with a desire for holiness. I am a man divided, incapable of enjoying sin as much as the unregenerate and, as far as my inherent righteousness is concerned, not capable of being much better than one. I don't even pray to be "straight" anymore. Maybe it's a thorn like Paul's. Maybe it will go away someday. Maybe I'll have homosexual attractions and desires until the day this body dies. But when it does, it shall be such a thing in heaven to praise my Lord. It is true, I will be without blemish or wrinkle. I will be perfect and my eyes will be perfectly fixed on my perfect Jesus who will have rendered me thus. None shall accuse me any longer, not even I. For my God has placed my sin so far from me that it cannot be counted against me. He has even taken the punishment, so there is no injustice. In all justice and faithfulness, I am a son of God. Never again a rebel bastard.
Today, the last thing I want to do is write a token "ex-homosexual testimony." If you want a really important testimony, I must defer to apostles and eyewitnesses of Christ's life, death, and resurrection. But I would not have written so much about my experience if I did not think it was useful to illustrate some very important things. First of all, it serves to emphasize the great danger of ignorance of the true and biblical Gospel. Second, it brings to light the transforming power of God as exercised in the learning and understanding of truth.
Sadly, ignorance of the true Gospel and disappointment with false ones is all too common in today's church. My own misconception was twofold. I was first unsure of my salvation because of its dependence on my own acts of obedience and, secondly unable to reconcile my earthly suffering with my expectations for comfort. It is strange that I should have been born into a Christian family, attended church all of my life, and yet not understand these things. Connecting my justification with my own obedience is a tyranny which can be tolerated only with suppressing the truth of my own sin. Otherwise, every effort must be made to rebel against such tyranny. But, we Christians have hearts that are searched, known, and convicted by God the Holy Spirit even if our consciences alone may lie. So, what is a Christian to do with plaguing guilt if he cannot take it to the cross and find absolution? The character Wyatt Earp summed up the typical and not so unreasonable response in the recent movie, Tombstone: "I already got a guilty conscience, I might as well have the money, too."
I had a guilty conscience long before I got drunk all the time and before I ever had a boyfriend. But, when I had these things, an intermittently guilty conscience was the worst thing I thought I had. I didn't feel evil, just a little guilty. I was no longer concerned with salvation but with comfort, and I sought it where it was reliable. But the true Gospel removes guilt and abolishes the tyranny of the Law. Nevertheless, a son of God is not at home in this world or in his or her current state. When I had earthly comfort, I didn't feel as dissatisfied and restless with this world as I often do now. When I gave myself to fleshly desires, I did not feel so intense and painful a division within myself. But these things are common to pilgrims and temporary. Neither is unbearable when we are sure of heaven because of Christ. When I've got a guilty conscience now, might I just as well have my old, cherished consolations along with it? Of course not! My guilty conscience is mistaken-I am redeemed. My accuser (whose attacks remain relentless) shall suffer loss. I can only gain.
Adapted from "Such Were Some of You: A Personal Account of the Power of the Gospel" Modern Reformation Used by Permission.
If Christianity is going to survive in a post-Christian environment, then Western Christianity needs to radically change and return to its roots.