What do the gay people in your church look like? Do you spot them by their flamboyant clothing . . . their mannerisms . . . their declarations?
When a brother or sister in your church came to you to ask you for your help and support in their personal struggle against homosexuality . . . what did you do to walk with them? How did you respond the last time this happened to you?
“Oh . . . we don’t have that problem in our church,” you say?
If you are a typical church, you do.
Statistics show that one out of every five church members has a family member or close friend who struggles with homosexuality. We all know someone who is “gay.” If not at church, then at work. If not at work, then where we shop or bank or eat.
So, again . . . what do the same-sex attracted people in your church look like? Could they sit there looking like you, dressed like you, acting like you, worshipping in the pew with their spouses and children, or moms and dads, Bibles open, faces forward, smiles on, handshakes offered, singing alongside you in quiet despair? Are they hiding their pain and confusion behind their Sunday smiles?
I’ve been a Christian for more than 40 years and a Southern Baptist. I was the little boy in the pew whose mother dented his arms with her brightly colored fingernails when he refused to sit still . . . I met David and Goliath in VBS . . . was the middle-schooler who bounded off the church bus and came home from the revival with a new life . . . the teenager in training union quizzing the teacher over parfaits at the Dairy Queen . . . the emerging young man finding his voice on youth choir trips. . . the determined BSU summer missionary to Bangladesh. And then, as an adult, I was the Sunday school teacher . . . the chairman of the deacons and the elder, all in Southern Baptist churches in Oklahoma.
I am a husband and a father of five children who are: a business owner, a graduate student, an Army Ranger, a police officer, a college student. I have four daughters-in-law and six grandchildren.
And yet I struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction, have engaged in homosexual behavior in the past and must be on constant guard against the temptation. I have wanted to die . . . but more often I just wanted to live . . . without this pull towards sin. I am your brother in Christ.
Hidden as I was, I knew others in church battled wrongful desires for satisfaction and fulfillment through homosexual relationships, pornography or other forms of sexual brokenness. Single and married, with or without children, they were maintaining the secret, living in fear, praying for a way out. We did not know each other, but struggled in isolation, praying no one would ever find out and that we would overcome in private. I’m sure they feared as much as I did the prospect of being condemned, ridiculed and ostracized.
I sculpted the double-mind, fenced in the soul, projected the persona, erected the image, avoided the reality, and fed the brokenness of the past. It bled into the present and projected into the future. Still, God knew me in my destructiveness and deception, just as he knew me when I was productive in service to Him.
Deception Leads to Discipline
Had I been ushered to a supply closet, I would not have selected addictive sexual brokenness as my identifying sin. Though temptation is not a sin, engaging in homosexual behavior is, not because the SBC voted to recognize it as such, but because the Bible makes it clear. It separates one from God, and, in cases like mine, can separate the person from his church family.
Church discipline is one of the most difficult things a man or woman will ever endure. It can lead to being declared unrepentant and removed from the fellowship of the church. So strong was the pull of same-sex attraction on my life that I experienced this twice. Evidence presented; recommendation made; vote cast.
Church discipline should always seek the repentance and restoration of the offender. If a church member is expelled, church members regard him as a nonbeliever. If enacted in error, this judgment leaves a Christian on the outside struggling against his sin without the support of a church family. For men and women overcoming homosexuality, a pivotal part of healing and restoration is the need to be included . . . to be a part of the body of Christ.
After being confronted with my sin by church leaders, I stood in my church confessing my sexual brokenness and looking out into the congregation knowing there were others like me sitting there and listening to what I truly believed at the time would be my final confession as I walked into freedom. Some of them knew I knew about them; others did not, but it must have been a terrifying time for them to see me in that position. And it must have been truly demoralizing for them when they heard later of other falls.
Repentance is not easily measured; the fruit may grow slower than we would hope. With the help of First Stone, an Exodus ministry in Oklahoma City, I learned that overcoming homosexual temptation is a journey, replete with stumbling in most cases. You pick yourself up and move forward. Such "falling" may resemble non-repentance, despite the personal pain and remorse that tears away at you inside. Often, when the struggler falls, the patience of those who are watching finds its limit.
"Is this man willfully sinning and covering it up?" or "Is this man struggling and falling, but continuing to seek repentance and restoration?" In my case, the two Southern Baptist churches which removed me from membership did what they thought was best, acting on the information they had at hand, declaring me non-repentant.
What is Man?
“What is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” – Psalm 8:4.
We are who we are in part because of where we've been and the experiences that may have triggered the development of same-sex attraction. For me, childhood sexual abuse and father abandonment were certainly factors that had to be dealt with and have been. Still, I struggled, and put myself in places I should never have been, as others have done. In all those places, God was "mindful" of us. We hid; we paused; we ran; we rejected grace; we fell again in sin. Sometimes we ran to Him; sometimes we fell on our faces before Him; sometimes we cried out to Him; sometimes we pled with Him. In all ways, He was always mindful. He never leaves.
I accept responsibility and the consequences for the harm I caused, but my regrets cannot become a barrier to my repentance, even if those I drove away choose never to return.
Why Not Just Give Up?
Giving up and giving in is not an option for a Christian. It denies the reality of God's transforming power and negates the promise that He can create in me a new heart and a new mind. My problem is my very stubborn soul.
I can't imagine it was the Lord's will for me to spend the years in the dark. I can believe it was the Lord's will for me to find my way into the light. If I was so stubborn that public revelation and embarrassment was the only way to get there, then that was the path He had to establish for me. But, I don't believe it's a dead-end, so, even in this there is joy about what God can do with a repentant soul.
Why Not Walk Away?
A "struggler" does not choose his sin. None of us wrote an essay in the fourth grade saying that what we want to be when we grow up is a same-sex struggler who lives a lifestyle that guarantees anger, frustration, isolation, loss and detachment. Some see the struggler as using the life he shows -- church, family and career -- to enable the life he hides. This is not true
We can put the past in perspective and see what is gone. What is difficult is to see what the future holds. I had it laid out so neatly in my prideful days when I thought I could juggle the struggle – develop a double life -- with everything else. Pride not only goes before the fall, it lingers to bury you in the debris. Digging out and dropping the double life for one of transparency has been painful, but has opened the door to help others who struggle.
Can You Really Be Healed?
Romans 10:15 says "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news." The good news of salvation, yes. But the good news for the Christian who struggles with an addictive sin is that you can be free. Free of domination at least. Free to choose not to act out. Free to overcome the temptation, even when it begs you to take that turn at the next corner and walk just a little out of the way.
God’s grace keeps the struggler grounded in his or her darkest hours. A friend shared some simple reminders that have helped me and may be useful to you in sharing with someone who is burdened with homosexuality.
O God made them male and female. (I am a man and intrinsically capable of being drawn to, reaching out for, and experiencing loving feelings and attractions for a woman rather than constantly fixating on my own sex.) Gen 5:2
O His commandments are not grievous. Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden light. (a Godly, heterosexual mindset is in the long run easier to bear, less painful, and more rewarding than homosexuality.) 1 John 5:3 and Matt. 11:30
O Love seeks not its own way. (Homosexuality is never a genuine expression of love toward another human being.) 1 Cor. 13:5
O God rewards those who diligently seek Him, and patience has its perfect work. (God will not forget my labors.) Heb. 11:6 and James 1:4
Forgiveness plays a big part in the overcoming: forgiving those who may have set you on the path . . . forgiving yourself for having lengthened the journey . . . even forgiving others you are angry at for not forgiving you. Unforgiveness is an open door for Satan.
It's tragic what we do in life in hope of love and acceptance. We stumble around, yet Someone loved us and accepted us from the moment we were conceived to the moment we no longer breathe and then beyond. In sorrow we yearn for someone to really know us and yet Someone has always known the very number of hairs on our head. To avoid solitude, we search the wrong and very dark places; yet we have Someone who said He would never leave us.
I am healing, rejecting society's claims of inevitability, shaking off the weight of judgment, refusing to surrender to others' genetic wishful thinking, accepting the reality of choice and embracing the simplicity of surrender . . . to the God who always knew me. Who was always there.
When I was knit in my mother's womb . . . God was there.
When my dad drove away forever . . . God was there.
When the sex abuser crawled into my tent . . . God was there.
When I married my best friend . . . God was there.
When my children were delivered . . . God was there.
When they turned away from me . . . God was there.
When I was hurt . . . God was there.
When I hurt others . . . God was there.
When I was redeemed . . . God was there.
When I fell . . . God was there.
When I was restored . . . God was there.
When I fell again . . . God was there.
When I got up this morning . . . God was there.
When I lay down this evening . . . God was there.
He always IS.
So, I ask one more time. What do the gay people in your church look like?
Thom Hunter, former chief of staff for AT&T in Oklahoma, is now a full-time writer. His blog, Signs of a Struggle, offers hope and help to those who struggle with all forms of sexual brokenness. It can be found at this link: Signs of a Struggle.)
(Note: My new book, Surviving Sexual Brokenness: What Grace Can Do is now available. You can purchase it by using the link to the right of this blog, or on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com or through your local bookstore. The book is available in soft-cover, hard-back or Kindle and Nook e-books. Thank you!)