I am a business executive, congregation president, youth-group leader, athletic coach, happily married man for more than 25 years, and proud father of a couple of teenagers. Oh—and I'm gay. My admission requires some explanation, and perhaps some supporting evidence. You see, except for some experimentation during adolescence, I have not acted on my desires. From the outside I've usually looked and acted like a "normal" heterosexual male.
I was raised Conservative Baptist (emphasis on conservative). From as early as I can remember, I knew right from wrong, white from black, good from evil, righteousness from sinfulness. There was no moral gray, no ambiguity. I felt irreparably condemned by what I knew.
When my wife and I were ready to choose our own theological home, we became part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The message of grace alone was, and still is, what attracted me to Lutheranism. Unfortunately, we Lutherans are not all that good at living in and sharing that grace, and sometimes I still feel condemned by what should be good news.
On the inside—in my psyche, feelings, and attractions—I'm as certain of my gayness as I am of my sex. I first became aware of my sexual orientation when I was about 9 or 10 years old, at church summer camp. At that time, I had no idea what sex was, but I was nonetheless aware of an overwhelming emotional attraction I had developed to another boy of my age. It was an experience that would repeat itself over and over again. As I entered adolescence, it would take on a more sexual nature.
By the time I was in high school, I had experienced a number of serious crushes on other young men. Most of these came to nothing but teenage friendships, but in a couple of instances, they did take on some physical expression. The physiological and emotional drive to be intimate with another person of my own sex was almost overwhelming. So was the guilt associated with my succumbing to this drive.
While my high school peers were bragging about their heterosexual exploits, I was trying desperately not to have the homosexual encounters that my nature inexorably seemed to draw me toward. For all of us, admittedly, adolescence carries some degree of alienation (from others and from self), but for me the sense of aloneness and self-loathing was almost more than I could bear. I developed a variety of "coping mechanisms"—alcohol, drug abuse, heavy smoking, and forced heterosexual encounters—but they proved ineffective in distracting me from my urges. By the time I was a high school senior, I was frequently depressed and given to serious thoughts of suicide.
A Strange Normality
At 19, in the summer between my first and second year of college, I became a Christian. Obviously, given my Christian family background, I had known about Christ and the offer of salvation for many years. Nonetheless, I had never been able to make a meaningful connection between the conservative theology of my family and my inner turmoil. But at 19, when I found myself in the throes of suicidal depression, Christ seemed to be my best choice of last resort.
I thank God that much about my life changed as a result of that choice. I recovered from my depression, got my drinking under control, quit smoking (eventually), and straightened out my sexual life enough to begin a healthy relationship with a wonderful woman. In time this led to my marriage to a person who knows and has supported me more than I could ever deserve. But, as great as all this was, my sexual orientation did not change; I still was not then, nor am I now, "normal."
And that's what I wish I could be: normal. I've tried to change, tried to become heterosexual, tried just about everything to do so! Counseling, therapy, prayer, healing—you name it. But for all my trying, all I've managed to do is control the behavioral manifestations of my sexual orientation. God has given me the power to live a fulfilling heterosexual life, together with the grace to live with the fact that I'm still homosexual. It hasn't been an easy victory. There are times when maintaining this dichotomous life is nearly overwhelming.
Over the years I've continued to struggle with emotional attractions and attachments to other men that have torn away at my insides and eroded my confidence in myself and in God. I continue to struggle from time to time with thoughts that my wife and sons would be better off if they didn't have to deal with such a moody husband and father—especially his recurring bouts of almost suicidal depression.
Yes, mine is a victory in the sense that I have managed to maintain life, love, and fidelity in my marriage, but it is a victory that has required almost daily battle, and one that comes at considerable psychological cost to me and to my family.
I have no regrets about my commitment to begin and maintain my faithfulness in heterosexual marriage. Nothing has taught me more, nothing has been a greater source of joy, than the relationships I have with my wife and sons. But I am sometimes angry about the effort required, and I am frequently angry that I have had to do this on my own, without the support of friends or of a caring Christian community.
The Shroud of Silence
Christian literature on homosexuality is full of polarizing rhetoric. One side says that we should welcome our gay brothers and sisters into Christian fellowship; that we should recognize this is how God made them and therefore it must be how God intends for them to live. The other side recites the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, uses words like abomination, and gives us anecdotal evidence of people being changed. From the perspective of my experience, I cannot help but conclude that both positions are naïve.
My position on homosexuality—while it may be realistic and grounded in true experience—seems to offend many and please almost no one. My fervent belief that God intends us to live in heterosexual and monogamous fidelity offends the liberals who think I should accept and live out my supposedly God-given sexual nature. At the same time, my experience that grace may abound but that it doesn't necessarily "fix" me or make it easy for me to live the "straight" life offends the conservatives who preach and demand a clearer "victory" over my sinful nature. Rhetoric seldom provides us with an accurate representation of reality. My story is a reality. I believe it is a reality shared by many more than just me, but disclosed by few.
Why haven't I told my story to my church friends? Why is my identity anonymous? Because, despite all the claims by my heterosexual friends to "love the sinner but hate the sin," I do not trust them. I do not believe that they could know this about me and still want me to be their congregational president, their youth-group leader, their sons' coach. I wish I could believe it, but I don't. Perhaps I'm hypersensitive in not trusting, but I've overheard too many jokes, seen too many expressions of hate directed at homosexuals, to believe that these same people could be my friends if they knew.
To be honest, I myself sometimes have a hard time loving the sinner while hating the sin. Sometimes this takes the form of self-hate, but more often I struggle with hating promiscuous heterosexual men, because they seem so self-justifying and because some people—even some Christians—seem so accommodating of that sin while so condemning of mine. Just last week I was talking with a Christian friend about concerns I had for members of our youth group. His response was something like, "Well, you know, with all those hormones … " I don't get it. Do young male heterosexuals benefit from some sort of special dispensation? Why is their giving in to their urges so understandable while my giving in to mine would be such an abomination?
The debate on homosexuality is tearing at the fiber of almost every mainline Christian denomination, while also leaving many of us who actually are homosexual feeling misunderstood, marginalized, and ignored by the "dialogue."
I am not trying to argue in favor of my homosexuality, but to simply acknowledge the reality of my condition. I am broken, and I acknowledge my homosexuality as a manifestation of this brokenness. But I do not believe I am any more broken than the person who sits in the pew next to me. The greedy, the liars, the drunkards, and the single yet sexually active heterosexuals—they all share in equal portion with me in this brokenness.
Sin is sin, and grace is grace. We are all sinners and we all—whether heterosexual or homosexual—are offered the same grace. Ours is no easy victory. It would be a whole lot easier if our churches would try to understand, and accept, those like me who claim victory nonetheless.
The author lives in the western United States.
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Other articles on homosexuality are available in our Sexuality and Gender area.
Earlier Christianity Today articles about compassion for homosexuals include:
Ex-Gay Sheds the Mocking Quote MarksThe retiring head of Exodus says gay transformation ministries are more respected and effective than ever. (January 7, 2002)
Walking in the TruthWinning arguments at church conventions is not enough without compassion for homosexuals. (Sept. 4, 2000)
Building a BridgeA gay journalist and evangelical pastor correct their mutual misperceptions. (July 13, 2000)
The Jerry We Never KnewHe hangs out with liberal pundits and gay activists. Is this the same Jerry Falwell who founded the Moral Majority? (May 2, 2000)
Sex and SaintsA new vocabulary for an oversexualized culture. (Apr. 3, 2000)
Building outreach and friendship with the homosexual communityWhat Jerry Falwell really said at the Anti-Violence Forum. (Nov. 5, 1999)
Just Saying 'No' Is Not EnoughHow should Christians address homosexuality? (Oct. 4, 1999)
Who Killed Matthew Shepard?Human nature being what it is, we can too easily cross the line between hating the sin and hating the sinner. (Dec. 7, 1998)
Revelation and Homosexual ExperienceCan it be said of us that we surprise others by the sympathy and compassion we extend toward homosexuals? (Nov. 11, 1996)
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