Editor’s Note: The article originally appeared in Light Magazine (Summer 2015). Download your copy here.
I had a secret that I kept hidden through high school, college and even the Marine Corp Reserves. Then, when I entered graduate school, I no longer kept it a secret.
I came out of the closet.
I broke the news to my parents and told them, “I am gay.” The news devastated my mother, who was not a Christian at the time. She was confused and angry, but God used it to draw her to himself. Through a little pamphlet on homosexuality that shared the plan of salvation, she came to realize that if God can love her in spite of her sin, then she could love me, her son. Within a few months, my father became a Christian, as well.
Meanwhile, I spent most of my free time in the gay clubs and began experimenting with drugs. Eventually, I supported my habit by selling drugs. I thought I could be a student by day and a drug dealer by night, but three months before I was to receive my doctorate, the administration expelled me. So I moved to Atlanta, Ga., and became a supplier to other dealers in over a dozen states. In addition, it was nothing for me to have multiple anonymous sexual encounters each day.
My parents didn’t know the details of my life, but they knew my greatest need was to make Jesus Christ my Lord. Along with more than hundred prayer warriors, my mother began to pray, “God do whatever it takes to bring this prodigal son to you.” In her desperation, my mom fasted every Monday for seven years and once fasted 39 days on my behalf.
An answered prayer
God answered her prayer the day I opened up my door to twelve federal drug enforcement agents, the Atlanta police, and two big German shepherd dogs. I had just received a large shipment of drugs and was charged with the street value equivalent to 9.1 tons of marijuana. With that amount, I was facing ten years to life in federal prison. I had started with a bright future among society’s finest in academia and I found myself in the ditch among society’s despised in Atlanta City Detention Center.
I called home from jail, and my mother’s first words were, “Son, are you okay?” No condemnation, just unconditional love and grace. Romans 2:4 says, “God’s kindness leads us to repentance.” Even on that miserable day, God was pouring out his irresistible grace and drawing me to himself through the words of my mother. My mom was actually excited to get that call because I hadn’t called home in years, and she knew without a doubt that this was God’s answer to her prayers.
Three days later, I found a Gideon’s New Testament on top of a heap of trash, which is what I felt like, and read through the Gospel of Mark. I started reading the Bible because I had an enormous amount of time on my hands. But a Bible is not just ink on paper. It is the very breath of God, sharper than any double-edged sword, and it exposed my sin.
A couple of weeks later I was called into the nurse’s office. They handcuffed me, chained my hands around my waist, and shackled my feet together. I shuffled in and knew something wasn’t right. She was uncomfortably struggling with the words to say and finally scribbled on a piece of paper: HIV+. The days after this diagnosis were dark and lonely. I was sentenced to six years, certainly much better than ten years to life, but the news of my HIV status felt like a death sentence.
Lying in my bed one night, I noticed among the profanity on the metal bunk above me, “If you’re bored, read Jeremiah 29:11.” “For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” At the most hopeless point in my life, God told me that regardless of who I was and what I had done in the past, he still had a plan for me.
A gradual transformation
My transformation was gradual. God was convicting me, but I didn’t want to let go of my sexual identity. I went through every verse and chapter of the Bible looking for the blessing of a monogamous gay relationship. I couldn’t find anything. I also realized that unconditional love is not the same thing as unconditional approval of my behavior.
My identity is not gay, ex-gay, or even heterosexual for that matter, but my sole identity as a child of the living God must be in Jesus Christ alone. A decision had to be made: either abandon God and pursue a gay relationship; or abandon pursuing a gay relationship — liberating myself from my same-sex desires — and live as a follower of Jesus Christ. My decision was obvious. I chose God.
I used to think that to please this Christian God, I had to become straight — I had to become heterosexual — but even those with heterosexual feelings still struggle with sin; that should not be the goal. Our goal, as Christians, no matter what feelings we have, must be holiness. As I began to live this life of surrender and obedience, God called me to full-time ministry while I was in prison of all places. God did another miracle too—he shortened my sentence from six years to three years, which is almost unheard of in the federal system.
I was released from prison in July 2001, and I started school at Moody Bible Institute the very next month. I graduated from Moody in 2005 and went on to get my Master of Arts in biblical exegesis from Wheaton College Graduate School and recently received my Doctorate of Ministry from Bethel Seminary. I also had the immense honor of co-authoring a book with my mother called Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope, and I am now back at Moody teaching in the Bible department. I went from prisoner to professor, how about that for a resume?
Christian parents of LGBT or same-sex attracted children often feel alone and sometimes racked with guilt. But, it’s not their fault. Perfect parenting does not guarantee perfect children. The job of Christian parents is not to produce godly children but to be godly parents, love their children, and point them to a life of costly discipleship. Without my parents living out the gospel in relationship with me, I would not be here. Church, let us come alongside our parents and our children—no matter what sin they’re struggling with — and point them to the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ.