By / Jul 23

In 1996, I was a young, newly married man struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction. My life had been centered around church and Christian activities. Yet, in all my years in the church, the only words I heard about homosexuality were condemning ones. I certainly had never heard anything redemptive with regard to homosexuality.

Embracing ear-tickling theology

Fearful of sharing my struggle in the church, and growing increasingly despondent, I began to look for hope elsewhere. Slowly but surely, like Paul talks about in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, I became unwilling to endure sound doctrine, and instead, sought teachers who would teach me according to my feelings. My ears were desperate to be tickled, and I found what I was looking for in the relatively young gay Christian movement.

Today, that movement is no longer young. It has been slowly moving from the fringe to the mainstream. Many mainline denominations have adopted its tenants, believing that the Biblical prohibitions against gay sexuality and identity do not apply to modern homosexual identity and expression. For many Christians, it is hard to understand how anyone could believe a theology that strays so far from orthodoxy. Why do so many people, gay and straight alike, seem so desperate to have their ears tickled?

Choosing what’s wrong in order to feel loved

In my personal experience, and in my experience with many people who either struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction or who self-identify as gay, it is not intentional rebellion that causes most gay-identified men and women to adopt a gay-affirming theology. It is, instead, a great desire to be loved, accepted, affirmed and simply ‘ok’ with God. Unfortunately, most of us did not find that in our more orthodox churches. My acceptance of a pro-gay theology was my final attempt to reconcile the feelings that raged inside of me and yet seemed to be unacceptable to God. The gay Christian movement spoke directly into my inner conflict.

While my surface likely looked fine, my insides were a mess. Imagine being a young boy with a deep, unquantifiable sense of being different and being called a fag in the 6th grade of your Christian school. Imagine the horror of attractions in junior high that seemed to validate the names that were more and more frequently hurled your way. Imagine hearing your pastor describe homosexuality as an abomination and wondering if you were an abomination. Imagine what it might have been like to attempt to forge a loving, trusting relationship with a God who seemed to be disgusted by you. Imagine names, and bullying and self-hatred and self-loathing and fear of what you might really be. Imagine praying every night for God to make you like the other boys and your prayers never seeming to be answered. Imagine dating girls to try to quell the rumors.

In the midst of all of that inner turmoil, I found myself living my life with an underlying, pervasive sense of fear and abandonment from God and I worked harder and harder to try and scrub my secret sin away. I was striving for perfection in almost every other area of my life to somehow make up for my struggle. But it seemed to follow me everywhere. Even as a law student who had never told anyone of my struggle and never acted on it, I read rumors about myself in a bathroom stall and got gay propositions in my school mailbox. I got married with the sincere hope that marriage might fix me, but ended up feeling trapped, illegitimate and completely unknown. My life felt like one giant lie after another until I found something that told me God did love me and He didn’t care what I was or what I did. I was finally ok being gay.

A theology that left me desperate . . . again

I found all of that that in gay theology. I didn’t find gay theology because I wanted to be rebellious. I found it because I was desperate. And my tickled ears felt incredible . . . for awhile. I began attending a gay-friendly church. As much as I wanted it to be good, it was shallow and fell flat.  I continued to read my Bible, but it too fell flat as my piecemeal study of it proved as shallow as the gay-friendly church. I began to pull away from any personal connection with my Christianity and plowed forward into a life more and more defined by my sexuality. Gay Christianity provided some sense of spiritual security for me, but I began to feel emptier and emptier. I had found a god who did not condemn me but who was also decidedly powerless and benign. Over time, I realized that I felt as far from Him as I had before.  

This new theology empowered me to leave my wife, but six months later I was feeling less and less connected with God and more and more committed to my gay identity. While my heart was still determined and my resolve to make homosexuality work for me was strong, I surprisingly found myself reading the testimony of a man who had walked away from homosexuality. In his story, I discovered the Jesus I had been looking for all along.  

The truth that sets us free

I hungrily re-opened my Bible and found that Jesus DID love me, DID accept me, and DID understand me just as I was. And He loved me too much to leave me there. He beckoned me on a journey–not sending me off on my own but offering to walk alongside me and empower me all the way. I found a mentor who persistently walked me through the Word in order to help me see the reality of who I was in Christ –not a straight Christian, not a gay Christian, but simply a follower of Christ and a child of the King. We found a church that offered both truth and grace; where people were real and changed lives were evident.

I thought I wanted license to be who I was, but found that license did not free me. I needed liberty–not liberty in the form of changed feelings, but freedom from being defined, identified and controlled by my feelings. I found that in a Jesus who was willing to get muddy as He personally rescued me from the pit in which I had not even realized I was stuck.  

I often wonder how my life might have been different if I had been introduced to this Jesus as a child. What if I had known more about the reality of living in a fallen world, the reality and purpose of struggle, and the fact that surrender to Jesus is very different than simply making demands of Jesus? What if I had heard stories of hope and power from real people dealing with real issues? What if my pastors had not used canned sermon illustrations but had revealed a little more of their own humanity and the way Jesus rescued them from their own pits? I don’t really know and, honestly, I am grateful for each component of my journey today. But I do know that there are many people, just like Paul told Timothy about, who do not endure sound doctrine because they, too, are desperate for someone they have never met through legalism or sanitized, cultural Christianity.  

Will we judge the precious souls who find solace in gay Christianity as rebels beyond hope, or will we introduce them to the true Jesus, who calls all who know Him to costly discipleship and offers every person transformation at a level far deeper than the surface of their feelings? Will we push them away to an empty world of licensed behavior, or will we do the harder work of introducing them to the great Liberator and Author of freedom? Sound theology should fill our minds and our hearts as we welcome desperate people and, in our mutual desperation, discover true identity in Jesus!

By / Jul 8

NOTE: Sam Allberry will be one of the speakers at the ERLC National Conference: “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” The conference is designed to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families and their churches. This event will be held at the iconic Opryland Hotel on October 27-29, 2014. To learn more go here.

There are a number of things churches can do to help Christians with same-sex attraction (SSA):

1. MAKE IT EASY TO TALK ABOUT

Pastors as well as church members need to know that homosexuality is not just a political issue but a personal one, and that there will likely be some within their own church family for whom it is a painful struggle. When the issue comes up in the life of the church, it needs to be recognized that this is an issue Christians wrestle with too, and that the church needs to be ready and equipped to walk alongside such brothers and sisters.

Many Christians still speak about homosexuality in hurtful and pejorative ways. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard Christians (even some in positions of church leadership) use phrases like: “That’s so gay” to describe something they don’t like. Such comments are only going to make their Christian brothers and sisters struggling with SSA feel completely unable to open up. When I first began to share my own experiences with friends at church, I was struck by how many mature Christians felt they needed to apologize for comments they’d made in the past about homosexuality, which they now realized may have been hurtful.

A key to helping people feel safe about sharing issues of SSA is having a culture of openness about the struggles and weaknesses we experience in general in the Christian life. Christian pastor and writer Timothy Keller has said that churches should feel more like the waiting room for a doctor and less like a waiting room for a job interview. In the latter we all try to look as competent and impressive as we can. Weaknesses are buried and hidden. But in a doctor’s waiting room we assume that everyone there is sick and needs help. And this is much closer to the reality of what is going on in church.

By definition, Christians are weak. We depend on the grace and generosity of God. We are the “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3). It is a mark of a healthy church that we can talk about these things, and so we need to do all we can to encourage a culture of being real about the hard things of the Christian life.

But there is a caution: having made it easy for someone to talk about their sexual struggles, we must not then make the mistake of always talking to them about it. They may need to be asked about how things are going from time to time, but to make this the main or only thing you talk about with them can be problematic. It may reinforce the false idea that this is who they really are, and it may actually overlook other issues that they may need to talk about more. Sexuality may not be their greatest battle.

2. HONOR SINGLENESS

Those for whom marriage is not a realistic prospect need to be affirmed in their calling to singleness. Our fellowships need to uphold and honor singleness as a gift and take care not unwittingly to denigrate it. Singles should not be thought or spoken of as loose ends that need tying up. Nor should we think that every single person is single because they’ve been too lazy to look for a marriage partner.

I remember meeting another pastor who, on finding out I was single, was insistent that I should be married by now and proceeded to outline immediate steps I needed to take to rectify this. He was very forthright and only backed down when I burst into tears and told him I was struggling with homosexuality. It is not an admission I should have needed to make. We need to respect that singleness is not necessarily a sign that someone is postponing growing up.

3. REMEMBER THAT CHURCH IS FAMILY

Paul repeatedly refers to the local church as the “God’s household” (1 Tim. 3:15). It is the family of God, and Christians are to be family to one another.

So Paul encourages Timothy to treat older men as fathers, “younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters” (1 Tim. 5:1-2). The church is to think of itself as immediate family. Nuclear families within the church need the input and involvement of the wider church family; they are not designed to be self-contained. Those that open up their family life to others find that it is a great two-way blessing.

Singles get to experience some of the joys of family life; children get to benefit from the influence of other older Christians; parents get to have the encouragement of others supporting them; and families as a whole get to learn something of what it means to serve Christ by being outward-looking as a family.

4. DEAL WITH BIBLICAL MODELS OF MASCULINITY AND FEMININITY, RATHER THAN CULTURAL STEREOTYPES

Battles with SSA can sometimes be related to a sense of not quite measuring up to expected norms of what a man or woman is meant to be like. So when the church reinforces superficial cultural stereotypes, the effect can be to worsen this sense of isolation and of not quite measuring up.

For example, to imply that men are supposed to be into sports or fixing their own car, or that women are supposed to enjoy craft or to suggest that they will want to “talk about everything”, is to deal in cultural rather than biblical ideas of how God has made us. It can actually end up overlooking many ways in which people are reflecting some of the biblical aspects of manhood and womanhood that culture overlooks.

5. PROVIDE GOOD PASTORAL SUPPORT

Pastoral care for those with SSA does not need to be structured, but it does need to be visible. Many churches now run support groups for members battling with SSA; others provide mentoring or prayer-partner schemes.

Those with SSA need to know that the church is ready to support and help them, and that it has people with a particular heart and insight to be involved in this ministry. There may be issues that need to be worked through, and passages from the Bible that need to be studied and applied with care and gentle determination. There may be good friendships that need to be cultivated and accountability put in place, and there will be the need for long-term community. These are all things the local church is best placed to provide.

It has been a few years now since I first started telling close Christian friends that I battle with homosexual feelings. It was a lengthy process and in some ways quite emotionally exhausting. But it was one of the best things I have ever done. The very act of sharing something so personal with someone else is a great trust, and in virtually every case it strengthened and deepened the friendship. Close friends have became even closer. I also found that people felt more able to open up to me about personal things in their own lives, on the basis that I had been so open with them. There have been some wonderful times of fellowship as a result.

It has now been several months since I shared about the issue of sexuality publicly with my church family. Again, it has been a great blessing to have done so. There has been a huge amount of support—people asking how they can help and encourage me in this issue, many saying that they are praying for me daily. Others have said how much it means to them that I would share something like this. It has also been a great encouragement to me that it does not seem to have defined how others see me. Aside from the expressions of love and support, business was back to normal very quickly.

This article was originally posted here.