Sexuality in the Church

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I recently attended a one-day conference in Chattanooga called Sexuality in the Church. Not “Sexuality and the Church” but “Sexuality in the Church.” A minor detail, perhaps, but that in is a two-letter preposition with huge implications.

Sexuality of all shapes and sizes most certainly exists inside the Church just as it exists outside.

A friend invited me to the conference, and truthfully, I entered it with minimal expectations. Would the church hosting the conference keep things surfacey, and would this SSA struggle be sugarcoated or misrepresented? Who would even attend such a conference?

To my delight, quite a number of people attended — a diverse lot, too. Many races and all ages were represented, including an equal number of men and women. SSA individuals like myself and plenty of OSA individuals seeking greater understanding and connection with fellow brothers and sisters.

To my additional delight, surfacey came off the table within the first five minutes. The conference organizer assured everyone that words like “masturbation” and “penis” and “vagina” would be spoken throughout the day and for us to tread carefully from session to breakout group.

I almost had to remind myself of where I sat: surrounded by pews and a giant wooden cross hanging behind the guy breathing “masturbation” into his microphone.

All day long, the open presentations, workshops, and discussions made me question the same thing over and over: why isn’t this special sort of day just an ordinary everyday occurrence in the Church?

One of my more significant insights from the conference centered around a talk on Mark 8 and Jesus’ healing of the blind man at Bethsaida. It’s one of those isolated passages you read a million times and don’t pay much attention to, and then you put it in a broader context and it hits you like a bushel of manna.

Then [Jesus] came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.” Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly.

Jesus didn’t heal the blind man in one fell swoop. He touched him. And then He touched him again. A two-stage healing.

Mere sentences later, Peter declares Jesus the Messiah. And yet he has no understanding of the exact role the Messiah must play: that of a suffering Messiah.

[Jesus] said to [the disciples], “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.” Then He strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him. And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

Peter sees Jesus, and he also doesn’t. He might as well be blind.

Sometimes healing and eyesight happen right away, as evidenced numerous times throughout the Gospels. But for whatever mysterious reason, full vision sometimes takes longer. Sometimes you first must see men walking like fuzzy trees before you cross the next divide.

Sometimes you see some shell of Jesus but not the entire Jesus. This notion of carrying your cross and suffering as He did may not be something you want to see.

Regarding struggles with my sexuality, I have most certainly been healed from the alone. Indeed, I squint and now make out all these fuzzy trees fraternizing about this community.

I am not alone, and neither are you.

And yet the struggle continues, and I don’t claim to be fully “healed” of my sexual struggles whatsoever. I’m still waiting for healing’s second stage.

I have hope that one day we will see clearly like the man at Bethsaida. That our struggles and sorrows will cease once and for all.

But until that coming day of clarity, I must learn to squint and suffer well as Christ himself suffered.

Kudos to New City Fellowship in Chattanooga for a most excellent conference on sexuality in the church. I’m grateful for the personal revelations, new connections, and a renewed hope in openness for the Church at large. I hope this conference returns next year — and I hope other churches learn to see with a similar, renewed vision.

Have you experienced a culture of openness and transparency in the Church, be it at a conference, service, or other venue? Share your stories below!

* Photo courtesy Alexander Mueller, Creative Commons.

  • As this is a very conservative area of Texas, you hear none of this. The very first time I heard “gay” in church (outside of a negative context) was in January of 2016. Most of you already know the story. It was only then that I began to realize that I wasn’t alone and began to deal with who I was. I suppose I could go to the ‘gay’ church, but I don’t want to be necessarily influenced, and besides there is a LOT of homofacism out there (you would have to be blind to not see it). People here just do not talk about these things, which is why I come here.

  • Eddie

    Last November, I attended a one day conference for SSA individuals at a local church some distance from my parents’ home. As far as my expectations were concerned, I really didn’t have any at all. It was my first conference of this nature and I told myself I need to keep an open mind. Being an academic of sorts I wanted to learn new stuff that my online community hasn’t revealed to me yet. I have to say once the conference got started at 9 A.M., I was a bit disappointed by the low turnout. There were maybe 20-30 people in an auditorium that could accommodate ten times that many. The morning schedule included worship songs and testimonies (not sermons) from SSA individuals, both men and women, who gave an account of the lifestyles they lead both before and after coming to know Jesus. I was particularly captivated by the SSA women and their stories, albeit sad stories, but nonetheless open and honest. As much as I wished the entire YOB community was attending, I really wished for our YOB sisters to be there because this was a moment where I saw a healthy balance of men and women coming together sharing a common struggle. That’s my egalitarian side of me showing. After the morning session concluded and after lunch, we broke off into separate groups for lecture classes discussing three various topics. The class I opted for was a comparison and contrast as to the true nature of scripture with an opposing view to what is considered by the LGBT community as to its meanings. The “teacher” had a good bit of material and had to rush through it as our time was limited. We tended to want to ask questions thereby causing him to pause and respond. We followed these classes up with more testimonies and a lecture by a doctor who deals with SSA people professionally. This doctor didn’t promote his own brand of reparative therapy as this is quite controversial. No cure here people! However, he did say that SSA can be mitigated with healthy relationships with other OSA individuals. I appreciated his approach and perspective on this, but I just had a hard time seeing how someone with SSA can be that transparent with OSA people. I’m still in the closet with my friends yet at the same time I DO maintain healthy viable relationships with my OSA “brothers and sisters.” I truly believe this because they all have desirable qualities although I don’t find my friends sexually attractive. The conference leader is convinced I need to come out of the closet and tell friends, family aka EVERYONE about my SSA. “If they don’t accept you, then they weren’t your friends to begin with.” Sorry, no thanks. I don’t want to jeopardize the relationships I have taken a good while to build just to be an open book to everyone. Some privacy needs to be exercised in my opinion and I said it before, I’m not being disingenuous with those I associate with on a regular basis.

    Towards the end of the day, I did get to know the guys in the group a bit more as we delved into our own personal reasons or expectations for the conference during our guys-only time. Like I said I came there with an open mind and to learn from others what I haven’t come to know by my own efforts. A lot of guys briefly talked about their personal stories of coming out, being outed and/or hooking up online. As it turns out there was a single OSA guy in the room who was trying to gain a greater understanding on the subject as his nephew was experiencing SSA. We had to explain what SSA/SGA was as he was unfamiliar with the abbreviated terminology/jargon. As a friendly gesture, I offered myself to him for any questions he might have. Yeah, like I’m some sort of SSA expert now – NOT! I hope to see him again in July for the next conference event that will be extended over more than a day. The conference leader ended our guys only session saying that “community” is the greatest advantage or benefit from these gatherings. I can see why; however, I want to be afforded the time to meet people so that sense of community can take root between all of us. The course of ten hours still left me wanting more transparent interaction.

    • BR Dude

      Such a cool thing to attend, Eddie! I hope you can find more friends and more connections in there! To be honest, I’ve never had this chance to know more about SSA men and women and their struggle, but I have this curiosity to go to a meeting and help myself and others. I wish our church did something like this, but even the word “gay” is kinda looked down upon or just brushed off, and I feel sad for it.
      Well man, rome wasn’t built in one day, so keep fighting the good fight and follow His path to faith.
      Blessings be with you!

      • Eddie

        Thank you BR. I hope so that more connections are made. I would welcome any questions and try to answer them as best I could.

      • Eddie

        Well you’re welcome to join me in July BR. Although this might be of considerable travel expense to you, lol.

        • BR Dude

          Hahaha ^^ yeah.
          I hope somewhere in the future to go to an event like that. Until then, I’m with you all here! 🙂

    • Alyosha

      Hey Eddie,

      “I appreciated his approach and perspective on this, but I just had a hard time seeing how someone with SSA can be that transparent with OSA people…”

      My experience has been that I’ve grown and changed TREMENDOUSLY by being more open about this stuff. The more open I’ve gotten about my SSA, the less power it’s had to draw me into despair and loneliness.

      But I didn’t go out of my way to “force” myself to reveal it. Kinda just happened naturally at a pace I was comfortable with.

      If you did decide to share with a friend, who do you think it’d be?

      • It happened to me in this way too. After I came back to the Lord, I was content to go to church, pray and hope that God would let me in to heaven. He had other plans for me, and I had no idea it would involve my SSA. I have been able to counsel certain youth from our church and elsewhere. Now, a year later, I have been asked to give my testimony to a Sunday school class. I am very nervous about this, but I believe the Lord will help to overcome.

        • Eddie

          It is ok to be nervous. Give your testimony, but I would enlighten them on what it is and how your SSA is working to minister and counsel in accordance with God’s will. Perhaps allow a Q&A time because they may have questions and need clarification.

      • Eddie

        That’s a bit tough. I’ve already hinted to my best friend, but he is of the opinion that he’s ok with keeping personal secrets to one’s ownself. He’s more comfortable NOT knowing. I came out to my dad, therapist and of course the participants at the conf. plus YOB. I would come out to a friend but not a regular friend in my inner circle.

  • BR Dude

    Yes! I feel happy when the community is engaged, working together to support one another!
    Great job, Tom!

  • Buckdipper

    My old church used to have an annual ministries fair where representatives from various parachurch ministries set up stations outside the sanctuary and spoke to us. One of those ministries was Harvest USA, a truly phenomenal ex-gay ministry that survived the Exodus crisis of 2013 fully intact (they pulled out of Exodus long before the debacle – they could see the handwriting on the wall). That church never had conferences like the one you attended – nothing that open – but we were open, nonetheless. When I lived in Florida the large Southern Baptist Church downtown hosted an Exodus group in the late 80’s. An hour to the south, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale had an Aids half-way house in the late 80’s. I was able to open up to two of my pastors in Florida and many in my Christian singles group as well. As far as the kind of “super-open” conference is concerned, that I have not experienced.

  • Darrek

    This is very refreshing to read. One of my biggest complaints about the church has been our inability to talk about taboo subjects. I glad to see 1) that there are churches being upfront about this issue and 2) that there is a community for people like me. I look forward to reading more and getting involved here!

    • Looking forward to having you contribute more too, Darrek! Pull up a chair.

  • mike

    Y’all fortunate to be living in Trumpland! There are no churches here in Vancouver, Canada which would dare have a conference suggesting anything like a teaching against homosexuality. That would be considered hate speech and a complaint would be sent to the local human rights tribunal. Churches fear it because they risk loss of their cherished charitable status. So there are the affirming churches and then the other who hold silent regarding gay issues. You are fortunate to have the Restored Hope Network who remain a coalition of ministries that help churches navigate these confusing sexuality waters. None of those ministry affiliates exist here sad to say… So maybe Buck you can understand my mercy toward affirming churches — they at least are authentic and not as hypocritical as the silent churches here!

    • Buckdipper

      Mike, Yes I can understand your “mercy” towards the churches that affirm practicing homosexuality. I can understand it but, alas, I cannot agree with it. I have carefully read through what you have said in these last two posts and I hope to respond to your comments within the next few days. To fully articulate my position in light of your own, it will require a great deal of time which I will not have until the week is over. Do expect, however, that it will be presented within the rules of civil discourse and avoid any sort of emotional diatribes! Goodnight, my friend.

      • mike

        Buck, it is fine to disagree. In fact, I agree with you as there are many holes in this “mercy” of mine regarding these churches. You could easily shoot cannon balls through these holes and you would be quite justified in making those criticisms. My main spiritual gift is mercy and I tend to go to the extreme with people to uphold their dignity and self worth. There are many bad affirming churches out here and I ask God why don’t you shut them down, why don’t you rain fire and brimstone upon them since I sometimes see no point in what they are doing. His reply is always “I’m not finished with those churches”. I wholeheartedly respect your position and the dangers of these churches.
        In Vancouver here there is a huge drug crisis. People are dying daily from fentanyl overdoses. There is a harm reduction program called “Insite” — a supervised injection site where people come with their own street drugs and are helped inject themselves with clean needles. This harm reduction effort has been criticized repeatedly, but I believe in it. It’s a mercy thing again with me.
        But here I’m off topic again in this thread. If you want to tell me your position I won’t argue with it and will likely agree.

        • Buckdipper

          Will do. However, in terms of this discussion being appropriate for this post, much of what I have to say directly relates to the subject of sexuality in the church and how it is discussed. The parts that don’t directly relate to I will send to you via email. I come from one of those mainline denominations that split over the issue of homosexuality (I will not mention which denomination – that is off topic). There was LOTS AND LOTS of discussion about sexuality in that church, I assure you. It seemed at times that all we talked about was sex ! In the years leading up to the split, the issue of sexuality in the church dominated our denomination’s blog sites and publications. There were endless “facilitated conversations” and “dialogues” about homosexuality and related issues that overflowed from the church hierarchy all the way down to the local parish level. These sessions – supposedly – were set up to bring the orthodox and liberal factions together to come to a common understanding of sexuality that would stave off schism. Unfortunately, the liberal faction was usually in charge of orchestrating these discussions. These dialogues were carefully crafted to manipulate the outcome in favor of the pro-gay-sex party. Here is the point. The radicals carefully planned their attack with speakers who spoke almost exclusively out of personal experience with almost no reference to the word of God – if any. The liberals used the personal pain of their speakers to emotionally manipulate the discussions. The conservatives argued primarily from scripture but everything was orchestrated to make sure that “experience,” personal pain and emotion would trump anything that the Bible taught on homosexuality. The liberals also kept the “sexuality dialogue” going endlessly, year after year, in attempt to simply wear down the church’s “muddled middle” and lukewarm orthodox. In the end, the “muddled middle” and weak conservatives gave in to the predetermined outcome of this dialogue. The liberals won the sexuality war and the orthodox (including myself) broke away and formed a separate denomination. Which comes to my major point here: The “affirming churches” depend heavily on emotion and experience in their sexuality discussions. Scripture is usually ignored or, in those few affirming churches that use the Evangelical label, scripture is manipulated and re-interpreted in the light of personal experience. It is therefore absolutely vital that we, in our own sexuality dialogues, firmly ground our understanding in the plain meaning of God’s Word. Scripture must undergird our discussion of personal experience in every way. Personal experience must be seen in the light of Biblical teaching – avoiding the trap of interpreting the Bible through lens of experience and “feelings.” If we fail apply an uncompromising view of scripture to our open discussion of sexuality, we will be led astray by the evil one and our once-solid faith will slowly morph into a lukewarm sea of feel-good religion.

          • mike

            I’m sorry to hear how church discussions on sexuality went awry. Recently two mainline denominations here suffered similar fates. Yikes, better not to have these discussions in the church since sexuality as divorce are always emotional issues and experientially presented.
            Division happens due to poor or corrupted leadership. There are always two groups: the idealists and the pragmatists. The former rejects practicality for the sake of moral principles. The latter reject moral principles for practicality. But it takes strong leadership to see that there is NO conflict between morals and practicalities. Strong leadership demonstrates that in fact we are MORE free when we limit our lives by these morals. Our lives blossom ONLY in the confines of these boundaries established by the life giving good God. Morals become a means to practicalities such that no compromise is needed.
            But what do you do with those who disagree? Who want compromise because they don’t see?
            Although the churches here have split the result should be obvious. The affirming church memberships are shrinking. Some are closing their doors unable to afford to pay the rent.
            I guess be very wary of church sexuality discussions unless you know the motive!

    • Not sure I’d use the words “fortunate” and “Trump” in the same thought process, but I get what you’re saying. We definitely have more outlets and freedoms in America compared to other places in the world.

  • A Friend

    What a great way to put sexuality in context with what the Bible teaches. Ours would never have that, as one even said in our small group during the week, “Homosexuality is the unforgivable sin!” Thus, I shut down, and determined no one will know I struggle with homosexuality/being gay/SSA–whatever the proper term is–and knew I was alone. Having found this group, I’ve been able to put this into perspective and realize that others are in the same boat as I am. It’d be fun to talk in person without fear of backlash. As a result of reading posts on here, I’ve had a lesser want of gay sex, am reading my Bible more, and telling others about Jesus more. Did my church bring this out in me? Sadly enough, no.

    • Darrek

      Its really hard because the reality is, people just don’t understand. they don’t understand for a variety of reasons, but because they don’t and because so many are unwilling to try and make sense of what so many of us go through we are left isolated and alone. I was determined to take my struggle to my grave for the longest time, no one would know and I would just do my best through life. As I have discovered though, life is a little funny and confusing. Its still not easy, so many of us are in hiding (myself included) so we have a hard time being able to meet face to face and talk. I am thankful for a place like this where at least we can talk about our struggles and know we are not alone in this.

    • Buckdipper

      Dear “A Friend”: I am shocked by your story about that small group member who stated that “Homosexuality is the unforgivable sin.” That person doesn’t sound very biblically literate! Anyone who has read through the New Testament knows that the only unforgivable sin is “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” Even a mass murderer can be forgiven IF that murderer repents and receives Christ for salvation. Therefore, the most rabidly promiscuous homosexual can also be forgiven if he turns from his sin unto Christ. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is nothing like the wonderful grace of Jesus!

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  • Bryan

    Great post Tom!!

  • Indeed, Kev! I left encouraged. Hope to return to Chatty for a second round next year.

  • Samuel M-Eshleman

    Vulnerability in the church is, I believe, one of the major tasks for our generation. Sounds like a fascinating conference. Is this conference independent or is it affiliated with any particular organization? Are there other conferences like it that you know of? My girlfriend and I appreciated the last science and religion conference we went to…but, I think this would also be a wonderful option.

    • Indeed, vulnerability is our generation’s challenge. I guess I’m ready to help with the charge? Though I could use all the help I can get…

      This conference was independently run by a church in Chattanooga. They’re hoping to do it again next year, and maybe other churches will catch the spirit and do similar events. I’d love to see these types of conversations and discussions be more normalized in our churches.

    • Eddie

      There happens to be an SSA conference happening in July here in N.C. that I scheduled myself to attend. The same organization I happen to attend in Nov. Let me know if you need details provided if it’s ok with Tom to share.