The church has a poor history when it comes to same-sex attractions. I will never deny this. I have seen many men and women hurt by the church simply for asking the “wrong” questions or by expressing personal opinions.
It’s become generally accepted that the church is the last place for any SSA person to go to for refuge.
God has blessed me, though. I have always been able to find comfort from my church when facing my struggles.
The first church I attended as an adult embraced me when I came out to them. The leadership prayed with me, encouraged me, and actually asked me for advice when wanting to tackle the topic of homosexuality for sermons. When I began serving on staff as an intern, there wasn’t even a discussion about my past. They were already deeply involved in my walk with Christ. They knew where I was in life.
When I moved to my next church, I shared my past with my immediate supervisor during the interview process. His response?
“Everyone struggles with something. That doesn’t change any of my thoughts about you.”
I was hired and it was never brought up again.
At my current church, I did keep my past hidden until after I was hired. Garth encouraged me to share with the leadership when I opened up to him, and that did eventually involve a tough conversation. I was concerned, perhaps, I’d finally face a church that wouldn’t give me grace.
But the senior pastor at my current church, though disappointed I’d kept this hidden for so long, did show me grace. He said almost exactly the same thing as my previous supervisor: “Everyone struggles. And interviews don’t involve listing out your worst sins, no matter what your sins may be.”
The leadership where I work now wants to be sure I am continuing to struggle with success. They have even invested in some of my personal costs for counseling. They’ve taken steps to care for me.
My church has accepted me for who I am and who God is making me into. And they are willing to walk with me down this road, whatever it looks like.
I share this hoping it will encourage you to know that not all churches make the mistakes. Not all churches are mishandling the topic of homosexuality. Not all churches are hurting every SSA individual who comes through their doors.
At least three churches are doing it right. And I praise God I have been able to attend each one.
Have you experienced acceptance of your attractions and sexual struggles in the church? Talk about a positive experience when you were well received in the church.
* Photo courtesy mrdubya, Creative Commons.
Yeah, I’ve never been rejected for my SSA by anyone in leadership at any church I’ve attended. I told my youth pastor about my struggle with homosexuality (that was before people started calling it same-sex attraction) when I was a teenager, and he was fine with it. I told everyone at my next church that I started attended when I was almost nineteen, and they were all fine with it. And now here in Japan, my church is totally comfortable with it.
I think what a lot of Christians are wary of, and probably what fuels a lot of the hate-talk and rejection, is having to tolerate a sinful lifestyle of someone who calls himself/herself a Believer, having homosexuality forced upon them, being forced to accept it as the SSA person wishes. But when the SSA person is humble, doesn’t want to force others to approve of homosexual behavior, and lives the life of a true follower of Jesus, I think most Christians wouldn’t have a problem with that. There are exceptions, of course, but I wonder how those Christians who reject anyone with SSA can really be considered Christians.
“There are exceptions, of course, but I wonder how those Christians who reject anyone with SSA can really be considered Christians.”
It reminds me of several years ago when I skimmed through the book “unChristian” by David Kinnaman looking at George Barna’s data. Christians are largely perceived to be this, that, and the other thing (one of which was anti-gay), which they ought not to be. Alongside that same data, was an assessment of the biblical worldview of people. Of the whole group surveyed, only 4% had anything like a basic biblical worldview. When restricted to those who self-identified as born-again evangelicals, those with a basic biblical worldview swelled to a whopping 9%. Perhaps the problem is that nine out of ten people who identify as evangelical simply don’t know how to think and act biblically.
On the other hand, there are roughly 6.6 million Christians alive today who are LGBT (3% of 2.1 billion worldwide). There is no known method for Christians to change their sexual orientation. In the old days, and in over 100 nations currently, LGBT people have had to face every abuse possible, including beatings, imprisonment and execution via governments or vigilante groups (which almost always go unpunished) but the acceptance of LGBT people in civilized nations made groups like this one here (YOB) possible. Tolerance and acceptance of open LGBT discussions were never possible in the past. And today if YOB was discussing these topics in Russia, for instance, they would be subject to fines and jail time for publicly discussing homosexuality. The articles here on masturbation and wet dreams would most likely have landed the writers in prison. I am glad we have an open society. I see it as a benefit even for people here who don’t support LGBT civil rights. Seems to be a bit of ‘biting the hand that feeds you’ to attack liberalism when that is what is making the discussions here a free and open forum.
Would any of us really want to live in a society in which one group’s religious take on scriptures became law for all of us?
Dear Aaron, I would have to agree with you for the most part. But I also understand that many “regular Church folk” today simply have not had anyone teach them about this relatively touchy subject or challenge them to consider how to love people with SSA. I think we (the SSA Christian community) need to speak up and share our stories and experiences (both good and bad) and help educate the regular church folk and many pastors about Christians with SSA and how they as a church can help them to walk in obedience and purity to Christ. Heaven knows there are whole hosts of sexual brokenness out there today. How is the church doing with unwed mothers? With adulterers? With porn addicts? With the many Christian couples living together who aren’t married? My guess is that if they aren’t dealing with this brokenness in a positive way, of course they won’t have much compassion for the SSA Christian.
I agree, Alan.
Though I’m married and have a child, I’ve experienced predominantly sexual desires toward other males since early childhood. Coming from a more rural and conservative environment, it wasn’t something I was even necessary aware had a name, and later, I was in self-denial about it in some ways. I certainly didn’t speak openly about it or form a public identity based on it. It wasn’t until moving to a different state at the end of high school and a change of environment and circumstances that I started to talk about it, understand it for myself, and deal with it.
Having been through a fair few churches in the course of my life, I’ve experienced a range of responses to my homosexual desires or otherwise responses to homosexual desire in theory. Most of them have been gracious and compassionate. Others have been at least well-intentioned but misguided. And a few have just been outright hateful.
I think there’s something to be said about the difference in responses from some who’s more of a cultural conservative Christian for whom a certain level of decency can pass for holiness and faith and a person who expresses a genuinely active and passionate embrace of the Faith. I think there’s also something to be said about age and which generation fellow Christians belong to, but that’s by no means a perfect correlation.
I recall that my two biggest bullies who called me “gay” and “fag” (definitely intending those to be self-evidential insults) were two of my fellow confirmation students at church. I don’t recall them being constantly that way toward me, but there were seasons like that.
I recall plenty of teenage peers from conservative church backgrounds who made jokes about gays and express disgust about homosexual activity. It was clearly not moral outrage; it was us vs. them tribalism, and their expressions of revulsion for such behaviors were based in conditioned personal prejudice. There’s plenty of bigoted and evidently unregenerate driftwood to be found in some churches.
There was a college campus ministry that I was involved with for a number of years that consisted of a fairly radical bunch of fellow believers. The warm acceptance of all sorts of people coming from all sorts of broken and sinful backgrounds was quite normal in that group. It had a fairly high percentage of “ex-gay”. I think a lot of the males there were perhaps more stoic and physically dispassionate with one another than I would have liked or would have been helpful to me, but that just is what it is. And there was perhaps too high of an expectation of how much people could change and be “free” of every manner of sinful desires. Still, they were a very loving and committed community.
When I was out of college and attending church, my first pastor was totally accepting and unmoved in any freakish or unusual way by homosexual sin in my past, even my fairly recent past at that time. And that didn’t stop him from asking me to serve as an Adult Sunday School teacher. He thought open communication was the best answer. Working in the youth group later, most of my fellow adults and parents of teens I worked with and who knew me and about my past seemed to be fine with me. There was the occasional mother who was scared for her teenage son’s well-being around me. But we were able to talk it out and find peace for her. However, there were a few teens who liked me and would tell me about the gay jokes their parents made about me behind my back. I wasn’t surprised to hear it.
At a different church, I was very well received by the pastor and able to tell him everything with ease. He became a good friend to me, and he was very helpful in getting me shake off a modern Western understanding sexuality and developing a more biblical Augustinian outlook on human nature and desires. It was very freeing. Down the road after a change of pastors, there was a reversal of the previous pastor’s placing me in ministry on account of a major past homosexual sin of mine. It was a complicated situation and very disorienting for me to have different pastors respond differently to the same thing. Ultimately, with the counsel of friends and family who know me well and have lived through life alongside me, I’m convinced I was dealt with improperly and that a degree of foreignness and fear of homosexuality was at play. Intentions were good, but actions were ultimately damaging to me.
I’ve found that personal experience is the best transforming means of grace for a lot of fellow Christians. No one really gets it till you live life alongside someone else and see it for yourself. I’ve seen it change friends who started out being creaped out and disgusted about the idea of sex with another guy and ended up just saying it doesn’t interest them personally; they changed from opposing it based on disgust to simply having a genuine moral conviction and sympathy for someone who experiences such desires. Apart from personal experience, I still see a lot of theoretically compassionate fellow Christians say and do things that are well-intentioned but misguided, insecure, hurtful, and so forth.
One thing is for sure, and I suspect the guys at this website know it for themselves as well: the church has generally been lacking in any sort of deeply knowledgeable help for believers who struggle with any sort of sinful sexual desires other than the standard fair heterosexual ones. And the “solutions” for the latter are often distorted and reinforce bad hypersexualized thinking. It’s not so hard to find compassionate fellow Christians to embrace people with minority sexual passions, but we have to teach them and learn together with them what to do, so that the next generation of Christians aren’t so ignorant of what it’s like and that they understand themselves better as well.
Interesting post, Aaron.
Hey Dean, this phrase stuck out to me: “My church has accepted me for who I am and who God is making me into. And they are willing to walk with me down this road, whatever it looks like.”
In a lot of ways, I wish that I would have experienced this. I’ve come out at church many different times- and each time, the responses left me wishing for more.
The first pastor I came out to, said, “I’m not good with this topic. I have a friend in California that you could talk with.” Then we didn’t really talk about it again. The second pastor I talked with prayed with me, and then we didn’t talk about it again. The next pastor I talked with, stressed accountability relationships. And finally the most recent pastor said, “Careful who you tell about this.”, and “You have your family to think about- I encourage you not to indulge in it.”
All of the pastors had well meaning advice- but left me feeling like I’m in it on my own.
Talk to someone else; pray it away; sexual purity; don’t talk about it or act on it. I feel like these are the most common responses by Christians in general. They aren’t sure how to support me, so they resort to treating it like I’m struggling with porn. But, it’s not just sex- it’s also my heart that needs mending.
In a perfect world, they would support my walk with Christ and give me a safe place where I can talk about my struggles, get prayer, and encouragement in the faith. I struggle with God in part because I feel like I have to do it alone- that I’m responsible for keeping my sexuality in check in my own willpower- and somehow keeping the faith. I’m somehow responsible to marry two irreconcilable forces. Like I have to keep myself in check and get my needs met in a Godly way. And do all the functional things- provide for my family, help with the kid, keep everything running, and be the spiritual leader… all by myself. It’s all a bit much sometimes.
On the other hand, they are busy guys and can’t be responsible for each believer in their church. So I get why they defer me to other people/ groups/ send me away. But, this passive rejection- feeling like they either forget me, or don’t have time- hurts. :/
I feel the pain you express here. It is so true that many nice Christian people and pastors are right in there with that group exist who have been so threatened by the recent attacks by gays on religious freedom that they really fear same-sex attraction (or) they have come out of a conservative background that has never had to deal with same-sex attraction. So, there they are. Clueless. And in their discomfort, they respond in ways that seem “godly enough” but lacks the true love of Christ toward the repentant sinner. They fail to love the struggler and to walk along side him or her and help them along the road.
In Tim Timmerman’s book, A Bigger World Yet, he describes his journey to get his same-sex needs met through loving Christian men in community. He had to keep at it, to find the right guys who would love and accept him, give him physical affection that he needed and help him find the acceptance in male community that had been lacking all his life.
I have also found male community that helps me and affirms me and yes, gives me the male affection in non-sexual ways that I never had as a child/young man. I pray that you will also!
Jerry- my sincerest sympathies for the loss of your son, and the way you were treated.
But- general reminder to all- the motto of this site is, “Navigating Faith, Homosexuality, and Masculinity- together.”
There are lots of sites for debating the validity of moral and political views- This site- for sharing stories- is unique. Let’s focus on the motto- our common purpose. The thing I love about this site is that we are so open with each other- sharing our stories and our hearts. Let’s continue in that.
Love you all. 🙂
There seems to be quite a bit of confusion here regarding the term “sexual orientation.” The problem here is partly one of semantics and proper definition. “Sexual orientation” to some means one thing and to others it means something quite different. Just how does one define it? Some of us use the words “sexual orientation” to simply mean that one’s attraction can be OSA, SSA or BiSA – and nothing more. There are others, however, who define the term more broadly as an essential, innate part of one’s self, often implying a form of self-identity. That is part of the reason why some of us accept the concept of “sexual orientation” and others reject it. This also explains why some of us here at YOB appear to support the concept of sexual orientation in one paragraph and then deny its existence in another. In cases where this apparent contradiction is encountered, we are talking about two very different things. For me, when I use the term “sexual orientation” it is merely to clarify whether one has SSA, OSA or BiSA, that’s all. Notice that I said “has” SSA, etc., not “is” SSA, etc.. On the other hand, those who hold the broader view of “sexual orientation” see it as something that a person IS, not something that a person HAS. This is why this second group often sees sexual orientation as something one is born with, immutable and unchangeable. This, in turn, explains why “sexual orientation” is often seen as part of a person’s identity. I personally cannot see how the word “orientation” could be strong enough to merit the second definition. However, I fear that, within the cultural mainstream, the second, broader, definition is most commonly associated with the term. I suppose, therefore, that we at YOB need to be more careful about using this term and, when we do, clarify its meaning.
I grew up in extremely conservative churches, and it was years before I told anyone about my SSA. Coming out to pastors usually wasn’t terrible, but they seemed to feel very awkward and not sure what to do with me after the fact. Usually they listened to me, prayed with me, and then pretended the whole thing never happened. That was pretty painful.
However, that isn’t the end of the story. My closest guy friends have almost all been made through church, and coming out to them didn’t seem to cause any problem for our relationship whatsoever. If anything we got closer. There is something incredibly affirming and healing about telling your darkest secret to your straight guy friend and finding only acceptance and love. But here’s the funny thing….after coming out to them one of two things happened. They either want to argue with me that I’m not really homosexual. (And after fighting those desires all these years, praying to be straight, etc. it’s funny to be arguing that Yes, I really have homosexual attractions!! Why won’t you believe me?!) Or the other weird thing is they wanted to know whether I’m attracted to THEM! They always seem a little let down when I tell them “no”. Go figure the male ego.
Ha! There is no figuring the male ego, but that does sound very familiar.
Your comments about the accepting guys at church and the two things that happened made me laugh. It was a good laugh, and I just wanted to share that with you.
I can’t for the life of me imagine why they’d argue with you about your past. Strange reaction–perhaps they didn’t know how to respond and this was their first time to think about SSA. I wonder what the others would have said if you had said, “Yes, I do!” instead of “No!” And I know plenty of SSA guys that can be triggered by males that they meet. Though usually when they get to know them as friends, often that attraction goes away.
I am still attracted to good looking guys, but I don’t think sexual thoughts about them anymore. More like envy–I sometimes wish I had been them when I was younger. I am attracted to good looking gals too. And I don’t have sexual thoughts about them either. I reserve my sexual thoughts about women for my wife.
Alan, thanks for the comments. Here’s what I think about my friends trying to convince me that I’m not SSA. I never came out to any of my friends until long after the friendship started…..mostly out of fear of their rejecting me. Once it felt “safe”, I would do the big reveal about my SSA – usually several years into a friendship. So I think because we had been friends for so long, they no longer saw the homosexual/effeminate side of me, so it was probably inconceivable to them that I was attracted to other men. They saw me as just another guy. As you point out, once I became friends with a guy, there was no sexual attraction. I don’t know that I really could be friends with a man if I found him sexually attractive.
While I grew up feeling effeminate, and not at all like a man (even into adulthood – nonathletic, hated sports, hate guns, etc., etc.), for whatever reason I don’t feel as effeminate now. So maybe I don’t register as gay to other men.
Thanks for this post, Dean!
I am very much like you in that I have shared my struggle with SSA with Christians and found acceptance in the churches where I have been. I am not on staff at any of church, and could easily see where that might be a barrier. I would share that anxiety about telling the leadership that you expressed. I am however, a foreign missionary, and have served on the field overseas for almost 20 years. I am married.
I have told 2 pastors at the international church that I attend in the city where I serve. I have been accepted by both pastors–and meet regularly for coffee and prayer with one of them. I have also told my mission’s pastor at my sending church in the USA and again had a good response. Numerous people in my sending church and a number of people in my church in the city where I serve as a missionary know about my struggles with SSA. (I have told about 40 people to date.) No bad experiences. My wife had some fear that our friends would abandon us if they knew, but so far, not one has.
I actually feel that one of the things that God wants me to do is to help “regular church folk” understand people with SSA and how they can walk along side them, love them and help them to live in obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I can’t do that by hiding. And there are churches who get it right, but there are plenty of churches that get it wrong. They err by either make SSA men and women outcasts and staying away from them or they accept them whole-heartedly with no call for Biblical obedience to God’s standards for sexual purity. Neither extreme helps the person with SSA.
The first church I went to after finding out I was SSA had a guest speaker who delived an antigay sermon. I felt rejected, betrayed, angered. I quit going. I think the worst thing of all was that no one came after me.
You couldn’t pay me to go to church. I believed in God, but hated Christians, seeing them all as hypocrites or worse, like those fools at Westboro.
When I had my stroke, and survived, I was left wondering why. Why had I lived? Did God have some more for His pet fag? After I got out of the hospital, I had total memory loss. I couldn’t even remember why I was so angry. It was my wife who suggested that I go to church. I didn’t really want to, but I couldn’t express myself much and I was stuck in a wheelchair so I relented. The people there were very nice, and seeing that I was in a wheelchair helped me get around. I still didn’t trust any of them though. When the service began, it started with the typical “Amazing Grace”. I had heard it a million times and didn’t pay it much attention. But then a new line was added, that I had never heard before: “My chains are gone! I’ve been set free, My God, My Savior has set me free! And like a flood, His mercy reigns! Unending love, amazing grace!”
I began weeping, and I didn’t even know why. A few days later, one of the deacons came by and said that they were glad that I came and would love to have me back. I didn’t have anything to lose, so I went back and continued to go (I would find out later that I had lived a gay life). I was fine living anonomously, not speaking up about my past. All that went out the window, when a boy of fourteen came before the congregation and asked for prayers because he was gay. i suddenly found myself helping him and his family (their little Baptist world was shattered that day), volunteering my experiences with the youth pastor and the main pastor. I suddenly found my place amongs God’s people. Most of them know of my past. I have learned how to love and trust again.
Thank God for that love and trust, and thank you for helping that young man.