“I don’t think it is a good idea for you to be mentoring David anymore.”

This was one of the first things my pastor said to me after I told him about my same-sex attraction (SSA). I remember being dumbstruck for a few moments and then blurting the single word, “Why?”

I had been mentoring David, a teenager, for almost a year, walking him through writing and preaching his first few sermons. He wanted to be a pastor someday.

My pastor gave a few different reasons, but some stand out more than others. He noted that while I had never acted on my SSA, that didn’t mean I wouldn’t in the future. He also noted that just because I wasn’t attracted to David at present didn’t mean future attraction to him wouldn’t develop later.

I tried to reason with my pastor why this wasn’t the right way to approach the topic. I asked about meeting with David at the church in one of the rooms near the church office with the door open.

My pastor was unyielding in his opinion. He ended the conversation by asking me a single question.

“Why are you trying to get as close to temptation as possible?”

To continue to advocate for meeting with David would only “prove” my pastor’s point. I was hurt, and I questioned my calling into ministry. I was finishing my Masters of Divinity at the time, and I strongly considered getting a second degree in counseling if I weren’t allowed to be a pastor.

I worried my pastor would “out” me. But that’s a story for a different day. For now, I wish to address his statement regarding my supposed “temptation.”

There were several assumptions behind his statement, including whether I was attracted to David (and I was not). However, even if I were, would that be automatic grounds for ending the mentoring relationship?

Perhaps it is better to answer the underlying question: is temptation itself sinful?

If we believe “Side B” theology is based on a biblical approach to our sexuality, it only makes sense to seek how we are to navigate our lives based on the Bible. What does Scripture have to say? 1 Corinthians 6:18 says we are to flee sexual immorality.

But is temptation itself sexual immorality? Is temptation sinful?

While I do not have a doctorate in biblical languages, I had a fair amount of study in both undergrad and seminary. I have also kept up on my Greek and have taught the equivalent of college-level biblical Greek. If we look at how James writes on the subject of temptation, I think we will be surprised by the intentionality of how he crafts his statements.

Generally speaking, in biblical Greek, the passive voice is used for an action done to the subject (example: “James was hit by the ball.”). Active voice is when action is done by the subject (“James hit the ball”).
Here is a pertinent passage from the first chapter of James:

“But each person is tempted [passive] when he is lured and enticed [passive] by his own desire [noun, that which is forbidden, craving, longing]. Then desire when it has conceived [active] gives birth [active] to sin, and sin when it is fully grown [passive] brings forth [active] death.”

In every instance in verse 14, the action-words are passive in voice. In other words, I would argue that James is describing actions that take place outside of the individual’s active will — temptation occurring to us because of our sin nature.

It is not until verse 15 that the shift occurs from passive to active. Desire conceives — and gives birth to sin. Temptation is not sin. It is when desire enters in and “is conceived.”

The nature of conception is one of transaction. Temptation comes because of our desire, and this is an action done to us, not one we do (passive voice). After that, do we conceive (active) with that desire? Do we embrace it and allow it to dictate our actions? What direction will a person choose?

Sin brought to a conclusion (passive voice) brings forth (active voice) death.

There is an idea of progression to James’ reasoning. One leads to another.

It is in bringing that desire to an active state that the sequence moves from something beyond our active control into actual sin. Temptation is not sin.

We will face temptation in this life. There is greater nuance for those of us with fellow “Side B” relationships, as the gender with whom we often need the closest relationships is the gender we are also generally attracted to.

Temptation will happen, but it cannot be the only — or primary — litmus test for whether we can be safe in “Side B” friendships.

James goes on to talk about making sure we know the word of God well, and that we not only know it, but live it. That is how we face temptation.

Moreover, if we look at the temptations of Christ, we will see that this is how he faced temptations as well, armed with what he knew to be true from Scripture and following that, rather than giving in to temptation (Matthew 4).

Similarly, God takes care of those who follow him in the face of trial and temptation. Our response to temptation is to turn to the Bible and fix our eyes on Jesus.

James 1:25 (ESV) reads:

“But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

There is a redemptive end to my story with David.

After David turned 18, I was able to meet with him again. I felt like I needed to ask for his forgiveness, as I hadn’t given him the real reason I’d had to stop meeting with him.

I told him my story, and he received it well. He forgave me for not giving him the whole story at the time. He said he knew something else was going on but trusted that I would have told him if I could.

Our friendship continues today. He is currently at a Bible college and studying to be a pastor. He will be an advocate for sexual minorities in the church, and I am glad to call him my friend, thankful for God’s grace in friendship.

Additionally, my pastor later shifted his view. When I went into pastoral ministry at a different church, it was with his blessing — so long as I told someone in my new church leadership about my attraction to other men.

After all, someone has to watch me, right?

How do you navigate temptation in relationships, particularly other SSA/gay/Side B friendships? Has someone ever told you that you can’t enter into a particular ministry or job, or even be friends with someone, because of your sexuality?

  • Thank you for your post Ben! I think it’s a bit overstepping of your pastor to dictate what you can and cannot do but because of the ministry relationship he was watching out for you. It seemed like he did have your best interest at heart even though he hadn’t really journeyed with you and understood where you were coming from. I do agree that temptation will occur but it’s when we take the bait, when we shake Satan’s hand and make the deal that we stumble into sin. We see as an example that Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert before He started His ministry and He did not sin. It is the same for us as humans on our journey of faith. We need accountability from others to see our blind spots but I think we also need room to be able to live out our faith by learning from our mistakes. If we’re too afraid to create friendships with other men because we’re afraid of sinning, it just causes a downward spiral. The longing of intimacy, that is a good desire, will never be fulfilled which can lead to other sins and behaviors that will hurt us and our faith.
    I do agree with you that men who experience SSA need positive affirmation from other men more than guys who don’t because they lack in that area of their life. For me, friendship with other men has flourished as I’ve understood my default of emotional dependency and making another man try to fulfill all my needs. I idolized friendships and relationships. When I accept a man for who he is and know him as that and not what I want him to be, there is much freedom in the friendship. Understanding that some men will not be able to fulfill certain needs and that’s totally ok. Being able to see friends as human and not objecting them for personal gain.

    • Thanks for the response Josh!
      I think accountable relationships are something all Christians need, not just those experiencing SSA. I wish my pastor would have asked me what temptation looked like for me, or what kind of accountability relationships I had. I told the youth pastor my story early on in my time at my church. He knew I was meeting with David, and had no problem with it (nor did other church leaders who eventually knew my story). Rather than helping me “be safe,” he was making people “safe” from me. It made me feel very judged and untrusted.
      I think my incident of having someone assuming the worst and casting judgment is what so many of us fear in “coming out” to people in authority.
      Thankfully, I have had healthy reactions since then. And I do have some amazing and safe people for accountability.

  • On more than one occasion in ministry I have not been allowed to mentor people and I suspected that was why after a while. And several times I was either asked or told to stay away from certain people

      • not being allowed to mentor people I don’t really know it was that and didn’t really suspect it at first either, but after a while it seemed that way to me; but I never brought it up.
        As for being told to stay away from people, it was different each time I guess. The first couple of times, it was with people who didn’t know about my sexuality at all and they were getting “vibes” or something and I bucked and told them they were seeing things. They were people I worked with in ministry but they weren’t over me. They were just “expressing concern.” One of the girls I thought was kinda cute and was close to, but nothing more than that. The other girl is like a daughter to me – we were just too close for their comfort or something.
        Next time was in a different place, and I was told to stay away directly because my leader did know about my attractions and the vibes she was getting were not totally off – I did like this chick – but I was still in denial and didn’t obey very well. Next time was another girl who struggled with ssa so us being close at all made people uncomfortable but nothing was going on, but I was paranoid and burnt at this point and actually did pull away from her

  • Oh man. There’s part of me that wants to rage a little right now. I have two specific times that come to mind when I was asked to not do the ministry that I was intending to. (more on those in future blogs)
    .
    Loved that you took time to break this down with some of your studying as well. Honestly, I think so much of relationships has to do with being willing to listen, to communicate brokenness and our need to encourage & challenge one another. Too quickly we rush to put people in boxes, and we want to appear okay. But we’re complex and messy… and journeying through those moments makes it worth it. [off soapbox]
    .
    With these specific friendships, I think there just needs to be authentic communication.

    • I think my pastor didn’t know how to deal with messy. He made snap decisions, but didn’t have the follow through to really understand me, or the situation.
      I look forward to reading your future post on your ministry situations.

  • It really does make me angry that happened to you Ben. Its another sad misconception that gay/SSA people happen to be pedophiles and thus not fit for mentoring. I’m sure the pastor was trying to do the right thing, but gosh how many gay/SSA Christian hearts freeze in the gutters of Christian good intentions? Still, I’m glad things are better now and that you are mentoring him again as an intern! Great blog.

    • The fear is still there for me when I think of talking to other pastors. But it’s less strong than before. I’m glad that my withdrawal from David as his mentor didn’t cause him extra pain.

  • Hey Ben,
    Well I do manage to keep a certain degree of boundary/distance when it comes to my SSA/gay/Side B friendships. Now lately I have been more vulnerable and physical with other guys (Not a lot of guys!), but I managed to maintain personal boundaries. I’ll admit when I’m with them physically, I do get aroused as Eugene hinted in his “bro-cuddling” posts; however, I keep in mind I don’t want to have sex with them. I really don’t. I just want to love on them and speak affectionately to them. As for my other friendships, my OSA guy friends are just simply not physically affectionate with me or others and this is fine by me. More so, I’m not attracted to my friends at all sexually. I’ve grown accustom to their personalities and such and there is no temptation at play there.
    Additionally, no one has ever told me that I couldn’t enter into ANY relationship, personally or professionally, because of my sexuality. Although I have to say that I haven’t been forthcoming with everyone about where my sexuality stands. I don’t think they need to know because I’m still as genuine a person whether I’m out to you or not.

  • I have a different take on this. To me, the issue isn’t temptation but protection – protecting the minor, protecting you, & protecting the church. I have to attend Safe Church trainings every couple of years thru the Episcopal Diocese of NC. We are told that if we are working with minors at church, we have to have another adult with us regardless of our sexual orientation. It’s also recommended that we are in a public place and visible to others, so like in a room with windows. The church has some liability in this. I’ve carried this idea over to my work. If I’m assessing a 17-year old, I have a colleague with me. I’m sorry you were asked to stop working with the young man. You have wisdom & knowledge to share. We might not think about how to protect ourselves in these situations but we should. Self-protection isn’t just about condoms any more.

    • That does make some sense. Except the prohibition on one-on-one meetings was just placed on me because of my sexuality. If the youth pastor wanted to meet another male student for coffee, he could.
      I see the wisdom of some safeguards. We always met in public spaces.

  • Ben,
    Church leaders never actually removed me from ministry explicitly because of my sexual temptations. Still, I was never asked to lead a small group after I was in my late thirties. In my church any older single man was suspect.
    Once a male friend confessed to me that he had made out with another guy and it started getting sexual. They both stoppped, asked God’s forgiveness and moved on with their lives, staying away from gay sex. I kept it confidential out of love, wanting to be a trustworthy friend. When our pastors heard the story years later and found out I knew and did not report it to them, they confronted me. I was told I should always report to the pastors anyone who confessed gay sex, “to protect the church”. After that I was never recommended for any kind of leadership, even in practical helping roles.

    • Ya ever notice how “protect the church” isn’t found in the Bible? I’m thinking the 2 guys who stopped what they were doing, confessed to God, repented and kept going, are the ones protecting the church by living right. It’s just blindness if it’s only confessions of gay sex they wanna hear about. God, protect your church from hypocrisy.
      You got a raw deal Marshall, and still are if you’re still there. Seriously, if they’re not leading you to what’s true, you may not want to follow them anymore. I appreciate the grace Ben & you show facing this stuff, but man, it sure isn’t right.

      • Bluzhawk, I agree it protects the church when we as members repent and continue following Jesus. It is ok not to inform pastors if I see genuine repentence and faith! Yes, it did seem to me to be focused on kicking out anyone who is actively gay rather than just helping others caught in sin.
        I remained in that church over 30 years until a few months ago when I decided to move 30 minutes away. I am sure there is no issue like that in my current church.

        • Hey, I hope you get to lead whatever study God gives you to teach. You’ve got a lotta good and wisdom that would encourage and help others. I’d love being in any class you teach.
          I get that pastors are shepherds that protect the flock from wolves. But with this issue, doesn’t it seem like a lotta pastors become gatekeepers keeping repentant sheep from the flock?

          • I wasn’t getting why you stayed in your old church for 30 years till I read your new post. Hopefully y’all stay in touch. 30 minutes ain’t that far away.

          • I have been staying in touch with many from my old church. The church has been through multiple nasty splits, so many of my friends have actually left the church anyway.

    • I feel like you not sharing that information with leadership was the right call. It was keeping confidence, and especially if there was repentance, what grounds do they have for needing the information?
      If the leadership is still holding your decision to keep things in confidence against you, that’s not right. They may not have agreed with you not sharing, but the cutting out of any leadership role seems to speak to a tremendous lack of grace on their part.

      • Ben,
        The leaders of our church never directly stated that I was banned from ministry, it was just their actions that showed it. I agree it was right to keep my friend’s confession confidential.
        I also agree that with my friend’s repentance it really was ok not to bring in others to help.
        As I shared in a recent post, I love the church I was in for over 30 years because of the friendship and support I receive from other members of the congregation, not so much the leadership.

  • That kills me to hear something like that happened to you Ben. You can tell it was a snap decision, but still. That’s one decision that could have caused so much harm and hurt, on your part as well as David’s. I’ve thankfully haven’t experienced anything like that, not yet anyway. I did have a situation occur a little over a year ago. I’m one of the 3rd grade Sunday school teachers and one of the parents went up to one of the staff with concerns that I was too close to one of the kids and so I had to take a break for about 2 months just to assure that nothing happened. I’m thankful the church had my back, especially since I’d already been teaching for over a year at that point. Granted, they don’t know about my SSA, so I can only imagine what the situation would have been if they did. It’s good to hear that your friendship with David continues to this day.

  • Ben Rutkowski

    Call me Ben, or call me Beamer. I am in my early thirties, married, pastoring in the Midwest, and Jesus is my reason for living. I'm either an ENFJ or ENFP. My Enneagram is 2 or 6 depending on the day. I am a chameleon – being who I need to be to care for others. Most of my favorite activities center on being with people in any outdoors setting, whether hiking a mountain trail or simply lying in a hammock and drinking a beer.

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