Over the past several months I have made a new friend. His name is Artie. Artie and I didn’t know each other before half a year ago but in my bloggings about B and the various other questions which I have talked about which have surrounded my trying to understand that, Artie and I have developed a good friendship. Our conversations have been gracious, honest, and thought-provoking and I always look forward to talking with him about anything. Indeed, on several occasions, when I have thought the rest of the world has gone on, I get an encouraging message from Artie…just saying that he hopes things are going okay and that the kids and I are in his thoughts.
I think the reason why Artie and I have developed such a good friendship is because of the fact that a mutual thread runs through us, something which goes deep to our core: we have both experienced tragedy in our lives and have necessarily had to wrestle with some of the biggest questions this life has to offer. My story is well-known here: I lost her. Artie’s story is a bit different though. Artie, as he will tell you, has struggled incredibly with two questions: His sexuality and what he witnessed on the morning of 9/11.
About a month ago I asked Artie if he would be willing to answer a few questions about his struggles, his thinking, his life, and his faith. I expected a couple of pages back. I got 10! So, as of necessity, this will become a series of posts (subscribe or LIKE on FB to get notices of new posts). What I wanted to do in this series is something which I don’t think is done too often in the debate on homosexuality: listen. That’s it. There are a wide range of opinions on the question of homosexuality, numerous books written on the subject (some of which are excellent–some of which are absolutely terrible), and it is probably today’s most significant hot button issue for both politics and religion. But beyond all the talking points, there’s something I think we too often forget: People are not talking points. People are not opinion polls nor legislative bills. People are God’s creation and he seeks and pursues each of us wherever and whenever we are. And if there’s one thing that the past twenty years has shown us on this particular issue, it is that the question of homosexuality is a personal one and it is one which cannot be boiled down to the routine “choice” that so many people have asserted. Indeed, the recent closing of Exodus International with the admission that “ex-gay” is a misnomer is, in my opinion, the point at which the conversation changed drastically.
I’ll stop talking now, but I wanted to offer a genuine and thorough set up for what inevitably will contribute to my series of some other recent controversial posts (which is probably also a contribution to the assumption that I have embraced liberalism–*p.s.* I’m actually still pretty conservative and thoroughly evangelical). But this is a series I believe in simply because, wherever you fall on this issue, the conversation must entail a willingness to listen to people. Meet my friend Artie.
My use of the words “Christians”, “Church”, “Evangelicals” “Fundamentalists” and other religious identifiers are used in a broad sense of the word. By no means am I referring to every person that considers themselves as part of any of those groups. I know that one person isn’t representative of everyone associated within a specific assemblage. It is unfair to judge every Christian, Church, Evangelical or Fundamentalist because of the words or actions of one offensive person or entity. Nor can they be defined by the words and/or actions of one person. So, I do acknowledge there are favorable and unfavorable people when writing about a specific spectrum of man and womankind.
Artie, can you tell us a bit about your past? You were connected with an evangelical institution some years ago. How did you wind up there and where has life taken you now?
I think it’s important to preface this with the fact that I turned 60 in April; which means I was in high school and college in the 70’s and entering young adulthood in the 80’s.
Growing up, my family went to a Methodist church. For me that meant Sunday school, the junior choir and MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship). But it wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that I heard about receiving salvation through Jesus Christ. And that was through my involvement with Young Life; an organization outside of school.
That’s where I first heard about the “4 Spiritual Laws”; which ultimately led me to pray the “sinner’s prayer”; asking Jesus into my heart. It was a life changing moment for me at that young age. I threw myself into the Christian life. This was the time of the Jesus Movement of the 70’s when hippies met Christ and redefined the staid traditions of what it meant to be a Christian. Christian coffeehouses became popular and I was very involved with one in my hometown where I would sometimes preach and where my Christian girlfriend and I would sing. I truly had committed my life to Christ; with the best of intentions and a lot of naivety. By all outward appearances, I was a shining example of what a good Christian man should be. But inwardly there was a glaring discrepancy that, if discovered, would quickly distinguish my light. I was gay.
I’m one of those people who can truthfully say I knew I was “different” from an early age and as puberty hit I was noticing boys while my guy friends’ attentions were directed towards girls.
It really wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I put “two and two together” and realized this “difference” that had always been a part of me had a name; homosexual. So in my senior year of high school I had my spiritual awakening along with this sexual revelation; and I had quickly learned in my Christian circles what God supposedly thought of homosexuals. So I just assumed God would take these sinful feelings away.
Believing I was called to serve the Lord in some capacity I ended up at a conservative Christian liberal arts college in the south; giving up my blue jeans and cutting my shoulder length hair and taking on those staid traditions of being an evangelical, fundamentalist Christian. I looked the part on the outside but inwardly I was still gay. God hadn’t relived me of those feelings and attractions but I thought I that with enough effort I could surely “pray away the gay.” This was before those words became an overused catchphrase in the years to come.
My first two years at college I earnestly believed my homosexuality was diminishing. Hindsight is a great revealer of how strong the tools of denial and suppression can be; especially when you don’t want to face the truth about yourself. I didn’t date any girls; nor did I have any desire to. It was easier to convince myself I was just asexual. That is until my junior year.
There was no “incident” that took place. No sexual encounter occurred. I just couldn’t deny and suppress, ignore or avoid the obvious. I could no longer hide the truth from myself or God. I was still gay. God hadn’t taken my gay away.
So I let the blame game begin as I questioned where the fault lied; bewildered that my prayers to change had gone unanswered. It must be my fault; a weakness in my faith. I had let my spiritual guard down and became susceptible to Satan’s grasp. I chastised myself for not have a stronger faith. I wasn’t reading my Bible often enough or I wasn’t praying sufficiently or correctly. Within all this self-condemnation the seeds of self-loathing were firmly planted; which would yield a harvest of self-contempt over the years to follow.
By the time I graduated from college I was angry at God; but also scared of Him. I was angry because my prayers had either been ignored or just unanswered. I was scared because I was gay and would go to hell. The loving Father God of my spiritual conversion in high school was replaced with a cruel, arbitrary God of judgment and wrath. And I inwardly saw Him as an extremely unfair and unjust God who played by His own rules; one of which was damning me for something I had no control over and of which He wouldn’t even help me by taking it away.
What lay ahead of me, once I graduated, were years of struggling with the secret sinner I was and the straight man I thought God (and everyone else) wanted me to be. I almost want to laugh when someone throws the “it’s a choice” line at me because if anyone was ever choosing to be straight it was me. I sought the help of pastors and therapist and ex-gay ministries. I had demons cast out; hands laid on me and I even sought deliverance in the solitude of a monastery. I did everything and anything that might change me. Those were years of utter anguish, pain and hopelessness that led to a clinical depression, suicidal thoughts and ultimately admitting me into a psychiatric hospital for thirty days.
There is so much more I could tell, of course, but I’d rather flash forward to today. I have been an out and proud gay man for at least the last 25 years; out to family, friends, everyone. And I find no conflict with also calling myself a Christian. I believe one can be both. I’ve also found there are many churches, pastors and church members who welcome and affirm the gay community and the relationships and families within it.
I am at peace with who I am. A gay man loved by God unconditionally.