I have come to realize more and more that the greatest disease and the greatest suffering is to be unwanted, unloved, uncared for, to be shunned by everybody, to be just nobody. Mother Theresa
Last week, I sat down in front of Justin with pages of questions. But, I realized that I really wanted to know Justin, not just his opinions. I am just an average person trying to understand. I have no training in communications or writing so, at times, I feel awkward, like a fish out of water.
As I looked at him, I blurted out, “ I am far more interested in you as a person. I want to know your story, your struggles.” He immediately put me at ease and began to share his life with me. He spoke with transparency and honesty, his eyes fixed firmly on mine.
Raleigh is the capital of North Carolina but in many respects it is a small town. “Who’s your mamma and daddy” are topics of conversation around here. Both Justin and I attended the same Baptist church but did not know each other even though I think we may have overlapped by a year or so. Justin’s family is well known and respected in Raleigh and in their church. They are known for being committed Christians, honest in their business and recognized as a loving family.
There are details of Justin’s story that I can corroborate. I also know some of the pastors and people in his story. Like Justin, I will not mention them by their real names.
Growing up, Justin was every Christian parent’s dream child. He loved the Lord and his faith became strong and personal even while he was young. He used to become frustrated with the kids in the youth program because they pretended to be ”good” Christians in front of their parents and pastors but Justin knew what they were like “behind the scenes.” He was frustrated by their hypocrisy. His commitment to the faith earned him the nickname of "God Boy" and he was often the brunt of much teasing. He endured the teasing because he felt he was being persecuted for his faith and that was OK. He had a goal to go into full time Christian work.
Justin was very bright and was in a well-known program in this area for gifted students. He was a whiz at computes and math and won many competitions. Justin also has alopecia areata. This causes his hair to totally fall out. I believe he told me that it started at the age of 7.
Digression-I am anticipating that people will say that Justin was not really a Christian, merely following some legalistic formulas. I totally disagree. He talked about his faith in Jesus in a personal way. He remarked often of his faith and how it was, and is, the most important thing in his life. This fact is vital to understanding the difficulties that Justin would face.
The start of the unwanted attractions
When Justin hit 11, he found he was attracted to other boys. However, he read material from Focus on the Family that appeared to indicate that sexual identity can be confused in eary puberty. He felt relieved and fully anticipated outgrowing these feelings. He began dating, always enjoying those he dated but not feeling an significant attraction.
By the time he was a senior in high school, he had a wonderful girlfriend that other guys found "hot". However, although he loved her as a dear friend, he was frustrated that he had no attraction to her as a woman. He knew something was wrong because he found his attraction to other guys continuing to increase.
He begins to seek help from the church
He knew that this was not OK in light of what he understood of his faith. He began to read about reparative therapy. He said that his goal was not only to become straight but to become straight really fast. There was no question in his mind that he would overcome this with the help of God
He met with one of his pastors who took him to a group, Homosexuals Anonymous, that met secretly in the church. Justin was deeply depressed at this meeting. These were middle aged, married men with children, who had been dealing with their feelings in this area for a long time while seeing only some modest success. Their gay attractions were still present. Justin said he did not want to battle homosexuality for decades and have the end result be what he saw in that room. He wanted to be cured, and cured fast!
A pastor inadvertently causes further anguish
Eventually, he knew he had to tell his parents and he went to another pastor to ask for help in telling them. He confessed his pain and struggle to the pastor. Here is the first thing the pastor said to him after all of this. “Well, don’t worry, as long as you are celibate, you can still be a member of this church.”
Justin was frantic. His faith was his life and the pastor had just threatened Justin with expulsion. At this point, Justin was (and is today) celibate. It never crossed his mind, as he went to his pastor for help, that his entire church life would be in jeopardy. He understood the intent of his pastor but his pastor did not understand the pain and anxiety that he had just interjected into Justin’s life.
Parents: Do respond this way
However, they did meet with Justin’s parents who, through tears, told him that they loved him and would support him in his journey to find the “cure.” His mother reached over and took his hand as they spoke. So, Justin began reparative therapy while at the same time heading off to Wake Forest University.
Justin immediately joined the Christian group on campus. Believing that Christians should support and encourage one another, he shared his struggle with the group. He immediately felt a distancing by many of the members. He got lectured on how he must be celibate (they assumed he was not) and he found himself excluded from some of the “let’s have fun” activities. When he was included, it got a bit weird. He would get a phone call from someone who would, in a very serious voice, invite him out to dialog. He had now become a project when what he needed were some friends. His Christian supports were slipping away.
Hurting and alone:
As time progressed, Justin became frustrated that reparative therapy was not resulting in any noticeable changes in his attractions. His plan to be cured so he could go on with his Christian life plans to have a wife and a happy normal family life, was not panning out.
At the same time, he was feeling increasingly isolated from the only groups from which he derived strength, his church and Christian campus organizations. He was trying very hard to live out his faith and he became deeply depressed, feeling very alone.
At this juncture on our talk, Justin became emotional, as did I. I sensed what was coming. He said that he considered suicide on two occasions.
Suicide? Here was a young man who was praying, seeking Christian solutions, believing that he could be cured, living a celibate life, following the Lord and he was rejected and marginalized by those in the church.
Church, are you listening?
At this point, I want to stop the narrative of his life. Justin would go on to reject reparative therapy after years of trying. He also wanted to reach out to those who believed life was no longer worth living and give them hope. Eventually he would start the Gay Christian Network.
Justin’s book Torn, will be published in November. I just finished reading a copy of the manuscript. I highly recommend this book if you want to understand the issues of faith and homosexuality. See the link at the top of this post.
OK, the tears are once again clearing from my eyes. Today I want to address two issues beyond what I have written above. Tomorrow I will write about the many other things I learned from Justin.
1. One says homosexual; another says gay-which is correct?
Justin and I discussed semantics and I have found that many people in the comment section have also weighed in.
For many in the gay community, the word “homosexual” is viewed in the same light as the word “Negro” is in the black community. It is technically correct but quickly labels the person using it as dated.
It is apparent to me that many people, outside of the gay community (and even a few on the fringes) view the word “gay” as meaning actively involved in sexual activity.
Justin explained that “gay” means same sex attraction, just as the word “straight” means opposite sex attraction. If I were to say I am straight, I am not referring to my sexual activity. In a church meeting I might say that I am straight and add that I was celibate prior to marriage and am monogamous within marriage.
I make it a point, whenever discussing racial issues that involve those of black skin color, to use the word ”African American” out of respect. When I first arrived on the Navajo Reservation and began caring for elderly Navajo in their hogans or out where they were herding sheep, I was surprised to hear my interpreter calling an elderly man, “Grandpa”, and an elderly woman, ”Grandma.” After all, I had been trained as a nurse to respect my patients and always call them “Mr. Smith” or “Mrs. Smith.”
Thankfully I kept my mouth shut. I learned that the Navajo used the terms “Grandpa” and “Grandma” because those meant deep respect to the elderly person. From that time forward, I always used “Grandma “and “Grandpa" when dealing with the elderly Navajo. There was also another advantage. I always forget people’s names, so I was covered in this area as well.
Here is my bottom line. My goal is to love and care for any person that I contact. I want to enter his world and understand his issues. I do not want to cause any friction via terminology.
I figure Justin knows more than me about terms of respect within the GLBT community so I will, from this point forward, use the word “gay” unless told otherwise.
2. Traditional marriage or Biblical marriage?
What are today’s slogans on marriage? “God made Adam and Eve; not Adam and Steve.” “One man, one woman-God said it and I believe it.” Even our religious leaders chime in that marriage is between one man and one woman. I have even heard some Calvinistas, of rigid “complementarianism because it is obviously Biblical” doctrine say the same thing. I read one Neo Calvinist who said he had no trouble marrying two unbelievers because he could witness to them.
Let me jump on their bandwagon for a minute. We have had it hammered into our heads that marriage is supposed to be a symbol of the union of Christ and His church. Marriage is the union of two believers, each possessing the Holy Spirit, which is supposed to bind and unite both hearts in an virtually inviolable union. This is far more than a simplistic one man and one woman explanation.
Instead, in many cases, the Christian view of marriage appears to have degenerated into a church sanctioned civil agreement between two people who may, or may not, be believers. Let me try to show you what I mean.
I have two relatives who got married in a church a number of years ago. They thought it looked nice and traditional to get married in a “classy” historical church. They both got wasted the night before. They giggled through the service and supposedly vowed before God to take their marriage seriously. They are both confirmed atheists. Is this the “traditional” marriage God envisaged for us?
Let’s take a look at the marriage between Katherine of Aragon and Henry the Eighth (If any of you remind me of that certain song, you will be marked as a troll forever ☺). Henry
started the Anglican church defied the Catholic church (correction thanks to Kolya) in order to dump Katherine and marry Anne Boleyn whom he later beheaded. One only need look at the marriages of many heads of state in England to see how “traditional marriages” are defined.
Charles Stanley, pastor, claimed that if he ever divorced, he would step down from the pulpit. He then proceeded to blame his wife for everything, divorced her and stayed on with the full support of his “leaders.”
Without quoting statistics, it is universally recognized that there is an exceedingly high divorce rate in the evangelical community. Of course, there are some good reasons for divorce-adultery, abuse, etc. But surely not all of these divorces are for those reason. Yet, said divorcees bounce from church to church, remarry, and go on living church life, studiously ignoring Biblical issues.
Think of all the high profile pastors and Christian leaders who get caught in affairs. And then think about the number of non-leaders in churches who have been involved in adultery. Better yet, what is the promiscuity rate in our singles groups?
My thinking on this issue got brought to a head one night in a small group Bible study. One woman said that Christians have the best marriages because of the Holy Spirit and God’s blessing. I blurted out “Then why is our divorce rate so gosh darn high?” Could it be that we are dumbing down our definition of marriage to mimic the “traditional” worldview of those outside the faith?
I have a couple more questions. Why aren’t there Christians protesting no fault divorce laws? Where are the “family councils” actively encouraging legislation to make divorce tougher? What about protests on common law marriages? Better yet, why are we not boycotting companies who provide benefits to couples living together? I am making a point, not advocating an action.
In the Old Testament, the Israelites kept mixing in pagan tradition with the worship of the one, true and living God. This is called syncretism. Could it be that we, as Christians, have mistakenly mixed in secular concepts of marriage and divorce into the biblical view of marriage?
I believe that church must define and practice Biblical marriage by making pertinent changes to how we perceive and do marriages in the Christian church. We need to focus on Christian marriage so that we give the culture a clear, accurate and God-honoring view of how things are done. Until then, we have very little to offer to our culture, except some trite one man/one woman talking point.
How the culture decides to define marriage is up to the culture. Christians can voice their opinion but we have precious little to offer them in terms of clear models within the church. This is not a Christian nation, just a country that has quite a few self-professed Christians, many of whom hold to some mighty peculiar views on the orthodox faith.
I view the union between two atheists, two Buddhists and two Wiccans, the same way I view a civil union between two women. None of them should impact the way the church perceives marriage. Instead, the church should develop a clear, well-thought out and earnest perspective of the Biblical view of marriage. And then actually try to live it. Instead, we spend an inordinate amount of time defining why women should not pray out loud in church and joining in protests and then wonder why our culture does not understand and/or ignores our thoughts on this vital topic.
I am sure this is enough to get the discussion flowing for one day. If I am still alive tomorrow, I will present more of my conversation with Justin.
Lydia's Corner: Genesis 37:1-38:30 Matthew 12:22-45 Psalm 16:1-11 Proverbs 3:27-32