I confess, I used to be a homophobe. However, not for the reasons you may presume. I know, this needs a bit of explanation. So, here goes. My confession is raw and real. The following isn’t easy to share, let alone recall from memory.
When I was a preteen I was molested by a church deacon. When he molested me he told me that he liked boys because he was molested also when he was young. He explained, that like him, I would grow up and molest boys too. That’s what he told me when he had finished abusing me.
To make a long story short, the incident was dealt with, and afterwards out of concern for me, my parents chose to very quietly move on with life. I suppose I understand where they were coming from at the time, managing the various external voices, but my internal voice(s) couldn’t be hushed so easily. My abuser’s brief and damaging words haunted me throughout my high school years. I never wanted to “like boys” because that would obviously lead to molesting kids (by his reasoning). The very thought terrified me, and would make me break out in cold sweats at night. Within the community I lived, a homosexual and a pedophile were commonly viewed as one and the same. And due to the abuse I had endured, I honestly didn’t know differently.
Clarity in College
It wasn’t until I left for college that I learned there was a difference between the two. However, clarity didn’t come all at once. It started first with music. I was a singer-songwriter and found openings on campus coffee houses and small venues to share my songs. One of my songs in particular spoke of my abuse in a veiled way. Upon the performance of that song, I would often have students come up to talk with me about the abuse they had endured. They had no idea the song was about me; they were just thankful someone was shedding light on a real issue in our society. At first I didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t written the song from a cause-oriented mindset. I had written it mainly for the sake of personal therapy.
In time, their candor inspired me to open up about myself, and to shed a greater light on child abuse in our society. This led to a somewhat semi-pro career in music throughout my college years, and for a few years following. The experience brought some clarity I wished I had had when I was much younger. Just because I was once molested didn’t mean I was secretly gay, nor was I in danger of being a future pedophile. That was a lie. Being abused was entirely a separate issue. I was an abuse victim like 70% of the kids in our society are. I only wish someone would have labored to make that clearer to me when I was younger. I was an innocent victim of abuse.
My brief career in music, with a growing side-profession of talking with young adults who were once victims of abuse, eventually led to me pursuing a career in ministry. Music-making and performing had taught me that I genuinely wanted to help people anyway I could. So, I quickly fulfilled all the requirements for ministry, passed my ordination, then a second ordination, and found myself pastoring a local church at a very young age. To be honest with you, I was prepared to speak on a regular basis and moonlight with music as needed, but the weekly counseling challenges were beyond my training or life-experience. In the early years, I partnered with a good friend who was a certified counselor. Smart move on my part, I have to say.
Over time, I gained the necessary experience in life to handle basic counseling needs. With oversight I began to meet with people one-on-one, listen to their stories, and help them process their questions and options. As the years passed by, the middle-America questions and options grew beyond the common “suburbia” situations to include sitting down with strippers, prostitutes, gays, etc. My, was I in for an education! Two specific incidents stand out as serving to drastically shed a greater light in my heart and mind.
Two Life-Changing Stories
The first situation involved a young lady whom I would describe as the “Paris Hilton” of our community. She would probably cringe at that description, because she’s much hotter and wiser than Paris Hilton. Anyway, she didn’t attend my church at the time, but had learned through her brother that I was one she could safely talk with and gain some clarity. I’ll never forget how she pulled up in her car, got out with dark sunglasses on, dressed in a tiny, sleek sundress, and with a Red Bull in one hand and cigarette in the other, she took her last drag, dropped the smoldering butt in the church parking lot, while sashaying her way in the front door. When she sat down, she politely offered me a Red Bull from her oversized purse, and without hesitation divulged her sorted story.
The details she shared will remain confidential. However, the way the session ended is something I can share. To my surprise, she spilled out of her chair onto the floor of my office hyperventilating with tears, dark masquera stained her red-flushed cheeks, and with stiletto heels carelessly discarded to the side she choked out the tearful words, “I may not be a very good Christian, but I love Jesus. I really, really do.” Beside her on the carpet, I found myself crying too. That moment transformed me, and it transformed her too.
The second incident involved sitting down with a lady who had struggled with her gender for years. She had always looked like a man, talked like a man, and been viewed largely as a man. As a result, she had come to embrace her “gayness” over time. She loved Jesus and wanted to “plug into a church” but had been turned away from a number of churches in our community. Though it seemed like less than a half hour, we talked for over 3 hours. At the end of our conversation she bluntly asked me, “So, do you understand what being gay is all about?” “Honestly,” I answered, “Not entirely, but if you’re willing to keep talking with me maybe together we can find a place of understanding.” I’ll never forget how she leaned back in her chair, smiled, and said, “Being gay is not something you understand, it’s something you know. And, your admission to not understanding is proof to me that you know what I’m talking about whether you realize it or not.”
Her words struck me deeply. It was clear in that moment, the gulf between she and I (gay and straight) would never be spanned by the customary Scripture bombings and theological grenades, which I had not done, nor have I ever done in all my years of ministry. This divide could only be bridged by frequent, raw, honest, vulnerable, heart-to-heart conversations. And so… our talking has continued, expanding to include a number of her friends, which are now my friends too. By the way, she and her friends have filled the second row of my church every Sunday morning for the last four years. On the other side of the sanctuary sits “Paris Hilton” with her entourage filling two rows. I wouldn’t have it any other way. When I’m on the platform every week, I feel at home with my up-close crowd of dear Jesus-loving friends.
A Transgender Funeral
There have been many other experiences which have served to shed more light for me on the issues of gender, sexuality, God, and my profession in ministry. Such as when I was called by a family in crisis because their child was born with both male and female genitals. They were in deep turmoil, forced to decide their child’s gender knowing that (statistically speaking) once their child went through puberty, he/she would most likely reverse their decision. Also, there was the time when I was called upon to officiate the funeral of a transgender, which I had personally known.
John/Angie had sat on the front row in my church on a handful of occasions, just a few feet away from me, weeping often as I talked about Jesus in my regular Sunday morning messages. It was a deep honor to meet with his/her family and bring comfort to them in their hour of tragic loss. Sadly, 2 years later after the fact, I had an angry church member bang on my back door and give me an ear full for officiating that funeral. His festering irritation had been brewing for some time until finally over boiling onto me. Incidentally, he and his family no longer attend my church. He feels my ministry emphasis of personal transformation is a veiled attempt at teaching people how to transition into a transgender. Really? Nonetheless, the first two rows remain full every Sunday morning.
What I’ve Learned
So, what is the point to all of my stories? Well, I’ve learned a lot through the years, and I continue to learn all because of the relationships I’ve labored to build and maintain. I’ve learned that listening to one another and walking peacefully together in life naturally leads to transformation for all involved. I’ve learned that I don’t have the power to change anyone else besides myself. I’ve learned that my job as a minister is to acknowledge people’s individual struggles, to listen to them, bless and encourage them, while inviting everyone to converse and share life with one another in the healthiest way possible. Yes, it can be messy, but honestly I don’t think it’s supposed to be neat and clean. However, it can be very beautiful and inspiring at times.
For me personally, my dear “not-so-good-Christian-but-Jesus-loving-friends” have helped me overcome my personal fears and internal lies… they’ve have helped me become a better man, husband, father, and minister… and, they’ve often proven to be more understanding, kind, forgiving, forthright, and compassionate than many of the so-called God-fearing, church-going people I have had the privilege to serve through the years. I don’t mean to irritate you with that statement. It’s just that after 25+ years in ministry, I think I’ve earned the right to say what I’ve observed. Those of us who look like we have it all together on the outside can often be in pieces internally.
For my conservative friends who are wondering about the question of eternal judgment, I reconciled with that a long time ago. Yes, one day I’ll stand before God and give an account. Some have suggested that God will affirm that I answered the higher calling of my life, but he will point out that I fell way short of my ministerial responsibilities. Why? Because I was slow to anger and quick to listen? Because I preferred mercy over judgment? If that’s the case, I’m fine with that verdict.