ROY CLEMENTS ARCHIVE
A Personal Journey
the following testimony comes from a gay evangelical Christian
I really did not know the word "gay" when I was a teenager. I was ashamed to even think about the fact that I was attracted to my best friend. Having attended Sunday School from a very early age, and continuing to attend the church youth group as a teenager, my Biblical understanding of homosexuality, albeit very limited, was that it was utterly contrary to my Christian faith. I had also overheard people talking about it as "just a phase that boys go through". They implied that this was quite "normal" and that the boys concerned regularly grew out of it. "Phew!" I thought. "That’s all right then!"
As a young Christian, I was also grappling with the realities of taking the claims of Christ’s lordship seriously and what that meant in living out my Christian faith. What did it really mean to be a Christian and how was I to respond to my growing sense of calling to Christian service?
After much prayer and sharing this sense of calling with my church and Christian friends, I joined a well-known evangelical Christian mission based on board a ship. I was asked in my initial recruitment interview if I had experienced homosexual temptations. I was honest in my reply and this act of confession reinforced the thought that the problem was now behind me. I had confronted the issue and it had been dealt with!
Full of zeal and excitement I left home feeling sure that God would honour this decision to serve him and that from there on all homosexual urges would simply vanish. And in a way they did—at least initially. I was on an adventure for God. I had joined His navy and was doing the Lord’s work—even if that only involved washing the deck, chipping rust and painting the ship’s side. It was hard work but I knew God had led me this far and was certain he would not desert me.
Life on board the ship was both a struggle and a blessing. I was among 200 Christians, mostly young and single like me. It was as if I had gained a huge loving family with brothers and sisters my own age—something I never had experienced when I was growing up. The personal relationships that I developed on board were the most significant I’d ever had. I have never felt such close and intimate friendship.
But . . . the old thoughts also came creeping back. Worse still, it was my male colleagues on board who attracted me! In my desperation not to lose or harm what I saw as precious gifts from God, I decided that I must never permit an erotic element to creep into any of these friendships. So I concentrated on developing very close and supportive relationships, but they remained strictly "brotherly".
I did tell a number of my closest male friends of my struggle with homosexuality. This was a nerve-racking moment since it meant revealing a part of me that I thought they would hate. But, to my joy I found instead that it simply made those friendships even stronger because I had opened up such a deep part of myself to them. I was also able to develop some good female friendships, but the desire for a physical relationship with a guy never went away.
And then it happened! I found another guy who was engaged in the same inner struggle— and this led to us having a sexual relationship. I didn’t know what to feel about this at first—joy or disgust! But because both of us believed, as a result of our upbringing, that this was abhorrent to God, we decided to tell the leaders on board about it.
Much counselling and prayer resulted. I developed a strong sense of accountability to one of the senior leaders and this helped me work through a number of personal issues. I prayed much; I was prayed for and counselled much; I listened to tapes and read books on healing and the ex-gay movement.
But, once again, the deep desire for a relationship with another man never went away. I used to lie in my bunk at night in utter despair because I felt that I had exhausted all the options. I developed the ability to cry myself to sleep without making a sound for fear of someone hearing me. I even contemplated suicide. Though that was also forbidden according to Scripture, I thought it might be the lesser of two evils as I would no longer be sinning against God because of my homosexual nature. I see the distorted logic in this now —but, at that desperate point in my life there was no-one reassuring me that it was OK simply to be me. I was under immense pressure to change into a "straight" person—but when every attempt to do this seemed to go nowhere I felt increasingly hopeless.
The lowest point came shortly after two people that had greatly helped me left the ship to go home; one was the guy with whom I’d had the affair and the other was my best friend. I felt utterly alone with no one to hold me or just too to talk to about what was really going on in my life. It was then I actually did attempt suicide . . . obviously not very successfully!
Just as I am
Like all of us, I feel I am now on a journey. In the period since I left the mission ship I have realised three things about myself:
Firstly: I would find living a celibate life to be an immense struggle.
If I am honest, I know that, no matter how hard I tried to resist it, at some point I would end up going out and looking for love. Some might argue that the quest would not be for "love" but for "sex". And maybe there is some truth is that charge. My search would be driven by the intense desire I experience to be held and accepted by another man; and yes, that relationship would need to include sexual intimacy. But, the thing is this: even if my heart hunger led me to engage in an encounter that lasted only for only a brief moment, that encounter would have at least a pretence of love about it. That surely proves how strong and deep my need to be loved by another man is. Of course, many well-meaning Christians tell me that straight guys (and women too) have similar struggles with their desires, but this does not give them licence to go out on the streets searching for sexual encounters; so surely the same should apply to me and every other gay Christian. Again, this is a fair point, but it is important to realise that there is a big difference between me and a single heterosexual Christian.
This brings me to the second point: I do not want to live my life on my own.
I realise now more and more that I dread the possibility of going through my entire life as a single man. No doubt I could survive, as many Christians do, a period of temporary singleness, provided there was hope that I might find a partner one day. But much of my struggle comes from the thought that my lack of someone to love and be loved by must be lifelong. Even though God gave me some very close and supportive friendships, as indeed he has in the past, those relationships would inevitably end. People would get married, or move house, or move back to their home country on the other side of the world—and I would be alone again. The key difference between being a gay Christian and a straight one is that the latter is allowed to pursue the goal of finding a life- partner, whereas the former is not. That simple hope of finding a loving committed partnership with another Christian of the same sex is not seen as a permissible aspiration. Yet it remains one of the deepest and most unshakeable yearnings of my heart.
Thirdly and very importantly: I do not want to compromise my faith.
Personal integrity is something I see as essential for a Christian. So right now I am trying to work out how I can be absolutely honest with myself about my gay orientation and still live my life happily for Christ. For many years I thought that there was no such thing as a gay Christian. But I have discovered there must be—because I am one! It is quite unthinkable for me now to deny either of these two fundamental aspects of the person I am.
But how can I live as a gay Christian? During the last couple of years I have met a number of other gay evangelical Christian people like me, many of them through Courage and the Evangelical Fellowship of Lesbian & Gay Christians. It has been a tremendous encouragement to meet for Bible study, prayer and worship once again, after feeling excluded from Christian fellowship for so long.
I won’t pretend this hasn’t left me with a dilemma. How do I reconcile my high regard for the Bible, and in particular those texts which seem to present an anti-homosexual stand, with my very real human desire for a physically intimate relationship with another man? Having grown up with an anti-gay understanding embedded in my subconscious, and then having eventually come out to myself and later to family and friends, it felt for a while as though I was standing astride a chasm, with one leg in the gay world and one leg among the Christians. I did not want to dishonour God nor to disown my faith, but knew that the desires within me that I had tried so hard to deny were never going to go away.
So that left me with only two options. The first was to adopt the traditional Christian stance, adopting what might appear on the surface to be a conventional, upright, celibate, Christian lifestyle, but knowing that from time to time, no matter how hard I might fight it, I would be out on "the scene" looking for a sexual "fix"— a gay one night-stand, to help me through another week or month, until the desire became too strong again and I needed to repeat the exercise. For a time I thought this was the only option—though I knew I would be riddled with feelings of guilt, hypocrisy and hopelessness if I embraced it.
However, as my journey has progressed I have discovered there is a second option. It is to take the traditional Christian values to which I am inescapably committed, such as love, integrity and faithfulness, and apply them to my life as a gay man. In other words, to treat my gay sexual orientation as something which can be sanctified by Christ. Increasingly I believe this is the right path to choose. It is obvious to anyone that the first option has no real integrity as a Christian witness. It would mean assuming an almost Jekyll and Hyde existence. I have learned that there are plenty of gay Christian men in the churches who survive through that kind of duplicity "in the closet". Some of them go regularly to ex-gay groups to confess and receive absolution for their repeated "falls". I don’t want to be like that.
What I’ve always believed, and am even more convinced of now, is that the road of Christian discipleship has to be both real and workable. It means facing up to issues and problems—not sweeping them under the carpet or proclaiming how I have been "set free" when in fact I have been nothing of the kind. I believe in the sovereignty of God and his ability to heal anybody from anything. But I have to acknowledge that for every person I hear of who has been delivered, there are countless others who, for reasons I cannot explain, are not. And the exciting thing is, those same people who have not been healed, do not give up on Christ as a result of their disappointment. They press on, walking with the Lord day by day and year by year, acknowledging his goodness and provision in spite of their continuing personal burden.
I am a bit of a perfectionist, yet life has taught me that this idealistic streak needs to be balanced by realism. And this applies to my Christian walk too. My desire to understand God’s word better is as intense as ever, but I am learning not to be so obsessed with dotting every ‘i’; and crossing every ‘t’. I understand now why Paul says "we know in part" and I am realising that it is quite possible to live the Christian life in that state of partial ignorance or uncertainty. I have also begun to question some of the assumptions and viewpoints that I grew up with and simply took for granted.
As I look deeper into what the Bible says on the issue of same sex relations I am making some astonishing discoveries. It was when a good friend pointed out to me how inescapably fallible we human beings are that suddenly the chasm that I felt I was being stretched across melted away. "It’s not that Scripture is fallible or changes; it’s our interpretation of it," he said. He gave the example of how Bible-believing Christians changed their position on slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries, and how in this century many evangelicals had revised their thinking on the role of women in church leadership. The reality is that people claim biblical support for a range of views. Being a mature Christian means coming to terms with the debate and displaying the mutual tolerance that this diversity of opinion will always demand.
My responsibility, as someone who claims to follow Christ, is to order my life and attitudes so that they mirror the qualities that Christ himself exemplified: love, grace, compassion, forgiveness. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbour as yourself." Jesus said that all the Law and the Prophets hung on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-39). And the proof that I belong to him will be the evidential outworking of these two principles in my life for all to see—both believers and non-believers. The Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
The latest chapter
To bring my journey right up-to-date, 18 months ago I met another guy with whom I have been able to develop a loving relationship. I see this as a blessing from God. Within this context of total acceptance l am learning what it is to love and be loved by another person. This is also helping me to reconcile the two parts of my life that have been kept separate for far too long—and which nearly drove me insane—my faith and the person God has made me: a gay Christian.