Finally coming out of the wilderness
It was a warm Sunday morning in June 1963. It was no ordinary Sunday morning; it was Pentecost Sunday—and also the day that I was born. I weighed in at a little over 5lb and life began for me on planet earth.
I was raised by the most caring, supportive parents, who encouraged me to go to Sunday School from a very early age. I wouldn’t describe my parents as born-again fundamentalist people. They were religious in that they faithfully attended the local Methodist Church for special occasions and always taught me to pray before going to sleep at night. But they never really spoke about having a real or personal relationship with God.
Without question, my childhood was a very happy one and even though I had no brothers or sisters I had plenty of friends around me in the home on a regular basis.
When I was about 10, we had a mission at our local Methodist Church. It was then that I realised I needed to receive Jesus as my personal Lord and Saviour. Since that day in 1973, I have constantly followed the Lord and tried to live my life in a way that I believe would be pleasing to him. But I was sure I had failed over the years in many ways.
When I was about 13 years of age, attending an all-boys High School, just as other boys of my age began to look at and make comments about girls, I found myself being attracted to other boys. At first I thought it was probably just a phase I was going through because of being in an all male environment. But I felt very scared as I’d always been told, both in school and in Church, that people who were gay were not normal: they were sick, they were feminine and they were most certainly ridiculed by a large sector of society. I thought to myself, "Well Paul, you are not feminine so it must just be a phase you are going through." At the same time, I had opportunity to meet with girls at Church, and there were girls I associated with after school with other male friends. Yet still I felt attracted to boys.
Over the next few years, all erotic thoughts that came into my mind were towards the same sex. I can remember how often I tried to think about a pretty girl and attempted to work up erotic feelings, but none came. I prayed and asked God to make me normal, but the thoughts never changed. If I dreamed about anything remotely sexual, it always involved boys, not girls.
At 16 years old, I had another great experience with God. We had a new minister at our Church who had been on a Methodist retreat where he had received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. He had such a desire for the things of God and he certainly had something I longed for.
On Wednesday evenings a new meeting was started which involved Praise and Worship, which was new to our traditional Methodist Church. There was also powerful preaching of the Word. After a few weeks I received the infilling of the Holy Spirit. It was a marvellous experience and I "knew" that now God would give me "victory" over my gay feelings. A few months later I felt God call me to preach the Word and then just after my 17th birthday, I began ministering with the Methodist Church on a trial basis. I loved God with all my heart. I wanted to serve him with all my heart. "Surely God will deliver me," I told myself.
For the next few months after receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit I pushed all gay desires out of my mind. If they surfaced I would swiftly "take authority over them" and command them to leave. At this time I did get partial victory, but the desires would reappear and at times the struggle would become almost unbearable.
The first time I had a so-called intimate experience with a man was when I was 17 years old. A friend from Church started asking me what I thought about gay people? My reply was negative of course and I told him that I believed it would be outside God’s will for anyone to engage in "those sorts of acts". He agreed, but then about half an hour later we enjoyed our first intimate encounter. At the time it seemed wonderful. It felt so completely natural. But afterwards, the inevitable sense of guilt crept in and I felt devastated. I earnestly prayed for forgiveness, promising God that I would never do such an evil thing again.
Over the next two years, in my weak moments, I had several further encounters with this guy. Whilst in the eyes of others, I was living a life of victory, in reality I was living in defeat. My minister thought I was wonderful and so did most of the Church. But I thought, "If only they knew what was really going on in my life!" I prayed constantly, I fasted, I sought God, and I "believed" for the victory, all to no avail.
Then at 19 years of age, a girl in the Church took a liking to me, and she started to show a lot of interest. My friend, with whom I’d had many intimate encounters by this time, had moved to college, so I thought that now he had gone I could really get the victory. I started dating this girl and we became very close. When the feelings of same-sex attraction came, I would rebuke them and concentrate on thinking about her. I now know that this was so wrong. But for awhile I seemed to be doing better and felt that possibly I was making some progress. Of course as time went on everyone in the Church expected us to get married. I began to believe that I would be making a real commitment to God in turning away from homosexuality, if I married her. So in 1986 I proposed to my girlfriend and she immediately accepted me. I was so pleased! I felt I had arrived at the place of victory and everything would now be all right.
During our engagement I felt as proud as a peacock. God had given me a wonderful woman to be my wife. I was going to be married and gay thoughts would fade away, as I would be totally engrossed with my new wife. But we didn’t even get to the altar before I had a fall. I met a guy through a fellowship I’d preached in; after the meeting we talked and found we had a few things in common. Both he and his girlfriend became friends with me and my fiancée. We had some great times together. But then I began to get the impression that he was acting rather more than a normal friend to me. He wanted to see me without his girlfriend, making excuses to talk to me about spiritual things. So I am sorry to have to say that nine months before my marriage I fell again. But this time it was not just teenage lust. This time, I felt for the first time in my life that I had fallen in love. He felt the same. It was bliss. But then the guilt came. Again we both agreed this was wrong. We felt we had to change. After all, how could we be together as Christians who say we love God? I said at one point that I must call off my wedding. He insisted that I should not; this was our only hope of victory! After a 6 month on-and-off relationship I finally agreed I would pursue my marriage. We told ourselves that this relationship was an obstacle that had been put there by the devil.
My wife and I had a wonderful wedding day and a terrific honeymoon. Afterwards, life returned to normal. At first, married life was something so new and different, that I had little time to think of my homosexuality. On the odd occasion when those old feelings or attractions appeared, I would just push them away. So overall, married life was good for the first two years. Moreover, I was heavily involved in Ministry, pioneering a new Church and working full time in a Sales job. God was blessing me as he always had and I felt that finally I was getting sorted.
But this situation was to be short lived. After only a couple of years, my desires for same-sex intimacy became so intense, I reached the point where the only way I could be intimate with my wife was to imagine I was with a guy. I felt so guilty. I lost all hope and got very depressed.
I kept asking God what was going on, but nothing changed. Then after three years of marriage my wife left me! This was not because I was gay (because she was not aware of the fact). Perhaps she just didn’t feel the love she needed from me. I don’t blame her one bit. But I was still surprised and totally devastated. I still loved her even though I was gay.
After my marriage broke up, I became very depressed. I couldn’t believe I’d got divorced! I had preached about it, but I never thought it would happen to me. I had also preached against homosexuality, but that did happen to me! Then a few months later I met a guy called Anthony. He was the same age as me and had also gone through a divorce. We just became friends at first, then after a few weeks we realised we loved each other and began a serious relationship.
Sixteen years have passed and I am still with Anthony. He has been so faithful to me through all that time. Because for fourteen of those years I suffered a wilderness experience. I was still terribly ambivalent, believing that homosexuality was wrong, yet wanting to be with Anthony. I tried to get out of our relationship many times. I prayed God would destroy it. I went to work in another part of the country on several occasions to try and break away. I fasted and prayed again and again. I cried myself to sleep on countless occasions and began suffering very major depression. In 2004 I almost had a complete breakdown. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t even take the dog for a walk. I was on medication from the doctor. And I felt that God had left me—that he could never use me again because I was gay. I felt totally defeated; absolutely finished!
Then in this time of darkness, one day I went surfing on the internet and came across Courage. At first I doubted if what I was reading could ever be what God intended or accepted. But as I read the testimonies of people struggling with same sex attraction like myself, I started to wonder if God could be at work in this ministry? Perhaps the problem was with me—listening too much to the traditional views of society and the Church, rather than reading, studying and listening for myself to what God was really saying to people in my situation. Maybe that was the real problem? I spoke to Jeremy at length on many occasions. I am sure I can’t have been the easiest person he had ever ministered to. I was so insecure—living in fear of hell, living in fear that I was beyond the point of forgiveness. But after months of contact with Courage, I began to accept myself as the person that God had created. I finally started to come out of the dark wilderness. The depression began to lift, and I looked at things in a more rational way. Once again I could see hope. Then reality dawned and I started to experience victory in my life again—this time, the victory of God’s love over my entrenched fears.
For the next two years I had a closer relationship with God than I had ever experienced during the previous fourteen years. I started to understand afresh his grace, his love, his compassion and all his marvellous attributes. I became much more active in my Church, leading worship and preaching the Word on a more regular basis.
God is good. He is not the kind of God that I had created in my mind or imbibed from the teaching of the Church—always there to bash me and condemn me whenever I messed up—but he is a God of infinite love and peace. To be sure, he is a God who hates sin but, because I love him so much that I want to please him, I began to realise that if I fall into sin, he is always there to come alongside me, lift me up and forgive me.
In April 2007, a member of my Church found out about my same-sex attractions and my relationship with Anthony and he spoke to the Church leadership. This caused a huge problem. From that day to this I’ve not been allowed to set foot in the Church again. I was part of an Assembly of God Church which is very hostile to gay people (to say the least). I have tried to explain my situation to the leadership and I’ve told my story to everyone I’ve met from the church, but no one will listen.
If this had happened in 2004, I could well have become one of the statistics of gay Christians who have taken their life because they could not cope with the Church’s rejection. But thank God that in 2007 I was back in a strong and victorious position in Christ. 2007 was a difficult year, with losing my Church, but I thank God that, as Ephesians 3:20 says, "My God will supply all my needs according to his riches in glory".
God has met with me during this past year (2007) and I am pleased that I can write this testimony and tell the story of the place where God found me and how he brought me to the place of peace where I am now. Today, my relationship with Anthony is the best it has ever been—in fact it just gets better and better every day. Thanks be to God for providing me with such a wonderful, faithful partner and companion.
Having received so much encouragement through the testimonies of others, which I found on the Courage website, I wanted to write mine in the hope that my story can also encourage others.
I just want to say to all of you people who are struggling out there:
"Never give up! God is there to lead you forward; he loves us all!"
After coming out of the wilderness
How great is our God? That is the thought that comes to the forefront when I think of where I have come from.
When I finally came out of the wilderness I saw God in a new light. It was like walking through the countryside experiencing the heat of a warm summer day. A rain shower has just fallen and the precipitation is evaporating in that sultry heat.
Everything seems perfect and glorious. I realised for the first time that life was for enjoyment not for turmoil.
I had been led to believe that we as Christians must almost hate the world and just strive for that eternal place called heaven!! Many preachers including myself had said, “We must not be engaged in the things of the world but concentrate on the things in heavenly places”.
Yes, God desires for us to look to him but I now understand that he has given us a fantastic wonderful world for our enjoyment. Everything about God is good. His personality, his kindness, his love, his compassion, the list goes on and on and on. He gave us a wonderful world to enjoy - and I have seen that we do indeed have a beautiful world to live in. Anthony and I were in Montenegro last year and oh the scenery was totally breathtaking. God is good.
I now look at everything in a new light. I feel that my eyes have been opened to all the glory of God, since understanding the love of God in a more personal way. We were created to worship him not to be bound by him!!
Over the past four years since I first published my testimony, my relationship with God and my understanding has gone from strength to strength. My background is Charismatic/Pentecostal which I am sure you all must agree must be possibly the worst combination for any gay Christian. But I have learned from this affliction that whatever the people may say, God will always have the final word. When the Church turned against me and asked me to leave because of my sexuality, God was there. When I felt lonely and deserted, God was there.
I then started to understand the real meaning of grace. God showed me that he loved me in spite of who I was. He paid the price for all sins on calvary, and made a way that whoever believes in him will have life and life in abundance.
I know that God wants to bless me. I now have no doubts at all. I finally understand grace. I understand forgiveness and most of all I understand unconditional love.
Courage has been a major influence in my life. Jeremy is a gift from God. If it wasn’t for him I may have become one of the statistics of a Gay Christian ending their life!!
Jeremy was there at the time of my greatest need and I am confident that God has a great reward laid up in heaven for him. Amen
I have been in my relationship with Anthony now for 20 years. “Who says gay relationships don’t work?” I am totally committed to him and him to me and we intend to spend the rest of our lives together. (What a testimony!)
Remember, all you out their struggling with your sexuality. God loves you the way you are. Don’t beat yourself up like I did and live for years in condemnation. God wants you to be free and free indeed.
(Paul Fairbanks: Update received 29th March 2012)