My Life in Three Halves
Edwin Fröling – 39 – A Reformed Reformed-Evangelical
"My People Are Destroyed For Lack Of Knowledge" Hosea 4:6
I was still on the safe side of the railing of the highest bridge in the area. My head was swirling with conflicting thoughts: how could I contemplate killing myself if my life belongs to Christ? It was not mine to take. My loving mom at home was wondering why her 19 year old son was late back from Sunday evening service. I was frightened that I may survive the fall and become a maimed burden to my family. Should I go back to my car and at least lock the keys inside?
That day while at my church’s young adults’ fellowship lunch, someone joked, "The best way to deal with AIDS is to round up all the gays and shoot them. If there are too many, put them on an island and let them [sodomise] themselves to death."
Everyone laughed ... including me!
After all I did not want to let on I may be gay.
I drove home and, when asked why I was late, reported I’d been on a view inspection. I cried myself to sleep.
The throw-away quip ignited the persistent and, as I understood it, unresolvable conflict between my spirituality and my sexuality. This perceived conflict had secretly dominated all my teenage years and would continue through my "life of three halves".
THE FIRST HALF
My formative years were in the twilight decades of Apartheid South Africa. My father came from a German Lutheran upbringing and my mother converted from Catholicism to marry him. We attended a conservative Anglican church that had disassociated itself from the "liberal" Anglican Communion. Both my parents were very involved in the church and its "Evangelism Explosion" programme.
From very early on I knew my need for salvation, good works were not enough, and that salvation was a free gift through Christ’s atonement on the cross. I had accepted this and committed myself to Christ. My conversion was real.
I was very involved with the local church but avoided the charismatic Scripture Union (SU) at school. My school friend, Andy, attended the SU. We had lengthy heated debates about speaking in tongues. He kept referring to his experiences. I was frustrated that he seemed to regard his experience as a valid reason why I’d misinterpreted the related Biblical passages. Whereas my position was:
These attitudes pervaded my approach to the Bible for another 20 years.
At 16, a week or so before my Confirmation, I withdrew my candidacy. I was respected for my godly life and knowledge of Scripture and doctrine. The minister exclaimed, "If Edwin is not ready then who is?"
If only they knew. From 11 I knew I was attracted to guys, and only guys. I perceived I was unnatural—evil in fact, beyond the Reformed doctrine of "The total depravity of man"!
I had been taught that the only sexuality was heterosexuality; homosexuality did not exist; it was a perversion of heterosexuality and therefore all same-sex attraction was an abomination. When other guys glanced at a girl and were turned on, it was a natural attraction. When I looked at a guy, it was always deviant lust!
At school, I was also subjected to horrendous homophobic bullying that at one point was so bad the headmaster considered bringing in the police. Not that I was "out"! To the contrary, I tried to act as heterosexual as possible. Unfortunately God has blessed me with the ball co-ordination of a garden gnome. Not being very good at sport in an all-white rugby-playing boys school left one open to being labelled as "queer" irrespective of one’s sexuality. The pejorative use of homosexuality only reinforced my belief that I was evil.
To cope I buried myself in my studies. I developed unrelentingly high standards: I reckoned that if anyone discovered I was gay, they may still accept me, as all other areas of my life were good.
At university, Andy came out as gay. When Dan, a mutual friend told me that Andy had changed his Biblical understanding of homosexuality, I thought back to our discussion on tongues. "Typical!" I thought, "He’s using his personal experience to reinterpret Scripture."
I told Dan that we should disassociate ourselves from Andy. However, secretly, I longed to share with Andy what I was going through. It was at this time that suicidal thoughts were occurring with regular ferocity.
Desperate, I approached my "pastor" and disclosed my struggle. He proceeded to remind me of "the Church’s" doctrine  on homosexuality and quoted verses backing this up. I reminded him of a few he’d missed. In fairness, I think that was all the training he’d had on human sexuality, let alone homosexuality.
I was then told to stand down from the church board and scale back my activities in the church. Although I’d mentioned that I was attracted to guys, I’d said nothing about being attracted to children. So imagine how gob smacked I was when he instructed me that I must not get involved with any children or youth ministries. It was additionally painful to think that because I told him I was gay, he had also now assumed I was a paedophile.
The sum total of the pastoral care was him telling me he’d be praying for me. We never spoke about it again.
My mental health deteriorated and I took an overdose. There was no way I would approach the church, and I could not open up to our family doctor either. So he sent me to a psychologist. I don’t think the psychologist had much experience dealing with people of faith who were gay. He told me that scientific studies showed that homosexuality was not a choice; I should accept who I am and experience my sexuality.
So I cancelled my next appointment with the psychologist. His ways were the "foolishness of man" no matter how scientific they may be. I thought my sexuality was a choice and I chose Christ. Christ would heal and sustain me.
However, the conflict never dissipated. I had heard of a Christian sexologist that I knew my parents would approve of ... not that I was out to them.
The sexologist taught me three things; two good and one not so good:
- Not all "same-sex attraction" was evil.
- As a Christian I was not alone with this struggle. There were others.
- As I was not sexually active (except for one experience), I was not homosexual. I was at most "homophilic" as long as I committed to celibacy.
I was relieved! I was not a homosexual and returned home coming out to my parents as a "homophilic". I guess it was a little like a teenage daughter informing her conservative mother that she is a lesbian. When her mother freaks out, she then says, "Relax Mom! I’m just kidding. However, I’m pregnant and don’t know who the father is."
THE SECOND HALF
As my heterosexual siblings in Christ fell in love and married, my forced celibacy compounded my loneliness. In suppressing and denying my sexuality, I began to develop addictions and obsessions. I began to use pornography obsessively and at 24 started to drink.
I went through cycles of sin-now-pray-later. I did have the occasional slip up. However, I also became concerned because what I actually experienced of the gay community was not as hedonistic as Christians had made it out to be. I was starting to entertain thoughts that homosexuality could be "normal" after all. My experience was making me question the Bible.
When I moved to the UK, I continued to attend conservative Evangelical churches. I loved the theology but increasingly felt homosexuality was actually a real sexuality, which meant that I did not belong in these churches. I would sometimes go to London’s gay community in Soho, but my conservative spirituality made me feel I did not belong there either.
Blindly, I still held to orthodox Biblical views of sexuality. The more I denied my sexuality, the worse my addictions and obsessions became.
Damned if I did; damned if I did not!
I came to the point where I thought it would be a lesser evil to be in a committed same-sex relationship.
In 1998 I met Paul who was Roman Catholic. Paul helped me to see how dysfunctional it was to attend a church where I had to deny who I am. We started attending an inclusive church.
In 2000 Paul asked me if we could have a blessing of our relationship. I was careful to avoid the word "marriage". I invited my family. But no one came. To this day I still wonder which was worse for Dad: the fact I was "marrying" a Catholic or "marrying" a guy?
However, my attitude to my relationship with Paul was still not healthy. I still believed it was not really acceptable to God. It developed into a co-dependant relationship. I did not address issues in the relationship as I felt I could not expect better. This was my lot. I had become subservient.
Moreover, the theology in the church we were attending was too liberal for me. I did not think that I belonged there either. So I stopped attending church altogether.
For over 5 years I had a small book on my shelf, "What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality", by Daniel Helminiak. I was too petrified to read it.
I did not want my interpretation to be challenged. It was all nice and neat. As long as conservative Christians were correct, my sexuality and spirituality were irreconcilable. In a way I had made a god of my interpretation.
However, this was psychologically draining. Rather than dealing with it, I began to abuse substances. For a short while the substances worked: they allowed me to silence the conflict, as I perceived it, and I felt accepted in the gay community.
Of course this was unsustainable and I became suicidal. My doctor thought it was time I went into a psychiatric hospital. My family was very concerned and called my psychiatrist. In their opinion my mental health issues were a result of me accepting my homosexuality and living in an unnatural relationship. "I now understand part of your problem", the psychiatrist reported to me that evening. "Growing up in such a prejudicial environment and the lack of acceptance from your family has taken its toll."
It was 16 months before I was able to return to work. While I learned a lot about myself during this time, I did not discuss my spiritual conflict and hid my substance abuse from my doctors.
Eventually the conflict led to a serious attempt to take my life. I got most of my affairs in order and researched various methods. It failed. I was hospitalised for the second time—to protect me from myself.
In hospital I started smoking. There were two reasons: for over a month I had someone watching me 24 hours a day. The only way to get outside was if I smoked. The second was that the cigarette companies "advertised" that "smoking kills" with bold letters on the packaging! With black humour I jested, "Well if I did not die, at least I could sue them for false advertising!" I guess I had slammed the self-destruct button.
THE THIRD HALF
At one of my life’s lowest points I was challenged to face those seven or so passages in the Bible. I had never actually studied them for myself. When I first read the book mentioned previously, my initial reaction was that it was full of loopholes and theological gymnastics to "justify" homosexual sin.
But the Holy Spirit used it to plant a seed. Over the next couple of months, as I found other resources, I came to realise how my simplistic attitude to Scripture had damaged me and others who I had condemned. Indeed, I became increasingly aware how prejudiced I had been with myself and others. I began to recognise what internalised homophobia was all about.
In studying the texts myself I realised that it was not the "liberals" that were adding to Scripture ideas which were never there; it was the "conservatives". For example, until 1946 the word "homosexual" had never been used in English translations of 1 Corinthians 6:9.
During my Internet research I kept coming across the name of a Pentecostal and Charismatic "Gay Ambassador", Anthony Venn Brown. I thought God was having a laugh. "Great! Another Andy!"
Never-the-less Anthony’s tone was very different from other pro-gay lobbyists and activists. His tone was assertive yet also one of reconciliation, love and relating to people. It seemed to me very much in line with James 3: 17,18
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
He seemed to be genuinely seeking to influence and connect with those who disagreed with him. They were not his enemy; ignorance was the enemy. His idea of being a "Gay Ambassador" grabbed my attention. It arrested my personal motives and held them in custody.
Anthony had very similar experiences to me. Significantly Anthony had initiated a forum onwww.freedom2b.org that contains with a relentless consistency other gay Christians’ experiences; experiences that fellow Christians "have failed to engage with… and [whose] rigid and unyielding interpretation of Scripture and tradition continues to do violence to."
I began questioning conservative Christians regarding our rigid and unyielding interpretations. However, I was regularly told I was trying to justify my sin and that I should prayerfully consider verses such as Jeremiah 5:21,
"… you foolish and senseless people,
who have eyes but do not see,
who have ears but do not hear."
Yet, given the regular uniformity of brokenness in the stories of gay Christians, I recognised that maybe the ones who should be prayerfully considering the words of Jeremiah were conservative Christians! It was now time to stop being spiritually bullied into accepting how others interpreted the Bible.
At about this time, I recalled that Andy had successfully taken his life and how I had treated him. I repented! I repented of my internalised homophobia and the judgement of others.
To my surprise, a wonderful sense of self control and moral determination emerged.
- No longer constantly battling my sexuality, I found that I was becoming less self-focussed and better able to implement the royal command of loving my neighbour as myself. Increasingly I was able to give more time and energy to caring for others, the poor, sick and needy, as Christ commanded.
- The way I felt about myself and my relationship with Paul changed. There is still a lot of the past to unwind and de-construct. Paul is there beside me as I heal, as my life partner. Paul is the person I want to grow old with. Adam had Eve; I have Paul. I’m happy to say we have been together 13 years now.
- To tackle my substance abuse and addictions, I’m following a 12-step programme, where Christ is my higher power. By God’s grace, I have experienced 9 months of sobriety.
When I realised the task ahead of me and the effects of years of self-neglect, I felt a little overwhelmed.
My university friend Dan visited me in London. I lamented that while Christ was my strength, I felt there was so much damage to undo. He pointed out that we’d had a very similar Skype chat a few months earlier. I defended myself, "Well, action was planned!" Much to my annoyance, it took Dan about 5 minutes to stop laughing.
Though, I had made a start. I’d badly neglected my physical fitness and I’d started using a personal trainer. Dan challenged me, "Maybe you need a personal trainer for your life … a life-coach." In as much as I was investing money in my physical fitness, I should invest in my life. Dan said I should find someone that I could relate to; that had similar experiences and who I respected.
Oh dear! My life of three halves had by-and-large been devoid of positive gay Christian role models. However, one person did come to mind: Anthony Venn Brown. I related very much to the title of Anthony’s autobiography, "A Life of Unlearning" as it conveyed how I felt of the need to deconstruct all my old beliefs systems and coping strategies, and build anew.
Dan returned to South Africa and kept teasing me about my "action was planned" comment. "Have you contacted Anthony yet?" he kept asking on Skype even before saying "Hello"!
So I planned some action, and, more importantly, acted on my plan. I contacted Anthony. Anthony has helped me to see:
- Despite my high standards, how unbalanced my life was.
- That I’m much more than my sexuality. Indeed, this should be self-evident. However, when conservative churches make you feel you have to change the unchangeable, you spend so much futile time and energy on it that it becomes all consuming.
- How to realign my values and challenge those beliefs that no longer served me, e.g., my unrelenting high standards, social isolation and subjugation … keeping what was still important to me. In reconciling my sexuality and my spirituality, my entire value system had been thrown into turmoil. I no longer knew which parts to trust, what was healthy and what was dysfunctional. I was concerned I may throw out the baby with the bath water.
- How to map a course through the morass I had now found myself in. He did not tell me the path through it. It was a little frustrating; I just wanted to be told! However, he was teaching me independence and how to usurp my dependency on others.
- How to dream again, expect more from my life and most importantly, to believe it was realistically achievable. My low self-esteem prevented me from expecting more from life. The low self-esteem was a result of years believing I was detestable to God no matter the extent of God’s love and grace.
While still work in progress, I believe that I’m a fallible human being who God has equipped with unique skills. These skills have come from life experiences that He has providently guided me through. Where I am right now is exactly where God wants me to be. I rest on God and await the wonderful blessings He has in store for me.
I still hold to the divinely inspired authority of Scripture, the Reformed Evangelical Doctrines of Grace, etc. However, I now accept that, without giving up authentic Christianity, our personal experiences can raise legitimate challenges to our traditional interpretations of Scripture.
Most importantly, faithfulness, celibacy or heterosexuality are not the objectives of the Christian life. We must just submit all aspects of our lives to Christ and let the Holy Spirit make us new. It is for God to do the judging, and the condemning. I am called to love God, love my neighbour and ... particularly for me ... love myself.
 The use here of the universal "Church" rather than the denominational or local "church" is deliberate. Conservative Christians have a tendency to state that there is universal theological agreement on the condemnation of homosexuality. This is simply not true as I was later to find out. The website "Religious Tolerance" has a useful discussion of 6 different Christian interpretations of homosexuality.http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom6beli.htm
 Typical of most Christian therapists, sexuality is often narrowly defined as sexual behaviour. Therefore, a "homophilic" is a person who likes men but does not have sex with them.
 I later found out from my mother that Dad had not bought the "homophilic" label. He did ask her what they should do with me. (I was still living with them as I could not afford my own place). In tribute to her, she defended me saying, "He is still our son. We should love him unconditionally!" Poor Dad, I think he got fixated on the prefix "homo". I wonder if he can even use the taxonomical term "homo sapiens" without cringing. Never-the-less and to their credit, my parents did embark on a journey to find out more. While it has been difficult for them as they still belong to church communities where homosexuality is malevolent, they have been supporting, loving and concerned. Sadly, there are those who would spurn my family if they were aware of the level of my family’s care.
 I believe my family meant well but were acting in ignorance. They have subsequently come round and do much more understand. It has taken them as much time as it has taken me to confront our ignorance of homosexuality. They have had to catch up quite a bit as I had hidden almost my entire struggle from them. This is not dissimilar to other Christians who are gay. My family only became aware of my life’s experience when they read early drafts of this document.
 As those familiar with 12-step programmes such as Alcoholics Anonymous are aware, anonymity is one of the important traditions. Therefore, I am publishing my story using a pseudonym.
by Edwin Fröling
© November 2011
Reproduced by Courage with kind permission