Really Gay Really Christian
A talk originally prepared for the Guildford Diocesan Summer School
Given on Friday 15th July 2005 at the Guildford Cathedral Education Centre
(Substantially revised and updated August 2006)
This title, to many Christians, is an oxymoron—a contradiction in terms! And that is how it seemed to me for most of my life, until about the turn of the Millennium. However, by the late 1990's, my former assumptions had been so profoundly challenged, I reached a point where I could no longer believe that the traditional Christian teaching about homosexuality was true. Nor, speaking as an evangelical, could I believe it was biblical either.
In my personal experience, I first noticed feelings of attraction to the same sex developing from about the age of 13. This was in 1965—in a virulently hostile anti-gay social climate, before the law changed in 1967. I was much too terrified to admit my feelings to anybody in those days, much less act on them! To do so would have been like declaring oneself to be a paedophile today! So I resolved I was not going to be gay and fought against my feelings.
As a zealous young Christian man in my early twenties, having been taught that you could not possibly be gay and Christian, I was determined that nothing should stand in the way of being a totally committed follower of Christ. At the Baptist Church where I was a member, it was generally accepted by the mid 1970's that a person probably could not help being homosexual in orientation; but a same-sex partnership was simply not an option for a committed Christian. We were rightly taught that we must all take responsibility before God for the choices we make, but traditional Christian teaching was that if a person could not marry then celibacy was God’s rule. Of course heterosexual marriage was the only kind of marriage ever talked about in those days. Anything else would be a travesty!
This was a heavy burden to bear. But in those days, I had little confidence in my own opinions about anything and so I accepted unquestioningly the church’s teaching that homosexual thought and practice was rebellion. Yet despite my desire to be unwaveringly committed to following God’s way, I doubted my ability to live a lifetime on my own without sooner or later giving up the struggle against this "thorn in my flesh".
My initial strategy was to seek psychiatric help. However, my psycho-therapist believed, very perceptively I realised many years later, that my biggest problem was my religion. So when psychiatric help did not bear the fruit I hoped for, I sought Christian counselling, healing prayer and even deliverance ministry. But all along, I was committed to the principle that if I did not find the "freedom from homosexuality", which I longed for, then I must be prepared to "take up my cross" as Jesus commanded—even if that meant a lifelong battle against my sexuality and living a celibate life. After all, I argued to myself, Christ had paid the ultimate price! How could I protest at making such a modest sacrifice for Jesus?
The words of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, when facing Nebuchadnezzar’s burning fiery furnace in Daniel 3:16-18, often rang out in my mind: "We are not worried about what will happen to us. If we are thrown into the flaming furnace, our God is able to deliver us out of your hand. But even if he does not deliver us, we will not bow down and worship the golden image." This was the kind of zeal to follow Christ that I was unwaveringly committed to. Anything less was apostasy. In those days, to me and so many Christians, identifying with homosexuality and pursing a gay life was like bowing down to a modern golden image—a worthless idol.
My understanding of the Christian life was that God requires unquestioning recognition of his sovereignty and submission to the Lordship of Christ—requiring absolute obedience to following God’s purposes for our lives. Since our understanding of God’s purposes came from seeing the Bible as the unalterable Word of God, homosexuality just did not seem—in any way—to fit God’s purposes for mankind. Rather it seemed in opposition to God’s created order. As "fallen" human beings, born into sin, we were taught that homosexual practice almost defines the ultimate expression of human disobedience—making a travesty of God’s glorious creation of human beings as male and female and marriage as the holy union of a man and a woman. So, self discipline and self-control was the rule of life for me, and I was very careful not to do anything that would encourage a "homosexual mind-set".
The pursuit of this rigorous spiritual assault course meant that I experienced a constant war going on inside myself, resulting in deep depression. Because whilst the objective of self-discipline seemed virtuous enough, I was aware that other aspects of my "fallen" character did not respond well to self-discipline alone; only the grace and tenderness of God helped. But I was suspicious of developing too great a reliance on God’s grace lest I might be led astray into thinking I could accept being gay. So I always felt at odds with God and his purposes, unable to fathom the dichotomy between law and grace. Over the years, I read every book and drank in every sermon that declared God’s grace and loving kindness; but I could never find enough of it to assuage the terrible unending battle raging inside me.
During my mid-twenties, I met a gay Christian couple who had come to terms with being gay and Christian and were living together in a committed partnership. Their story was impressive and sounded very convincing. (They are still together nearly 30 years later.) Something in me longed deeply to be able to fully accept their way for myself. Yet far from being the "easy option" that many evangelical Christians see this to be, I knew that the cost would be very great. I dreaded what my family or employers might think if I "came out" as a gay Christian. I certainly knew that I would lose all my friends and soon be put out of Church membership—if I did not get out first! But more worryingly still, I knew Paul’s words to the Corinthians, in his first letter, Chapter 6:9, "Do not be deceived . . ." warning that "homosexual offenders will never enter the kingdom of Heaven." I was simply terrified of being taken in by some deception. Somehow I had to keep searching for the true answer.
On top of the fearful warnings I found in scripture, there was a deep sense of shame in my heart that prevented me from accepting myself as a gay man. One occasion graphically demonstrated this, when I was working for a family business where I was well-regarded for my expertise and the quality of my work. One day, one of the managers was interviewing a potential new member of staff. At the end of the day I asked him how the interview had gone. "Oh well, the chap was obviously gay!", he snorted. "So?", I replied with feigned innocence. "Well we wouldn’t want to employ that sort of person in our company!" he replied contemptuously, as if I should have realised without having to be told. "Well you already do employ that sort of person", I nearly replied! But I bit my tongue. I was much too afraid of a stunned silence in reaction, very likely to be followed by long term ostracism and the likelihood of my job becoming untenable, if I admitted it. Doubtless, this fear was exacerbated by the fact of the emerging AIDS crisis at the time. This particular manager had already openly protested his strength of feeling on the subject! In his view, all homosexuals deserved to be exiled onto a desert island to protect "decent society" from the dangers of this "gay plague"! The sense of shame I felt at not being able to find the courage to come out and be honest about myself left me feeling wretched. Somehow I felt utterly destroyed inside. Years later I realised that I was suffering deeply from internalised homophobia.
The first big "breakthrough" for me came in the early 1980's when, having exhausted all the available options for healing, and having reached a point of great personal desperation, God brought a most unusual man into my life who was to become a wonderful friend. Coming across as a bit of a rough diamond, he could be a disconcerting person to have around, possessing an extraordinary perception, understanding and compassion for others in difficulty. Often his provocative relational style could get him into a lot of trouble. He was not a man to fit anybody’s mould!
One day, somewhat to my annoyance, he brightly declared, "I used to be a homosexual you know!". "What do you mean, used to be?", I asked, having great difficulty concealing my frustration at the apparent ease with which he could airily dismiss something that had gripped my life for two decades! "Oh well," he replied, "I just came to realise it was a dead-end street!". I did not understand what he meant at all and wished that I could feel able to take such a "devil-may-care" attitude about it all, not minding what anybody thought.
But this man was not a shallow person at all. In fact more than anyone, he was prepared to get involved with me as a very close friend at the deepest level, save for any sexual (I should say genital) contact. We ended up sharing my flat for 18 months, and during that time, his robust warm-hearted affection and commitment to me as a gay man who did not feel as he did about the subject, went a long way to ease the anger and inner tension I felt. His friendship was a gift of God that revealed to me a divine understanding of my needs as a person, within parameters or moral boundaries I could accept at that time. In due course, however, he met the woman who was to become his wife. Rightly for him, therefore, he moved on, though happily we’ve remained good friends ever since. Unlike him though, in spite of a real degree of healing I experienced in that relationship, nothing actually changed with regard to my sexual orientation. I think it would be fair to say that he is bi-sexual, the greater emphasis on being hetero rather than homo-sexual, which I was not. So for me, now in my thirties, the seemingly endless search to find God’s way had to go on!
Along with many other charismatics at that time, I became a "conference junkie"—always seeking the latest "in" teaching and opportunities for receiving ministry, in the hope that one day God would bring that healing touch that would set me free from homosexuality and enable me to marry and live a normal life. I had a lot of sympathy for the invalided man waiting at the Pool of Bethesda, who had been there for 38 years by the time Jesus met him (John 5), unable to get to the pool to receive healing when the angel stirred the water! Somehow I never quite made it either, whenever I sought that elusive healing ministry! The great frustration was that there just never seemed to be any way out of this situation.
By the mid 1980's I came across Martin Hallett and the True Freedom Trust, based in the North West in Merseyside. They also ran a group meeting in London, led by Chris Medcalf. It was such a help to find a whole group of evangelical Christians who struggled with their homosexuality. There I found a place of mutual support where I could meet others who understood the battle. One night, a young man visiting from San Francisco, California, testified to having been brought out of a life of male prostitution through a ministry called "Love in Action", where he had lived for a couple of years. Through Love in Action he’d found freedom from "the gay lifestyle", as the Americans like to call it.
Then early in 1987, I had the opportunity to visit Love in Action and was enormously impressed by the loving and caring community of Christians there—all committed to finding the way out of homosexuality. They were working in an atmosphere of complete honesty about their struggles with plenty of support, not only from the ministry but also from the Church where the ministry was based—appropriately known as the Church of the Open Door. I must admit, I had never in my life encountered a group of Christians whose personal lifestyles were so out of control—many being seriously addicted to drugs, alcohol and of course numerous sexual encounters. This was entirely outside my experience. But fortunately for them, it did not seem to matter how often one had to admit failure in that community: as long as one remained repentant in attitude, desiring to follow Christ whole-heartedly, patience and understanding was unwaveringly shown to all who persevered.
There can be no doubt that many were freed from a double life of superficial Christian respectability on Sundays and a secret life of sexual addiction during the week! Members certainly had their sense of dignity and self-respect restored during the time spent with Love in Action (now known as New Hope). On reflection, however, I never remember anybody seriously ask whether this kind of ministry was "successful" in the long term, in its objective to free people from homosexuality. But the support was good while it lasted.
Frank Worthen, director of Love in Action, who had written a very impressive discipleship programme called "Steps out of Homosexuality" lasting a year, encouraged me to return late in 1987 to work with the ministry for four months, to prepare for starting a similar work in the UK. When I returned to the UK in 1988, I started the ministry I still have and called it "Courage"—because I did not want to suggest that there was an easy way out. However, above all, I wanted to be able to provide substantial support for Christians who are gay that would end the terrible sense of isolation and alienation from God, the Church and indeed from oneself.
In many ways, the early years of the Courage ministry were very exciting and full of hope. If there was a way out of homosexuality to be found, then we were determined to find it. Though we did practice healing prayer, fundamentally we believed that commitment to Christian discipleship must be the key: we still believed that homosexuality was the fruit of rebellion. Based in Watford at that time, we belonged to a very supportive church and were privileged to be working with some of the most dedicated and committed Christians I have ever met. People sold houses and gave up good careers to be able to spend a year or two in our residential discipleship houses, going through the Steps out of Homosexuality programme passed on to us by Frank Worthen. If the level of Christian commitment I saw in those days were universal, our churches would transform the world we live in!
Within a couple of years of starting the ministry, I began to build a relationship with another pioneer in Christian ministry—Bren Robson who at that time was leading the Guildford Community Church—a remarkable achievement for a woman in house church circles, which are mostly opposed to women in leadership on the grounds of traditional Christian teaching—that leadership is male (a view I shared at the time). Bren was no stranger to controversy and we saw in one another a pioneering spirit and shared many of the same values in terms of building Christian community. I enormously admired her immense creativity, her energy, vision and drive, and though perhaps we were not romantically drawn together in the traditional heterosexual sense, we were drawn together on the basis of real friendship and common values. Moreover we were surrounded by Christian friends who were giving us the most enthusiastic encouragement imaginable to "step out in faith" and get married! I think it is fair to say that the majority of heterosexual people still seriously believe that if a man finds "a good woman" and "steps out in faith", then that spark of sexual desire must emerge sooner or later—because every straight person believes that God made us that way! Only "a perverse person" believes otherwise—so Romans 1:22-28 fits perfectly their perception of what homosexuality is really all about.
So it was that Bren and I came to the point of believing that it was in God’s purposes to bring us together and we married in October 1991.
Still my solid conviction was that the Christian pilgrimage is above all a walk of obedience, and so this unexpected new direction for our lives together seemed an exciting step of faith. Bren knew all about my personal struggles with homosexuality, so we had no secrets. We were aware of the dangers of seeing marriage as some kind of a cure. But since we saw nothing wrong with marriage being primarily a relationship of companionship—indeed we believed this was the fundamental basis of marriage from the beginning—we felt we were sufficiently aware of the issues to go ahead. Moreover, passionate sexual desire remained a highly suspect commodity in our narrow Christian circles, which more often than not led to trouble, so we saw the lack of sexual passion on my part almost to be a bonus!
After Bren & I married, however, for reasons beyond our control, the Courage ministry encountered one enormous problem after another. Consequently, by the end of 1994 we were forced to close down our community houses and end the live-in discipleship courses. At the time I felt absolutely devastated: it seemed as if all my dreams for building a healing Christian community had been thwarted and come to nothing. Moreover, on a personal level, it had almost bankrupted us, financially and spiritually.
Throughout all this time, I never revisited the question of whether or not my orientation had changed. Obedience still remained at the heart of all my Christian understanding. I could not contemplate taking a path that seemed to encourage a kind of "navel-gazing evaluation of how one felt!" To me, this was just a thinly-disguised excuse for ungodly self-indulgence! The fact was, coming from my social and religious background with such an emphasis on self-discipline, the notion of being honest about one’s real feelings (as if they mattered) was to challenge God’s sovereignty and pursue a self-centred agenda. It was many years before I discovered that to live a life that is really a sham in so many respects, pursued in the name of godliness, is a betrayal of one’s true self, a gross abuse of others and definitively the most selfish act imaginable. And the notion that there is something godly about this is the pursuit of foolishness to a degree that beggars belief! Some of the most profoundly hurt and damaged people I have ever met have been women married to gay men! For a woman to discover that her husband, in his heart, has a greater desire to be with a man than with her, it utterly corrosive of her sense of value as a woman.
Our pastoral experience over the years has demonstrated again and again that when a gay man marries, this is not only inappropriate for him, but this can absolutely destroy his wife. The situation is perhaps less drastic if he is genuinely bi-sexual, though that offers little comfort or security for his wife. The fact remains that this kind of ideology—that we "walk out our healing by faith in God’s heterosexual order, according to God’s creation plan" is cruel, utterly irresponsible and makes a travesty of the idea of following Christ with any integrity. Jesus taught that if we hold to his teaching we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free (John 8:31,32). Jesus never taught complicity with social or perceived biblical norms! But it still took me a few more years before the realisation finally sank in.
During the years that followed the closure of the live-in discipleship houses, we offered weekly group meetings, rather along the lines of the True Freedom Trust groups I had so enjoyed ten years earlier in the mid 1980's. We never had any shortage of people wanting to come: evangelical churches generally had little to offer the lesbian or gay Christian, except a prayer for healing, followed by the cold shoulder of fellowship if it did not work.
As I began to find more time to follow-up former members and evaluate what we had been doing, I was dismayed to discover that so many of those who had been through our live-in programme were not doing well at all. They had returned home—to face expectations from their churches and families that they would have been healed now. If they were not, there could only be one of two possible explanations: either the ministry was no good, or they were not really wholeheartedly "going on with God". This was a recipe for serious depression for many of these dear folk. By the late 1990's, when one of our former community members made a very serious suicide attempt (and fortunately was just discovered in time), I began to be very worried indeed about the long-term fruit of our work. It was interesting to see that when this despairing man found a same-sex partner a few months later and fell in love, his life was transformed in a way we had expected to see Christ transform lives. (They have been living happily together ever since.) I began to wonder, was it possible that God who promised that if we delight ourselves in him, he would fulfil the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4) was answering a desperate man’s prayers?
In the meantime, I saw no real willingness on the part of other "ex-gay" ministries as we had come to be known, to acknowledge the fact that the hopes we’d raised for healing from homosexuality were proving to be disappointing to say the least. Nor did I find any willingness to consider that maybe we needed to re-evaluate what we were doing. Nor did I see any willingness to engage with or listen to gay Christians who took a different view—they were all, by definition, deceived, so it was assumed that nothing could be gained by dialogue, any more than governments think it appropriate to negotiate with terrorists! It was that stark an issue for many ministries like ours, especially in the USA.
Yet more and more of those I had kept in touch with, who’d been through our ministry, had come to accept being gay. This meant they were looking for a partner or had found one. On the whole, these people were doing far better than anybody else. The others were, in the main, becoming so seriously depressed that some could not even hold down a job any longer, such was the war going on inside them over the deep sense of personal failure coupled with profound disappointment with God. It seemed to me that the crucial issue to be settled was whether or not one could just accept being gay, and trust that God understood and would be willing to provide an appropriate partner. Once that question was settled affirmatively, they could get on with life without endlessly being beset with a neurotic preoccupation over the rights and wrongs of their sexuality. They might not be wanted in their churches any more, but that was nothing new! They had to live with their Christian brethren for a few hours a week, but had to live with themselves all the time!
As I reflected on the lessons we were learning, increasingly I felt that I could not uphold the rigid doctrine of obedience to God’s will, as we perceived it, against the reality of how we felt deep down inside. How can anyone to come to know God in a real way, never mind love Him with our whole heart, if we will not allow ourselves to get in touch with a core part of our being as essential as our sexuality? I began to realise that this kind of self-denial—that we had all been taught was so important for the Christian life—was not the kind of freely-made choice to put God and others first, motivated by love, that I believe Jesus practised and preached. Rather, the doctrine we upheld promoted a lack of personal integrity and a foolish denial of the truth about ourselves, from which nobody at all benefited! I began to see that this was a profoundly abusive and destructive strategy.
On an occasion when my wife and I returned to the USA for a conference, we took the opportunity to visit friends working at an ex-gay ministry; there we were greeted with great kindness and hospitality. We attended a worship service—where I saw something deeply disturbing. As I prayed, I began to see that these men who worshipped so whole-heartedly had been totally emasculated; this came about because they were trying to conform to the religious notion that their homosexuality was an enemy which they had to deny—and then somehow try to become something they were not. To see this happening within a community so committed to following Christ was a heart-breaking scenario. Such a doctrine surely comes, not from the true Christian gospel, but from a religious spirit where law (or in this case a concept of what is "right" masculinity) is more important than love, in spite of being administered in a very loving and caring environment. Where obedience to rule is more important than personal integrity or truthfulness. This is the kind of religion that justifies war against infidels, and the exclusion of anyone who do not fit a certain kind of "one-size-fits-all" mould!
By the end of the year 2000, Richard Kirker of the Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) invited me to write an article for publication in their magazine, explaining why Courage had developed what we called a "new approach" to pastoral care for gay Christians. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this subsequently guaranteed my exclusion from most evangelical circles, now deemed to be a heretic! However, for me there could be no going back. We later published an article on our website, giving a fuller explanation called, "A Time for Change", which can be found at www.courage.org.uk/articles/change.shtml.
Yet one big concern did still worry me: if we began to fully accept same-sex partnerships, was this not going to open the floodgates to an "anything goes" kind of approach?
In July 2001, exactly one year after we had been pushed out of Exodus International—a coalition of ex-gay ministries to which we had belonged for many years—my wife and I were invited to attend a conference of a group in the United States called Evangelicals Concerned (www.ecinc.org and www.ecwr.org)—an evangelical Christian organisation that has been going for 30+ years now, that are pretty conservative on most points of Christian doctrine—except when it comes to homosexuality. They are a kind of opposite number to Exodus. From the start, the founder of EC, Dr Ralph Blair, had believed that the Gospel is the most important issue and that whether we are gay or straight is incidental, certainly not a defining issue.
Bren and I were enormously impressed, not only by the quality of worship and teaching, but especially by the spiritual maturity we found there. We met many men and women who had journeyed with Christ for many years before coming to a place of faith before God that their homosexuality was part of who they are and that a same-sex partnership was appropriate for them. A number of them who had travelled a similar journey to me would call themselves "Ex-ex-gay"! The longevity of many partnerships, founded on a solid basis of love, faithfulness and commitment, demonstrated to us that the validity of a relationship is determined not on the basis of sexual orientation but by the commitment of the partners to work out their relationship together before God.
The all-important lesson for us all was that we must learn to put our trust in Christ above all, rather than seek acceptance in the eyes of man, according to social or supposedly "biblical" traditions, the tenets of which are eminently arguable when one studies the scriptures. The important distinctions became clear to us: on the one hand, we could conscientiously continue to uphold the view that a lifestyle of promiscuity or acceptance of fleeting relationships would be at odds with Christ’s values. Whereas a loving same-sex partnership, characterised not just by sexual attraction but also by shared values and a commitment to working life out together, expresses the values that Christ stands for. So we came to see same-sex relationships as being entirely appropriate for the gay Christian.
Quite suddenly it became obvious to me that none of the scriptures written by Moses or Paul, that have for so long been used to outlaw and exclude gay people, were ever intended by their human authors or by God to give pastoral guidance on the care of lesbian & gay Christians. On the contrary, the "clobber passages" as the Americans like to call them, are in fact addressing godlessness, idolatry and the use, exploitation and abuse of others for selfish ends. As for the dangers of deception that had worried me so much in years gone by, now that I had observed first hand such blatant self-deception in Christian ministry—as "ex-gay" ministries promoted a "healing" which fails to stand up to closer scrutiny or the test of time, I realised I need not fear Paul’s warning to the Corinthian church in this context since it was entirely inappropriate. Paul’s warnings in Galatians 1:6-10 would be far more apposite here. Unfortunately, "ex-gay" Christians tend to be reluctant to listen to criticism, holding tenaciously onto a belief in "healing" that flies in the face of plain facts. So at long last I came to see the real peril of deception, that comes from blindly pursuing so-called biblical principles instead of learning from the truth—which is a person, Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ enemies accused him of many things, but criticisms that his miraculous healings were not authentic or did not last were not among them! The offence that Jesus caused was that his works of healing were authentic—drawing many people to follow him rather than the teaching of the Pharisees and teachers of the law! Since ex-gay ministries are increasingly criticised because their claims for lasting healing are so hard to substantiate in the long term—should we not all strive for a Christian witness that is truly authentic? That is my concern. Anything else profoundly dishonours Christ and discredits the Gospel.
Having attended many Exodus conferences in the past, I remembered seeing big banners claiming "Freedom from homosexuality in Christ"—a claim which, as it turns out, is very hard to support. At the first EC conference we attended, we saw a banner proclaiming simply this: "Freedom in Christ"—which really is all we need to know. Anything more tends to lead us into neurotic self-obsession—which is idolatry.
One of my childhood heart-throbs was actor Richard Chamberlain. I was fascinated to discover, only recently, that Richard Chamberlain is also gay and that he spent his whole professional life as a Hollywood actor struggling with his sexuality. He shares his own tortuous journey in a recent autobiography, "Shattered Love", published in 2003 by Regan Books. I would like to share one of his important conclusions (page 175):
"Very recently it has dawned on me that this whole painful drama of fear and loathing, of guilt and perversity, is a blatant travesty of reality. Sexual orientation is a benign personal matter; it is a total nonissue, of no public importance whatsoever. As I understand it, about 95% of society is heterosexual and something like 5% is homosexual. A few heterosexuals are exceptionally fine, creative and compassionate; the vast majority are hardworking, tax-paying, kind, upstanding citizens; and a few are trouble. A few homosexuals are exceptionally fine, creative and compassionate; the vast majority are hardworking, tax-paying, kind, upstanding citizens; and a few are trouble. Statistically it's all the same. Without the blinders of ignorance and prejudice there is no reason we should not get along with each other just fine."
So where does all this leave me personally? How has this journey affected my marriage to Bren? These are frequently asked questions. Clearly the reader can see that we have come on a very long journey. And it is a fact that for a whole host of reasons this has been a very tough journey for us both.
For me, I have struggled with homosexuality for 40+ years, since first realising that I was gay at the age of 13, even though I dared not even admit it then. It is true that in my heart I always desired a male partner, though I’ve resisted this all my life believing it would be wrong. Today we know it could have been different. For Bren, it is not easy to live with the fact of me being gay and very publicly known as such, especially when we constantly meet people whose marriages have broken up because of it. Nor has it been easy for her, especially in the early years of our marriage, to cope with the disdain from some people who could not understand her decision to marry me. Our relationship has been under pressure from all sides from the start.
In the light of all this, some people feel strongly, and have had the temerity to make their feelings clear to us, that my wife and I should separate—because they see us as having married on the basis of a lie and that to continue living that lie dishonours Christian marriage and hurts us both. "It cannot be right for either of you" they insist. Others, usually those in the traditional evangelical Christian camp, believe that a promise is a promise, and marriage above all is a covenant promise made between husband and wife before God which cannot be rescinded—so separation and divorce is unthinkable. In spite of all I have learned about the foolishness of sticking to principle when it flies in the face of personal honesty and integrity, I still find the traditional view is the one I instinctively feel most comfortable with. Quite apart from the influence of Christian tradition, I was brought up by a wonderful father and mother—to make promises that you keep, whatever the personal cost. But the truth is, there is more than just a principle at stake here. There is love too.
As I said at the beginning of this talk, one of the early lessons I learned in life is that we must all take responsibility before God for the choices we make. Our decisions affect other people; we cannot just walk away afterwards as if those choices do not matter. And as I understand it, this is the basis of all moral teaching in the Bible. I know that many, perhaps even most women cannot countenance staying with a husband when she has discovered he is gay. It is just too painful for her. In addition, she probably feels profoundly betrayed and violated by this discovery. But my wife knew the facts from the start and she wants us to stay together; whilst I, in turn, have come to realise that I love Bren too much to regard my own needs and feelings as being more important than hers.
Now, if my wife wanted me to leave and if I knew she felt happiest and most at peace about the idea, in that scenario we might agree to formally release one another before God from the covenant promise we made in 1991. We would still to be lifelong friends of course, with an exceptional level of personal commitment, but we would not in that case continue as married partners. I have known other couples do this: a mutual agreement on such a basis leaves both partners with their dignity intact and both are released to be able to make a new relationship. But in spite of all we have been through, Bren loves me and wants us to continue to share the rest of our lives together, and I love her. We made a commitment to each other for life in 1991. I cannot contemplate a unilateral decision. And although we may have started out on a flawed basis, since then we’ve shared a very tough, challenging journey together. The fact is that Bren has become the most important person in my life.
As Dr Ralph Blair of Evangelicals Concerned has taught, and I too have learned, from pastoral and life experiences, no marriage or same-sex partnership can last unless both partners are freely committed to one another and work on the basis of "what is in this for us?", not just "what is in this for me?" (a certain recipe for divorce). Bren and I have something more than just the principle of commitment, important though that may be. We have love too, even though that may be more Agape than Eros. Love does strange and wonderful things in a person’s heart—it empowers you to do things you could never normally do from the point of view of self-centred human interest.
This is why the person of Christ is always so fascinating and attractive, because everything about Jesus demonstrates the truth about Love—the mind-blowing characteristic that defines the very being of God (1 John 4:15-17) which is empowering and life-giving:
"15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like Jesus." (TNIV)
St Paul elaborated on this when he wrote to the Corinthian church about love:
"1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13:1-8 (ANIV)
Having been somewhat critical in this talk about ex-gay ministries, I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to many of them as pioneers, who have worked so hard to try and create a place in the Christian Fellowship for lesbian and gay people. Most ex-gay ministry leaders I know have given their lives to this task at enormous personal expense and self-sacrifice, Frank & Anita Worthen most especially. The message I would have for my fellow pioneers is simply this: do not stop seeking God and do not stop pioneering. We could still have so much experience to offer and share with one another. The inspiration of that pioneering spirit and willing self-sacrifice in the name of Christ has enabled us to move on to where we are today.
And for all who come to the Courage ministry today, the most important thing is, I believe, that we grow in our knowledge of the love of Jesus Christ, and in finding full acceptance in Him—that we may pass on the knowledge of the love of God to all who do not know him. As we are filled with the Holy Spirit, the evidence will be—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness and self-control—against which there is no law (Galatians 5:22,23).
Thus I have come to realise, after this very long, lonely and tortuous journey, that it is possible to be really gay and really Christian.