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Some Thoughts for Gay Men who are Married and Christian

Notes prepared for a special Courage meeting for married gay men

by Jeremy Marks

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Shakespeare: Hamlet I, 3

Isolation: the Great Enemy

I believe it is vital that gay Christian married men have an opportunity to get together from time to time for mutual support. Married gay men often suffer profound loneliness. In such times of isolation, all the ‘demons’ of rejection, low self-esteem, fear, loss, shame, etc., can visit us relentlessly and we don’t know what to do with ourselves or where to turn. This can be terribly destructive to one’s life overall, but especially one’s marriage and Christian faith. Fortunately, the history of the Christian church has proved that our faith can survive the severest hardships and even persecution when we have fellowship with others who are able to understand us and offer support in relationship and prayer. Courage provides a unique opportunity for us to find that support.

[Jesus said] ‘19Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.’
Matthew 18:19–20 (ANIV)

A wife’s tragedy

Whilst it is true that life can be extremely tough for the Christian married man who is gay, in fact the person who is often even worse off is his wife! The dynamics of her suffering are somewhat different to the husband’s. After the Fall, in Genesis,

[The Lord God said] to the woman … ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’
Genesis 3:16 (ANIV)

A wife naturally tends single-mindedly to devote herself to her husband and family. (This is a culturally ingrained trait, inculcated by generations of patriarchy, according to my wife!) Though she married ‘for better or for worse’, she probably anticipated that ‘for worse’ meant sickness, financial difficulties, or any other ‘normal’ challenges that life brings. The devastating shock of discovering that her husband desires a man, increases any sense she may already have of self-doubt, or feelings of inadequacy as a woman. So for the wife who discovers that her husband does not truly desire her as a woman, worse still perhaps, that he would really prefer to be with a man, her sense of desolation is very great indeed.

Some gay men do in fact experience ‘desire’ for their wife as well as desire for another man. Known as bisexuality, this scenario requires another paper in itself! However, in Courage’s ministry experience, true bisexuality is relatively uncommon.

Here are three very common scenarios we find in Courage ministry experience:

  1. Love changes everything! Or does it? If, as a Christian, a wife knew that her husband was gay before they married, then she probably hoped that her love and God’s love would change him. But life does not seem to work out this way (certainly this is not our experience with Courage members over the last 17 years).

  2. A can of worms! If she discovers at a later date that her husband is gay, usually this results in her feeling bereft, betrayed, shamed and desolate. All too often there is just nowhere for her to go! Who can she tell? Who would understand and comfort her in her sense of shame and desolation? When she gets in touch with her anger, she will probably protest, ‘But why can’t he control himself? After all, he’s got me!’ In other words, she has not understood the nature of her husband’s sexuality.

  3. Conundrum! If she does not know that her husband is gay, what does her husband do? What are his responsibilities—before God, before his wife and for himself?

Wherever we may go in this discussion, my own conviction is that we have a very important responsibility as husbands to love and support our wives, reassuring them constantly that they are very special to us, especially as she struggles to understand the situation. We must not forget to show our appreciation for her as a person and acknowledge that her needs are every bit as important as ours. This is crucial if we are to find a Christ-like, dignified way through—that honours God and brings healing to all parties. ‘Laying down our lives’ requires that we take every opportunity to show our love and affection to our wives.

Why did we marry?

There are all kinds of reasons or motives:

  1. Love comes first!? The one thing a woman wants to be sure of, above all else, is that her husband loves her best of all. If she knows that, she can cope with all sorts of struggles and difficulties in life. When asked, a man would usually agree that to love (and be loved) is the most important thing. But the great difficulty for gay Christian men (possibly all gay men) is that having grown up with the unambiguous message that it is not OK to be gay, then we feel forced to try and ‘be’ what we imagine that God and others want us to be. So it becomes extremely difficult to know whether or not we truly love our wives, having been told that any erotic feelings towards another man demonstrates that we are deviant and sinful!

  2. As a result, many gay men have very mixed feelings when getting married; they are not quite sure in their heart of hearts whether they really love the woman they are to be married to, or whether they have convinced themselves they love her, because that is what they are supposed to do! It is tempting to ‘do one’s best’ and just hope that everything will work out OK in the long run! But it rarely does. Moreover, it is all too easy to be in love with the idea of being married more than the woman we ask to marry. The truth may be difficult to discern, given our ambivalent feelings, but to marry because we love the ideal, above the woman herself, dishonours our wife above anything else!

  3. Perhaps, at the time, we were not sure (or could not face) the question ‘Am I gay?’ Internalised homophobia may have prevented us considering in an honest way what we truly felt and what we really longed for.

  4. Possibly marriage seemed the best way forward. Moreover, we probably thought that marriage would end our uncertainty in a respectable way.

  5. Maybe we thought marriage would ‘cure’ our homosexuality, or that by just ‘trusting in God’ we could cope with a marriage—and be socially acceptable, rather than be gay and rejected!

  6. Besides, for many of us, it was the normal social expectation that we should marry.

  7. As Christians we probably believed that even to think about being gay was sinful and therefore we were ‘following the right godly path’ by getting married—self-discipline being the key!

  8. Maybe we believed the ‘ex-gay’ view—that God could change our homosexuality, or that we would grow out of it. Or maybe we persuaded ourselves that a gay relationship would never work anyway, so what would be the point? We might as well get married if we have the chance, and make the best of it!

Whatever our motives, the fact is we are married now!

So how do we cope with our (homo)sexual feelings/longings as married men?

  1. Self-rejection: Most Christian gay men, have felt wretched about being gay. The tendency towards self-pity and introspection is very great. Internalised homophobia is very common. We never wanted to disappoint God, or our wives (or our parents or our children). We were brought up to believe that homosexuality is deviant; that homosexual practice is an abomination; and that to divorce is also a great sin.

  2. The slippery slope: But our feelings of wretchedness can be so dis-empowering that we may easily become addicted to doing the very things we most despise and hate ourselves for. Maybe we’ve ended up doing what ‘wretched people’ do. For example, we may opt for ‘safe sex’, looking at pornography on the internet and relieving ourselves with masturbation (extremely corrosive of the mind, though). Or we may go for more risky behaviour, seeking anonymous sexual encounters in saunas, massage rooms, public loos. Or pick up prostitutes or other gay men in gay pubs, clubs or from gay internet sites! These adventures bring acknowledgement of our need perhaps and some temporary relief, but the fact remains that none of these encounters give lasting satisfaction. Mostly they’ve made our situation much worse.

  3. Frustrated longings: Many of us have secretly longed for, maybe dreamed about, living a new life shared with a man. But we know that huge obstacles block the fulfilment of those dreams:

In short, the cumulative losses resulting from sharing our hearts honestly seem too enormous to contemplate—so we tend to continue stumbling along, hoping that somehow things will one day change for the better. But the truth remains that rarely does anything change in life unless we make some definite clear decisions. And in the first chapter of his letter, James warns that, ‘A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.’ (James 1:8)

  1. Finding a compromise? Maybe we try to opt for some kind of a compromise: for instance to seek a close same-sex friendship that accepts and supports the marriage, whilst recognising the gay husband’s needs and meeting them, at least on an emotional and affectional level. This scenario may be less threatening for a man’s wife if this friendship is with a ‘straight’ man. But unfortunately, many gay men find that ‘safe’ straight friends are so unaware of the gay man’s emotional and physical need for same-sex affirmation that the benefits are too limited and can lead to an unreality in the relationship. In practice, only a gay friend fully understands. But a non-sexual close friendship with a gay man, while appearing to offer a potential solution, is seldom workable for very long. Sooner or later, either the friendship breaks up, maybe because it fails to meet expectations, or the necessary boundaries frustrate the fulfilment of hopes and dreams, or the relationship becomes sexual—so that secrecy (from the wife, children, Church etc) results, with the consequent need to maintain a deception (gnawing away at the husband’s conscience). This just creates a pressure-cooker situation which is unsustainable.

  2. A ménage à trois perhaps? There’s a marriage we know of in which a ménage à trois has developed, where the husband’s lover is also an intimate friend of the wife. The true nature of the relationship is understood by all, and they share a very high level of mutual love, acceptance and understanding. This is entirely new and unknown territory for us. But we can see that the emotional pressure of sharing one another puts all parties under considerable strain.

  3. Taking a strident view! Maybe we have read pro-gay theology and decided that we cannot help being gay, that there is nothing wrong with being gay, and if we act on our feelings we are only expressing our natural desires. So, we reason to ourselves, it is society and the Church that has forced us into an invidious position. But no marriage can survive for long if a Christian gay man adopts this kind of strident and self-orientated posture. For all the reasons listed above, such a view seriously threatens his marriage, his home, maybe his career or calling—in fact every stable area of life. Unless he can adopt a more humble approach then he will either go back to denying his needs for same-sex sexual intimacy for a time, or he will soon be walking out anyway, or if he prevaricates for too long, his wife may throw him out!

  4. Compartmentalisation! In facing a brick wall, when seeking some kind of solution to these multiple dilemmas, many of us have opted for compartmentalisation! We keep our married life, our Christian life and our gay life in separate compartments. In one compartment we love our wives, in another we serve our churches well and may be perceived as model Christians! In another compartment, when the pressure becomes too great we may seek clandestine means to fulfil our longings—through secret encounters with other men. The great problem with this is that spiritually, it is profoundly injurious to split our lives into separate compartments and of course there is the constant risk of being caught. Sometimes the danger in this—the spice of adventure with its addictive quality—is that it becomes a secret habitual lifestyle.

How do we live authentic lives that are truly Christian?

Whatever position we come to, be it conservative or liberal, whatever decision we make, we face manifold dilemmas and challenges. As Christians endeavouring to trust in God and act rightly, we can feel worse off than non-Christians who only have themselves to consider, as we try to think through the ethical issues and be true to the Spirit of Christ. Gay men who do not share our faith often seem to be in the enviable position where they can be more honest, straightforward and realistic about life. When the non-Christian married man begins to realise he is gay, he probably feels he is acting with greater honesty and integrity if he leaves his wife and finds another man to live with. Whereas the Christian, remembering his marriage vows made before God, tends to struggle on. Some men may become secretly unfaithful to their wives. They may feel very repentant in their hearts, but in fact they know they are living a life of hypocrisy. No wonder many feel they cannot be gay and Christian!

But putting our hope and trust in God above all is still the Christian way!

Some husbands endeavour to protect their wives from knowing the full truth, because

  1. he does not know what to do for the best anyway, and

  2. he fears alienating her, even traumatising her, if he fully reveals his situation. It is just easier to compartmentalise.

Some well-meaning Christian people raise a serious question as to how any man can live an honest life, being genuinely true to God and his wife, if he cannot face himself? They may protest, ‘God knows how He made us; and if you are gay, then it is surely more appropriate to live as a gay man than maintain a pretence, which is hypocrisy!’

At first sight, it may seem that total honesty is an upright, even noble stance to take. But any married man who is at all sensitive to the feelings of his wife, is keenly aware of what it will mean for her if he starts facing up to what he is truly feeling. His feelings are not the only consideration! And then to pursue a course of total honesty with the likely outcome being separation raises another question? Is he not actually being selfish and unloving? Honesty can seem a great excuse for what is actually just the pursuit of one’s own self interest. Is this not pursuing the lust in one’s heart that Jesus condemned as adultery in Matthew 5:28? These questions continue to be the subject of fierce debate in the Christian community.

So what, as Christian (gay) husbands, should we do?

We don’t have any easy answers to prescribe! But first and foremost, as Christians, I believe that we must continually seek the mind of the Lord and encourage one another in what we understand to be God’s ways. Resolution is unlikely to follow any set pattern. Some may go the route of separation and divorce and start a new life; others of us may believe they are called to stay in their marriage and find alternative ways of managing their needs, rather than live their lives being dominated by them. Neither is better or worse than the other.

A biblical model for marriage?

When we last held a series of meetings for married gay men (1999), my approach was based on standard evangelical Christian thinking, starting with Ephesians 5:21–33:

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (A call for mutual accountability!)

22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no-one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

This is a biblically-based model of marriage for Christians taken from Paul’s thinking and teaching in the early Church. It is normal for Christians today, especially evangelicals, to start with Scripture and work out our salvation and the answer to life’s problems from there. Many Christians would think there was nothing to add, nothing to debate: the challenge, indeed our duty, is to live our lives in accordance with these commands!

But while carrying out our duty may seem the last word, the fact is that when our circumstances do not fit the rules we are left guessing! Personally I believe that God wants us to see these challenges as an opportunity to develop a deeper life of faith in the Lord. So when we are trying to make sense of our sexuality, when we are wondering how to live, and be at peace in our hearts, when our marriage is on a knife-edge, as Christians we have no choice but to go on seeking God—and place our confidence in Him rather seeking social acceptance. I believe this is how God wants it to be …

‘… that our faith—of greater worth than gold … may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.’
1 Peter 1:7 (ANIV)

The passage from Ephesians 5 provides several important points to note:

  1. The cultural basis of Paul’s thinking: until fairly recent history, women were dependent upon men all their lives; indeed they were the property of men—first their fathers, then their husbands. A woman without a husband could easily become destitute—hence James 1:27, ‘Pure and undefiled religion that God our Father accepts is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.’ There was enormous social pressure for a woman to be married and for a man to take a wife (or wives) and to maintain the sanctity of marriage.

  2. No doubt Paul was concerned for the well-being of women, who were very under-valued in men’s thinking. In those days, a Jewish man could get rid of/dismiss/divorce his wife for the most trivial reasons—with dire social consequences for her! If a husband was violent, abusive, polygamous, unfaithful, irresponsible, whatever, she had no legal right to divorce her husband, however awful he might have been.

  3. Underpinning this social pressure was the assumption that marriage, based on Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19:4–6, was the norm for all—the appropriateness of marriage was not decided on the basis of whether or not the husband and wife were in love with one another, or were attracted to one another (though both were no doubt desirable). This was a social contract and you loved your wife/husband because this was God’s command! And unswerving devotion to God’s order was expected in upholding one’s marriage vows—likened to Christ’s commitment to the Church!

  4. In the same way that a man was commanded to submit to God, a woman had to accept the authority of her husband. She had no say in the way her husband lived —e.g. how he managed his finances, business, leisure time, what friends he had, etc. Her husband was her Lord and Master! Any interference would have been gross insubordination! If her husband had pursued a gay relationship on the side, there was probably nothing she could have done about it, if she had known. If she had exposed him, she would have lost her husband—who was her security.

  5. Besides, a sexual relationship with another man would never have had the status of a marriage relationship in biblical times, because marriage was always understood to be between a man and a woman. David and Jonathan could have a covenant between them but it was not marriage. A homosexual relationship would no doubt have been seen as deviant, but it could only have been seen as a same-sex friendship with a sexual dimension, not as a rival marriage. Technically, at any rate, it would not even have been classed as adultery. In fact it is still not adultery today, according to the law—merely ‘unreasonable behaviour’!

  6. There is a divinely ordained social order assumed here: a man is accountable to God; the man is the head of his wife and children, and his wife respects/submits to her husband. If a man lived a godly life, then his whole household were saved on the basis of his priestly role.

In summary: In Paul’s day, a man’s basic responsibilities were—to honour God in all aspects of his life and to care for his wife (or wives) and children, the moral pressure being to take responsibility for all one’s commitments!

BUT TODAY … the cultural setting is so different. We have increasing equality of status between men and women in our modern society!

  1. A grown woman is not dependent on any man—she can have a career, own property, and do more or less anything a man can do. Moreover, a Christian woman regards herself as having the same responsibility for her life before God as a man does. She does not feel the need for a husband, or any other man for that matter, to take a priestly role on her behalf!

  2. Marriage today has become a partnership between equals. Rarely does a woman take a vow on her wedding day agreeing to ‘submit’ to her husband. The very idea of such subservience is highly offensive to many women!

  3. A woman naturally expects that her husband desires her above anyone else—sexually and emotionally — and will in every way be committed to her, to the exclusion of all others. She expects her husband to be her best friend and vice versa. Moreover, she expects to have an equal say in all decisions that affect her life, including the friendships he makes and what he does with them. And as Christians, when we make our marriage vows, we are committing to our spouse ‘ … forsaking all others!’. There is no room in marriage for a third person (with the exception of God of course—for Christians!).

  4. Today, a wife can divorce her husband if she wants, as long as there are ‘grounds’ for divorce—which can something as simple as ‘unreasonable behaviour’ under the law today. Ironically, we are returning to the easy divorce situation of bible times— except that a woman now has the same rights to initiate divorce as a man.

So when we try to apply ‘biblical’ rules to marriage today, we are taking these principles from a 2000+ year-old patriarchal society and trying to apply them to a modern context—where wives do not generally accept patriarchy!

The result is that we take quite a different view today! Men and women now expect mutual fulfilment in marriage. In fact, our expectations are far higher than at any time in history! Perhaps this is why so many marriages end in divorce— because our high expectations quickly expose any shortcomings in our spouse!

What can Christian husbands and wives reasonably expect from one another?

Personally, I find that Proverbs 3:3–7 (ANIV) offers some very helpful guiding principles:

3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
4 Then you will win favour and a good name
in the sight of God and man.

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will direct your paths.

7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.

  1. Love and faithfulness: This passage reveals one of the Bible’s guiding values—at all times to make our aim to be loving and faithful to God and our spouses.

  2. Equality is here to stay! We have to accept that in society today, and increasingly in the Church too, men and women are considered to be equal. Therefore both husband and wife are equally responsible to one another in the decisions they make.

  3. Mutual commitment or a joint decision to part: So the decision as to whether they stay together in a marriage where one member is gay (or lesbian) must therefore be a joint agreement. At their marriage service, they agreed to be committed to one another. By the same token, they must agree to remain together, working out their relationships in the knowledge of their partner’s orientation and needs, or mutually agree to separate, rather than one or other making a unilateral decision to part.

  4. One vicar I know helped a couple in this situation by holding a special service where they released one another before God from their marriage vows so they could both be free to move on. In that instance, the wife re-married within a year and her former husband eventually found a same-sex partner (several years later). This surely is a more dignified, honourable and indeed godly way to proceed than acting hypocritically, suppressing smouldering anger and increasing acrimony—that will destroy a marriage in the long run anyway.

  5. A significant other? For the husband to have a ‘significant other’ relationship is, for the majority of wives, an unacceptable proposition. Indeed, by today’s standards, it seems a totally immoral proposition. We are not living in the polygamous society of bible times, where women had no other choice than to put up with their husband openly pursuing other significant relationships.

  6. Trusting God with the timescale for change: Sometimes it takes a long time for a husband and wife to work out their issues together. This is surely where ‘trusting in the Lord with all our hearts and not in our own understanding’, and ‘depending on God to direct our paths’, are the words of guidance we need, if we are to find an honourable Christian way forward.

  7. A courageous honourable decision: In some cases, the husband and wife are able to reach the point where they can make an ongoing commitment to one another in full knowledge of the facts of his homosexuality. This is a decision that must surely be recognised and supported as a courageous and honourable one—not to be dismissed as second-rate, or the perpetuation of denial, as some cynics are prone to assert.

I no longer believe that a dogged adherence to marriage vows (however awful the marriage may have become) is the kind of ‘faithfulness’ that God intended. Rather I believe that true faithfulness to God and one’s spouse is expressed by valuing one another highly and seeking the best for the other. To insist on upholding vows for their own sake creates distress rather than true unity and can all too easily be used as a tool for manipulation! Though undoubtedly divorce is contrary to God’s plan and a tragedy for the couple concerned, nevertheless to force two people to remain together, when to do so is destroying one another, is a travesty of marriage as God intended. We need to be honest and faithful to one another in recognising the truth, and be prepared to release one another when it is clear that this is the best way of honouring and caring for our spouse.

Set free in Christ

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’
John 8:31–32 (ANIV)

Jesus taught that we must trust in him and that we must follow him. ‘Follow me!’ is his most oft-repeated commandment. And following Jesus so often meant going against the socially accepted norm. But to honestly face the truth is something many of us greatly fear, lest the truth devastates us! Often we skirt round the real issues; we may try to make life easier for our spouse by being ‘economical with the truth’. It may be that the husband and wife need to face the truth—together.

To decide on separation, just because our spouse/partner no longer pleases us, is self-serving—the way of the world today which is not acceptable for the Christian. However, the presence of homosexuality in a marriage poses the most challenging of hurdles! It may take years for the husband and wife to find a way through their difficulties. Where this proves impossible and where discord reigns, it may be that the only honest way forward, acting with integrity, is to realise that the marriage is not working and that spouses need to release one another. Then if at all possible, separation should be mutually agreed and the process carried out with dignity and respect for one another.

Sacrificial love

On the other hand it may be right to decide, out of love for our spouse, that the best way forward is to put her needs above our own and seek God’s grace to enable us to do so, just one day at a time. For this to work effectively, we need an understanding wife who appreciates that sacrifice is involved—though of course if she stays with her husband she is making big sacrifices too. Merely tolerating the fact of her husband’s homosexuality in a grudging way, or living in denial about it, will only result in the same issues and heartaches resurfacing again and again. This is where making the most of opportunities for friendship and fellowship with other gay Christians (e.g. at Courage) provides an essential support system. Otherwise isolation for the husband or the wife can become intolerable.

This is surely the difference between the Christian way of dealing with an unhappy marriage situation and a worldly way. The Christian way seeks the best for the other above consideration for one’s own happiness. In fact to love and care for another brings godly fulfilment. The worldly way seeks the best for oneself, regardless of our partner’s wishes.

Whichever path we choose, whether to stay together or separate, the only basis on which we can decide for our future in a Christian way is one of honesty and truthfulness, recognising our mutual responsibility towards one another as equals. And sacrifice has to be freely offered if it is to be worth anything. If it is demanded by a spouse or imposed by the Church, then it becomes a penalty; it is not a sacrifice. And imposing such a penalty can be profoundly emasculating, and therefore a self-defeating exercise.

The way forward

Facing the truth is always scary. But Jesus said the truth would make us free and all Christian experience supports this. He came to release us from bondage and sometimes a marriage can become a bondage instead of a loving commitment. Separation can then release the husband and wife to be more truly themselves. Alternatively, a marriage between a heterosexual and a homosexual person can be a lovely example of mutual support and understanding. Other times the strain becomes too great for one or both. But always, let us encourage one another to live a life of seeking God in prayer, thanksgiving and praise. Let us not neglect to meet with one another for mutual support, encouragement and accountability. And let us remember Paul’s words (1 Corinthians 15:19, ANIV) that …

‘If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.’

© Jeremy Marks 2004

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