My Dear Friend,
Recently you wrote several leaders in the FMC one of the most moving letters I have ever received. It chronicled the pain with which you live as a person struggling with same sex attraction/ identity, committed to Christ within the fellowship of our church. I am writing in response, in hopes that the grace of Jesus will someone extend to you and others in ways you have seldom or never experienced before.
After a period of reflection and prayer, you wrote in the wake of our 2015 General Conference’s deliberation and response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage. I want you to know that I have heard you. But to be sure, let me repeat what I think are the most important things I have heard. (You have said we could share what you wrote with others if it would be helpful. I think it would.)
I “heard” you say that your story is important. It has been one of deep pain and anguish. You are committed to our church and have no desire to belong to any other part of God’s family. (This warms my heart, by the way.) You often feel deeply conflicted, however—not knowing whether you are a gay man who is also a follower of Christ or are a follower of Christ who struggles with being gay. Perhaps it doesn’t make a difference, but sometimes it can seem as though there is an eternity of difference between the two. Yet, knowing which is which …
When the church discusses “the issues” it can seem like “us” talking about “them,” but last July it seemed and felt like “us talking about me.” You then noted that when the church talks as though all gay people are the same, want the same things, and need the same things—it depersonalizes you and does what our culture so often does. It identifies you by your sexual orientation, when you are so much more. As a result, the church is not as kind and compassionate as it wants to be.
You expressed clearly what you as a gay person need. You need the truth from Scripture, and you need constant affirmation. This is because brothers and sisters who struggle with other things—you noted compulsive lying, for example, or the various addictions that often bind people—do not fear what you fear. If they lapse there is understanding, compassion, a welcome back and support. But if a gay person, endeavoring to follow Christ, living within Scriptural guidelines, lapses—what then? Shame and condemnation.
You half apologized for writing what might sound like complaining. I do not receive it that way. You are sharing your story which, I agree, is important for me to hear. In regard to this “what then,” I know some places where there would be no shame or condemnation, but I also know or suspect many places where there would be. For that, I offer my heartfelt apology and sincere resolve to follow the advice you then offered.
“I need the leadership of the church not to be silent on this issue,” you said, “not just the marriage issue but the gay issue,” because “I am not the only gay person in the FMC and I doubt I was the only gay person in the room at GC 15.”
At the close of your letter you wondered if the world, your family and the church would be better off if you had not been created. You also asked for leaders of the church to explain why God chooses not to answer your decades of prayer to change you or at the very least, to minimize the power of sexuality in your life. I would like to say a few things about that as I close my letter.
First, your question is a good one for which I have never heard or read an answer that seems totally adequate. It belongs to a whole class of questions that believers and skeptics alike ask, “Why?” Why does my pastor friend suffer inoperable brain cancer? What purpose is served by “endless months of treatment” that often deepens the pain and doesn’t promise a cure?
Second, you are not alone in asking this question—either the kind of question it is in general or the specific question of deliverance from same-sex attraction. It is important simply to know that you are not alone.
Third, the sometimes long, great periods of freedom from this torment that you told us about are, I firmly believe, signs of grace and help. Such periods can be seen in very different ways. They might suggest another failure that litters the past. Or they might reflect the future that will surely come to pass. Which is it? I humbly suggest that followers of Jesus, who was once dead but is now alive forever, are following him into a future where total freedom will become the new normal. Great, long stretches of freedom are your future.
Fourth, I know how what I just wrote can sound. Wishful and foolish thinking. Naïvely triumphal, as only a person who knows little to nothing about what you suffer can be. I know. Still, can’t the same be said about most everything we followers of Christ assert in our kind of world? In a world of horrific terrorism spreading by the day, as it seems, how can we really suggest we are headed toward a peaceable kingdom where love rules over all?
Fifth, still this truly is the gospel. We are loved deeply despite who we are, so much so that Jesus lays it all down for us, in a grand gesture of acceptance and welcome before we ever have a chance to offend, rebel, and go another way willingly or not. And then when we do, the same offer is there, the same invitation extended—to follow Jesus come what may into the future only he can create for us.
Sixth, all of us who do in fact follow, if we are honest, do not “get it all,” right now. Most of us struggle one way or another. Some of us severely so. Many of us wonder why we never get over or beyond some things. Again, most of us not so painfully as some, as you, but still we wait in hope as we keep on. Still we count on the Apostle Paul being right, that somehow God’s grace can be, will be, sufficient.
Seventh, you may have noticed that I have used plurals in what I am trying to say. God’s plan is that we must not be alone; it is not good for any of us to be alone. Our walk with Jesus is not meant to be solitary. This is perhaps one of the most crushing aspects of your story, crushing not only to you but also to me, though in a different way. You said your deepest pain is that no other human being truly knows the real you. If they did, you believe, people who respect you now would be repulsed by you. That is indeed crushing!
I read that and want to scream (in the Bible it would be called a lament) because the church is called to be the kind of community where no one struggles alone and no one seeks God’s best without help from others. I know churches and professing Christians who are just brutal. It is enough to make me weep; and it is enough to make Jesus weep. But I also know and have experienced “church” as a circle of caring and sharing friends alive in Christ by the Holy Spirit who truly love people back from the dead, who minister grace that “heals,” even if only partially now, and who hold one another in rescuing and empowering ways until the storm passes or threat subsides. I humbly suggest that such a circle could literally be the saving and transforming difference for you and for all of us. And, if I had an opportunity I would love to help identify some potential fellow-sojourners who might be that for you.
Please, friend, know that the world, your family and your church would not be better off without you. That sentiment about you does not come from God and I am praying would never come from any of God’s people! In fact, without you there would only be profound loss all the way around. That’s God’s truth for you.
In Jesus’ love,