Some years ago, I watched a gay Pride celebration on TV and was disgusted with the spectacle of scantily clad men and women cavorting in rainbow hues down the streets of London, and the blatant display of homosexual sexuality. Never in my wildest nightmares would I have imagined myself just a few short years later, marching down to Trafalgar Square holding high a banner and wearing a t-shirt bearing the words “God loves gays,”
But that’s what happened!
My background for most of my adult life has been a heavy involvement in Bible believing evangelical Christian churches. I became a Christian at 18 and joined a fundamentalist church that believed they were the one true church and that we must observe every command in the Bible, so we kept the Saturday Sabbath, wouldn’t eat pork or sea foods and paid triple tithes etc. After Bible College I was ordained in their ministry and then pastored many churches over the years.
My wife and I had five wonderful children, I loved working for the church and life seemed good to us. As time went on, our lives were touched by the charismatic renewal and I was involved in ministry in different house churches and latterly Pentecostal churches, the last two being Assemblies of God.
We brought our five children up to strictly follow the Scriptures and it never even occurred to me for a split second that we could ever have a gay child. We were good Christians weren’t we? It didn’t happen to people like us, did it? To be honest, it wasn’t a subject that registered particularly on my radar. I must have heard some teaching about it somewhere, because I had the firm conviction that it was a disgusting evil which God hated. I had a general idea that Romans Chapter 1 taught that it was something that God had given corrupt, God-rejecting men over to because of their determination to reject all knowledge of him and to wallow in their own corruptions.
Little did we know that the entire direction of my ministry and life was about to change completely. But the groundwork was being laid…
Understanding the truth about how God views variations in people’s sexual orientation wasn’t the only area where I was growing in understanding. I do think that God was preparing me because over the years, one by one, I began to see that many legalistic beliefs that I had held over the years were wrong. Fundamentally, I began to understand that the Bible needs wise interpretation if we are to avoid misconstruing what it actually says and thereby oppressing people. I was becoming in many areas more liberal in my outlook by degrees, but this certainly didn’t extend to believing that you could be gay and a Christian in good standing with God and the church.
But then, one day, I felt God show me that one of our three sons was gay and that it was okay. The thought hit me like a bullet. It was totally alien to my mind and yet… something about it had the touch of the Holy Spirit. I can only say that I felt at the time, and do to this day, that it was a “God thought”.
I went into a mental tailspin. At the time I didn’t tell anyone. Well, there wasn’t anyone I could reasonably discuss it with. If I challenged him directly – and I was wrong, what damage would it have done to our relationship? And if I had told my wife – perhaps over dinner – “Oh by the way darling, one of our sons is gay!” – that could have been devastating. And it certainly something I felt I could discuss with the congregation or my fellow ministers. No, all I believed I could do at the time was to pray (and pray and fast I did) and study the Scriptures and anything else I could get my hands on regarding homosexuality.
Over a period of months, slowly, painfully, the doctrinal fog began to lift. I began to learn so many things that I had never remotely considered before. Homosexuality occurs in every society on earth and has done so through every generation, despite the denials of this fact by many.
The internet was a wonderful resource. There were so many arguments for and against and I could quietly investigate them all from my own home and work it through. As far as I knew at the time, I had never met a gay man or woman. Of course, I had met many, but in total ignorance. At that time I wasn’t ready to go and meet them either. I came to understand that it wasn’t a lifestyle choice. After all, who would chose to be in a persecuted misunderstood minority?
So, slowly I came to see that the Bible verses which were used to condemn homosexuality, in fact, were not what they first appeared to be. From starting out from a position of being convinced that the Bible obviously condemned homosexuality, to understanding the truth was a rollercoaster ride of hair raising dimensions. It was a lonely journey I travelled alone for about six months– feeling it was confidential information.
I did speak to our gay son one day when he seemed troubled in himself and offered to talk with him if he wanted it. I said “I think I know what you are going through and would be happy to talk it over with you.” He didn’t respond at the time but did come to me quite a while later.
Meanwhile I was going through my own personal hell. My initial and paralysingly painful reaction was guilt. (I would have gone into denial except that I was sure that God had spoken to me.) My understanding at the time about homosexuality was that it was a perversion brought about by wrong family relationships. That is, a remote, uncaring father figure and an oppressive dominant mother figure. Although this didn’t match our profile really, I knew that there had been too many times when I had been off looking after the church and leaving the bringing up of the children to my wife.
Next I went through a period of mourning. I would like to say this was an unselfish mourning for our son and the difficulties he was going through but the truth is that it was mostly selfish. How would I tell my wife and family and friends? What would the church think and what would become of my ministry?
When our son did come to me to tell me that he was gay, by God’s grace, I had come through most of my negative emotions and was able to hug him, tell him I loved him and that everything was going to be fine.
By God’s grace, I had been prepared for that moment and was able to genuinely accept and love him. Looking back at that preparation process, I can see there were particular hurdles anyone must jump in order to see past the lies.
There are three fundamental barriers that stop a Christian from understanding the truth. These are three wrong concepts that distort our vision.
1. Surely the Church can’t be wrong on such a major issue.
2. But it’s so unnatural.
3. Anyway, the Bible clearly condemns it.
Number one was the easiest to answer. The “Church” universal has rarely been agreed on any doctrine, be it a major or minor issue. In fact, historically, the “church” has usually got it wrong, from the early days of Acts when the first Christians didn’t believe that Gentiles could be accepted by God without having to be circumcised and keep the Jewish law, through to the days when Christians supported slavery to today when even now the majority of Church denominations still oppress women.
The second barrier was easy enough to hurdle intellectually but much more so emotionally due to my emotions being harder to change than my understanding. A lifetime of indoctrination takes time to be healed of. It didn’t take much study to realise that in nature, homosexuality occurs naturally almost universally at all levels of the animal kingdom. And anyway, what is natural? If it’s doing what is in your nature, then gays are acting quite naturally.
The issue, of course, is that Christians define “natural” in terms of “God made them male and female…” etc. and so it’s Christian reasoning rather than logic that makes us say homosexuality is unnatural. Again, I found that some babies are born naturally with both male and female sexual organs. Christians, of course, would say this is because of “the fall” but this begs the question, “How do we respond to such individuals who Jesus died for and who he loves so dearly? Must we squeeze them in our arbitrarily defined boxes, shaped by our religious dogma, or can we love and accept them as they are?
The difficult part for me was that homosexual sex seemed disturbingly unpleasant. But then I had to remember how, as a young lad, I was told about the “birds and the bees” by my older sister. At the time, I told her not to be so dirty. It was obviously a false story made up by children to be disgusting. And again, the thought of my parents having sex together was anathema to me. So I had to recognise that my emotional reaction to something was not a sound measure of its “rightness”. But emotions are powerful things and it takes time and conscious effort to resist prejudice.
The final barrier, the Bible’s stance on homosexuality was a complete revelation. What I have come to understand now is that we have fundamentally been interpreting the Scriptures wrongly. We have taken proof texts and used them to support our own ideas and bash others over the head with. We have imagined that the Bible is internally consistent in its theology because it was written as a manual for living, when in fact it is neither. It is God’s word for us but we need to understand in what way.
The Bible is a collection of letters, poems, stories etc. all written to specific people at specific times in specific cultures. We are meant to interpret the spirit and intent of what God was saying to those people at that time through those communications and apply the spiritual intent to ourselves in the 21st Century. Understood in this way it is the precious word of God for us. But we must recognise, it contains untruths, undeveloped doctrines and concepts of God and some blatantly wrong ideas such as the support of ethnic cleansing, genocide and oppression of women. We need to interpret both the Old and New Testaments in the light of God’s law of love.
I came to see that, actually the writers of the Old and New Testaments had no concept of a loving, faithful, stable gay relationship between two men or two women and so never addressed the matter. The biblical condemnations do not apply to such relationships. In fact, applying true principles of biblical interpretation, the church should be leading the way in teaching and encouraging gay and lesbian Christians to live their lives, honourably and pleasing to God, knowing that he is well pleased with them just as they are and delights in them as much as any straight Christians.
There is a tragic lack of leadership from church denominations. We should be leading the society in showing compassion and mature understanding and acceptance of gays as equally treasured children of God. Instead, once again, denominations are resisting enlightened advancement in our society.
I had to resign from pastoring the Assemblies of God church so that I could speak freely without causing little ones to stumble. To its credit the Church of England is at least discussing the issues and we are accepted in our local Anglican/Methodist church. But it’s limited. Our church had a weekend away recently with a theme of “finding your role in the body’s ministry.” I asked the vicar if it was okay for me to go along. He said “Fine”. I said, “But I already know what my ministry is, I have joined the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) and want to support gay Christians.” He said, “Er, let me get back to you on that…” When he did, he said that the leadership felt it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to attend the church weekend away. So we still have some way to go.
I believe this is the big challenge facing the Church in the 21st Century. I am confident that grace and truth will ultimately prevail, but it will be a long journey. It is a real joy to be able to help, even in a small way, parents who are going through the trauma that we went through and encourage them. Being a part of FFLAG, (Familiers and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) has been enormously encouraging to me and my wife because we have been able to encourage hurting people that God loves and accepts gay and straight Christians alike and see them encouraged to go forward in their walk with God. For us too it has been encouraging because we have met so many caring people who have wisdom that has been borne out of pain.
If there is any one message that I would like to be able to leave with people it is that God is in complete control and He is perfect love. Yes, suffering is a part of God’s Plan A. We don’t like it, of course, but through it, God is forming Christ in us. None of our tears are ever wasted and one day we will be able to rejoice with everyone, gay and straight, oppressor and oppressed, in His eternal kingdom, united in love forever.
For any parent facing similar issues, contact FFLAG (Family and Friends of Lesbians And Gays).
See also “Janet – A mother’s story”