Out of the Closet and Into the Church
So sometime last week, I posted some perspectives on homosexuality, and one of my readers - I'll call her Dianne - left a comment in which she mentioned that she herself had come out of a homosexual lifestyle. Hmm... that's not something you hear about everyday!
Since I'm always interested in firsthand accounts, I asked her if she'd be willing to tell me more about her experiences, and the conversation that followed was fascinating. So much so that I asked if she'd be willing to let me post her reflections here. She agreed, so here it is, cast in the form of an interview...
Christian: Hi Dianne, I'd be very interested in just hearing more of your story - where you were, where you are now, and how you perceive yourself as having moved through this process (what was helpful? what wasn't?). Basically, I'd love to have you tell me about yourself and then just answer any questions that might pop into my head as a result.
Dianne: Ok, here's a basic summary.Christian: First and foremost, I really appreciate your willingness to respond. This is personal stuff, and you've been very open and forthright. I appreciate that. (I think we need more candor in the church).
Where I was...
In high school I started having thoughts, feelings about it. But I dated guys then and was generally okay with that. My parents really, really sheltered me growing up, so by the time I graduated HS, I felt like there was a sort of parallel universe happening, full of both excitement and fascination, as well as despair, poverty, suffering and darkness -- all of which I had just never experienced or encountered, but want to. At first, just to see 'how the other half lived' but then soon after found its allure too strong, and became committed to it myself.
So, when I moved out on my own and started experiencing the world, I was totally unprepared for what I would be facing - the partying and all of the accompanying revelry. It sucked me in fast, just like quicksand. Of course it would take many years before I could have any perspective at all on the darkness and sinfulness of it all .
Geographically, I was in Philly, Baltimore, New York, Wilmington, in the bar and club scene and going to parties and such. I was a successful manager by day, being promoted and moved into opportunities. However, as a sort of weekend warrior, I lived an exciting and daring life in a culture that was both taboo (from normal society) and the only place where I really felt like I "fit in" and was unconditionally 'loved' and accepted (of course my frame of reference was tainted and twisted by having been raised in a broken family by non-Christians).
"Moving thru this process"...
For me, it was a mire, a trap, an entire lifestyle and worldview that I bought into hook, line, and sinker - including binge drinking, which turned into alcholic/black out drinking. By the time I was 29, the fantasy had started caving in around me and I felt the crush.
I didn't want the life I had anymore, but it was all I knew.
It drove me to AA. I was scared, but found a bit of refuge in going to "gay AA". For the first year, I enjoyed fellowship that was soooooo much better than anything I had before that - people who shared their past, their shortcomings, their fears, and who were geniunely trying to be humble. We spoke of "God" generically, which made me completely aware of God's grace working in my life, but also inflamed my hunger to REALLY know God.
Then, I was invited to a Bible study by a couple of evangelical Christians I worked with. Studying the Bible in fellowship - that was the turning point.
Two particular evenings stand out as definitive:
The first night, when we studied Romans 8:1: "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
What? I wanted to know what about all of the other religions. All of the EE Trained people in the room had a great time with me that night. Within a week, I realized that the "unnamed god" who had brought me out of the pit into AA and who had brought me to Bible study was in fact Jesus Himself. I prayed to accept Christ in November 1995 and continued to go to Bible Study.
Then a couple of months later, the second passage that was definitive in this "process" - John 3:19: "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."
(I still start to get teary-eyed over that one.)
Here I was sitting in a Bible study. And the conversation immediately went to homosexuality. Not by me though; by someone I didn't even know at that point. It was like someone had shined a halogen spotlight on me and turned up the furnace to 150 degrees, then took all my clothes off and put me in the middle of Times Square.
The Holy Spirit has never been so convincing to me. Before that, I had argued on internet discussion forums, in letters to editors of all sorts of magazines and papers, with people in all types of venues (including the PTL club, you name it!) all of the arguments about context, about texts speak of men not women, about the 'original Greek', about Sodom being unwelcoming, on and on.
But at that moment, I had nothing. Just deep sorrow. There were more than 30 people at Bible study that night, when I confessed, repented, and believed God's Word. (It was the begining of 1996)
Right after that happened, I found Romans 12. Instead of churning to know completely what all of God's Word meant on this subject and what He wanted from me - ie, to go out with guys, to get marrired, etc., the Holy Spirit led me to my battlecry - Romans 12:1-2 "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."
Those three encounters with our wonderful, amazing, triune God through scripture changed my life.
Where I am now...
Fast forward to now. Well, I love the Lord, I love His Word, and I love worshipping Him. If there was one thing that I could just do and do nothing else, it would be to studying His Word in fellowship with other believers and singing songs to Him. Someday, I would really like to attend seminary, but until then I stay plugged into the opportunities we have at GRPC (my church), outreach at work, through volleyball and other ways.
I admit that sometimes I still struggle with a few things. One is the idea of being a "Real Woman" (whatever that means :). The other thing I struggle with is every once in a while I find myself drawn to another woman emotionally and intellectually. It’s never a physical or sexual thing per se, but it is very overwhelming – consuming. I connect much better/ more naturally with men than I do women, so when I’m really connecting spiritually or emotionally with another woman, sometimes I don’t understand how to process it.
In summary, I still struggle, but not with knowing that my identity is NOT gay or homosexual. (That just sounds so foreign even just to write it.) My struggle is more about my identity in Christ and in relationship with His people. How to love? How to trust? How much to trust? How to serve? How to serve them? How to serve Him? These are all open ended questions that I'll just keep asking every day (Lord willing).
Dianne: No problem! I need it too.Christian: Ok, a couple of followup questions, starting with some simple ones for context. How old are you now? married? still single?
Dianne: 42, not married-yet.Christian: Have you experienced any change in your sexual desires? (eg towards men rather than women? were the desires for women ever really sexual? or was it more a desire for acceptance / relationship / intimacy? what I'm really wondering about here is how you would quantify / describe the change that your Christ has worked in you)
Dianne: Yes. I really don't experience much nowadays in the way of sexual desires, but, yes, I have found that I have a general desire to be with a man.Christian: Ok, you sit down at a bar and order a beer - a woman sits down beside you: a) would you be able to tell whether or not she was a lesbian? b) what would you say to her if she was? what would you most want to convey?
Yes, I had life-dominating sexual desires for women for years. I would even go so far as to say that it was a serious addiction. I can't even count the number of women with whom I’ve had various encounters, not mention those I propositioned. (Sidenote: most women tend to be much more monogamous than I was, more like Melissa Etheridge or Ellen DeGeneres).
I believe the change Christ has worked in me is indescribably enormous. The emotions, intimacy, and acceptance issues I sometimes have today are blessings in comparison with the unbridled idolatry that characterized my past.
Dianne: Okay, well, besides the fact that I don't drink alcohol anymore :) - I would have to say that this is an interesting and possibly illuminating analogy. I’ve often thought that sharing your faith is a lot like picking someone up in a bar. And I also think that you can have a sense of another gay/homosexual person in a way very similar to how Christians know that they are talking to other Christians. The kingdom of darkness is really sneaky like this.Christian: If your church leaders came to you and said "We want to create a church culture that is welcoming to homosexuals, while at the same time being true to the Scriptures (eg. we're not going to stop calling it sin when asked)" - what would you tell them?
a) Sometimes you can tell. But many lesbians look nothing like ‘lesbians’ and many straight women look a lot like ‘lesbians.’ It has more to do with the way they look at you, the way they talk to you, the way they relate to you. Then, you can tell sort of how they think of you.
b) What would I say? First and foremost, I must remember above all that I’m Christ’s ambassador, especially at that moment. Not to compromise the God’s Truth in anyway, but to come beside her, build a friendship, hope that she might open up about where she’s at and try to build a bridge or connection from that. Start with a neutral conversation but try to transition into where she is spiritually.
Build trust and then invite. (Actions speak louder than words). Our church has a lot of sports programs. I’d invite her to play volleyball or softball. Or if she is open to it, see if she would like to get together with friends from my small ‘house church’ and go to a museum or park or some kind of social outing: fellowship with others. Introduce her to other Christians and make sure our relationship is not exclusive in anyway. Build relationships that show her what godly men and godly women can look like when you actually get to know us (because most have only seen what the media shows them.)
Dianne: Teach and preach the Gospel, because we need to hear it all of the time. Be different than the world in the ways that matter (love, openness, humility) by remembering the one Who makes us different. Worship that is engaging and heartfelt is also critical.Christian: Have you run across any books that would be particularly helpful (to people like you, or to people still struggling w/ homosexuality)? or would you just point people towards Scripture?
We need to confess our sin one to another, and stay vulnerable. If we give people the impression that we are ‘super-Christians’ – that we don’t struggle, we don’t hurt, we don’t sin, that we are on a higher level because of how long we’ve been going to church, or any other thing, then they will probably either run away or just try to polish the outside of the cup to try to fit in. But if we open our lives, they too may open theirs and find forgiveness, healing, & transformation. (for me, this is a MUST do).
Have stuff to invite them to. Do things that include both men and women: don’t separate all of the ‘programs’ into all of the men go do this, while all of the women go do that. There are a lot of gender identity issues and this would make it much more comfortable for people who are just coming in. Do stuff outside of the four walls of the church too, maybe within the communities that these people live in. Also, I would make sure married couples are involved in singles ministries.
Dianne: I would have people come to a Bible study, in fellowship, rather than a plucking out verses. Sit together with the Bible, open it and read it together.Christian: Do you think there's any real difference between homosexual struggles and heterosexual struggles? do people struggling w/ chastity, fidelity, etc need to hear something different? or do they really need to hear the same thing?
As far as books: “Coming out of Homosexuality” by Bob Davies and “Out of Egypt” by Jeannette Howard were both excellent for me. COH confirmed what I had been going thru. About 80% of that book was exactly what I had been experiencing, so when I read it, it was a huge relief to know that I was not the only person in the world who was leaving “the lifestyle.”
Two more books that I've found helpful recently: Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave and When People Are Big And God is Small, both by Ed Welch.
The Bob Davies book I mentioned before was really helpful early on, as he is writing from experience and has a way of being very practical and relevant. However, I would say the Ed Welch stuff is probably better theologically, depending on where the people are coming from.
Dianne: Great question. I do think there’s a real difference between the two struggles. Chastity and fidelity are certainly a huge part of both issues. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that in a culture that abounds in sexual impurity – the worship of created things, rather than the Creator (who is to be praised forever, amen!) -- the progression of God giving them over to ‘shameful lusts’ (Romans 1:26) seems almost inevitable. I believe that the further we get from Godly heterosexual, monogamous relationships, the more homosexual activity in that culture will increase.Christian: Any final thoughts?
But, in terms of the message – turn to God and worship Him, turn from idolatry. That message is the same.
With homosexual struggles, we often deal with excessive shame and guilt (ie, “shameful lusts" – Romans 1:26.), years of hurt, rejection and abandonment or trust issues that turned us away from trusting authority. I’m not as sure whether these deeper issues are as common for heterosexual strugglers, they might be, but I wouldn’t know about it.
Dianne: Yeah, the one other thing which made a huge difference for me is prayer - I missed that. We had prayer meetings a lot back then. It's a weak area for me these days, but back then - it was huge!!So there you have it - a first hand account from someone who's been there and back again. And rather than say any more about what I think, I'd like to open it up to you, the readers (all three of you). Have any thoughts? Feedback? Additional questions? Feel free to fire away...
Also, have you checked out the Exodus Int'l website? They have a lot of info online. Harvest USA in Philly also has some stuff on their website.