Three years ago I had time to evaluate, to think, to reestablish a new layer to my life. In the process I had many discussions along the way.
I was in a passionate conversation with a friend of mine about how each of us processed the issue of homosexuality. She began to talk about friends she had that were Christians and yet were involved in same sex partnerships. I felt frustrated because she just didn’t want to tell me what she thought about being for – or against homosexual relationships. As we talked that day, seemingly for hours, I began to speak strongly about someone I had heard of for many years that was gay and claimed to be a Christian. Michael Bussee was one of the men who arranged the very first Exodus International conference.
Many years ago I watched a video where Michael shared some of his life story and I felt challenged by the things he was sharing. As I talked about Michael I had a disdain in my heart towards him. This led me to profile him with many others I judged to be rebellious and compromising of God’s standards. I had never really wanted to know anyone who claimed to be a Christian but was living in an overt gay relationship. If they wanted help, they should say so, otherwise, I figured they would have to deal with God on things and I kept my distance.
As I talked with Lisa, she got quiet. When I was done, she said, “John, don’t you think it is unfair to form such strong opinions about someone you have never met? Don’t you think you owe it to him and talk with him personally before you form an opinion about his character?”
Phew, that was humbling.
Lisa was absolutely correct. I was unfair in basing my opinions about what I had “heard” rather than from my own experience with someone like Michael. I had a lot of “Michaels” in my life. I was smug in my heart regarding people like Michael. But for some reason I thought it was enough to gauge my opinions on what I had heard from others and didn’t feel I needed to spend any time with them.
So, Lisa asked again, “John, would you be willing to talk with Michael? I can arrange a phone call if you are willing to hear his heart.” What could I say? I had already crossed the line in what I had said about him. I at least owed him the respect to talk with him. Now , I wondered if he was even willing to talk with me? After all, I am sure Michael had heard things about me through the years as well. I have no doubt that Michael was familiar with my involvement in ex-gay ministries and was sure he didn’t think so favorably about me either. It was interesting to see how I went from “I don’t want to talk with him” to hum, I wonder if he’ll talk with me?
So, Lisa called me back and said Michael was willing to talk with me. We arranged a phone call and I remember sitting in my office in a comfortable chair in preparation for the call. I was feeling nervous about the call. I wasn’t sure what to expect in our conversation. So, when the phone rang, I answered and after a little introductory conversation I was surprised at what transpired. We talked comfortably about our lives and experiences. Michael and I had a lot in common having both been previously married and then got divorced. Michael went into a gay relationship and I went on to get married to Vileen but we had many shared experiences to talk about.
Michael Bussee Became A Person
I left the conversation feeling a sense of peace. I found Michael to be endearing, humble, honest, and very respectful of my life and experiences. He talked about some of the painful things he had experienced in his life as well as the joys. We related to having children and grandchildren as well. I felt a desire to talk with him again largely because he was a genuinely nice guy. He and I have formed a friendship that I respect as person whose life matters and has value not only to God, but to others as well.
So, wow, I’ve now gone into more uncharted territory. I wondered what would come next. So, I called Lisa and gave her my report, “Lisa, actually, I enjoyed talking with Michael.” She said she had another friend she wanted me to talk with. She told me of a man named Todd Ferrell. She said he was someone she admired a lot and wanted me meet him. She connected us and we set a time to talk. I figured since Michael was a great guy maybe Todd would be someone that was nice too.
Todd and I decided to use Skype to talk. After setting up my first Skype connection we had a great time talking about our lives. Once again, I felt surprised at what I heard. Todd, like Michael, was sincere and willing to share pieces of his life that were filled with humility and honesty. Since I had never been in a friendship with someone that was “gay affirming” like Todd, I guess I expected to hear something different.
I was looking for excuses, rationalizing Scripture to their own tastes. I was sure I would hear things that would offend me but I found none of that. I am not sure what it was I expected but I surely didn’t expect to hear this.
“John, our church saw the pain in the gay community in San Francisco. As an outreach to bring Jesus to the streets we decided to serve communion on Castro Street in San Francisco on Good Friday. There were requests for prayer, shared tears, hunger for God that left us speechless. Yes, there were those who were on drugs, those who were angry, and other distractions. But in the end, we knew we had touched the hearts of many who were hungry to connect with God.”
I was left in tears myself after hearing this story, “Todd, your heart beats the same as mine for the gay community. Of course you know there are many “evangelicals” in our country that would think what your church did was blasphemous. But, I am right there with you, my new friend. I love what you are doing.”
I realized that many outreach attempts in urban areas like San Francisco are based on singing on street corners and handing out tracts. But in this case, Todd and his church were really going for it to touch these people in a very real and physical way.
Wow, how unexpected? Another surprise! Actually, I began to see the surprises as “gifts”. It was like God had prepared many gifts for me and put them underneath a Christmas tree to be opened one at a time. I knew they were all good since they were coming from Him but I had not opened all of them yet.
I’ll never forget the conversations with these two men. Both of which are friends today but not that long ago, I don’t think I would have walked across the street to talk with either one of them. It would have been my loss for sure.
Through my former ministry involvement I certainly knew hundreds of Christians who would say they wrestled with being gay. For some reason I separated these men and women into two camps. There were those who were “seeking to change” and those who had accepted being gay. Until just recently I didn’t realize how I had compartmentalized my view of people who are gay. Those who had accepted being gay were somehow not worth knowing or maybe I was just afraid of crossing into the other side of all of this.
In my conversation with Todd, he invited me to attend a conference his ministry was hosting in April of 2010. I said, “Todd, I would like to come to that but I am very low on funds and couldn’t see having the money to come.” He was talking about “The Evangelical Network” which is an organization that has a heart to connect Christians who are gay and to support their faith and ministry efforts. Not having enough money was a great excuse to know have to think about going. I really felt quite hesitant to the thought of being at a gay-affirming conference. I had no idea what I would see there or experience.
I went to Mike’s house to ask him to consider being a board member for Grace Rivers. In our conversation he was very direct with me. He was asking me to describe the focus of the ministry. I struggled to find the words that would effectively tell him what we were. It was obviously a struggle for me to begin with. I did everything I could do to avoid “homosexual” or “gay community”. I wasn’t willing to step out onto that limb and admit what was really in my heart.
Mike said something that really challenged me, “John, what is your strength? What is at the core of your heart for people and for ministry?” He went on to tell me what he saw. He emphasized my history and what he had seen in my life for many years. “John, isn’t your real burden for the gay community?”
Well, I had tried to stuff that away for almost two years. But, I couldn’t deny my heart. When I had only been a Christian for a year or so I wept for those in the gay community who needed a purpose for life, a hope for the future. I asked the Lord to give me the calling to help, to share the hope that was in my own life. My heart’s desire is truly for the gay community to know how much God loves them.
I couldn’t deny what Mike was trying to point out. I still wanted to push it away. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back into the battle zone that often centers around homosexuality and the church. I had lived in that battle for so long I kind of liked the more generic form of ministry. It seemed to be easier to talk about and was more comfortable for many people to accept.
But, Mike clarified for me that it is hard to share such a generic vision for ministry and to get people on board to walk alongside me if I didn’t have a focus to tell them about. Oh, yes, generic ministry will always be a part of our lives as Christians, but it is important for me to know what my special calling really is.
Ok, Mike, I Have to Admit…..
Mike was right. I still had a deep burden and it was definitely focused on people within the gay community. Meeting Michael Bussee and Todd Ferrell challenged me to a very deep place. I realized that there is an entirely different side to homosexuality that I had never explored before. I never wanted to admit that there were gay people who had a sincere heart for God who truly wanted Him to fill their lives and to follow Him to their best ability. Todd told me about how their church members go into the gay bars and make themselves available just to talk, to listen, and to pray for those they come into contact with.
“What? Do you mean they want to reach the gay community with Christ just like I do?”
Again, I was surprised and at the same time challenged. I recognized that I had not met many Christians who would go to those lengths to share the Love of Christ with people in the gay community. Here they were, people I had judged to be rebellious and compromising, doing the very things that God called us all to do.