Archive for August, 2011
Thursday, August 25th, 2011
From our Mailbag
With his permission I have copied his letter in its entirety and my response below.
Thank you for your e-mails. I must address your recent article entitled, “Can My Gay Friend Be a Christian?”
I feel your love and heart for those in the gay community. The compassion that I sense you have for them is rare and is the love of Christ. You help us all to understand compassion.
I wonder if after you left Love In Action several years ago, you have slowly deviated somewhat from the truth. Somewhere, I believe that the pressure from the gay community has compelled you to create a more accommodating doctrine for gays that will ultimately allow them to feel comfortable in their sin.
You speak about how we all live in opposition to God’s desires for our lives every day. I am in agreement with that. Of course, we all do. However, that’s different from living in iniquity.
Here is the dilemma: How do we distinguish Christians who struggle with sin from unsaved people who are practicing sin? I believe Paul explains it through his own early struggle with sin before he found victory. Even though he struggled with doing wrong while saved in Romans 7:15, he states that he hated what he was doing. In verse 16, he acknowledged that God’s law is good (holy, righteous).
When people call themselves “gay,” which God calls sin, then they are saying that God’s law or standard is not good. They do not agree with God’s standard if they continue to live in their sin and call themselves gay. They have not accepted God’s truth.
A Christian should inwardly recognize that God’s Word is right, true, and good, and that their sin is wrong. This is the key to distinguishing a sinner from a Christian who struggles with sin. If there is no guilt, conviction, or inward shame when a person commits an act of sin, then this is reason to question his/her salvation. A Christian who still struggles with sin, however, will not want to practice sin. They trip up occasionally, but they have a desire to stop sinning. They do not feel good inwardly when they sin. The issue comes down to the heart.
Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4).
The person who continuously practices sin is lawless or without God’s law. He has no regard, acceptance, agreement, or conviction from the laws of God. This is the sinner who has no guilt, conviction, shame, or hatred for evil, as Paul described in Romans 7.
If a person has made the decision in his/her heart to depart from homosexuality (or any other iniquity for that matter), then he/she will not want to remain in that sin and call himself/herself gay. A Christian cannot still practice being gay; therefore, they cannot call themselves gay. If we fall in a moment of weakness, we repent and keep going. This is one thing. Practicing and continuing to call oneself gay is another. I hope this provides some perspective. I pray that I have not offended you.
First of all, I have read through your letter and I’m pondering your words. I want to make sure you know clearly that your letter did not offend me. I deeply respect that you have taken the time and written me about this.
As I thought about having received your letter one thing that stood out to me clearly, I have always felt loved by you. As long as I have known you, your heart overflows with affirmation, kindness, and certainly I feel connected to you personally. Therefore, I know your letter is coming from that place. I know you love me.
I will attempt to reply to the letter as I find the words to do so. These last two years have been a wonderful season in my life. God has been at work digging into my heart on many levels. When I left Love In Action, I had time to rest and ponder the things of the Lord. After 22 years of managing the “wheelhouse” of Love In Action, I was completely worn out for sure. I needed to rest in the Lord. I have experienced a long overdue sabbatical of sorts. During this time I have put a lot of prayer and work into hearing from Him about how He would have me to respond to the reality of homosexuality.
I am finally feeling refreshed with new vision, a new understanding of God’s love for me! I find that He is using me in new ways out of the changes in my heart.
Pastor, instead of getting into a biblical dissertation I think I would rather answer you in spirit.
Our sexuality is a very significant aspect of who we are and how we live. It is extremely complicated and for many people is a HUGE challenge to manage, to embrace, and to sort out. I want to continue to learn how to grasp the reality of God’s movement in us, and through us concerning our sexuality. To simply say, “homosexuality is sin” would be a gross over simplification of a human experience. I also see that even the word “homosexuality” is truly undefinable as it doesn’t really have a meaning that applies to someone’s life. What is homosexuality? Is it an erotic attraction, is it emotional desire? Is it a behavior, or an identity? Is it an intrinsic part of our being, or is it a temporary act under the influence of alcohol?
I fully recognize there are created designs, desires, and plans that God has for each of us as His beloved creation. The real dilemma is that each and every day we struggle to find Him in the midst of our humanity and how to reflect His glory to others. I know many incredible people who try desperately to sort out their homosexuality while they also seek to love Jesus with their whole heart.
I also realize that there are Biblical “standards” that seem to be communicated from God’s heart to ours through His word. But under the canopy of the standards, there is a human life experience which struggles to fit into a prescribed box that humanly cannot be explained sometimes. I see these as uniquely different and yet connected deeply to our faith and desires to please a Holy God.
I believe we can all agree that indiscriminate sexual sport is undeniably wrong. However having homosexual attractions and desires for personal connection or intimacy is not something I would call “iniquity” and therefore I do not believe it is something that would disqualify someone from a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. What one chooses to do with those desires must ultimately be sorted out with Jesus.
Picture with me if you will, a ball of yarn that is colorfully variegated. As we experience life with the Lord I see it like the yarn is pulled off of the ball a little at a time.
As it is rolled off it is explored, healed, changed, and moved on. As life unfolds in Christ, there will be many surprises! God is a God of order and will not a bruised reed break. This tells me that He enters our life to sanctify it, but in order and over time. Sometimes, large things are dealt with, other changes can be smaller and incremental. The issues we bring to the table of our growing process in the Lord may be somewhere in the middle of the ball and will come through His fingers in the time that is best.
As the yarn is rolled past His fingers, it is knitted into a wonderfully restored, useful, garment. The yarn may still look the same but it is woven into something more in line with God’s plans for us rather than just a ball of yarn with no real purpose.
From the very beginning of time God was busy making something useful out of something that appeared purposeless. He made mankind out of dirt!
Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7
If this yarn were all pulled off at once, erratically, we would find a tangled mess on our hands. Sometimes it sounds like Christians believe that God deals with everything all at one time. If so, it would look like this pile of yarn. It would be knotted, scrambled and less able to be used.
I believe God can remove some very big things with expediency. But who am I to say what a “big thing” is? My heart’s desire is to communicate the gentle purposeful, orderly aspects of a loving God. Over a lifetime He is at work transforming His people with precision.
This last week I received an email from a very significant person in my life. This email reveals my heart more effectively than any other way I could say it.
I don’t follow FaceBook much, but I had a bit of time yesterday and I noticed your post which led me to your website articles. (www.gracerivers.com/articles).
I was raised and lived in a cultish religion. I have broken free from that but now I am always skeptical and distrustful of any religion. I am squeamish around Christians of any ilk, or religious dogma for that matter. I have chosen to seek traditional Indian spirituality. It has been a very personal search because it has no religious dogma.
I went to your website to read the whole thing. I was nervous. I do not handle ‘preaching’, ‘piousness’, or religious ‘judgment’ very well at all. After having read some of your writing I have to say that I’m greatly impressed with your insight in regards to the Gay/Christian issue.
When I read what you have written, I realized that there is a possibility that Christians really can be ‘Christian’ towards others. Until now, I don’t believe I have met one that is like that.
But your writing might makes me more hopeful.
Thank you for sharing in your life stories (Through the Windshield of My Life) what must have been a horrible experience for you. I had some as well, while not with a family member, and not as a child, my experiences have certainly changed me forever.
My own painful experiences have taken away dreams, beliefs and trust; and in their place they have left me with fear, cynicism, anger, and many wounds. My experience with the those in the cult I was with, was just as damaging. It left even deeper wounds for me than sexual injury, it left my soul scarred for life.
It was a breath of fresh air to read your piece and hear compassion, a non-judgmental approach. You have given the opportunity for others to think for themselves and act like the Christians they profess to be.
Thank you, John. Not only for your story, but for being a respectful voice in a din of noisy cackling religious zealots.
Pastor, this letter frames for me the very reason for the ministry approach I have adopted of late. It is my greatest desire to reach out to those who are hurting, scarred, and fearful of traditionally accepted church practice or religion. I desire more than anything to be a bridge to Jesus that is honest, strong, and trustworthy. As I reflect on the ministry vision that we have developed through Grace Rivers I think my heart is very clear:
Grace Rivers is a ministry with the gay community that reveals the message of an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ and genuine community with His followers – because every person deserves to know that Jesus loves them.
Each one of us has a different positional call within our Christian family. Some may be called to proclaim a truth, others called to walk alongside in the truth. I believe I am called to walk alongside.
It is my hope that my own personal mission statement will continue to bear fruit.
It is my desire to help people be the very best they can be, and this I know is only through Jesus Christ.
If someone is fearfully estranged from a loving God then, I want to be the loving voice that says, “It will be ok, He loves you. You can trust Him.” This is with the hope that they will seek Him all the more themselves.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.
In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:3-11
Many people have brought this scripture to my attention to help me see that Jesus asked the adulterous woman to leave her life of sin because they are concerned that I may have lost my concern for sin. But, what I see here is that the lady had to be brought to Jesus first. In the right order, He made it clear that He had no condemnation in His heart for her first! He connected to her in a very significant and loving way so as to clear the way for Her to follow Him. I believe the message of leaving her “life of sin” here is more about a lifestyle of pursuing the Kingdom of God, than it is about behavior modification.
Over and over, Jesus spoke to us about living a kingdom lifestyle. All through the Sermon on the Mount He contrasted the law with our human nature to show us we could never reach perfection on our own and that He had come to redeem us and to inspire us to leave the kingdom of this world and join Him in His kingdom. It is clear to me that Jesus was not giving this woman another law to follow, but rather He was asking her to join Him and walk into a better future.
So, if you tell a gay man or a lesbian they are to “sin no more” this can be a cruel and unthoughtful thing to ask. Unthoughtful because of the lack of definition of the word and the potential of a severe misunderstanding of what you mean. This is why it is so very important that we point one another to Christ because He can work in our lives in such beautiful ways to show us what He wants from us. The real message of the woman caught in adultery who meets Jesus face to face is just that – she met Jesus and He showed her what He wanted her to know.
It is also an example of how human’s want to deal with people. The Pharisees wanted to stone her. Hum. Have we also been Pharisees? Do you think that many within the gay community have faced a crowd of Pharisees in their own lives? Who do they need to connect to? Of course, Jesus! And what do you think Jesus would say to the Pharisee? Well, He asked them to evaluate their own lives of sin.
Years ago a lady that went through one of our progams at Love In Action gave a little talk at the completion of her program. She said:
“John Smid is a Pharisee! Much like the woman caught in adultery, he brought me to the feet of Jesus where I found healing and freedom.”
I would never want to be thought of as a Pharisee! But I do want to be a man who has found a loving God and hopes to be a vehicle that will bring others to the feet of the Savior.
In all honesty I do not believe I have “deviated” from the truth. Rather, I believe truth is a discovery and I have delighted in finding another facet of God’s truth.
I hope we are walking together as the Body, one by one, uniquely with purpose and hope and most of all, a desire to bring the lost, broken, estranged, hurting folks to the redemption of the soul.
This is part six of a series on John’s transition away from his 22 year vocation with Love In Action.
Friday, August 19th, 2011
God Surprise Me: Part Five
“I went to this conference and participated in a workshop that dug deeply into the scriptures on the passages that deal with homosexuality. As we all know, there are distinct differences in the way that people read them and interpret what they have to say.”
I came away with many new questions about what the Bible says on homosexuality. I have a meeting each week with a bible mentor. I often come to him with questions about what a passage says and how we should interpret it. This time I had a whole list which of course was too much for one of our sessions together. I decided to begin with First Corinthians chapter six, verses nine through eleven.
I walked into his office and said, “OK, I want to know. What does this really say? Can we sit down and tear this apart? Can we get to the real meaning of what Paul was actually saying here?”
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
This passage is one that I have struggled with for over 20 years. For some, this passage has brought a lot of comfort because it speaks to one of the most exciting things about the gospel. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…” Anytime we see a passage that encourages us with the dramatic change that occurs when we receive the message from Jesus of a new life in Him, that is wonderful. However, this passage has also caused a lot of divisive discussion and for many, a wrong understanding of what it says, it has brought despair, hopelessness, and fear! “…… will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Do all gays go to hell? Do gossips go to hell? Do Slanderers go to hell? What about the greedy, do they all go to hell too? If so, we have a huge problem.
Within the “ex-gay” world, verse eleven; “And that is what some of you were.” Speaks to a significant change in Christ. But some take this verse to mean a change in homosexual orientation. This interpretation has led to a tremendous amount of controversy through the years. What does Paul really say here about change?
There is a common misunderstanding of verse nine; ” Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? “, and verse ten, ” will (not) inherit the kingdom of God” This confusion has brought many people to a tremendous fear for the salvation for themselves and for their loved ones who had admitted to being gay. The lack of a solid teaching on this passage has caused a tremendous amount of harm to endless numbers of people through the years. Many have taught this passage, or by omission, led people to believe that the gospel is centered on our behavior and therefore a good works oriented salvation. Paul speaks very heavily to those who “lead others back to the law” through many of his letters.
It is amazing that one verse can bring such a diverse reaction. From great hope, to tremendous fear and despair, it has appeared to me that some, with good intentions, have greatly misunderstood the real meaning and intention in Paul’s heart as he wrote these words. It became obvious to me that this verse has often not been understood and I my own mind, I needed to study it more deeply. The impact on people’s lives is at stake. I realized that further clarity was imperative.
My Own Mistakes
In years past as I would try to teach on these verses, I knew that the gospel was NOT contingent on anyone’s behavior. Therefore I knew that this verse could not possibly be saying that someone who was gay would not be allowed into the kingdom of God for eternity. So, my way of softening the blow (not conviction of what it actually said) was to teach that it didn’t mean the eternal kingdom, but rather was just referring to the “kingdom now.”
Therefore, I would often try to explain that if someone described in these verses could miss out on experiencing the goodness of God’s kingdom now but it didn’t mean they would be lost for eternity.
So, I felt settled in teaching that interpretation for many years. But I felt conflicted because I was not confident that is what it was saying. I just didn’t have any other answers.
The Context of the Passage
As my bible friend and I began to tear into this passage my understanding grew tremendously on why I was so unsettled on my previous teaching. My convictions were right, my mind had not grasped the real concept Paul was trying to convey. I asked the questions.
What was the surrounding culture at the time and how did it relate to Paul’s letter?
What is the larger story of this passage?
As my friend and I dug into the Greek language, the culture, the overall story, I was amazed! All of a sudden, these verses became abundantly clear. I was encouraged, hopeful, and passionate about what Paul was really saying.
You Absolutely Cannot Stop Here! I wrote my thoughts on this passage in a response to a letter I received. (please click here).
You can read the series “God Surprise Me” (by clicking here).
Friday, August 12th, 2011
As I continue to share about a three day conference I attended in April of 2010, more stories come to my mind of God’s abundant grace and how He has impacted so many people who were there. (You can read the first part here.)
Another Curious Meeting
Standing in the lobby of the hotel, where the conference was being held, I saw my two new friends from last night. As I walked up to them they were talking with an older man and introduced me, “John, this is our pastor, the one who has accepted the challenge of discipling us.” I entered the conversation with them for a few minutes and the two guys excused themselves. Another lady was standing with us and I was introduced to “Rene”.
Rene was someone I noticed in all of the main sessions. She seemed to always stand on the periphery of the room. She was very tall and from my observation seemed to be a transsexual. As the pastor introduced us he began to talk about Rene. He told me that his church had tried an outreach ministry to the transsexual community around them but had not had much success. He continued to share with me that transsexuals are often emotionally immature and challenging due to their emotional development of 8 or 9 years of age.
I turned to Rene and said, “How do you feel about this discussion “about” you taking place?” Rene took off and ran with her story. She said she agreed about the emotional immaturity issues. She then said, “John, transsexuals don’t often want to be on center stage. It is a challenge for me to get this attention.” Then, what she said next was astonishing to hear!
She Considered Her Walk With God
“I consider my life in Christ to be like that of a “war horse”. A war horse is trained to obey its master completely, even if the rider takes it into a brick wall. I see my walk with God like that. It’s uncomfortable to be talked about or to be brought into the front line of a conversation. But, my pastor asked me to start a fellowship for transsexuals. I knew the need was there, wasn’t comfortable taking that kind of leadership role, but I wanted to be obedient to the calling. So, I began the group on Sunday afternoons.”
The pastor then stepped in and affirmed that the group was going well and that the ministry he wasn’t able to get off the ground, was working underneath the leadership of Rene’s shepherding heart and care for these people. We talked a little bit more than went to our next session.
I was completely shocked and amazed at what I had just heard. In my former association with “ex-gay” ministry, I would have quickly assessed this as completely wrong for Rene to be living as she is, doing what she is doing, and following God into what she believed He had led her into. We would have questioned her motives, challenged her clothing, and certainly would have never found her qualified for any Christian ministry leadership.
But this day was different for me. I had laid my opinions aside for this conference. I wanted to take a neutral position so that I could hear the stories, experience the atmosphere, and hopefully listen to God’s heart. I could not deny that Rene loved God, loved others, and desired more than anything to serve the Savior with her very being. She wasn’t a renegade, or rebellious. Quite the contrary, she was living a self sacrificial life for the good of others.
God Searched and He Found Rene
As I walked away I found myself saying “and who else is willing, who else could God find that would love these people?” This experience certainly blew more of my preconceived ideas about someone being “holy enough” to find a place in the service of our Lord. I have often said, “if God can’t use imperfect people, He can’t use any of us”. However, my introduction to “Rene” took my own words to a deeper place of reality. I am incredibly thankful for Rene, her heart, her sacrifice, and her dedication to give back to Jesus from a thankful heart of what He has already given her.
I kept processing my experience with my roommate Gary. He was a great listener and quite gracious with my wordy processing of the weekend. He listened intently and would often share his own reflections back with me.
What is a Straight Ally?
On Saturday they had a panel of what was called “straight allies”. I knew that the presence of these four men at this event was huge, groundbreaking and, in many ways, unprecedented. One has to consider that, just their mere appearance at this type of event could be a big risk for them, as there’s just not that many that call themselves “straight allies” in the Christian community right now. But, maybe even more significant, these men chose to, not only attend this conference….they chose to be an integral part by participating in this panel.
The men who participated were Chuck Smith Jr. (son of Chuck Smith Sr, the father of the “Jesus Movement” and the founder of the huge network of Calvary Chapel churches around the globe) was on the end. Sitting next to Chuck Smith Jr was Andrew Marin (author of “Love is An Orientation”).
Then there was Jay Bakker (son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker). And, next to Jay was Mark Tidd (Evangelical pastor of Denver’s Highland Church). As the panel talked, each one shared their stories of meeting men and women in the gay community who loved God and wanted to serve Him. They shared how meeting these gay folks had challenged their own theologies regarding the “gay issue”, their historical views of homosexuality, and how they had seen the scriptures differently since they began to look into themselves in light of what they were experiencing.
I really related to these men. When I moved away from 22 years of conservative Ex-gay ministry and got alone with God myself, it seemed He was shaking loose some of the things I had always thought and had been taught. I was challenged by these men on the panel and their seeming care and love for the people here at this conference.
Not All Friendly Reactions
I could sense that some people here were avoiding contact with me. Todd had warned me that I would not be well received here by some of those in attendance. I think he was right. But at the same time, others lovingly accepted my presence.
Meeting With My New Friend
One afternoon, a man walked in that I had previously only met on the phone. Michael Bussee introduced himself to me. Michael was one of the co-founders of Exodus Int’l, the world’s largest ex-gay organization. (Michael is now a very outspoken advocate for gay-affirming community). We immediately embraced each other with a warm hug. We decided to find a quiet place where we could talk. As we sat down it was like we had known each other for many, many years. We talked, shared, and seemed to understand each other. We were confronted by a conference worker that informed us that this room had a designated purpose and that we should find another place to talk. I didn’t want our conversation to end as I was really enjoying our conversation and connection. Michael didn’t have a lot of time as he had other engagements he was committed to so we said our goodbyes.
Leadership Panel-Annual Ministry Revue
Saturday there was a meeting of the leaders and affiliate organizations which Todd graciously invited me to attend. Each one gave a report of the year of ministry. As I listened I heard one after the other share about the opportunities they had to reach out with the gospel of Jesus Christ. One stood out to me because of something that caused my mind to do some shifting. This lady talked about how thankful they were to have their church gathering in the local gay community center. At first I thought “of course, they are gay.” But then I realized they were excited because of the opportunity to reach into the local gay community with a message of salvation and hope.
Six Hours of Bible Exploration
One workshop impacted me greatly. It was taught by Joseph Pearson. An older man who was highly intelligent, well studied, and passionate about his message. He was teaching on what he saw in the scriptures concerning the subject of homosexuality. I am not going into the teachings or my specific reaction in this writing, and will save that for another time. But I will say this. In twenty five years, I have been unwilling to even read anything that was contrary to my understanding of what the scriptures said about homosexuality. What’s to question? In my mind when I went into this workshop, homosexuality is sin and that’s it. I believed the bible to be very clear and absolutely unquestionable on this subject.
When the workshop was finished, I was willing to accept that there is a great controversy over this issue. Men who are learned, intelligent, well studied on Scripture and well educated on culture, context, language, and application disagree on this subject.
I certainly left with many further questions on my mind. I wasn’t sorry I went to the workshop and actually, it led me to do some deeper study myself upon my return home.
Afterwards I talked with Joseph personally. He told me of his relationship with his partner of 30 years. He said, “John, many times we encountered difficulties that could have caused us to separate. But in 30 years of being together, we decided to stick it out, work it through and we have been faithful to each other through all of these years.” As I walked away, once again, I was very interested in what I just heard.
As I prepared to end my time with this conference I began to do some evaluation of the entire experience. I heard people throughout the weekend that were excited about Jesus. Over and over I listened to testimonies, celebration with enthusiasm about how God was so gracious, kind, and loving. It was very clear to me that many of those attending were so close to Jesus that they were passionate about sharing Him with others. This was surprising to me. I expected something very different.
I have to admit that there have been many conferences I had attended before that were not as focused on Jesus and the gospel. I have to admit that I haven’t seen this priority at many conferences I had attended through my own Christian history.
As I entered the conference just a couple of days earlier, I expected to find a bunch of gay people who were focused on their homosexuality, and certainly not centered on Jesus. I was surprised to find there was literally no sense of seduction or sensuality from anyone that I met or experienced.
This weekend conference was centered on worship, learning, and sharing in their faith in Christ. Other than the fact there were some same sex couples there, most were single adults coming together with a common goal in their faith. That was to know Jesus more and to experience more of Him in a corporate setting.
Back Home – Time to Think
I came home with a lot to think about. About a month later, Todd asked me to join their conference call with the affiliates. He asked me to share my observations with them from the conference. I agreed to join them and the call occurred. At the end, he asked one lady to pray for our time together and for me.
As she prayed, I have never felt so loved, understood, and accepted by a time of prayer. Her words soaked through my skin, into the soul of my being. Afterwards I asked Todd who that was. He told me and I realized something that really impacted me.
When I was at the conference I noticed a lady who seemed to me to be one of those people that some may not readily understand due to an outward appearance. I profiled her by her appearance. Through her prayer for me, I was deeply humbled by her sense of the Lord and ability to connect to my heart.
God has certainly surprised me again through this experience. I came away much richer from having been there, and with these people.
This is Part Four in a series titled “God Surprise Me”.
Click Here for many more articles by John Smid and interesting reading on homosexuality.
Friday, August 5th, 2011
At the center of this story, I am riding in a vintage 1982 Corvette Collector Edition on the freeway in Southern California. My very first time to ride in a ‘vette.
Loud, stiff, low to the ground, there is nothing like the “All American Sports Car!” the creaking of the fiberglass shell is part of the whole experience of riding in this rare classic.
With all of the cars I have owned, ridden in, and admired through the years, I had never ridden in a Corvette until this moment in time. How incredible to have my first ride in Southern California with a great friend. He loves his very own piece of American History and I felt privileged to have been able to share in it with him.
The ride didn’t stifle the anxiousness I was feeling as we flew by the others along the way. Staring at the rocker panels of most cars, the low slung position was indicative of what I was feeling inside as I moved towards something that I was about to experience.
As I continue to transition away from having worked with ex-gay miniisty for many years, an editor from a well read blog called the “Ex-Gay Watch” contacted me about my resignation from Love In Action. He began to ask me questions about why I had chosen to leave and what was going on in my life at the time. As we talked, I shared with him about how my heart had become more open to building relationships within the gay community. He recommend that I come up with an authentic apology first. He talked with me about how many people within the gay community didn’t trust the ex-gay community and that if I could find it in my heart to apologize for things I had done to wound them through my involvement with Love In Action it might help me to build a trust in order to be heard.
I wasn’t sure I was ready for that. I didn’t know what an apology would consist of and how my life had wounded others. But, my mind was open because I wanted to badly to develop this outreach to bring the gospel into the lives of those that were gay. The request for an apology became deeply lodged into my heart and I began to pray about what that may entail. God brought some things into my life to help me see what that might look like. Before I could think more about this some other opportunities came along.
About a week or two after Todd Ferrell and I talked for the first time (see Part Two of “God Surprise Me”), I got a call from a ministry in Washington state. It seemed they wanted me to facilitate a conference for their area that would include mostly ministry to the parents of gay children. I wanted to do it so I said I would put it down on the calendar. As soon as I looked, I found that Todd’s conference was just one weekend after I had scheduled to be in Washington.
How interesting? I talked with my wife and realized I could easily arrange a “circle trip” to accommodate a flight from Washington to Southern California that would only slightly change my airfare. I called Todd and said I could now come to the conference he was holding. I was extremely nervous about attending this conference with Christians that are gay. Years ago I learned not to criticize something that I was unfamiliar with so for no other reason than to look and see for myself, I felt I needed to attend the event.
As time came closer I asked Todd about a referral for a hotel roommate. I just didn’t have the money to front the entire cost and was looking for someone to share that with me. Of course, I was trusting Todd to find some appropriate and knew he would understand my situation. So as the weeks went by, Todd contacted me with the name of a good friend of his that he said would have a lot in common with me. His name was Gary.
So, I completed the conference in Washington and flew to Los Angeles. I had arranged to stay with some good friends there for a couple of days just prior to Todd’s conference. I spent a lot of time talking with them about my plans and running this decision through our friendship filter.
The Low, Stealthy Corvette Ride, and an Anxious Arrival
On the morning of the event my friend drove me to the front door of the hotel and dropped me off. I felt extremely self conscious going into the hotel. My mind was racing with questions and fears. Once I was inside, I got registered and went to my room. Gary, my roommate was already there so I introduced myself to him. He was very gracious and we decided to have a meal together that evening and get to know each other. I found him to be a wonderful guy. He was about my age.
He had previously been married and had a daughter. His marriage had ended in divorce but they had done a lot of work to become amicable and had become good friends as they raised their daughter. He was kind, and honest as he shared his story. And, he was gracious with my story as well.
The next morning I went to the first workshop and walked inside and saw someone that looked very familiar to me. As the morning went by, I knew for certain it was the man I remembered. I really wanted to talk with him. As we walked out the door I turned to him and said, “Hello, do you know where we know each other from?” He looked puzzled and then I told him. “You were in the Love In Action program in the mid eighties. I was there as a House Leader and remember you very well.” He laughed and embraced me and then seemed really glad to see me. He was using a walker which at his age told me he was going through something difficult. I was so glad to see him. His smile was so joyous and he seemed to be so in love with Jesus which showed through every pore in his body.
He began to tell me about the last 20 years of his life. He was HIV +, he had just had surgery for cancer and was in recovery, hence, the walker. He said he had lost many friends through his recent illness and he said that today his family was all he had. And yet through all of the pain and suffering, he said, “But I love Jesus. He has been so good to me.” He went on to say that he was really glad he had been in Love In Action because it was where he learned how much he needed the Lord. He talked very easily about how messed up his life was when he went there and that the experience at LiA helped him to begin his own journey of healing and growing in Christ. “John, I’m gay and I’m OK with that. Jesus loves me and I’ve never been so complete and satisfied in Him.” There were several people that I met that weekend that really challenged me to listen to them without judgment.
I was so surprised! I never expected the first person I would see, other than my friendly roommate, to be one of the first people I met when I began working with LiA so many years ago. He and I talked often over the next several days of the conference and every time I saw him, he was encouraging someone, laughing with someone or showing evidence of a wonderful connection to the Lord. There is nowhere else he would have gotten that kind of joy.
A Silent Observer
So, I began to listen to others and closely evaluate what I was seeing and hearing. On the evening of that first day I decided to go to the common area to relax. When I got there I saw two younger guys who were talking with each other. I introduced myself to them. They asked if I was part of the conference. I hesitated to affirm their question but said, “yes”. They said “Oh, that’s wonderful, so are we.” Just a few short surface questions later they asked if they could share their story with me. I obliged their seeming hunger to tell me more about their life experiences.
Once again, I was shocked at what I heard. “John, we were huge druggies. We have known each other from the drug culture for over 15 years. We’ve been together since we were teenagers.” They went on to talk about how their pastor pursued them for over four years. “John, his kindness and his faithfulness finally won out. We accepted Christ a year ago. It has been an amazing journey for us. We have seen a real change for the better in our lives and in our relationship with each other.” It was apparent to me they were talking about their same sex partnership for 15 years or more now.
I’m sure if someone had looked at me they might have seen my head spinning in disbelief of what I was experiencing. I had such a deep hunger to see people come to know Jesus in a real, solid, life changing way. Right here before my eyes was the answer to my prayers. But it didn’t look like I thought it would. These young men were obviously very excited about Jesus and truly understood the gospel. Yet they were seemingly very comfortable in their relationship and with being gay.
From their relationship with Jesus, their lives were changing for sure, but not in ways I would have expected. I had always assumed that an acceptance of Christ would have brought a increasing discomfort of a gay relationship in two guys who were seeking Him like these two guys were. They told me how much of a mess it has been for their pastor to walk alongside of them and yet he had continued to love them. One of the guys said, “My parents didn’t used to like my partner when we were drugging. But now, they say they are thrilled because of the positive influence he has had on me in my growth in God and how he has encouraged my faith.”
Then, they talked about how they wanted to go to the beach while they were in Southern California, but decided not to. I asked why not? And their answer was another example of their walk with Christ. I saw the fruit in their next statement, “Oh, we don’t think it would be a good idea, we’re trying to keep our minds pure and seeing all the guys on the beach might not be helpful.”
As I spun around in my head from what I had just experienced, I got up and said goodbye. I went up to my room and just felt such a sense of joy for God allowing me to hear the real life story of these two guys. But at the same time, their story challenged so much of my own “doctrine” that I was unsettled and questioning so many things.
Two Men, Different Paths, Similar Experiences
As I got back to my room Gary was still up. We talked late into the night. He shared a lot of his own life with me and I told him most of mine. We really connected. I loved his sensitivity to my life and his own humility was amazing for me to experience. He was genuine in his faith and yet was comfortable in being gay. He seemed to have found a place where both resided in his life with peace. All of this challenged my former philosophies. I had always said that God would not allow anyone who is His to find peace if they had embraced being gay. I just assumed that God would certainly cause them to be unsettled, convicted, or at odds with Him and themselves at a deep level.
This process for me has been interesting, threatening, and life shaking. This was just the first day of this conference. The next two days weren’t any less earth shattering for me. I remained on the periphery of the groups and just kept a low profile.
Tomorrow is another day.
This is Part Three in a series called, “God Surprise Me!” Click Here to read more.
Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011
Talks with Two Men in One Week
I have found over the last several months that each week or so God seems to bring someone to my mind to pursue, or someone to my life that is searching, or in pain. Often these are people I have known. Sometimes I may have not seen or talked to them for many years. This week there were two people that deeply touched my life.
“Hello Charles! Wow, it’s so good to see you!” After I gave him a great big hug I stood back and saw someone with the “deer in the headlights” look on his face. Oh, he knew me and it hadn’t been all that long since we’d seen each other but it was clear he was surprised.
After exchanging some catch-up information, Charles began to release some deep thoughts from a very challenging place in his heart. He said “John, I’ve let it all go. Everything! I’ve let it go.” My mind went into hyper processing mode.
I didn’t know exactly what he meant. Since I had known him through ex-gay ministry connections I thought maybe he meant that he had let his process regarding homosexuality go. I asked him what he meant and he kind of stumbled for words. He was very unclear about what he had removed from his life but reading between the lines I think I understood that it involved his relationship with God. That much larger issue seemed to be more of the situation then his gay issues which were on his mind as well.
Earlier that week I saw a note on FaceBook written by a friend I hadn’t seen for 10 to 15 years. This was a man who had also been involved in ex-gay ministry, gotten married, divorced and had really been through the wringer emotionally. Due to these and some other pretty traumatic events he described, I replied with a short acknowledgement that I had read what he had written and how grieved I felt about what he had been through. He responded giving me much more of the painful detail. In it he expressed how life had challenged him emotionally and physically. He had been going though a really tough season due to the deep things he had been processing. At the end of his message, he said:
“My faith is really challenged and I’m not even sure if Jesus is Jesus. I do believe in “God” , but I’m not sure what I believe is beyond that. To be honest, I find myself getting angry when I see or hear things related to Christianity. I guess I’ll figure it out, somehow.”
I wrote him back with this:
I feel privileged to hear your story. I am sorry for all you have gone through and yet, as you have said, it is a new beginning for you. You know, questioning all of the things you mentioned about your faith isn’t a bad thing. It is wonderful to find the freedom to go to the deepest things with God and find out that you may find the answers you are looking for in the deepest parts of your heart.
I went on to apologize for some things that were a part of our friendship years ago that I knew I could own. I recognized that some of my interaction with him at that time may have brought this man some challenges he had experienced.
His reply was so amazing.
“I don’t know exactly what to say except than I’m so thankful for your honesty! As I type this message, there are tears rolling down my face. I always thought that you and other Christian leaders were unshakable. Everything was black & white & there was no gray. I’m still in bit of a shock from reading your e-mail John! I completely respected you when I knew you years ago. I just wanted you and other leaders in my life to be proud of me. I respect you even more today!!!! Thanks again for your honesty.”
This correspondence was on my mind when I saw Charles on the street. As he talked it was very evident he had a lot on his heart and I just happened to walk along and touch the wound and the pain came flooding out. I tried my hardest to share with him that I really understood the things that he was saying but each time I tried to respond, he just put his hand up and said “no” and continued talking. This went on for about 20 minutes. I didn’t try to respond again until it seemed he had run out of steam. He was very hurt and it was obvious when he said “I have separated myself from that church completely and everyone there. I tried to stay connected but then I realized that they really didn’t give a “F*#$%” about me.”
Oh man, this is one hurting man. What could I possibly say that would help. I put up my hand this time. I said, “”Charles, I have something I’d like to say.” He quickly said “no” again. Then I put up my hand again and said, “No, Charles, I want to apologize.” His face reflected some surprise at my request. I took advantage of the pause and quickly said:
“Charles, I am so sorry for the role that I have played in your pain.” I went on to specifically apologize to him for things that were honest and appropriate to apologize for. I went to great lengths to be sure it was specific to our history as friends.
He listened to me and seemed to calm down some. Then he said, “John, I hadn’t planned on getting into all of this tonight. I just want to move past it all.” We shook hands and he reluctantly moved away from our conversation, walking down the street. I stayed and talked with others and saw him walk by again, this time he looked over and smiled and waved.
I feel so grieved at the pain that is out there in the lives of those who have felt so wounded by Christians. I remember in my own history proclaiming, “Oh if they would only repent, then maybe they wouldn’t be in so much pain.” I often put all of the blame for their pain on their choices. I didn’t know how to take any responsibility for my role to help. Years ago, I didn’t really want to think about it much and realized it just felt too challenging to face.
I realize that a lot of my reluctance stemmed from a deep feeling that somehow I would have to figure out how to “fix” the problem. I am a “fixer” by nature anyway and find I can get overwhelmed easily when I start to take the problems that seem to present themselves onto my own shoulders. But now that I have somehow become more able to just listen and trust that God will do what He needs to do, it is so much easier.
At the end of my conversation with Charles I begged him to consider taking the time to talk with me at a more appropriate time and place. A busy street corner certainly wasn’t the best. I handed him a card so he’d have my contact information on it. It said “Grace Rivers” on it. He looked down and said, oh, of course; “Grace” and shook his head. I pray he will get in touch with me.
I am thrilled at the opportunities God has graciously given me to be in a position to hear the pain and disappointment that some people feel. I am privileged to be able to dig into my own heart taking responsibility for what I can own with others. It seems to make a difference in their lives and hopefully in their relationship with God.