A Father's Story - a Pentecostal minister finds God's heart for his gay son.
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, at Bristol Pride wearing a t-shirt bearing the words “God loves gays!”
But that’s what happened!
My background for most of my adult life had been a heavy involvement in Bible believing evangelical Christian churches and after graduating from Bible College I was ordained and married my wife, Janet. We were happily married, had five wonderful and lively 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 pastoring Pentecostal churches, the last two being Assemblies of God.
We brought our five children up to strictly follow the Scriptures as we understood them and it never even occurred to me for a moment 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. In our Christian bubble we saw everything in black and white according to what we believed was the clear teaching of Scripture. So, sex was for a man and a woman who were married as far as I was concerned and anything else was evil.
I believed that Romans Chapter 1 taught that homosexuality was a sin that God had given corrupt, God-rejecting men over to because of their determination to reject all knowledge of him, making them wallow in their own degradation. It was all tied up in a neat theological bundle which was easy not to unpack because we didn’t know any LGBT people (or so we thought). Consequently, I could dismiss it as something that people in “the world” got into because of their sinful natures.
Little did I 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 subject that I was beginning to have questions about theologically. 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 most of my life 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. By degrees I was becoming, in many areas, more liberal in my outlook but this certainly didn’t extend to believing that you could be gay and a Christian in good standing with God and the church. That was still a step too far.
But then, one day, I had a wonderful/ horrifying experience.
The thought hit me like a spiritual tsunami. I was reeling! 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 still 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, God just mentioned to me that John is gay!” – that could have been devastating for her. And it certainly wasn’t 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, I did) and study the Scriptures and anything else I could get my hands on regarding homosexuality.
Over a period of months then, slowly, painfully, the doctrinal fog began to lift. I began to learn so many things that I had never remotely considered before. I learned that homosexuality occurs in every society on earth and has done so through every generation, despite the denials of this fact by many people.
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.
Very importantly, I came to understand that it wasn’t a lifestyle choice.
So, slowly I came to see that the Bible verses which were used to show that God hated 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 it, to understanding the truth was a rollercoaster ride of hair raising dimensions. It was a lonely journey I travelled in isolation for about six months.
I did speak to John 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 out to me a few months later.
Meanwhile I was going through my own personal hell. My initial and paralyzingly 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 and sin. 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 undoubtedly 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?
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 a Christian must jump in order to see past the falsehoods they had been taught.
I believe there are at least 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 for me 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, right up to today when even now the majority of Church denominations still oppress women to one degree or another.
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 wrong thinking takes time to be corrected. It didn’t take much study to realize 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 gay people 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 intersex. That is, they may have both male and female sexual organs or chromosomes. 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 boy, I was told about the “birds and the bees” by my older sister. At the time, I told her not to be so dirty. To me, at the time, it was obviously a false story made up by children to be disgusting. And again, the thought of my parents having sex together was distasteful to me. So I had to recognize 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 a treasure passed down from the early church to us but we need to understand how to use it properly.
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 will lead us to a deeper faith in Jesus. But we must recognize, it contains untruths, undeveloped doctrines and concepts of God and some blatantly wrong and destructive ideas such as the support of ethnic cleansing, genocide, slavery 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 in ways that are honorable and pleasing to God, knowing that he is well pleased with them just as they are and delights in them as much as any heterosexual Christian.
Instead, sadly, as usual 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 in future. I did it quietly to avoid causing little ones in my church congregation to stumble.
I believe this is one of the big challenges 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 DCP is extremely rewarding because we have parents joining us who are enormously relieved to be among other parents who know what they are going through and are willing to support and encourage them. 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.