I was born in 1950 with several medical problems including neurological complications and a cleft lip and palate, which required immediate treatment and isolation from my mother – literally from the moment of birth. My sudden and violent separation from her resulted in two emotional (read: psychological) conditions universally recognized and validated by Christian and secular psychotherapeutic professions: separation anxiety and defensive detachment.
I experienced profound separation anxiety when I was taken – against my newborn will – from the only world I had known. For the past nine months, I had known the safety and warmth of her womb, the rhythmic beat of her heart, her comforting voice. In an instant, that was all gone and replaced by the sterile, isolating environment of a special care unit. My physical condition prevented me from being nursed by her; I had to be spoon-fed. Consequently, I was rarely held and never breast-fed.
Not being breast-fed was not an issue other than inhibiting the opportunity to bond with my mother. Untold numbers of babies are unable to be breast-fed for any number of reasons and they don’t necessarily develop a homosexual neurosis as a result. The greater issue – trauma, really – was the lack of being held and the physical closeness to my mother that I needed, as do all newborn infants. As mentioned above, this trauma created in me a separation anxiety.
Defensive detachment was a by-product of the separation anxiety. I associated my mother – whom I had previously trusted – with my pain and trauma. My young heart never wanted to be hurt like that again, so I began putting up a wall between her and me. I was never again going to let her close enough to hurt me. Both these characteristics, I might add, have been reflected in varying degrees in virtually every significant relationship I’ve had growing up and as an adult.
As for my father, he was present, though as an alcoholic and workaholic he remained distant. He was one of the last great old newspaper men. He started out before WWII as a police reporter for the Wichita Beacon, and retired in 1982 after 20 years of editorial positions with Copley Newspapers in Southern California. He never graduated from college, but it was because of him that I earned my Bachelor of Arts in journalism and my Masters in mass communication. As an alcoholic and workaholic, however, he remained distant. Though he spent a great deal of time with us, I never connected with him due to his anger that surfaced when he drank. But I never doubted for a moment that they both loved me.
As to theories regarding roots and origins of sexual brokenness, there is never one simple cause for sexual brokenness; even secular psychologists and researchers in this area virtually universally agree on this issue. Indeed, the studies most widely accepted and touted by the gay community as “proof positive”—LeVay, Hamer, and Pillard/Bailey—readily conclude that there are environmental influences that undoubtedly play a role in determining homosexual behavior. No scientific studies to date show an inborn cause for any such complex behaviors. Yet in this day of shirking responsibility and blaming anything and anyone but ourselves for our actions, claims that someone is genetically or chemically structured to engage in dangerous or antisocial activities find increasing appeal.
The only possible (though not absolutely proven) genetic connection at this time that the scientific community can agree on is a pre-dispositional characteristic call HSP—Highly Sensitive Personality. HSP reflects a person whose thought processes are introverted, with reactions coming from our own perceptions rather than from external sources. In a phrase, perception becomes reality. What we perceive becomes “truth”.
Upon entering seventh grade, I began experiencing a new trauma of sorts: extreme, ongoing ridicule because of the speech impediment I inherited from my cleft palate and lip. Saddled with a childhood seizure disorder and assigned a perceived learning disability, I became a sitting target for the schoolyard bullies. This ridicule – at first only verbal – soon advanced to physical abuse. Frequently, I would be cornered at my locker between classes or walking home from school. When my mother or father would confront me about coming home bruised and beaten, I would tell them I was playing baseball or football with some friends. I was so humiliated and ashamed, and I couldn’t tell them what really took place. I was so disconnected from my parents I didn’t dare tell them the truth. What would they think of me? Would they be angry? Would they be ashamed of me? Would they blame me for all this?
What started out as verbal abuse became physical and then almost by happenstance it became sexual. Cornered one afternoon in a storm drain on the way home from school, I had the option of engaging sexually with four other boys or enduring another beating. Giving in was almost as great a relief as it was terrifying and, yes – given my unmet need for male affirmation and affection – exhilarating. This devastating event would repeat itself with unrelenting regularity over the next four years.
We lived in a small town just outside San Diego. We all lived in the same neighborhood and went to the same school – and the same church, I might add. So virtually every day of every week of every month of every year, I could look forward to the same thing. Now, I need to let you know that not everyone made fun of or abused me. Not everyone was a party to these things. It was really only about eight or ten guys. But no one ever tried to defend me. No one ever tried to come to my rescue. No one ever tried to understand me. No one ever tried to make a difference in my life. No one ever tried to point me to God.
Beneath all the trauma and terror, though, I was inevitably attracted to the very ones who abused me the most. Surely they must be right, I often thought. There must be something wrong with me and right with them for me to be taking this abuse so consistently and violently. Whatever they had, I convinced myself, I wanted and needed. I wanted to be more like them, at any cost. Inevitably, these cannibalistic feelings became sexualized. I developed a fantasy life where we could be together in relationships where I was truly wanted – even loved. This desire followed me straight into my adult life, where I continued to act out my homosexual neurosis.
Why do I use the word neurosis? It’s a proven fact that, before men can relate to women in a healthy way, they must first bond with their father and then their male peers. This is a process that takes about 15 years from the time of birth. Before men can relate to women in a healthy way, it matters very much to boys that they be affirmed as a young man by their father, and “one of the guys” by their peers. This simply never happened for me. Hating myself for this and unable to form healthy relationships with boys or girls, I turned to heterosexual pornography in order to find some “balance” in my life. Balance quickly descended into addiction. That, however, is a story for another day.
Now, as a young boy and teenager, I always went to church. My parents never required or even encouraged me to go, but there I went anyway. And I remember those times in our Friday evening youth group meetings when the subject of homosexuality came up. I heard some amazing things said, like: “Well, you know, they’re simply beyond redemption. You know, if there were ever justifiable suicide, that would be it.” At first, no one ever had any idea they were talking about me. I would go home and pray, “God, I don’t want you to hate me. I want you to love me. I don’t want these feelings. Please take them away.” It was many years later I discovered I had been praying the wrong thing.
I need to tell you that, while my sexual struggle was no walk in the park, the real pain in my life was the rejection I got at the hands of other Christians. The Bible says our words have the power of life and death, and I heard a lot of hateful things said to me and about me and others like me during my struggle – words that labeled me as unlovable and unworthy. Much of that language came from other Christians 40 years ago, and I still hear it in the Church today. It amazed me that the very ones who abused me the worst would be in church on Sunday lifting the name of Jesus, and then the next day write me off as just another dirty little queer – and I wasn’t even homosexual yet.
No wonder fear is what ultimately separates us from God and from others. Frankly, I find that in Christianity, people would rather be dishonest and put on a facade than tell people the way it really is in their lives. We want to be accepted rather than rejected, so we’d rather lie than tell the truth. It only goes to prove that simply going to church on Sunday doesn’t mean we know how to live and love effectively.
Getting “saved” during the Jesus People movement in the early 70’s only made it worse. The Pentecostal fervor of the movement dictated that “In Je-e-e-e-esus you’ve got the victory… and you’d better not have anything else.” It’s important to note that, while my salvation changed my destination, it by no means changed my orientation. Now not only was homosexuality “wrong” [which I suspected all along], but I became even more isolated because the Church had no room for people such as me.
On those few occasions I shared my struggle to other Christians, I received “encouragement” to read my Bible more, or to pray harder. I had a few well-intended individuals offer to lay hands on me and cast out that “demon” of homosexuality. I apparently needed more quiet time with the Lord, according to some, while according to others, if I were really a Christian, I wouldn’t have this problem. Of course, virtually every pastor wanted to know if I was tithing, as if simply giving money to the church might undo everything of the past 22 years. I even had a few pastors tell me, “You know, there’s another church just down the street. I think you’d be a lot happier worshiping there.” The non-articulated truth lurking behind those smiling suggestions was that it was the pastors who would be a lot happier if I were worshiping down the street.
My prayers to God became brief and angry. “So, you’re going to send me to hell for something that’s not my fault? Well, I may as well have a good time going” was an easy justification for the choices I would make. My subsequent years in the gay lifestyle were terribly unhappy but simply didn’t know any other way. During these years, God continued to pursue my wild heart. After all, I had given him permission when I gave my heart to him before. I even went to the gay church in San Diego for several years. My perception was and still remains, however, that the gay church is little more than a place where sexuality is worshiped more than Jesus – where the pastor has permission to feed off the flock and the flock has permission to feed off one another.
Entrenched in my isolation yet bound and determined to be a “good” Christian, I decided to repress my homosexual tendencies to pursue and develop a normal lifestyle, whatever that might turn out to be. As is true for many, many men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction, I thought simply getting married would take care of the problem. In 1980, I married a woman 12 years older than I, and while married to her for almost three years I had an affair with a woman 20 years my senior. I was looking for a mother figure who would somehow make right all that I perceived to be wrong in my relationship with my real mother – one who would heal the wounds of separation anxiety and defensive detachment.
Fast Forward: I married again in 1987, and Joy and I are very, very much in love. Indeed, we believe got brought us together, restored us, and raised us up to minister to sexual strugglers. But to focus on some kind of happy ending would be to send the wrong message. You see, I don’t believe God calls us to be straight any more than he calls us to be athletic, artistic, educated, a thief, a poet, or even married. There’s nothing in the Bible that convinces me any of that. Instead, God calls us to be holy. Period. Everything lines up behind that. Heterosexuals don’t go to heaven; redeemed people go to heaven. My biggest need was not to give up being gay or to overcome homosexuality. My biggest need was for a Savior and redemption.
It was my recommitment to Jesus Christ in 1985 that really began a prolonged recovery effort. You know, when we talk about the issue of recovery, I think everyone sort of has a general idea as to what is meant, even though this issue is often misunderstood and polarized by many people, even within the Christian community. For the record, I do not mean a “cure.” Those of us struggling with same-sex attraction, sexual addiction, or sexual abuse issues often have this false expectation of the elusive “cure” and we haven’t found it.
Instead of “cure,” we prefer to use the word “healing” and I define it as this: “The ability to live a productive and enjoyable life beyond the control of life-dominating sexual behavior and impulse.” Not free from the opportunity to sin, but free from the power of sin. We’re saved from the power of sin – through the death and resurrection of Jesus the penalty of sin has been canceled against us – but we still live within the presence of sin. Everyday in every way, you and I both have the ability to fall short of God’s standard. Somehow, someway, in thought, word, deed, attitude, action, motive, we can fall short of what God intended. This has little to do with the issue of homosexuality but it has everything to do with our fallen nature.
I think we underestimate how deep and pervasive our fallen nature really is. On the other hand, this is how great our salvation is. It absolves us of what we did, what we will do, and what we are. This means there are two parallel truths that exist simultaneously within us. Yes, I am a child of God, a new creation, adopted. I am born again and being transformed. However, I am of the fallen race and I will not be free from what has been corrupted until that day I remove corruption and put on incorruptibility when I am before Him.
The word “cure” implies an improper theological statement. We are not cured of our fallen nature, in the sense that somehow, someway, in thought, word, deed, attitude, action, motive, we can fall short of what God intended. So I don’t like to use the word “cure.” It’s not realistic. We can live a life, however, not as if these events never happened to us, but we can live life beyond them. That’s what Christ offers us as people, not just people recovering from a particular bent. We can live life beyond what happened. We can live life beyond the Fall.
The Fall affected us in many ways. Our sociology is fallen. We have greedy government, corrupted politics and governments in the world. We have tribes of people, nations and groups of people. Our biology is fallen. I don’t care if you are redeemed. You will get sick, you will grow old and you will die one day (if you live long enough). Certainly our relationships are fallen, which is why my wife and I, along with so many others, minister in the arena of sexual brokenness. Our psychology is fallen. We are insecure and we envy. We are conditioned to envy, we are conditioned to covet, we are conditioned to be unsatisfied with what we have. We are people who are insecure, who are jealous. We are all fraught with this because our psychology is fallen.
Psychology, biology, sociology, and all the area that those things touch have all been affected by the Fall. None of that has necessarily been “cured,” even in the lives of Christian people. So, when I talk about recovery, I mean not living life as though the Fall never happened. It happened and some of us suffered enormous losses. Some of us were disfigured psychologically and emotionally, whether or not we ever had anything to do with homosexuality. Some people suffer biological problems. They are born deformed or impaired, with not all of their systems functioning. We’ve all been affected by the Fall, and God will not necessarily make it as if it never happened in this life.
If you lose an arm in an accident and you go to church and fast and read your Bible and get all the prayer you could ever want, I have found that 99.9% of the time, God will not make that arm grow back. People who have suffered a loss do not live life as if that never happened, and God does not give them amnesia as if that loss never happened. God is not in the business of giving people lobotomies to erase the past in order to make the present easy.
The point being, the losses we suffer are real. The things that happen to us will not vanish as if they never happened. That is what the word “cure” often implies and that is the illusion that people often try to chase when they think of recovery from homosexuality. “Somehow, if I pray long and hard enough... Somehow, if I make it really clear to God that I really agree with Him and I really want to change, then maybe one day God will zap me and I will never struggle with this again and I will be immune to any type of same-sex attraction and it will be as if it never happened.” This is often the non-articulated thought from a belief system deep down in the heart that people really do hold on to. This is an illusion, a false belief that only sets us up for disillusionment.
In spite of loss, however, we can enjoy a very productive life beyond the control of this impulse and attraction, but it will not be as if it never happened. I no longer struggle with homosexual attractions or sexual addictions, but I do not live my life as though they never happened. I don’t know if I even view the world the same way as men who have never struggled with these issues. The fact is I did struggle with these issues, and the fact that I no longer do does not mean I am immune as if they never happened.
Well then, what do we mean when we say “change”? The Church and people in general have a tendency to say, “Well, yeah, Greg, you’ve changed, but you haven’t really changed.” Well, what do they mean? What changed when I walked away from homosexuality? I left a lifestyle, a way of living, and the relationships that were associated with that lifestyle. For one who no longer participates in the homosexual lifestyle, my behavior has indeed changed. That means behavior in many ways, the ways that would have reinforced homosexuality or any other behavior, such as internal behavior (the way I think), sexual behavior (we all know what that is), and my chosen responses to stress.
Do you understand what I’m saying here in all this? How disappointed I would have been if God’s greatest goal in my life was to make me straight. Such thinking reduces the Creator of the Universe to simply changing homosexuals into raging heterosexual stallions and lesbians into right-wing, cookie-baking June Cleavers. My sexuality has changed – I haven’t acted out homosexually since 1985 – but that never was the goal.
Too often the Christian community demands that people change their behavior to be more like them. I am, so near as I can tell, called only to be more like Jesus. In this endeavor, though, God expects me to die to everything that I might worship apart from him. And as I strive to the best of my ability to be conformed to the imago dei, I can’t help but be changed. It’s not about sex; it’s about knowing God, and in coming to know God, I’ve learned three things:
I’ve learned that we can hurt ourselves and we can hurt others with the choices we make when Jesus is not Lord over every area of our lives. We are not the center of the universe, and our decisions do affect others. Innocent people do get hurt when others make decisions that are selfish and self-centered. Yet God holds the issue of choice to be holy, and therefore He will not interrupt our utterly sacred ability to make choices – even when they’re profoundly wrong, even when they’re dangerous, and even when they hurt innocent people.
I’ve learned that God is calling all of us into a right relationship with Him. God’s intention for my sexuality was not that I live out my God-designed manhood through defiling, corrupting, immoral and self-destructive relationships and behavior, but that I surrender my life to him so he could fulfill it rightly. God has promised me redeemed manhood, manhood that is holy and not fraught with envy, anger, shame, self-pity, and rejection – all the things that drove my sexually broken behavior. Remember that childhood prayer of mine? “God, take these feelings away from me.” God was not going to take away something that all along he wanted to make right in me.
Finally, I’ve learned that God is merciful. God says His mercy will compensate me for the losses I have suffered in my life. I cannot live my life as though certain things never happened to me. They did, and God is not going to give me a lobotomy or amnesia to erase the past to make the present easy. He’s not going to wave a wand and make it all go away. To do so would deprive me of the beauty and power and ultimate divine purpose of the Cross. While God will not let me get away with a life of pretending, he will enable me to live life in spite of what has happened, and beyond what has happened. I believe He wants to do the same for everyone, no matter what their struggles may be.
To that end, God has placed me in the capacity of executive director of Hope & New Life Ministries with the vision to educate and equip the local church in Indiana to minister effectively to the relationally broken.