This post is not going to be a comfortable one for anyone. It's not going to be comfortable for legalists because I am going to make some statements that will draw them to conclusions - conclusions I have already been receiving from some quarters. It's not going to be comfortable for "nice" Christians who may have formed particular opinions of me and don't want those "nice" opinions shattered. It's not going to be comfortable for those who may be in denial about areas of my life they don't want to know about. And it's going to be a definite step out of my comfort zone because any air of "respectability" that I proudly hung onto will be gone! So with that caveat-warning out the way, I can take no responsibility for what is to follow. Read on at your peril!
Please note that I haven't written this post in solidarity. I am aware that it may cause offence to some (I hope it doesn't because I don't mean it to - I am just telling the truth). So I have emailed it to Pete Day and to Julie and Lydia and have taken their observations and edits on board.
The statement I am about to make is based on my own experience and observation and I am more than willing to be corrected on it. I believe there are certain taboo subjects in the church that bring an element of discomfort and awkwardness. One such subject is that of people suffering with HIV and AIDS. I rejoiced therefore to read in the latest Newfrontiers magazine;
"As Christians we should not ask, ‘How did you become infected with HIV?’ but rather our question should be, ‘How can we help and support you to live with the virus?’".
Attitudes seem to be slowly changing! Thank God for Newfrontiers! But the issue I want to discuss is that of homosexuality. To put in context why I am writing this post, it is necessary that I share a degree of personal testimony. Before I do that however I need to make some definitions. As a New Covenant Christian I don't believe that God sees His creation as "gay" or "straight". But the world has become so familiar with such titles that I must of necessity use them. In this post I will be talking about;
1. Homosexual (Men or Women) - People attracted to members of the same sex exclusively.
2. Heterosexual (Men or Women) - People attracted to members of the opposite sex exclusively.
3. Bisexual (Men or Women) - People attracted to members of the same and opposite sex.
A. The Past
So I grew up (as many who read this blog are aware) in a strict religious background in a Bible-believing church where it was explicitly taught that homosexual practice is wrong. Stanley Jebb - my senior pastor - made much use of the passage in Leviticus and Romans 1 to show that homosexuality was a perversion and I believed it. It was slightly upsetting and disconcerting therefore to find that as I progressed into my teenage years I was developing feelings of attraction towards people of the same sex. This wasn't helped by attending a Christian school ran by the church - while I was at that school I was abused by an adult and went through the usual feelings of guilt that I didn't do anything to stop this pattern that went on until the individual left the church. In a weird sort of way I "enjoyed" the attention of the abuse. I was to spend the next 10 years trying to "cure" myself. If there was a pill on offer that would have made me heterosexual then I would have taken it. If there was surgery - I would have gone through it ... without anaesthesia.
When I say I tried to "cure" myself - this is just some of what I attempted. I legalistically read my Bible for an hour every morning (without fail) - especially the passages in the Bible that dealt with the horrors of homosexuality (such as Leviticus 20:13 and Leviticus 18:22). I attempted castration (seriously). I went to a Christian group that believed that chastity was the only answer for homosexual Christian men (and ended up getting abducted by one of the men and driven deep into the countryside and left there when I wouldn't sleep with him!). And I attempted giving up. Oh and I attempted exorcism (thanks to Derek Prince).
By the way for anyone who wishes to "label" me - I guess according to the world I am bisexual. But thank God according to the New Covenant - I am a son of God, co-heir with Jesus Christ, I am the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ, I am accepted, I am loved and God is crazy about me!!
B. Pete Day
Because of my background in church I used to struggle with the opinion that I am an "abomination" and am worthy of the death penalty until I met Pete Day. Many know how close we are but not many know how absolutely key this man was in saving my life. Pete and I met through a mutual friend and when that friend moved away, our friendship deepened thanks to common loves and passions like Dr Ern Baxter, the doctrine of Word and Spirit and a general longing for more of God. One January morning about 7 years ago Pete and I went to the famous Metropolitan Tabernacle Christian book sale and we sat in a McDonalds and I felt I trusted this man of God enough to make a full testimony of my past and my background and my struggles with attraction towards people of the same sex.
Pete responded in grace and acceptance and love - and that has never altered to this day. I have shared my failings (of which there are some) and I have shared my struggles and heartaches and remain accountable to him to this day. Pete and I spend a lot of time in prayer and in waiting on God when we meet and it was during one particularly powerful time that I suddenly felt the power of God fall upon me and I heard the audible voice of God say; "My grace is sufficient for you for My strength is made perfect in your weakness" and I felt God ask me to surrender my struggles to become "straight" into His hands. It was during that time while I was lying on the floor in Pete's office in the Spirit that I felt a commission to reach out to the homosexual community in the United Kingdom. I already had and have a number of gay friends - both men and women - and I felt the passion of God for them - the longing of God that they would receive His love.
C. Sovereign Grace Ministries
Some time ago my friend Janelle asked for a bit more information into my views on church discipline and I promised to give it. So here's a bit more context. I joined Grace Church Bristol some years ago and as had become habit to me I kept quiet about my past and my struggles. It was more awkward because Grace Church was a small church and I was the only single male in the church. Eyebrows were raised and the cliche; "Oh I am waiting for the right woman to come along" didn't always cut it. I managed there in membership somehow for 2 years however. It was incredibly difficult and a lonely time because as with most churches, the social life of the church was shaped around couples. And so because I was an "odd number" I didn't get invited out much. I went to see the senior pastor with the other single female in the church and we shared our unhappiness but nothing really came of that although he promised much.
Unfortuately I was to discover that years of "keeping a mask" on was having an effect. I was working as a childrens nurse and was accepted and appreciated for who I was there. My collegues and friends couldn't understand why I was so cut-up about who they thought I should be. The church however was a different matter and I began to struggle with depression and with self-harm. As I began to deteriorate I became increasingly desperate and my parents suggested I go and share my struggles with the church leaders (although my parents were not aware that the depression and self-harm was linked to my struggles with my sexuality).
Rather stupidly I did. There were only three meetings. The first meeting was gracious. The second was not and the third was my disfellowshipping from the church. Here is what happened. I made the leaders aware of my past and my present. I shared with them that I did have homosexual friends but that I was celibate and had been for some years. During the second meeting I was informed that my struggles with depression and self-harm were because they felt I was "lying" and was in fact NOT celibate and more particularly was having a sinful relationship with a dear friend of mine who is like a brother to me. While they admitted they had no evidence - it seems that the "feeling" of a Sovereign Grace leader is enough.
I was asked to do the following. 1. I had to move back in with my parents and make a full statement to them about my past. 2. I had to cut off contact with ALL non-Christian friends especially those who were homosexual. 3. I had to vow to attend every church service and care group without fail. If I fulfilled these ultimatums then they would help me with my depression and other struggles. If I did not ...
So I was given two weeks to consider this and went straight to London and consulted with Pete and we spent time praying and thinking through what to do. I came to the conclusion that I couldn't reconcile how biblically any pastor could make such demands of a church member. Particularly when it came into such conflict with my God-given commission that had come to me to reach the lost and hurting homosexual community. I couldn't imagine how I was to tell my friends that I was no longer able to have any contact them because the church had told them so - and how they would find this glorifying to the God I had been trying to interest them in.
So I went back after the two weeks and met with the pastors and informed them of my decision. I felt that to obey such ultimatums was to go against my conscience. They became angry and informed me that if I refused to obey then I would be "disfellowshipped". They would inform the church that I was banned from church services and care groups. They would also write to every other church in Bristol and would inform them that I was not to be accepted because I was in "unrepentant sin". Despite these threats I actually felt I had made the right decision rather than the wrong one and stuck to my decision and left the meeting. I know that many are afraid to leave their SGM church because of years of history, friendships, a social circle they would miss, awesome worship, or excellent preaching - I didn't have any of those restraints.
As I stated in an earlier blog I have been guilty of holding bitterness against these church leaders and I am truly sorry for that. I don't understand why they did what they did and I can't condone it from Scripture. To be told I was "being put out to Satan" was shocking and upsetting to me - I thought that Scripture only condoned this extreme and last resort decision in the case of gross immoral behaviour and blatent unrepentance. I had not been caught in any sin, or confessed to any such sin. It seemed to me this was all happening because of "a feeling" of the church leader. Thanks to the gracious work of the Holy Spirit over time I can now appreciate the sincerity of the church leaders in doing what I am sure they felt was right. I can appreciate their bravery in being prepared to make a hard decision and being prepared to be extremely unpopular. I still don't agree with it or them. But can appreciate it and know the blessed relief of "It is well with my soul".
D. The Present
This post (both Pete and I felt) had to be written because of a recent unpleasant incident which has acted as a catalyst to get this post written. We both felt that the Holy Spirit was desiring to use this to the best and maybe break down some walls of bigotry and ignorance within His Church. Furthermore I was amazed at how quickly "FEAR" began to attempt to control me again because of what happened in this incident. I was genuinely terrified that I was going to be "exposed" in public. So this post is a way of defeating that fear. I have told the truth here and therefore the fear has got nothing to grab hold of because there is nothing left to be revealed!
The incident was this - I am a reluctant member of Facebook and mainly use it as a method of storing my own photos. For my birthday in December I treated both myself and my friend to a luxurious stay in a hotel in Birmingham called "Malmaison". We enjoyed "deep tissue massages" - an experience in and of itself! - and generally had an amazing time! It was just what I needed after my trouble at work and re-occurance of depression. I put those photos on Facebook. I should add that I slept in the double bed and my friend slept on the sofa in the adjoining lounge.
I had a couple of messages on Facebook from an individual I know expressing concern at the photos. That person had examined the photos in detail and had come to some wrong conclusions about what happened (or might have happened) that weekend. (Ironically I spent the weekend with the same friend that I had been "commanded" to cut out of my life by the SGM leaders - so talk about deja vu!) Like the SGM leadership I can truly appreciate the sincerity of this individual and the bravery in wishing to address it knowing they would be unpopular. But like the SGM leadership the tone was accusatory at best and and the result was condemnation. And as Terry Virgo said; "Condemnation is a work of darkness - it doesn't work".
This person has accepted that their concerns are unfounded and apologised (unlike the SGM leaders who to my knowledge have never backed down and admitted they were wrong) - but there is a principle that concerns me. And it is this;
Just because I may have admitted that I struggle with "bisexual" feelings does NOT mean that every man I spend time with, I am living in sin with. Just as every heterosexual man who spends time with a woman is not necessarily living in sin with. I live in a flat with two other people and both are dear friends to me. But the thought of anything "more" .... ?!?! To use Sheila's now famous phrase; "Ack!!". I regularly go away with girl friends that I work with and are good friends with but the thought of anything "more"??!!? Ack!!
Both Pete and I agreed that everyone is liable to fall - but Galatians is clear - if we walk in the Spirit, we WILL NOT fulfill the lusts of the flesh! Todd Bentley's tragic fall proves that even a man deep in the anointing can be succeptible to fall.
But that FEAR of being tempted surely cannot stop us from taking the Gospel of grace to those who need it!
This friend who I love spending time with came to the Newfrontiers Leadership Conference in Brighton and experienced the prayer meeting as his FIRST experience of Christianity! He heard God speaking to him with words of love and acceptance and welcome and he still remembers that experience even though it was 4 years ago! Something happened and I fervently believe that "He who began a good work WILL complete it!".
E. The CHALLENGE
By and large homosexual people know that the Church don't approve of what they do and they think that the Church doesn't like them. And pretty much I am sad to say they are right. Scott and I happened to be at CCK in Brighton during the Gay Mardis Gras celebration and I was interested to see if it got a mention. It did - but not in a positive "let's go out and show them what REAL life and REAL celebration is like". So imagine my thrill, tears and joy when I was at the Glory and Grace Conference in Hong Kong and I heard Isi de Gersigny say this;
"I encourage people to sit on the front row with me because I am sick and tired of this front-row, second-row, third-row rubbish! I want PROSTITUTES sitting next to me! I want to reach the gays of Sydney! I want the kings and queens of Sydney's streets to be near me! I want to see chains break off! I want to see glory in people's eyes! I want them to see what I am seeing! Because He is more glorious than what people have made Him out to be! His eyes are like consuming fire that wraps around you and you will never be the same!".
There ARE true grace churches out there and it is my prayer that this positive, open love for homosexual people - both men and women - will spread like a brushfire. Because the challenge is this - unless the Church changes it's attitude then the homosexual community simply won't come. And even more definately won't listen to the church's message that what they do and who they love is wrong. I was impressed to consider Jesus Christ's attitude and behaviour when He dealt with the "untouchables" of His day.
The parable in Matthew 22 is interesting to consider - how would it compare to today? In Matthew 22:4 the king sent His servants to His guests saying that the banquet was ready. But they ignored Him and spurned His generosity and grace. Then (v9) is relevant here;
"Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast".
I know that exegetically that applies to Israel rejecting the Messiah and the Gospel then being given to the Gentiles but it shows to me the Father heart of God. That the Gentiles were the unacceptable to the Jews and the Pharisees. They were called "dogs"! Does the Christian community really think of the homosexual community as much better? One of my main problems with Mark Driscoll was the offensive comments he has made about homosexuals. How is that demonstrating the love of God to the ends of the earth?
So in conclusion - our attitudes must change. I don't know if God will ever "make me straight". But what I do suspect that if I had grown up "straight" then I have no doubt I would have the same proud bigoted attitudes towards the homosexual community as those that I have experienced and that have hurt me so much. I am so grateful to God that He has chosen to allow me to be in this position - because maybe in a small way I can reach the lost and the hurting one by one and show the homosexual people that God loves them JUST AS MUCH as He does the respectable sinner who lusts in private or who lies and cheats. Sin is sin. And the respectable sins drove Jesus Christ to the Cross just as much as the homosexual. The homosexual person is just as in danger of falling as the proud man.
Let the fires of the grace of God sweep across the world from pole to pole and from sea to sea. Jesus Christ spread out His arms and said; "It is finished! Father forgive THEM!". And that is an inclusive statement to all that come to Him and receive His imputed righteousness!