This is no academic treatise, although it is written by a retired scientist/engineer.
How this book came to be written
I have written this book from my own experience. It describes a pilgrimage of faith that began as a challenge to my assumptions about an oppressed group of people.
And at its heart is a prayerfully conducted, Christ-centred Bible study. It is a pilgrimage I want to share with you.
Where am I coming from?
My first credential is that I am a Christian from the evangelical wing of the Church who knows his Lord for himself and the power of the Gospel to change and redirect lives.
In my case this came about through a 'Damascus Road' conversion that I experienced over 40 years ago. For my wife Carol it took the form of a steady awakening by the Holy Spirit - no less powerful as an instrument of change.
Yet my conversion was no one-off experience. In 1977 our marriage was under considerable strain. While we never ceased to love one another, there was a long period of unhappiness and tension caused by pressures of study, work and family that all but destroyed it. Faith hung on a slender thread, after years of prayer that in our distress seemed to have remained unanswered.
Then in one evening a word from the Lord more than restored all that had seemed lost - and in that renewed faith, our marriage has become a rock of over 40 years.
These were two of the three most powerful spiritual interventions I have experienced. The third was the awakening that resulted in the pilgrimage of faith described in this book.
My second credential is that I have no personal axe to grind other than the claims of Christian love and justice. I have no homosexual leanings - I'm 100% heterosexual.
Indeed, for most of my life the very thought of what I saw as homosexuality repulsed me. It is no exaggeration to say that I felt physically sick at the thought of what I assumed it to be.
And while I would have done nothing to harm homosexuals, I wanted nothing to do with a group of people whom I saw as choosing a way of life that was both unnatural and an offence to God.
Ignorance and biblical literalism had done their dreadful work. Yet these long-held assumptions were soon to be questioned, in a process that began about ten years ago.
Into new truths
The first promptings arose from printed material and responsible television programmes that documented the experience of some homosexual people.
Young people on television spoke of how they had come to realise - sometimes with fear bordering on horror - that they were different from their peers: they were gay. Some of them spoke about the pain they had experienced upon telling their parents, who often found it hard to understand and were sometimes unsupportive. Some young people had even been thrown out of their family home.
Others had grown up within a church community, only to discover that they belonged to the very group that is condemned and rejected by many church people for something over which they (and we) have no control - our sexual orientation.
Another programme included comments from a priest who ministered to people with AIDS and their partners. He said, 'I've learned more about the love of God among these people ...'. This really took my attention.
The result of these and other things I saw, heard and read was that I began to question my assumptions about homosexuality, which I had always thought of as an obsessive sexual perversion, chosen and practised by those involved, and an offence to God.
For some time, however, I did no more than think about all this. I made a mental note of such information as came my way, but did little about it. I needed time to assimilate and make sense of these new and unexpected discoveries.
There were other developments that prompted me to rethink my position. About this time, I was preparing to be a local preacher in the Methodist Church.
I've always studied the Bible, but I was beginning to learn a great deal more, including the importance of studying the background to the scriptures and how this can help in our understanding and interpretation. I read widely, and my mind was opened to new vistas.
Methodist sexuality report
The next link in the chain was a major report published by the Methodist Church on the subject of human sexuality and its context within the Methodist Church.
My interest aroused by the challenge of what I had already seen, I volunteered to join a study group convened by the local Methodist circuit to consider this report.
Our deliberations were to take some 18 months to complete.
At one stage we reached a point where we could go no further until we had found answers to some key questions which could only be answered by someone who was homosexual.
As a result we heard the evidence of a brave gay man who was prepared to speak openly to us about his life.
This man was unlike the stereotype of the homosexual that I had held in my mind for many years. He asked us not to let go of our Christian compassion in dealing with the issue, and said something that for me was particularly significant: 'Do you think I would choose to be homosexual with all the pain and heartache that goes with it?'
He was the first of many to use such words in my hearing. His experience of life as a homosexual had been painful; he was still mourning the loss of his partner, with whom he had shared his life for over 20 years. He made it clear that, so far as he was concerned, his sexuality was given, not chosen.
The Lord was now speaking clearly and strongly to my mind and heart. One of the crucial issues for me was whether the sexuality of homosexual people was a 'given'. It sounded very much as though it was, and if this were so, then God was there in some way that I and many others had not yet recognised.
I now realised that I would have to begin a complete reappraisal of my thinking and attitudes. But to do this there were two important things that I needed to do:
- I had to obtain more information: reliable information. I was hungry to read what little I could find to enable me to study this issue in the Bible with more understanding.
- I would have to undertake a careful re-examination of the scriptures, in order to see what the Bible really said to me about all this.
I read the Bible through in its entirety for specific reference and context, then began the process of prayerful study and reflection. This took some time of course, and from time to time I had to 'put it all down' for a while, as it was difficult to face the challenge of what was coming at me.
When this was finished, I realised I had been wrong. I felt angry with myself for my past attitude, and with those who had reinforced my thinking and attitude.
I sought God's forgiveness and determined to do what little I could to rectify matters. I didn't expect there was much I could do.
Meeting lesbian and gay Christians.
Once I had reached this stage in my thinking, I also realised that I needed to meet homosexual Christians and hear their stories. I approached the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) and was directed towards the Essex Group of the LGCM .
This is a group of people who meet for mutual support, prayer, worship, Bible study, communion and various evenings together - for example, for meals out, visits, car rallies etc. I have learned a great deal from them, and have met many fine Christian people among them.
Since then my wife Carol and I have continued to meet with lesbian and gay Christians, for worship, fellowship and social get-togethers. They come to our home; we go to theirs. We have learned to love them with the love of Christ.
They've welcomed us - representatives of those who have hurt them - into their support group. I find their faith amazing. To hold to Christ when many (though not all) find the Church is spiteful to them, shows a true faith.
I have seen enough and shared enough with these people to want to see them affirmed and loved in the Church - able to enter fully into the life of the Church at every level.
When I am with these friends, I feel close to Christ! Perhaps this is because they, like him, know what it is to be despised and rejected, and yet show patient love and understanding in return.
Searching the scriptures
My third credential is that I am a keen Bible student - I wear Bibles out!
And there are some important things that I have learned about the Bible. It may be published in impeccable English and bound within beautifully designed modern covers - often leading people to think it is modern - but it certainly cannot be read as a modern book.
Neither is it a textbook on religious laws! It is an ancient book - one which contains the way of salvation.
And on many subjects it is like a deep gold mine, for the most part requiring open heart and mind, hard work and prayer to mine the true gold, especially when dealing with complex issues like the one in question here.
Certainly there are verses that are readily understood, and that can become to us the Word of God in our need, as Isaiah 26:3 became for Carol and me one January night in 1977 and saved our marriage.
But for the most part the Bible requires patient study, an understanding of the people who wrote the words, their times and culture, the context in which they were writing, and not least an understanding of the issue we are examining.
For incorrect assumptions lead to false conclusions!
And finally, I knew that the issue must be considered in the context of the whole Bible, with Jesus, the Living Word, as the final arbiter. To study the Bible superficially - to look up a series of references and think that we have the 'Bible view' on an issue - is, sadly, often to abuse the Word of God.
So as we go on to study the Bible in relation to homosexuality, and in particular to homosexual Christians, we shall briefly follow the same study and thought processes that the Lord has led me through. We shall consider all the references in the context (as far as possible) of the culture and times in which they were written, and with objective knowledge of the issue.
New truth, new leading
The next point may be reassuring for those of you who find the whole issue of homosexuality very threatening.
For in those early days, as I turned prayerfully to the Bible for guidance, prepared to let the Holy Spirit lead me, I began to feel not a little threatened by the new truth into which my Lord was leading me. It was shaking some of my foundations - I know how Peter felt in Acts 10 as the Lord began to show him new truths about 'what is clean and unclean'. I prayed earnestly that I would not be misled one way or another. I did not want to dishonour my Lord and God; that is the spirit in which this whole biblical pilgrimage has been conducted.
As I proceeded and the way become clearer, I experienced that well-known sinking feeling: if the Lord showed me what I thought he was about to show me, he would also expect me to meet and share with, and perhaps even identify with, his lesbian and gay Christian followers - just as he had with me!
That is exactly what happened. But it no longer feels threatening now. It is something I and my wife do gladly in fellowship with these precious new-found Christian friends of ours.
It was difficult at first, but with my new understanding I have done what little I can in the church where I worship.
I have led discussions and Bible studies on the issue. And eventually, with the help of our Methodist minister at the time, and of John who was and is the Convenor of the Essex LGCM Group, Carol and I have brought some of our heterosexual and homosexual Christian friends together in a social atmosphere in an endeavour to help others move towards a similar understanding.
In a much more limited way, I have occasionally raised the subject within appropriate contexts in talks and sermons.
The response to this has, for the most part, been positive. I have also corresponded with some who have not been led to the same conclusions as I have. On one occasion I responded more fully to a Baptist minister I had gone to hear, and who had spoken courageously to his congregation on the issue, but whose insufficiency of knowledge had led to conclusions that were questionable.
It was in carrying out this last task that the Lord led me to set about writing down my experiences and making the account into a book.
Why am I doing this?
1. Out of Christian love
I recognise the problems people have in understanding when they have no real opportunity, as I have had, to study, research, and talk and listen to gay and lesbian Christians. And I am writing out of Christian love for these, my gay and lesbian Christian friends - for we are one in Christ Jesus.
2. Out of a passion for justice
I hate injustice of any kind, and long for reconciliation. The people who are the subject of this book have been badly mistreated in the world - by society and by the Church. Many thousands of gay men were victims of the Holocaust along with Jews and others thought by the Nazis to be inferior.
And many of us today simply ostracise homosexual men or women, even those who are Christians, refusing to recognise them, and trying to find theories as to why they are as they are so we can 'heal' them, 'convert' them - anything but accept them and love them in Christ.
It is time for the Church to say 'No' to this attitude, and to welcome such Christians as the loving, faithful people we know that they are.
3. Out of a vision of reconciliation
These are momentous times. Who would have thought the Berlin Wall would ever come down, or apartheid be abandoned, or women welcomed into the ministry and priesthood, or peace become even a possibility in Northern Ireland? God is at work in all sorts of ways, tearing down barriers, just as he did at Calvary.
The barriers that have kept his beloved gay and lesbian people from full recognition and ministry also need sweeping away.
If this small volume helps towards love, justice and reconciliation - if I can play a small part in this process - I will be very glad.
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