Chapter 3

'Standing in their shoes'

I ask you now to use your imagination, and to read this carefully, perhaps more than once. For this is your chance to 'feel' what the world is like for homosexual people.

An exercise in imagination

For just a few moments I want you to imagine yourself in a world in which:

* You are a lonely heterosexual in a homosexual world.

* Only homosexual unions can produce children.

* Society and the Church both declare in their different ways that your heterosexuality is perverse and evil.

* The scriptures are essentially homosexual in culture, and are interpreted as stating that heterosexuals and heterosexuality are wicked, though Jesus, the Lord, the Living Word and inspiration of the Church, has nothing to say on this in the Gospels. You wonder why, if Jesus said nothing, the Church does not act in the spirit of Christ - the spirit of Christian compassion and love.

* Platonic friendship between the sexes is the norm and is encouraged. But potential meeting places are all for both sexes to ensure that people of the same sex are not alone together.

Into such a world you are born and grow up in a devout, committed Christian family. As a schoolboy you had a crush on a woman teacher, but this is considered quite normal. (From now on,women readers may wish to switch 'male' for 'female' and visa versa.)

As a young male teenager you are disturbed to find that you feel a strange attraction to girls when all your male friends are dating boys.

One girl in particular is very difficult to put out of your mind, but you know this is unnatural and try very hard not to think of her. Yet as you continue to grow, so (to your dismay) do the feelings of attraction towards the opposite sex. You wonder what is the matter with you - you feel disgusted with yourself.

To compound this, the preacher's topic at church is sexual sin. He speaks quietly but firmly of the evils of heterosexuality, saying that heterosexuals cannot be Christian. He preaches that such people choose to encourage their heterosexual feelings. You feel despair!

You have already responded to Christ and live your life as a disciple. You read the Bible devoutly, and Jesus' teaching influences what you are and do. You give generously of what God has given you and you receive the sacraments which mean much to you.

For love of Christ and the world which he and you love, you are deeply involved in serving others.

Can these feelings stand between you and your Lord? They have not affected any other aspect of your discipleship. But can you be heterosexual and Christian? The preacher seemed to think not.

You speak to your minister, and he warns you of your feelings, which if not dealt with may destroy your life and faith. He suggests you find a fine young man to marry, and get rid of your heterosexual feelings. You take his advice, and throw yourself into a relationship, then marriage, with a man you much admire. Your friends are overjoyed; they previously wondered if you would ever marry, because you've never had boyfriends before.

Then one day you are out with a female friend shopping. As you talk, you find her warm and understanding.

As friends, you confide in each other about the past. And as you talk, your heart sinks - there is the old stirring inside you. You try not to think of her, or see her. But when you do see her your emotions go haywire, and it becomes increasingly obvious she feels something very special for you.

But it must remain secret; you can share your joy with nobody. The sheer delight of loving her (it is love) is accompanied by disgust and self-loathing. You pray to God as you have never prayed before to change you.

You go back to your minister and share your distress. He tells you of people who can help you - people who have healed heterosexuals in the power of God. You keep praying for deliverance; this threatens your whole life!

You go to all those who claim to be able to help. But they only leave you in a state of despair. For nothing has changed except your feelings of guilt and desperation, which have merely grown stronger.

You wonder if you should simply end it all. You just cannot continue in a state of deception, yet you must in order to keep your marriage and your place in the church. What a mess you feel - torn apart!

Your love for Christ; your love for your female friend, which can never be recognised and which is condemned as unnatural, yet is so natural to you; your marriage, which is now making you and your partner un-happy.

The last thing you want is to hurt him, because you care for him deeply, though you have never felt what you feel for your female friend.

What are you to do?

You know of some like you who have decided to stop the pretence, and have quietly let it be known who they really are.

Some of these have experienced the trauma of attacks - verbal and sometimes physical. Many of those who are Christians have been eased or pushed out of the Church.

Some, more fortunate, have been understood and loved. Yet you know of others who have tried to keep their secret to themselves only to be black-mailed by nasty, greedy people who have guessed their secret.

What would be the response if you took the courageous step of being honest with your fellow-Christians?

How does that feel?

The scenario I have asked you to imagine is just one unending story from among many possible stories that illustrate the pain experienced by people who are different, and whom we try hard to pressure into our conformity.

How did you feel standing in their shoes?

 Some real-life stories

I could tell you several true stories about gay men.

There was one man who frequented the 'gay scene', where he could meet people of like sexuality and feel relaxed for a while, knowing he was in the company of those who understood him, but equally where there were temptations to which he yielded.

Coming home, tired and disgusted with himself, he cried out to God to help him. And there on the London bus alone, he met with his loving Creator God. His life was changed: he learned to pray, to allow Christ through the scriptures to influence his life. But his sexuality was still the same, although now he lived forChrist.

He felt it was time to find a church to share in the worship of the God who had called and blessed him.

But this is when his problems began!

'It would be better if you went elsewhere' was the rejoinder when he finally told his story to his pastor because when preparing for baptism he thought he should share who he was and remove any deceit.

I could also tell you about a fine Christian man who found Christ in an evangelistic crusade. He too left the gay scene, and his partner - for he was assured that Christianity and his gay partnership were inconsistent, even when based on Christian love for one another. But his gay feelings have never changed, even though he has sought help from those offering it through the Church - counselling; exorcism; prayer.

He is a man of high integrity, and one of the most faithful Christians it has been my privilege to meet; who has struggled to reconcile his faith with his sexuality.

He still has no partner, but knows that like others he needs love. Thankfully, he now recognises that God loves him with his sexuality as it is - and with a partner, too, if God should send along 'Mr Right'.

The church that he loved, and where he wished to serve, has now eased him out. So it is not surprising that he is losing faith with the Church, though thankfully not with Christ.

I shall now talk about a woman for a change, and tell a story that, unusually, has better ending. She has always been involved in the Church, and a very gifted woman she is too. She has gone through life without any loves, until she recently met her partner.

As she describes it, 'I felt abhorrence like everybody else about homosexuality, though it never entered my life in any way. I didn't think much about it.

Then one day I found this was me!'

She and her partner, both Christian women, are among the more fortunate. They both love Christ and the Church, and while they were unable to get permission for blessing on their union in church, they were allowed to receive a blessing in their home.

Perhaps such women are seen as less of a threat, somehow.

If only people realised there are homosexual men and women all round them. They are ordinary people, and no threat to them except possibly to their attitudes.

Carol and I count among our many friends certain ministers, lay readers and preachers, choristers, organists and church members - all fine Christian people, and all of them homosexual.

Having discussed who the people are that we are talking about, let us now go on to look at what we need in order to make sense of what the scriptures really say about homosexuality.

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