For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name’s sake lead me, and guide me.
— Psalm 31:3
Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust. Psalm 16:1 The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot.
— Psalm 16:5
These verses of scripture have became a daily prayer for John as the journey that began with a sincere soul-searching has evolved into a coming-out that has changed everything about his life, except his faith in God. His prayer is a plea for strength and guidance. John’s confidence is that God will always be faithful to his promises and that even the most difficult circumstances are vehicles by which God can be glorified. These are the words he holds on to: “will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye” Psalm 32:8.
John recently celebrated his sixty-second birthday. In some ways he feels the effects of his age. Health problems gave him a scare last year, being on his feet for long periods of time leaves him tired and sore, and although his grandchildren are a great joy, they can wear him out. But rather than feeling that life is beginning to wind down, a whole new life has just opened up for him. Two years ago this March, after 26 years of marriage, John found the courage to tell his wife that he is gay.
John was raised Roman Catholic but at the age of 14 decided it was not for him. The things they wanted him to confess were just too embarrassing to tell anyone. After serving for four years in the U.S. Army and attending an Episcopal church, John moved to New Jersey where weekend trips into New York City, with its very active gay community, soon became a way of life. As the months went by confusion, discouragement and depression were also becoming a way of life. In the darker moments John started to wonder if life was really worth living. As he felt his situation become more hopeless, John heard a message by a television evangelist that sparked something in him. He soon found himself at the altar of a friend’s church, asking God to change his life. God met John there that night and did answer his prayer — opening up for him the spirit-filled existence of a servant of God.
Finding that a life given to God is full of purpose, John immersed himself in the church community. A short time later, a missionary came through speaking about the work God was doing among the poor in the mountains of Kentucky. She plainly put forth a plea for help. John responded. He took two week’s vacation from his job to answer God’s call. The bitter poverty of the people living in the mountains was shocking and frankly, repelling. But six months later, he was back again, ministering to the poor and preaching a simple message of faith. It was on a small footbridge over a creek bed in Kentucky that John heard God call him to devote his life to ministry. He headed for a Bible college associated with the Assemblies of God. That was where he met his wife.
John and Joy (not her real name, out of respect for her privacy) were married right after graduation. John made his wedding vows in good faith, loving his wife and truly believing that a strong marriage and a life committed to Christ would deliver him from his physical and emotional attractions to men. Together the young couple headed back to the Kentucky mission to continue the work God had begun there.
As the years went by, their ministry led them to various churches where John served in pastoral capacities. Joy was faithfully devoted to her husband and to their two daughters and to the work God had given them. Although her love was acknowledged and greatly appreciated, no matter how he tried to suppress his homosexuality, John found he could never give back to Joy in the same measure that she gave herself to him. His frustration and unhappiness were compounded by guilt. He felt trapped in a no-win situation and did not know which way to turn.
A few years ago Charisma magazine happened to print two letters to the editor from gay men who had each left heterosexual marriages, found Christian partners and continued to minister in inclusive and welcoming churches. This was a revelation to John, that there were churches where gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people were all welcome to worship and participate fully in the Christian community. Churches where the pastor could have a same-sex partner. He began to do some serious soul-searching and although he was shaking with anxiety, John decided to reach out to the pastor he had read about in Charisma.
John found the brother on the other end of the telephone to be compassionate and understanding. This was a man who realized the great courage it had taken for John to make that call. They prayed together over the phone that night and the spirit of God brought a rush of peace and joy to John’s heart. The minister gave John the number of another pastor who would be able to counsel him. John still remembers the words he was told by one of his new allies, “You cannot live a lie and also be free in the Lord.”
The recommendations of these men led John to the video series “Christianity and Homosexuality Reconciled” and to Mel White’s book “Stranger at the Gate.” Finally, here were people who knew what it was like to be a gay Christian minister in a heterosexual marriage. Finally, here was someone to show the way out.
The decision to stop living a lie and to accept that God loves him as he is, is one that John is still walking out a step at a time. A great part of the difficulty is that loving his family was not a lie — he truly did love his wife and children and always will. Says John, “No one on earth will ever know how much courage it took to tell my wife about the real me.” There are others in John’s family and in his life, who still do not know and some that know but cannot accept him as a gay man. That is a painful reality he must face.
John knew that confessing to Joy that he was gay would break his wife’s heart; he knew she would be devastated. The emotional anguish was almost more than he could bear. But in the end, it was her faithfulness and her love that made him realize that he owed her the truth.
Joy’s reaction was not unexpected. Her shock at the sudden breaking apart of their marriage led to anger and bitterness. But through love and prayer, they worked through the turbulent emotions and although they decided to divorce, they found a way to acknowledge the love between them and make peace. Joy has recently remarried and decided to no longer have John in her life, but they have parted wishing each other well.
Admitting to being gay can close a lot of doors in the Christian world. Many look at it as justification for the condemnation and exile of their brothers. But while many former colleagues have decided John is no longer welcome to preach in their pulpits, new doors are being opened. Inclusive churches welcome him and his many gifts with open arms. Those really hungry for a touch from God, those in hospitals and nursing homes, are not concerned about who it is God sends to them. They are grateful for the heartfelt prayers of faith and for the encouragement they receive from the sharing of scriptures. John is their faithful servant.
The Internet has also opened up a vast opportunity for John to minister to God’s people. Daily he hears from other gay ministers and married men who are feeling trapped and overwhelmed. He can tell them, as one who has been there, that coming out is a process full of fear, rejection, anxiety and pain. Indeed, he is still on that path himself. But he can also tell them that it is a process full of joy, peace and the deep satisfaction that comes from knowing and bearing witness that God loves and accepts us as we are.
Last year John began a relationship with a man who is also a devoted Christian. Although it would be nice to say that everything instantly fell into place for them, their relationship was like that of many others. That is to say, it was a journey full of twists and turns, full of joys and hurts, and it did not end as either of them had hoped. But they remain friends and John has learned a little more about himself and that is a good thing. Some people at age 62 start to feel that life has passed them by, but trusting God and following his gentle leading can make one feel that life has just begun. There is a peace that passes understanding that comes from living an honest life devoted to the Lord. As John can tell you, that is what makes life worth living.