My spiritual crisis began about a year and a half ago, when I fell in love. That in itself is not a crisis, but the person with whom I fell in love, more specifically the gender of the person was the cause of the crisis. I guess I should start by giving a little background information about myself. I was a Southern Baptist Minister serving the inner city of San Francisco for nine years. I lived and worked in an area called the Tenderloin District working primarily with children of refugee parents, teaching Bible Studies, organizing activities, tutoring, counseling, and integrating them into church.
After having lived in the Tenderloin for more than seven years, I moved out to a quieter neighborhood for a time of sabbatical. I had also just taken a job as a teacher at a Christian school. This is when the time of crisis began. I let my guard down. I had always “struggled” with having an attraction to men and thought it my “thorn” ala Paul. I denied that I was gay, because it did not fit my theology, and besides, I had never fallen in love with a man, which was my indicator of gayness, so I “knew” that I could not be gay, end of story. But one evening after choir practice while waiting for a streetcar to go home, I happened to catch the eye of this gentleman. He was on a streetcar going to another part of the City. We stared at each other and then his train pulled away. I raised my eyebrows and shrugged my shoulders as he disappeared from view. The next week I was reading the free weekly newspapers, and being a romantic at heart, I always turn to the “Missed Connections” of the personals and wonder if those people ever connect. I was reading along and came to an ad that described me. I was astounded and flattered. I answered, we met and I fell in love. And I had to face an important fact about myself: I was gay.
These facts turned my world upside down. I could no longer be who I was. I could no longer do what I was doing. I had a problem. I could no longer be a minister. I could no longer be a teacher at a Christian school. I could no longer be on the Board of Directors of my ministry. I was not sure that I could even continue being a Christian, everything I had been taught had told me otherwise.
Growing up in Oklahoma taught me many things and being part of the Southern Baptist community taught me many others. A major thing I learned was that gay people are not normal and are not something that anyone would want to be. My father would often comment about the “pretty boys” and “tra-la-la’s” and these comments were no where near flattering. I became a Christian when I was 10 years old in a revival at a small Southern Baptist Church. I attended church very sporadically for the next 15 years until I hit a crisis period in my life when I was 25. It was then that I started attending a Southern Baptist Church in Wyoming. God just drew me into the fellowship of believers and love was showered upon me and I could not get enough of God’s presence and also wanted to share the love of God with everyone I met. I turned my life over to God and moved to California to study at a Seminary. It was at seminary that I first started studying the issue of gays and Christianity. I started reading all the books I could find. I studied all the theories about what “caused” homosexuality and “how to cure” it. I even was prepared to answer the question, “Why are you reading so many books dealing with homosexuality?” – “My cousin is gay and I want to know how to help him,” was going to be my response. I became convinced that I was not gay, and therefore all the statements about being an abomination and going to hell did not apply to me (even though there was a near constant desire to be near men at a deep level, beyond the superficial or friendship level.)
I watched as a friend of mine who fell in love with another man was kicked out of seminary four semester hours short of a degree. He was then kicked out of his church. I also watched another acquaintance that asked to be ordained, be essentially kicked out of a church of which I was a member, because she revealed she was a lesbian. I watched as the local Association of Southern Baptist Churches barred a church from fellowshipping with them. I watched the State Office of Southern Baptists return missions offering money given by that same church because it was tainted. All this confirmed for me that I was not and could not be gay.
It was also at Seminary where I first shared with someone that I had some “struggles” in the area of homosexuality. I quickly learned that was not a subject open to discussion. I told one person, but somehow three other people knew and were asking me about it and wanting to pray with me to help me overcome the problem. I was desperate, I did not want to be gay, so I prayed with them, allowed them to pray for me, even to the point that they were going to “cast the evil demon of homosexuality” out of me. I memorized scripture, one important one was I Corinthians 6:9-11. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, no sodomites, nor . . . will inherit the kingdom of God. And such WERE (my friends’ emphasis) some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” I was so desperate that I even visualized my sins, put them in a helium balloon, and took it out one night and released it and watched them float off to heaven, gone forever. I was cured! I was not gay! I was normal! Now I could proceed with life and ministry.
And that is exactly what I did for the next eight years. I became an intern in an inner-city ministry and started working with Senior Citizens who lived in a residence hotel in the Tenderloin. I worked tutoring children and attending activities. A year later, I became the Director of the Ministry with which I was working. I moved into the Tenderloin when I graduated with my Master of Divinity with emphasis in Urban Missions. I was holding a worship service for the seniors, which included leading music and preaching. I was teaching Bible Studies for children and youth in my apartment, and at the study center, I was tutoring them with homework. I took many children and youth to summer camp and just became their friend. One child told me that I was the first white man that had ever been nice to him. As a result of the ministry, I was able to reach out and touch the lives of over 300 children, many who are strong Christians today; even a few are now in ministry.
“All was going well” . . .Excuses; I learned to make them quite readily. When people would ask me why I was not married, I would answer I have not found the right woman who would be willing to minister with me in the Tenderloin. This would quickly change the subject because they knew that it would be extremely difficult to find such a person (while I knew full well that I had no desire to get married – to a woman, and knew that I could not marry a man – besides I was not gay!)
I began having doubts about my belief that I was not gay. Increasingly the desire to be loved by a man began to haunt me. Men would follow me down the street and make passes at me and in rare moments of weakness I would respond. I grew up in a family and never heard the words “I love you” spoken to me and had felt unloved and unwanted. Even though these men were really interested only in physical affection, I figured they wanted “at least part of me” even if it was for a very short period of time. This is how I later had rationalized and dismissed my sexual activity with men.
The ministry that I was involved in evolved and grew. I became Co-Director and Vice-President of the newly formed non-profit. Our ministry team had weekly Bible Studies and we studied books on breaking the bondage. One of the members of the team and I became prayer partners and we found out that both of us struggled with being in “bondage to homosexuality.” Again as part of the exercise of the book, we spent much time in prayer to break the bondage. I just hoped and prayed that it would work. During this period of time a gay man wanted to volunteer to help tutor the children, and the members of the team flatly refused and denied that possibility. (One of the reasons given was that “All gay men are pedophiles”.) I shriveled inside and thought if they only knew that their Vice-President was probably gay.
It was during this period of time that I began to seriously doubt that God loved me. I could without a doubt, go and proclaim that God loved the people I was preaching to and knew that God’s love would cover them. I, however, knew that it did not work for me because I had a problem, a dirty little secret, I had homosexual desires. And I was listening to the voices of the past telling me that gay people cannot be Christian, or that they were back- slidden, or unrepentant sinners, I did not think that I was one of those, but I became increasingly unsure. I continued to throw myself into my ministry and for the most part successfully ignored the homosexual aspect of my life. I lived a miserable existence. I even started gaining weight because I was medicating myself with food. Subconsciously I believe this was partly because I wanted to look unattractive to men, unaware there was a subculture in the gay community that really goes for “big” men. I achieved a weight of 300+ pounds, and would probably have grown bigger had I not pinched my sciatic nerve and had my legs go numb. At this point I realized that I had slowly been eating myself to death, and actually was beginning to see the “fruits” of my labor. I decided at that point, that something had to give, I was not ready to die. Several members of the ministry team and I figured that I needed a break from the inner city, so I set about looking for a way to move out.
Little did I know that this was the beginning of my move “out.” I found an apartment by the beach after about five months of searching. I lived there for about two months when I met Alex, and thus was the final detail that turned my life upside down. It was the happiest time in my life, I had actually found love but it was also the worst time of my life, I had to acknowledge that I was gay and with that acknowledgement came some very difficult decisions.
At this time I went to visit my parents for Thanksgiving and found out just how ill my father had become. I was shocked when I saw him sitting in the car at the airport. It was a difficult week. On the flight back to California, I told my sister that I had fallen in love, and had used the pronoun “they” when referring to something that he had done. She had misunderstood and asked me, “Did you say HE?” I responded that I had not said he, but the answer was yes. Her first question was “How is the church going to take this information?” I told her I did not know, but that the church would not allow it to be, if they knew.
When I returned from my trip, I also began to slowly realize that Alex had not fallen in love and was pulling away because he could not deal with my being a minister. I was becoming increasingly depressed, and was having problems with my integrity. I was singing in the choir at church, doing puppet shows for the children in children’s church pretending like nothing was wrong at all, and would run home to the arms of Alex. When I was home I was crying all the time. And when I was with Alex I was also crying most of the time, which compounded the problem. I pulled him close to me in one breath, then realized what I was doing and pushed him away in the next. I was dying inside. To make matters worse, I had taken a job teaching at a Christian School. I knew that some of the teachers had signed contracts with the school denouncing homosexuality and stating that they had no homosexual desires or persuasions. I somehow did not have to do this, but almost every day that I was at school, I felt like a hypocrite knowing what the school believed and what I was. If the school had known, I would have been fired instantly.
At one of the team Bible Studies, I announced to the ministry team that I needed a break and that was the reason I had moved out of the inner city. I told them I did not know how long a break I needed but that since I had started the new job, my break was going to be effective immediately. I had figured that it was going to be temporary. I needed some time to sift through all that had happened emotionally.
Alex was pretty much gone, but the “damage” had been done. I was an emotional wreck. I would get up and go to work and then come home and go to bed when I walked through the door, often before 5:00 PM. I slept as much as I could, to try to avoid the problem, hoping it would go away. I cried. I screamed at God and cried some more. I finally got up the nerve to talk with a couple of friends and told them what was going on and they were dumbfounded, and had no advice to offer. One even told me that he “felt sorry for me.” At one point one of my friends became so concerned because I had called her that she came over to my apartment because she feared that I was going to take my life. (She told me afterwards, she was so sleepy that she could not stay awake but was afraid to leave, and would run into the restroom and splash her face with water – I thought that she just had had too much soda!) Another friend told me to get my life right with God and things would be ok, and the homosexuality would go away. I even got up enough courage to go speak to a pastor of a gay affirming church, he sat and listened to my dilemma and agreed, “I had a problem.” He was very supportive, but really could offer no solution.
I was desperate; I did not know which way to turn. One of my dearest friends called me one night with the name of a man who was going to school with her; they had been partners in an exercise during a seminar. She had found out that he was gay and that he worked with ministers and other Christians who were struggling with the issue of being gay and Christian and hoped he would be able to “help” me. I was leery because of an earlier try at counseling while in Seminary, but decided that I had to do something, because I could not continue as I was. I finally got up enough courage to call him. We chatted for about an hour on the phone and he told me of a worship service that a group he was volunteering with was holding the next Saturday afternoon. He told me what he looked like and that if I came, to make sure that I sought him out. I went to the service and was not sure I could deal with what was being said, it sounded “way too gay” to be Christian, but I listened. We met and we scheduled a time when I could meet with him during the next week for “spiritual direction.” From the moment I met John, he was very affirming and supportive. He listened to me as I told him my concerns, we prayed together, he asked me probing questions, and he gently guided me in the direction of loving myself and allowing God to love me for who I was. He encouraged me to continue my relationship with Jesus Christ, and not to turn my back on God, to look and move forward.
During the time I was spending with him, he began to encourage me to seek out people of the Christian faith who were gay and that were living their faith. I did not know that anyone like that existed. I had only been aware of some groups whose theology was very weak at best. He gave me the names of a couple of groups. I also had gotten a computer and had started spending time online. On the eve of Easter, I ran into a chat room named “Gay Christians.” I was intrigued; I went in and read the conversation, trying not to be noticed. One night I was involved in conversations with three different members of the same church, of which I am now a member. As a result of the conversations, I got up enough courage to go to meet with one of the men, an elder in the church. I asked him questions about Theology and he answered them. And after chatting with him for a while, I realized that my problem or inability to reconcile my Christianity with my gayness was not scripturally based, but based upon the fears of what my fellow believers would think. I stayed for the service that evening and after about three minutes into it, I had absolutely no doubts that there were gay Christians who loved, worshipped and served God, and I was one of them.
That was a year ago and it has been one of the best (if not the best) years of my life, but also one of the worst in terms of all the losses I have faced. I have voluntarily given up my seat on the Board of Directors, my position in the ministry that I co-founded, working with children, and pretty much walked away from the life that I had been living for the last 12 years. I finished the school term and have for now given up teaching. I left because I did not want to cause a division in God’s work. I am often very heart-broken having given up the desires of my heart because of who I am, but I feel that for now, it is the best thing. I know that if the people of my past were to learn of my orientation, my many years of work, which were praised, would become tarnished by the one little word – “gay”. I do not want that, nor do I want to hurt all the many children and others to whom I have ministered, by causing a controversy. To this day they do not know, (except now they may read this), because I have not had the courage to tell them. On and on the trials come; in what has seemed like rapid succession, one after another. My father passed away in November. I have not been able to find a permanent job since the end of the teaching job in June, but because of being unemployed I was given the chance to spend some extended time with my parents and other family members before my father passed away. And time with my mother and family after my father was gone. I am not really sure what the future holds for me. I am bogged down in bureaucratic red tape, waiting, three months so far, to the final application process to teach in a local school district. This month I was also chosen to serve as juror number 10 on a burglary/rape trial, causing me to lose the temporary job that I had found.
Through the process I have gained an awareness of who I am. I have also stopped pretending to be something I am not. I no longer have the need to lie to myself about who I am. With God’s guidance I am learning to love myself, I can now look in the mirror and not see the most hideous creature on the planet looking back. I have begun the process of being able to accept God’s love and acceptance of me. I have found a body of believers who loves, supports, and encourages the “real” me. I have found acceptance and love that I did not know existed among friends and family.
I am reminded of what is truly important in life. It does not make any difference if I am gay or not. God would love me either way. The most important aspect of my life is the relationship that I have with Jesus Christ, that alone will sustain me. I know that God is enough, all that I need. Even though at times Satan still throws the doubts in my mind, it serves to remind me that he is not pleased with my new found courage to be who I am and not be ashamed. I often grow weary and occasionally fearful of what the future holds, but on Easter this year at church I was reminded of my new found hope by the singing of the chorus of one my favorite hymns:
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow, Because He lives, all fear is gone; Because I know He holds the future. And life is worth the living just because He lives.
Warren McCarthey received his master of divinity with emphasis in urban missions from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Mill Valley, Calif.