Out of the closet and into the light
by Dr. Christopher Austin
September - December, 2004
You have probably met him and never knew. He looks normal. He looks happy. He has tried extra hard to look good, like many of us do. But inside, there is an indescribable cacophony of shame, guilt, fear, depression, and lust. The critical and demanding voices never stop inside his head.
Brock is a seventeen-year-old young man whose parents found gay pornography on his computer. He is humiliated and embarrassed and looks as though he wants to just disappear, folded into himself. The discomfort and shame make him look tired with his head hung low. His parents lay out the charges against him, unfolding the evidence like prosecutors in court. I notice that he squirms and winces as each piece of evidence is presented with love and sadness. Tears roll down his mom’s cheek, and his dad looks disappointed and deflated. They have been on an emotional rollercoaster the past forty-eight hours. My heart hurts for this mother, father and son. Mom and dad are desperate for answers, for some way to understand this enough to fix it.
Roger is a forty-three-year-old father of two. He sits across from me with shame, fear, and stress written in deep lines on his forehead. He has a secret that no one else has ever known, and he honestly doesn’t want to tell me. He appears to everyone at his church, work, and home to be successful, spiritual, and loving. Underneath the facade he is a man who is torn emotionally, religiously robotic, and relationally isolated. “I have prayed thousands of times for God to take this away, but it still haunts me every day. I met a guy on the internet, and I have had an affair with him. He fills a part of me that has always seemed empty. I know what I am doing is wrong. I love my wife and kids, but I can’t seem to stop what I am doing.” There’s a part of him that desperately wants to stop, but there is an emotional part of him that can’t.
Michael is a thiry-year-old single man who considers himself gay. He told his parents ten years ago that he was gay and jumped into it with reckless abandon. Twenty-seven relationships with men have ended in a flurry of drama, hurt and rejection. As each relationship begins, his unmet needs cause him to attach very quickly and he does everything he can to make it work. But his sexual desires create a paradox: The more he wants relationships with men, the more he chases after them, the more fulfillment eludes him. He feels weak, pathetic, and unworthy. He is not “out” to the people at the office or at church. Each day he feels lonely, ashamed, or depressed. His sexual attractions are toward men, but those encounters are not working for him. Even though he is “gay,” he is anything but happy. He desperately wants his life to work, to be happy, to find love in a world that is painfully shallow, unmercifully perfectionistic, and emotionally unstable.
I tell these men I have met over the past fourteen years, “You are my brother in Christ. No matter what you tell me, I will respect you and accept you. You can tell me you have had sex with twenty thousand men or your dog. Neither will shock me nor surprise me. I am here to understand where you are and help you in whatever way I can.”
He looks at me with a half smile and relaxes, knowing his number is not twenty thousand, and he hasn’t had sex with his dog. But he has finally found a place where he can lay down his burden and be at peace.
These are a few examples of many brothers I have met who struggle with same-sex attraction. These stories are repeated many times in our society and now in the church. In the world of gay marriage, gay rights, Will and Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, there are Christian men and boys who have same-sex attraction that conflicts with their spiritual values and morals. The internet has opened a new avenue to options and choices that had never been so readily available to men who were vulnerable. God wants his church to trust him instead of conventional wisdom of the flesh. The wisdom of the flesh produces fear, hatred, disgust or avoidance; or, equally dangerous fleshly wisdom might advocate homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle or even encourage it among teens. Grace looks at homosexuality with compassion, the compassion of Jesus.
The debate of whether or not homosexuality is genetic or environmental is a distraction from the devastating spiritual effects homosexuality has on a man’s heart. The nature-nurture argument has nothing to do with the church showing God’s compassion and love, it is a fleshly interchange which blinds us to the spiritual. The genesis of homosexuality merely fuels my empathy and understanding for these men; it is not a justification or reason to change what God wants under a thinly disguised veil of genetics. The origins of homosexuality do not negate their spiritual needs nor do they stop me from loving them as much as God has loved me.
So let’s not lump our struggling brothers with the “rainbow flag waving,” in-your-face, pro-gay herd. These two are as different as night and day. It is God who knows the hearts of man, and we don’t know to whom he is going to lead us. If we are willing to speak the words of hope and salvation as God moves us, then we will see God working powerfully in their lives (and ours). When we are a people of the Spirit, we are led by the Spirit and exhibit the fruits of the Spirit. Rejection is not a fruit of the Spirit but patience is. When we exhibit patience, we are showing someone the Spirit. The same goes for gentleness. And love. Homosexuality is a spiritual battle in spiritual realms, not a fleshly fight man against man.
So what can we do? God has given us a spirit of power when facing the challenges of our culture. We are equipped with his wisdom as he guides us to minister to those who are sexually confused and broken. Our first step in dealing with this issue is to get into the Spirit, to shed our own fleshly thoughts and feelings about the matter and allow God to be the guide. Through daily praise, worship, and prayer, we become more aware of what God wants from us. It is only then that we are equipped to handle the spiritual issues in our communities and churches. When we approach these men in a Spirit of love, God’s love will transform them. Remember, the work is God’s, not ours. Before addressing the brokenness in others, we must defeat all the responses of our own flesh. Our thoughts and feelings about helping others must take a back seat to what God wants from us. Pray first that God will give you the words to say and the actions that he wants you to take ... this is not about you. It is about God using you to minister to another.
Next, watch your fleshly reaction toward those who struggle with sexual identity in your expressions of prejudice, coarse joking and hateful speech. Remember that the enemy is Satan and demonic forces of lust, self pity, hopelessness, and deception. Worldly responses of anger, disgust, shame, ridicule, fear, or humiliation (our “natural” responses) merely feed the flesh, making the issue worse. Referring to these men in derogatory terms—such as queer, fag, sissy or pervert—only compounds the shame and guilt they already feel. When we do that, we are Satan’s tools working to drive a wedge between a hurt and rejected people and the redeeming love that can save them. However, a response of love, acceptance, gentleness, empathy, and patience serves to overcome the flesh in ourselves and in those we serve or those to whom we minister. This is the grace of God working in a grace-filled people. Then, befriend those who are in need of grace. Verbalize your acceptance and love for him. Show physical affection. Be confidential, so he can trust you. Invite him to a ballgame or concert. Extravagantly express God’s love for him or her. Because God has gone to great lengths to pursue you, showing mercy, go and do likewise.
Tell him or her you will pray on a daily basis and then pray. Pray for your ability to minister. Ministry isn’t pretty, and the people who come to Christ need help to grind down the rough edges. Unfortunately, many Christian men who struggle with homosexual issues thought God would totally change their sexual orientation at conversion—only to find it was still there. Conversion merely begins the process of change—it is volunteering to let God begin his work in our lives. God works using brothers and sisters in Christ to bring about change in a struggler’s life through love, acceptance, affection, and bearing his burdens with him.
It is important to mention what not to do since sometimes we have a tendency to do what is not helpful. Don’t order, command, give advice (regurgitate things that haven’t worked for you), warn, threaten, make suggestions, argue, lecture, fix, persuade with logic, moralize, preach to, criticize, blame, shame, ridicule, ignore, analyze, interpret, give unsolicited solutions, reassure that everything will be OK, question, withdraw, distract, humor, or change the subject. Don’t scold or tell them they should be ashamed of themselves (they already likely have a Master’s degree in shame). Don’t tell him that if he would “just pray about it” that it will go away or that if he will just go to church that he will magically be fixed. Don’t run screaming into the night when you find out about his struggle, call him names, or gossip (sometimes in the form of a prayer request).
Just listen. After you listen, ask if you can pray for him. Cry with his pain. Touch him with an empathetic hand. Tell him that you can see the pain and shame on his face and hear it in his voice. Say, “Thank you for trusting me enough to share the greatest burden of your life with me. It is a privilege to be your brother.” Verbalize your acceptance and love for him every time you see him. If he asks for help, refer him to a recovery ministry or Christian mental health worker. Offer to go with him to his meetings if he wants you to.
If you—man or woman—struggle with same-sex attraction, there are some things you can do to help yourself. Get help and support for your struggle. Doing it alone is a recipe for no change at all. Open up to others as God leads you. In the sidebar are organizations that offer ministry and resources for those who want to change.
I teach men to use Romans 10:9: That if we confess with our mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in our hearts he was raised from the dead, we will be saved. We are not only saved in the end, but we are saved today. We are saved from sexual lust by declaring “Jesus is Lord over my sexual desire.” “Jesus is Lord over my body.” “Jesus is Lord over my fear.” Christ’s power is necessary to overcome the things of the flesh. Use the tools God has given us.
Men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction ought not to be outcasts in the church. We all have fallen short, and we all depend on the mercy and grace of God. More than that, the mission is bringing Christ to broken people, men and women who have lost hope, who hide the pain and fear of their lives behind fragile facades of “OKness.” I am excited about the church ministering to the people God leads us to. God is leading his church into a battle for the hearts of men and women; we are the warriors on the front line of this fight.
People Can Change
Exodus International resources for women and men
Regen Books resources for women and men
Love Won Out
Dr. Chris Austin is a licensed psychologist and pastoral counselor in private practice in Irving, Texas and the director of RENEW, a ministry for men who have unwanted homosexual thoughts and behaviors. To reach Dr. Christopher Austin, call Renew at (972) 986-0150
[Whole Man Renew's web site]