The Not-So-Gay Lifestyle
Pastoral Care for Homosexuals Who Want Out
As the young man stood in the hospital radiology room getting ready for a chest Xray, the nurse spoke to him, “Please remove the metal you’re wearing around your neck.”
Actually, it was a uniquely shaped cross with the face of Jesus etched onto it. She must have seen the fear in his eyes as he gently rubbed this precious gift his parents had given him years ago. “If we wrap it in masking tape, you can keep it on during the X-ray,” she said.
“Thank you,” the young man replied. That symbol of Jesus around his neck was the last vestige of the Christian faith to which he’d once looked as a source of hope.
Later in his room, the young man lay on the hospital bed, feeling empty and afraid. His health over the previous 13 months had rapidly declined. From his first venereal disease in January of the previous year to his current admission to Boston City Hospital with thrush, he’d had 12 frightening symptoms-nearly one for each month.
In the young man’s mind, these health problems-all occurring within two years after he’d become sexually active in New York City-pointed in one direction: AIDS.
Five days of blood tests, all of which had returned negative, left only one option-a bone marrow biopsy. This was the only test left to find out why the young man’s T-cell count was so low. The doctor had suggested the test earlier, but the young man had refused it because he knew it was the final test used in diagnosing AIDS.
That evening while lying on his bed, he once again gently rubbed the cross that hung around his neck. The name formed on the young man’s lips. “Jesus … oh, Jesus,” he prayed, “what have I done? I sought you out at age 14, and again at 18, but neither time did I receive the healing I needed to be free from homosexuality. Why, Lord? Why are some people able to come to you so easily and enter into the life of the church while others like myself, so dearly in need, fail to get any help at all?”
Unfortunately, this young man is not alone. I know that personally.
My Friend Has a Problem
“How can I help someone who is struggling with homosexuality?” It’s the most commonly asked question asked of us at Redeemed Life Ministries. My response is to ask two key questions:
1. Is the struggling person a Christian? Has he or she been baptized, regenerated, and converted in Jesus Christ? If the answer is no, then the first step in the healing process is not to address homosexuality, but to introduce them to the Great Physician, Jesus. Sometimes we send people to the nearest Alpha course, where they can be introduced to Christianity and meet Jesus personally.
If the person is a Christian, then my next question is:
2. Does the person want help? If someone does not think overcoming homosexuality is possible because he or she can’t find help, then we need to walk alongside and offer hope. If the person does not believe what Scripture teaches about homosexuality, we do not go any further. Only if a person decides he or she wants to overcome homosexuality do we move forward.
This year thousands of men and women struggling with homosexuality will pass through church doors. Depending on the church’s response, they will either be led closer to Christ or pushed farther away. For many, the homosexual in them seems to grow at a much faster rate than the Christian in them. This often leads to disillusionment, and they decide to stop attending church. The gay lifestyle is all too ready to whisper, “Yeah, you don’t need that church influence. Welcome.”
The young man at the beginning of this article had turned to the church twice before-and found no help. Who was that young man?
Me, Mario Bergner.
For several years I struggled silently with the tension between my homosexual feelings and my Christian faith. Deep inside, I feared that if the homosexual in me was stronger than my Christian faith, then surely Christianity was a religion of unrealistic expectations.
In many ways, I wanted help but didn’t seem to find it. When I finally cried out to God while in the hospital, I didn’t receive the audible reply from God I wanted or expected. Instead I saw a vision of two paths I could take-one leading to destruction, the other to healing. I sensed the Spirit of the Lord saying, “I want to heal your whole person, not just your body. Choose.”
I chose. By his grace I was physically healed. I didn’t have AIDS, and the doctors were able to offer no explanation for my symptoms or my cure.
Today, also by God’s grace, I am married and the father of four children.
4 Questions for Change
Homosexuality is not a singular, monolithic condition shared by all people with same-sex attraction. There are many factors in a person’s life that affect the course of healing. To chart the road ahead, ask the following:
1. Has the person crossed the moral boundary of acting out? Someone who has never had homosexual sex does not have to deal with added issues. Nor does he need to rebuild the moral boundary line he crossed when he first acted out. I have known many men and women who never acted on their homosexual thoughts and feelings because they were raised with strong moral boundaries. However, if someone seeks help after acting out-as was true in my case-the difficulty is compounded but not impossible.
2. What is their age?
Those seeking help by their early 20s seem to progress more quickly toward heterosexual relating. I began seeking help for changing my homosexuality at age 24. Within months I experienced the first sparks of sexual attraction for women.
Those seeking help between their late 20s and 30s often do so only after they have come to some dissatisfaction with homosexuality. By the time they’re in their mid- to late 30s, many have lost hope of finding a long-term homosexual partner and are open to leaving homosexuality. The possibility of marriage and family is a strong motivation.
Some come for help after they can no longer hope to have a family. Many of these individuals have been involved in homosexuality for decades. But they still yearn for freedom and holy living. For example, Ron came to us when he was 58. He was quite successful in his profession and was accepted by most of his colleagues. By day he was a professional businessman, but on nights and weekends he was a well-adjusted gay man.
He met Jesus through the friendship of one of his coworkers. As his desire grew to follow Jesus, Ron became increasingly dissatisfied with the homosexual subculture. He joined a supportive church, entered into our Redeemed Lives program (eight months of pastoral care and discipleship for the cure and maturation of the soul), and happily settled into a celibate life.
3. Is the person part of a supportive local church?
Integration into the body of Christ where we can know others and be known by others is key to healing. Not everyone in the church needs to be informed about the ones who struggle with homosexuality. But a supportive environment with fellowship opportunities such as Bible studies, small groups, and a shared common life is necessary to healthy growth.
Some churches have programs specifically aimed at helping people overcome sexual brokenness. While this is a great benefit, I have known many men and women who successfully came out of homosexuality simply by integrating into a loving church family where they could grow as disciples of Jesus.
4. Would they benefit from professional counseling?
Proper diagnosis and treatment of psychological or psychiatric needs can be a critical factor affecting change from many sexual struggles. Some people in the church think a pastor shouldn’t make such a recommendation, but certain psychological and psychiatric conditions can interlock with a sexual struggle. Until these are properly treated, there may be a discouraging pattern of reverting into old sexual patterns in an attempt to medicate an untreated condition.
I saw this clearly when John, another pastor, came to me for help at the recommendation of his superintendent. John was married and the father of three teenage sons, but throughout his 2o-year marriage, he had been involved in anonymous homosexual encounters.
Early on, he was so desperate for help that he moved his entire family to New York City, stating he wanted to earn a doctorate at a theological school there. But his real motivation was to receive help from a psychoanalyst in Manhattan known for his successful treatment of homosexuality. Through this doctor’s care, John came alive to his sexual need for his wife. John told me that his sexual attraction toward men lessened, but he still acted out homosexually several times each year.
After we’d been meeting for a while, I asked John if he would consider seeing a psychiatrist. He was hesitant because he had already tried counseling. He did not understand the difference between psychiatric and psychological care. When he understood that, he agreed to be evaluated by a psychiatrist. The doctor’s diagnosis was depression, anxiety, and a form of clinical paranoia. He prescribed medication.
Within a few months, I witnessed one of the most remarkable transformations I have ever seen. John reported that the love he had long held for his dear wife was continually on the surface of his heart. His homosexual struggle was reduced to only occasional thoughts. Eventually, he went off the medication for anxiety and paranoia but remained on a low dosage of an antidepressant. He never acted out homosexually again and his marriage grew stronger.
Certainly there are other factors that influence the course of healing from homosexuality. But the four I’ve just presented were the most critical in the healing journeys I have witnessed.
The Church’s Role in Change
There is no single process for persons trying to leave the homosexual lifestyle. There are, however, ways we in pastoral roles can help.
The church can effectively minister to people struggling with homosexuality through preaching, teaching, and healing. The Bible describes this three-fold order in Matthew 9:35: “Then Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness.”
As the church, we are to teach and demonstrate that living in holy celibacy and healing are viable options for every Christian, even those struggling with homosexuality, which is but one of the many conditions Jesus died to redeem us from.
In the October 2003 Archives of Sexual Behavior, Dr. Robert Spitzer of Columbia University announced the results of his study of more than 200 people who had successfully overcome homosexuality. His scientific findings confirm the biblical promise: homosexuals can change.
We are to preach the Good News leading to regeneration and deeper growth in Jesus Christ. The pastor who ministered to me after I left the homosexual lifestyle showed me that pastors don’t have to pretend to know it all. He treated me with respect and love, while still challenging me and teaching me to pray with a depth I never had before.
Finally, we are to offer sexual redemption in Christ, not only for homosexuality, but for all sexual issues. I remember several unexpected encounters with Christians whose faith ministered to me, including some nuns with guitars who greeted me on the street. Their joy and warmth brought healing to my soul.
In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul gives a list of common sins, including two forms of homosexual behavior. In verse ii he adds, “And such were some of you, but you were washed, you were justified, you were sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” Notice the use of the past tense, were. Paul is clearly stating that the Corinthians became free from homosexuality.
When properly equipped, we can be effective shepherds to those who come to church for healing in their sexuality, including those struggling with homosexuality.
Clearly, anyone can be forgiven of homosexual sin. Most people who want to change can successfully do so, and all who are in Christ can experience holy living.
The above material was published by Survival Guide. This material may be copyrighted and should be used for study and research purposes only.