Ding. Email from Will on Friday at 11:24 AM
Ding. Email from Frank on Friday at 4:22 PM
Ding. Email from Frank on Saturday at 10:44 PM
Ding. Email from Will on Sunday at 11:21 AM
Ding. Email from Frank on Sunday at 4:18 PM
Ding. Email from Will on Sunday at 6:49 PM
Will is a 17-year-old gay Christian, and Frank is a 60-year-old gay Christian. I’m not using their real names, but their stories are very real. Separately, the two emailed me back and forth over a weekend, and by the fourth email, I couldn’t help feeling some deja vu. At times, it felt like I was talking to the same person, just 43 years apart. They both struggle mightily to obey Christ’s teachings and find joy as gay Christians, and neither of them feel like their church has anything meaningful to offer them.
Will reached out because he’s leaning toward moving from a historic sexual ethic to a revisionist perspective on sexual stewardship. He’s grown up in a family and churches that ignored the fact that gay people exist, explaining them away as sexual deviants who chose to be gay. By the time Will shared his story with his church and family, seeds of deep shame and isolation had already been planted. His church continues to avoid the topic, perhaps waiting for all of the gay people in their midst to lose their faith and leave the church so that the church never has to address it (please excuse the dark humor). His parents did their best to learn about Will’s story and love him well, but the damage was already done. Will said this: “It’s been hard for me to keep it together. I can’t even fool my parents that I’m sad. I don’t know where to turn. I feel so overwhelmed, I find it hard to focus. I don’t even know my own feelings at the moment. Recently I’ve been thinking of starving myself.”
After encouraging Will to reach out to his therapist, I asked him if he was convinced that a revisionist sexual ethic was God’s best for him. He responded: “I honestly don’t know if my stance is really all that theological or logical. I honestly don’t care, I just want to feel like God loves me. I have had such a horrible time trying to convince myself that, and right now, this is the only way. I’m gonna be honest: I feel old. I don’t feel like a young and vibrant seventeen-year-old. I just want to be with someone. I want someone to tell me they love me the same way I do.” At seventeen years old, Will is lonely and desperate, he doesn’t feel like the Church has anything good to offer him, and he’s afraid for his future.
Frank, 43 years older, seems to be stuck in the same haunted house as Will. Frank reached out to me in frustration of his church’s lack of support for his call to celibacy. He’s asked his church to commission him as a celibate for the Lord. Nothing. He’s asked his church to be family for him so that he can meet his needs for intimacy in healthy ways. Nothing. They’ve only passed him off to a sex addiction therapist and wiped their hands of him. Here’s what Frank said: “Any couple can take six pre-marital counseling sessions with a pastor and get married. But I’ve met with pastors more than sixty times, written papers, met with a sex addiction therapist for two years, and they still offer excuse after excuse as to why they can’t bless my celibacy. I am trying to commit my life to God and the Church in place of marriage. And they have the nerve to sit there and respond by complaining that their lives are more difficult because they have to serve their family and a church. I have no sympathy for them. I’ve taught Bible studies, Sunday school, lead prayers, and preached. Yet because they are so scared of celibacy they reject the people that have the time to serve and are called to serve. I sometimes wonder why God brought me back to the Church. I guess I’ll always be alone. Lonely. I’m sorry I wrote so much. I’m kinda alone here and there’s no one to discuss this with.”
A few emails later, Frank ended his message with these solemn words: “The saddest thing for me is that when I meet another gay person in the Church, I honestly can’t tell them to follow my example. Without loving support from the Church, I cannot condemn them to what I am experiencing. The Church is actively pushing people out of the arms of Jesus and either into the grave or another man’s arms. If the Church won’t love people, they will go where they can find love.” Just like Will, Frank is lonely and desperate, and he doesn’t feel like the Church has anything good to offer him. But beyond his fear for his own future, he’s grim about the prospects for teens like Will. To summarize his advice for Will: It doesn’t get better. The Church doesn’t care. Lord have mercy on us.
The most painful part of these email exchanges for me was my helplessness. I wanted so badly to offer a solution. To point them to a Bible verse or a church that would make things better. But I couldn’t offer them anything.
This is where I need pastors to keep listening and not turn away. I need you to hear Will and Frank and me say that the church isn’t offering good and beautiful things to people like us. And before you respond with “But, have you tried…,” please stop. I know these men. Whatever you’re about to suggest, they’ve tried it.
Instead, I need you to accept that Will and Frank currently have no reason to hope for good fruit of obedience to Christ in this area of their life. Is there hope for the next life? Yes! But this life? No. Sure, adopting a revisionist sexual ethic might make matters even worse, but if holding onto a historic sexual ethic means depression and suicide, is following a historic sexual ethic really better? Will and Frank’s pain isn’t for lack of hard work and prayer. God isn’t waiting for the right moment to magically make everything better. The status quo exists because churches have been unwilling to do what it takes to offer something better.
Now, let me ask you, pastors and Christian leaders, one question: If you don’t do something about this, who will?
I know what you’re going to say: “I have so much on my plate already. There are so many hurting people in my church.” I believe you that you really do know and love people like Will and Frank. But time after time when confronted with stories like these, you’ve found some way to tell yourself, “It can’t really be this bad.” Just this one time, I’m asking you to resist the temptation to look away.
Are you ready for some good news? You’re not alone. You don’t have to find a solution to these challenges all by yourself. This is why Equip exists. We offer our expertise to pastors and churches. We help you come up with a vision for your church, and we walk alongside you step-for-step as you implement that plan. Together, we can change the lives of Will and Frank. Together, we can offer them something more than just surviving for the gospel. Together, we can help them thrive for the gospel. Their stories don’t have to be the problem people we manage in private with little hope. Instead, their stories can be testaments to the gospel we celebrate publicly.