I am 33 and grew up in a strongly Christian family who remain so all except me. I notice in Australia there is a kind of mainstream of Protestantism in which the theology and life-approach is very similar, and people can church-shop across denominations quite easily. So although I grew up in a Baptist church, I would describe the faith I imbibed from my parents as generic Protestant. Both my parents are loving people whose faith is an expression of that love to humanity. My father had been a church minister before I was born, then a schoolteacher through my childhood and adolescence, returning to ministry a couple of years after I started my first undergraduate degree, in music.
I wasn’t aware of being same-sex attracted as a young boy. All I knew was I was just plain horny. Although by age 12 I fully understood the facts of life, and the Christian prohibition of pre- and extra-marital sex, this did not stop my sex drive finding outlets, at first with a couple of boys my own age, then discovering the beats at 15. I still devoutly believed the faith I had been taught, so every episode was an odyssey of temptation, resistance, despairing surrender then immediate acute guilt. But instead of being deterred I found my behaviour becoming more compulsive. Finally, a few months before I turned 16, my long absences at the men’s changing rooms during a family beach holiday were so conspicuous that my father asked me directly what was going on. I was so frightened of my own behaviour I told him.
My parents, true to form, responded in love as best they knew how. They had already had contact with the Brisbane branch of Exodus, called Liberty, and knew its leader, Peter Lane, personally. Within two days, Peter visted our holiday accomodation and a six-year counselling relationship began. Most readers will know the general tenor of the teaching I came into contact with there. Homosexuality was a disordered attempt to achieve affirmation in and intimacy with your own gender, something that had been thwarted with your same-gender parent and/or peers. Healing in these areas, and breaking the “habit” of sex with men, should lead to the “recovery” of your innate heterosexuality. Despite it all, I never went longer than six weeks without a “fall”. And I dreaded the meetings with Peter in which I had to confess in explicit detail everything I had done. Later, when I went to group meetings I seemed to be the only member who ever had any sexual contact to confess.
Looking back I believe the worst harm done by the teaching was to deny that there is such a thing as a gay identity. Now I know I am truly oriented towards men. My gaze naturally turns towards them. The sight of a handsome man on the street gives me a glow of inexplicable happiness. The affectionate embrace of another man, sexual or not, carries a charge that flashes straight to my core. Looking back, I can now see that though in adolescence my closest friends were girls, I was not alive to their physical charms, while in memory I still feel a pang for every boy whose looks attracted me.
But it was a tortuous road to self-acceptance. I despaired of ever ceasing to desire men, and moved on to a Catholic support group which promoted celibacy rather than change as a valid response to same-sex attraction. Here I felt calmer, but no happier, for I was no less sexually active overall. Finally, it took my going to London, where I lived on and off for a few years, before I allowed myself the freedom to admit and explore my attraction to men. I came to a degree of acceptance of my own nature, but I found it incompatible with the New Testament.
I don’t think there’s any getting around the fact that St Paul sees it as a symptom of God-denial in Romans 1. I find the argument that he is talking about straight people who glory in peverting their own nature unconvincing. It presumes categories of straight and gay which don’t seem to have existed in the ancient mind. Also, from my reading of the NT, Jesus says nothing about sexual desire itself other than to state that the look of non-marital lust is as culpable as the act. Jesus is an asexual individual as far as the Gospels are concerned. We never hear of his having any kind of explicitly sexual relationship, not even marriage. So he is biblically silent on what has been the most pressing problem of my (and most men’s) existence: how do I live morally with a functioning sex drive?
I don’t wish to dismiss Christ. In history he is the first to place love at the centre of practical morality. In this I am wholeheartedly his disciple. But the rest of the paraphernalia of what the church calls Christian Life I cannot value.
I know there are forces governing the universe inconceivably greater than I can comprehend. But whether these forces ultimately issue from and are controlled by a single benevolent being, called for convenience “God”, I cannot claim to be sure or even “have faith”. I have had no direct revelation – the Church as a conduit of revelation, if that is what it is supposed to be, seems at best problematic – and have been offered no convincing reasons which would engender belief. And I cannot simply will belief in myself. The more you try and force yourself to believe, the more you are aware that underneath you really don’t believe or you wouldn’t need forcing. So I find I cannot worship God, or assign him the attributes of goodness, justice etc. All I know is that the best thing a human being can do is love. And I must love as best I know how, which is: kindness and respect to all, and honesty in the physical expression of my passions.
My main motivation in posting here is to find other people to speak with about these matters. I’m not sure how many believers would welcome such conversations, but I hope they as well as fellow agnostics would feel some interest. I am keen to talk to more people who have had experience of Ex-gay groups, especially Liberty here in Brisbane.