As I prepared to come out publicly, I told more than a dozen of my closest friends and family of my plans. I wanted them to be prepared for any potential backlash. I also wanted to help them understand what would drive me to an admission that includes a real possibility of negative consequences for Janelle and me. I received lots of support, promise of prayers, and plenty of helpful advice.
However, I was also asked what I hoped to accomplish with these essays. I noted that my primary goal was simply to get people talking about that which has largely been unspeakable. There is a power in words, and my hope was that simply giving breath to my struggles would be enough to plant seeds of change. I still have that hope, but that is hardly the extent of my plans.
One of my longer-term goals is finding ways to support the MAP community. Those struggling with these attractions need safe places to go and get help. While there are, technically, resources out there, there’s no guarantee that they can be found by those seeking, and some of them are still run anonymously by other MAPs. The unmistakable aura of fear is still very much a part of their lives; to admit their struggle is tantamount to death.
Laying this out, I discussed my hope that Christians would be willing to step up. We are called to love the unlovable, and you would be hard-pressed to find a group today that meets that criterion more than minor-attracted peoples. When I’d say this most people nodded quietly in tacit understanding. About a quarter of those I told, though, offered this insight: “You know, the church isn’t ready for this.”
Regrettably, I agree with that assessment. The church’s overall reaction to the gay community has implied strongly that we are more aligned with condemnation than we are with compassion. We have given the world around us a sense that we would rather be right than be loving, and it has cost us dearly in our ministry.
Please understand, I’m not saying that the church should compromise its teachings. The phrase has become a cliché, but we can truly love the sinner without loving the sin. My struggles are a perfect blueprint of how we can do that.
The friends who walked with me through the journey made two facts abundantly clear. They loved me and cared for me, wanted the best for me, and were willing to do whatever was necessary to help carry the burden. However, they also made clear that if I ever fell to my desires and hurt a child, they would be there to ensure that I faced justice for my actions…all while loving me still.
This kind of love is like walking a razor’s edge between condemnation and complicity. It is finding the difficult balance between loving someone enough that they feel that they can bring anything to you while still maintaining enough moral sense to convey that you do not condone their temptations.
How do we accomplish this? The simplest answer is that we have to know and love someone before we offer correction.
This was how I managed my own journey. Until this past week, I didn’t go to relative strangers. Instead, I chose people who knew me well. These individuals were already dear friends to me. They cared about ME, and when they learned of my temptations they cared enough about me as a person that they were able to embrace me without also embracing my evil.
This isn’t traditionally how the church operates. I know this, because all too often I’ve been the one standing in judgment on those I disagree with. Unsurprisingly, this did little to convince people to join my cause. I’m ashamed to admit that it took me far longer than it should have to understand my failure. The hardest lesson I’ve had to learn is that being right isn’t enough.
Truth is only half of the necessity for a meaningful message; the other half is communication. Ignoring that aspect of the equation is folly, as the means of transmission are just as important as the message itself; unheard truth is no more helpful than falsehood. In fact, it’s potentially even worse since falsehood rings truer in the absence of truth.
So, here’s a rundown of the basics. There are two eternal truths here worth communicating.
First is the fact that God loves us all. The broad statement of that truth tends to be easy; we find it easy to say God loves everyone. Where we often run into problems is in the specifics. Even while acknowledging that God loves everybody, I can find it hard to say that he loves a specific group. In this case, that means that though it can be hard to think about, God does love minor-attracted people. They are his children, and he is hoping for their redemption just as dearly as everyone else. Jesus even noted that he came to the sinners when he noted that it is the sick who need a physician. MAPs are sick in a variety of ways and need to understand that Christ’s love isn’t diminished because of attractions beyond their conscious control.
The second universal truth is that certain acts are harmful to our own lives and are counter to what God has planned for us. This point can often be contentious when the world and the church disagree on exactly what is and is not part of moral living. Fortunately for MAPs and the church, this truth is easier to understand as it is not simply about themselves. There is another basic truth wrapped up in this: harming someone for personal gain is very wrong.
The problem I’ve seen is that the churches in America have spent most of their time in recent years choosing only one of these truths as their focus. Espousing only the idea of God’s love leads to a message that is heard, but it creates a weak imitation of that love. This is where the so-called “health and wealth gospels” come from. It spreads the idea that since God loves us we can therefore continue as we are. Greed, gluttony, and lust are ignored because there is no understanding that while he loves us, he also wants us to be free from the things that bind us.
The other side is no better alone. It is a dark and destructive thing, a missive of condemnation without hope. We like to say that this message is good because it is true, but that’s only part of it. When our delivery of truth is isolated from love then harping on the validity of those words is worthless: they will never be heard anyway. Truth delivered without love is an empty gesture, and its recipients will treat it as such.
It is this focus on a narrative divided rather complete that forces me to conclude that the church simply isn’t ready to deal with MAPs. We have to find the middle ground. Our love must be sufficient for our correction and right now it’s not.
The good news is that we aren’t static. We can change. The church may not be ready today, but I see a day coming when we will be. We can learn from our past mistakes and become a place that balances our truths.
Part of my purpose in these essays is to guide us toward that eventuality. I’m not entirely sure what a ready church looks like; my gifts and experience are in preaching and writing. I believe God will lead me to someone with a background and heart for ministry who can help shape where we need to go.
If you know a church or minister like that, please direct them to these essays. Give them my contact information. I am doing what I can to spread the word, but I need help. Alone, a message can only spread as far as its speaker can shout, but together we can create so much more.
Church, it’s time to get ready.