As I prepped for coming out in June I made a point of telling those closest to me what I had planned. Most of these people had known of my journey for years, but I needed to let them know that I was going public. I gave everyone this head’s up because I knew that some people might not want to be associated with me given the stigma of what I wrestle with.
Indeed, several people I know chose to break all public connections. These were primarily people who work with children and feared that their own livelihoods and reputations could be put at risk by my confessions. I was saddened by these decisions, but I understood them. As I pointed out in my previous essay, it took years for me to overcome my own fears, and that was for a decision that I was making for myself. It is much scarier when someone is making that decision for you.
What has hurt me, though, is being asked to leave two churches in the past month.
The first of those requests came from church members, people with whom I shared my plans in that initial wave of preparation. Janelle and I were politely asked not to return because of fear that guilt by association might cause backlash against them. They further worried that my situation would cause others within the church to view them poorly. Perhaps most importantly, they felt that any ministry opportunities they had might be derailed because of my presence there.
Janelle and I had been attending that church since we came back from North Dakota, a period of about three years. After investing all that time, we were hesitant to leave. I felt it unlikely that there would be backlash against people other than me, but I also couldn’t discount it completely. As I mentioned in my Beyond Pride series, I had been told point blank by several people (including a church’s senior minister) that the church simply wasn’t ready to deal with minor-attracted people. If that were true, then I had to acknowledge the chance that innocent people near me might get hurt. Thus, out of an abundance of caution, Janelle and I left.
I still wanted to have a church home, though, so we looked for another place to worship. We had friends who attended elsewhere in town. After confirming that they were open to our presence, Janelle and I began going to their church. We enjoyed the service and liked the people we met, so I reached out to their preacher to explain my situation and see if he and his church would be willing to assist me as I seek to initiate discussions on minor-attracted people.
When he declined to officially aid in my work, that didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me, however, was when Janelle and I were told—politely, again—that we he and the elders had decided we were unwelcome and should go elsewhere.
I’m still wrestling with these two rejections. I know there’s a lot of fears wrapped up in this topic, but I had hoped that I could at least GO to church, even if my work wasn’t embraced by the membership there. I was willing to be the pariah as long as I could at least call somewhere home.
The trials in finding a church are a perfect example of why I made the decision to begin speaking out on this topic.
If I chose to speak out against child molestation while still hiding my desires, I would be welcomed and praised. If I preached a generic message of Jesus’ love for everyone, I would similarly be appreciated. However, because I have chosen to target a specific group for that love—and done so from a position of empathy and openness with them—I find myself without a church home. This is very frustrating for me as it means that I am unwelcome in church not because of heretical beliefs or even unrepentant sin, but instead purely because of who I am.
This is why I chose to tell the world about my struggle. This is why I cannot stop spreading my story. In churches across America I believe there are men who have valiantly faced the same struggle I have and refrained from acting on their attraction. Yet, they know that if they were somehow outed against their will, they would likely lose their jobs, their families, and…their churches. I cannot stand idly by and implicitly condone a world where actively fighting an evil desire is as hated as acting upon it.
The problem is bigger than simply these reactions to my situation, though. Over the last six months, I have now heard ministers of three different churches discussing the trend of declining numbers within our congregations. It’s a problem that has been addressed primarily with sermons on the need for members to invite friends and coworkers to church. I agree with the goal here; every member of the church is responsible for sharing Jesus.
What concerns me, though, is the fear that we will become a place where that invitation is not enough. The people who need Jesus most are those who are broken. Jesus himself noted that healthy don’t need a physician, only the sick. What then do we offer these people when they do come? How welcome will they feel? Are there sins of the past or desires of the present that are simply overwhelmed by our desire for comfort? If so, do we stop being the place for people to come when no one else wants them? What, then, do we have to give them that the world cannot?
These are questions that we need to answer. Even if you decide that you wouldn’t want non-offending MAPs in your church, you have to answer why, and what line has been crossed by our presence. If you decide that the fear our presence generates is sufficient to deny us fellowship, then you have to decide where we DO belong.
After all, if the church isn’t the last bastion of hope for people fighting sin, then what is it?
If you are unfamiliar with my series of essays on life as minor-attracted person, you can read up at my website (wileyhaydon.com/blog) or in my first series of Facebook essays on the topic: Beyond Pride. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org