Like the rope in a tug of war, I once was pulled by homosexuality on one end. My soul, relationships and the Church pulled the other end.
In childhood I met God’s saving love through Roman Catholic sisters and American evangelicals. During adolescence, cruel schoolmates whispered “homo” as they passed me in hallways. Concurrently, two well-known Christians engaged in a national media campaign against homosexuality. They viewed homosexuals as predators. The gay community perceived Christians as bigots. The conflicting pull between homosexual attractions and Christianity was agonizing.
At university I met openly homosexual people, none of whom were predators. Two compassionate gay professors encouraged me to find meaning in homosexuality. Declaring myself gay, I disengaged from the Christian pull for a while and became involved in gay political theater. Trying to reconcile homosexuality with Christianity, I read pro-gay Christian arguments by writers such as John Boswell, a Catholic scholar who taught at Yale Divinity School. But his scholarship failed to convince me. Meanwhile, I engaged in an internal dialogue with Jesus. One night in a gay bar, the anguished eyes of older gay men pierced me. I pleaded to Jesus, “Surely you have more for these men than this?” He responded, “You will help me deliver these people.” I left the bar quickly. Jesus now pulled on the rope. The tug of war was re-engaged.
At twenty-three I was hospitalized with eleven symptoms of AIDS. From my bed, I questioned the Lord about homosexuality and Christianity. Jesus appeared saying, ”I want to heal your whole person, not just your sexuality. Choose.” Not understanding what “choose” meant I just chose him. I recovered and years later tested HIV negative.
My sister telephoned expressing concern over my hospitalization. I assured her, “I prayed to Jesus and He healed me . . . but I don’t want to talk about it.” She responded by sending a book about overcoming homosexuality. I read it, but didn’t believe most of it. Between its pages Annelyse included a letter asking forgiveness for harshly judging me. The book and her letter softened my heart. My conversations with Jesus now included forgiveness prayers toward my father for abusing me as a child. Not only was the tug of war in full force, but for the first time in years the Christian pull was winning. Conversely, the pull of self-identification as gay was weakening. When I accepted myself exclusively as a Christian, not gay and not gay-Christian, the tug of war ended
In the following years I discovered a number of authoritative works on homosexuality ignored by both the politically correct gay movement and the Church. These include Lawrence Hatterer’s Changing Homosexuality in the Male (McGraw-Hill, 1970), William Aaron’s Straight (Double Day, 1972), Irving Beiber’s Homosexuality (Jason Aaronson, 1988), Elaine Siegel’s Female Homosexuality: Choice Without Volition (The Analytic Press, 1988), Charles Socarides’ Homosexuality: A Freedom Too Far (Margrave Books, 1995) Jeffrey Satinover’s Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth (Baker, 1996), and Robert Spitzer’s recent study published in the October 2003 Archives of Sexual Behavior: “Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation?” All these secular sources offer considerable hope of change for those seeking it. Recently, a fellow priest took offense when I said to some of his parishoners, “If your teenager tells you his or she is gay and they want help, don’t go to a clergyman. Go to a good psychologist, secular or Christian, who specializes in such treatment.” I am sorry to have offended him. Unfortunately, what I said is true.
In America’s culture war between homosexuality and Christianity, the Episcopal Church has consistently sided with the gay agenda. Episcopalian conservatives have focused energy and money fighting Integrity, a pro-gay group and the Episcopal Church’s only official outreach to homosexuals.
For thirty years, revisionists have set the agenda to which conservatives have reacted. A Place To Stand October 2003 in Dallas was historic because as faithful Episcopalians we proactively set an agenda and stood. We are still standing. However, conservatives, weary from fighting revisionists, seem disinterested in doing anything pro-active for the gay community.
Ministries such as Redeemed Lives and Living Waters, which offer pastoral care for overcoming same-sex attractions receive little attention or resources from Episcopal churches. Because we pose so little a threat, revisionists do not bother us. At Redeemed Lives twenty per cent of individuals who come to us are seeking help for homosexuality. The other eighty per cent need help with impaired intimacy related to the fall-out from the sexual revolution. Our main source of help is our twenty-six week program of pastoral care and discipleship. We also equip leaders to use this and other programs in their ministry settings. Additionally, we work with local psychologists and psychiatrists to better serve those who come to us for help.
I live near a city of seven million people. With homosexuals accounting for three percent of the American population, the Episcopal Church offers little to Chicago’s gay population, which numbers two-hundred-ten-thousand souls. The spiritual poverty of the Episcopal Church (especially here in Chicago) is such that a self-identified homosexual entering one of our churches is likely to find an affirmation of their same-sex attractions by one of our many openly gay priests. I can say with certainty that Redeemed Lives is rarely, if ever, offered as a possible course of pastoral care.
Alongside my priesthood, I teach at a secular university. One of my students asked me about a Christian who scours Boystown, one of Chicago’s gay neighborhoods, shouting condemnation through a megaphone. I told her, “He’s wacko and doesn’t speak for all Christians.” She inquired, “What do you think about gays?” I replied, “Jesus hangs out with sinners until they find transformation.” She frowned and smiled. She’s in the tug of war.
Through effective pastoral care and discipleship, as well as psychotherapy, I dealt with my homosexual attractions and found freedom for heterosexual marriage. After living in abstinence for twelve years I met a wonderful woman. We married and now have five children. Homosexual attractions occasionally still pull at me, but I understand them now and they no longer identify who I am. The tug of war is over for me.
The Rev. Mario Bergner was born in Thetford Mines, Quebec. Mario is the founder and director of Redeemed Lives Ministries, which is a ministry of pastoral care and discipleship located near Chicago. He is also an Anglican priest.
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