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The Transforming Power of Christ

A gay man chooses God’s way

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When I was about 14, I watched a news segment that showed two guys kissing each other and thought to myself, “That’s what I am . . . gay.” Ever since I could remember, I had liked guys. I tried dating girls, but those relationships never provided the same satisfaction that my attractions for guys did.

I knew I was different, and many of my peers rejected me. “Fag,” “homo,” “queer,” and other slurs were my nicknames. Some days I wondered if they were my actual name.

The most popular was “faggot,” with laughter usually following. I had other classmates who were gay; however, I was the most vocal of the group. I was proud of who I was. Some began to publicly accept my friends and me, but largely, students in our school couldn’t tolerate us, and I saw no point in making amends.

The most vocal people against me were Christians. Every day I was damned to hell—while other “sinners” had a chance at God’s love and forgiveness. This condemnation further sealed my anger toward God—a being that I’d heard about growing up but didn’t know personally. Because people didn’t take time to know me, they saw me only as a label. One of my deepest needs was to be known and liked for who I was.

Though bold on the outside, I was suicidal. No one truly knew the cliff I was standing at. I had attempted suicide a couple of times; each time, something—or Someone—stopped me.

Different Time, Same Issue

My story took place in the 1990s, and while times have changed, my experience resembles what many gay teens face today. With students coming out as early as middle school, life is a lot harder for them than when I was that age. Suicide is on the rise, and the issue of gay teenagers being bullied remains significant.

While society is trying to be proactive, the church spends more time being reactive. The Body of Christ needs to be at the forefront of proactively loving gay teenagers. The Church is long overdue in embracing a group of people who need to experience the love of Jesus. And I believe youth workers can bring this game change.

Ministry to the gay community isn’t as difficult as some people might believe, but it does require time and investment. Ministering to gays requires deep authenticity in our love, character, and truth because of the years of mistreatment from the Church. We must understand and respond in the ways of Jesus.

An Opportunity for the Church

Whether genetics or family environment plays a sole part in one’s homosexuality, the fact remains that gays are part of today’s culture and family structure. It’s my conviction that the influence of society—positive and negative—plays a large role in how a teenager embodies his or her same-sex attractions.

Other Christians may disagree with my conclusions, but my intent is simply to spur people toward an honest conversation about how we respond to people who have a sexual identity that’s different from our own. I want to push all of us from theory toward practical action.

The same grace that was offered to you must be extended to all who come to us. The Church must not compromise truth, but it must not withhold grace. As more teenagers are coming out to family and friends, our youth rooms are often the entry point in which gay students experience God. How they first encounter God and how people react to them can determine their subsequent steps.

The Power of Authentic Friendship

I was never a part of a church youth group growing up. I decided it was better to be agnostic since Christians were my biggest intimidators and condemners—except for one. I met Yvonne in 11th grade. All I knew of her was that she was a Christian and that we belonged to the same SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) chapter.

We soon became good friends. She, my best friend (who was gay), and I quickly became inseparable. My friend and I knew what Yvonne believed, but, for the first time in my life, I physically saw Jesus within a person.

Yvonne never preached to us, she didn’t slam the Bible over our heads, and she didn’t force us to attend church or youth group. My friend and I attended on our own, about two times, because of the friendship we had already established with Yvonne. She stood by us because she valued her friendship with us.

She was there for us when my best friend and I dated each other and had failed relationships with other guys. She heard our doubts about God, and she stood beside us when other Christians condemned us. My friends and I saw Yvonne slip up in her walk with Jesus. We saw her ask for forgiveness, and we stood by her as she tried to stand for her morals.

Whether Yvonne knew it or not, she was planting seeds in my life through her love. A month after I graduated, I chose to follow Jesus Christ. Yvonne was the first person I called. Later, she told me that each time she had picked me up or dropped me off, she had prayed that I would see and follow Christ.

Desiring More of God

As a young Christian, I decided for myself that I wanted to “change” my identity focus. I had no idea what I was doing, and though people tried to offer advice, I kept struggling to find my identity. It’s not that I had suddenly lost all my attractions toward men. Instead, I began to choose that I was no longer going to allow my attractions toward men to lead my life. As I grew closer to Christ, I began to experience more freedom in denying my own desires for men, while growing a desire for more of God.

In reading the Bible and believing what the Bible says, I began to comprehend that we were born with a sinful nature. Because of this, we’re all prone to act upon temptations that come our way, but we also can choose to not act upon temptations.

God gives us the choice to either do what is right or wrong. My sinful nature caused me to choose my own ways in life instead of what God wanted. I was becoming aware that I was in a serious battle where I was the “ground” being fought over (see Romans 6–8, Galatians 5, and Ephesians 6:10–20).

In this understanding, I felt God was asking me to resist my attraction toward men and to follow passionately after Him. This was over a four-year period—from age 19 to 23—of growing, doubting, trusting, and struggling with everything I was learning about God. Sometimes I walked away during this period. What brought me back each time was God’s hounding presence. Eventually I grew satisfied in my love for God. As long as I was following Him, I knew I would be OK, despite my same-sex attractions remaining.

By God’s awesome grace, I met a woman whom I fell in love with, and we married. From the beginning, my wife, Emily, has known about my past. God has used her as we have questioned things together and have walked faithfully on God’s path. At times I don’t feel like I deserve marriage. That’s the beauty of God’s grace: we get what we don’t deserve.

I realize my story doesn’t speak for everyone’s situation, as God calls each of us to a unique journey. I realize not everyone will agree with me on this, but I don’t believe homosexuality is something that people can turn off at any given moment.

Here’s the main point we need to keep at the forefront: Jesus came to offer life where death once reigned. Through Him, we have the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish what seems impossible, as long as our focus is on Him. The issue isn’t whether one deals with same-sex attractions. The central issue is whether we will forsake everything to follow Christ.

—Adapted from Ministering to Gay Teenagers: Practical Help for Youth Workers and Families ©2014 Shawn Harrison (Group Publishing, Loveland, Colo.; group.com). Used by permission. All rights reserved.

5 responses to The Transforming Power of Christ

  1. Excellent article. Very well expressed. God has spoken to me through it. Thank you for sharing. I will have a better insight now thanks to you! I used to be a youth sponsor at our church. We didn’t have any youth that were openly gay. I’m not sure how I would have handled it. But, thanks to you, my perspective has changed. Now I know that I will be able to “love” more, through you sharing your story. My wife and I have always had a passion for youth. Our son and his family are in language study now in france, in preparation for International work in Guinea through the CMA. Sharing Gods Love is very important to us! God Bless!

  2. A friend of mine told me about this article that she came across. My daughter, who is now a senior,became friends with a gay young man at school last year. I started working at her school this year would pass by this ‘group” of outcasts every morning. Finally I stopped and talked with them about their “cool” choice of hair color. Little did I know that one of these students was the guy that Linds had befriended. When he found out I was her mom, he said, “I love that girl…she’s one of my best friends.” We have been praying diligently for him and that Linds would have a boldness marked with “love”. Thanks for sharing this story. I definitely would love to read your book.

  3. “I realize my story doesn’t speak to everyone’s situation, and God calls each of us to a unique journey.” Shawn, your honesty and transparency have moved my heart. Thank you for being so vulnerable. I am ordering your book and look forward to reading it. God bless you!

  4. Good article, Shawn. The focus is on our lives as Christ-followers, not on our earthly identities. Not just for those with difference sexual attractions, but everyone!

    Agree with Judie – beautiful family!

  5. Shawn, this is the first that I’ve actually taken the time to read your articles. I’m so glad I did. I feel this is a very strong message that we all should read and with God’s help more understanding will come to people.

    Your family is beautiful and I’m proud to know you. So glad things are going well for you guys. Blessings – Judie

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