Thursday, July 31, 2014

From the News: Exclusive: 9 Former Ex-Gay Leaders Join Movement To Ban Gay Conversion Therapy

I haven't made a habit  of posting news pieces on this blog, but this Buzzfeed article was too perfect not to share on here.

My thoughts: If this many people who were once so committed to a way of life that they were willing to make it their purpose in life and work to establish a movement are saying that the path they were once committed to doesn't work, folks, it doesn't work. God isn't fixing people who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, or transgender because they are not broken.

Act Two, Scene Three - “My Mountain”

This post is part of my on-going story that I have been telling through this blog.  If you are just coming here for the first time or if you need to catch up, you can catch the earlier parts of the story in Setting the Stage or Act One.  See the navigation panel to the right labeled My Story.  I hope that my sharing of my story is helpful, encouraging, informative, or at least entertaining for you.  Please feel free to comment or contact me at the e-mail address below.  Thanks!

Timeframe: Fall, 1996

Within a few months of getting saved and becoming a part of the church at New Promise, I was feeling pretty discouraged.  I didn’t think I would ever be able to rid myself of my homosexual desires.  To make things even more frustrating, I still felt that I couldn’t even tell anyone about my struggles.  I had shared with a couple of people that I was struggling with pornography, but I kept those conversations vague and very “straight” sounding.  I felt that people could handle me struggling with pornography.  I felt they could have been all right with it if I was a drug addict or even a murderer, but being gay had such a stigma attached to it that I knew I couldn’t tell tell anyone.  They would shun me for sure or, worse, they would support me with their words and their behavior and body language would show their discomfort.

Later that year, in the Fall, a church had a gospel singer named John Starnes perform on a Sunday evening.  It wasn’t really a style of music that I would have sought out on my own or thought I would have liked, but I was so hungry for anything Christian at that time that I was very moved by the music that night.  After he was finished playing, Mr. Starnes had an altar call.  He called anyone forward that felt that they had a mountain in their life that they could not overcome.

Well, I knew what my mountain was, and I was convinced that God was speaking through the singer directly to me in that moment.  Without hesitation, I went forward.  I had made up my mind that even if he asked what I wanted prayer for, I was going to tell him.  This was just one stop for him.  My secret would leave with him when he went on to the next stop.  I was relieved when I didn’t have to say it out loud, but I knew it didn’t matter.  God knew why I was there, and I knew that God would hold me accountable.

As I was prayed over that God would help me overcome my mountain, I prayed within myself that God would rid me of my homosexual desires.  I knew that God had the power to restore me to being the person that I was intended to be.

As I left church that night, I felt lighter.  It was as though a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.  It was difficult to contain myself.  I wanted to tell everyone what I believed God had just done in my life, but I hesitated.  Even if I told them that God had healed me of my homosexuality, I still felt like they would look at that sin differently.  Plus, I needed some time to prove to myself and to God that I really had changed.

Within a few days, I had already reached the point that I just couldn’t contain my excitement.  I called Angela and told her that I needed to talk to her.  We made plans to have lunch at her house the next day.  I couldn’t wait to tell her what God had done for me.


© Joshua Culbertson 2014

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Act Two, Scene Two - "Baptism"

This post is part of my on-going story that I have been telling through this blog.  If you are just coming here for the first time or if you need to catch up, you can catch the earlier parts of the story in Setting the Stage or Act One.  See the navigation panel to the right labeled My Story.  I hope that my sharing of my story is helpful, encouraging, informative, or at least entertaining for you.  Please feel free to comment or contact me at the e-mail address below.  Thanks!

Late that same summer, they announced at church that they would be doing a baptism.  I had never been baptized, but I had, of course, read the stories of Jesus Baptism.  The church didn’t teach that baptism was essential for salvation, but they did teach that it was an important outward expression and sign of the change that had already happened inwardly.  The church didn’t have a baptismal in it.  Their baptism were held at the pastor’s house.  They baptized by full immersion using the pastor’s above-ground pool in the backyard.  I loved the symbolism of dying, being fully submerged representing the death of the “old” me and the resurrection, reemergence from the water as the “new” me.  

It felt very freeing.  I was glad to finally be able to cast off the old me, the me that I was embarrassed about, ashamed of.  The old me, the me that was attracted to guys was still in there though.  I can remember bouts of self-condemnation for days because I allowed myself to have a lustful thought about one of my new guy friends while we were swimming or while I was watching them play basketball. I occasionally sought out gratification in other ways as well.  

It was shortly after my baptism that I sought out pornography as a means of satisfying those inner needs.  In those days, the internet was still a young and curious phenomenon.  There was porn out there, but it wasn’t good.  I was aware of a news store downtown that sold magazines.  I had been in there many times because I was an avid comic book reader growing up.  I was well aware of the mysterious set of shelves hidden behind the others.  I had seen others back there before while I was looking for the latest Superman, Batman, or G.I. Joe comic.  It was comforting for me to have seen that though.  I knew that, even though I was aware someone was back there, I hadn’t been able to see their faces.  I would think about going there.  Then, I would feel guilty, and beat  myself up for days.  

When I finally did work up the courage to go, it felt like some kind of spy operation.  My mother worked downtown as did, obviously, a number of her co-workers who knew me by sight.  There were also all of these new church people that I had just met.  What if one of them saw me?  I was terrified.  I parked on the street near the courthouse.  The news shop was just across the street and around the corner.  When I first went in, I went to the comic books like I always did.  There were a few other people in there.  Thankfully, no one that I knew.  Small towns are very difficult to be invisible in.  When the other patrons left the store, I took the few comic books that I had selected and went behind the wall to the hidden shelves.  

I didn’t know much about porn.  I was also terrified to buy actual gay porn.  I selected Penthouse and a Playboy.  I has seen a few straight porn mags growing up and they had sometimes had men in them.  I just had to hope for the best. I took my purchases to the counter with the comics on top.  The clerk asked to see my ID.  Questions of “What if she knows my parents?” and “What if she memorizes my name?” flashed through my head as if she cared that much about what I was buying.  Ironically, one thing that gave me comfort was that, having worked at the gas station for as long as I had, I had sold more than a few condoms.  I always smiled at how awkward people were when they brought them to the counter.  I knew it wasn’t a big thing to me to sell condoms.  I kind of hoped this clerk felt the same way, but, of course, there was also that side of me that saw the fury of God’s own judgement in her eyes.

Walking out of the store, I rushed to the car.  I was fearful that someone would see me and just innocently say, “Hi, Josh.  Gee.  What did you buy?”  That was one of the reasons for the comic books.  I needed something to pull out of the brown paper bag that was less incriminating.  I made it safely to the car and drove home.  

As I drove, the guilt began to creep in.  I pushed it aside, but it came back when I got home and began to look through the magazines.   I felt as though the new me who had risen from the water in the pastor’s backyard was tarnished.  I felt ashamed.  I felt like God hated me.  I grabbed the magazines and some matches.  I ran out into a field behind my parents’ house and burned them.  I couldn’t believe that I could take this new life and throw it away.  I felt as though my salvation hung in the balance every time I acted for or against what I perceived to be God’s will.  It was a very difficult and challenging time for me.  It was a continuous cycle, a washing of forgiveness followed by a washing of sin.


© Joshua Culbertson 2014

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Act Two, Scene One - “Angela”

I had mentioned in a previous post that Angela would play a key role in upcoming posts.  Let’s talk a little about Angela.  She was Max’s girlfriend’s older sister.  She seemed to take her faith a bit more seriously that some of the others in the group at that time.  She was also interesting to me because she was very transparent about who she was.  She didn’t really appear overtly rebellious like Max was when I first met him, but she also didn’t try to pretend that she didn’t have flaws either.

I remember one Sunday afternoon when a bunch of us were out in Max’s parents’ backyard.  I was completely committed to this new path and my newfound relationship with God, but there were still so many things that I had questions about.  While I had thrown a good many questions at Mark, we were always hindered by trying to engage in conversation while also trying to do our jobs and wait on customers.  That afternoon, while a bunch of the other guys were playing basketball, I found myself engaged in one-on-one conversation with Angela.  

Our conversation that afternoon centered around some of the things that I had seen happen during the services at New Promise.  These things, at once, confirmed to me that there was something genuine going on there beyond my understanding while also weirding me out a little.  Angela told me to follow her inside.  She found a Bible, and she and I stretched out across Marc’s bed.  Slowly and patiently, she went through scripture by scripture showing me the verses that dealt with speaking in tongues, raising hands in praise, and even dancing before the Lord.  Seeing these verses on the page myself solidified for me more and more that I was on the right path.

Angela encouraged me to read more which I was already feeling compelled to do anyway.  I just wasn’t sure how to go about it systematically.  I had already begun trying to read my Bible from the beginning, starting with Genesis.  Genesis and Exodus were pretty cool.  It was very intriguing to me to read these stories that I had at least heard about as a child, but beyond those first two books of the Bible, it was a bit of a struggle.  Angela told me to begin reading in the New Testament with the Gospel of John and then read 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John.  Then, she told me that, once I had finished those books, I should go back and read the entire New Testament starting at the beginning with Matthew.  She said that would give me a good solid understanding of who God was before going back and tackling the Old Testament.  Armed with a plan, I dove in and began reading.

I would go to either Angela or Mark as I had questions.  Reading the gospels, one of my first questions was about fasting.  The members of New Promise were asked to fast every Wednesday.  Mark explained to me that the emphasis was to focus on feeding yourself spiritually rather than physically.  He told me that I should take the time that I would normally spending eating that day and make a conscious effort to either read my Bible, pray, or both during that time.  I loved that.  I would never conceive of not feeding my body.  I’d die.  Of course, I would suffer spiritually if I neglected that part of myself.  He brought in one of those Gideons New Testaments that they hand out to keep in the office at work.  That way he and I could read on our breaks and discuss.

When I got to the book of Acts and began reading about people dropping dead because they withheld money from God, I became very concerned about tithing.  I began asking a number of people for their perspectives on this one, and I was quickly exposed to a multitude of answers.  Some said that should tithe on your gross income.  Others said it should be based on what you actually receive.  Then there was debate about whether or not you should tithe on your tax refund if you receive one.  Pastor Rob finally told me that tithing should be done based on your gross.  In his mind when Jesus says that we should “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s,” since Caesar’s portion, or our taxes, are calculated on the gross, God’s portion should be calculated on the gross as well.  And, since that means that I would have tithed on the gross all year, when I received my tax refund, it was mine, but he also reminded me that tithing, giving one tenth of my income, was the least that God expected of me. 

This is the actual Bible that I read from during that time.
Another question that would trip me up and lead to a conversation with Angela was to topic of predestination.  I had no idea what to do with that one.  The scripture that prompted that question was Exodus 9:12 in which the text tells us that “the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart.”  To me, that sounded like God had just decided that Pharaoh was going to stand in opposition to Moses and God.  This is also a church where a lot of emphasis was placed on being ready for the second coming of Christ and the rapture and the tribulation that would follow and the rise of the Anti-Christ.  In the same vein as Pharaoh, I also wondered how fair it was that one person would be born and be ordained to be the Anti-Christ.  At least Pharaoh got to choose his path up to a point, but this poor soul would be damned from the get-go.  No one, of course, could give me an answer for that one.  Angela pointed me towards scriptures such as, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25) and “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8).  I just had to trust that God had a plan and a way of making things work that was fair and beyond my understanding.

Please feel free to send me an e-mail or comment below.  I’d be interested to hear from you whether your first encounters with religion were very much the same or very different.  I think we all benefit more when we engage in the conversation and share our experiences.  Also, if you’re interested in reading more of my story that came before this point, please see the navigation panel, Table of Contents, to the right.  Start with ‘Setting the Stage’ and then move on to ‘Act One.’  Thank you so much for reading.  I hope you continue to find it interesting and keep coming back to read more.

- Culbs

© Joshua Culbertson 2014

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Act One, Scene Eight - “Conviction”

This is Part 6 in a multi-part blog post.  If you've stumbled across the page without reading Part 1, click the link below to go to Part 1.

Act One, Scene One 

Note:  I have been struggling with how to tell this next part of my story.  Obviously, I view the events of my life from this time period through a very different lens than I did at the time they were actually happening to me.  Time and experience have a way of changing our context and altering the way we see things, but, for the purposes of re-telling my story, I think it’s best if I relate from my perspective at the time.  At a later point, I can discuss how my viewpoint on these events has changed and shifted over time and how my understanding continues to me in a state of growth.

Six days after I made that slow and trembling walk to the altar, I had a sexual encounter with a young man that I was friends with.  We had been sexually involved for a long time.  We were together hanging out, and it was just natural that it would happen as it had for so long.  While in the midst of things, I felt a tremendous amount of guilt over what we were doing.  After we had finished, and he had left, I just sat and re-played over and over what had just happened.  

Over the past few days, I’d felt like I’d stepped into a whole new world.  I had been getting up every morning and grabbing my Bible to read a little each morning.  I had been listening to some Christian CD’s that Mark had lent me.  All week long it had felt as though I had stepped into a whole new world where the sun shone just a little brighter and the grass was just a little greener; everything felt more alive.

As I sat alone in my room, having just engaged in this thing that I knew God hated, I felt that deep, dark, impenetrable clouds had just descended over that bright new world.  I felt someone had shut out the Sun, and I felt as though God wanted nothing to do with me.  

I had no idea what to do.  No one would understand.  I couldn’t tell any of my new friends at the church.  That would be the end of things there.  I felt like they would cast me aside, and how could I blame them?  I felt God didn’t even want me in that moment.  I had no idea how to do it, but I knew that, then and there, it had to stop.  I could never again allow myself to engage in another sexual act with a guy.  I just couldn’t bear the rejection.  I couldn’t stand to have God hate me.  My journey as a ex-gay had begun.

End Act One.

Close Curtain.

- Culbs

© Joshua Culbertson 2014

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Act One, Scene Seven - "July 21, 1996"

This is Part 6 in a multi-part blog post.  If you've stumbled across the page without reading Part 1, click the link below to go to Part 1.

Act One, Scene One 

The events of July 21, 1996 will be forever etched into my memory.  It was a Sunday morning.  I had slept at the house that Max and I were housesitting at the night before.  This was the first time that I would be attending a morning service at New Promise.  It would also be the first time that I heard Max’s father preach.  I was excited and nervous.  Based on my experiences at church so far, my experiences with the people of the church, and my discussions with Mark, I had pretty much made up my mind.  Today was the day.  When Max’s dad gave the altar call, I was going to go forward.  Thinking about that cause some other kinds of anxiety to enter my mind.  This was a huge decision.  I needed to make sure that this was what I wanted to do.  I didn’t want to play games with God or with this new community of people among whom I’d found a place to belong.  I was also afraid that I’d go forward and no one would see me.  Even if they did see me, what if no one came to pray with me.  I’d read enough and had enough conversations to know pretty much what needed to be said, but what if I said it wrong?  What if I messed it up?  I pushed these questions to the side of my mind and reminded myself that, if it didn’t feel right, I didn’t even have to do it.  I’d not mentioned my intentions to anyone else because I didn’t want anyone pressuring me when that time came.

I drove to Max’s house before going to church.  I was nervous enough.  I wanted to at least have a friend with me.  I knew that there were typically more people there on Sundays, and I was worried about not getting a seat with him.  I, at least, wanted someone beside me, someone to see and understand what I was doing if I did decide to go forward that morning during the altar call.

When I pulled into the driveway at Max’s family’s house, the only vehicle in the driveway was Max’s truck.  As I entered the house, I heard the shower going in the bathroom; so, I made my way upstairs and found a seat in the living room.  Since, Max was the only one there, I figured it had to be him in the shower.  I thought I would just wait there until he came out.  Then, he could get dressed, and we could go.  Eventually, the bathroom door began to open.  I was startled by a scream.  The occupant of the bathroom had been Max’s mother, Anne.  She darted back into the bathroom and called out, asking me to step into the kitchen where I would be out of line-of-sight of the bathroom.  Embarrassed, I quickly complied, and she exited the bathroom and went to her bedroom.  Once there, she called out to me that Max was in his room downstairs.  

Max, hearing the commotion upstairs, was just rolling out of bed when I walked down to his room which was just off the family room in the basement.  He told me to give him a few minutes while he got ready.  He quickly showered and got dressed.  Then, we drove the mile or so to the church.  

We were a little late walking in; so, the band was already playing opening worship when we walked in.  The room was packed.  There were far more people there than I had experienced on my times there on Sunday nights. The combination of walking into that packed room and the upbeat music was exhilarating.  Even today, while I appreciate the inclusive, deep, thought-provoking language that comes with attending a more progressive church, I sometimes still miss the emotion and energy of the more contemporary worship that takes place in more conservative evangelical churches.  It can be very freeing to lift your gaze off of the pages of a hymnal and free your eyes, your mind, and your emotions to focus upward towards God.

The title of Pastor Rob’s message that morning was ‘If this is as good as it gets…’  The premise was that, if this earthly existence is all there is, then there isn’t much to make this life worth it.  Because of things in my personal life at that moment and being frustrated with the expense and stress of Max and the party at the house we were housesitting at as well as just the expense of drinking and smoking cigarettes in general, I connected with that message that morning.  Thoughts of my car accident from when I was 17 came back into my mind, too.  I believed that God had spared my life for a reason, and I wanted to know what that was.  There had to be more to this life that just going to school, getting a job, maybe getting married, and working until I died. 

When the time came for the altar call, almost everyone around me, including Max, went forward to pray at the altar.  The altar call went on for what seemed like a long time that morning.  I would later learn that this was intentional.  There was a man there that morning that the pastor had been praying would return to church, and he was hoping that the man would come forward.  Of course, in my mind, God was drawing out this moment for me to make good on the decision that I had already made.  

Finally, I decided that I had to go.  My heart was raciing.  I didn’t know what would happen when I got down front.  Max’s friend, Bryce, was seated between where I was sitting and the outside isle.  The path between me and the inside isle was clear, but that would put me out in front of everyone.  That was too much exposure for me.  I stood and slowly moved past Bryce.  He turned, sliding his legs to the side, to allow me to pass,  I approached the altar and knelt in front of a set of stairs that led up onto the stage.  Above my head, I could hear the pastor saying from the stage, “Chris, pray with Josh.  Pray with Josh.”

Chris was the church’s youth pastor at the time.  Christ led me through the sinner’s prayer.  As we prayed, I felt heads on my back.  I didn’t know who was back there, but it felt good to know that someone was.  After all of my fears of not being noticed when I went up or messing up the process, it was nice to know that I had support all around me.  I still can feel Chris’ hair pressing against my forehead as he prayed with me.  

As we finished the prayer, Chris returned to his seat.  I stayed at the altar to pray.  The hands remained on my back.  As the service concluded and I stood up, I turned to see Max, his sister Michele, and Angela there behind me.  It was touched to see them there.  I knew that I still didn’t fully comprehend what I had just committed to, but I was determined to learn as much as I could.  Just then, Chris’s oldest son, Eric, approached me.  He told me that a bunch of people were going to an Italian restaurant for lunch.  He asked me if I wanted to go.  It took me a second to process.  Moving from such a monumental personal experience to something as mundane as lunch was a bit of a rough transition for me.  I had to remind myself that, even though this was a huge moment for me, it was just an ordinary Sunday for most of the other people in the room.  I checked the time.  I did have to work at the gas station that afternoon, but I had time to grab lunch before that.  I told him that I would go.  I stood there for a few moments after that, taking in the moment.  I smiled to myself and thought, “Well, let’s do this,” and headed out of the room to move on to the rest of my day.

- Culbs

© Joshua Culbertson 2014