Growing up in rural southeastern Ohio in the eighties and early nineties, I knew that I was always attracted to members of the same sex. It would take me until about the age of 13 before I could, sitting alone in my own room, whisper the words to myself, “I’m gay,” but I’d always known that I was different, even if I didn’t always have the vocabulary or the willingness to use it. I also didn’t need the proper vocabulary to know that the way in which I was different was not okay. I knew that it was a part of myself that I needed to keep secret. This shame and fear of exposure, over time, grew into self-resentment and a wishing that I could somehow divorce myself from that part that made me unlike the other boys at school. I just wanted to be “normal,” to be like everyone else.
At the age of twenty, I began attending a fundamentalist non-denominational church. I had become friends with one of the pastor’s sons. Through him, I had become friends with some on the other young adults at the church as well. Of course, I knew that those new relationships would cease if they knew my secret. I was sexually active with other guys at the time, but I was always very careful to keep the two different parts of my world separated. I couldn’t risk the embarrassment of someone finding that I was gay.
I began attending the church, and, after a few weeks, I made my way down front during the altar call at the end of the service. One of the men from the church knelt with me and guided me through the sinner’s prayer. I had given my life to Christ. I was saved. But I also had a secret. I tried to tell myself initially that I could slowly stop having sex with other guys, but I felt guilty. I knew that I needed to surrender that part of myself to God.
This was all happening to me in the summer of 1996, and, in August of that year, a traveling singer and evangelist came to the church. He sang and spoke in between each song. At the end of the service, he asked that, if there was anyone in the congregation who felt that they had a mountain in their life that they could not get over, they would come down front to be anointed with oil and prayed for. Well, I had no doubt about what my mountain was. Still, I was terrified. What if he, or anyone else, asked me what my mountain was? What would I say? I couldn’t tell them the truth. Shaking, but believing that I was being obedient to God, I went forward. The man prayed over me and never once asked what had brought me down to see him. I left church that night relieved that I had been able to receive prayer for my struggle and trusting that God would support me in shedding my unwanted sexual desires.
|Me in London, age 20
A few days later, I would confess my struggle to one of the girls that I had become friends with from the church. She insisted that I share this with the pastor. I was mortified. How could I ever tell him this? He would never what me to be a part of the church after this or continue in my friendships with his children. To my surprise, he was very gracious. He assured me that God’s power was sufficient to deliver me from homosexuality. He told me that, in God’s eyes, my sin was no greater than any other. I was so relieved. I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted off of me, and, then, he told me something else. He told me that I shouldn’t tell anyone else about this. He explained that, even though all sin was equal to God, people would see my sin differently, and, to protect myself, I should not share this with others. All the weight of the secrecy and shame that had just lifted off of me came crashing back down. I told myself that he was right though, and that he was only speaking out of love, which I genuinely believe he was from his own point of view.
My Story - Part 2
© Joshua Culbertson 2015
My Story - Part 2