For the next several years, I would continue on this journey to, through prayer and conscious awareness of my thoughts, seek to rid myself of my homosexuality. If I found myself being attracted to a member of the same sex or if I fell to the temptation of pornography, I would heap guilt upon myself and struggle through the anguish of knowing that I was a disappointment to my church, my pastor, and to my God. As time went on, I would occasionally, despite the pastor’s warning, share with others about my struggle. The reactions were never what the pastor had feared they would be. The reactions were always positive and encouraging. Knowing that I had this support, sustained me in my struggle.
I began to date women and believed that, if I could just meet someone that that I had the right connection with, I could make things work. If I took a girl out on a date and it went well, and I maybe was even rewarded with a good night kiss, I would be very excited to share the details of the experience of the straight guy friends at the church who were my support network at the time. In retrospect, I realize now that the praise and encouragement that I received from them was driving me far more than the kiss itself.
In the fall of 2008, something happened. Two gay teenagers began attending our church’s youth group. Not only were they gay, they were dating each other and didn’t seem to show any strong motivation to change. Convinced that my journey could be used to help them, in the spring of 2009, I asked the pastor if I could begin taking steps to establish an ex-gay ministry at our church to help others rid themselves of their unwanted same-sex attractions. In order to do this, I figured the best first step was to find someone who was already doing it. I looked up the website for the now defunct Exodus International. The closest such ministry that I could find was in Columbus; so, I began making the journey each week to observe and participate with the group.
Up until this point, my journey as an ex-gay, had been largely on my own. I spent all of my time with people from the church. I didn’t have other friends who were gay, and I certainly didn’t have any friends who were trying to be ex-gay. One of the men in the church had had a brother who had been diagnosed with AIDS and had renounced his homosexuality before he passed away from complications related to AIDS, but this had happened before I came to the church. I often wished I could have spoken to him or had someone else to look to that was further along in this process that I was. His story was a source of encouragement to me though. Knowing that someone else had walked this road before me gave me encouragement. My interactions with this group were about to bring an end to my isolation in this effort to change.
As I began attending the meetings, I started to get to know more about the lives of the men in the group. Each week we would gather and listen to some recorded worship music, watch a video, or hear from a speaker. Then, we would go around a table and each man would be expected to share how his “sexual brokenness” had manifested itself during the course of the previous week. Many of them were married. They had children. They had all of the pieces in place that I thought would make me be content. Many of the men, married and single, continued to find ways to connect and engage in sex acts with other men. One poor soul was a single man in his forties who had never acted out sexually with anyone in his life because he couldn’t bring himself to me with a woman, and he couldn’t accept himself as gay either.
Coincidentally, around the same time, I had reconnected with two male friends that I hadn’t seen in years. One was a former high school classmate. The other was a former co-worker. They had both gotten married to woman and each had had two children, a son and a daughter, with their wives. Also, they had both subsequently accepted that they were gay. Since then, they had each divorced their wives and had entered into relationships with their new partners. As I looked at each of their lives, they both had great relationships with their ex-wives. They were both amazing dads, and they both had great relationships with their new partners. While the belief structure that I had at the time told me that they were still wrong, it was becoming more and more difficult to understand why.
The moment that finally broke me occurred during one of the meetings around August or September of 2009. We were going around the table and one of the men was about to share. He began sobbing. He struggled to get himself to a point that he could share with us what was so upsetting to him. When he could finally speak, he told us that he and his wife had been intimate earlier that week. For those of us in the room, this seemed like something that should be taken as a good thing. He went on to share that the reason he was so upset about all of this was that he wasn’t able to be with her sexually without fantasizing about a man while he did so. He recognized that he was being unfaithful to her even in the midst of being with her. In that moment, something snapped inside me. I remember sitting back in my chair and asking myself, “What am I doing?” I remained quiet for the rest of the meeting. I knew that I couldn’t share with anyone there what was going on inside of me. My whole paradigm shifted in that moment. It stopped being about whether or not it was right or wrong to be gay, and it started being about what it is to live a life of integrity and authenticity.
The car ride home that night was filled with tears and praying. I didn’t know what the future held for me at that point. I didn’t know if I could still be a Christian. I didn’t know if I could still be a person of faith at all. All I knew that that I could not, with any level of integrity, continue on the same path that I had been on. I had wrestled with that part of myself my who life, but I could not drag some poor woman into some sort of social experiment called a marriage in order to find out if I could ever love her in all the ways that she needed me to. That night opened the door to a whole new struggle for me. Over the next few months, I slowly began separating myself from my church. Like many churches of this type, they employed a lot of multi-media during their services. I was responsible for coordinating all of the media and lighting, and I had a team of people that worked with me to do so. So, on the one hand, my conscience told me that I couldn’t just leave. On the other, I knew that I couldn’t, in good conscience, remain in my position when I knew that my views may no longer be in alignment with the church’s leadership.
© Joshua Culbertson 2015
My Story - Part 3
My Story - Part 3