Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Gay Brother-Straight Brother II

A few days ago I wrote my first entry in a series I'm calling gay brother-straight brother. It is a celebration of a unique kind of friendship that has meant a lot to me over the years.

John Eargle is a person I love very much. He is a composer, songwriter, musician, worship leader, athlete, and even a good roofing estimator. We met when I was part of an ex-gay ministry in Arlington, Texas called Living Hope.

If you read this blog much, you know I have mixed feelings about ex-gay ministries (ministries that attempt to reorient same-sex attracted people). I had a number of positive experiences at Living Hope. Though ministries like this have some goals I no longer support, I think my time at Living Hope and my efforts to reorient on my own provided me with a smoother landing into Christian manhood than I might have had without them.

The ministry was housed at the church where I belonged, Vineyard Christian Fellowship. I know. It sounds like a yuppie wine cult, but it isn't. It's a yuppie church with a good heart. That's where I met John. I went to the Vineyard because I appreciated that this church didn't see me as despicable, an identity that gay people frequently absorb from society. And I credit this perception in large part to John.

If someone has entered an ex-gay ministry, chances are at one point or another they've heard that they are at best sick and at worst an abomination to God. Over the years I've met a lot of Christians who passionately pursue God while simultaneously believing that God finds them revolting because of who they are drawn to romantically.

When I met John I had a bad case of the above. By that time I'd admitted to myself, and a few others, that I was attracted to guys. You might think no longer denying this reality would be freeing, and in some ways it was. Initially, however, having the truth on the table almost seemed to be more than I could bear--admitting I liked guys also freed me to embrace that I was who they were talking about killing in Leviticus. I had “Jesus loves me” playing in one part of my brain and “God wants you dead” in another.

My extreme anxiety manifested in fight (judgment) or flight (addictive behavior) impulses. John was the embodiment of Christ for me at that time. If I acted like an ass he still wanted to hang around me. If I did something stupid and unhealthy, he still wanted to be with me. Not in a counselor kind of way. He wanted to hang out. He asked my opinion on interpreting scripture and what I thought about his relationships. He valued my views on politics and Christianity. He asked me to pray in ministry situations, even when he knew I was struggling in other parts of my life.

I was once afraid that the love of my friends was dependent on me never rocking the boat. John demonstrated that this wasn't true. He confronted me and encouraged me to confront him if something was funky between us. The insights he offered as a result were rich. I asked John once what he learned from a particularly important relationship of his that failed. His response was, “it is more important to be loving than it is to be right.” That's a challenge I still find hard to live up to.

Sometimes ex-gay ministry involves straight guys mentoring same-sex attracted guys who were not successful at traditionally “American male” activities (sports, outdoorsy things). The thought of a guy who “throws like a girl” learning to throw a football properly may seem ludicrous to you. Yes, I know how little throwing a football has to do with true masculinity. And yes, we know that there are lots of very athletic and outdoorsy gay men. But believe me, as someone who never had a clue about such things and who missed out on a lot of traditional bonding experiences as result, I was grateful for some second chances to have these experiences with a non-threatening person.

I was grateful when John took me rock climbing, taught me to roller blade (okay, in Chelsea that's not so straight, but he was teaching me a little hockey, too), and helped me to throw a football. He was always patient and never mocking. He offered to help, but never prescribed it. I don't believe in re-parenting, but I do believe in continual parenting. Though he is only a couple of years older, John was being a very good father to me.

I have always had a heart for worship and some musical skill. John is a gifted worship leader and saw potential for me to grow in that area, too. When he approached me about learning to lead worship, my lack of self-respect (and ultimately my lack of faith) surfaced.

“There are so many people here (at the Vineyard) who do this well. Why would God need me to lead worship?” I asked.

John's response was, “What if God just wants to bless you? Is that okay?”

Wise, objective and thoughtful. Gentle, humble, yet confident to a fault. All are traits I admired in John (still do). I was told in ex-gay ministry that I was attracted to guys because of an unconscious need to possess qualities I admired in men but didn't see in myself. If I recognized that God had placed these qualities in me already I wouldn't look to men to fill other needs. I think that notion is half right. Half right notions are often dangerous, but they are still half right. I am a much more whole person now that I realize all that God has put in me. John taught me to look for and see the truth and to live in as much fullness as grace will allow, for which I will always be grateful. God has freed me to love and be loved-- without judgment and without fear. Did the truth change my sexuality? No, but it did help set me free.


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