How do We Respond To Homosexuality? (Jan-Feb 2003)

By Matt Dabbs

by Jon Anderson
January – February, 2003

For two years I met with a group of men for two hours every Tuesday night. These men had come to me, all with the same basic problem…they struggled with homosexual thoughts and/or feelings. Some came from broken marriages. Some had never been married. One had never sexually fantasized about someone of the opposite sex. One had remained celibate his entire life and was struggling to find identity with any one person or group of people. One of these men, we’ll call “Henry,” would frequently go to seedy bath houses to engage in anonymous sexual acts, with nameless faces, to avoid being discovered by his social circle or his wife and children. All of these men had one other thing in common… their primary aim was to glorify and follow God.

I guess I should back up and tell you something about what led me to this weekly meeting. I had just finished graduate school and a year-long internship to become a therapist and had, once again, moved my family to a new city, to which I believed God had brought us. I had set up to practice with a brother in Christ who had been a therapist for several years and who would also become a mentor to me. Not long after joining with him, he encouraged me to begin focusing on and developing a specialty. It took me several weeks of prayer and thought to come to a decision, as I was interested in such an array of counseling and therapy but, trusting his wisdom, I began to realize that it would be good for me to be more specialized. One night, Joanna, my wife, and I were on an hour-long drive to a church leadership seminar.

“You know, Honey,” I said, “I’ve been thinking about the people God has been placing in my life over the past few years. There was my childhood friend who died of AIDS as the result of sex with homosexual partners. I was a pall-bearer in his funeral a couple of years ago. Then, there was a man in my accountability group who had chosen me as the only one to confide his homosexual struggles. Now, two of my first four clients have shared that homosexual feelings are a problem for them. This is not really what I had in mind when I felt called into doing therapy, but, I don’t want to ignore God if he is trying to lead me down a path that is part of what his will is for me. I’m starting to wonder if this is what I should be specializing in.” What happened next was the longest moment of silence that I can ever remember sharing with my wife after the verbal basketball has been put into her court. I could see, at this point, that she was the one person in the world who was feeling as hesitant as I was.

“Let’s pray about it,” she said, breaking the silence. The one phrase that can diffuse any proverbial bomb. How can you argue with that? So I didn’t. “Good idea,” I said and began to pray out loud that God make it plain to us if this was his will, and to close the doors if it wasn’t. Fifteen minutes later we arrived at the seminar in our usual “fashionably late” mode. When we walked in, the key-note speaker was already well under way and we had to quietly find a seat toward the back. As we sat there I had a good vantage point to survey the room. One of the people I spotted was Dr. Chris Austin, who I had met only briefly, a couple of years before when I was attending one of his seminars. What I did know about Chris is that he held a Ph.D. in psychology and that he specialized in treating men who struggle with homosexuality.

After the speaker had finished, we were dismissed for a brief intermission. As my wife and I stood up to greet those around us, I noticed someone walking toward me out of the corner of my eye. It was Dr. Austin.

“You’re Lynn’s son, right?” It’s a question I’m accustomed to hearing in such circles, and I nodded agreement as he continued. “While I was sitting there I felt the Lord putting it on my heart that you need to be doing what I am doing,” he said.

As you can imagine, Joanna and I froze with the same look that I imagine Moses had at the burning bush. As the discussion continued, I mentioned to him what we had talked and prayed about on the way there. But I felt that I needed to clarify a point, partly because of my own fear of being labeled. “You know, Chris, one reason I feel so unqualified is that I don’t have the slightest amount of struggle with homosexual thoughts or feelings, myself.” He then gave me a look which I could only translate, “And your point is?” One of the first things I remember learning in graduate school was the analogy about how some of the best gynecologists are men. Now I was really beginning to understand Moses when he tried to convince God that he had the wrong man because he was not a good speaker. It wasn’t that I was afraid of doing therapy with these men…it was that I was afraid of being looked at differently when people heard what I do.

Now, it’s been almost five years since I went to my elders and asked for their prayers and blessing on the ministry I was about to begin. It’s been over two years since the last weekly meeting with those men. (Two of them are still in regular contact and reporting on their walk.) Sometimes, however, I still wonder what some people are thinking of me. I wonder how many things I was left out of because someone wasn’t too sure about me. I wonder how many people have kept a little distance because they thought, “this must have been a struggle of Jon’s as well.” I remember the barriers I ran up against every time I tried to place an ad in the newspaper, announcing a safe place for men to deal with their struggles. I remember the anonymous and sometimes threatening phone calls. Some were people telling me I was a hate-monger promoting homophobia. Some were from people calling me a queer and a fag. And now, I remember a discussion I had with Dr. Austin, just a few weeks ago. He was telling me how God was now blessing him more than ever during this time of being sued, thrown in jail, facing criminal charges, receiving threatening calls, being slandered in the newspapers, and having to defend his license to practice. He was trying to tell me about the wonders that God is working through all of this. All I could think about is how glad I am that I am not there anymore. And, sometimes I wonder if God led me on to different things or if I just got scared of dealing with all of that.

Back to the group. Remember “Henry”? The one who went to the bathhouses? He was the first one to respond to the newspaper ad and show up for the first meeting. In fact, he was the only one for the first three weeks. We had set the time for 7:00 pm. At 7:05 our fears that no one would come were starting to set in. At 7:10 I decided to go out into the hall of our office complex to make sure there wasn’t somebody who was having trouble finding our office. There I spotted Henry. When he saw me there was a look of panic on his face. It was as if he had been holding a deep, shameful secret from the world for years and that it had just been found out. When he came in and sat and began to talk, he explained that this was exactly how he was feeling. As I got to know Henry I found out that he was very involved in leading a discipling group at a large congregation. I learned that his wife had recently left and divorced him, and took their children with her. I learned that he was a successful businessman in a well-known local family business. He told us about his weekly trips to the dimly-lit bathhouse, late at night, in the “No-tell” part of town. And, I learned that no one, apart from the men in the group, has ever known about his struggle. In fact, that first night that he came to the group was spent mostly on calming his fears that someone might somehow find out that he was there. The fears that I faced were mere whimpers of uneasiness compared to the screaming horror of someone announcing to the world that “HENRY STRUGGLES WITH HOMOSEXUALITY.”

I have hope for the Church! I have hope that someday, people who struggle with homosexuality will be able to share their struggle in their Bible class or prayer group. I hope that they will be able to tell a close brother or sister about their temptations and know that they will be loved even more. I think the day will come when the thought that keeps men like Henry from turning into that alley behind the bath house is that there is a Bible study group that prays every week with him that God will rescue him from the next temptation to do so. And the day is here when there is a brother who calls him, once a week or so, and they discuss the victories that God has given them over their flesh.

As the first weeks and months went by with the group, each night would begin with a self-report of how the struggle was going and what God was teaching them and how he was growing them. Once in a while Henry would report that he went a whole week without visiting the bath house. Some nights he would sheepishly explain how he gave in to temptation two or three times the previous week. One night, Henry was explaining, in detail, his routine when he went to the bath house. At one point, one of the other men in the group interrupted. “Where is Jesus this whole time?” Henry answered, “I actually visualize him waiting in the car while I’m in there. Jesus would never go into a place that is so evil.” “Wrong,” the other man retorted. “Jesus goes in there with you. And while that guy is sitting on one side of you doing what you came there for, Jesus is sitting on the other side of you, crying on your shoulder.”

At this point Henry just sort of went into a distant stare as if he were trying to visualize what the other guy had told him. The room went dead quiet for a moment while we all tried to deal with this image. After about thirty seconds of this, Henry began to weep like he had just seen Heaven. As we all sat and realized Jesus sitting there with us in our deepest moments, we joined Henry’s tears. He never went to the bath house again. Henry is now married again…to a lady he met at Church. What changed the dynamics of the whole struggle was how he saw Jesus in the picture. Jesus is on his side…when he is seeking Him and when he has turned his back and thought he left Him outside the room. As we begin to see Jesus on Henry’s side, it is easier to see Him holding us in our darkest hours. As we begin to accept that idea, we begin to be able to love Henry and make a place for him at our table.New Wineskins

Jon Anderson is a faculty member and counselor at San Antonio College where he is also the coordinator of the College Access Project which focuses on helping more students, from special populations, acquire higher education. He and his wife of 18 years, Joanna, have three children, Abby, Connor, and Ana. Jon has a Masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Abilene Christian University. [joanders@accd.edu].

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1583 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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