"Perverse and foolish oft I strayed, but yet in love He sought me; and on His shoulder gently laid, and home rejoicing brought me."
These words from an old hymn based on Psalm 23 express perfectly what happened to me twenty-five years ago when I encountered the Lord and He brought me out of homosexuality.
My journey fit into the pattern that we see over and over again. I was an unplanned child, born to parents who would have preferred a girl. My older brother was more athletic and generally fit the "all boy" model far better than I, and somehow, he became Dad's and I became Mom's.
My parents were good kind conscientious people who would do all they could to raise their sons to become successful, well-adjusted men, but one problem in the family tended to shape all of our destinies. My father was subject to severe depression. So severe that he was under psychiatric care for many years, and on a few occasions had to be hospitalized. He could barely cope with life, much less be the husband and father that we needed him to be. In his bad times, he drank heavily and he and my mother fought verbally quite often.
My mother's life was difficult and to a limited extent I became her comfort and confidant. I certainly identified with her more than with my father. If you are familiar with the most common roots of male homosexuality, you can see that, except for sexual abuse, they were all there for me.
No parent makes a child homosexual. We have learned that a child's early home environment may provide "the set-up," significant other factors always come to play in steering someone into homosexuality. For me, a couple of those factors were decisions that I made quite early in life. I have a vivid memory of one night, as a young boy, lying in bed listening to my parents fight, and saying to myself quite smugly, "They can never hurt me; no one will ever hurt me." I believe that I made a decision that night to never be emotionally vulnerable. As a consequence of that decision, until my conversion years later, I would never be free to truly love anyone again.
I also retreated into a world of fantasy. Fantasy, sexual and otherwise became my secure retreat from the pain of life. A typical script for my fantasy would have me a boy hero leading other men into battle, and then when the fighting was over, the men would use me sexually. I both longed for my own manhood and for the manhood of other men.
At first my longings weren't sexual, they were simply a craving for a man's attention and interest in me. But, of course, eventually, they did turn sexual. Although my fears of being found out limited my activity, I was homosexually active with other boys from about age 13 through high school.
I was blessed to grow up in a time and culture in which there was no gay alternative lifestyle out there calling me into it. I knew that were a couple of homosexual bars in Baltimore, and I would visit pornographic book stores to glance at the magazines in the "male" section, but it never really occurred to me to bail out of the only world I knew and let homosexuality determine the course of my life. Like so many homosexually oriented men of that time, I would get a job, marry, have children and cope the best I could.
That's exactly what happened. Willa Benson had been my friend from elementary school days. We dated through high school, off and on during college, and two years after college we were married. I told Willa nothing of my homosexual desires.
The first years of marriage went well. We had two daughters and I started to move up in the business world. We were active in our little neighborhood Episcopal Church, and we led an active social life. But gradually, the pressures of career and family started to build up on me. My response was to retreat into my old means of finding comfort; homosexual fantasy and pornography, and five years into the marriage, sex with other men.
At first I drove forty-five miles to Washington, DC to go to a gay bar to find a contact, but as time passed I became more and more reckless until I was openly going to gay bars and gay cruising places in Baltimore. A major part of my homosexuality was masochistic and I started answering ads for sadomasochistic sex. For ten years I led the classic double life. Successful in business, vice-president and treasurer of a prestigious Baltimore company, a pillar of my local church-church treasurer, board member and Sunday school teacher. The front was masterfully retained. In reality, my life was out of control and my marriage had become a sham. I was drinking heavily, and turned much of my guilt on Willa. We fought frequently. For the last two years of my homosexual activity, I was unable to function sexually in the marriage. I never justified what I was doing, but I felt powerless to stop it. I saw my life on a downward spiral that eventually would cost me my family, my career, maybe even my life.
Then, two things happened. Willa, searching for help, got herself into a prayer group. Unbeknownst to her she had stumbled upon a group of older women who were mighty prayer warriors. They started praying for me and for our marriage.
Not long after this, a friend at work had a profound religious experience, and surrendered his life to Christ. As this friend tried to explain to me what had happened, I became certain that he had had a true encounter with the Lord. Somehow I knew that I could too, but this was the most frightening thing I could think of. I knew that such an encounter would involve my homosexuality. As much as I hated it, I didn't think I could live without it. It had been my way of coping with life for as long as I could remember.
But things were desperate enough that after six or seven weeks of agonizing, on Tuesday, November 26, 1974, I went to the meeting with Jim. He didn't know my problem, nor did anyone there. At some point during the evening, as the two hundred or so people were praising God out loud, I said quietly, "God, I give up. My life is a total mess. I can't handle it any more. You take over." And He did.
Within a few days, I knew that some profound changes had taken place in me. First of all, I fell head over heals in love with Willa and I desired her physically. My homosexual fantasies that had almost never left me were gone. And most important of all, I knew that Jesus was real, that He loved me, and I was starting to love Him.
A few weeks later, I told Willa the whole truth about my life. Her years of denial came crashing down and in the months ahead she would encounter the wounds that my years of rejection, deception, anger and blame-casting had caused. Her healing was just beginning and would take a number of years. Being able to trust me and receive my love came very slowly.
It was about four years before I heard of anyone else who had been set free from homosexuality, and then I read of Love In Action, a ministry for healing homosexuality then in San Rafael, CA. I started to correspond Frank Worthen and Bob Davies. It would be another year before I actually met another "ex-gay" at my first Exodus Conference Seattle, Washington.
Exodus leaders were wary of my testimony at first. They had encountered others who claimed to have received sudden miraculous healings from homosexuality, only to find out in a year or two that these healings had been far from complete. In some ways their caution was justifiable, but not because I had not been set free from compulsive behavior and sexual attractions to men. But rather, because homosexuality is more than just sexual attractions and behavior, and I had barely begun to experience healing in other areas.
The sexual healing was indeed what it seemed to be in 1974 and in the years to follow God touched the emotional neediness. These past couple of years I have gained another insight into how God changed me, one that goes back to the original sexual healing. I always saw that healing as a miracle. I don't any more. I now see it as three miracles.
Homosexuality is not an affliction like mental retardation or cancer; it is a group of problems, which together produce homosexual attractions and behavior. Each of these problems must be dealt with individually. Here are the three problems that God dealt with at the time of my initial healing, my three miracles.
First, He broke down my wall of self-protection, and I was suddenly able to love. And who would have been a more logical object of my love than Willa, the person who had loved me and stayed by me all of those terrible years? I fell in love with her, and as happens with many men who come out of homosexuality, out of that love came sexual desire for her.
The second miracle is that God "desexualized" my unmet needs. For a time, I still longed for a man's love and attention, but that longing was no longer sexual. I still longed to be a man, but this longing was no longer expressed in a desire to possess another man's manhood.
Third the sexual addiction was broken. This is, perhaps, the hardest miracle to understand, but it is the one we encounter most often. Every successful twelve-stepper will tell you how his surrender to God is what broke the power of his sexual addiction.
I believe these were miracles. But what causes us to call something a miracle is often a matter of timing. God does in a moment what usually takes months or years to occur. Although not too many people experience change the way I did, everything that happened to me: being set free to love, desexualizing my unmet emotional needs, breaking the power of my addiction, having the deep needs of my heart met by Jesus, and growing into manhood (or womanhood) can happen to any man or woman working towards overcoming homosexuality. I know this because I have seen it happen hundreds of times in many lives.