Three Teachers and a Pastor's Wife: My Journey with Understanding Same Sex Attraction (Part One)
April 6, 2017 by Sheree Phillips 0 comments
In March of 2014 I found myself sitting at a wedding reception of some dear friends. Assigned seating had placed me next to a man who appeared to be about my age. Next to him was a man older than me by about 10 years.
The man next to me and I made quick introductions. He knew the guy to my right was the pastor who had just officiated the ceremony, which made me a pastor’s wife. He introduced himself as Kirk, and acknowledged his friend John, who smiled and went back to his salad. It hit me: this was Kirk and that was John. I had heard about them. They were the “gay couple” who were friends of the family that had been together for over two decades. Once gay marriage was legalized in Florida they decided to get married and Christians in the family had struggled over whether to attend the ceremony.
So here I was sandwiched between my husband and Kirk for several hours. I became aware that God had placed me here: at this table with this man on this day.
As a senior in high school in 1972 Benny and I had double dated with some friends from our school choir. Michelle and Franco were prom dates who decided to join us for a fun night of dinner and dancing. Franco was personable, had a beautiful tenor voice and we participated in a small acapella group together. His dark, thick hair, engaging personality and olive skin made him appealing to the girls and we wondered if something might be brewing between he and Michelle.
I remember hearing whispers about Franco and Mike, another guy in the choir. But he was bringing Michelle to the prom so certainly he wasn’t a queer...or those other hateful slurs whispered in the hallways. I hoped that sticks and stones weren’t hurting Franco...maybe he wasn’t aware?
We graduated and that summer Mom and Dad threw me an 18th birthday party with a sizeable group of friends and family. Franco arrived fashionably late. I hadn’t seen him since graduation two months ago and, wait, what was he wearing? Was it makeup? I pushed through the awkwardness and introduced him to Mom.
“Honey, what is that you’ve got on your face?” she inquired of the young man she was meeting for the first time. There was a hint of a smile, then she reached out and hugged him. “Come over here and get you something to drink.”
While we were cleaning up after the party she invaded my curious thoughts about Franco. “That friend of yours is a nice boy and we need to pray for him!”
I’ve reflected on Mom’s response to Franco over the years, who I haven’t seen since the summer of ‘72. The same woman who showed me as a girl how to love red, yellow, black and white showed me that day that homosexuals should also be the objects of Christ-incarnating acceptance. She didn’t freak out, and she made sure he got food (which was one of the main ways Mom showed love to people.) When Benny and I heard in the late 80’s that Mike had died from AIDS she was sorry. No “well, you know the Bible says you reap what you sow” comments like we were regularly hearing from Christians about AIDS. Just a quiet, simple, “I’m sorry to hear that, honey.”
It was about 10 years ago that David started attending our former church and developed a romantic interest in my close friend, Jenn. I had walked through several years of unplanned singleness and hoped-for relationships with Jenn. I knew David only as a kind and caring guy who moved to Orlando from Tennessee to work for a ministry designed to care for and bring hope to those working through homosexuality and same-sex attraction (SSA). Jenn wasn’t interested in on again/off again dating; she was ready to settle down with a husband and family. David humbly shared with her that his work with this organization was sparked by his own history of SSA. What did this mean for my friend?
This issue coming so close to me raised questions:
Could a guy who had struggled with attraction to men be happy in a hetero sexual relationship?
What if he was trying to “fix” his SSA with marriage? (I had known and heard of several people who had tried this unsuccessfully, including a cousin whose marriage ended in divorce.)
What potholes would my friend encounter if this relationship progressed to marriage? Would she live with anxieties about her husband being formerly attracted to men?
Jenn and I had numerous long and honest conversations about David. She was intrigued and found herself attracted to him. He is handsome, winsome and has a solid faith in Christ. “What’s not to like?” we wondered together. But she, too, pondered and prayed and faced fears. In the end she decided to give things with David a try.
Getting to know him was a pivotal season in my life. David’s humility, willingness to talk about past struggles and sins, joy at the change and hope the gospel brought into his life some years back, and his deepening affection for Jenn both won my heart and educated me about SSA. Seeds Mom had planted in my heart in 1972 were being watered and the warm sun of David’s gospel-saturated perspective were finding a home in my heart. I felt like a sponge, soaking up new truths.
And so was Benny. With David’s help we both came to understand yet undetected biases in our hearts about homosexuals and those who struggle with SSA. He lovingly challenged us, even when that wasn’t his intent. Benny saw, for example, that his preaching lacked care for and sensitivity to those who are attracted to the same sex when David asked, “I’m just curious about why our pastors don’t reference SSA in your messages as one of the common temptations people face?” We came to see that we were isolating same-sex attraction and homosexuality from other struggles and sins. Changes in our hearts began to happen!
Benny was thrilled to perform their wedding ceremony and they now have a four precious children, including a set of triplets.
Since then Benny regularly includes references to SSA in messages. Just acknowledging these issues along with those pastors frequently mention in their sermons has led numerous people to take the risk of being vulnerable about their struggles. When a single guy who was attending our church shared in a small group about his strong temptations with SSA we hoped something special had happened: were we actually becoming a church who made it safe to bring shame and previously unspoken hardships into the light of love, care and non self-righteous judgement?
I now read Romans 1 with new eyes and a new heart. The heading in my Bible at verse 18 doesn’t say “God’s Wrath On Homosexuals” but on “ On Humanity.” In all the messages I’ve heard over many decades on verses 18-32 homosexuality was the focus rather than “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (vs 18, emphasis mine). The unrighteousness that is the object of God’s holy wrath does include homosexualitly, but it also includes jealousy, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, gossip, arrogance, slander, insolence, boasting, disobedience to parents, foolishness, unbelief, and ruthlessness. And then there’s the word that pierced my heart: heartlessness.
How many times had I lacked compassion for homosexuals while extending lavish grace to my own equally wicked sins “which ought not to be done” (verse 22) of jealousy or deceit or sinful anger -- ungodliness that was equally responsible for the death of Christ.
You may be wondering why I opened this post by introducing Kirk and John. I’m excited to share the rest of that story in my next post.