Dear Church Leaders,
For those of you who don't come from the "true north, strong and free," let me explain a little bit of "Canadiana" to you. (Stay with me here, I promise that there will be some spiritual application involved!).
Ice Hockey, of course is the most popular sport by far in Canada. Other sports have their place, but nothing else even comes close to ice hockey. Even though it is considered a winter game everywhere else, in Canada it is played year round. If we're not playing it on a sheet of ice from September to May, then we're playing it outside on the streets in the summer. When we're not playing it, most of us are watching it, and if we're not watching it, we're talking about it.
The sports most renowned professional athlete was Wayne Gretzky. He was without a doubt, the greatest player to ever lace up a pair of skates. During his 19 year professional career he broke 61 records, was named the National Hockey League's most valuable player ten times, and lead his team to winning the Stanley Cup (hockey's most cherished prize) 4 times. He was also recently voted one of the "Top Ten Greatest Canadians of All Time."[i] But as great as Wayne Gretzky was (his nickname actually was "The Great One"); I don't want to talk about him, but rather about his father, Walter.
Walter became a household name across Canada, as the story became known of how he passed his passion of hockey onto his son Wayne. He taught the boy how to strategically think several steps ahead of everyone else on the ice, giving his son the tools he used to become the greatest player of all time. He is known as "Canada's Hockey Dad."
In 1991 Walter suffered a brain aneurysm in which he nearly died. Although he survived, the aneurysm resulted in a permanent 20 year lapse in memory of the early 1970's to the 1990's; the period of time that he would have witnessed his son win all of those championships and break those 61 records. However, after years of intense physiotherapy, hockey's most famous father not only recovered, he has since risen to become one of the greatest ambassador's for numerous charities across North America. Being Wayne's father certainly made Walter Gretzky known, but it is his zeal for life and his caring heart for the underprivileged, the down and out, and those less privileged, that has made him so popular.[ii]
Walter Gretzky was recently in my hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia to help raise money for the Salvation Army. A good friend of mine, Ron, whose son played on my son's hockey team, works in public relations for the Salvation Army, and organized the fund raiser. Hundreds stood in line to get their opportunity to meet Walter. It became obvious that they would have to schedule much more time for the event because he was so intent on not just signing an autograph for every person, but holding a conversation with everyone as well. His gentle and caring nature was obvious, especially for the residents who were living at the Salvation Army. "Perhaps Walter's greatest enthusiasm came when he had his picture taken with one of the new graduates of the 12-step addictions program. ‘Wow! This is fantastic! Way to go!' he exclaimed in typical exuberance, leaving all to think the achievement was akin to a game-seven winning goal in the Stanley Cup finals."[iii]
While in Halifax, Mr. Gretzky refused to stay in a hotel, preferring to stay with Ron, his wife and kids instead. He had such an incredible impact on this family, that when it came time to take Walter to the airport, their son got choked up and didn't want to see him go. As he later explained to his father; "dad, it's not who he is; its how he is."[iv]
Genuine affection works every time!
Its incredible how genuine affection, warmth and kindness, will move and touch so many, isn't it? To the woman caught in the act of adultery, and who desperately needed someone with compassion to step in and save her from a group of self righteous hypocrites who were eager to kill someone that day; it was not only "who" Jesus was, but "how" Jesus was.
And what of the woman who braved the cruel, scornful looks of the "respectable" people who gathered in the courtyard of Simon, the Pharisee; to hear Jesus teach, just so that she could pour perfume on His feet. Before she could get the jar open, tears of gratitude poured down her cheeks, and onto Jesus' feet.
Simon the Pharisee wondered: how Jesus could let this sinful woman touch him and do these things? He saw an "object" who was disgusting, and detestable, because of her gross misdeeds. Jesus however saw a woman who was yearning to be free from the past, who longed to be forgiven, who had been abused by a cruel and heartless world, and who was treated with equal cruelty by the religious establishment. And while this woman remains unnamed, and we know nothing else of her life, she stands as a testament of what it means to be drawn to Jesus, not just because of "who" He was, but because of "how" He was.
It's not your credentials that will impress people
Since my early teens to present, I have been under the influence of numerous Ministers, Evangelists, Elders, Deacons, and many, many other "leaders" all with varying titles and levels of responsibility. They all worked hard and I am grateful for the impact they had on my life. But there are only a very, very few with whom I was willing to give my heart to, with whom I was willing to be open and transparent with in regards to my homosexual past and same gender attractions, and who I allowed to know the real me. These few did not impress me with their stunning oratory skills, or reputations, or level of education, or any other ministerial credentials. Rather, I was drawn to these men because they were kind, compassionate, sensitive, (and who did not think too highly of themselves), and were eager to love and accept me even in my very broken state. I was drawn to them not because of "who" they were, but because of "how" they were.
One of the priorities in Strength in Weakness Ministries is to encourage same gender attracted brothers and sisters to be open, and transparent, with one or two spiritually mature and trusted individuals in their home congregations. I cannot understate how transformational having these kinds of relationships has been for me. To be loved, to be believed in and to be supported by brothers who are my friends, (even though they know who I was and who I am) is nothing but a gift from God!
If we can't trust you, we will die
But I dare say that I am in the minority of same gender attracted Christians who develop and utilize these kinds of accountability relationships. You would be shocked to know of how many disciples suffer silently with these unwanted feelings, emotions and temptations because they are too terrified to tell anyone in their church for fear of rejection. Isolation seems by far a better option. For these brothers and sisters to start talking, opening up and trusting you so that they can get the help and support they need, they will have to be more impressed with "how" you are than the "who" you are.
I remember so clearly the inner turmoil I suffered while trying to build the courage to tell my minister that I was "gay." It was absolutely terrifying. It was one thing to be rejected and made fun of by a judgmental world, but to be unwanted by my brothers and sisters was too much to ask. I was sure that some in the church would pull away from me, rebuff my friendship, and make unfair assumptions about my life and character, and that I might even be asked to leave for good.
As a leader in your church, you need to know that for those who have been involved in homosexual behavior or attractions; choosing to be open and transparent, (even with a mature and trusted friend) can be a terrifying occurrence. And really, it is with good reason. Same gender attracted Christians have spent the majority of their adult lives being the brunt of cruel jokes, subjected to offensive language, and have been called both mean and unkind names (yes, even in the church). Some have been completely disowned by their parents, friends and other loved ones. Others have even faced physical persecution. They've been wrongly stereotyped, and often considered as a "less than second rate" people. They need to know that God's heart has broken, every time they suffered. They need to be reassured that they will not experience anything like this from another Christian, much less a leader in Jesus' church.
So what can you do to help? Let me first say that I appreciate the fact that you may feel a sense of intimidation when it comes to helping someone who comes from a homosexual past. I know that the topic is messy, confusing, awkward to discuss, and complex. And, we are always afraid of what we don't understand. Let me reassure you, I never expected the person helping me to have all the answers. What then did I need? In the next article I have listed what I believe to be the essential Eight "Must Do's" for every minister and counselor, if they hope to be successful in bringing healing to a same gender attracted person.
Like Simon the Pharisee, some will wonder how Jesus could let these sinful people touch him. But that is because they see homosexuals as objects that are disgusting and detestable, because of their gross misdeeds. Jesus however sees people who are yearning to be free from the past, who long to be forgiven, who have been abused by a cruel and heartless world, and who have been treated with equal cruelty by the religious establishment. Please never forget that these brothers and sisters will only learn to trust you when they are more impressed with "how" you are, rather than "who" you are.
[i] "The Greatest Canadian." 2004. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. <http://www.cbc.ca/greatest/top_ten/>.
[ii] "Walter Gretzky: Hockey's Most Famous Father." Events Edge Entertainment and Speakers Bureau. 28 Aug. 2008 <http://www.eventsedge.com/waltergretzky.html>.
[iii] Zima, Ron. "Salvation Army Stories and Pictures from the Maritimes." Maritimes On Line. 21 May 2008. The Salvation Army. 28 Aug. 2008 <http://maritimesonline.blogspot.com/2008/05/humility-humanity-and-hope-greatness-of.html>.