I was first aware of same-sex attractions when I was about seven years old. My 13 years older brother was an actor and introduced me to Richard Burton and Laurence Harvey. They both gave me large autographed pictures. I became obsessed with these and remember my father saying to me, “I’m going to tell Richard and Larry you’re in love with them.” Even at that age I can remember being embarrassed. As my sexuality started to develop erotically as a teenager, I secretly collected magazines of semi naked men. From the age of eighteen onwards I was sexually involved with other men and developed good friendships with gay friends, who, like myself, were looking for a life partner. We all supported each other, but were not really open about our sexuality with others. The majority of my friends were gay, so I wasn’t really aware of the secrecy with relatives and work colleagues feeling like duplicity. My social life was with my gay friends and it was good.
I met a gay man who was a Christian and wasn’t convinced that sexual relationships were right for him. I thought he was probably a bit naïve. I considered myself a Christian and certainly talked to God. As I started to know my new friend and met his vicar, my relationship with Jesus developed and I became convinced that my sexual relationships should stop. I concluded that I was probably using my sexual encounters as a means to find a loving relationship. As I read the Bible I realised that love was possible without sex. I started to become more involved in a church fellowship and was encouraged by the vicar (Roy Barker) to share my story as a homosexual with others. For the first time in my life I could be open about my sexuality with heterosexuals. I was encouraged to believe I was valuable because of who I was. I didn’t appreciate that at the time, but did many years later and was grateful for that early experience. As a new Christian the Lord made His presence in my life very clear through several vivid experiences. Eventually in 1977 this led to me starting a new ministry for the church and for Christians who, like myself were aware of homosexual feelings. My vision was to enable churches to have more understanding and be therefore able to support people who contacted me for help. Canon Roy Barker had a lot of experience with Christian organisations and he suggested we should take my vision and create a charitable trust and a council of reference. Initially I was to produce some free literature on what the Bible says about homosexuality and describe the vision of a two fold ministry for the church and individuals. We advertised in the Christian press. Roy and the trustees were the legal backbone, but I was the solo worker. I also developed the ministry, produced the literature and newsletter, as well as seeing those who contacted the work and speaking to churches and fellowships. I encouraged a few of those who sought my help to form a supportive group for me, the ministry and each other. I was still the only public face. They helped me to feel I had a team around me. We also established some support groups around the country and I organised a few conferences.
In the eighties, for five years, I lived with a family and this was probably the most important part of my life in terms of what I learnt about myself emotionally. I wrote a lot about this in my books. There is still a sense of that commitment to this day, although we are no longer together.
The vast majority of Christians contacting me had a very different experience to my own. They hated themselves because of their sexuality and believed God would only use them when it was no longer a problem. Many wanted God to take the feelings away and replace them with heterosexual ones. Some longed to be married and have children, others wanted to feel more ‘normal’. I always tried to encourage people to see their unique sexuality as a part of their value and ministry. Some developed a friendship with the opposite sex and became aware of some sexual feelings within that. I was always anxious not to encourage this, but would seek to support the couple if they wanted to explore the possibility of marriage. I met many older married Christians, who were married many years ago, when homosexuality was not discussed in the church. They were secretly aware of same sex attractions. Other church members knew nothing of their secret feelings – sometimes even their partner was unaware of the homosexuality.
As the work developed and grew, after a few years of it being mainly just me, the trustees decided we should have an administrator and some office secretarial help. This was tremendous. After so many years of solo work, I was no longer alone. Initially we were the only ministry of this sort, from a conservative theological perspective. There were other similar ministries in the US and Europe, but many with a different emphasis. They were mostly seeking to actively promote the hope of a change in sexual orientation. I wasn’t comfortable with this because it often seemed to be setting people up for failure and discouragement. However we were able to sometimes work together. I couldn’t deny that I had seen people experience heterosexual feelings for the first time but also many (especially women) experience homosexuality for the first time. I couldn’t deny that for some a change in feelings happened, but never felt it right to actively encourage this. I don’t think this would ever have been acknowledged, but I wondered if the underlying motives in encouraging a change in orientation was “God says you can’t have sex with the same sex, so we’ll help you to have it with the opposite sex – then you can feel more acceptable and normal.“. I was desperately trying to help people feel acceptable, valued and normal as they were, but often finding it very difficult to convince them. As I was learning and growing in my own life and relationships, so I was able to share with others and learn from them. (2Cor.1.3-7) It was exciting to be involved in many Christian conferences and events, tv appearances etc. I wrote a few books on the way. Eventually we developed a course for groups to use called “A Journey Towards Wholeness”. It involved a lot of what I had learned personally and addressed issues like Self Worth, Relationships, Addictions, Our Stories and Ministry, plus of course The Bible and Sexuality. Although the groups using the course were mainly Christians with same sex attractions, a few who weren’t said it was valuable for anyone. I had always assumed that everyone involved in the ministry were very much of one mind with my own thinking. The time came for my possible retirement and God seemed to have provided a leader for the work. He was a good Bible teacher and speaker, but also publicly open and honest about his own sexuality. This was very unusual at that time for an evangelical and this enthused me. I should have realised he had not really been a part of my own thinking and experience as partly expressed in the Journey Towards Wholeness course.
So I retired but made it known that I was always available to give any advice and support, following my thirty-three years in the ministry. That was more than ten years ago and not once have I ever been contacted for any advice. In one of my old articles I looked at the thought that our sexuality is a gift from God. I was asked to explain a little more fully what I meant. I have always been fascinated by the incredibly varied and complex spectrum of sexual feelings. Sometimes it is possible to see a link between these feelings and the way we feel about ourselves and others. They are not simply a desire for sex or even just love. In this way they help us to understand ourselves and others therefore they can be seen as a gift from God. This person said she understood. She had asked a leader of the ministry who replied, “It’s just a ‘martinism’ “. This has always saddened me, but maybe I ought to have taken more care to ensure my own way of thinking would have continued to be developed.
After my commitment to Christ in the early seventies I started to read St Mathew’s gospel. Up to that point I had done very little reading, but am still surprised by my reaction to Jesus’s life and his words. They seemed so perfect and true, completely free of any human failings and prejudice. I guess I’m amazed my unlearned background saw this.
In my years in the work I was grateful to have contact with many theologians who studied all the relevant texts referring to homosexuality. It also made me realise how badly some of them (especially the 1 Corinthians 6 passage) had been translated. I usually go there to judge the rest of a bible’s accuracy – not exactly a balanced approach!
Of course it needs to be said that in biblical times the concept of sexual orientation as we know it now didn’t exist. It was only coined in the nineteenth century. I remember it once being explained to me that, although the Bible is the Word of God we have to understand it’s true meaning at the time it was written in order for it to become the Word of God for us today. I now realise this is not as straight forward or simple as we can sometimes be led to believe. My father used to say to me that he struggled with the nature of God described in the Old Testament, when He seems to encourage so much fighting and killing of people He created, compared to Jesus’s teaching to love your enemies. I attempted to avoid the subject saying it was probably the way the writer expressed what was happening. I wonder if we do avoid these difficult questions. Many of the Levitical laws can seem ‘immoral ‘ to our modern understanding. For example the exclusion of people with deformities and disabilities (Leviticus 21.16-23) seems offensive to us today. Also in Deuteronomy 21.18… where disobedient children are to be stoned to death. There are real problems working out what is the Word of God in the Bible for us today. We must seek to put our preconceptions, prejudices, discriminations and fears to one side. This is not easy. Likewise in 1 Corinthians 6.9-11 Paul seems to invent a word (arsenokoitai) and most translators link it with another word (malakoi) although none of the other behaviours listed are linked together. Arsenokoitai doesn’t seem to appear in any other literature, but there are similarities to a word in the Greek translation of Leviticus 18 referring to a man lying with another man as if he were a woman. The other word ( malakoi) seems to mean ‘soft’ or ‘fine’ referring to fabric. Jesus uses it to describe the soft clothes that John the Baptist wasn’t wearing. Some wonder if Paul was using it to condemn wealthy self-indulgence, which would make sense with some of the other behaviours mentioned. Others suggest it describes the passive partner to the arsenokoitai. Most translations translate them as practicing homosexuals or similar words. Thankfully earlier translations of simply homosexuals have been changed. Many people assumed that it meant even a homosexual orientation forbade entry to God’s Kingdom. Tragically that has resulted in suicide for some. Romans 1 and 2 seem a little more clear. The context is God’s Creation and the Fall. Paul is addressing all of us and includes disobedient children. Maybe thinking of Deuteronomy? But is Paul’s experience relating it to hedonistic Roman culture and Pagan sexual worship? Many would understandably ask, “Why should it be wrong in the context of love and commitment?” It makes sense to condemn adultery, promiscuity, addiction and abuse because of the obvious harm they involve. Most would agree on that. When I sought to answer that question the only sense I could make of it was to refer to the holiness and mystery of the One Flesh male with female marriage relationship. Any sex outside that being therefore wrong. Sex in marriage ideally being partly a celebration of the act of God’s Creation of woman from man, symbolically ‘reunited’ in the image of God the Creator and therefore also being potentially creative. I now see many problems with that. For example it would cast doubt on the validity of a non procreative marriage and contraception. I guess it also implies that only penile vagina orgasms are permissible. It has always seemed strange to me that masturbation is not mentioned in Scripture. Possibly the most common sexual experience? When I first decided to be celibate as a Christian that included no masturbation. For a few years I didn’t masturbate, but there were ‘nocturnal emissions’. Doesn’t it seem strange it isn’t mentioned? Jesus doesn’t even mention homosexual sex, but does adultery.
I know several people who struggled for years to be homosexually celibate, then found a life partner. They thereby became in many ways more complete and whole as people. In most cases they didn’t continue in a relationship with Jesus in church. Maybe this was because the message they had always believed was that their relationship is not compatible with Christianity. That seems tragic to me. I have known so many conservative theologians who changed their conclusions about the Bible and homosexuality in the light of gay Christians they know, whose ministry and spirituality they admire.
In the church debate sexual feelings and behaviour are often compared to other human behaviours in the way we deal with them. Sometimes this is valid, but we must always appreciate that a major driving force empowering our sexuality is very often, maybe always a fundamental God created need ‘not to be alone’. It connects with many fundamental issues of self- worth and belonging.
All this evidence of scriptural research and integrity plus the witness of those in committed relationships has led me to change my own conclusions. I can no longer say that homosexual relationships are all condemned by God. Clearly there are Christian moral boundaries sexually, just as in other areas of our lives. We often sin in more subtle ways than the more obvious ones. Perhaps we may wish there were very clear guidelines about what is sinful or not? Oh that it was that simple! For example, greed, envy and idolatry are probably more commonly there in subtle forms than the more obvious. Personally, my change in thinking is not because I am now in a gay relationship. I am not, but open to the possibility if the Lord provides it. I do not regret one second of my Christian experience and ministry. It’s been a long journey of learning and growth with Jesus, which continues for evermore. I am still learning to love.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.( Philippians 4:8)