The Not-So-Gay Lifestyle
Pastoral care for homosexuals who want out.

Mario Bergner

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As the young man stood in the hospital radiology room getting ready for a chest X-ray, the nurse spoke to him, "Please remove the metal you're wearing around your neck."

Actually, it was a uniquely shaped cross with the face of Jesus etched onto it. She must have seen the fear in his eyes as he gently rubbed this precious gift his parents had given him years ago.

"If we wrap it in masking tape, you can keep it on during the X-ray," she said.

"Thank you," the young man replied. That symbol of Jesus around his neck was the last vestige of the Christian faith to which he'd once looked as a source of hope.

Later in his room, the young man lay on the hospital bed, feeling empty and afraid. His health over the previous 13 months had declined rapidly. From his first venereal disease in January of the previous year to his current admission to Boston City Hospital with thrush, he had 12 frightening symptoms—nearly one for each month.

In the young man's mind, these health problems—all occurring within two years after he'd become sexually active in New York City—pointed in one direction: AIDS.

Five days of blood tests, all of which had returned negative, left only one option—a bone marrow biopsy. This was the only test left to find out why the young man's T-cell count was so low. The doctor had suggested the test earlier, but the young man had refused as he knew it was the final test used in diagnosing AIDS.

That evening while lying on his bed, he once again gently rubbed the cross that hung around his neck. The name formed on the young man's lips. "Jesus … oh, Jesus," he prayed, "what have I done? I sought you out at age 14, and again at 18, but neither time did I receive the healing I needed to be free from homosexuality. Why, Lord? Why are some people able to come to you so easily and enter into the life of the church while others like myself, so clearly in need, fail to get any help at all?"

Unfortunately, this young man is not alone. I know that personally.

"My friend has a problem …"

Every day we receive calls at Redeemed Life Ministries asking, "How can I help someone who is struggling with homosexuality?" In fact, it's our most commonly asked question.

My response is to ask two key questions:

1. Is the struggling person a Christian? Has he or she been baptized, regenerated, and converted in Jesus Christ? If the answer is no, then the first step in the healing process is not to address homosexuality, but to introduce them to the Great Physician himself, Jesus.

Sometimes we send people to the nearest Alpha course, where they can be introduced to Christianity and meet Jesus personally. If the person is, in fact, a Christian, then my next question is simple.

2. Does the person want help? If someone does not think overcoming homosexuality is possible because he or she couldn't find help, then we need to walk alongside and offer hope. If the person does not believe what Scripture teaches about homosexuality, then we do not go any further. Only if a person decides he or she wants to overcome homosexuality do we move forward.

This year thousands of men and women struggling with homosexuality will pass through church doors. Depending on the church's response, they will either be led closer to Christ or pushed farther away.

For many, "the homosexual" in them seems to grow at a much faster rate than "the Christian" in them. This leads too often to disillusionment, and they decide to simply stop attending church. The gay lifestyle is all-too-ready to whisper, "Great, yeah, you don't need that church influence. Welcome."

The young man at the beginning of this article had turned to the church twice before—and found no help. Who was that young man?

Mario Bergner.

For several years I struggled silently with the tension between my homosexual feelings and my Christian faith. Deep inside, I feared that if the homosexual in me was stronger than my Christian faith, then surely Christianity was a religion of unrealistic expectations.

In many ways, I wanted help but didn't seem to find it. When I finally cried out to God while in the hospital, I didn't receive the audible reply from God I wanted or expected. Instead I saw a vision of two paths I could take—one leading to destruction, the other to healing. I sensed the Spirit of the Lord saying, "I want to heal your whole person, not just your body. Choose."

I chose. By his grace I was physically healed. I didn't have AIDS, and the doctors were able to offer no explanation for my symptoms or my cure.

Today, also by God's grace, I am married and the father of four children.

4 questions for charting change

Homosexuality is not a singular, monolithic condition shared by all people with same-sex attraction. There are many factors in a person's life that will affect the course of healing. To ascertain the road ahead, weigh the following:

1. Has the person crossed the moral boundary of acting out? Someone who has never had homosexual sex does not have to deal with added issues. Nor does he need to rebuild the moral boundary line he crossed in order to act out that first time. I have known many men and women who never acted on their homosexual thoughts and feelings because they were raised with strong moral boundaries. However, if someone seeks help after acting out—as was true in my case—the difficulty is compounded but not impossible.

2. What is their age? Those seeking help by their early 20s seem to progress more quickly toward heterosexual relating. I began seeking help for changing my homosexuality at 24. Within months I experienced the first sparks of sexual attraction for women.

Those seeking help between their late 20s and 30s often do so only after they have come to some dissatisfaction with homosexuality. By the time the mid-to-late 30s arrive, many have lost hope of finding a long-term homosexual partner, and are open to leaving homosexuality. The possibility of marriage and family is a strong motivation.

Some come for help well after the age of having a family is probable. Many of these individuals have been involved in homosexuality for decades. But ultimately, they desire freedom and holy living.

Ron came to us when he was 58. He was quite successful in his profession and accepted by most of his colleagues. By day he was a professional businessman, but on nights and weekends he was the model of the well-adjusted successful gay man.

Then he met Jesus through the friendship of one of his coworkers.

As his desire to follow the Lord Jesus grew, he noticed a growing dissatisfaction with the homosexual subculture. Ron joined a supportive church, entered into our Redeemed Lives program (eight months of pastoral care and discipleship for the cure and maturation of the soul) and happily settled into a celibate life.

3. Is the person part of a supportive local church? Integration into the body of Christ where we can know others and be known by others is key to healing. This is not to say that everyone in the church needs to be informed of the ones who struggle with homosexuality. But a supportive environment with plenty of fellowship opportunities such as Bible studies, small groups, and a shared common life is necessary to healthy growth.

Some churches have programs specifically aimed at helping people overcome sexual brokenness. While this is a great benefit, I have known many men and women who successfully came out of homosexuality simply through integrating into a loving church family to grow as a disciple of Jesus.

4. Would they benefit from professional psychological or psychiatric care? Proper diagnosis and treatment of psychological or psychiatric needs can be a critical factor affecting change from many sexual struggles. There are those in the church who think a pastor ought not to make such a recommendation. Certain psychological and psychiatric conditions can interlock with a sexual struggle. Until these are properly treated, there may be a discouraging pattern of reverting into old sexual patterns in an attempt to medicate an untreated condition.

I saw this clearly when John, another pastor, came to me for help at the recommendation of his superintendent. John was married and the father of three teenage sons, but throughout his 20-year marriage, he had been involved in anonymous homosexual encounters.

Early on, he was so desperate for help he moved his entire family to New York City, stating he wanted to earn a Ph.D. at a theological school there. But his real motivation was to receive help from a psychoanalyst in Manhattan well known for his successful treatment of homosexuality. Through this doctor's care, John came alive to his sexual need for his wife. John told me, however, that his sexual attraction toward men lessened, but he still acted out homosexually several times each year.

After we'd been meeting for a while, I asked him if he would consider seeing a psychiatrist. He was hesitant because he had traveled the road of professional care before. He did not understand the difference between psychiatric and psychological care. He agreed to be evaluated by a psychiatrist, who diagnosed him with depression, anxiety, and a form of clinical paranoia, each responsive to medication.

Within a few months of the medications, I witnessed one of the most remarkable transformations I have ever seen. John reported that the love he had long held for his dear wife was continually on the surface of his heart. Moreover, his homosexual struggle was now nothing more than occasional thoughts.

Eventually, he went off the medication for anxiety and paranoia but remained on a low dosage of an antidepressant. He never acted out homosexually again and his marriage grew stronger and stronger.
Certainly there are other factors that influence the course of healing from homosexuality. But the four presented here repeatedly show themselves to be critical in healing journeys I have witnessed.
The church's role in change

There is no single process for persons trying to leave the homosexual lifestyle. There are, however, ways we in pastoral roles can help.

The church can effectively minister to such a person through preaching, teaching, and healing. The Bible attests to this three-fold order in Matthew 9:35: "Then Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness."

As the church, we are to teach and demonstrate that living in holy celibacy and healing are viable options for every Christian, even those struggling with homosexuality, which is but one of the many conditions Jesus died to redeem us from.

In the October 2003 Archives of Sexual Behavior, Dr. Robert Spitzer of Columbia University announced the results of his study of over 200 people who successfully overcame homosexuality. His scientific findings confirm the biblical stance: homosexuals can change.

We are to preach the Good News leading to regeneration and deeper growth in Jesus Christ. The pastor who ministered to me after I left the homosexual lifestyle showed me that pastors don't have to pretend to know it all. He treated me with respect and love, while still challenging me and teaching me to pray with a depth I never had before.

Finally, we are to offer sexual redemption in Christ, not only for homosexuality, but for all sexual issues. I remember several unexpected encounters with Christians whose faith ministered to me, including some nuns with guitars who greeted me on the street. Their joy and warmth helped bring healing to my soul.

Always hope

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul gives a list of common sins, including two forms of homosexual behavior. But in verse 11 he says, "And such were some of you, but you were washed, you were justified, you were sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." Notice the use of the past tense, were. Paul is clearly stating that the Corinthians became free from homosexuality.

When properly equipped, we can be effective shepherds to those who come to church for healing in their sexuality, including those struggling with homosexuality.

Clearly, anyone can be forgiven of homosexual sin. Most people who want to change can successfully do so, and all who are in Christ can experience holy living.

Mario Bergner is an Episcopal priest and heads Redeemed Life Ministries in Wheaton, Illinois.
"I'm gay. Can you help me?"

Resources to aid the sexually confused and those who reach out to them.

Exodus International, North America
P.O. Box 540119
Orlando FL 32854

Desert Steam Ministries
P.O. Box 17635
Anaheim CA 92817

Pastoral Care Ministries
P.O. Box 1313
Wheaton IL 61089

Love Won Out
Focus on the Family
P.O. Box 35500
Colorado Springs CO 80935

Redeemed Life Ministries
P.O. Box 1211
Wheaton IL 60189

Setting Love In Order
Mario Bergner (Baker Books, 1995)

Coming Out Straight
Richard Cohen (Oakhill Press, 2000)

Pursuing Sexual Wholeness
Andy Comiskey (Creation House, 1990)

A Strong Delusion
Joe Dallas (Harvest House, 1996)

The Broken Image
Leanne Payne (Baker Books, 1996)

Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth
Jeffrey Satinover (Baker Books, 1996)

The Same Sex Controversy
James White and Jeffrey Niell (Bethany House, 2002)


Copyright © 2004 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
Click here for reprint information onLeadership Journal.
Winter 2004, Vol. XXV, No. 1, Page 42
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