Challenging My Spiritual Mentor
Once you’ve come to terms with your own Same-Sex Attraction (SSA), deciding how to share that with others can be hard, particularly within your church family. Whom do you tell? Which person do you start with? For me, it started with my closest friend, followed by a few others. Then it became clear that I needed to tell my mentor, who was my student pastor.
One of the reasons I had stayed with this church, after initially joining it as a student, was because the student pastor at the time had taken a genuine interest in supporting me. This had led to a mentoring relationship. We would meet up to talk through how we were doing, as well as praying and studying the Bible together. We continued this relationship until he moved away. I wanted to continue to be mentored by an older Christian (Proverbs 27:17), so the new student pastor agreed to become my mentor. I realised that I would also need to tell her about my sexuality. It felt disingenuous to avoid sharing within our spiritual mentoring relationship the issue that I was wrestling with the most. Telling her went rather well at first. She kindly said that she hadn’t wanted to presume my sexuality simply because I was a man who enjoyed musical theatre (!), but admitted that she had wondered. I found that quite amusing. What then proved more difficult, however, were the subsequent discussions we had on this topic. In particular, when we discussed how I should respond to my sexuality in terms of my decisions about relationships and celibacy.
As someone who understood my attractions to be legitimate, but believing that homosexual sexual relationships fall short of God’s model for sexual expression, what I really wanted was for my mentor to support me in this. I needed reassurance that my position was not illogical and that living a celibate life could be a legitimate and fulfilling life choice, despite the stance on gay relationships of many of my non-Christian friends (and a fair few Christian friends). What I got, though, was a self-proclaimed but tentative assertion of a more liberal position: something along the lines of ”a stable gay relationship is probably better than promiscuity.”
This was really hard for me. Every time someone tells me that a stable gay relationship surely must be an option available to same-sex attracted Christians (‘what else are they to do?’), a seed is planted in my mind and soul that I am wasting my time trying to live a celibate lifestyle. Giving in to temptation appears more attractive, and becomes more likely, because someone in a position of spiritual authority has undermined my view and legitimised a more liberal approach.
We discussed this over a number of meet-ups, and sometimes she would become quite exercised at my persistence that celibacy could be the answer for me and for others. It became clear that she had Christian friends in gay relationships, and it was difficult for her to reconcile this with my interpretation of what obedience to God looks like. I began to meet with a new mentor, due to other circumstances. My new mentor was also honest about where she stood on the issue. While she hadn’t been clear in the past, she had been challenged by her own spiritual mentor on this matter, and had concluded that she couldn’t make same-sex relationships square with the message of Scripture on sexual ethics. I think she was further on than my previous mentor in her journey of responding to this cultural issue. Having this common understanding put me at ease. It also meant I felt able to share my struggles without worrying that she would try and persuade me to act upon them.
Ultimately, it may be better to meet with someone else if your mentor’s advice is not helpful. However, I am glad I persisted in this instance, as I think I forced her to reconsider her position on the issue. At the time this was very frustrating - I wanted to be mentored, and not the inverse! But I think those of us with SSA will often have to consider the theology of this issue more acutely and less abstractly than most. This may make us the catalysts for helping spiritual leaders without SSA to reflect deeply on their positions.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2019 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend.