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The unrelenting approach of God

I thought I might start by laying my cards on the table. I am someone who experiences same-sex attraction and has done since childhood. I am not only attracted to people of the same sex; I am married, and my wife graciously supports me. My desires are rather carnal than romantic. By which I mean, I have never desired a long-term romantic relationship with a man. 

Given Christ’s teaching on marriage, sex and relationships, as well as the witness of Scripture as a whole, I believe I am called to deny myself in this area, pick up my cross, and carry it. I nevertheless rejoice in Christ’s teaching, believing it be clear and good news for all - no matter our sexuality.
In part or in whole, those two paragraphs may ring true for subscribers to Ascend. However, it is my hope that a few of you will be coming to the issue of faithful, biblical sexuality for the first time, and so  I wanted to lay out my stall up-front, as well as give you permission to be curious, confused, intrigued, relieved or outraged, by that or any of what follows.

Now, let’s backtrack. I don’t remember a ‘moment’ when I realised I was same-sex attracted, but I was certainly young, younger than ten I think. At that time, in the late 1990s, the nuanced categories which now enable us to think through and speak about sexuality, both in church and the secular world, just weren’t available to me or my parents. And at that age, I’m not sure I cared.

I am an only child. I was brought up in a Christian home by two doting parents who loved the Lord and took me - mostly willingly, but sometimes not - to church every Sunday. I honestly cannot remember having any teaching in church or youth group on the subject of sexuality during my childhood or teenage years, right up to when I turned my back on the Lord aged seventeen. My departure from Him wasn’t directly related to this absence of teaching, or indeed any sense of sexual confusion, though I’m sure that played its part. It was more that I was bored. 

I was that most worrying of things: a child of Christian parents who knew all the right answers, but didn’t know Jesus. I could turn up to youth group each week, nod along, spew out a line or two about some fancy doctrine, then pop home having got my dose of ‘religion’. That is what I thought following Jesus was all about: clock in/clock out, know enough of the Bible, and do enough good during the week to put a smile on God’s face. Instead of living in the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I was living with the burden of religion. Of course, I ended up abandoning it.

My parents were naturally disappointed, but incredibly gracious at the same time. No demands or threats were made. No insistence that I get out of bed at once and get dressed and get in the car because it was Sunday. They knew I couldn’t piggy-back off their faith in Jesus. If I was to have a true, saving faith it must be mine, and mine alone.

The call to Christian discipleship is radical and life-giving

I wasn’t an atheist. I was a pretty reluctant agnostic, looking back on it. I was just really annoyed that God existed because I knew that meant He had an ultimate claim on my life, love and affections, which at that age, I was determined to pour into other things. As a teen, my inner world was a shut-up shop; nothing more so than my same-sex attraction. I wanted to put my fingers in my ears and live a life without God. And so, in His providential kindness, He gave me the life I wanted and let me go.

The decade that followed became steadily chaotic. My sixth form and university years, as well as the best part of my twenties, were spent in a drink and drug induced haze (which was frequently a lot more fun than even now I’m willing to admit). Drink and drugs were a useful tool. They helped buffer my sensitive and insecure heart against a brash, self-obsessed culture that demanded I only need look within to find my truest identity, while also shielding friends, family and the few women I dated/slept with from ever getting too close. I didn’t know who I was. And despite all my efforts to prevent it from ever happening, my deepest longing was to be fully known by another.
Some friends came out as bisexual post university and their stories were often familiar: the shame of keeping their sexuality secret; the fear of telling friends; the fear of rejection by parents and family; the longing for acceptance; the ache for peace - it all hit very close to home. I wondered if I would ever display the courage my friends had and confess my secret. 

Or whether giving my attractions the appropriate cultural label and leaning into them would bring me the deep rest for which I was yearning.As 2018 drew to a close, I had put a rebellious and damaging decade firmly behind me. I was sober and living in a lovely new-build flat in south London with a great flatmate and a job in publishing I enjoyed. There was a lot going for me. But reflecting on the months in early 2019 that led up to the events described below, I realise I had become powerfully skilled at self-deception. I was not alright. The decades long shame I felt at my sexuality had grown overwhelming. I was desperately lonely. Foolishly, I had placed on my sobriety the burden of delivering deep psychic and emotional stability. But it hadn’t. I had asked the same from my work in publishing, which I adored. That too rang hollow. As did independence and dating and everything else in my life.

Then one cool May evening in 2019, as I was sitting reading “Normal People” by Sally Rooney (ironically a book about lost and sexually broken - but also whiny - young people), in my armchair in my flat in south London, Jesus showed up.

In “Surprised by Joy”, C. S. Lewis’s autobiography of his early life, he describes his conversion: “You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England”.

That same ‘unrelenting approach’ stalked me every single day in early 2019. I couldn’t wake, sleep, eat, shower, cook, sit, read, talk, watch, listen or laugh without sensing the almost physical presence of the One I had abandoned over a decade earlier. This all climaxed in my room that May evening when, looking up from my book and placing it with care on the armrest next to me, I turned my gaze back to the wall, ‘admitted that God was God’, and wept.

As I began my Christian walk in the months that followed, I knew that Jesus’ call to discipleship would, and had to, affect every aspect of my life, including my sexuality. Jesus doesn’t ask permission to come into the house of your heart to re-pot a few plants, re-paint a few rooms, and re-arrange the tatty furniture. He arrives with a wrecking ball to demolish what wasn’t His and to begin construction of a palace fit only for Himself.

Four years have now passed and much has changed: marriage, a call to ministry and reconciling with family and friends are just a few works of the gospel’s grace in my life. Of course, my same-sex attraction remains, and I suspect it always will. Discipleship in this area of my life looks like any other: as Jesus’ disciple the only identity that matters now, and will matter on the final day, is my identity in Him. I believe He has spoken clearly in Scripture on this matter, and it is my call to deny myself, pick up my cross daily and follow Him, being enabled with all the grace He so lovingly supplies by the Spirit.

As I continue to work out the implications of following Jesus for my same-sex attraction, as well as each and every other aspect of my life, I am made aware of how radical and life-giving the call to Christian discipleship is. Our culture places an unbearable burden on men, women and increasingly children, by calling them to look within and make whatever they find there constitutive of who they most truly and uniquely are. As a Christian, I am so thankful I am called to something greater. 

My same-sex attractions are part of my story, certainly, but not my identity. The foundation of my identity is Christ and His work on the cross. Nothing more, nothing less. My identity lies not within myself, but without. With another. And because of that it cannot be shaken. It lies utterly secure. It lies nestled in the heart of Him who gave Himself in my place on the cross, who bore the punishment my sin deserved, who called me while I was wandering and still far off, who came running towards me beaming, with open arms thrown wide. He swept me up as a little child on that cool May evening in south London, as I wept at my foolishness for ever abandoning such a tender and loving Saviour.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2023 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.

Download the Summer 2023 edition of Ascend