CP: A big part of your journey involved your parents, your home life and close friends. How important is it for people dealing with unwanted same-sex attraction to have those closest to them involved in their journey?
Gary: I think it's important to remember that everybody's story is different, everybody's journey is different and God works in our lives in different ways. I presented counseling as a part of the path that God led me on to working through some things, because there were some things in my family and in my relationship with my dad in particular that I needed to work through, and that required someone to guide us through that, to help us through that. I don't know that that's going to be the case for everybody. I don't know that we need to continue to look at this as if you experience same-sex attraction, you need to go to counseling and there's something terribly wrong with your family. That is certainly not the message of Loves God, Likes Girls. I think that also is another misnomer that Christians have bought into.
I think that every family can benefit from having someone who can be more objective look in and see some ways that we can improve our family life, improve how we parent, improve how we relate to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ as well as moms and dads and sons and daughters, and siblings, grandparents and aunts and uncles, all of that. It was helpful to me to be able to have that experience, to know, if nothing else, I think the common factor for anyone is to know that you have your family's support and encouragement in this. I think some of the most effective families I see are the families who say, 'My son or daughter may have shocked me with telling me that they're gay, but I'm gonna walk alongside them, I'm gonna learn as much as I can about this and I'm gonna learn some things about myself in the process. And are there some ways perhaps that I have related to my son or daughter that could be different, that could improve our relationship?'
My focus in counseling was in helping my relationship with my father. I think if that's the way we approached it rather than to "fix the person who's gay," then we would have a lot more success, if you will, in the way all of that turns out. If your goal is to get rid of being gay, to get rid of same-sex attraction, God doesn't always work that way in our lives. God doesn't always remove the things that we struggle with. I could go to counseling for my struggle with impatience, but the goal is not to get rid of that completely, (but) to manage that, to live a life that's pleasing to God, even if God never takes away my struggle with anger and impatience. The same is true for same-sex attraction. To the extent that counseling helped my family relate better and helped me to build a relationship with my father, it was extremely important and extremely important to have my parents involved in that process. I wish every family that I came in contact with would be willing to go through that process of just exploring 'how can we be better and how can we love each other more as God intended for us to show love to one another?' That would be wonderful if we could all get there.
CP: What kind of attitude should churches and those in ministry have toward others who experience unwanted same-sex attraction? What kinds of things could or should they be doing to help them?
Gary: I think one of the most important things that we as Christians can do is follow the model of Jesus in the way that he related to people in the gospels. I love the story of Zacchaeus when he invites him down out of the tree. How many people were walking with Jesus who didn't even see Zacchaeus? But Jesus always saw people who were on the fringe. It was as though he honed in on that, and he didn't just stop there. He didn't let the first thing that come out of his mouth (be) 'Zacchaeus, I need to let you know how I feel about this tax collecting stuff that you're doing. I need to let you know where I stand on that and that I don't approve of that. Nonetheless, I love you.' That was not Jesus' response. Jesus' response was to say 'I want to go to your house. I want to spend time with you.'
I think that's so important for us to remember as we encounter people who may be very different from us, (and) maybe have very different beliefs. Who knows what a person has been exposed to in terms of Christianity. So it's important for us to convey an accurate picture of Christ, that's willing to listen, that's willing to sit down. What would it be like if, instead of the first thing that we think of is to tell people where we stand on homosexuality, the first thing we did was to listen and say, 'Tell me what it's been like for you, and what it's been like for you and your family. How has your family responded? Tell me what it's been like for you in church' if the person has grown up in church. 'Tell me about some of those hard experiences and what it's like for you now.'
If we would stop and really and truly have a heart to listen to people and to understand, rather than to make it clear where we stand, I think that would do wonders. We're so afraid that if we do that, that we're not standing up for what's right. Yet this is the only thing that people struggle with, if you view it as a struggle, that we think we have to tell people exactly where we stand before we can be in relationship with anyone. And if they don't agree with us that we can't be in relationship. We don't think that way on anything else. Materialism, we can disagree on how we ought to live our lives according to what God wants materialistically. We can disagree on that and not have any problem worshipping together, being friends with people. It's the same thing in regard to lots of other things that we deem central. But with this, we've just not been willing to really listen and try to understand and be willing to agree to disagree, if that's what it takes. But let Jesus keep us connected. Who knows what God could do in the process of that? We would all be changed in lots of areas of our lives that I believe the Lord wants us to be changed, if we would listen more.
CP: You write in the epilogue that you find yourself living in a sort of tension and unresolved conflict of what it is you believe God calls you to do in this life, to live holy, and your desire for an "intimate relationship with one person for life." Can you comment briefly on that tension and conflict?
Gary: I think the epilogue states it pretty concisely. I think it just simply is a great illustration of what it is like to walk daily, trying to find what God calls us to. What if we did that in every area of our life? That we were willing to admit that we just don't have our act together in lots of areas of our lives, that we can't do it on our own, and that we have to rely on God's presence and power to work in us and through us? Some days we're gonna do it better than others. That's the way I am in regard to my selfishness. That's the way I am in regard to my pride. It's also the way I am in regard to my attraction to women, and the desire to not live alone. God created us to be in relationship, He created us to be connected to each other. I don't know that we as the Body of Christ really know how to do that for people except in the area of marriage. That is what we view as the ultimate type of relationship and connection. We're living in a day and age where so many people feel disconnected. With all the social media and the ways that it gives us a sense of connection, it's a false connection in a lot of ways.
I think that's one of the biggest struggle for me, is to constantly find connection and community. I do that with people being willing to walk with me and be okay with that tension that I live in and not feel like they have to fix me or tell me what to think, but will just walk alongside me. It's amazing how that defuses the tension and how it kind of brings perspective back to 'oh, okay this is like all the other things that I struggle with.' Yet we get so caught up, and there's such a turmoil about this that I think the enemy thrives on that, of making it bigger than it seems. If you dwell on that and you stay in 'oh how horrible this is' and 'I can't ever have this' and 'I can't ever be in…' then we lose sight of all the good that's in our lives. I think if we could just kind of diffuse the power of all his lies, we would live a more peaceful life. It's not that it goes away, but it just is not nearly as big as we've made it out to be. But as long as it's big and it's confusing, then I'm more apt to make a decision rashly (and) try to fill that need in ways that are gonna make me feel better for the moment, but in the long run may not really be what God desires for me. But if I can just kind of settle down and have people stay with me, it becomes less powerful.