A Question of Identity

Wayne, your journey has led you to proclaim a different message than what we often hear from popular culture. Why is that?

For years, feelings were my truth, including intense feelings for the same sex. So I lived according to those feelings for nearly 40 years.

One day I sat contemplating my life and destiny. And it suddenly dawned on me that the life Jesus has designed for His children isn't all about us and our feelings. It's about Him ... Jesus Christ. He wants an intimate relationship with us where He is King.

The realization of this broke my heart and led me to give myself over to Him. And when I did, life changed forever. That sounds like a broken cliché, but it's not. I have decided that my life is not my own. It's been granted as a gift for a purpose. Everywhere we go today, people say, "Be yourself. Accept yourself." But the core of what God has asked me to share is self-denial and complete surrender to my Creator. He owns my life.

After all those decades away, you are now active in your local Adventist church. In your opinion are the terms "gay" and "Adventist" compatible?

There are many who consider themselves gay and Adventist. But I have come to the conclusion that, as children of God, our identities should not be tied to our sexual inclinations, but rather to Him. In my opinion, the term "gay" is a worldly term that indicates a sexual preference. When I surrendered my life to Christ, I accepted the new identity He promised in 2 Corinthians 5:17. As it says there, the old is gone and the new has come, and I am a "new creation." If I am not practicing gay behavior, it makes no sense to claim it as my identity. I am tempted by that old behavior, but God calls me to identity with Him, not with my temptation. I have not turned my back on my gay friends or become suddenly heterosexual. I've turned my heart toward the One who draws each of us to Him.

So are you suggesting that affirmation of those who claim LGBT identity can be counterproductive?

I understand the need we all have to be accepted as we are. In truth, no matter what our past or present issues are, we are all sinners in need of a Savior. Jesus accepts us as we are, but He doesn't leave us to fend for ourselves. He calls us to something higher. He provides us with other believers and His Holy Spirit to help us grow.

If affirmation leads to a pathway of discipleship, then I'm all for it. But, if affirmation implies change is not necessary, then we are short-circuiting the very plan that God intends for our spiritual growth. It can lead instead to stagnation, which is dangerous and counterproductive to the Christian journey.

But affirmation has not typically been the norm in Adventist churches. Wouldn't you agree that the opposite has more often been true?

Yes, we have a tendency to look with judgment. And we have made the mistake of putting anyone who identifies as LGBT in the same camp as pedophiles or other "perversions." Those people are also in need of God's grace and forgiveness but should not be lumped in with the issue of homosexuality.

At times Adventists have been uncertain how to act, and, as a result, those with same-sex attractions have felt shunned. This is not the way Jesus would respond. Failure to see gays as human beings with feelings, likes and dislikes, valuable knowledge, and fascinating personalities has paralyzed many and prevented an opportunity for the love of Christ to be seen. We desperately need to stop distancing ourselves from gays, but engage with them in cultivating an atmosphere for the Holy Spirit. Our church members need to be educated and encouraged to love every person as a child of God. Anyone open to the leading and discipleship of the Holy Spirit in biblical truth should have a warm welcome to ongoing fellowship in our churches. If someone is openly living in sin, homosexual or heterosexual, it is time for a Spirit-led combination of discipline and discipleship. Holiness is what God calls us all to — His holiness. There is no good thing in us. But we can invite Him in and allow Him to change our lives. I believe that applies to anyone — gay or straight.

What are some key passages of Scripture that inform your own beliefs, your journey of discipleship and your current testimony?

Several come quickly to mind. I love Revelation 12:11, which encourages me to speak up, for it says we will overcome the devil by the words of our testimony. Jeremiah 17:9 cautions me about depending on feelings: The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. I find the importance of growth and discipleship in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11, which points out the kinds of sinners who will not be in heaven, but then beautifully states "and such were some of you." I constantly claim 2 Corinthians 5:17: The old is gone, the new is here, and I am a "new creation." Romans 8:1 provides the anchor point that there is now no condemnation in Jesus. And the godly reminder in Galatians 1:6–9, to beware of listening to and adhering to a different gospel, is something we all need.

These passages are supportive of any sin struggle. They are not intended as condemnation, but as promises and instruction to any who are willing to let God fully into their lives. Jesus has provided us with so much wisdom, and His generous redemptive gift is available to all sinners. We are in this together. There is nothing that cannot be conquered through Jesus.

But Scripture that seems critical of homosexuality is not very politically correct. Some passages have been used as "clobber texts." Many in our culture today consider biblical injunctions about this topic to be "hate speech."

Well, in fact, a gay couple recently wrote me and referred to the nine references to homosexuality in the Word of God as the "hate verses." I found that interesting, sad and perplexing. Our heavenly Father does not seek to gain our obedience and dependence upon Him with hate. There is nothing but pure love in our God. Pure love will eventually destroy evil because it will self-destruct in the presence of such a force of love and light. The texts about moral sexuality are there for a reason. They are a guide. Helpful instruction for our good isn't always pleasant to the ear. It may not seem logical or practical to the human mind. But the Bible isn't all about our immediate pleasure. It's all about our eternal salvation.

Is there a "gay agenda" within certain circles of Adventists that in your estimation does not match Christ's ideal for His church?

Absolutely. In the church's silence, the pendulum has swung another direction. Many parents, brothers, sisters and friends react much differently today when someone declares that they are "gay." Many don't even flinch. They say, "That's cool ... God loves you just the way you are." Well, yes indeed, He does. But as in any sin temptation combined with someone who is in Christ, He wants us to grow in His love, accept His truth and trust the wisdom of His laws. It sounds like a simple formula. But I am well aware of the constant struggle to focus away from self and on Him. My efforts can never make me holy — but I continually claim Him, and He is holy.

I don't need to parade my temptation as my identity. To continually identify with temptation, rather than who I am in Christ, anchors me to the world. We are Adventists. That term makes a statement about our beliefs and foundations in the truth we believe in through Christ. Jesus saves us from our sin, not in our sin. When I identify in the victory of Jesus, my healing is advanced. I'm no longer weighted down in sin.

There are a growing number of people who want to push against God's Word and the beliefs of the denomination by insisting upon actions and lifestyles that are not biblical. In my opinion this is a delicate danger. I believe we should neither condemn or condone, but love and engage while we together seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We should determine never to misrepresent Christ and His Word.

Adventist parents often struggle with the reality of a LGBT child.

Mine certainly did. But they always loved me, and I knew that. There are a number of parents today who think that unless they approve of their son's or daughter's sinful behavior, their child will not recognize or believe their love for them. They worry the child might even commit suicide if they are in question of a parent's acceptance. They are in agony because they feel ultimately responsible.

This again is where we must each hold on to Jesus, trust and believe in Him, at any cost. We cannot take on the responsibility for our children's choices. Behavior is a choice, not the feelings. Jesus asks us to bring our feelings to Him and trust Him apart from our feelings. So this rings just as true for the parent as it does for the one struggling with same-sex attraction. Of course, I know this is much easier said than put into practice.

What sort of steps should church members take to be positively engaged with these issues and ready to welcome a gay seeker to their services?

Well I hope you are referring to a gay person who is seeking truth and guidance. This is a huge area of opportunity. The first step I recommend is to invite a redeemed homosexual/gay person to speak at their church. This opens the dialogue and is the first step in developing an outreach to the gay community at large.

Then make sure to integrate these individuals in your "small community groups" that exist in many churches that meet, eat, study and pray together on a night during the week in between Sabbaths. I have been part of such a group for the last three years. I have been so blessed, and my church family has been a backbone of support.

So if you are still same-sex attracted, but seeking to live according to biblical counsel, are you espousing celibacy for anyone not married to someone of the opposite gender?

I believe that is the biblical counsel — that sexual relations can only be blessed within a committed, marriage relationship. I can only share the experience and truth that God has revealed to me. This is not a new concept or belief. He promises to provide us with His strength, and He will.

Easy for you to say at your age.

Aha [smiles] ... Let me assure you that I long for physical intimacy like anyone else. But I am determined to remain dependent upon Jesus and His strength. And that is the same method regardless of who we are, how old we are or what sexual persuasion we are. Of course I know of men in their 20s who are sorely tempted. Some have found victory, and some are still struggling. But it is theirs if they choose it. It is nothing that we conjure up or white knuckle our way through. The only good in us is from Jesus.

How should Adventists relate to efforts that attempt to "cure" gay people? Does redemption necessitate denial of who they inherently are?

The so-called "cures" some have promoted over the years have at times done more harm than good. Someone who is a babe in Christ needs to be nurtured. It is not helpful for them to face demands or expectations of instant performance.

My experience is not focused on a "cure" for my same-sex attraction. In Christ, I am not straight, I am not gay. I don't even identify as ex-gay. I am a "new creation" in Him. I live to serve Him and do His will instead of my own. Even heterosexual Christians don't go around saying ... "Oh, by the way, do you know I'm a 'straight Christian'?" We should seek to be all that we can be in Christ, which is of far greater scope than our sexual inclinations.

As 1 Peter 1:13–16 says, "Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled, set your hope on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all that you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'"

In your opinion, is the Seventh-Gay Adventists movie being screened now around the country a helpful tool to build better understanding?

A film drawing attention to our need to talk about homosexual issues in our church has been long overdue. It portrays stories from members who have struggled to gain acceptance within the Adventist Church. These stories are indeed heartbreaking. We need to pay attention and learn from them. But we shouldn't stop there. We should look to God and His divine Word before letting ourselves be reshaped by stories of heartbreak. I have a story of heartbreak as well. But in my heartbreak God brought me to Him to kneel at the cross in my brokenness and receive the healing He freely offers any sinner. Let's not allow our emotions to affirm what God's Word clearly calls destructive. Jesus calls us to follow Him, no matter what our story, no matter what defines our personal struggle with self.

In this, as well as many other issues, how do we discern what is an emotional response versus an informed, biblical response?

Well, emotions are indeed a God-given gift, critical to our quality of life. But we must guard against letting our emotions become a weak link in our Christian walk. Satan's introduction of sin into our world was through an emotional draw.

We have many examples in the Bible that show us where people made choices based on their feelings, lusts and selfish desires. They did not temper their decisions even when God directly cautioned them. They let their emotions act as their truth. When we are not willing to submit ourselves to Christ and let His will be done, we are re-enacting the very attitude that got Lucifer cast out of heaven and Adam and Eve thrust from the Garden of Eden. Why would we want to follow that path?

So what can you say to a gay person who is seeking today to live according to God's way of life as portrayed in Scripture?

If there were one single thing I could say to a person struggling with same-sex attraction, it would be this assurance: God will send all the resources of heaven for you to experience the freedom He offers. I know because each day He continues to do so for me.

September 01, 2012 / Feature