The Powerful Witness of Same-Sex Attracted Christians

The Powerful Witness of Same-Sex Attracted Christians

Testimony

Emily Hallock is a blogger and mother of three who lives at Beech Grove, a Bruderhof community in Kent, England. This article originally appeared on Bruderhof.com and in the Autumn 2018 issue of Plough Quarterly.

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When I was thirteen years old, my dad died from AIDS as a result of a same-sex relationship outside of his marriage. So when as a follower of Jesus, I get called a bigot, it hurts me deeply. I loved my dad; most of my happiest childhood memories were shared with him. We danced to Carly Simon. We baked Black Forest Cherry Cake. We sat together in our rocking chairs on warm North Carolina nights, marveling at God’s universe.

But most of all I loved him because, more than any other person in my life, he pointed me to Jesus. When I was nine, he gave me the Bible I still use today. He wanted me to know how important it was to follow Jesus, come what may. He suffered intensely from AIDS, but he told me that he suffered more from his betrayal of Christ. He knew he had sinned, and was deeply sorry. I witnessed his repentance and his childlike joy when he knew he was forgiven. It remains the single most important example for my own life.

With my parents on my second birthday (Photo Credits: Emily Hallock)

When I found out about my dad’s same-sex attraction, I was shocked, not because of any scrupulous moral principles I had, but because of how he had struggled alone for so many years. He came from a Southern Baptist military family, and he’d had a difficult relationship with his own father, who had been a Green Beret. He wasn’t macho or on the football team like his older brother; he was just different.

In those years, same-sex attraction was taboo, and my dad could not share his feelings at home or at church. At the same time, he felt called by Jesus and wanted to dedicate his life to Jesus as a pastor. But what pastor was allowed to be same-sex attracted in the 1970s? So he did the “right thing,” got married, had two children, and became a pastor of a Quaker church.

But he couldn’t shake his same-sex attraction. He knew God’s commands; he knew there would be no blessing on a parallel gay lifestyle, but he was unable to share his burden or ask for help. Eventually, all alone, he gave in to temptation.

The churches failed my dad then, and they are failing people like him now, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve found Ed Shaw’s book The Plausibility Problem a great help in this regard. Shaw, a celibate, same-sex attracted pastor, challenges churches on their lack of support for same-sex attracted Christians. All of us, he says, are subject to temptations, and all of us need help to overcome them. All Christians need the support of a church family to follow Jesus, but because many churches either refuse to discuss same-sex attraction for fear of being labelled homophobic, or encourage same-sex attracted people to live a gay lifestyle in the same spirit of compromise, most same-sex attracted Christians don’t get the support they need.

Rather than helping him, Shaw says, churches make his life difficult by being unclear, even hypocritical, about a sin like divorce and remarriage, and by not clarifying the sacrifices required for true discipleship. He writes of what he calls “kitchen floor moments,” when he feels acutely the sacrifices of the stand he is taking. “What will help me get up off the kitchen floor is seeing other Christians sacrifice short-term happiness out of obedience to God’s Word. I’m most encouraged to obey what God says about sex by the costly obedience I see other Christians make. A good friend has been willing to sacrifice his professional reputation to take a stand for truth. Another friend persevered in a marriage nearly everyone else would have walked away from – because he knows God hates divorce. All of them are the sort of people who have most made me feel the possibility of the life that I’m living, and I praise God for them.” Such shared sacrifices are crucial to reinforcing the idea that the church is a place of welcome to same-sex attracted disciples.

The church loses its voice and authority when it holds same-sex attracted people to a higher standard than others; fidelity to the Gospel includes us all. We cannot ignore adultery or limply justify divorce and remarriage and cohabitation while condemning homosexuality; the Bible contains strong moral judgments on all of them. No one of us chooses our demons; they choose us, and in that sense, the church has to accept those individuals who seem to have fixed, unremitting same-sex attraction, and help them with hope and truth.

My dad died still looking for a supportive church family – a church that did not condemn, a church focused on trying to live out the Sermon on the Mount with love and care for all seven days a week. Thankfully, Shaw found a church family to fill the lonely hours when he, like other singles, found himself missing a spouse and children of his own to come home to. And I found a church family, too, when I joined the Bruderhof. Here, with my husband, Dan, and our three children, we can help each other put God’s will before our own will; our faithfulness to Jesus before our pursuit of happiness. Within my own church community, I’ve seen gay congregants find peace and answers in either singleness or God-ordained marriage within the fellowship. If my dad had found such support, things could have turned out very differently.

It’s not just Ed Shaw and my dad; there are others who’ve made this sacrifice, too. Sam Allberry (Is God Anti-Gay?) and Wesley Hill (Washed and Waiting) are exclusively same-sex attracted Christians for whom celibacy is the only option to stay faithful to God’s commands. Rosaria Butterfield (The Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert), on the other hand, was able to renounce her lesbian lifestyle to marry and adopt children in the church. All of them, out of love to Jesus, put God first and had the courage to publish their stories.

People with same-sex attraction who want to follow Jesus may be among the most important witnesses of our time. They are taking a brave, uncompromising stand for the gospel that requires great personal sacrifice. They are asking the church to stand together with them. The church needs to be there for people like my dad, and for each one of us. We are all sinners, whether we are heterosexual or same-sex attracted. We cannot single out specific sins or certain individuals for condemnation, because the truth for everyone is that when we put Jesus before our self-interests, all can be redeemed.

The apostle Paul speaks of this crucial unity, praying for the day when “we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:14–16). If one group of believers turns judgmentally on another group, the ship of the church will founder in the storm. But when sinners – no matter what their sin – unite in their need of grace and repentance, the church will only be strengthened.

Why My Friend Died: Remembering John Chau

Why My Friend Died: Remembering John Chau

Testimony

           On November 17th, 26-year-old John Allen Chau counted the cost and launched out to share the Gospel with one of the most isolated tribal people groups in the world—the Sentinelese people of North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean. Almost nothing is known about these ancient people who have had little to no contact with the outside world. Sadly, John Chau was killed while attempting to share the Gospel with the Sentinelese as they showered arrows towards him upon his approach to the island. Some say he was an adventure blogger who took a foolish risk for the sake of a thrill, some say he was crazy, others say he should have left the Sentinelese alone; but John Chau, now a martyr for the Lord, knew with all his heart what the world will never understand—that no risk is too great for the Gospel, and the saving power of Jesus is for everyone. May Tertullian’s statement prove true both for the life and death of John Chau, as well as the furthering of the Gospel among the Sentinelese people: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

           (Thank you to All-Nations Bible Translation for allowing us to share the following from their blog, and All Nations for their photo of John Chau.)

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Why My Friend Died

I met John Allen Chau at the Canadian Summer Institute of Linguistics in 2017. My first impression of him was of a quiet determination and a ready warm smile that lit up his whole face. There was an air of confidence about him that pervaded the atmosphere around him. Was it his faith? Was it his years of mountaineering and extensive emergency medical training? Probably all of this factored in, he was just the kind of person who inspires your confidence and trust from first encounter.

I believe it was one night in the computer lab that he shared with me his burden for reaching the people of Sentinel Island. I was impressed immediately that this was something no one but God alone could relieve him of or take from him.

He had already heard all the arguments of why this was a fool’s errand and would jeopardize any mission associated with it, let alone the life of the individuals involved. He kept his vision, it was a sacred trust for him that no amount of reasoning would wrest from his grasp.

I tried to get together with him the last time in April this year. Circumstances and travel interfered, we never got together.

I think we were drawn together through mutual understanding of what it is to experience God’s call, a call that is clear to the one called but often inexplicable and unreasonable to others. I cautioned him, not to dissuade in any way, but that he walk quietly and humbly before God in answering this call.

It was sad to hear of the presumed outcome of his visit to Sentinel Island, but to me it was no surprise. I fully expected that he would follow through no matter what obstacles were in his way, or succumb in the process. Giving up wasn’t an option for John. I will always admire him and remember him for his singular dedication to God and getting His message of salvation through Jesus Christ to the Sentinelese people.

May his sacrifice awake curiosity and wonderment in the hearts of the islanders and may it inspire us to pray for and work toward reaching the last groups who have not heard of our Savior—until either all have heard or God relieves us of the burden as he did for John.

-Ben S., member in training with All-Nations Bible Translation

Samantha Trenkamp–My Journey to the Mennonites

Samantha Trenkamp–My Journey to the Mennonites

Anabaptist Perspectives, Testimony

The following is taken from an interview with Samantha Trenkamp conducted by Valonna Miller. After being raised Catholic, Samantha later encountered the Anabaptists and joined a Mennonite church. Samantha is part of the production team with Anabaptist Perspectives and also works in publications for other non-profit missions organizations. Her blog can be found here.

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Valonna: Tell us a little of your life before joining the Mennonite church.

Samantha: My extended family identifies as Catholic on both sides, though nominally so. My dad attended a Catholic high school. My immediate family was nominal as well, but we wanted something more. We visited many different churches during my growing up years. We were never felt settled in the Catholic worldview, but we didn’t know anything else.
             I attended public school until 4th grade, at which point my mom and dad decided to begin homeschooling me and my siblings. It was difficult to leave behind our friends and enter a new way of life, as well as a whole new type of culture as the typical homesteader-homeschoolers. Another factor in my growing up years was that, young as I was, I was seriously on my way to becoming a professional dancer. I was helping to teach younger classes, performed with the Knoxville Ballet twice, studied briefly under a German choreographer, and had a trip scheduled to go to New York for further study. My instructor had great faith in me. But a series of events out of our control effectively derailed those ambitions, and I ended up not taking dance classes at all. Looking back, I’m certain that was a God-directed shift in my life for which I am thankful.

Valonna: Tell us about the transition from Catholic to conservative Mennonite. Was that challenging? How did you find information on the Mennonites? How did you find our churches?

Samantha: After we started homeschooling we began regularly attending a local Catholic church with another homeschool family. I was not baptized as an infant and so I received baptism through this church when I was 11, along with my other siblings. We did not understand why we were being baptized; it was just part of what you did, a part of the process of being in the Catholic church. I remember feeling less than satisfied over this time. I often found myself as the youngest in the crowd of young people and had few friends I could call my own. I felt alone and wanted the reality of people and relationship. I appreciated the traditions and rituals of Mass, but never felt connected to the Lord or to the people. God was never presented to me as Someone with whom I could have a relationship, so I viewed Him as a God who did things for me if I did all the right things by Catholic standards (reciting the Rosary, confession to the priest, partaking of the Eucharist, etc.). God was distant. I was never really told why we did things or what anything meant. After a time, our elderly priest became ill and was replaced by a younger priest, whom we did not feel we could support, so we started looking for another church.
          I was 12 to13 years old when we began attending a charismatic, non-denominational fellowship via another homeschool family. We liked it there because there were quite a few young people. A few weeks after we began attending, the youth were going on a retreat. Since we were unable to afford it at that time, the church paid the way for my sister and I so we could join them. It was during the retreat that I encountered Christ and took hold of His salvation for me personally. Because there was a great deal of emotionalism and expectations within that kind of geared up atmosphere, I wasn’t sure if it was a real salvation experience and chose not to receive believer’s baptism with my sister upon returning home. Looking back now, I know that is where Jesus first found me. Unfortunately we did not receive much follow-up in terms of discipleship. After attending the charismatic church for about six months, various issues began to arise internally. Ultimately we decided it was time to move on to another church, as did some other families.
            Over the next few years my mom began seriously researching the web and various books about denominations. She was open to just about any kind of Christian faith at that point. Surely there were people sincerely following Jesus and Scripture somewhere! Eventually she came across the Anabaptists. These people intrigued her and somehow she made contact with a Mennonite pastor in Indiana who sent us information on the faith and practice of the Mennonites. We began studying the Scriptures and Anabaptist faith and practices, but it would be a little while before we would actually meet anyone of Anabaptist faith.
          During that time we began adjusting our lifestyle according to what we found in Scripture. We experimented with practicing the woman’s head covering and wearing skirts. I remember the day my mom told us that she would like to start wearing the head covering regularly. I don’t understand it even now, but I went to my room, pulled out the only kerchief I owned, and put it on. Skirts though were a different issue. Having always been a prideful tomboy, wearing skirts was kind of hard for me. I remember standing in my closet with a garbage bag intended for the thrift store and struggling with having to give up my favorite pair of hunter’s camo cargo pants. Socially, that was harder for me to adjust to than wearing the covering. Anyone can wear a basic kerchief and not be too noticeable, but, as a woman, wearing a skirt gives you a whole new identity in society. When people see a woman who embraces her femininity, they look at and treat her differently. This was a good thing, but an adjustment all the same.
           Later on, when I was about 16, by a wild “coincidence”, we happened to be taking a new route home one day and were shocked to see a little Anabaptist church tucked back in the hills! We had been living in the Sevierville/Knoxville, TN area practically all of my life and here was a little church in the middle of nowhere right when we were becoming interested in that very thing! We called the pastor (Joe Rudolph), began attending the somewhat new church plant, and the rest is history. Our family had to move a couple of times after that for jobs between Kentucky and Tennessee, so the few churches we found during those years were discovered by randomly crossing paths with other Anabaptists, or by local people pointing us in the direction of other “head covering people” who were homechurching. Now it’s more than ten years later. I began attending Wellspring Mennonite Church almost 8 years ago, finally received a believer’s baptism when I was 21, and positively love being a part of this group of believers who love Jesus and His Kingdom.

Valonna: What were some of the contributing factors that convinced you to join the Anabaptists?

Samantha: There were two big reasons why I joyfully chose to identify with the Anabaptist faith and people:
1.   They were serious about being devoted to God and His Word. I had never really met people who lived out Scripture like they did. Not to say that they always did this perfectly, but if Jesus commanded it, they adjusted their lives accordingly so as to be faithful to Him. They were all in and all eyes on Jesus. During our attendance at the charismatic church, the 2002 “Spiderman” film had come out and the youth pastor showed it during a youth lock-in. Even as a young girl I wondered why in the world this kind of thing was being shown in a church! By living counter-culturally, the Anabaptists proved to me their sincerity and devotion to the Lord above all else. Generally speaking, in my experience with the various Christian denominations and people I came into contact with, the teachings of Jesus did not appear to have impact on how Christians lived their daily lives. They worshipped on Sunday and lived like anyone else the rest of the time. The Anabaptist people were radical, seriously committed, and I loved it.
2.   The other factor was community! Coming into that first Anabaptist church, they took us right into their homes and lives and hearts. They loved us and made us feel like we belonged. They were like one big family with everyone there for everyone else. I had never had that kind of connection or relationships with a church before. This continues to be one of the greatest blessings about being a part of the Anabaptists. In a world where everyone is fighting for the top, the Anabaptists take us back to the early church where we lay down our lives for one another.

 

Valonna: Is there anything else you would like to add before we close?


Samantha: Yes. Because of the path I chose in following Jesus and identifying with the Mennonite church, relationships with extended family became increasingly strained. Others who have come into the Mennonite church have experienced similar tensions. The Anabaptist worldview and lifestyle of faith rubs harshly against the grain of our flesh and it can be difficult for others to understand and accept. In spite of that, Jesus’ promise has proven true that, if we forsake all for His sake, including family, He will restore a hundred fold. I like to think of my faith family as my other “Blood” family, because the Blood of Jesus over His people is eternally binding.
When I take time to look back over my life, I often think of the hymn that says “The half has never been told”. So this is just a part of my testimony and journey with the Lord. God is faithful; all we need to do is trust and follow Him. Everything He does is good.

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