While sexuality issues used to be pretty taboo within our churches, it’s encouraging to know that there are more and more conversations being had. But how are we faring thus far?
We find out in episode four of our new series, Unheard Narratives, where people with same-sex attraction share their experiences anonymously.
You may want to watch the video first for the full stories.
Just note that these stories did not happen to this week’s cast (Brenda, Neriah, Nicholas and Rick) — they’re just four Thir.st readers who joined us to read and respond to these stories we received.
THERE’S ROOM TO BE REAL
Starting with our first story, the profile shared that he has always been drawn to good-looking male characters on TV rather than females. He was also naturally more effeminate in his behaviour.
However, he realised that this wasn’t normal especially when his primary school friends started to make fun of him, calling him names. This made him feel unwanted and unworthy.
When he became a Christian, he decided to hide his sexual orientation. At the same time, he prayed for God to take away his unwanted same-sex attraction.
He felt that he would only be truly loved and accepted if he was straight.
When his sexual orientation remained the same even after praying, he became resigned and frustrated.
Yet, it was through these prayers that he learnt how much God loves him regardless of his attraction.
Along with that understanding, God also encouraged him to share with his mentor about his struggles. After several years, he finally plucked up the courage to do so.
While the profile expected his mentor to be shocked and disappointed, the latter responded with much love and empathy instead.
The mentor shared about his own struggles in the areas of sexual purity and addiction, which made the profile realise that he wasn’t the only person in church who was struggling.
The mentor also promised to journey with him to discover God’s will in his life.
Neriah doesn’t struggle with same-sex attraction, but she knows what it feels like to be able to confide in others.
“I understand how that feels like; I had my own fair share of struggles in relation to sexual sins also,” she started.
“And I thought for many years that it’s okay, I’ll bring this into my grave. Nobody needs to know. Like, why do I need to open up? Why do I need to share it with someone?
“I’m so glad that he (the profile) found the courage. And after finding the courage, he found the comfort in God. That he could face this problem — not by himself, but with the people around him.”
As someone who struggled with bisexuality, Brenda was glad to hear that the profile opened up — and even more so that his mentor did not push him away.
“I actually wish that I had that,” she admitted. “I really felt like if I did, it would have made my opening up and the whole journey a lot less painful.”
When Brenda first came to church, she had a boy’s cut, purple hair and tattoos.
Seeing how people in church already paid so much attention to her image, she felt that she couldn’t talk about who she really was on the inside.
As a result, it took Brenda many years before she finally opened up.
But even then, the people around her weren’t quite sure how to respond.
“When I actually opened up, their faces were all like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know. I don’t know how to react,” recalled Brenda.
“The not-knowing-how-to-react made me actually very nervous. Because it’s like, God doesn’t have an answer.”
Rick, who is a pastor himself, commended the leader’s effort in sharing his own struggles.
He pointed out that people in church are afraid to be vulnerable for fear of rejection when people see who they really are.
This is especially so for leaders and pastors who have the misconception that they shouldn’t show any signs of weakness.
Debunking the misconception, Pastor Rick shared: “They actually confuse the understanding of what it means to be exemplary — that you must be without sin, or you must be seen as doing everything right or having all the answers.
Instead, being exemplary means choosing to say no to sin, confessing our sin when we fail, and continuing to depend on God in our daily battles, he explained.
Addressing leaders in church, Pastor Rick added: “For you to be able to share your brokenness to those that you’re mentoring, it really makes a lot of difference.
“It helps people see not just victory per se, but redemption. (To see) from brokenness, how God redeems us; and even in our failures, how God redeems us.
“That is a very important story; that is part of the gospel that we need to exhibit in our life.”
KEEPING OUR FOCUS ON GOD
The next story features a profile who got into a same-sex relationship when she was in studying in the polytechnic. However, she decided to break up with her partner after going through some other unrelated issues.
When she decided to turn to God, she received a lot of stares the first time she attended church, as it was clear from her dressing that she wasn’t straight. But the profile decided to ignore them as she was there to talk to God.
After joining a cell group, she also revealed her sexual orientation to her leader. Surprisingly, her leader didn’t react as a stereotypical Christian would. The leader asked her not to worry and instead focus on her walk with God.
Slowly, the profile’s view of Christians changed. While she is still more attracted to females, she has decided not to take any action in this regard.
She has also accepted the fact that she may stay single forever. In fact, she feels uncomfortable when people try to pair her up with guys because they want her to be in a relationship.
“I respect that she came to church even though she felt judged,” Nicholas affirmed.
“She understood that it’s not really the way people treat her that matters, but the way God sees her. And I think that takes a lot of bravery.”
Noting that the profile may face stigma from both ends – the church, for her sexual orientation, and the rest of the society for denying her desires – he praised her for being able to live out what she believes in.
“Her testimony is really encouraging. Even for a person like me who doesn’t experience those feelings, it gives us encouragement that in spite of our sinful nature, as long as we focus on God and we submit to Him all the things we do, we will do well,” he elaborated.
Brenda agreed: “I love the decision to just like, yeah, I’m attracted to girls but I’m just not going to do anything about it. It’s actually, very, very empowering.
“I feel like this is what it looks like to really overcome. It’s not like (the attraction is) gone, but you just know what you’re gonna do about it.”
While Brenda is now married, there was a period of time she thought she, too, would remain single forever.
“I remember when I went through this, I thought I was the only one. And now it’s like, oh my gosh, there are other people out there who go through the same thing,” she related.
IT’S IMPORTANT TO REACH OUT IN LOVE
While the first two stories revolved around individuals who didn’t grow up as Christian, our last profile was already attending church.
As a 16-year-old, her same-sex relationship came to light when another youth leader saw her holding hands with her girlfriend in public.
Instead of approaching them, the leader walked past them in silence and later on, informed the profile’s family of what had happened.
Because of that, the profile felt very hurt. She soon left the church and only came back years after that.
Looking back, the profile believes that the issue wasn’t addressed with her directly because people didn’t know what to say and feared offending her.
However, she encouraged churches to speak up on these matters, so that believers can grow in maturity and make godly decisions for their lives.
Nicholas noted that it is common for leaders to sidestep issues.
“The reason why people tend to avoid facing these issues head-on is that sometimes they think that’s love,” he elaborated.
“But that’s not true. If you really love someone, you will spend time nurturing them, correcting them and making them actually feel loved.”
Neriah agreed. “I’m someone who, even though the truth hurts, believes it’s very important. Because if people didn’t speak the truth to me, I wouldn’t be able to know my blind spots,” she shared.
“I wouldn’t even be able to know that I did something wrong in the eyes of God and just continue my life in a reckless manner.”
Empathising with the youth leader, Pastor Rick felt that he could understand if a lack of training on this issue could have caused a reaction paralysis.
“You wonder whether by smiling you’re affirming them, or by giving a fierce look you’re actually giving a very hostile reaction,” he offered.
That said, Pastor Rick concurred that perhaps the leader should have connected with the profile to clarify the relationship.
It might even be an opportunity to help the profile realise that it was admiration that she had for her friend — not romantic attraction like what she would discover later on.
Nicholas also felt that we don’t have to wait until the topic of sexuality is addressed over the pulpit.
“If we’re not equipped, don’t put the blame solely on the pastors,” he said, explaining that believers have a responsibility to learn about our faith and how it should be lived out.
“There may be people who need to know the answers, and many of them don’t go to church and maybe don’t even interact with many Christians.
“So if you know someone who is asking those questions, go and equip yourself, and be salt and light to them.”
To wrap things up, Brenda shared that what was powerful in all three stories was that even though the profiles might have been hurt by the church, they were also the ones who felt the need to come together to fix things.
“I’m very heartened to see that we are all in a place where we are healed and mature enough to share, without hurting one another or pouring out our wounds and offences, but really to share our story as it is and to encourage one another with it.
“I really feel super encouraged that I’m not alone in this as well.”