This is a brief summary of my journey with God in reconciling my sexuality with my faith; a journey that I am still on. I have learned from the council of famed mystics and saints throughout history, that it is best to always be a learner. So my posture is not that I have arrived to great knowledge or experience, but rather, like you, I am a finite being on a spiritual journey of drawing near to God. I am simply sharing what I have experienced along the way.
It is my hope, if you experience same-sex attraction or identify as gay, that you feel less alone through hearing my story, and if you do not have experience in this area, that you would benefit with greater understanding in learning how to relate to others in your life who do. It is not my intention to convince you of anything other than the reality of God’s love and nearness. We are all on a journey together and have much to learn from one another; for though we are all broken, we all bear the image of God.
Early years / Sexuality Awakened
I was in the fourth grade when I first saw a gay couple in a movie; this was the first time I wondered if I was gay. Perhaps it was the effects of sexual abuse; maybe it was isolation from a father figure; it could be that I was born that way. Perhaps, it is a combination of all these? Regardless of the cause, this was my experience. I never felt as though I fit with most boys my age. Seeing this couple peaked my curiosities and made me feel less alone. As the years unfolded, I found myself romantically and sexually attracted to guys, and not once have I felt this towards a girl.
That same year I started smoking pot and started to deal with suicide. In the 7th grade, I moved to Dallas where I tried LSD. My goal in life became to try every drug in the world. I had been to church a handful of times. I felt that if God existed then I was doomed for Hell. This possibility actually kept me from taking my life; I sure didn’t want to go to Hell anytime soon.
Divine Encounter / Introduction to God
When I was 17, I was in jail for a night, for possession of marijuana. A week later, while working at Pizza Hut, I had a dramatic encounter with God.
I was taking out the trash, and as I threw the bag into the dumpster a vision played out in my mind. It was like a movie in my head, like my imagination, except more vivid than I had ever experienced. In this vision I saw myself running, and I ran into a wall. A voice spoke; it came from within me, but it was definitely not my own. He said, “This is God!” (I was glad He clarified, because I had no idea) He continued, “I put this wall in front of you for a reason, Zack. I want you to turn around.” In the vision I turned around. I saw my whole life up to that point, and I saw His hand protecting me every step of the way. This was huge, because I did not feel safe or protected most of my life. He spoke again, “I have protected you your whole life because I know the plans I have for you, Zack. And they are good.” (I did not know the Bible verse Jeremiah 29:11 at that time.) “But if you continue to do drugs, you are going to throw away everything that I have done for you.”
I walked away from that convinced God is real and that drugs were a bad idea. I struggled to believe that gay love was sin though. I mean, if God is love and all that I wanted was to share that love with one man in an intimate way, how could it be wrong? That year, which was senior year, I moved to Hawaii with my dad where I went all out gay: rainbows, clubs. I helped put together Hawaii’s first gay prom, and I hooked up with what felt like a different guy each week. I was finally in a place where I could start over. I had tried to change my attractions, and I was finally convinced that this wasn’t changing. I was okay with just being myself. Yet, even through this time, I struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts.
Divine Encounter / Surrender to Jesus
After graduating high school in 2004, I had a second dramatic encounter with God.
I spent the morning reading the Bible. Though I had started going to church, this was unusual for me. I got up to go to the bathroom, and on my way I looked in the mirror. I saw no reflection. After focusing on the mirror for about 15-30 seconds, I could then see myself, but I could see right through myself as if I was transparent. This was the second time as clearly as I had heard the voice as clear as I did at Pizza Hut. Again He said, “This is God.” (Again I was glad He clarified.) I said, “God, what is this?” He said, “Zack, you have been feeding yourself on nothing, and it is making you nothing.” I threw my hands up in the air in frustration and replied, “I have heard about the fullness of life and have just read about it, but I don’t know what it is!” His response was not as I would of anticipated. I could deeply feel the tone in His voice. It was as though He had leaned in closer. He was not frustrated or angry. I could feel so much love, a love that yearned to be near me. He said, “Zack, I have been with you this whole time, but the lifestyle that you are choosing to live is like you putting your hand up, telling Me not to come any closer.” At that moment, I broke; I fell to the floor weeping. “God, do whatever you have to do; just come into my life!” When I got up off the floor that day, everything literally went from black and white to color. I suddenly saw that God created all things out of the overflow of love in His heart for the Glory of His name. I realized that I am not defined by my sexuality but by Him. For the first time I knew that the choices I was making did not reflect who I am. In one moment a deep emptiness within me was filled with love; it is like a deep abiding peace, an assurance that I am never alone and a hope in eternity. Though I have faced many trials, experienced deep pain in my heart, and have been filled with doubts at times; since that day in Hawaii, this love has not left me.
Finding Community & Called to Ministry
In 2005, I moved to Oklahoma where I got involved with a spirit filled community. Then, in 2006, I discovered IHOP (International House of Prayer) in Kansas City. This has proved to be one of the most influential ministries to shape my journey. That year the Lord called me to a lifestyle of prayer, devotion, and intercession, which I was able to step into vocationally in 2013. I have continued to walk in that call as the Director of Operations at Ember, a prayer and creative company based in Norman, OK.
Reconciling Being Gay and Christian
In 2009, I connected with Living Waters, and other ministries like Exodus International and Dessert Streams. They were my only resource for dealing with SSA (same-sex attraction) as a Christian. The voices of these ministries truly escorted my heart into healing and provided many dear friendships that I still treasure.
This year, 2018, I was challenged by the Lord, in prayer; I was withholding parts of my heart from Him and others. As I devoted time to seek Him in this, I stumbled upon Gregory Cole’s book, “Single Gay Christian.” I had never heard of “celibate gay christians,” but his story resonated with me more than any other testimony I had heard. I have always been vulnerable with those I trust. However, I discovered that when this particular aspect of my life came up, I would hide behind an idealized religious image of myself. All the while, secretly, I would try and “fix” myself. By refusing to identify this experienced reality of my life, it became a place of self-hatred. I experienced shame over these desires that have not changed; causing me to push others, including God, away.
Shame is the biggest hinderance to drawing near to God. This is why it is “His loving kindness that leads to repentance.” His radical grace and acceptance disarms shame, allowing His love to go deep in our hearts, transforming us from the inside out into the image of Christ. It is a lifetime of process with moments of “sudden” breakthrough.
I found many others using this language “celibate gay Christian.” Their courage in holding to the traditional view of sexuality in the Bible, while still being honest with their own journey, really inspired me. They communicated radical devotion to Jesus, no matter the cost of pain, directing attention to the reward of Christ in laying down one’s life. The way they were approaching the conversation really felt accessible, with a tone of compassion, towards the LGBTQ community; instead of shutting them out.
We have attempted to enforce a morality that makes no sense apart from the knowledge of Jesus. I believe that it is the embodiment of Christ’s love that is to be our aim; that He would be experienced by the world through the Church.
As I navigated this, I heard leaders from ministries that had, at one time, been very helpful to my journey, lash out against this emerging subculture. As the stories of those using the language “celibate gay Christian” so resonated with me, I was deeply hurt and confused by these accusations. In searching more deeply into this topic personally, my eyes have become open to what I see as an injustice that permeates Christian culture in the way we have related to the gay community and to SSA Christians.
Our identity transcends experience and sexuality. We were created by God, in love, for His glory. My eternal identity is found in His love; in sonship. I find it important, however, to be honest in identifying our present experience. We all have different needs in community, and to generalize everyone actually excludes those with specific needs.
With that said… At this point in my journey, in describing the desires that I experience, I am still gay (or “SSA” if that language is easier for you). Through much wrestling, I am personally convinced, from scripture, that sexual interaction between two men (or two women) is sin. For this reason, in the midst of my desires, I volunteer a life of celibacy. I do not feel forced; but have come to know the beauty and exceeding great worth of Jesus. It is still painful at times, but I know that His ways are in love and that He alone satisfies the deepest longings of the soul. Our culture has idolized marriage; but being single is not to be pitied, rather there is great value in a life of celibacy. Jesus called it a gift; it is a grace of extravagant devotion and a gift to the body of Christ. I do believe in the power of God to change my desires, as I know people who have experienced transformation. I just don’t believe that is the goal (Victory in the Struggle). Our Western Christian culture wants there to be no struggle or no having to die to ourselves. We want instant release and gratification. That is not the Christian life I see in scripture however; following Jesus looks like “denying yourself and taking up your cross.” This applies to every Christian. And our gain far exceeds our loss in light of eternity.
I have found that the nature of these desires are not all sexual; how they are expressed and how the church is to respond in the midst of the current cultural climate is not as clear as we would like. I feel that underneath all of sinful desires is pure longing created within us by God. Our longing has been distorted, or misguided, by sin. This longing is intended to draw us to God; to be fulfilled in Christ and His body. We were created by a complex God, made in His image, as complex beings. We are each unique and created with purpose. Being born into a broken world distorts our desires. Somehow, in the vast mystery of God, His grace moves through our broken humanity to show the goodness of God.
I am not ashamed of these desires that have shaped my journey; rather I see the gospel of grace at work in my life.
I recognize that there are many points that are probably challenging for you; as there are many avenues of thought that I could in no way unpack in a single article. And to be honest, this is a journey that I am still on (Contemplating the Mystery of God.)
It is evident that the Lord is reforming His church in many ways; and I believe that this discussion is a part of that reformation. I am not saying that I have any answers, but opening up the conversation, I believe is the way forward. I feel that over the coming years, I am to give my small contribution to this grand story unfolding in our generation. It is my hope to engage with you in this conversation through blogs, on social media, and perhaps even over a cup of coffee. In the mean time, please feel free to email me with any thoughts or questions along the way. 🙂