EDITOR’S NOTE: This regular column about the issue of homosexuality by various authors is a partnership between Baptist Press and the Southern Baptist Convention Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–My father was an abusive, violent alcoholic. I was terrified of him and had deep hatred for him. He died when I was 7 years old, and I rejoiced. I have no memories of my father or my mother ever holding me or expressing love for me. I grew up starving for love, nurture, acceptance and affirmation.
I was physically, verbally, emotionally and sexually abused by my father. To the best of my knowledge, the rest of my family did not know. I was introduced to pornography when I was 6 and molested by an older boy when I was 9.
I suffered from low self-esteem and was extremely shy. I felt a deep sense of shame about myself but couldn’t understand why. As a young boy I felt that no one cared about me or truly loved me. I did not relate to other boys or men and felt more comfortable around girls.
I began acting out sexually with other boys what I had experienced during early childhood sexual abuse. I was only 7 years old when I initiated my first sexual encounter with another boy in my neighborhood. I continued acting out sexually until my exposure at age 45.
I made a profession of faith in Christ when I was 17 years old, thinking that God would take away my same-sex attraction and sexual compulsion. Even so, I became deeply depressed. No one knew my secrets, and I no longer felt I could deal with my inner darkness. During college I made my first attempt at suicide by taking 300 aspirin tablets. I became gravely ill and was unconscious for two days, but I survived.
I married when I was 21 because I didn’t want anyone to suspect my secrets. Foolishly, I also thought marriage might change my desires. Though I married for the wrong reasons, I truly loved my wife and tried very hard to be a good husband and father. She was an incredible lady who expressed deep faith in God and was very loyal to me and to our son. She died in 1988 after a long battle with cancer. I was diligent to keep her from discovering my secrets, and I live with regret that I was never honest with her about my struggle.
I entered into vocational ministry as a way to medicate my profound longings for acceptance, affirmation and significance. As I continued in ministry I was living a life of duplicity. I was a pastor and a university campus minister while also acting out homosexually. Fear of losing what significance and value I felt I had earned was crippling and kept me paralyzed. I often would cry myself to sleep at night, begging God to either heal me or kill me. The enemy knew if he kept me in this unhealthy place I would never recover.
I do not use my childhood abuse as an excuse for my behavior. I take full responsibility for what I have done. While I did not choose my temptations and longings, I did choose to act on those longings; and I chose not to get help until I came to a place of absolute desperation. I believe the Lord loved me so much that He orchestrated my complete exposure to bring me to a place of submission to Him.
While serving as a campus minister, I made sexual advances toward a student and was reported and fired. University officials assumed that I had suffered a mental and emotional breakdown due to my wife’s recent death. They also assumed that this was an isolated experience. I was too ashamed to be honest about the depths of my struggle with same-sex attractions and my life of homosexual behavior. I allowed them to believe their assumptions, and as a result I missed an opportunity to begin a journey of healing and recovery.
But God loved me and heard my cry and continued pursuing me. The biblical principle is that God will expose our secrets and bring things into the light (1 Corinthians 4:5; Ephesians 5:8-13). I always thought if I ever was found out I would end my life because it would be the very worst thing that could happen to me. But it turned out to be the very best thing that happened to me (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28) because God forced me to begin dealing with my brokenness and sin.
God orchestrated the full disclosure of my secrets on Friday night, Nov. 10, 1995, when a group of people confronted me. For the very first time in my life, at age 45, I confessed my lifelong battle with same-sex attraction and homosexual behavior.
I hurriedly left that meeting in total humiliation and shame. I pulled my car into the garage and closed the door. I wrote my son a note, grabbed my pillow, went back to the garage and started my car. I went to sleep on the concrete floor, fully expecting never to awaken. I slept through the night and woke the next morning with the car engine still running. I didn’t even have a headache from the fumes. I turned off the engine, threw the note away, loaded a rental truck with all my belongings and moved to Nashville.
I began attending church, and a few weeks later I found myself in the pastor’s office. With great fear and trembling, I began to share my story with him. This was a big moment in my life, and I didn’t know how he would respond. I really don’t know what choices I would have made if he had turned me away.
To my relief, he made arrangements for me to receive counseling. The counselor recommended the book “Lifetime Guarantee” by Bill Gillham, and it made a profound impact on my life. I also began an intense therapy program with two other therapists, a Christian psychologist assigned to me as a result of my suicide attempt and a counselor affiliated with Exodus International. We continued this counseling relationship for three years.
Another spiritual marker involved an evangelist who came to my church and began a worship service by asking everyone who had never known the love of an earthly father to stand. He then prayed for us.
This experience reached a deep longing in my heart. At the close of the service I found myself at the altar, crying and forgiving my father for the first time in my life. A few weeks later I visited my father’s grave and spoke to him as if he were there with me. This was a major step in my healing journey. The Lord was showing me that He is my Father.
The most important thing the Lord continues to teach me through my recovery process is that authentic Christian faith is not about law, works, flesh or self-effort but about having a personal love relationship with God. In Matthew 22 Jesus was asked, “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” His answer: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This passage has become my life’s Scripture.
The other vital and life-changing truth the Lord continues to teach me is that I am to embrace and truly believe who God has declared me to be in Christ Jesus. The enemy is out “to steal and to kill and to destroy” (John 10:10). I believe one of his most destructive methods is getting us to a place where we believe his lies about who we are rather than believing the truth of who God says we are in Christ.
I have learned that I am not a homosexual, a “fag” or a queer. I am not gay, or even ex-gay. I have learned that, in Christ Jesus, I am a righteous son of God — justified, forgiven, holy and blameless, acceptable and accepted, lovable and loved, and a brother to Jesus. This is my true identity.
I continue in a process of change, healing and freedom as I grow in my understanding of these two fundamental truths; continually surrender my mind, will and emotions to Him; and submit to His truth and lordship in my life. I am becoming who the Lord says I am (Romans 7:24-8:1; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20).
As a result of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit in my life and the Heavenly Father’s grace and mercy, I am no longer controlled by my sexual appetites. In describing my sexual brokenness I can say that what was once a raging fire consuming everything in its path is now nothing more than a small flicker of a flame. This is the ongoing work of the Lord in my life. I have never known greater joy, meaning, hope and purpose.
I feel the Lord has called me to a lifetime of making amends to the church in general, to Southern Baptists (the denomination in which I was saved and through which I have served in ministry since 1969) and to every individual I have offended and harmed. As I share my story my prayer is that the Lord will work reconciliation and healing in the lives of those I have hurt.
God orchestrated my exposure to bring about my healing and to bring glory to His name, but it still is not easy for me to share my story. I battle with shame and guilt, and I sometimes allow the enemy to discourage me as I think about what I have done.
I know who I truly am in Christ, however, and in that confidence I share what the Lord is doing in my life. My journey is not yet complete, which is true for all of us. But I am learning that my chief purpose is “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever,” and I know that I will never be the same again.
Richard Holloman is executive director of the Sight Ministry in Nashville, Tenn. (www.thesightministry.org). He also serves on the SBC’s Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals (www.sbcthewayout.com).