EDITOR’S NOTE: This monthly column about the issue of homosexuality by various authors is a partnership between Baptist Press and the SBC Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals.
CHARLESTON, S.C. (BP)–I grew up in Southern Baptist church culture. During adolescence I found myself overwhelmed by homosexual attractions. I had no idea how to fight something so powerful. In college, I became involved in my first lesbian relationship and remained in the gay community for over eight years.
When the Lord called me out of that life, I joined an Internet support group who encouraged me to seek out a local church. I liked to listen to a local pastor named Charles Stanley on Sunday mornings, so, though terrified of rejection, I decided to visit his church the following Sunday. I had no idea he was famous.
Preparing for church wasn’t easy. Being in the arts, my clothes were, well, artsy. Knowing that I couldn’t wear satin pants and combat boots to church, I went to the mall and bought a khaki skirt and some loafers. My gender identity was so skewed that words cannot express how unnatural it felt to wear a skirt.
I cried all the way through the service. How I loved the worship songs, these God-centered love songs that were directed to His heart. By the end of the first song, I knew I was home.
It took a while to get up the courage to visit Sunday School; a man named Brian invited me to attend a class he taught called Living Stones. Looking around the room, I felt I had nothing in common with those people. “Everyone here is holy except me,” I thought. My extreme guardedness against rejection trumped my cravings to belong, so I didn’t interact much with others.
But I loved the teaching. We were studying deep theology, the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. It left me thinking and hungry for more. Too, I began to loosen up as those in the class shared their own personal struggles with sin. Gradually, the images in my mind of saintly icons gave way to real people to whom I could relate.
My gender identity disorder gave me a false sense of camaraderie with men, and I made friends with the guys faster than the girls. But this group of guys also dismantled my stereotypes by the purity with which they treated me. They challenged my long-held beliefs that men only wanted one thing.
It took about a year for me to gather the courage to make friends with other women. I felt so inferior that I could barely look a woman in the eye. I was afraid of falling into sin, or even worse, bringing one of them down with me. But I did appreciate their kindness and their unreciprocated attempts to reach out to me. I went home and cried when one woman named Bonnie invited me to sit beside her during class. A woman named Janet introduced me to others in the group, and they simply invited me into their lives. They didn’t treat me as a project, but just shared their lives with me. From them I learned what it means to follow Christ daily.
We got to know each other, and I grew closer to them than anyone in years. It was so freeing that they liked me unselfishly. Unlike my prior relationships with women, which had been marked by stifling dependencies, these friendships were freeing and life-giving. I did struggle profoundly with attractions, but the Lord gave me self-control and love for them so that I did not to want to see them fall.
I was asked to share my personal testimony with the entire singles ministry one night, and I agreed and prepared a benign and general testimony — void of information about my struggles — about how I had found Christ. But that afternoon, I felt burdened to tell others about my past. I lay on the floor before the Lord all afternoon, begging Him not to make me do this. I was so afraid that if they found out, they would cast me out. But He whispered in my heart, “Do it. I’m going to set you free.”
I had only a few minutes to go to my friends and briefly apologize for not sharing what they were about to hear. It was as if time were suspended as I studied their faces expecting rejection, but I was met with tears and open arms. They had honest questions that we would have to work through, but now they knew the real me and loved me anyway.
However, the annual beach trip was coming up, and I just knew that they wouldn’t invite me to stay in their room now that they knew the truth. But what a surprise when they did! I remember one night on the beach: We had been looking up at the silvery light lining the clouds, praying and singing to God. Suddenly we found ourselves running on the beach and laughing together. I thought to myself, “Wow, I’m one of the girls.” That was the first time I had ever felt that way.
Something very profound happened in those moments. I had experienced a shift in my gender identity. I was no longer an outsider looking in on the mysterious world of women. I was now a woman, just like the rest of womankind, fearfully and wonderfully made.
One Sunday, Satan whispered in my ear so clearly it was as if his words were audible: “God may forgive you, but the church never will.” But the response of the church has proved the devil to be a liar, as I have seen God’s grace made tangible through His people.
The church has helped me overcome and cast off the shame of the past and live in the forgiveness found in the wounds of Christ. They have helped me to see myself as a woman among women, freeing me from lifelong feelings of inferiority by their acceptance of me as a female. They have helped me to realize my true identity in Jesus Christ. They have helped strengthen my walk with Jesus in the display of their faith in the simple things in life. They have increased my love of God’s Word in the sharing of what they learn in daily Bible Study. They have helped construct in me a theological framework through books and spiritual education that undergirds me and sustains me through trials. And they have shown me the love of Jesus in their willingness not only to confront sin, but to extend a helping hand. They have shown me the longsuffering of Christ in not giving up on me, but in walking the extra mile with me.
The Living Stones Sunday School class will never know the depths of how they touched my life for eternity. This is not a group of people trained in how to reach out to those who struggle with homosexuality. Although such training is indeed useful, they simply gave me what they had to offer — their very lives. And because of them, I am forever changed.
Melanie Spinks is the senior designer and founder of Spinks Creative in Charleston, South Carolina. For information about the SBC’s Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals, visit www.sbcthewayout.com.