I have had some wonderful and challenging conversations this week. That’s the way it is with relational engagement. Some weeks are very full with coffee connections, in office-sessions, phone and email contact – but it is generally unpredictable how much time I’ll commit to nurturing such conversations. When I’m busy connecting with people, things like the blog go to the back burner. But, in one of my connections this week, we had the bright idea of sharing some of our conversation with those who peruse BTG. Sort of killing two birds with one stone so-to-speak.
Shane is someone I am still getting to know but have really enjoyed his generous space in enagaging the diversity that inevitably is encountered in the Christian community when faith and sexuality intersect. I asked him a couple of questions and thought that our readers would find his responses really interesting.
W: Can you tell me a bit about your experiences with New Direction in the past – both the far away past and not so distant past?
S: If I remember correctly I originally contacted New Direction sometime in 1996 (I think it was summer.) I was in second-year university and earlier that year I had come out for the very first time to one of my friends as being someone who experienced same-sex attraction. My approach at that time was definitely that my sexuality was somehow broken and needed to be fixed. I had read some books that introduced me to the idea that I was gay because I had a distant father and an overbearing mother. I also read about the idea that my attractions to men were a sexualization of the desires I had to be more masculine. These ideas resonated with me because although I didn’t have an overbearing mother I did have a distant father. I also grew up in rural Ontario and I was definitely not a rough-and-tumble farm boy. I was a kid who liked to read books and play the piano. So I was eager to connect with a ministry that would help me to get rid of these unwanted attractions that I had. I met with one of the New Direction staff. I remember being very nervous and it was scary to bare my soul to this person whom I didn’t really know. I was warned in advance that this person was not a counsellor and that these were not counselling sessions. Unfortunately this individual was very overworked and it was clear that he had too much on his plate. He had trouble remembering from one meeting to the next what we had actually talked about, which was disconcerting because I had shared what I considered to be the most personal information about myself. We only met a few times and I realized that these meetings were not helpful. I was eager to join some sort of support group but at that time I think the only group that met was in Toronto.
Fast-forward to the fall of 2007. By that time I had much earlier reached the conclusion that my attractions to men were not going away. For a few years I had simply assumed that I would be single for life. I had thrown myself into ministry, working full-time for a Christian organization in a cross-cultural context. However at times I felt really lonely and so I decided to try dating women. I had two relationships that lasted about half a year each and both times I broke it off because I felt like I was leading the women on. I felt like a monster. I knew that I was not going to go down that road again. During a one-year sabbatical from overseas ministry I knew I would have more time for personal reflection. I was determined to find answers to the questions that I had about my sexuality. I heard that there were people who were gay and Christian. How did they reconcile their faith and sexuality? Because I didn’t know where else to turn I thought I would contact New Direction again. This time I was connected with a New Direction staff member who did have a background in counselling. He was a great listener and I really appreciated his honesty. He told me that he didn’t have all the answers and he was honest about his own doubts. We had many good conversations and I think I grilled him pretty hard about the questions I was having. I was especially curious to meet others who gay and Christian so that I could hear their stories. So he recommended that I check out an online community called the Gay Christian Network (GCN). GCN was a great place for me to discuss my questions with people who held a wide variety of opinions. Through discussions with people on GCN, my friends, my pastor, my counsellor and others and through my own personal reading and reflection I ended up arriving in the place where I do believe that God blesses same-sex relationships. Along the way I left the Christian ministry I was working for and came out to my family. Soon after this I met Dave who is now my husband.
My experience with New Direction the second time was markedly different. This was partly because I was in a much different space. I had rejected a lot of ex-gay ideas because they just didn’t match up with my own experience. The questions I was asking the second time were a lot more about integration of faith and sexuality rather than about changing my sexual orientation. I believe my recent interactions with New Direction were marked much more by authenticity. I wasn’t being convinced to think a certain way. I was given a place to voice my questions and to find answers for myself.
I know that New Direction has been accused by the Christian organization where I used to work of telling me that same-sex relationships were OK. This was not the case. The staff member was honest about his own views and they were that God does not bless same-sex relationships. However he treated me and my questions with respect. Even later when I landed on the other end of the spectrum I was still treated with grace and respect. I am actually very intrigued by the conversations that New Direction continues to be a par