When You’re Told that What God Has Done Is Not Enough by Brian Pengelly

Recently I was asked to speak to a gathering of youth. The group was made up of youth from a variety of churches and denominations, and after I shared my story a number of youth and pastors came to talk with me and express how grateful they were. One woman told about having a gay brother, and how every time she mentioned him the Christians in her church became cold. Another young man came up to me with tears in his eyes, shaking visibly. He could only say “Thank-you! You don’t know how much that needed to be said” before he fled from the room. In the hour from the end of my talk to when they locked the door, I made myself available to talk to any who wished, as well as left information about where I could be reached by email if others wished to talk more. I went home feeling tired and drained, but pleased with how things had gone. A week later, the pastor who had asked me to come to speak forwarded an email that had been going around one of the youth groups. It was written by two leaders from that group denouncing me and my teaching. The email was long and written with a great deal of capital letters for extra emphasis. The crux of the letter was this: the authors were furious that I honestly admitted that I was still attracted to the same sex, that my sexual orientation had not changed, and that I had accepted that, in all likelihood, my experience of same-gender attraction would continue to be my reality for the rest of my life. To these leaders, this honest story of who I was and what I was experiencing was threatening and dangerous. They apologized to their youth for bringing them to hear it. They made it clear to their youth that they did not believe God would allow anyone to continue to be attracted to the same sex if they really wanted to change. To them, what I had shared about what God had done in my life simply wasn’t enough. The authors then went on to say: “God did not make us depressed, or suicidal, or full of sickness in our bodies. God did not make homosexuals. We have done it to ourselves. At some point in each of our lives doors open to the demonic, whether by our own decisions or by the devil planting someone in our paths to set a trap. The outcome of each trap is determined by our decisions, or if we are children, our parents decision of how to handle each situation.“ It became clear to me that these youth leaders had bought into a stream of theology often known as Word of Faith theology. They believed that God has promised to heal every area of a believer’s life right now and given them the authority to command that healing into existence. Because of this, my testimony was a great threat to them because God had simply not done enough in my life. Despite the fact that I could testify that I had not been in a relationship with another male since high school, despite the fact that I was able to enjoy a happy marriage to a woman, despite the fact that God had clearly been using me in ministry for over a decade….my testimony was not acceptable because God had not completely taken away my attraction to men. There are many doctrines which I disagree with and can simply agree to disagree with people about. But I feel the need to speak up against Word of Faith theology because I have seen first hand the damage that it has caused to me and many others. The authors assumed that because I was telling my story and had my experiences, I had never confessed my sin or had prayer ministry to cast out the demons in my life that may have entered because of being abused. In fact they were so bold as to write: “Had at any time in Brian’s life he cried out to God and taken his authority that he has been given as a believer and told his body “IN JESUS NAME I AM NOT GAY AND GOD DID NOT MAKE ME GAY AND I WILL NOT HAVE HOMOSEXUAL TENANDANCIES ANYMORE”, and then taken his mind captive when ever those thoughts came in, Brian most likely would not struggle with this anymore. Had he at anytime repented of that initial time when he was in the library and he spoke out I am gay, and then asked God to forgive him for all the rest of the times that he has thought thoughts or acted in a homosexual manner, asked God to forgive him for that initial self cursing and THEN had the spirit of sexual perversion cast out of him, Brian most likely would not still struggle with this sin.” The truth is that I once attended a youth group where they taught such things, and believing that they were true, I did go forward to the altar, confess these very sins, and pray that very prayer meaning it with every cell of my body. I believed that God would heal me…..and then he didn’t. When it didn’t happen I was told it was because I lacked enough faith, or I was doing something wrong. The message I received was that it was my fault. And yet I knew in my heart that I had prayed with all the faith that I had and could do no more. When I said this, I was rejected by that group. I spent years believing that lie, that it was my fault and I just wasn’t good enough to make it all go away. As I grew older and studied the Bible I came to realize that this was a false teaching and turned away from it. But that teaching left me in shame and despair for years of my life. Sadly, I have seen many of my same-gender attracted friends buy into this thinking and go on even longer believing that it is their fault that their orientation hasn’t changed. And I have watched the effects that it has on them. The inevitable result of this kind of belief, when their orientation doesn’t change, is self hatred. Many of those friends fell into depression, self harm, and suicidal thoughts. When this happened, once again, they were told that those were signs of their own lack of faith, and instead of offering help they were shamed even more. So what most of them learned to do is to simply pretend that everything was okay and that their orientation had changed because that was the only thing that was acceptable. Several of them got married as a way of claiming their healing, and every single one of them are now divorced leaving hurt spouses and children in their wake. The leaders who criticized me lumped attraction to the same sex, depression, suicidal thoughts and physical sickness as all being the same. (Something that my gay friends find incredibly insulting.) Yet even if you accept that they are the same, Jesus warned about making assumptions about the causes of people’s physical sickness like the leaders in this letter did. (Read John 9:2-4 or Luke 15:1-5 for examples of this) Further the teaching that children are punished for the sins or spiritual practices of their parents (often called generational curses) is highly problematic. Many Christian teachers have quoted Exodus 20:5 to support this belief, but they tend to fail to take into account that in Jeremiah 31 in the new covenant God promises NOT to do this any more. (Jer 31:28-30) There has also been a sad legacy within the ex-gay movement of using this kind of teaching to burden parents as being at fault for their children’s sexual orientation. I do not know how many times over the years I heard about generational curses, mixed in with some pop psychology to explain the fact that I was attracted to men. My own story does include significant perceived rejection from my father. But the truth is that causation of sexual orientation is incredibly complex and that there is no good evidence to link it to parental behaviour. In fact, several of my best gay friends had wonderful relationships with their parents. But because of this kind of teaching, I have met with more parents than I can count who blame themselves for their children’s sexual orientation. I have listened to them as they examined every little thing they did or said in their lives wondering where they had spoken curses over their children! When taken to its worst form, Word of Faith doctrine takes this blaming to the extreme of blaming parents whose children get sick. One of my best friends in the world had her two year old son die suddenly of a brain aneurysm caused by a rare genetic disorder. She was attending a church where many people had bought into this type of thinking and thus when faced with the horror of a dying child, their theology only allowed them to blame the parent. As a result my friend, in a time of great pain and hurt, was told that it was her fault that her son had died, because she had not prayed enough for him. When I was in high school the teaching of Word of Faith theology held great appeal to me because they promised me a quick and easy solution to what I saw as the problem in my life. But since then I have matured both in my understanding of myself and my understanding of Scripture. While Scripture does tell many stories of healing, there are many other stories where healing does not occur. Paul’s story of the thorn in his flesh in 2 Corinthians is one that has been of great comfort to me. The books of Job and Ecclesiastes both wrestle with the reality of suffering in the world and both settle without formulaic answers only mystery. Job’s prayer “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away blessed be the name of the Lord” is one that I have prayed many times over the years. The Bible is not afraid of a God that does not heal everything on demand. It embraces this mystery, and if our own theology is not big enough to grasp this, then our theology is too small. I have found a place of peace and acceptance for the reality of my life. I am still attracted to men. Because of my understanding of Scripture I choose not to act on those attractions. I have asked God to take them away, in His grace and goodness he has chosen not to. I am fine with that. I know that the people who wrote the letter against my teaching mean well. They mention in it how God has done miraculous things in their own life, and I am not here to dispute their claims. But taking one’s own experience and universalizing it can cause great harm. I thank God for what he has done in my life, but I do not assume that it will be the same story other same-gender attracted people experience or if they do not get married like I have that they lack an amount of faith that I have. I receive my relationship with my wife as gift. To those who take offense to my story, I can only say “this is what God has done in my life.” I will respectfully refuse to be judged by you, and I will keep telling my story to as many youth as I can so that they know that if they happen to be attracted to the same sex it IS NOT their fault, and that God is not angry at them or waiting for them to invoke the magic formula to heal them. God loves them and is present with them whether their attractions change or not. Having walked that journey myself I know that young people who are wrestling with the questions of faith and sexuality have enough to deal with already without being told their orientation is their fault or easily changed. Jesus once admonished the Pharisees for “loading people down with burdens, but not lifting one finger to help lift them.” I believe that Word of Faith teaching does this very thing to those who continue to have same sex attractions. I believe that as Christians we need to stand against this distortion of Scripture. We need to genuinely listen to the stories of our brothers and sisters when they tell us that sincere prayer does not magically take it away, and find ways that we as a Christian community can come around and support them as they seek to walk out lives in a way that honours God. We need a spirit that celebrates what God has done, rather than demand what he has not.

-BP

#approachtoscripture #dealingwithfear

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