An extraordinary blessing named Robert Schaeffer came our way last year about this time. His story is in the letter below. At this conference of pastors and lay delegates, they were going to decide whether to recall his credentials. He read this letter to the conference after he had confessed to his bishop, talked to his parents, his church board and congregation, and the response has been very positive. This letter helps us understand those who have this problem and are working in the church. Let us work to undo some of the terrible treatment that has turned some away from the Lord, Who is their only hope!
A LETTER TO THE ANNUAL CONFERENCE of the Evangelical Congregational Church, May 29, 1996
Brothers and Sisters in Christ;
One year ago, a large part of my world collapsed upon me. On May 3, 1995 I was told by my homosexual lover – “my life partner” – that he had found another man and was ending our three-year relationship. When I asked him why, he said angrily, “I don’t love you anymore!” and told me to leave. As I drove home I wondered how I would survive without this man who had showered me with expensive gifts, taken me on cruises, and affirmed me as a man while respecting my decision not to reveal our relationship to those we worked with (he is a church organist) who might “not understand”. My heart was broken and I felt physically wounded. My ability to handle the stress of parish ministry was insufficient to deal with such bitter personal rejection. I didn’t want to go on. Six days later, more devastating news came – the news that everyone in the homosexual life style hopes they will never hear – I tested positive for the HIV virus. At that moment I realized I not only had an emotional wound in my heart, I had a physical wound that could be fatal. How could I go on?
Well, God is good, and gives added grace in times of crisis! In my pain I cried out to Him for help and through a friend in Germany was led to Ron and Joanne Highley, Directors of L.I.F.E. ministry in New York City. In retrospect one year later, I see that the collapse of my “world” was the beginning of my liberation from the deception and addiction of homosexuality, for the world in which I was living was a world of unreality. It was a place of escape from the rejection of others – a place of retreat from my own self-loathing and disappointment. It was a world free of the responsibilities and pressures of the parish. I entered this world to run away from pain and toward acceptance. I went there to play. In this world, surrounded by gay males, I was far away from domineering parents and peers who teased me for my awkward physique. Here, finally, I felt attractive.
After years of anonymous sexual contacts, I felt secure in a relationship with one man who was financially well established, who dressed with impeccable taste and who was good-looking and enamored with me. In short, he was everything I wanted to be, yet felt I never would be. When I was with him I felt attractive; when he gave me expensive gifts I felt needed and valued. And if he needed me, so I reasoned, I must be worth having! The emotional “rush” that this sense of acceptance provided me overruled the tremendous sense of guilt and shame evoked by such a secret and sinful involvement.
I was acutely aware of the sin of my actions, but for the first time in my life I felt good about myself, and part of me was determined to hold on to that feeling at all cost!
Little did I realize the shallowness of this “secure” relationship. I had not really found acceptance at all, let alone love. In truth, it was a counterfeit for love and was actually sexual abuse: he was using me to get what he wanted and I was using him to get what I wanted. The bond between us was built on the shaky foundation of need and only seemed to be love. Two men with abysmally low self-esteem, who were dependent on the affirmation of others for every measure of self-worth they felt, had found each other. But this co-dependency would keep them together only as long as the other person offered what the partner needed. In May of 1995 my lover no longer wanted me because I no longer provided what he wanted from me.
What could have driven me to this world of unreality that is the homosexual life-style? How could I ever have come to engage in sexual activity that is repugnant and against God’s created design? One year ago I didn’t have the answers to these difficult questions. Like so many others who are frustrated by unwanted homosexual desires, I was moving closer to accepting my orientation as inborn; I seriously considered leaving this conservative denomination for a more liberal one where I would be welcomed without condemnation or counsel.
But thank God that He seeks those lost in darkness! With the help of LIFE ministry I now have answers, and God’s truth is setting me free! I see now that my flight into a world of unreality was a defensive reaction against the trauma and deprivation I suffered in my childhood and adolescence. I pulled away from my parents – who themselves had been victims of emotional abuse as children – to avoid their harsh words and short-tempered rebukes. I withdrew from most of my male classmates because next to them I felt skinny, awkward, and socially inept. More significantly, I withdrew from my female classmates because my oily skin and slight build made me feel totally unattractive and undesirable. A larger-than-life fear of rejection overcame me and prevented me from dating, though I desperately wanted to know the love and acceptance of a woman.
Because of this warped view of myself, I accepted the lie that I was an ugly male who would never know what it means to be a “real man.” I processed the painful words of others in an unhealthy way and filtered every compliment I received through the lens of self-deprecation. This blockage to truth kept me in a state of emotional immaturity. Rather than risk further pain, I buried my emotions and guarded against ever getting too close to anyone. Satan encouraged such withdrawal, convincing me to avoid further pain by shrouding my life in secrecy, and so I did. My negative view of life sabotaged every relationship I established – I was sure that people wouldn’t like me once they got to know me. This left me feeling that no person – most of all, a woman – would ever really love me as I wanted to be loved. So, I prevented everyone from getting to know the “real” me.
As I entered puberty, these powerful emotions connected with my sex drive. I found myself strangely attracted to boys and men I envied. Since I judged myself to be unattractive, I longed to be those men whom I considered good-looking. But I knew that I could never be them, so I settled on the next closest thing: having them. My first homosexual encounter felt paradoxically repugnant, yet pleasing. I knew that such sex was morally wrong and that if my parents found out, I would be punished severely. Yet Satan deceived me into thinking that this kind of sexual contact met a deep emotional need like nothing else ever had. In my immature emotions I mistakenly equated this perverse behavior with acceptance and, later, with love. By the time I graduated from college I was resigned to believing that homosexual sex was the only kind of intimacy and affection I could ever have. When in 1992 I met the man who became my lover, I was steeped in false and twisted views of my own identity, and my arrested emotional development – reinforced by years of anonymous homosexual contact – set me up for the greatest deception of all: the feeling that a monogamous homosexual relationship was a sign of true love.
But why didn’t my spirit, sensitive to the Scriptures and God’s Spirit, prevent me from living under this lie? How could I have entered seminary and pastored a church while living a double life? Didn’t this calculated deception generate within me overwhelming guilt? Indeed, the guilt from such a dance of deception was at times unbearable – thank God! This guilt was my one link with reality. For, try as I might, I could not fully convince myself that the homosexual lifestyle was pleasing to God. My theology was too orthodox to allow me to dismiss critical passages of the sacred text as “culturally bound” and “irrelevant” to discussions on modern morality. I knew that I could sanction my deviant sexual behavior in my emotions but could never sanctify it in my spirit. Deep down I knew that God would never bless any homosexual union I entered, monogamous or otherwise. Moreover, I interpreted God’s stringent moral code as proof of His personal antagonism against me. Intellectually I accepted the biblical evidence that God was a kind and gentle Shepherd, yet emotionally, I felt that He was kind and gentle to everyone except me. In my wounded emotions, I believed He was short-tempered, distant, capricious, and determined to repay me harshly for every mistake and sin I would commit. The God I worshipped – whom I tried to love but could only fear – was created in the image of my earthly father. I was inwardly repulsed by my dad and unknowingly carried anger in my heart at God, because I felt He was like him.
Yet, deep in my heart, I sought to serve God. I knew that His hand was upon my life, directing my path toward Christian ministry. Though emotionally immature, I was gifted by God for ministry, a gifting which my church recognized. Thus convinced, I sought ordination, withholding from those in authority over me my false concept of God and myself for fear of rejection and condemnation. I see now that this refusal to share my inner struggle was wrong and it robbed me of power to minister. I apologize to you, members of this annual Conference, and ask for your forgiveness. In so doing, I am not asking you to condone my behavior or even to pity my condition, but simply to understand my situation.
I cannot blame my deviant sexual conduct on situations beyond my control. I myself chose to believe the lies that finally came to hold me in unreality, addiction, and bondage. I myself chose to live under two standards of truth – one biblical and godly, one emotional and ungodly – without confessing my dilemma to those who could help.
I thank God that He understands the complex nature of the sin of homosexuality and that He loves the person trapped in its lies. By the word of my confession one year ago, I gave Him permission to liberate me from this trap, and I am convinced that He is destroying the works of the Devil in my life. Through the hard work of counseling and journaling, I am uncovering accumulated layers of false identity and learning to walk in the truth of who I am in Christ. I am discovering that I am not nearly as unattractive and inept as I perceived myself to be, and that God is much more patient and loving than I had imagined Him to be! I am on the way to freedom!
This journey to freedom began when I sought help from godly counselors and separated myself from ungodly relationships in the homosexual life. God has honored my public confession and opened the way for my move to New York City. He has provided a lovely apartment and led me to a job-training and placement program for people with HIV/AIDS. He is showing me that He will not allow the evil one to destroy my life, but will bring good out of it, just as His word declares. I thank you all for your expressions of encouragement during the past year, and give special thanks to Bishop Kohl and the people of Harrisburg Faith Church for their love and assistance during this time of transition.
There is one more thing I feel led of God’s Spirit to do in regard to this conference. Effective today, I return to this Annual Conference the ordination and ministerial credentials previously granted to me. In so doing, I recognize and affirm that the prerequisite for ordination is not only the acceptance of God’s redeeming grace and the manifestation of spiritual gifts, but also the demonstration of spiritual maturity evidenced in a manner of life that is in accord with God’s call to live in the highest integrity of morality, along with ongoing repentance for failures to maintain such integrity.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, homosexuality is not primarily about sex. It is about the unhealthy emotions which transmute the heterosexual drive into a deviant attraction for the same sex. Such sex becomes an addictive “fix” that temporarily soothes damaged emotions. Not everyone who has these feelings of attraction for the same sex wants them! I don’t. Praise God, there is a way to uproot these feelings and release the God-given heterosexual drive buried beneath them. But the way to liberate a person trapped in the homosexual lie is not by harsh preaching and “Just say ‘No’ ” theology. If it were, I would have been free a long time ago! There are many angry men and women in this country who have been driven deeper into the homosexual lifestyle by unsympathetic and unskilled Christians who rail against the sin of homosexuality while never showing the way out of it.
There are people in your pews living under the same kind of emotional bondage as I was. Some may be trapped in the lifestyle, others may not, but they all feel that they will never be the kind of man or woman they want to be. And no matter how eloquent and fiery your sermons, they do not experience freedom by them. Please realize that you must enter the world of their feelings as well as their intellect to allow God’s Spirit to liberate them through your help. Do not let my case harden your determination to “keep all queers” out of the E.C. Church. Preserve the sacredness of the pastoral office, yes, but do not harden your heart against those in pain. Demonstrate love to those whose lifestyle you find repulsive, for love covers a multitude of sins and opens the heart to the truth that sets men and women free! Mercy triumphs over judgment! (James 2:13) The church may be judged harshly in this hour if it preaches against the sin of homosexuality without providing the way to freedom, so study to understand what leads men and women into sin. Show them the way that leads to life rather than death, and love them at all times with the love of Christ. Thank you.
When he finished speaking, at first there was silence. Then someone began to applaud, others joined in and it built up to a standing ovation. Then Bishop Kohl asked for people to say what Robert meant to them and many spoke their admiration and support. Then about half the conference surrounded Robert and prayed for him. We believe God will use his life for the saving of many!
From Darkness to Light: A Pastor’s Secret Revealed
by Robert Schaeffer
published June 1996