When I was in the sixth grade at a Christian school, one of the boys called me a "fag." I was standing with some girls, and he was standing with some boys, and the boys laughed and looked at me like I was not one of them. I did not even know what a fag was, but I knew it wasn't good. When I finally did find out what it was, I wondered myself: "Am I a fag?"
I was a good boy, raised in a Christian family. I certainly didn't want to be gay, but I also had to admit that for as long as I could remember I did not feel like I fit into the world of boys. My friends were girls, and my interests were more like their interests. I had a good relationship with my parents and a happy, secure home — but I identified more with my mother and felt very different from my dad and my younger brother.
My church clearly taught that homosexuality was a sin. I believed that to be true, but I couldn't distinguish between homosexual behavior and these strange, scary feelings and desires that I had. When pastors spoke of homosexuality being an abomination, I felt like they were saying that I was an abomination. I did not want to be gay, and I never acted on those feelings. I dated girls and did everything I could to hide my sexual feelings. I also did everything I could to be "perfect," as if I could somehow make up for the feelings that filled my head and heart.
I went to Baylor University and followed Baylor with law school. My Christian activity increased in direct proportion to the intensity of my homosexual desires. I still kept from acting on my feelings, but inside I grew more and more disgusted by who I was, and more and more fearful that God was disgusted by me. I graduated from law school, met a girl named Stephanie, and at age 28 decided I better get married or people would continue to speculate about my sexuality. I married to protect my image and with a deep hope that somehow marriage would change me.
Marriage did not change me. In fact, my feelings only intensified. Not long into our marriage, I discovered AOL. On AOL, I found many men who were just like me — professionals, married men, and Christians — who were all gay and who all seemed to be OK with being gay. I was hooked. I began, for the first time, to entertain thoughts of pursuing a gay life.
I began to research gay-affirming theology. If I could convince myself that being gay was okay with God, I could justify what I wanted to do. I was what Paul talks about in 2 Timothy 4:3. I was no longer willing to endure sound doctrine. I wanted my ears tickled, and I found teachers who taught in accordance with my feelings. In November of 1996, I left Stephanie a letter on the door telling her I was gay, I had always been gay, I would always be gay, and that I wanted a divorce. I left Stephanie and jumped into the life that I had avoided for so long.
I was surprised at what I found in the gay community. My friends were nice, professional, kind-hearted people. Most went to church and had grown up in homes not unlike my own. They accepted me, and for the first time in my life I felt like a man. I began attending a gay church and decided to fully accept an identity built around my homosexuality. Stephanie, meanwhile, refused to pursue divorce. Her world was rocked by my revelation, but she truly believed that God had joined us together and that He could work in this situation. She was no doormat. We communicated very little during that time, and most of our communication was not pleasant. But she never backed away from her belief that divorce was not the answer and that God had something more for us.
The initial euphoria of my new life began to wane over time. I left the gay church I was attending and began to feel a distance from God. Everything I read blamed those feelings on my fundamentalist upbringing, and I resolved more and more to make the gay thing work. I truly felt I had no other option. In my deceived mind, I believed I was doing what God wanted me to do.
My parents invited me home at Easter, and I reluctantly agreed to go. As I was leaving after a tense weekend, my dad tried to give me a book. I had no interest in his "right-wing-Christian propaganda," but I finally took the book just to get him off my back. The book was called You Don't Have to be Gay, and as I flew home, I literally could not help but read the book. It was the story of a man who had left homosexuality. It was the first time in my life I had read a story like that, and I could not argue with this man. He spoke to everything I was feeling and every struggle I had experienced.
As the author shared from Scripture, I saw a picture of Jesus I had never seen before. He wasn't some soft-spoken, benign, shiny white guy with his arms in the air — He was a powerful man who was willing to die for my sin and who would provide the hope and power to overcome the feelings that dominated my life. He offered forgiveness for my sin. He loved me just like I was — but it was that same strong love that would not leave me there. I trusted Him then to do it. I sensed that God was calling me home to Stephanie, but I just could not see how that could ever work. How could I go back? I argued with God, and to every argument He responded to my soul with three simple words: "I love you." I knew somehow I could trust Him, and I knew He would walk with me wherever He was calling me to go.
I moved home, and Stephanie and I began the arduous process of rebuilding our lives and our marriage. We both had personal issues to work through, and our marriage had to be reconstructed from scratch. I was angry with the church — angry that I was 31 years old before I ever heard of hope for someone like me. But we knew we needed to be in the local church. When First Baptist Church of Midland, Texas, planted a new church, we became part of the new church's core group. That church became Stonegate Fellowship.
At Stonegate, God opened the door for us to start a ministry for people impacted by homosexuality and to share our story publicly. My healing and change were exponential in the community of Stonegate; a place that was not only safe for us, but that walked with us, celebrated with us, believed in us, and loved us unconditionally. After a couple of years, I left the practice of law and joined the pastoral staff of Stonegate. We are living examples of the power of Jesus Christ to use the local church as a true agent of life change.
My homosexual struggle has not been zapped away, but I know from God's Word that He allows struggles in our lives so that His power might be displayed in us and so that He will receive glory. I can think of no better life than to be a vessel for God's glory and power. I thought it was all about me, but I have realized it is not about coming to grips with who I am. It is about coming to grips with who HE is. That is a life worth living.
We would not trade the struggles we went through for anything. Our "real" marriage is so much better than the marriage we dreamt of for ourselves. God has blessed our family with three beautiful children and has grown in Stephanie and me a pure and beautiful love for each other and for the Lord. We know we have not arrived, but we also know that the end of the journey will be beyond our imaginations.
Mike Goeke is pastor-counseling at Stonegate Fellowship in Midland, Texas.