But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
As a young Christian, I memorized this passage of scripture from Galatians. Elsewhere Jesus said, “You will know my disciples by their fruit,” and I assumed he meant the fruit of the Spirit. As a Christian struggling with attractions to other men, I wanted to fill myself so much with God and God’s Spirit, that they would drive out what I believed were evil desires. I didn’t just say NO to homosexuality; I said yes to a full life of pursuing God. I believed the fruit of the Spirit would crowd out the bad seed that was planted in my flesh. I wanted that fruit.
To be honest, that was not all I wanted. I did not want to go to hell. I did not want to get HIV/AIDS. I did not want to lose my Christian friends. I wanted the acceptance and affirmation that was showered upon the straight people at church. I wanted a family. I wanted to be “normal.”
Believing it was wrong to be gay, I read the Bible looking for a cure and seeking direction. This quest to be straight began to overshadow much of my daily devotional time. When I prayed, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” I meant, forgive me for being gay and for having lustful thoughts toward other men. When I read Psalm 11, “For the LORD is righteous, he loves righteousness; the upright will see his face,” my brain interpreted it to say, “For the LORD is righteous, he loves it when people behave and are not gay; the heterosexual and repentant homosexual will see his face.”
It wasn’t simply my overactive and guilt-ridden imagination that got me thinking in this way. Once I joined the ex-gay movement, a collection of Christian ministries that believed it was wrong to be gay and that God could cure gays, I heard their mantra repeated from the pulpit and plastered on billboards: “The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality. The opposite of homosexuality is holiness.”
After 15 years of striving to be cured, I finally understood that becoming straight was not a realistic goal, so for the next two years I attempted to annihilate all sexual desire. I enrolled in a residential program that boasted a 70 percent success rate. They explained that success meant effectively managing your same-sex desires.
To do so, though, meant stuffing much of who I was into the closet. They told me I needed to shut any door that led to the “gay lifestyle.” Journaling and creative writing were forbidden. Music had to be carefully monitored so that I only heard Christian music that drew me closer to God. I had to keep a close eye on my friendships with other men. Even if these friendships were not sexual, the program leaders warned me that I could easily develop an emotionally dependent relationship with other men.
I had become an emotional eunuch. I lived with high walls around my mind, always afraid I would see or hear something that disrupted the sanitized world I had created for myself. Not only was I lonely and isolated, I did not have the hope of ever being in a meaningful relationship. I comforted myself with the belief I was on a noble quest as someone crucified with Christ who daily took up the cross and suffered for the Kingdom.
In Luke 11, Jesus condemns people who were so stuck on laws that they sucked the life out of their followers, “Woe to you as well, experts in the law!" he replied. "You weigh men down with heavy burdens, but you yourselves will not lift a finger to lighten their load.”
The load I carried was heavy, a weighty crop of fruits I never wanted, poisoned fruit of self-hatred, impatience, despair, confusion, suicide, and hopelessness. Seeing these fruits in my life shocked me. For years I believed I pursued God and nurtured the fruit of the Spirit. But this was a different harvest, one of death. This was not the working of a holy God. It resembled more an ecological disaster of my soul.
I had to admit to myself that I was asking God for the wrong thing. While I assumed I was a humble servant, submitting to God’s will for my life, I grew to understand that I was daily demanding God to “fix me” and make me the way that I wanted to be. In all those years of asking God to cure me, I never once imagined that God’s answer might be “No.”
So as often happens with these stories, I eventually came to my senses and then came out. Unlike the stories in the movies, though, my coming out was fraught with fear and doubts. What was I to do with my faith? I heard over and over you cannot be gay and Christian. But how could I live without Jesus? I couldn’t even read the Bible because I had honed it as a weapon of mass destruction designed to harm me. I entered a wordless place. I didn’t know what to pray, so I said nothing. I sat in silence first on my own and then in the Quaker meeting I started attending.
I also received therapy, real professional therapy to help me undo the damage of the fake, dangerous treatments I had received. The self-inflicted wounds and scars, as well as those I received from church leaders who believed they were helping me, have taken time to heal. I experienced psychological and emotional damage from the years of conversion therapy. I also suffered spiritually.
What helps me a lot is when I remember the beginning, before my faith had been tampered with – the moment I first encountered God when I was a teen tucked away in my bedroom. There was a call and an answer. There was trust coming from both directions. I trusted God, and God trusted me.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.