“I’VE BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH HIV, TYLER.”
The weight of my father’s words hit me like a freight train. A rush of emotions swept over my 10th grade self, and a million questions flooded my mind as he confessed his homosexuality to me, proving what others had said about him (but I had ignored) to be true. What had been a difficult relationship between the two of us was about to become even more strained, right? No.
Though it was a difficult road, with many bumps along the way, this confession paved the way for some of the deepest, most important conversations I ever had with my father. Conversations about God, about humanity and sexuality, and about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
CREATION: "WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ABOUT SEXUALITY?”
Whereas most of my conversations during the winter break of my first year at St. Cloud State University revolved around classes, university life, and what it was like to wrestle for the Huskies, this was the question my father posed to me at Christmas.
Three years had passed since he had told me about his same-sex attraction and contraction of HIV. Though we had spent numerous times together between then and now, the topic had never been broached. Perhaps out of fear. Shame. Confusion. Awkwardness.
In fact, we never talked about faith or the deep questions of life. I like to think it was God’s providence, causing the two of us to wait to begin the conversation until I was better prepared to engage in it. During the three years between his confession and that Christmas, I had spent many hours in conversations, reading Scripture, poring over theological texts, and praying about how to understand the issues of sex and sexuality generally, and how to make sense of my father’s sexuality—its implications for him, for me, and my faith, in particular.
So, during that Christmas, rather than listening to the Christmas hymns, watching the Christmas movies, or thinking about the incarnation, we discussed God’s good created purposes for sex and sexuality: for procreation in fulfilling the creation mandate; for uniting a man and woman together in a way that works for their sanctification and points to the mystical union of Christ and His church; and, when entered appropriately, for enjoyment. This was, and is, our good God’s good gift of sex and sexuality.
FALL: “I’VE BEEN THIS WAY MY WHOLE LIFE, TYLER. WHY WOULD GOD MAKE ME THIS WAY IF IT WAS WRONG?”
It was the summer after my second year at university. It had been an interesting year. I was no longer wrestling for the university, but I had joined the Criminal Justice Association and I was serving as a Bible study leader within our campus ministry. I frequently met with my professors to discuss literature, philosophy, and serial killers, and I had just started dating the young woman who would eventually become my wife. This was also the summer my father posed this question to me. A question that hit at the crux of the human condition and life in a fallen world.
We live in a world that has been shattered by the effects of sin. The straight line that was God’s good created intent has been, as John Calvin put, fundamentally bent by the fall and set on a trajectory that is far from what God desires and commands. And everything has been affected: humanity, institutions, and all creation.
And this goes for sexuality as well. Rather than isolating my father as the broken one, I identified with him, recognizing that we were both sexually broken, though in different ways. Through tear-filled eyes we talked about the devastating effects of sin on sex and sexuality: sex-trafficking, pornography, adultery, rape, harassment, abuse, and divorce. You see, it wasn’t that God created my father same-sex attracted but rather, that the fall had distorted his sexuality in this way, causing him incredible pain and struggle throughout his life. Pain and struggle I’ll never know, because unlike his own, my sexual distortions could only express themselves in ways that are, by and large, culturally acceptable (even, sadly, in the church).
Is it a sin to be same-sex attracted? My response is: No. What is a sin is to act on those feelings of same-sex attraction by engaging in homosexual sex. To put it another way, sin is taking the desires we have (sexual or otherwise), which have been distorted by the fall, and exercising these desires in ways that are in opposition to God’s revealed will and purpose in Scripture.
REDEMPTION: “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO? WHERE DO I GO FOR HELP?”
Out of our previous conversation, this was my father’s question as my time at the university was coming to a close. Having discussed God’s intent for sex and marriage, the effects of sin and the fall on all our sexuality, my father was finally to the point of asking: Where is our hope? My answer: The gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor the idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor. 6:9-11)
This was one of my favorite passages to read with my father, for in it we find both conviction of our sin as well as the hope of Christ. As wrongdoers—those who reject God or pervert His will and ways—we have no right to enter the kingdom. And yet, Paul makes it clear that in Christ, our sin is removed (washed), we are declared righteous and reconciled with God (justified), and renewed in the power of the Spirit to live the holy lives God desires for us as His people (sanctified). No one, and no aspect of their being and identity, is beyond the power and reach of the grace of God in Christ.
Now I watched as these words hit him like a freight train. Whereas he had only heard hate and rejection before, my father was now faced with a God of truth and love, a salvation of redemption and renewal, and a hope not merely for some heaven, but for life and its struggles now. While the way of the cross would be difficult, he now knew of a God who would lavishly pour out His love on him and forever walk with Him along the path.
That was one of the last conversations I had with my father on the subject. We spent the next several years discussing God, the church, and everyday life. We prayed and read the Bible sometimes. As his physical health deteriorated, he stopped going out, so I found a good church service for him to watch—a local Presbyterian church whose minister I knew from seminary—and as his mental health deteriorated, I dealt with more mood swings, angry outbursts, and ridicule of my faith.
My father died of a heart attack in May of 2015. I don’t know what he believed when he died, but what I do know is that he heard the good news often. And not only that, but I will always remember this one thing he said to me in the last few months before he died: You have always been so patient and gracious with me, and that has had a huge impact on my life.
All too often, issues surrounding sex and sexuality can drive a wedge between people and destroy relationship and lives. Yet, in His grace, God used these matters to draw my father and I closer together. I wouldn’t trade anything for the time I had with my father, as tough as it often was, and I will always have the memories of our time and conversations. My prayer is that Christians would increasingly not only hold to faithful beliefs, but also engage in faithful, loving, and gracious conversations and relationships that further reflect the good news of Christ and the Kingdom of God.
[Originally posted at the Areopagus Campus Ministry website: https://isu-areopagus.squarespace.com/areopagus-blog. Adapted from a talk I gave to the Iowa State University Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Spring 2016]