Journey - Chapter 18
The Rest of the Reading Story
BY JERRY MCKAY
DISCLAIMER: The material in this chapter deals with sensitive issues with respect to the author's experience when he was in counseling with Mr. Cook. Some may find this section upsetting. At the same time, the author would like to stress that these events were in 1982 and that a lot of time has passed since then. The author has a long history with Mr. Cook. Over the last couple of years, he has been in contact with Mr. Cook about these incidents. This, however, is for a later chapter.
When I previously described my first visit with Colin, I indicated I had had a very positive experience. In fact, there were multiple benefits. I arrived in Reading hoping to be known on a deeply personal level; I was not to be disappointed. I bared my soul in ways I had never done before. I began to purge twenty years of shame, self-condemnation, and emotional isolation.
That I was able to speak freely about my attractions without being a depraved freak—an abomination punishable by death—was life-giving. However, not everything about the visit was healthy.
On several occasions, usually during our formal counseling sessions, Colin initiated lengthy and affectionate hugs. As a touch-deprived 26-year-old, I welcomed the affection, but I was startled when he became aroused. When that happened, I was uncomfortable.
Colin didn’t pretend he wasn’t excited. On the contrary, he casually acknowledged it. He very comfortably talked about things which most people would go red in the face over. I found his frankness helpful even disarming. It seemed logical to me that a counselor would be at ease discussing such things. As Colin talked about what had occurred, my discomfort subsided. Then he used the situation as a teaching moment—a moment to model how “I” might respond in similar situations. This “desensitization” training was somewhat unnecessary because only once in my life had I ever had an erection while hugging a male friend, and Colin knew this from our conversations. I had, however, often felt betrayed by emotional longings and fantasies when in very close proximity to male friends. I think, however, that Colin was projecting his own erotic experience onto me, and therefore hoped I could learn to relax when such “stirrings” occurred.
A second “therapeutic” exercise took me well beyond my comfort level.
During our conversations, I confessed that I had always felt uncomfortable in my body. Although I knew many confident guys who were my size, at 5’ 6” tall and all of 120 pounds, I felt very small, and I looked young for my age—not that that bothers me now that I’m in my sixties! During our conversations, Colin also learned that I felt “inadequate” in other ways.
In response to my disclosure of my body image issues, Colin suggested an exercise meant to help me affirm the body God had given me. He encouraged me to stand in front of a mirror in the privacy of my own room—naked—and express gratitude for all my body—especially those parts I did not like or felt deficient in. It was difficult to dismiss the benefit of letting go of my obsessive bashfulness or resentment over aspects of my body when Colin had, because of childhood polio, body issues of his own.
I was deeply touched when he shared his discomfort and embarrassment over being teased because of a leg marred by polio. I wondered how I would have dealt with this when growing up. If he could learn to praise God for this very visible condition, surely I could learn to appreciate my body which was untouched by polio. As well, he told me that acceptance of my body was part of reclaiming my heterosexuality. If his counsel had stopped there, it might well have passed the scrutiny of peers. It went well beyond that, however. Perhaps because I expressed embarrassment about trying the exercise on my own, Colin persuaded me to do it with him in his home. By the time we had finished praising God for my body, we were both naked.
I felt extremely awkward during that “counseling” session. While I took comfort that another man was reassuring me that I need not worry about being inadequate—that things were fine just as they were—I felt a significant conflict between my longing for affirmation and a nagging sense that this seemed professionally inappropriate.
That same weekend, I halfheartedly agreed to give and receive a massage. I had never had a massage before of any kind much less a nude massage, so I experienced excitement, intrigue, and awkwardness all at the same time. When I expressed discomfort at the idea, Colin reassured me that we would proceed only to the degree that I was comfortable with. Having longed for physical contact with a man for years, I consented.
In addition to these “therapeutic” incidents, we also shared the family washroom, even showering together several times during my stay. Even though I had plenty of experience showering near other men while living in dormitories and in Japanese public baths, in this context, it seemed odd.
To be fair, I do not believe Colin established Quest to lure me halfway around the world to take advantage of my vulnerabilities. At the same time, it is obvious that something was seriously wrong. I believe Colin's behavior and rationale for everything inappropriate that transpired that weekend was the product of his theology, or more precisely, his application of that theology. Because scripture has frequently been used to condemn me, I think it only fair to take a moment to examine the way scripture was to be used to heal me. After all, as Jesus said, a tree is known by the fruit it produces.
Colin frequently spoke of the joy, freedom, and transformation he experienced in life after a deep and personal appreciation of the classic understanding of the gospel. In that understanding, Jesus voluntarily died as a substitute for our sins. As a result, everything necessary for our salvation is in the “objective” sacrifice of Jesus. In Jesus, the great enemies of humanity—sin, death, and the grave—are overthrown. Colin’s theology was centered in Romans 1:16 where the apostle Paul declared, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes; first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” Without getting bogged down in theology, I will point out there are two interrelated components of the gospel that heavily influenced Colin.
The first component is an extension of the traditional understanding of what Jesus does for us. Christians use Jesus to define who we are as humans and imitate Him as a model of how we are to live. For example, because I believe that Jesus defines me as forgiven, I am to live as though I am forgiven, even when I know I am not a perfect man. Because I believe Jesus defines me as victorious because of His victory, I am to claim His victory as mine and live as though I am victorious even though I often fall short. These gifts are claimed—by faith. This claiming is an active process. The key point—and this is critical—is that living as though is how my life is transformed. Here is where Colin’s approach to change came into play. Colin claimed that because Jesus defined his sexual orientation by creation as heterosexual, he was to claim his heterosexuality by faith in the same way he would claim any other benefit Jesus provided. This meant living as though he were heterosexual even when he felt or did otherwise.
The second component is summarized in another well-known text. In Romans 8:1, we read, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Colin embraced the promise of no condemnation and doggedly refused “to be ashamed” of what he believed this gospel promise meant for his healing from homosexuality. He believed it created a spiritual reality—a safe place, if you will—where he could “claim his heterosexuality by faith” without fear of condemnation. As well, that “safe place” gave him the assurance that although unearthing his heterosexuality might involve trial and error, he should push forward with any necessary experimentation without hesitation.
With respect to the healing of my orientation then, the gospel—Jesus’ life-giving sacrifice and resurrection—was not going to heal me directly. Rather, it created a “safe space” where I was free to do whatever was necessary to unearth my heterosexuality. I would find deliverance from my homosexuality, first, by applying the psycho-emotional truths in the gospel to my disordered view of God, self, and the world that I inherited from “The Fall” of Adam. I was also to use the gospel to heal any brokenness in myself which had been exacerbated by my childhood experiences. If I did this correctly, an attraction for the opposite sex would emerge. My healing, however, was not necessarily going to be a sudden miraculous transformation. I would have to claim it by fearlessly living as though I were heterosexual. I was to use the certainty of the gospel to banish any questions or reservations I might have. I wouldn’t be praying my homosexuality away as much as acting it away. Inherent in my “living as though” was the belief that God would honor my effort.
Before I met Colin, I believed he was only one of a handful of people who ever escaped homosexuality; that he alone had unlocked the mechanism inherent in the gospel for unearthing my assumed heterosexuality. I believed this because of his testimony in the Ministry magazine interview. I keep returning to this interview because it significantly impacted my life directly at the time and continued to do so for years because of its extensive influence on others. According to Ministry, for example, its present monthly circulation reaches about 18,000 Seventh-day Adventist pastors, church leaders, and editors. As well, approximately 55,000 pastors of other denominations receive the journal bi-monthly on a gift subscription basis. The issue in which the interview was published was one of those of those “gift” subscriptions. While the numbers may have been smaller in 1981, it is reasonable to believe that the unexamined and unproven claims in that interview became part of the collective belief system of tens of thousands of church leaders who knew nothing about what was going on behind closed doors. Even some 35 years later, I am occasionally confronted with beliefs and attitudes expressed in the interview. When that happens, I am put in the awkward position of remaining silent or “outing” myself to bring truth to the conversation.
I am astounded over how many details in the interview were contradicted by my experience. In the interview, Colin had expounded on his theological approach to healing. Based on his new appreciation of the gospel, he started to praise God for his wife four years prior to meeting her. When I met him, he had been married for nearly four years. This meant I was witnessing the result of eight years of claiming his heterosexuality by faith! Yet, within four days, I became intimately aware of what an application of the gospel—living as though—looked like for Colin.
Twice in the interview, Colin spoke of still having temptation but insisted he was no longer “teetering on the edge of neurotic desire.” When I read that statement, I understood it as most readers would—that he was now heterosexual with only the occasional thought of homosexual intimacy. He assured the reader that he was not like the person Alcoholics Anonymous called a dry drunk—one who merely repressed his desire to drink and badly wants to get back to it. Speaking about the “truly delivered” homosexual, he insisted that the temptations of such a person are different. They are mild, he said, and they don’t come with the innate craving or longing they used to because they don’t have the same significance. They pass because we know how to let them go calmly, he reiterated.
Readers may judge for themselves, but I could never have imagined having an erection while embracing a friend and see it as a mild passing craving. Colin, however, could and did and thought little of it other than it being a teaching moment. He could talk me into being naked with him—so that “I” could practice praising God for my body—while seemingly making no link between his wanting to see me naked and any strong and persistent craving on his part for male intimacy. He could initiate a nude massage or suggest we shower together believing it was a helpful part of my healing while ignoring what it said about his healing. From within the condemnation-free world that Colin drew from his application of the gospel, he believed he had the freedom, even the right or obligation to do as he did.
Now if Jesus could say we are to forgive each other seventy times seven times, I have no doubt that the Apostle Paul’s assurance that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ” is true. I do, in fact, believe the gospel is a place of profound grace where growth and personal development can occur.
However, having access to a place of boundless forgiveness, where trial and error are endless, should not become a land of emperors with no clothes. Endlessly living as though I am heterosexual is not the same thing as a change in my orientation. It pains me to say this, but I believe Colin could describe his experience as passing temptation and do what he did during my first visit because his application of the gospel, consciously or unconsciously, created a place where denial could thrive. Although he said he was not “teetering on the edge of neurotic desire,” his actions and responses indicated otherwise.
As a naïve reader of the Ministry interview, I thought Colin was describing a change in orientation. In fact, he was describing a reduction in the impulsive addictive behavior he used to experience. Sexual orientation and addictive habits, however, are not the same thing. At the time, I could not see the difference. This one error in understanding would perpetuate confusion in my life.
I have been asked many times if I ever thought things were odd, inappropriate, or unethical. Honestly, other than feeling uncomfortable, I wasn’t thinking about what was appropriate or ethical. Neither was I thinking about what this said with respect to Colin’s healing and his marriage vows. In retrospect, I turned a blind eye and suspended my concerns for at least two reasons.
There was a plain and simple human dynamic at play. I longed to end my emotional isolation and I craved physical attention. As well, since acknowledging my orientation nine months earlier, a curiosity and openness to intimacy and sexual exploration had emerged. This tempered the impact of his inappropriate or unethical behavior. Within our boundary-less weekend, Colin quickly became a friend, surrogate father, quasi-date, counselor, and confessor. This was all done in a Christian context which seemed to give everything an air of acceptability.
As well, my extreme spiritual discomfort with my orientation created a willingness to do whatever I believed God called me to do. As my 16PF scores indicated, I was inclined to surrender judgment to any authority figure I perceived as knowing better than I. I was so convinced by the Ministry interview that I had sold my soul to what Colin represented—the promise that I could experience the blessings of a heterosexual Adventist home if I did what I was told.
As a result of that weekend, I left Reading believing that my journey from homosexuality to heterosexuality might involve practices that others, my faith community, might not understand or even tolerate. Although Colin did not state it openly, I knew his wife, Sharon, was not going to know what we had done. As in the Ministry interview, things would be hinted at but never said outright. This was when I started to massage my testimony very carefully. When I shared my testimony with others, I presented my story as one of “change” while diverting attention away from the fact that no change was occurring. I was a good student! I would lead family, friends, and church members to believe I was doing better than I was. Sadly, I would use this messaging skill to protect myself from my own truth for years.
I came away believing I should temper my expectations about change. I should be comfortable with a two-steps-forward-one-step-back approach to recovery. As modeled by Colin, I began to accept victories and failures as par for the course with respect to my journey. Although I was not ready to do so, I understood I was free to experiment “by faith” with the opposite sex while still attracted to, and even sexually involved with, men. I embraced an end-justifies-the-means attitude. If I did “fall,” I need only confess my failure, evaluate my experience, and move on. The only way my heterosexuality was going to emerge, I believed, was if I could experiment without a sense of condemnation. In my new self-focused obsession to change, I didn’t think much about how the needs or feelings of the women in my experimentation equation were to fit in! It is a travesty how willingly segments of the church encourage people like myself to objectify others for me to recover my so-called latent heterosexuality.
Two other messages had lasting negative consequences. The first, also expressed in the Ministry interview, was the introduction of a new and subtle spiritual burden drawn from the very gospel that was meant to liberate me. In the interview, Colin explained that as his new focus on Jesus grew sharper, he was in awe over what that meant. He was excited because he now believed that there was a way out of homosexuality. He was fearful, however, because he would be responsible if he didn’t act on what he believed. With that responsibility came the call to be obedient rather than question the possibility of change. The call to obedience was to take precedence over everything else.
When you believe God has mandated you to pursue a course, you need a powerful defense mechanism to persist when the evidence says otherwise. One of those defenses was a warning to readers to be cautious and/or dismissive of any concerns and criticisms expressed by “secular” counselors. Only “Christian counselors” who were faithful to the gospel were to be trusted because only they knew the secret to healing—the gospel! Those who did criticize reparative therapy were deemed clearly in league with the devil.
Because I was drawn to this unquestioning obedience, I had no internal authority to guide me. By embracing this attitude, I remained deaf to stories of those whose experience contradicted church approved testimonies. I would ignore their warnings at my own peril.
If at the time, I had had ears to hear and eyes to see, I might have challenged Colin. If I had had a better sense of what professional misconduct looked like, I might have reported him. I did neither. Although I still believe that it is a good thing to be unashamed of the Gospel of Christ, I should have left Reading ashamed of how it was being abused. That was not the case.
When I share all the details of that weekend, some friends are infuriated to the point of wishing Colin harm, while others think, at the very least, he should have been locked up. You would think that after my experience, it would have been clear to me as to what I should do—report Colin to the authorities, go back to Japan with my friend Jugo, and just work on my issues quietly with Perry. I wasn’t so sure. I thought maybe I should spend more time in Reading to further unlock the secrets to my healing. Despite being emotionally exhausted and confused, all I knew for certain was that I wanted to be in Alberta for a wedding, and I had to be in Vancouver to meet other friends who were to arrive from Japan for their Canadian vacation. So, in mid-August, with all of this going on in the background, I set out for western Canada with my sister in a rented Chevy Caprice station wagon—fake wooden side-panels and all.