Journey - Chapter 30
Preying on the Wounded
BY JERRY MCKAY
My journal entry for Saturday, June 1, 1985, opens with, “I am in a state of anxiety and emotional tension.” Colin had called at 7 a.m. to talk about a recent trip to Vancouver for a Homosexuals Anonymous (HA) certification seminar. People completing the seminar could facilitate an HA chapter as I was doing.
Colin had initiated some kind of celebration experience with an attendee. I knew from experience that a celebration experience was a “therapeutic” intervention intended to help a person overcome body image issues. This intervention might include praising God while in various states of undress, for the perceived deficiency of various body parts. Apparently, the person involved had regrets and/or concerns about the experience. Perhaps they even felt some misguided sense of responsibility. Whatever the case, they contacted Quest and spoke to a staff member.
I listened as Colin described a situation very similar to what I had been through with him. As he recounted the incident, a chill ran through me, and I was left feeling numb. I hinted at how this revelation made me feel, but my distress was much deeper than I showed. After the call, I stuffed every thought and emotion deep inside and went to church. For the rest of the day, and on through the week, I did little to process what Colin had shared.
Two weeks later, in another conversation, Colin was even more distressed. Colin’s wife Sharon, Colin’s colleague Keith, and Elder Duncan Eva, a church representative on the Quest board, had met with Colin to discuss the complaint. This time, Colin expressed irritation over the fact that Keith suggested he step down from directorship. Because Colin firmly believed he had done nothing inappropriate, Colin convinced them as such and insisted that his intervention had been misinterpreted.
This second conversation triggered me on a much deeper level. It raised even more questions within me, questions that were too threatening to pursue. If Keith suggested Colin step down because of this accusation, what would Keith have suggested if he knew the extent of my experience with Colin?
It is extremely difficult to explain why I said nothing to anyone. In retrospect, I kept my experience to myself because I believed that Colin and Quest represented my only hope of change. The resignation of Colin would mean the collapse of my belief system. Although confused and angry, I suppressed the truth by accepting Colin’s reasoning, as Sharon, Keith, and Elder Eva had done. I accepted the suggestion that the person making the complaint simply did not understand! Denying reality, however, only added to the increasing weight of my distress. This was the backdrop for all the events that defined the last half of 1985.
Throughout June, I moved ahead with establishing an HA chapter. In early July, I celebrated my 29th birthday. Shortly after my birthday, I found a home for HA in the basement of a Greek Orthodox Church on Shaw Street. With a location secured, and resisting the temptation to see any omen in the date, I placed an ad in The Toronto Star on Friday, July 13!
The International Christian Support Group for those
in conflict with homosexuality opens in Toronto July 17.
For time and location call….
With that ad, I was committed. Understandably, my anxiety went up. Initially, there were only a few discouraging prank calls. Then the number of genuine interests started to climb. By July 20, there had been 40 positive inquiries.
Six men attended the first meeting. Because no one knew anything about HA, the initiative fell on me. Having been an HA member myself, I knew how an evening should go. I knew Colin’s philosophy behind each step in HA well and drew on that knowledge to teach each step. With four years of reparative therapy jargon in hand—theological and psychological—I felt I had an answer for almost any question. Although any final “outcome” remained a mystery for all who attended, there was a shared sense of gratitude and hope in having a place where they could safely talk about their experience.
July also brought encouraging news. I got word from Elder Morgan, President of the Ontario Conference, that whatever my home church, or any church, contributed toward HA, those donations would be matched dollar for dollar by the conference. This would definitely help with paying for the phone line, advertising, and rent. I was pleased that the church was trying to help.
Toward the end of July, Colin came to visit. He needed to have a break from what was going on at Quest. While I hoped the visit would be pleasant, I had anxiety about it, as the fallout from the incident in Vancouver was still in the background. I wrote, “I am afraid I have not yet dealt with these things. I try so hard to believe that everything is better. But is it?” We talked endlessly about many things, but reaffirming the belief system behind Colin’s theory of freedom from homosexuality dominated our conversations.
His belief system was a theological structure that informed Colin that he was not only called to change his orientation, but that he could do so by the proper application of the gospel. It wasn’t about a miracle, however, but about living “as if he were” heterosexual. He had been doing this for ten years and had “acted-as-if” his way into a marriage blessed with children. Though troubled and discouraged by what he might call remnants of homosexuality, this belief system enabled Colin to justify blatant and/or borderline homosexual behaviors. Colin had a personal tenacity that was beyond any gospel mandate. He could tolerate what could send others into psychological and theological confusion. I was stuck in this mindset—deeply, profoundly stuck. Having embraced that mindset, I, too, tolerated more than I should have.
In mid-August, I attended a seminar in Chicago sponsored by Doug Houck, Director of Metanoia Ministries in Seattle. It was a pleasure to reconnect with Doug again. I could visit a great deal with Colin because we shared a room.
At the conference, I was once again immersed in a “change” environment of lectures, discussion groups, and terms like defensive detachment, same-sex ambivalence and unmet love needs. I socialized with counselors, pastors, and those like me—people hoping for change while trying to help others do the same.
Dr. Elizabeth Moberly was the keynote speaker. Her book, Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic, made her a popular speaker at such conferences. She promoted the idea of “environmental factors” and “temperamental predisposition” being part of the cause of homosexuality. Failure of the child to bond with their same-sex parent, because of the inability or unwillingness of their same-sex parent to nurture such bonding, was her primary focus.
Listening to Moberly expound on her research was fascinating. Based on my history, her theory seemed to explain everything about me. I felt I had, in fact, detached from my father as a child as a defense mechanism against the pain of his emotional distance. And I believed I was trying to fulfill those unmet childhood love needs through male friends. By her theory, my mother was off the hook as a cause, as Moberly didn’t place blame on “domineering mothers.” Despite all the ways I related to her presentation, I remember slowly becoming annoyed as the weekend progressed. The presentation was clinical, and I grew tired of hearing about myself as a research project.
Moberly’s emphasis on childhood causes for homosexuality created a theological ambivalence. If I juxtaposed the Apostle Paul’s comments in Romans chapter one with that of authors like Dr. Moberly, I ended up in irreconcilable territory. For Paul, homosexuality results from God handing “adult” idolaters over to the consequences of their rejection of the living God. For Dr. Moberly, homosexuality results from wounded children attempting to make up for unmet love needs. Which was it? Was I a God-rejecting idolater or was I a wounded child? Perhaps I just was! None of this tension prevented me from getting her to autograph my copy of her book!
Leanne Payne, of Pastoral Care Ministries, was also a guest speaker. Her focus was on restoring personal wholeness through healing prayer. Since I was constantly looking for one more insight or one more spiritual secret to improve my chances of change—of undoing the damage my father had caused—I joined a breakout group where healing prayer was illustrated. Although uncomfortable, I agreed to be prayed over. I sincerely hoped their faith would move my mountain.
Except for socializing with people on the same journey, I was disappointed with the conference. I didn’t feel I learned or received anything new that I could incorporate into my experience that I was not already doing—without success. Once again, I could only hope that with the passing of time something would change.
Back in Canada, the Adventist television program, It Is Written, aired the episode that featured Colin and his ministry that August. This represented a nationwide introduction of Colin’s ministry to Adventists and other viewers in Canada. I was conflicted. I felt some sense of pride in being associated with a ministry that brought hope to homosexuals; yet all my experience to date pointed in a different direction, a direction I still could not acknowledge.
In that episode, Colin was ostensibly a man healed of homosexuality. Sharon, very pregnant with their second child, sat with Colin during the interview. Their first son watched from a nearby chair. Sharon fully supported Colin, believing that he was a “changed” man. Once again, tens of thousands of people were being presented with an amazing testimony of change! An unchallenged testimony that would be “lovingly” used to hold LGBT people captive to the promise of change.
August ended with another challenge. Ron Lawson came to Toronto to visit relatives and met with me. I had met Ron at Kinship’s Kampmeeting in Pennsylvania in the summer of ’83. We had remained in contact after I left Reading, returned to Japan, and then went on to Toronto. Ron is a sociologist by profession, so questioning, probing, and challenging is his forte. I have several pages of comments in my journal about that visit. In short, I was frustrated. I could be open about my experience in conversations with HA members, but the more I shared with Ron the more I felt I was being critiqued.
In our discussion about Quest and Colin, Ron strongly implied that the theories I had accepted and advocated were outdated. Despite knowing that Ron was sincerely concerned for my welfare, I was left feeling foolish and unenlightened. Even if I were questioning Elizabeth-Moberly-like theories, I was not in a position psychologically to toss them out. The hardest part was that I experienced our conversation as a challenge to the gospel and to my faith. Even if a theory were outdated, surely a correct application of the gospel would rectify my situation. I felt that, besides sharing his concerns for me, Ron was fishing for information.
In early April, days before leaving Reading, Ron had contacted me to ask if I knew any Quest counselees who would speak to him. I did half-heartedly ask around but came up with only one name, that of a female counselee. In his characteristic assertiveness, Ron asked why I hadn’t tried to find others. I told him I felt uncomfortable doing so. When I suggested he approach Sharon, Colin, or their colleague, Keith, Ron insisted he would be given only the names of those who professed to be succeeding. He was probably right.
What I did not know at the time was Ron’s determination to explore the extent to which Quest and HA were proving successful or not in achieving its advertised goal. Ron had the right to probe. The Adventist LGBT community, church members, and church media and those influenced by it, had the right to know what was fact and what was fiction. Try as he might to get information about my personal experience and, more specifically, my experience with Colin, he got next to nothing. I was as tight-lipped, or perhaps as shut down or as walled in, as ever. In retrospect, I realize Ron represented too much reality for me.
Perhaps because of how unsettling Ron’s visit was, and because I had some suspicion as to his motives (would he use information to discredit the work of Quest and HA?), I never considered his visit an example of divine synergy. Although I believed God’s hand had guided in my move to Toronto and establishing HA, I could not entertain the thought that God was now working to guide me or protect me via Ron’s probing! Was God now working to shine a light in dark places? Two weeks later, I sent Ron a long letter reiterating my theological position and assured him I had the homosexual part of me in perspective and under control. That was not the truth.
Besides all that was going on in the fall of ‘85, I kept trying to unearth, dig up, cultivate, or tease out some heterosexuality in myself. I had been developing an arms-length friendship with Pam, the director of the change ministry in Toronto. Pam and I would visit about ministry business occasionally, sometimes over a meal together in my apartment. In early October, Pam invited me to spend the weekend with her at her parents’ home. While it was simply an invitation to get away for a few days and socialize, I used it as an opportunity to explore being “in the presence of a woman,” as I put it in my journal. Even though I was concerned about spending two days at Pam’s, I knew I could flee at any point if overwhelmed!
I wrote about being able to be myself with Pam. Not that I had never laughed or bantered with a female friend before, but I consciously tried to move myself into some deeper level of male-female awareness and interaction. I wanted to interact with her as a woman in relation to my masculine self—whatever that meant. After all, I believed that a woman was my complement, God’s creation intent. I sought to appreciate my complement even when in lighthearted conversation about wearing make-up! At two points during the weekend, we exchanged a shoulder massage, with her parents present, of course. I believed such physical contact would help me advance in my feeling comfortable as a man with a woman.
I felt good about the weekend, but I honestly wasn’t at ease when contemplating interacting as a sexual being. I later wrote, “I’m okay just where I am now. I feel relatively comfortable about seeking to socialize more closely with women, but uneasy about anything physical. I don’t think I’m ready to go out and get married!” Any comfort or ease I perceived about the experience was deceptively reassuring, leading me to think it might indicate the future possibility of intimacy with a woman. That I wondered about, analyzed, and recorded every interaction and response shows how forced and contrived my experience was. To my detriment, I was once again making faith-driven leaps—thinking that my ability to give a female friend a shoulder massage indicated I was unearthing some of that heterosexuality I hoped for.
One word in my last journal entry about the weekend was revealing. “There is a void about relating sexually that I am powerless over. I can do nothing in the moment, other than ask my Father to call forth his son into this void.” Void! That was what I was always up against—a void of any typical heterosexual interest or response. A void that would never be filled with just friendly banter or a shoulder massage!
The November issue of The Body Politic, Canada’s national gay newsmagazine, published two accounts of two HA meetings under the heading: Preying on The Wounded: Christian group, Homosexuals Anonymous, feeds on loneliness of the closet. Having seen the initial ad for HA that July, two people had “infiltrated” the group to observe what was going on.
A few days before our second HA meeting in July, I received a call that troubled me deeply. The caller asked far more questions than the typical anxious caller, which was fine. However, after the call, I was sure I had given our location out to someone who might have malicious intentions. Although never confirmed, I suspect I had spoken to one of our observers.
According to the newsmagazine article, Neil attended the 4th HA meeting where seven men were in attendance. Two weeks later, Andrew joined our group of eleven members. Their accounts were relatively accurate in describing our meetings. Interestingly, and yet unintentionally, the articles also documented the sensitivity and suspicion within the gay community of religious groups, like HA, purporting to bring help to the gay community.
“Would I be subjected to brainwashing techniques by the Christian hordes?” Neil wondered. “Would I be like a faggot in the Christian den of lions? My fears were unfounded. The lion’s den was a musty old church in the West End. The Christian hordes consisted of seven meek-looking men seated in uncomfortable chairs, huddled in a circle.”
I found it humorous, if not disconcerting, being characterized as a Fundamentalist; but I understood why they would think that. “Gary gave a lecture on homosexuality, which was a blend of conservative theology mixed with pop psychology. Nothing Gary taught was ever challenged or critiqued.”
Whether our visitors misinterpreted what I said, or I didn’t communicate a concept well—perhaps a bit of both—I was disappointed when one visitor reported that HA viewed homosexuality as “being away from God” and that acting out gay feelings was to be “abandoned by God.”
As a faithful disciple, I was teaching Colin’s interpretation of Romans chapter one. Not to belabor a subtle point of theology, but Colin did not teach that being homosexual would result in being abandoned by God. Rather, Colin taught that homosexuality was just one aberration among all broken human experiences that resulted from “the world” being “handed over” by God. Being “handed over” by God was not a personal rejection, rather a general description of a corporate experience.
Colin’s teaching was a hybrid of sorts between the “pop-psychology” of Dr. Moberly, for example, with Paul’s notions in Romans chapter one. In that broken handed-over world, a broken, dysfunctional father who fails to properly bond with his son sets in motion the psychological and spiritual forces that can cause his homosexuality. While the nuance between what our visitor heard and what I was trying to convey seemed small, it was significant. In effect, according to this position, God is responsible for my experience. Either way, this theology left me and the other HA members broken and therefore in need of repair!
On a positive note, our observers did sense that, “Fire and brimstone, and AIDS as God’s punishment a la Falwell was not HA’s approach.” Neil wrote, “No one was critical of the gay community. Their talking gave a sense everyone there knew of their homosexuality and felt a longing to stifle it. They were really teddy bears.” And while the visitors recognized that HA was there to serve as a support group to the person trying to leave homosexuality, they also wondered why such a group should ever exist. “There must be a place in the gay community for those men.” one contributor suggested. In the end, Neil felt “the lions’ den wasn’t so bad.”
An HA member and I responded to the articles, and our response was published the following January.
As the end of 1985 approached, my sister and I made plans to return to the Ottawa Valley to spend Christmas with mom and dad. As with other trips to the Ottawa area, I spent time with Robert. My family often saw him, as well. At Thanksgiving, we celebrated the holiday at his cottage. My parents welcomed him into their home for Christmas, even inviting him to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas night with us. Spending time with Robert always heightened my awareness of the contrast between what I didn’t feel about women as compared to what I did and do feel for men. With Pam and all women, physical desire and emotional comfort felt unnatural to me. Whereas with Robert and most men, no effort was needed to create attraction, no need to hope for some emerging emotional comfort, no contrived romantic spark.
I had feelings for Robert, and he for me. I was not being threatened, harassed, or otherwise pressured to pursue change by my family. Yet, there was no possibility of my being his partner because I was in no position theologically to do so. I returned to Toronto planning to spend yet another year facilitating HA and hoping to unearth my heterosexuality.