Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Prodigal Son

Interesting Interview...

After identifying himself as gay for five years, singer/songwriter Brian Bates talks about why he left the faith—and what brought him back.

An exclusive interview
Look at the celebrity news of the last several months: Lindsay Lohan is dating a woman. Celebrities continue to support gay marriage. A former artist in the Christian music industry, Katy Perry, has released a song about kissing a girl. And two singers with professed Christian beliefs, Ray Boltz and Clay Aiken, have come out of the closet.

What does this all mean if you believe the biblical understanding of relationships and sex?

To help find answers, managing editor Todd Hertz talked with someone who identified himself as gay for five years—Christian singer/songwriter Brian Bates. In this web exclusive interview, Brian tells his story and shares the lessons he learned about interacting with others who don't share the Bible's view on sex.

When did you first think, I might be gay?

I didn't think about calling myself gay until I was 18, but things happened before then that set the stage. To start with, I had two big brothers who were more stereotypically masculine than me. I was smaller and more of the sensitive type. As an adult, I can look back and say, "Well, sure, there are boys who like football and there are boys who are creative—they are all God-created men." But, unfortunately, gender stereotypes are still alive. If you don't fit into the right category, you think something must be wrong. I kept wondering, Where do I fit in? How can I be like other guys?

College was the first time I met young men who identified themselves as gay. All of a sudden, I thought, Oh, that's why I didn't fit in! I am gay! It was sort of like this big light bulb went on in my life. I was welcomed into that community, and identifying myself as gay resolved all these unanswered questions for me.

What was your faith like as a teen?

I grew up Catholic and then we moved to a more evangelical church environment.

Growing up in a Christian home, I had the traditional understanding that homosexuality was not an option. I never had a fire and brimstone belief that said if I chose to be gay, I'd go to hell. My understanding was more that it just wasn't God's design.

This decision in college was a huge moral conflict because I had to choose between what I believed in my heart and what I thought was my identity. Identifying myself as gay won out because I thought, Well, if this is who I am, how can I not be gay? How can I choose to not be myself?

I bought the cultural lie of "This is who I am" rather than "This is what I struggle with because things in my life have created confusion." I bought the lie that this was who I am.

Did your faith change at that point?

Yes. I never thought, Well, maybe God's OK with this. I knew God's black-and-white truth. I knew that being gay wasn't his best for me. I felt I had to either preserve my faith in God or—if I was going to embrace an identity as a gay man—leave my faith behind. It felt like a big either-or. I simply had to walk away from God to pursue this. In hindsight, I look back at it as kind of like the prodigal son. I'm wholly a son of God. He always loved me. But I thought, You know what God? I just need to go do my own thing for a while. I know you don't approve. I just gotta go do this.

The Father doesn't keep the chains on the doors. He lets us go. But my experience in the gay scene got increasingly disappointing. It wasn't giving me what I needed. By the time I was 23, I was covering up that disappointment with alcohol and drugs.

My emptiness and disappointment also turned into anger at Christians. This was a way I could avoid dealing with God. But everything changed when I met a Christian named Julie. We didn't agree on the subject of homosexuality and she was like, "So what? So we don't agree on that. But God loves you. What are you going to do with that?"

She just loved me and appealed to the hunger for God I was trying to cover up.

What made her approach different than other Christians?

I felt most Christians looked at me and thought, Well, you can't be in a relationship with God because you're gay. Once you repent, you can get back with God.

Julie's approach felt more like the approach of Jesus. She was really the first one to remind me of a loving father that's waiting at home for his prodigal son to return.

What happened as a result of Julie's approach?

I started talking to God again—even in the middle of my mess. Even in the middle of getting drunk and using drugs. There was this kind of tug-of-war for months, where I was like, God, I want to start over. I want to come back but I don't know how. This is my whole life now, and it's who I am. It's horrible, but what else do I have?

One night, I was sitting in a bar just wasted. I immediately sobered up and felt God saying, "I've heard your cries. I'm the way out. Follow me. You can't bring anything with you. You've got to burn all your bridges. Get up. Walk out of the bar."

And I did. I laid my whole life down to God. Piece by piece, he taught me about my identity in Christ. He taught me about who I am as a man, and what God—not the world—says a man is. He helped walk me through my path and helped me understand how I got confused and why I thought I was gay. It didn't mean I was gay. That was the wrong conclusion.

This all didn't happen overnight but God showed me how to start my life over and find healthy male interaction.

What consequences held over from your prodigal son experience?

When you have sex for the first time, your body discovers new pleasures. Your body, your memories, and your mind now know things that you wouldn't have if you would have stayed within the boundaries that God set because he loves you.

I think that is the consequence of going outside the boundaries: just knowing. When I started this journey, my morals were intact. But eventually, your standards start to fall one-by-one when you've left your Father's house.

I didn't really want to have sex because I knew in the Bible you don't have sex outside of marriage. I tried to hold on to that as long as I could. I felt like my morals got in the way of me being able to find someone to be in love with.

Everything is redeemable but you feel the consequences. I lost my innocence and now I have to unfortunately know what it was like to connect with a man like that.

With your personal story in mind, how do you recommend Christians balance the truth of the Bible with not being judgmental?

My best advice is to be like Julie. Have the courage to set aside the moral debate and simply show love. I don't believe it's our job to convince people of moral absolutes. I believe our job is to reflect the kindness and compassion of Christ and let God convict. I believe that in a really honest relationship with God, God will work that stuff out. He did with me.

Recently, two music artists with Christian beliefs (Clay Aiken and Ray Boltz) have come out of the closet. What is your reaction?

If I knew Ray Boltz, I'd sit down with him and say, "I know it seems one of us is right and one of us is wrong, but forget that for a minute. Just help me understand: How do you and I know the same God, yet God tells my heart this but he tells your heart something else?"

Paul had a thorn in his flesh. He asked God to take it away three times, and God said "My grace is sufficient for you." Just because our thorn is sexuality, it's no different. A thorn is a thorn. Sin is sin. To know the truth and stay in sin is to trade the truth for a lie.

When it comes to Ray and Clay, it's hard for me because I don't know them. I don't know their journeys with God. I don't question their Christianity. But it makes me sad because I wonder how much they really submitted their sexuality to God.

We know the same God. I laid down my sexuality and he taught my heart how to make sense of my feelings and why that was not his design. How can they come to a completely opposite conclusion?

The abundant life that God is talking about has nothing to do with circumstances like getting married, having children, and being in love. We all want that stuff, but that's not what God is talking about. It's about having a trusting relationship with God in the here and now and not having to wait for heaven. And that's what I want.

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