by Harvey Brown
The helicopter hovered ninety feet in the air above Mojinga Swamp. Rappel ropes anchored to the floor were cast out the door as the crew chief shouted above the roar of the aircraft, “Hook up!”
It really didn’t matter how many times I had rappelled from a chopper, my hands were always sweaty in the heavy leather gloves that protected my skin from rope burns and guided my descent. They also operated as my brake when I clamped down on the sliding rope and pulled it against my butt.
I looked back at the chief and nodded. I knew there were two ways to hook my snap link to the rappel rope: The right way, and the other way—which was known to us soldiers as “the fatal hookup.” I double-checked once again to make sure mine was right.
“On the skid!”
We moved from sitting with our legs dangling in the breeze of the rotor wash to feeling for the skid with our boots. In one motion we turned around, brake hand holding us in place on the rappel rope, and leaned back away from the chopper. On the command “GO!” we pushed backwards with our legs and let it fly. Ten to fifteen feet above the swamp my brake hand clamped down and slowed descent as I landed in the mire. I finished pulling excess rope from the snap link, waved “Clear” to the chief, and the helicopter flew away as we prepared to accomplish our mission.
Our job was to navigate our way back to the small headquarters at Fort Sherman. We each were equipped with only a Ranger knife, map, and compass. No easy task, especially when there are no landmarks in the swamp but a lot of lush jungle foliage limiting our ability to see clearly, or far. We had to trust our minimal equipment… and our training. This was the U.S. Army’s Jungle Operations Training Center—22,000 acres of triple canopy jungle bordered by the Panama Canal Zone, the Caribbean Ocean, Rio Piña, and Limon Bay.
Our group of three assumed different roles: Compass/navigator, pace man, map reader. We had to take the printed map, orient it to the lay of the land, determine our azimuth (calibrate compass direction in relation to a fixed point, North). The challenge was made more difficult as we had to calculate how far we were going and when to change directions based on the lay of the land, obstacles, and terrain features encountered along the way.
We didn’t set any records. Nor were we the slowest. But we got home safely. No one was left behind. No one was lost.
There are obvious parallels between my story of successfully finding my way out of Mojinga Swamp and the necessity for us Christ followers—disciples of Jesus—to embrace protocols that will guide us through today’s cultural morass. Our objective is not a return to the security of barracks by the sea, but to realize that we are a part of God’s forever family and his Kingdom. We feel like we are pursuing Him, only to discover that the God who created this Universe has really been pursuing us. It is when we recognize ourselves as his sons and daughters that we can be embraced in the loving, redemptive arms of Father… the One who sent his Son to save the broken and lost. For all of us need a Saviour, and there is no other name under heaven whereby we can be saved.
Map, compass, Ranger knife. With the exception of the knife, none would be any help if there were no fixed reference point. For millennia, the North Star in the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Cross in the Southern Hemisphere have provided such reference in the night sky. The magnetic needle of the compass will point to Magnetic North. One might sincerely feel that they are going in the right direction. But directions and outcomes only can be predicted with certainty if the point of reference is not mobile or capricious or open to various interpretations based on whims of navigational culture. Can you imagine crew conversations in an airliner cockpit were it not so?
One of our Energion Discussion Network bloggers writes of abandoning the idea that being homosexual and Christian are incompatible. He states that the Bible is foundational for Christian faith and the starting point for all conversations. The problem “… isn’t whether the Bible is authoritative, but how we interpret it.”
Granted. Unless the Bible is authoritative for Christian life and faith, there is no fixed point of reference, no true North for our belief.
No novel hermeneutic can change the clear statements of the New Covenant scriptures. We either must ignore, deny, or attempt to distort the meaning of language by squinting at the text through lenses contoured to refract the truth into conformity with current cultural trends. The God who bore our sins on the tree, the One who can make a sinner into a saint, the One who (as Jude says) can keep you from falling and present you without fault before His glorious presence… and with great joy, is the same Saviour who can heal the sexually broken and wounded. He is the the One who through forgiveness offers us freedom from our past.
What we think, feel, and understand about the God of the Bible is rooted in a belief system many of us inherit. Those of Methodist persuasion refer to the Wesleyan quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. Cessationist theology developed as an explanation for the absence of miracles and certain ecclesiastical offices in the life of the Church. But there’s nothing quite like a personal encounter with the power of the Holy Spirit to move someone toward recalibrating their theology.
I watched this happen in a Conservative Baptist Church in Washington State beginning in 1998. During my ministry there at First Baptist Church, I saw numerous verifiable miracles—some of which had my direct involvement and became front page news in the secular press. Other miracles I witnessed only as an observer. But they were truly miraculous evidence of the same power of the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. As a result, not only did the church’s doctrinal statement change, but the official stance of the Conservative Baptist Association NW changed to acknowledge the possibility that those gifts and offices—previously believed to have ceased—were now officially recognized as existing and also assisting the Church in life and witness. The loving spirit and credible witness of the folks at First Baptist Church helped their association leaders and colleagues to review the Scriptures and shift their theological positions.
In an earlier blog on this site, Bob Cornwall describes how his brother’s declaration of homosexuality changed what had always been an academic issue into something personal. “What is true for me is true for so many others. Most people who have had a change of mind on the matter of inclusion have done so because of a personal relationship.”
I believe the last statement is particularly true. Although I am United Methodist, my traveling teaching and preaching ministry allows me to connect with believers from multiple streams of the faith. In every instance where someone has shared with me about their migrating to a position of theological acceptance and empowerment of homosexuality within the church, they have included a backstory—often much like Bob Cornwall’s.
For each of us there is a backstory—a prequel, as it were—that if known helps us understand the story of today. No matter our sexual behavior or orientation, we are all composites of our life experiences. As one who frequently ministers on topics of sexual brokenness, I have been able to hear the backstory of so many men and women who have trusted me with secrets never before told. One of my great joys is to be able to say, “It’s not your fault,” and invite Jesus and the Holy Spirit to come into deep and previously hidden areas of shame and hurt.
In my own family, we—like Bob Cornwall—have dealt with some of these issues.
During the period of our engagement, I met Marilyn’s extended family at her great-uncle’s funeral. Among her relatives was a first cousin, “Don,” from southern Ohio. Don was a hairdresser who conveyed though walk, affect, and flamboyant style a seeming effeminacy that screamed “I am homosexual.” Marilyn, he, and I talked late into the night. Don spoke openly of his broken relationship with his alcoholic father and his dominant mother. He told us of his boyfriend/roommate/homosexual partner. This was 1971. I would get to know Don better through regular family reunions over the years.
Not long before our marriage, through tears Marilyn revealed that when she was eight or nine years old she was sexually molested by a neighbor—a man who was a part of her father’s Methodist congregation.
Eleanor (Lou) Vinton is 83 years old now. We attend the same local church. She gave her heart to Jesus when she was eight years old. When she was 13, she began to hang out with a group of girls who drew her into sexual experimentation among them. Before she left high school, she was among those who were pursuing other girls. As she told me last night, for the next 25 years she was “totally in,” participating in every kind of perversion fueled by her brokenness, alcoholism, gambling, and witchcraft. She bought a home with her partner. Yet throughout this whole time she was tormented between two worlds. Trying to gain some separation from the magnetic pull of the death-spiral she felt, Lou left her partner and bought a home in Knoxville.
Marlene Stokely spent most of her childhood and teen years in rural Appalachia being raped by her grandfather. Marilyn and I became her surrogate parents when she lived with us while attending Asbury University. You can read her amazing testimony (pages 69-72) in my book “When God Strikes The Match: Igniting a Passion for Holiness and Renewal.”
When Nathan was 8, he was raped by a man who lived in the same apartment complex. Not long after he wandered into a room in his home to find his father and several other men naked, passed out, and cuddling with one another. “I started having homosexual dreams, and began to live for the times I could connect with pornography or other ways to try to live out the fantasies that kept coming.”
John was a gifted singer who traveled with an internationally famous Christian music group. Ultimately promoted to music director, he harbored homosexual fantasies. “When I was in graduate school, I buckled under all the pressure and went on a homosexual binge for months. And once I started, I felt like there was no way out. It was all consuming.”
You may well know the story of musician and composer Dennis Jernigan. If not, you probably would recognize one of his most famous compositions, “You Are My All In All.” When Dennis shared his story with me, I was amazed at his transparency and vulnerability, to say nothing of the miraculous work of God in his life. Delivered from a life of homosexuality, he is the father of nine, and a trusted mentor, friend, resource and brother for those who seek the same freedom he found in Jesus. http://dennisjernigan.com
And now, my backstory (or, as the late Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story”). Like the vast majority of pre-pubescent males of my generation, my first sexual contact was same sex contact. Sleep-overs, back yard camping trips, friends’ homes with swimming pools and changing rooms became locations and opportunities for sexual discovery. I remember an elementary school trip to Washington, D.C. where in a hotel room full of sexual neophytes my friend Pete introduced us to the process of masturbation. I made discoveries that night that would change my life. I had no idea what orgasm was, let alone how good it could feel. So I decided to reproduce that effect as often as possible.
At our local Boy Scout summer camp, there were young adult staff members… and to us 11-13 year olds some of the coolest people on the planet. “Frank” was the waterfront director, wore a pith helmet, had his own camper trailer on the grounds, and looked like a young Rock Hudson. Every Scout there wanted to be like him. And I was thrilled after summer camp season was over to connect with Frank through Boy Scout patch collecting. Before long Frank would pick me up at my house, take me to a more secluded area, and let me—a young teen who wouldn’t see a driver’s permit for years—drive his new Pontiac with bucket seats. He made me feel very special. I relished all the attention… not realizing that I was being groomed for the future.
When I was 16 and had a driver’s license, I began working after school for a wealthy architect in our city. Much of the modern downtown skyline was designed by him and his firm. I ran blueprints, operated a new reproduction device called a Xerox (that should date me pretty well), and as the office boy kept a steady supply of draftsman materials and coffee for the other architects and draftsmen. Not long after beginning there, “Mr. Thornbury” asked me if I would walk down to the car dealership and pick up his Lincoln that was being serviced. Soon, I had added “occasional chauffeur” to my list of tasks. Driving well-respected, statewide known Mr. Thornbury in his big Lincoln was pretty heady stuff. There were days when I would drive to his house, leave my car, and depart from there for the day’s trip or tasks.
One Saturday, when we returned to Mr. Thornbury’s house, he invited me swimming to cool off and relax after the long trip to Atlanta. I jumped at the chance, changed in the upstairs garage apartment into one of the extra bathing suits, and hit the pool (which was secluded in the woods on his estate). We returned from the swim to the rooms over the garage, and as I was changing, Mr. Thornbury came into the room naked and asked if I could massage his shoulders. But first he showed me a Playboy magazine, and some homoerotic souvenirs that were supposedly reproductions of ancient Greek art. I knew what was coming, but my need for male approval, physical touch, and the possibility of his pleasuring me was enough for me to barter my desires for his request. I was disgusted when he tried to kiss me and told me that he loved me. That was intimacy. Love had nothing to do with it. Orgasm was my drug of choice. I would negotiate a fix, but I did have my principles. His contact with my genitals was as far as it would go. And as I remember, it went there with some regularity.
I entered the University of Georgia when I was 17. I ran into Frank who was now working at the University. “Let’s do supper. My place tonight. We’ll throw some steaks on the grill.” So I showed up at Frank’s at the right time, like any true freshman, ready to enjoy a good, free meal. Liquor flowed freely, and before I realized it I was so drunk I could hardly stand. “Better spend the night here at my apartment. You are in no shape to drive.” He showed me to the bedroom, where there was only one double bed. “Looks like I’ll just have to share it with you,” he said.
Much of the rest of the night is remembered through a drunken fog, but what memories there are remain etched indelibly in my mind. I was awakened by Frank’s hand slowly, lightly, moving up my leg, The pace was so slow at first I thought it was incidental contact. But the path was not. I did not move, wondering if what I thought was happening was really happening. Frank had never done anything overtly sexual with me when I was younger. But he was emboldened because alcohol consumption has an inverse effect on inhibition. My consumption was excessive, and my inhibition was virtually non-existent. By the time his hand reached my shorts, he could tell there was a response. I still didn’t move because this surreal moment was a little scary.
Frank turned on the bedside lamp. “Gotta go to the bathroom.”
When he returned, he said, “Let’s go see a buddy of mine. He’s a neat guy.” So I staggered to Frank’s Mustang and he drove across town to another apartment complex. More drinks. Frank’s friend, a math instructor, was in the back and came out to meet me. He went back to where he came from, and Frank showed me to a bedroom where I could lie down. “Go ahead and rest. There’s somebody coming over my buddy wants me to meet.” That was fine with me. My head was swimming and I really needed to lie down.
Sometime later the door to the bedroom opened and Frank’s buddy came in. “You doing OK?” he asked. As he quietly closed the door I mumbled, “I guess so.” He sat on the side of the bed. “Let me help you get more comfortable,” he said as he undid my belt and slipped my jeans off. I did not resist. Soon I was undressed and this stranger started to perform oral sex on me. Even through my drunkenness I was fully aware of being used, but because of the sexual pleasure it brought me I submitted to his overtures. After ejaculation the stranger flipped me over onto my stomach and attempted forced entry. I emphatically said, “NO!”, but he tried again. This process repeated itself several times. I had neither the strength nor coordination to gain physical control of the situation. But my assailant could not force penetration. Eventually, he got up and disgustedly left the room.
Steve Kindle, Editor of our Energion Discussion Network, wrote an article on another website, entitled, “Ex-Gays: The Big Hoax.” His conclusion reads: “Gay men and lesbians can’t change their orientation any more than straights can. Since God made each of us in our own special way, why would we want to?”
Interestingly, I both strongly agree and disagree with his conclusion. There is no doubt that God has made us unique and special. To finish, my article (if you have read this far) clearly dispels the assumption that homosexuals can’t change their orientation anymore than straight individuals can.
Back to Marilyn’s first cousin Don: A life-changing encounter with the Holy Spirit in an Assembly of God Church in Cincinnati set him onto a path of restoration and wholeness. Married to Lisa, a lovely woman who was a flight attendant, they have two sons who are now young adults. His family is active in many aspects of church life, and Don and Lisa are key players in the church’s drama ministry.
Eleanor (Lou) Vinton: One night, sitting by the fire with pills and a bottle of whiskey, she cried out to God. “Jesus came and stood right in front of me, just as real as you are,” she said. Then Jesus spoke clearly to her. “Why don’t you try it my way?” Lou surrendered to grace. For almost 35 years, “Grandma Lou” has actively given herself through Teen Challenge and other recovery ministries to those struggling with addiction, brokenness, and hopelessness.
Nathan: God used a dance team in his local church to reach into Nathan’s heart when he was a teen. His skill and dedication to his craft led him to a prominent national youth ministry, where the leader helped him discover healing and wholeness through the sanctifying power of the blood of Jesus. He is now a gifted preacher, choreographer, and Christ-follower who lives to make Jesus famous.
John: John lost all hope after his homosexual binge. In his despair he reached out to a Christian counselor and author, who helped him walk back into the reality of grace and wholeness through Christ…who not counting our sins against us, but is restoring and redeeming us. Today, John is married and has three lovely daughters. A successful businessman, he reaches out to others who are broken and hurting.
Me: As for me, since I derived sexual pleasure, I did not really understand that as a teen I was being sexually exploited. I did not understand pedophilia. Or workplace sexual harassment. Or rape. Father has wonderfully restored my life. He has given me the grace to tell the unvarnished truth about my own sexual brokenness. And he has opened amazing doors to help others discover that His forgiveness is the only way to find true freedom from our past.
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