Ray Boltz's Hunger for Community by Mike Ensley

Ray Boltz's Hunger for Community by Mike Ensley

When I first started ministering to teens who struggle with same-sex attraction, I met "Josh." Of the categories of people we worked with, Josh fell into the "never acted out" one. He was a good kid who loved Jesus, he served at his church and sang in the youth worship band. To this day he'll describe me as one of his mentors, but honestly I've always hoped to emulate his gentle spirit and genuine affection for God and other people. Secretly, though, during his adolescence Josh suffered with attractions he neither chose nor wanted. He also did not obey them, but he struggled with this problem in secret in most arenas of his life, including the church where he attended and served. I thought that stunk. In fact, I was pretty ticked that Josh even had to be a part of my little group over at the Exodus ministry where I volunteered. Not that he wasn't a good guy to have around — always has been — but all he needed was a safe place to be transparent and find acceptance and support. It saddened me that he felt his church couldn't offer that. Knowing that a real community was what he needed, and not a special ministry group, I often encouraged him to open up to someone in his life that he felt was safe. Maybe just the youth pastor to start. When Josh finally did tell his youth pastor about his secret struggle, things drastically changed for him. He wasn't allowed to be in student leadership anymore, or participate in the worship band. For some reason, the youth pastor felt it necessary to enact almost every level of church discipline on Josh, despite that he wasn't in rebellion and didn't want to be. Worst of all, he added insult to injury by asking Josh to refrain from any contact with children on church premises. Normally, encouraging a struggling youth to tell their pastor is great advice — of course that's dependent on the youth pastor not being ignorant or a true homophobe. Seriously, I was pretty angry. Josh for his part handled it better than I would have. Knowing me (and especially me as a teenager), I'd have taken hypocritical rejection like that as a free pass to the deep end of bitter self-indulgence, at least for a week or two. Josh didn't. The discouraging effect was evident, though. It's one that most Christians with same-sex attraction — or any of a host of less-acceptable struggles — receive from the attitudes of their local churches: that we ought not be like this — not us Christians. And if we are, well, we'd better find a way to fix it on our own. National Level A few weeks ago, the Christian community was stunned to hear Ray Boltz, one of our longest-celebrated musical artists, announce that he is gay. Not only were we shocked to learn that he had carried the same-sex struggles with him secretly all the years we enjoyed his music, but even more so that he has now chosen to embrace a homosexual identity in defiance of Scripture's clear teaching. This announcement brings a disappointing end to a worldwide ministry in many people's eyes, and just as importantly it has brought an end to his marriage covenant. I remember listening to Ray's music as a little kid. His album Thank You was one of the few that made up the soundtrack of my sheltered Christian bubble. The title track on that record paints a vivid picture of saved souls in Heaven greeting the faithful servant whose deeds helped them to get there. I remember listening to it and having, probably for the first time in my life, something like an eternal perspective. Ray's ministry transcends mere chart-topping, of course. There many other tracks just as memorable as Thank You; furthermore he has dedicated many years of service and giving to charitable ministries that save lives all over the world. As saddened as I am to hear this recent news, I can imagine how much more acutely many others feel the pain. But the Christian community's collective disappointment isn't the only feeling I can sympathize with. I can sympathize with my friend Josh, and in a small way with Ray himself. Josh and I have both experienced the shame and loneliness of dealing with a struggle that you know is reviled by your community of Believers, of knowing that its disclosure could mean the end of friendships and partnerships within the Body — as it did for Josh. I can imagine how that loneliness must have been compounded for an internationally-celebrated Christian recording artist whose career hung by a thread of image perception. Add to that the years of relentless performances, taxing ministry, and personal striving to connect with God all in spite of a struggle that haunts the deepest connections in your life. So, as much as I sympathize with a Church that grieves the lost perception of a cultural hero, I sympathize all the more with a man who has been forced to struggle in secret for decades by the very community he served. In one of his initial statements concerning his "coming out," Ray mentioned trying to overcome his same-sex struggle by reading books on the issue. Books — that's all he felt he had. I know there are many other people the world over who only have that much to turn to, at least for now. Exodus hears from people every day asking for help that we are simply too small to provide. And that's just the people who struggle with this unpopular issue. Would this be true if the Church were what Jesus intended it to be? Are people perceived to be of "ill repute" and sinful reputation drawn to us the way they were drawn to Him? Do we show them His grace and compassion that was so radical and unwavering that He was able, in the midst of it, to call out their sin and transform their hearts? Or do we shoot our wounded? Appearance of Evil Since coming to a national level of ministry, I've encountered a few pastors and administrators who propagate this attitude; they believe real Christians shouldn't have to deal with issues like that. There are many others who don't; they really want to address the tough issues, they want to be transparent and offer support to those who are in trouble. But they still won't — because of how it might look. Specifically, because of how it might look to the people who give the most money. I think the sad reality is that the Church is, in many ways, still grappling with the fact that we'll always be human. I think we're starting to get more comfortable with the fact that your average Joe and Susie Christian can still be tempted by "classic" lust and drunkenness and greed; but we remain hesitant to accept the mortality of our pastors and Christian "celebrities." Why do we do that? Why do we subject those over us to this impossible altogether-Christian image? I think there's a dumb kind of hope in it. Christians who must face their same-sex attractions almost always share that instinctual desire for the struggle to just go away. So for a long time we hold out hope that there's some special plateau that you can get to through therapy or prayer or whatever you mean by "deliverance" where it'll be as if our problems never happened. The more I've gotten to know the rest of the Body of Christ, the more I've seen that a lot of us cling desperately to the same idea, no matter what thorn twists in our flesh. And we want our leaders and icons to exemplify that — to be the ones that "made it." Then when they finally reveal to us that they are not, we condemn them, we cancel their legacies out, we pretend they were never the real thing. Can I just say, as someone who works in full-time ministry, and knows people who have been doing it much longer, that this is all crap? There is no magic bridge you cross or mystic fog you walk through that transforms this life into some ethereal existence. Being in ministry is not like working full-time with Jesus as your boss. I do not bask in His loving glow from nine to five, ensconced in signs and wonders. God has done (and is doing) an amazing transforming work in my life. Just because not everything is resolved doesn't mean nothing ever changes. God isn't making me into a man who never knew what homosexuality is like, but He is teaching me and reshaping me into a man beyond those struggles. I'm still a man, though; a man who needs a God of grace and a community infused with His Spirit in order to keep going. And you know what? That's a good life. Lead by Example Today Josh has found a community of Believers where his struggle with same-sex attraction just isn't a big deal. You know why? Because they expected him to struggle with something, anyway. They also know that his temptations and limitations don't define who he is — not when he's waking up each day with God's endless possibilities on his plate. Ray Boltz has also finally found a community where he feels at peace. I'm not going to say it's real peace — but it's at least the inevitable relief that comes from giving up a years-long conflict. It's still saddening to learn that anyone has chosen a path contrary to what Christ has saved us for. It's worse to know that one of the engines of their rebellion has been our unwillingness to be the safe and Christ-like community they needed in their darkest moments. We all want those brothers and sisters to come to their senses and repent. That's their choice, though; we can tell them the truth but we can't change their hearts or minds. But maybe we can at least show them what it looks like. Repenting from our addiction to the "all together" image isn't about wallowing in our humanness — it's about accepting and loving ourselves in spite of it, and giving our people room to grow. If we turned from our judgmental attitudes, we might just get to know our friends and neighbors for who they really are — and who they are becoming. If we were all transparent and owned our need for the Cross, then we could all transform together. So let's pray for repentance — for ourselves first.

Copyright 2008 Mike Ensley. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. This article was published on Boundless.org on December 12, 2008.

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