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A Cry From the Valley of Death
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A young man talks frankly about what it means to experience the agonies of homosexuality and AIDS.
Moyer: Ron, were you brought up a Seventh-day Adventist?
Ron: Yes, I was raised in an Adventist home. Both my parents were Adventists. I attended Adventist schools from first grade to college. The school experience was not a happy one for me, perhaps because of the secret consciousness of what was developing within me. Living in the Adventist school system was a very painful experience. In college I studied theology for the first three and a half years, and then dropped out. Later I completed nursing and worked as a nurse.
Moyer: When did you discover that you were a homosexual? How did this make you feel?
Ron: Well, when I was around 5 or 6 years old, I felt that I was different from others. I didn't have a name for it at first, but around 10 or 12 1 realized what these differences meant. It was a very painful experience. It was not something I wanted. It was not something I had chosen. For years I tried to make it not so.
Moyer: How did you deal with this realization?
Ron: I couldn't speak to anyone about my feelings. I was convinced that if anyone knew, I would be subject to prejudice and hatred. I didn't know how common homosexuality was. I thought I was probably the only one in the world. So I lived in an atmosphere in which I always had to hide. I repressed my feelings. It was awful.
Moyer: You had nobody with whom you could discuss your feelings?
Ron: No. I certainly couldn't discuss it with my parents. The church? At that time my concept of the church was that it was not a safe place to discuss such an issue.
Moyer: No pastor seemed safe enough?
Ron: No. There was no one to go to.
Moyer: Do you think homosexuality is fairly common in the Adventist Church?
Ron: I'm no expert, but it seems that within the Adventist Church the ratio is about the same as in the general population, and that's about 1 in 10. Regardless of figures, the reality is that there are people within the church struggling with homosexual issues.
Moyer: Is there any help for homosexuals in the Adventist Church?
Ron: What do you mean by help?
Moyer: Does the church today have any place in its structure or any place in its doctrinal understanding that a person with a homosexual orientation can go and say, "I need to deal with this"?
Ron: Homosexuality doesn't seem to be a topic that the Adventist Church is comfortable discussing. The only option available to me was to stay in the church and pretend that I was "normal." Or else go way out there. Unfortunately I chose the latter. When I was in the system, there was no room to discuss sexual issues at all, let alone homosexual problems.
Moyer: You've heard of the change ministries that claim that homosexuals can be changed into heterosexuals? What do you think of this claim?
Ron: I don't know a lot about the change ministries. I have had some very bad experiences with people from change ministries. I don't feel comfortable with their focus, because I don't feel comfortable telling God what His will is. In my case the most eloquent thing I can do is to submit my sexuality to God and let Him tell me what's appropriate, instead of me telling God what's appropriate and that He needs to change me into a heterosexual.
Moyer: Do you know of any people who have actually ceased being homosexual and have become heterosexual?
Ron: Not personally. I've heard of some, but I think the real question is a little more complex than that, because human sexuality is not so cut and dried. One can't say that someone is 100 percent homosexual or 100 percent heterosexual. There are people with all levels and mixtures of the two. And so it's difficult to say someone has been changed. Some may find it possible to live a heterosexual lifestyle, but that may not be true for all people. I don't really feel comfortable with a measuring stick that tells you when you've graduated from the school of healthy sexuality.
Moyer: I understand that you've had some contact with an organization known as Kinship. What do you think of their work?
Ron: Part of their work was very good, and part of it was very painful. They are doing something that the Adventist Church is not doing, and that is to create a forum for those with homosexual issues. I don't agree with their conclusions on what's appropriate behavior. So my relationship with Kinship has been somewhat difficult.
Moyer: Does Kinship promote a response of uniformity or variety?
Ron: From my limited experience with Kinship I would say a variety of responses. Within Kinship there are those who feel that the best way to deal with homosexuality is celibacy. At the other end of the spectrum are people who feel that promiscuity and everything is healthy and OK. I have really felt uncomfortable with a lot of these positions.
Moyer: You've recently been reconciled, I think that's the right term to use, with the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Ron: I came back to God through a 12-step recovery. I never expected to return to Adventism, and quite frankly I was not amused when God suggested it. However, the reason I have come back to the church is that there are important issues that are unique to Adventism, such as observance of Sabbath and the health message, that are important to me. The Adventist Church has a tremendous amount of truth. I've not always been comfortable with how they have chosen to use this truth. So it's been kind of difficult for me to come back.
Moyer: You are very open in your views about the church and homosexuality. In the light of this openness, how have you been received by Adventists?
Ron: It depends upon which generation we're talking about and what area of the country. I've had a number of different responses, although people have never been unkind to me. By and large my parents' generation can't deal with it. What usually happens is that a wall goes up and they become very uncomfortable and run as fast as they can the other way. I've been very well received by college-age Adventists. They've been very supportive of me, and they can see the valuable me inside, even if they don't necessarily feel comfortable with all of my life experiences.
Moyer: Now you have AlDS. When did you discover this?
Ron: In the fall of 1985 I found out that I was HIV positive. It is possible I was infected in the spring of 1984. And this was back when we hardly even knew about the disease.
Moyer: This sudden discovery that you had AIDS - how did you
cope with this? How did this affect your daily life?
Ron: At first I lived in denial. Because AIDS is an unusual disease and remains dormant in the system for many, many years after one is infected with HIV, one tends to ignore the problem. When I first found out about my HIV infection, the opinion in the medical community was that probably only 3 to 10 percent of those who were infected would go on to have full-blown AIDS. So at the beginning it wasn't much of a threat to me. I just kind of pushed the whole thing to the back of my mind. The reality, of course, was different: almost all who are infected with HIV eventually develop AIDS. That reality hit me harshly.
If I had not come back to God through recovery, I don't know how I would be dealing with it at this point. It is so devastating, emotionally and otherwise. The concept of dealing with one's death while in one's mid-30s is not a normal task. In addition, there is society's outlook on the disease and the way it judges AIDS patients. I've also had to deal with a lot of physical limitations and many changes in my life.
Moyer: As you struggled with the disease, what factors helped you the most?
Ron: The 12-step program has been most useful in dealing with the illness as well as recovering from sexual addiction. But I can't really separate 12-step from my Christian experience. An appropriate understanding of the gospel has really helped me in dealing with my mortality.
Moyer: That's a beautiful statement. As you reflect on your experience, what should the church do for those who suffer as you do?
Ron: Officially, the church has not been very helpful to me. In fact, I haven't really sought any help from the church, again because I didn't feel it was a safe place. At the local church level, however, I found acceptance. I can openly talk about the issues of homosexuality and AIDS. As far as what the church "should" do, it's a tough question. It's hard for me to dictate what's appropriate behavior for someone else.
But perhaps there's something the church could do. We've always said that we are a loving people, and now it seems that we have a chance to prove that. Dealing with AIDS is a very difficult situation, and it raises all sorts of other issues, such as whether or not we feel comfortable with the concept of homosexuality. The church has no healthy forum where young people can discuss this issue. But we can't wait for an official stance - those of us who feel compelled to love because of who God is and because of our relationship to Him should be able to work through this issue and find our own ways to reach out to the AIDS community.
Moyer: As one having AIDS, what do you really expect the church to do?
Ron: First, the church should be clear about what God says about homosexuality. I do not believe any more that homosexuality is a healthy lifestyle. Many Adventist churches are not willing to address the issue. There are other churches that are willing. But we aren't willing to talk about the issue at all. I need to belong to a church that's clear about what God's will is in this area, at least what my perception of God's will is in this area.
Second, I need to belong to a group of people who can recognize that there's a valuable person inside here, one whom God loves very deeply. I'm tired of dealing with rejection. It's painful.
* This interview was adapted from a taped conversation. Since then, Ron has died. We have used a pseudonym to protect "Ron" and his family.
-- Bruce Moyer, STD, is the associate director of the Institute of World Mission, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.
This article was published in the
November 1996 issue of Ministry magazine,
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