'Of course, no one is really gay'
The Rev. Peter Ould shares his experience
I will tell you a bit of my story, and also tell you why I made the lifestyle choices that I did.
Now in my 30s, I grew up in Sheffield. My father was an international contract lawyer, and my mother was Austrian. I had meningitis when I was 15, went to university at 19, and moved to London at the age of 23.
It was at the time of the move to London that issues around my sexuality first emerged. Up till then I had thought that I was just waiting for the right girl to come along. But one evening I was in my flat, watching MTV, and I saw a man on the screen. ‘I could snog him’, I thought.
People talk about ‘feeling gay’. For me, it was a sudden realisation that this was my sexual attraction. I went to speak to people in my church, and ended up talking to a man from an ex-gay ministry. I remember being asked if I wanted to change. Here was I, aged 23, realising that I was attracted to my own sex. It was very real, and I was interested in simply coping with it, rather than thinking about whether I could change. I did, however, realise that there was a clear conflict between my feelings and my theology.
The stats don’t add up
Now in my 20s, and an evangelical Christian, two things made me acknowledge God’s plans for me. The first was my academic training as a statistician. At the time when I ‘came out’ to myself, there was a lot of scientific stuff about homosexuality in the media. I was reading all I could get. But one thing struck me: none of this stood up to hard analysis. Either the sample groups were too small, or the repeat studies refuted the claims. I was, therefore, convinced that there was no firm evidence that my same-sex attraction was hard-wired. It was this conviction that first made me move to where I am today — and where I now want to live everyday.
Christ and the Church
Secondly, I began to understand the power of signifiers and symbols as, coming from an evangelical background, I explored in greater depth the Catholic heritage of my faith. I was looking at Genesis 1 and also at Ephesians 5, which describes the relationship between Christ and the Church. Could I justify a same-sex relationship theologically? I used to hang discussions on the meaning of certain Greek words. And yet, I discovered that there was an overarching theme in the Bible about the Christian man being called to signify Christ in his marriage, and that this theme applied to me. In the same way, Ephesians 5 showed that a Christian wife in her marriage signifies the Church. But if you have a husband and a husband, where is the Church? And if you have a wife and a wife, where is Christ?
My theology seemed to be right, but after 18 months of praying to God, and not changing, I heard God asking me, ‘If you take seriously the truth that your choices about sexual behaviour ultimately speak about Me, will you let me do with your life whatever I want? Will you be celibate if I call you to that?’ This was a real challenge to me. It suddenly seemed as if God wasn’t offering me what I wanted, namely change, but rather was calling me to let his will be done, whatever that was.
So one very tearful night I finally said to God, ‘If that’s how it’s going to be, I will remain celibate’.
My real identity
Four weeks later, I went on a prayer ministry team weekend with my church. We were in the garden of one of the members of the church, and a girl asked what we should do if someone came for prayer and said they were gay. The vicar replied, ‘Well, of course, no one is really gay’. It was as if someone had thrown a switch! Up to that point, even though I realised that the Bible never makes the distinction of gay or straight, and simply calls us to be the man or woman that God created us to be, I still felt identified internally as gay. It was what defined me, because I didn’t know anything else. But suddenly I thought, ‘That’s not my real identity! I’m called to be a man, not gay or straight. God doesn’t make that distinction, and therefore neither should I.’
It was as though a weight had lifted off me. By the time I had driven back to London and joined in the evening worship service at church, I suddenly realised I was no longer thinking of myself as homosexual. I realised I was the same as all the men next to me. There was nothing different about me, either in what I was capable of, or how God viewed me. God had begun the work of healing the wounds of my past.
As I was growing up, I failed to make close emotional ties, both with my same-sex peers and with adult role models. I was small, unsporty and annoyingly intelligent and precocious. I was a geek! I didn’t know how to relate to boys or men, and though I wanted to be a man, I had no idea how to do it. When you grow up not feeling like other guys, you can grow up feeling as though you do not belong. Being gay, however, finally told me who I actually was and where ‘I belonged’. Finally understanding who you are gives you some form of security and identity, so taking a step away from that is almost like stepping into nothingness. It was really scary.
Deep work of healing
Despite this, from the time of that prayer ministry weekend, God began to do an amazing thing in my life. As I brought to him the brokenness of my past, his Spirit began a deep work of healing those wounds. If you get measles, you don’t put calamine lotion on the skin to heal it, rather you tuck yourself up in bed and let your white blood cells fight deep within you to rid the body of the harmful presence. In the same way, God healed the wounds in my past. The wound of having no same-sex peers or adult role models, the symptoms of same-sex attraction and the need for affirmation from a man — these things disappeared. It was not that the ‘rash’ had been healed but that the ‘virus’ had been dealt with.
Today, I am a completely different man from the person I was in my teen years and early 20s. Far from being afraid of men who were different from me, I began to discover that I was the same as they were. I no longer think of myself as heterosexual or homosexual, I’m simply Peter, whom God created to glorify him in his creation. I’ve seen God heal my past and change the desires and emotions that were trapped by it. He’s called me not only to help others walk in freedom, but also to enable the Church to respond with compassion and care to those whose sexuality is broken, as mine was.
Peter Ould, serving in the Diocese of St. Albans, pastors people with same-sex attraction. He was involved in setting up Redeemed Lives UK. He is married to Gayle, and they are expecting their first child in May. He is the curate at Christ Church, Ware. See http://www.peter-ould.net.
This article is an extract from God, Gays and the Church: Human Sexuality and Experience in Christian Thinking, editors Lisa Nolland, Chris Sugden, Sarah Finch, published by Latimer Trust (Paternoster) 250 pages, £9.99, ISBN 978 0 94630 793 7.