His Grace is Enough
What do you do when you realise that the person you have married is gay?
It is over two and a half years since my husband, Jeremy, decided to leave our home for the third time after 23 years of marriage. Why? Because he is gay and determined that he must be authentic and live his life as a gay man. Through no fault of mine or his, we no longer live together; yet we have not separated in the usual sense of the word.
We have not fallen out – we have not wavered in our love for one another – we have not ditched our commitment to one another and the promises we made all those years ago.
To say that this has been a painful road is an understatement; it is not a path that either of us would recommend! Our feelings of loss have been searing for us both: but perhaps, for a while, the greater agony has been mine since I am the one left behind and currently live alone: Jeremy has already found a new companion.
We have, in many respects, walked hand in hand across this rocky terrain. We have encouraged, supported and loved each other through a most difficult time ... indeed our love and commitment is strong as ever.
But yet – despite the love we most definitely share – Jeremy is gay and I am (so called) ‘straight’: I still find this terminology extraordinary! I have struggled very much in coming to terms with ‘the way things are’ and would never, in a million years, have expected to be in the position in which I find myself today.
Before I married, most would say, that my career was a successful one: I had spent ten years in the teaching profession, and was offered a Deputy Headship in the Primary Sector, which I turned down since I knew that God was calling me into (so-called) full-time Christian ministry. I left teaching behind and worked in the leadership team of Guildford Baptist Church. It was in GBC that I first met Jeremy – a friendship was forged and we met occasionally to ‘catch up’ with the happenings in our lives.
My time in the team at GBC didn’t last very long: I believed that God was calling me to help establish a new church: and so Guildford Community Church was born, I was part of the ‘founding team’ for many years. The charismatic movement, of which we were a part, had differing views about ‘women in leadership’ and the new church had to decide whether I was in leadership by default or design. It was a long, hard struggle but eventually everyone agreed that my place in the team was God’s divine purpose and I ultimately went on to lead the church. In the course of time it became clear that I should move on and hand over the reins of the church to someone else; I knew that God had something in mind but I was not anticipating marriage! I knew Jeremy’s story – I knew that ‘he had been gay’, but our friendship blossomed and we married.
Marrying Jeremy meant I had to relocate, leave long established friends and family behind (though some of us remained in touch) and leave my role in the church and wider community. The gay world to which I was introduced seemed – on the one hand loving – yet on the other hand a strange, elite world to which I was uncertain that I belonged.
There were other complicating factors too – the main one concerned the church to which the Courage ministry was linked: it was staunchly against acceptance of women in leadership: this was totally alien to me and though I struggled to understand and accept their beliefs, I could not agree and so an ultimatum was issued by the church pastor that I should reject the belief that ‘women should be allowed to lead’. The very notion of giving up the values I had come to cherish, releasing women into their full potential, challenged my integrity. I believe those values are God given. This was ground that had become part of me, and I was not prepared to give that away!
You might now be wondering why Jeremy and I wedded in the first place! Despite everything neither of us regrets it! In 1991, our views about gay people were conservative, traditional and the normally accepted opinion (both then and now) within Evangelical churches. I expected Jeremy to have been ‘healed’ of this gay ‘malady’: he was in leadership and forging ahead with a new and exciting ministry called ‘Courage’ designed to ‘help free gay people’. Fortunately Jeremy had always insisted that Christ be our focus and the focal point of our community we sought to serve.
Back then I barely gave homosexuality a second thought: why would I? After all, I had known Jeremy for nearly twenty years before we married! I knew he was an ‘honourable man’ with a reputation of ‘growing in stature with both God and man’.
But as the years progressed it became clear that the people who came to us, and who had in many cases given up homes, jobs, families and even their country to join our community were not being ‘healed’. These Christian people were sincere, spirit-filled, God fearing and upright men and women who were plainly not being ‘cured’ of being gay at all! In fact their faith in God was being slowly but surely eroded and undermined as expectation of the ‘cure’ seemed as far away as ever! We began to ask ourselves what was wrong, how could this be?
Gradually over several years we realised that we were batting on the wrong wicket! God accepts gay people just as they are: as he does everyone else: ‘black and white, slave and free, male and female!’ How could we have been so blind?
Returning to my story … For whatever reason I never felt fully part of Courage because I am not gay. This was not Jeremy’s message or his intention. But I decided to return to teaching, forged a second career in education and ultimately became a Deputy Head. From the late 90’s onwards Courage became a safe haven for many gay people: it was deeply moving to see one after another being restored to their faith in Christ and accepting their homosexual identity. In a sense Courage had to process through a period of ‘positive discrimination’ toward ‘gay’ people and fortunately I understood this, having been a pioneer for women in leadership years before.
Gradually, I withdrew and, over the remaining time that the Courage ministry existed I became – what I can only call – a non-person. I became invisible. I was part of a world in which I did not fit. Added to that some of the Christian men and women I had ‘grown up with’ seemed to forget that I was still alive!
In the last two decades I have met thousands of Christian gay people: and I don’t think that I have met a single one who has chosen to be gay. This fact is largely due to, what I believe are, false expectations placed on gay people by the church, leading the overwhelming majority to surmise that ‘You can’t be gay and Christian!’
However, resulting from fresh understanding many gay people are now living openly as gay men and women. It is nevertheless, a great sadness to me that I have witnessed firsthand, the appalling prejudice and ignorance from Christians in all denominations concerning gay men and women.
Spouses with gay partners have fared no better and have also been subjected to all kinds of silliness like (said to an already traumatised wife):
- ‘Your husband is gay because you are not having enough sex with him!’ or
- ‘You must not tell a single soul about this matter’ or
- ‘We must bring this out in the open and tell everyone!’ or
- ‘This is a church disciplinary matter’ or
- ‘You must leave the church: you are tainted with sin’ or
- ‘It is immoral to be associated with this man/woman: you must divorce’ or
- ‘You may come to services but you cannot hold any position of ministry’.
Like thousands of others, Jeremy and I no longer seem to fit in with the Evangelical wing of the church. When we returned to Guildford in 2002 we were given the offer of ‘conditional membership’ from the church I helped to found in the late eighties and eventually went on to lead. But as events began to unfold we said ‘no thanks’. This was an extremely painful reality and emerged thus:
When Jeremy left home the first time in 2006, I didn’t want anyone to know because I feared people’s reactions and I was already distressed enough! I wanted to remain in charge of my own destiny rather than others taking decisions for me that I wasn’t ready to make. The church team to which we were then affiliated had other ideas and whatever I said to them made no difference: tell who they wished they did! ‘People must know’, they chanted! This made an already traumatic and painful situation ten times worse! I was right to be sceptical of others’ reactions; rather than seeking to cover my shame, they exposed it! We were failures and somehow tainted. Rather than being comforted, it seemed to me that I had been judged. Update August 2015: I am now very pleased to report that one of the team of which I have spoken has now apologised to me in person and so reconciliation has been able to take place.
For whatever reason, I had not computed that because Jeremy is gay, in order to be truly who he is, it would mean leaving me! (In the sense of not living under the same roof.) Jeremy loves me unwaveringly, confirming this in many ways. However, the day came when the proverbial rubber hit the road with an almighty crash! This was compounded by the fact that my oldest and dearest friend was diagnosed with secondary cancers in the brain – the very same week!
Over the past 32 months I have often found myself having to defend Jeremy (and other gay people too) – to friends, family and church, especially concerning Jeremy’s trustworthiness, his integrity and his desire to be authentic. I am acutely aware that some people, especially Christians, have an emotional reaction when faced with the subject of homosexuality: I believe this is instilled from birth and grows within – as the ‘acceptable response for Christians’. The stance that Jeremy and I have taken has had to be carefully explained countless times, when I could have done with support myself! I have been in a very lonely and isolated place. ‘Church’ has seemed out of the question because many Christian communities do not seem willing to engage or even acknowledge that this issue exists! Some friends suggested there was a need for ‘clarification’ of our situation: but I was never sure what to say, since I felt engulfed by confusion and uncertainty.
The grieving process
Twice Jeremy left, because the stress and strain within became too great for him; but finally he left again for the third time in August 2012. After the initial shock of that dreadful August day, which will forever be imprinted on my mind – the searing pain, the questions, the anger – I have slowly but surely come to accept our situation as it is. Acceptance has proved to be critical over the past two and a half years. I don’t see Jeremy’s actions as unfaithfulness or adultery; though that’s often exactly what it feels like! That Jeremy is a noble man I have always known – I knew therefore that there had to be another explanation. I did not understand the depth of Jeremy’s anguish, the pain he daily struggled to cope with; yet at the same time loving me! I began to wonder. ‘What would I feel like if I lived in a society where the norm was to marry someone of the same sex yet knowing that I was ‘wired’ differently and to marry the same sex would be anathema?’ I can barely imagine the horror!!
I have asked God many times the question why? Why me? That is a question which remains unanswered, but what I do know is this: God has said to me over and over again: ‘My grace is sufficient’. Other questions come and go, like: What on earth am I living for? I am beginning to find out… hope ebbs and flows but I have good days now… yet still too few of those! Someone once told me the story of a man who, in great poverty, said when he was rescued, ‘I didn’t know that Jesus was all that I needed, until Jesus was all that I had!’
This then is my story… It ‘seemed like’ I had nowhere to go to hide my shame – that my marriage had failed. At least I had ‘almost’ nowhere to go, other than to our creator of course! I have also come to see that my ‘aloneness’ – to some degree – has been self-inflicted, almost self-protective! But I thank God from the bottom of my heart that there have been some close friends who have kept in touch, ringing up when I had no energy left to pick up the phone, who have taken initiatives when I seemed unable to move, who have prayed for me when I had no idea where God was in this unholy mess, and who have listened to my pain without judgment: you know who you are, and may you be richly blessed because of your selflessness, kindness and patience!
The better news!
Neither Jeremy nor I believe that the mental and emotional suffering we have faced has been for nothing, either in our own lives or in the lives of others who find themselves ‘in the same boat’. There must surely be a place for those of us who are or have been married to gay partners; often referred to as: ‘Mixed orientation marriage’ or MOM for short .
It seems that too often spouses of gay men & women have no place to go. I have asked myself: What would I have wished for when this ordeal began?
- To know someone else who had been in this place before, and come through …
- To know that someone else cares about what’s happening to us …
- To know that someone else will pray when I could not …
- To know someone else who realises that hope will come… eventually… even when all looks dark to me …
- To know someone else who will be with me on the journey …
- To know someone else who sees that our situation does not equate to ‘our’ failure …
- To know someone else who realises that this is not my fault …
- To know someone else who understands the gay/straight tension …
- To know someone else who will accept us, and love us back to normality once more!
So now it is my turn to reach out to anyone who feels the way I felt:
At this stage, all I can do is respond to emails; and my aim is to respond to each one, even though it may take a while! I am still a full-time teacher; I am now instructing prisoners who want to have an education that they never had when they were young.
I will respond to you when I can: so that you will know that ‘you are not alone!’
February 2015 (updated August 2015)
Bren can be emailed on: [email protected]