Some Personal (and Painful) Recollections Regarding Sexual Sin
Years ago my wife and I saw the film “Moonstruck,” in which the actress Cher made some insightful remarks during one of the movie’s key scenes:
“A person can see where they’ve messed up in their life, and they can change the way they do things. So maybe my nature does draw me to you. That doesn’t mean I have to go with it. I can say ‘yes’ to some things and ‘no’ to other things that are gonna ruin everything. I can do that. Otherwise, you know, what good is this life that God gave us?”
Whenever I hear that dialogue, I’m reminded of a quiet January evening in 1984, when the conflict between my sexual and spiritual desires finally reached its peak. It had to be faced, and decisions had to be made.
I was twenty-nine years old by then, feeling at least fifty, and realizing that I’d already lived three distinct and irreconcilable lives: A wildly promiscuous kid, a rigidly pious young minister, then a compromised adult who’d tried—and failed—to mix Christianity with sexual sin, hoping against hope it would all work out.
The Promiscuous Kid
The promiscuous kid was shaped by events that were mostly out of my control, at least in the beginning. I didn’t ask to be born sensitive, for example, but there I was, a shy, tow-headed loner who felt every slight or insult a hundred times more deeply (or so it seemed) than other boys. I cried easily, which never helps a guy’s social standing, and was awkward in groups. So I created a safe world of books, daydreams, bike riding and long solitary walks.
Less safe was the real world I was avoiding: two older brothers who seemed light years ahead of me in confidence, a highly driven Dad who made it clear I wasn’t exactly every father’s dream, and a strong belief that I was unacceptable, stupid, weak and, above all, very, very different. I’ve never pinpointed the source of that belief—I know neither my parents or brothers really wanted me to think so little of myself, but by the time I reached my eighth birthday, I was certain the “reject” stamp on my forehead could be read from a twenty yard distance.
That was the year—1962, my eighth one—when my mother, having heard of pedophiles hanging around our downtown area, warned me to never go to certain theaters where they were rumored to be. “There are men at those places who’ll want you”, she stressed. “So never, never go into that part of town alone.”
Assuming that “wanted” meant “liked” or “cared for,” I couldn’t imagine what Mom’s fears were about. So even as I promised never to go there, I began plotting how and when I would. Because nothing sounded better to me than the thought of being wanted by a man.
That Saturday I rode my bike to the area I’d promised to avoid. Mom had named a few downtown theaters that were considered dangerous. I located one of them, a legitimate but rundown movie house, stashed my bike, bought a ticket, and stepped into the lobby.
I lounged around there, munching candy and waiting for the movie to start, not sure what, if anything, was supposed to happen. Several other people were milling about as it got closer to showtime, all looking pretty normal—couples, parents with kids, a few loners like myself. Not a sinister looking character in the bunch; for all intents the place was a typical theater showing a two-part matinee.
Just as I was deciding Mom had worried about nothing, I noticed a middle aged, friendly looking man striding towards me. Smiling.
What strikes me to this day is how normal it all seemed. I was standing by a movie poster when he approached. He asked if I’d seen the film yet, what sort of movies I liked, and how many times a week my parents let me go to the theater. If he was sizing me up I sure couldn’t tell. All I knew was that a nice man was interested in me. In me! And I drank it up like a thirsty puppy.
I didn’t want sex. I had no idea, in fact, sex existed, much less what it was like. But I’m sure, after fifteen minutes of conversation with this genial guy who so obviously liked me, everything in my eyes and attitude was saying “Whatever you want, as long as you keep liking me, I’m game.”
He asked if I needed to use the bathroom before the movie started. I said yes, walked into the men’s room, and found a stall.
He followed. Then he put a warning finger to his lips, looked over his shoulder, stepped inside and locked the door.
When it was over, he told me two things that would impact my thinking for the next twenty-one years. “You’re good at this”, he said over and over. “You’re really good.”
And he told me he had friends.
A child’s molestation can never be used to excuse an adult’s sexual sin, but I’m convinced molestation does cause, in all cases, confusion. And confusion would become my theme, as over the next two years I accepted money, gifts and affection in exchange for sexual favors to this group of seven or eight men who had a virtual harem of kids at their disposal. It stopped when I grew older and less compliant, and I never told a soul until my teen years. But I’d been awakened sexually, and looked for outlets wherever I could find them. Playboy magazine became a primary source, as I noticed my fantasies about the female body were growing as I reached puberty. A local liquor store kept the magazines in a rack easy enough to steal from, and I developed a habit of snatching the porn, using it almost daily, withdrawing even more into the dark magic of sexual fantasy.
When I entered junior high, I tried acting those fantasies out on any girl who seemed willing. There were a few, and we experimented to whatever lengths they would allow. So by the time I reached ninth grade, I’d had many partners. By the time I reached high school, I’d begun seeing adult men for sexual encounters as well.
The Pious Young Minister
The role of a promiscuous kid began its decline when an unusually beautiful brown haired girl asked me, during my junior year, if I’d like to attend a Bible study with her. Having no idea what a “Bible study” was, I accepted. I’d have accepted if she’d asked me to a dental visit, that’s how enamored of her I was. She was kind, confident, gorgeous, and sexually unavailable, a fact she made clear from the start. But she seemed interested enough in me to ask if I’d like to have dinner, then visit this new “church” in Orange County, where she promised I’d see “incredible things.”
I couldn’t have been more intrigued: A beautiful girl, dinner, and a Bible study topped off with “incredible things.” The year was 1971, when the hippie movement was still in full swing and the country was ripped apart with social upheaval. It took a lot, in those days, to generate my interest. This date certainly qualified.
The church was Calvary Chapel, and the speaker was Chuck Smith, who is regarded today as the father of the Jesus Movement and one of the world’s finest Bible teachers. And that night, listening to Chuck’s clear presentation of gospel as being the only remedy for the human condition, a tug on my heart began. It would pursue me for three months until, exhausted from conviction and my resistance to God’s grace, I found a quiet spot in a park across the street from my school during my lunch hour, prayed, received Christ, and was born again.
Those were heady days, those wonderful times in the early part of the Jesus Movement. Kids were lining the streets in droves outside Calvary Chapel (and churches across the country, for that matter) waiting to find a seat, hear the word, and grow. And grow we did. I sat under Chuck’s teaching five nights a week, devouring Bible studies, loving my new life. The girl who’d evangelized me knew her work was done, as I was in no position to pursue a relationship. And of course, I stopped all sexual activity and the use of porn. My life turned the proverbial 180 degrees, and I couldn’t have been happier.
Until a few months after my conversion: I noticed sexual feelings and temptations re-emerging. I chalked it up to lack of prayer and spent even more time in private devotion begging God to remove the fantasies and memories that kept intruding. And to my horror, prayer alone didn’t do it. Fasting was the next step, then marathons of Bible study and more prayer. And still, my eyes would wander over girls walking past me in the halls; my thoughts would go back to homosexual encounters that seemed a hundred years in the past. So I concluded there was something fundamentally wrong with me—so wrong, in fact, it made me one of the worst, most perverted Christians in the church. I had an unspeakable secret: I was a Christian who harbored very un-Christian sexual fantasies and attractions. And I was the only one.
That seemed obvious, because no one (or so it seemed) talked about having sexual struggles in those days. Which is remarkable, because many spoke freely about their struggles with drugs, alcohol, or violent tendencies. We’d routinely hear testimonials of people who’d been delivered from satanic practices or life-dominating habits, and we’d rejoice. We’d hear prayer requests for people still wrestling with cravings for illegal substances, and we’d sympathize. But no one, it seemed, ever had, or struggled with, sex.
I wasn’t about to admit I was the exception. So I guarded my secret, even when I eventually entered the ministry full time, serving God and the church with a zeal that, to this day, amazes me. A new, independent church had formed in my city. When its young pastor invited me to join its leadership team I eagerly accepted, leaving Calvary Chapel and becoming involved in the development of this new work. Much of what drove me was love for Him; much, I know now, was a fear of being exposed. I reasoned that the more I served God, the more I could atone for the wretched and (from my perspective) extraordinary sexual temptations I had on a daily basis. It never occurred to me that God didn’t require me to rid myself of temptation, that my obedience was what He wanted, and in fact was what He was getting. I never considered using pornography or bedding anyone outside of marriage, but that, I was sure, wasn’t enough. I craved reaching a point where I’d no longer be attracted to anyone. I would, I swore to myself, become completely clean and whole, absent from any lust. And a rigid combination of spiritual discipline and ongoing ministerial service would be my method.
For five years I tried. I preached, played the piano, taught Bible studies, married, baptized, and performed funerals. Sadly, the church I had aligned myself with became too big—too commercial. And as we grew in numbers and outreach (including regular television and radio broadcasts) we diminished in integrity. By the time I was twenty-three I’d had enough, and tendered my resignation.
The Compromised Adult
Without the covering of the ministry to fall back on, I was especially vulnerable to the sexual temptations which had never really left me, and so began a decline I will go to my grave regretting. I started frequenting adult bookstores, picking up hookers, and eventually entered into an affair with a close friend’s wife. It ended when she became pregnant and aborted our child. And I began another relationship, this time with a man, the owner of a local gay bar. It lasted some months, burned itself out, and I realized I couldn’t possibly keep this sort of life up. The bar scene, with it’s craziness and fast pace, was too much. If I was going to indulge myself sexually, I’d have to find another way. The wildly promiscuous kid had evolved into the pious young minister, but now the pious young minister would make way for a confused, licentious, and miserably compromised adult.