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Pilgrimage

Simon is an accredited Baptist minister who prefers not to give away more details about himself than you find in his testimony.  He wrote this testimony at our request and gave us permission to use it here. I, Pieter Lalleman, know him personally.

Hello, My name is Simon and I am an accredited minister, serving as a Hospital chaplain manager in a Yorkshire Trust. It is my privilege to tell you something of my pilgrimage with God (some of us older ones might call it a testimony). 

Why me? Firstly because I really like men and one of my labels/identity is that of being gay; but first a story I recall my first pastor J.D. Monger who was attending Baptist Union council 70’s and the conversation was about Baptist Christians and in his dry way he said, I recall nothing about Baptist Christians only Christians who are Baptists. So, I am here not as a gay Christian but as a Christian who is gay – some may think that is dancing on a pin head, but language in this matter is very important. My I.D as a Christian even comes before me being Welsh. Our society has moved to placing sexual preference and gender matters as a primary identity. Hence we have the yin yang of heterosexuality v LGBTQI+ – as an aside I find it worrying that everything must be either one or other camp – a very narrow way of looking at human sexuality and gender. 

In true testimony style: I did not grow up in a Christian family. Through school (C.U.) I became attached to the local Baptist church, already by 13/14 I knew I fancied males – usually the second row rugby players, Robin Hood (Greene/ Oliver Tobis/early Roger Moore), I believe heterosexuals go through the same at that age; but opposite gender. There was something inside of me that believed this to be wrong and especially once Christianity came into my life – now was that inherent or absorbed from society? That is one of the debates going on for decades – I am not one of those who will say ‘I was born gay’, as a Christian I am a created being, but fallen. 

I told God that His church would not affirm or accept me because of my sexuality, age 17. That was knocked down at a week-end away, so I had to make that decision of taking Jesus as my Lord and Saviour – which I did. Nobody at that stage knew my struggles with my sexuality and we are pre internet. 

I was going away to Teacher Training College and would be living in an all male dorm, How would I cope, at school communal showers had always been nervy – dear Lord please don’t let me have an erection, thank goodness for my bad eyesight.

I immersed myself in college, C.U., other societies, Student Union. One or two people I told, a few guessed. My grounding was to leave it all at the foot of the cross – repeatedly. I never became active at college or put myself in that position. Exmouth did not have a big ‘scene’. I saw heterosexual couples come and go during college life – yes I fell in love. I attended colleagues’ marriages after college – in many ways I had ruled marriage myself out, left it with God. 

So moving to South London and staying in the same church for twenty plus years, I mention the years as that is a stabilising factor in my pilgrimage. Good and bad – I recall a deacon leading a house group saying he rather his son was in jail than gay (no idea of my wincing). Actually his son is serving a life sentence. 

I did tell various ministers, and their response reflected their experience and background (God’s grace is sufficient for all); but ministers come and go. Some people in the church congregation I shared with, others guessed, others had no clue. So, I was affirmed in my position and my pilgrimage.

That is not to say it was all plain sailing, being in a big city there were opportunities, there was a scene (interestingly as homosexuality has become more mainstream those places, safe-places have become less). So, I do know what it is like to snog a man and often enjoyed it. Same as heterosexuals. I also looked for support outside of the local church (having somewhere safe to be, to chat, to be real) and there have been a few around, some better than others – a bit like churches. I have been a member of True Freedom Trust for over twenty years and yes, I have heard the bad things that do the rounds but I have found it a lifeline and a support, like any organisation or church goes through good and bad times or never meet the expectations of some members. For me it has been an important place to face my sexuality and make decisions on how to live as a Christian with a gay orientation. I remember a London group meeting every Friday (soup and sandwiches), great cross section of mostly men – married, single, been active on the scene, etc. Wonderful time of joint pilgrimage. Some stayed on the same road, some did not. Some I got closer to than others, but that is real life. I have read that the founder in his eighties has changed his views – which is a deep sadness; but the organisation continues to serve the evangelical world well. 

I have many cassettes, CD’s and drop boxes, from years of annual conferences. So, I have attended seminars on singleness, belonging, self-control, but for me as the years have rolled by it is the fellowship. I know some have been disappointed: they joined to be healed etc., and some had bad experiences (that is reality as we know from church life). I have taken the line that our knowledge of the Godhead is limited, but if God is God nothing is impossible, but more importantly the example from the O.T. of the three men who were thrown into the furnace whether they got burned up or not they would follow God, is the one I try to follow. That has been true of my careers, my church life, my etc., – on a good day. 

Of course there have been people who prayed for me, some more sensitive than others, some conferences there were speakers who were desperate ‘to minister’!!! – I smiled and needed to wait upon the Lord before giving an answer. 

It is that understanding that I am a created being (flawed of course) and before the creator I have no rights, only privileges and responsibilities. For decades I have been hearing about the gay gene or God created me like this, because we must know the reason why, hence all the writings on psychology, sociology looking at nurture – this will make me sound like a liberal democrat but my conclusion is ‘both … and’, but again what is more important is that walk with God.

I had felt a call to be a minister soon after my conversion, but told God that I didn’t want to: I would just be a lay preacher. Why? Because I was young, because of my sexual orientation and fear of being sexually active. But of course, that can be the same for heterosexuals. When I look back, I can see how the experiences I have had prepared me for full time accredited ministry. I knew from the C of E contacts there were dioceses/places where you could have a boyfriend/lover. Also, as time went by there were denominations that would accept same sex couples, so I worked out if anything happened, I would transfer to one of these smaller denominations – URC came top of my list due to their congregational nature and being able to baptise properly. During the discernment process, firstly writing to the deacons (grey and gay), at regional level, etc., and got that affirmation on this pilgrimage. 

There have been thoughts of marriage, I remember one of my twin nieces asking to be my bridesmaids when I marry – they were 4/5. Of course I said yes but did cry a bit. Yet that is the same for all single people. In my thirties I did go through a phrase of wanting a male heir – to carry on my name – but again that is real life for all singles. There is that realisation that marriage, for the believer, is a privilege not a right. As a created being before my God I do not have rights.

My pilgrimage has had its ups and downs – being single I have greater freedom to do things, mission trips to Slovakia and Czech Republic, Uganda. But you have to make the effort to network, to find outlets/hobbies to avoid unnecessary isolation. True for all single people and many married. 

I volunteered with Terrance Higgin Trust in the 80/90 as a buddy – didn’t want to work with Christians. This gave me insight into the GLB scene, and the question mulled over; how to evangelise – how to care for the eternal soul, how to see the eternal soul safe in the book of life rather than earthly rights. I have supported the move to equal rights, equal civil marriage, etc., but is it too far swinging the pendulum to demand with changing Christian marriage. 

I am human; I follow athletics – but ask myself am I looking because looking has got a bit tighter? 

So how has this move, this petition affected my pilgrimage? It is kind of expected as one has seen it happening through many of the smaller denominations, the less evangelical ones. When I read the names, it hurt me – and I know that was unintentional. Such a request does have a strong element of saying that my long-standing pilgrimage has been wrong and sisters and brothers like me. That has caused me to reflect. Have I been wrong for so long? 

Would we be in, having this conversation if our society had not moved the goal posts? I.e., is the debate driven by the word and spirit or the world and the flesh? My soul, sadly, says the latter more than the former. At Telford assembly in the consultation room somebody had done a piece of artwork saying love is love kind of thing – as we believe in a God of love why has he not intervened earlier if this stance of mine is wrong? That is not the God whom I know and love, who has my eternal soul in his hands. 

Therefore, how do we test new ideas, concepts? I am drawn to the story of Gamaliel from Acts 5, that reminder that which is of God will prosper and that which is not will die on the vine. So looking around at those denominations, churches that have moved on their understanding of marriage; I cannot see great blessing (of course there are exceptions, due to leadership), but it does look like that this new understanding is a symptom of shrinking denominations. I recall a letter in the Baptist Times about a church that moved its understanding on human sexuality but lost most of the philipeones who attended. This makes me reflect on how much this wanting for change is driven by western culture. There is an element of white colonialism. I am sure anybody who has been involved in world mission would recognise the challenges for any church changing its position on marriage/ human sexuality being to engage with the two thirds of the world . 

Yes, this forced consultation has wobbled me, there is an element of anger in me as well and hurt; but as I continue my pilgrimage with God it is still as a Baptist. I am looking towards retirement, and having a railway station, a hospital and a Baptist church – of course those that have moved their theology on marriage and human sexuality will be a no go – you can’t be like Juno and look both ways. If before God I believe an action/lifestyle to be wrong for Christians then I cannot encourage sin. When I did something similar for B.U. Council, somebody from Accepting Baptists did contact me and asked how can we help? So I looked at the website etc., and really my answer is repent and disband, anything else would be dishonest. 

I remain a Baptist and will remain a member of BUGB and I implore my brothers and sisters, old and young evangelicals of all flavours to remain – this is our Union; perhaps we have not always given it the best people from our tradition and repent of that. However, our calling to evangelise is not just locally but also regionally, nationally and internationally. (I recently went to the SENT conference in Norway.) I need my brothers and sisters to affirm my pilgrimage and those like me, who choose to follow the classical teaching on human sexuality. I firmly believe that the classical viewpoint is in the majority, but we lack the language, the courage to say the pendulum is going too far. 

Books

Washed and waiting by Wesley Hill 

A war of loves – David Bennet

What God has made clean – John Richardson (very reformed) 

Living in Sin – Spong (ultra-liberal) 

Love is an orientation – Andrew Marin (the theology section is weak , but the first part about how to engage, whilst American, is worth reading

Living out – website and podcasts 

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