In the 1980s, I started a group called Courage, to “cure” homosexuality. Although today the “ex-gay” ministry seems offensive, back then it was cutting edge, in that we were reaching out to the gay community. The rest of the church just said, “You’re wasting your time, they’re going to go to hell.” We didn’t have a “deliverance” approach, but there were some ministries that regarded homosexuals as being possessed by a demonic spirit that could be cast out. We adopted the psychoanalytic idea of an unfortunate family background: distant father, overbearing mother – and this was just a boy looking for a father’s love. The idea was that if placed in an affirming male environment, you’d grow out of your desires.
I’d known I was gay from about the age of 13. I got on well with girls, but I didn’t feel the sexual chemistry I felt when I watched Richard Chamberlain in Dr Kildare. In those days you could never talk about it. It was a lonely, frightening world.
Then, in 1973, I started going to a Baptist church. It was different from the Anglican one I’d been brought up in. It taught the Bible as being literally true. When I confided in the pastors, they said that resisting homosexual urges was the same as resisting the temptation to steal or lie.
Even though the law changed in 1957 with the Wolfenden Report, the rest of society lagged behind. There was still a sense that what I felt was criminal. But back then, nobody had sex before marriage. That I couldn’t have a relationship didn’t seem too bad when all the people around me weren’t either. It got more difficult later on, when one by one they got married and I was still on my own.
Then, in 1986, I came across a group called the True Freedom Trust and went to one of their meetings, for lesbian and gay Christians who wanted to “overcome” their sexuality. This was the first time I’d met any gay Christians, and it was a huge relief. One evening there was a young man visiting from San Francisco who told how this “ex-gay” ministry called Love In Action had saved him from being a male prostitute. He talked about how God could change your life and how part of that positive change was you wouldn’t be gay any more. I went to train with them, and returned to England to set up Courage. We ran a residential programme called Steps Out Of Homosexuality. People came from all over Europe. I did feel attractions, but we believed wholesome friendship was the answer, so I turned my battles into a great cause.
In 1991 I married an amazing woman, the first to lead a (free) church in the UK. We were both in our early 40s, had been good friends for many years, and did not want to be on our own for the rest of our lives. My wife is not a lesbian, but we thought we could at least live a life of companionship and mutual support.
A few years later, we had to close our live-in discipleship houses, but I kept in touch with people afterwards and was dismayed to see what happened. Once people were on their own again, their world collapsed. Family and friends would say, “So, when are we going to hear wedding bells?” It never occurred to them that maybe you are gay because that’s just the way you are. I began to see more people losing hope, getting severely depressed. One made a serious suicide attempt.
By the end of the 1990s, the only ones doing well were those who’d accepted they were gay and found a partner. It was as if a great burden had been shifted, that they thought, “Now at last I know who I am. I know I’m in love with somebody and they love me.” I thought, this is the kind of result we hoped they’d achieve living an upright Christian life, but they’re finding that contentment just being themselves. I began to think that perhaps we’d got it really wrong.
I still run Courage, but now it’s with a belief that you can be gay and Christian. We offer a chance to meet other gay Christians and support committed same-sex relationships. It’s been difficult for my wife, because she’s naturally very concerned that I might therefore decide, “That’s it, I want to go and find a man.” But we’re coming up to retirement age and I wouldn’t feel happy just to leave her – feeling abandoned after all we’ve been through together. Ours may not be the traditional heterosexual romance, but the care for one another’s wellbeing is just as real. I try not to look back, but I know I’ve missed out in a big way – and so has she. She should have been with some heterosexual guy who adored her, as she should be adored.