The Games Christians Play

300px Tying friendship bracelet The Games Christians Play

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. (John 7:24 ESV)

The past two weeks have been tiring. Work has been outrageously busy, and my personal life has been eventful, to say the least. And after all of this, I find myself tired, depressed, and in short supply of hope for the future. Upon becoming a Christian almost 3-1/2 years ago I was very concerned about how I would be treated within the church. I had felt called by God to follow Him, and in the process, leave behind my past of homosexual sex and focus on pursuing a life that I felt would honor God. And always somewhere in my mind was this idea that I would never truly be fully accepted by a large part of the church.

This fear I’d harbored has finally materialized in an ugly and unexpected way last week. I was accused very matter of fact-ly by the wife of a good friend of mine, a fellow Christian, of having a sexual affair with him and of wrecking their marriage. I was shocked and hurt beyond words. Firstly, this friend and me had never been involved in anything that was even remotely sexual. He is heterosexual and I am not aware of any struggle on his part with issues of same sex attraction. He and I had taken a long time to get to the point of having a stable and confident friendship. I say this because for a while, he was never quite sure of my commitment to Christ and celibacy. This used to frustrate me, but I did understand his caution on some level. It simply wasn’t something that was commonplace at this church or in his experiences – men coming out of a homosexual lifestyle and pursuing Christ. So it frustrated me but I got it. He needed time to know if he could trust me. So after a few years of friendship, for the past 6 months or so, it has seemed apparent to me that both he and I had found some type of security in the friendship. Something had gradually shifted to a point where whatever barriers each of us kept in place had seemed to have fallen. For my part, the feelings I had that he treated me differently because of my past had largely gone away. And for his part, it seemed as if he had gotten to the point of trusting me completely with respect to my past life, and treated me as he would any other good friend. We found ourselves in a good, close, and significant friendship and both of us would openly describe the other as a best friend.

A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends. (Proverbs 16:28 ESV)

I tell my friend that I love him quite frequently, and he tells me the same (1 Sam 20:17). We often hug when parting ways and didn’t see any harm or shame in it (1 Sam 20:41-42). It seemed rather clear to me, and I am sure to him, that good male friends can do this. That yes, even men who are experiencing no form of sexual temptation for the other can say “I love you” to the other and can feel comfortable with a hug as a gesture to express that love, or maybe as a way of giving and receiving comfort in a world where trouble seems to abound. None of my Christian brothers in the men’s group I attend seemed to think anything of it. The pastor didn’t seem concerned about it. But unfortunately my friend’s wife did think something of it.

My friend has had what I would describe as a rocky marriage. Both he and his wife have certainly contributed to the problems they face, which I won’t go into here. Certainly there are some trust issues within the marriage, some of which is understandable. But what seems to be a driving force behind the accusations and lingering difficulties is just the amount of time that my friend and I spend together, as well as the willingness on my part to help him out when he needs a hand. She seems to feel threatened by my friend having other close people in his life. Unfortunately my friend’s wife seems to think that this detracts from the amount of time that the two of them can spend together. In reality though, we often hang out at times when his wife is at work. We would go bowling, workout together, run errands, etc. While in the early years of the friendship, I probably was guilty of making too many demands on his time, I don’t feel this to have been the case for the past several months. Oftentimes the opportunities we have had to spend time together were initiated by my friend, as I was generally leery of placing too many demands on is time and consequently causing him difficulties with his wife – I have by no means been perfect at this, but unquestionably better.

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:14-15 ESV)

In fairness, I want it known that my friend’s wife later apologized for calling into question the truthfulness of my testimony about being celibate for the past few years. She also apologized for accusing me of having a sexual relationship with her husband. I found her apology to be sincere and heartfelt; and believe completely that she regrets saying those things. I have no doubt that my friends wife knows Jesus. I have seen her grow in Christ over the years and overcome obstacles in her own life. But I am still left thinking that she continues to feel that my friendship with her husband is inappropriate and she seems to spend a lot of time scrutinizing it and looking for some kind of malevolence on my part where there is none whatsoever.

What seems to be one issue at the heart of all of this is that my friend sometimes lies to her about seemingly inconsequential things. I don’t always understand why he does it – sometimes I do (but I can’t condone it), and I can see how the lies of a husband – even if they are over minor things, can lead a spouse to have suspicions that something is amiss. And because of my past, I was an easy target for her to fire off at. My friend knows that honestly is sometimes a struggle for him, and I truly believe that he is fighting to be better.

I’m going to leave things there for now, as I don’t really care to rehash all of the remaining details of the past couple of weeks. I’ll just say that the tension between my friend, his wife, and I continues. And it frustrates and disappoints me so intensely because I have been a vocal supporter of their marriage in all those times they were struggling. I never bashed my friend’s wife, while at the same time staying loyal to my friend. I encouraged him repeatedly to not give up on the marriage and to trust the Lord to be at work not only in his own heart, but his wife’s heart as well. All those times of encouragement and emphasis on his marriage made those accusations from a week ago just that much more stinging. In no uncertain terms, it hurt me badly.

And I am left feeling somewhat without hope that I will ever be able to develop a friendship like this one again. One in which a heterosexual Christian brother came to a point of trusting me enough to say the words “I love you”, and fearing no “gay” connotation being applied to his love. And just when he and I got to the place of having a deep, open, and faith driven friendship, another factor comes into play and threatens to force it to an end.

It leaves me fearful for my future and brings to the surface many of those feelings of loneliness that have bubbled up at times over the past few years. My friend is very important to me, but not as important as his marriage is to God. And while I would not end this friendship solely due to his wife’s errant placement of blame on me: I don’t agree with her opinions of me or of my friendship with her husband – but I would end it if I felt it was the will of God….His will that in order to preserve their marriage I need to step back from the scene; for a time or forever. I know the conflict between his wife and I, as well as the struggles they face in marriage is not in the least bit due to me or anything I have done – these events between my friends wife and I are merely a symptom of some other underlying issues between the two of them. In effect, their own problems are expressing themselves for the moment as a need for her to blame me for their internal conflicts. But for now at least, it seems that my actions; actions which are well intended and sincere, are causing problems for her by her inability to understand a good relationship between two men; best friends. And after years of  mixing friendship and sex in my pre-Christian years, that these problems are arising now, at a time where I have been focused on being a good Christian brother to this particular friend – a brother who encourages him in his faith, is kind to him, helps him when he needs a hand, and stands by him in all of his struggles, and generally just being a  friend whom he can rely on at all times – is just especially devastating to me and leaves me wanting to give up on the idea of finding and maintaining close friendships within this body of “believers”.

It is exhausting and demoralizing to feel that one’s sincerity and faith is continually doubted and questioned. That people will make you the scapegoat for their own failings and mistakes and blame you for problems that are clearly their own. And I wonder just when will my past – a past that I have renounced and turned from, finally be a non-issue. It took me a couple of years to really come to a place where I believed that people in my church accepted me and that my past was not an issue with them, but those old fears and suspicions of being kept at arm’s length by my Christian brothers and sisters have most definitely re-surfaced as a result of the events of these past weeks.

Oil and perfume bring joy to the heart, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. Do not abandon your friend or your father’s friend, and do not go to your brother’s house in your time of calamity. Better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away. (Proverbs 27:9-10 HCSB)

And lastly, this friend I reference here, my best friend, has been a great friend to me indeed. He has stuck by me through many ups and downs in my life. And I haven’t always been the greatest of friends to him – there have been times where I didn’t treat him in an especially friendly way. I experienced a fair amount of anger and self-pity in giving up my old life  to join with this community of believers – and my friend experienced being a target of some of my anger at times…but despite that, he has proven himself to be a loyal, caring, and generous friend to me. Like all of us, he struggles with his own flaws and shortcomings, but I respect him, and I respect his desire to be a man of God. It burdens and saddens me to think that his determination to stick by me has caused him further struggle in his marriage. I’m grateful that he has remained steadfast in his friendship to me, even through these recent events. It is a further testament to his growth in Christ over the years I have known him.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)