Friends Who Struggled, and Mercy That Truimphs in the Face of Homosexual Temptation

John C. Rankin

[excerpted from First the Gospel, Then Politics …, 1999, Vol. 2, not published]

In 1973, I had a friend who had recently professed faith in Christ. He also professed to have come out of homosexuality, as he had shared this struggle with a circle of Christian friends. Yet I was truly without a clue as to the nature of homosexuality back then. Once he made a calculated, subtle but sustained attempt to draw me into his homosexual world. But I was completely oblivious to what he had attempted until years later, and I think he knew that I did not interpret his conversational direction at all. I later learned that he thought new life would erase temptation, and when the temptation returned after an initial season of euphoria, returned to the homosexual world. The cost of discipleship was not obeyed at that juncture, but that is decades ago, and who knows what followed.

I had a college friend who trusted in Jesus in 1974, and was my roommate during my senior year. In 1985, at age 29, he was among the first wave of men in the country to die of what had become known as AIDS. He was fun, full of life, and a good friend to many of us in the Christian fellowship. Yet during those several years, he tried to give certain signals of “help” to a mutual friend, and even once  in depth with my wife-to-be. But we were not tuned in.

In 1979 he visited me, my wife and our infant son, and we got amusingly lost together looking for a restaurant north of Boston. In 1985 he called me from Philadelphia. He had bounced around in various occupations, and last I heard was set to enroll in an Episcopal seminary. In his phone call he said he was living in some sort of residence for men, and we talked for quite awhile. He never broached any personal subjects other than to reminisce, and to find out how we and our three boys were doing. Underneath it all I could sense something amiss, but I did not have a clue, and I was not pushy. Yet I knew he was giving a clue in terms of this “men’s residence,” but I had no idea what he meant by it or how or if I should pursue it. So we had a nice conversation.

Several months later I learned that he had died of AIDS. And yet it took some minutes for me to grasp what I then learned. It turns out that he had long been an active homosexual, grew up an adopted boy always seeking the love of is father, who frequented the “bathhouses,” and yet  struggled at various junctures to overcome it. He also expressed to a mutual friend how amazing it was that none of us in his Christian circle of friends ever had a clue, and yet he was sending signals all the time. He died at home under the care of an Episcopal priest, as he placed his trust in Jesus for the mercy that triumphs over judgment.

I have a friend, musician Michael Kelly Blanchard. In his song, The Man As A Boy, he tells the story of a man whose childhood friend, Donny, grows up, becomes a homosexual and dies of AIDS. As a boy, Donny’s life was spared in an accident where it was clear that it was God’s grace to him. And as he lay dying of AIDS, his question was whether or not God still loved him. When you listen to the song, it is hard not to be overcome with emotions. It is the story of the Gospel, of the mercy that triumphs over judgment, here for one who sought it.

We all reap what we sow, regardless of the given issue, nature or context. And such reality has an inexorable power to draw us to our need in the sight of God. The Gospel always to seek to touch such a common need, to win a relationship, not a debate for a debate’s sake, and as relationships are won, truth and mercy also win out.