On Sunday, Paul Barnes, founding pastor of the 2,100-member Grace Chapel in this Denver suburb, told his evangelical congregation in a videotaped message he had had sexual relations with other men and was stepping down.
Dave Palmer, associate pastor of Grace Chapel, told The Denver Post that Barnes confessed to him after the church received a call last week.
The church board of elders accepted Barnes’ resignation on Thursday.
On the videotape, which The Post was allowed to view, Barnes told church members: “I have struggled with homosexuality since I was a 5-year-old boy. … I can’t tell you the number of nights I have cried myself to sleep, begging God to take this away.”
Barnes, 54, led Grace Chapel for 28 years. He and his wife have two adult children.
The parts in bold are the one’s that jumped out at me. More on those after the jump.
First, this story strikes me as incredibly sad and unnecessary. It’s sad in a number of ways. Naturally, it’s devastating for Barnes and his family. According to the Denver Post article, the man was an introvert who avoided politics.
Unlike Haggard, who had the ear of the White House, Barnes is not a household name. He is a self-described introvert who avoids politics, preferring to talk about a Gen-X service at the nondenominational church he started 28 years ago in his basement, church officials said.
Barnes and Grace Chapel stayed out of the debate over Amendment 43, a measure approved by Colorado voters last month defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
“I can’t think of a single sermon where he ever had a political agenda,” said Dave Palmer, an associate pastor.
Palmer said the church got an anonymous call last week from a person concerned for the welfare of Barnes and the church. The caller had overheard a conversation in which someone mentioned “blowing the whistle” on evangelical preachers engaged in homosexuality, including Barnes, Palmer said.
Palmer met with Barnes, who confessed. At an emergency meeting Thursday, a board of elders accepted Barnes’ resignation after he admitted “sexual infidelity,” violating the church’s code of conduct. Church leaders also must affirm annually that they are “living the moral and ethical teachings of Scripture in my public and private life.”
First, I think this may be where I draw the line on outing. If the guy wasn’t engaging in gay-bashing from the pulpit, or getting involved in legalizing discrimination against gays, than I think I would have left him alone, unless I were a friend of the family and had concerns about his infidelity to his wife. Then I might take it up with him personally.
But what strikes me as most sad is Barne’s own statement:
“I have struggled with homosexuality since I was a 5-year-old-boy. … I can’t tell you the number of nights I have cried myself to sleep, begging God to take this away.”
Earlier I asked my heterosexual readers “When did you know you were heterosexual?” And though I asked it someone facetiously, it was a serious question, asked because of the assumption that gays are just maladjusted heterosexuals who don’t know it yet, and that gay youth are “too young to know” if they’re really gay, but heterosexuals can “just know” from an early age.
But Barnes knew at five years old. I can relate, because so did I. I can remember going all the way back to kindergarden an affinity for other boys that didn’t have a name until I was much older, and didn’t develop into sexual attraction until puberty. But it was there. In just about every grade I can remember being fascinated with one boy in my class in a way that would now be called a “crush”; in kindergarden it was a boy named Thomas with a soft and fluffy afro, in first grade it was a red head named Dvid, in second grade a brunette named Sean, and by fourth grade I was head over heels for Alex and on the cusp of realizing what those feelings meant.
The difference between me and Barnes is that I spent the next 30+ years accepting my sexuality and finding a healthy way to incorporate it into my life. And I think I’ve succeeded in doing that, in a way that makes for a much happier life than anyone around me at the time told me I could expect. Barnes on the other hand spent 49 years “struggling” with his sexuality, unsuccessfully. Maybe it’s because of the messages he received early on, when his own feelings were developing.
In their only talk about sex, Barnes said his father took him on a drive and talked about what he would do if a “fag” approached him.
Barnes thought, “‘Is that how you’d feel about me?’ It was like a knife in my heart, and it made me feel even more closed.”
When Barnes experienced a Christian conversion at 17, it gave him a glimmer of hope. But his homosexual feelings never went away, he said. He said he cannot accept that a person is “born that way,” so he looks to childhood influences.
I head similar remarks from my father when I was growing up, and I know what it does to a child to hear that when he knows in his heart that he’s one of those people his dad is talking about. When I came out to myself and my classmates at the age of 12, I stopped having parents in an emotional sense; in the sense that I could talk to them about what I was experiencing, and count on them to be on my side when no one else was. Not when it came to that.
Maybe I was luckier than Barns, because I found resources to help me out; in the form of a book that explained everything and included biographies of gays & lesbians living happy and productive life, and a therapist who’s response when I came out to him was “Let’s work on the whole person and just let that part fall into place where it will.”
The other difference between me and Barnes is that I’m pretty sure I was “born that way.” I’ve never been any other way. And though Barnes may look to “childhood influences,” the article doesn’t indicate that he’s found any. None of the usual cliches the other side trots out apply to me; wasn’t ever molested or seduced by an adult, didn’t have an absent father or a domineering mother, etc. And anyway, the same environment also produced my two heterosexual siblings. So, while Barnes has spent the last 49 years “begging God to take … away” part of who he’s apparently been all my life, I’ve reached a point of accepting that I am the way I was intended to be. What I do with it is up to me, and I think I’ve done pretty well.
I’m not saying all of this to gloat, but to point out for the umpteenth time that stories like Barnes’ are not just sad but also unnecessary. No one needs to live that way, and any systems or cultures that require people to live that way are lacking in compassion and humanity. Requiring people to tie themselves into knots in order to fit into their prescribed boxes inevitably creates twisted people.
Here’s the thing. When you prefer or even require your homosexuals to be closeted and/or psychologically and spiritually tormented, you do not get to bitch when something like this happens, because you made it inevitable.
See, when you start moaning about why this was exposed now, as opposed to questioning why there was anything to expose in the first place, you’re digging down levels deeper than your usual baseline neurosis, which is the equivalent of if ignoring the fact that the elephant you’ve been pretending isn’t in the room has just crapped in the middle of it. And he’s crapped just what you’ve been shoveling all along. What doesn’t occur to you is that if Foley and Haggard had been able to be healthy, happy, honest homosexuals in your world (an impossibility because first you have to be willing to consider that one can be gay all those things as well) then Foley would still be in Congress and Mark Jones would still be an unknown former male prostitute from Colorado instead of the newest media whore from Colorado.
But back to what I said. You made this inevitable? How? Well, I’m reminded of a saying I heard in recovery circles years ago: We’re as sick as our secrets. I’d extend that by just adding that our secrets make us sick. Require someone to keep a secret, or construct some pretty serious disincentives to honesty, and … well … you make people sick.
The the thing is, they have nothing better to offer.
What’s always struck me about the whole “ex-gay” thing is that even at their most benevolent, the best they can offer me is this: being gay means that I have to expect less and accept less from life. Being gay means I deserve less from life. I don’t deserve love, I don’t deserve family. It doesn’t even elevate celibacy or “living a chaste life” to the status of a calling, as it might for the priesthood or monastic life. Indeed, a gay man — “chaste” or not — would be barred from both, based on history. At best, it’s a lifelong burden that you didn’t ask for or do anything to acquire. (That’s pretty much led me to believe that any “god” who’d create such a set-up — on the one hand saying that we shouldn’t exist, and continuing to churn us out on the other — would have to be one sick, sadistic son of a bitch.)
Haggard and Barnes may be like a whole lot of other people for whom changing sexual orientation doesn’t work and lifelong celibacy isn’t something they can maintain. Even some evangelicals acknowledge that there’s a significant failure rate and that maybe guys like Barnes and Haggard are going to have to find a way to live with their sexual orientations. Haggard’s been “struggling” unsuccessfully his whole life as well, and Jesus hasn’t seen fit to help him out.
The best they can offer is a lifelong, losing battle. It’s just not necessary. I can look at my own life as evidence that people don’t have to live the kinds of lives and lies that Haggard and Barnes have. At least not unless other’s want them to and make sure they do, because they prefer it their homosexuals that way. And when it’s possible to live a happy, healthy life as gay man, to want people to do otherwise or even try to make them do otherwise is a shame. And a sin. Or it ought to be, anyway.