When I was a little boy in the days after my father left us, I did my best to follow my older brother wherever he went, at least in his pre-motorcycle days when all it took was tennis shoes and determined stalking. We lived in a town that had deep paved drainage ditches that ran beneath the roads, creating dark, cool "caves" in the summer, carpeted with a green slippery slime and a flow of water that could range from a sticky trickle to a roaring rush. These were our roads most traveled.
But, there was one spot where I always stopped and breathed deeply before entering. The road above was wide, which meant the tunnel below was long. Standing in the bright sunshine, I could scarcely see the dot of light at the other end . . . and I knew that when I stepped inside, my eyes would adjust slowly and my feet would be unsteady. The depth of my vision would leave me in an odd state of not being able to sense how far it was to the top . . . or to the right . . . or to the left . . . or to the end. My brother, braver, older, more familiar, more adventurous, would plunge into the dark and disappear until I would finally see him as a dark figure silhouetted against the distant light of the opening. By the time I would make my way through, he would be gone, perhaps by design.
I remember going through that tunnel with my hands outstretched in front of me to feel the things I already knew were not there. It was usually a clear path, but I would strain to touch the presumed obstacles. I would glance futilely into the black to my left and right, wondering what might be hiding there. I would stoop a little, fully aware the roof of the tunnel was many feet above me . . . but, in the dark, who knew what might reach down to snare me.
It wasn't really a very long tunnel, but the one you are going through at the moment is always the longest.
I could feel that darkness.
Years ago, when I first began writing this blog, I wrote a lot about my personal journey through sexual brokenness: the double-life wherein I was unfaithful to my wife through homosexual encounters, disappointing to my children, deceptive to my friends and brothers and sisters, unrepresentative of my faith, distrusting of Christ's strength in me, deafened to the Holy Spirit, going my own way, seemingly hopelessly tied to a pursuit of satisfaction through same-sex sexual activity. Homosexuality was an unwelcome, controlling and consuming part of my life -- though craftily hidden -- despite the fact that I had a wonderful wife, five beautiful children, a great career and was involved -- with as much sincerity as can be mustered with the presence of an invading dark side -- in church leadership. I served as a Sunday school teacher, deacon and then an elder.
I've written a great deal about the days where the darkness inside me spilled out like a bursting dam and threatened to drown or wash away all who knew me or cared to. The power of the long-silent sin rushed against the foundations of my life and things crumbled and devolved into a mess that seemed beyond sifting.
My life reached a point where I was so desperate and distant from reality that I was arrested in a park and charged with offering to engage in a lewd act with a total stranger. Sometimes, however, even public humiliation is not enough to turn the tide back against you. Found not guilty in the first case of an actual charge, the reality is that in my heart, I was guilty. The point truly was not whether I did do something, but whether I would have.
Buoyed by a perpetual sigh of relief, I relaxed to the point of falling again, deeply wounding my children, who discovered that I had begun to use the Internet to communicate with strangers, discussing potential sexual activity, word pictures that drove them first away from me and then towards the church for help.
I don't blame them. We are led to believe as Christians that there is no greater hope for love and restoration than in the arms of those with whom we are one.
The events -- my arrest and trial, e-mails and discoveries -- led to a decision by Trinity Baptist Church in Norman, OK, to place me under church discipline, just over six years ago. I made a full confession before the church body, significantly more detailed than required, but with that in-shock certainty that all would be well from that point on. My intentions were so good they were gilded. The spiritual discipline journey would take a book in itself to describe, but suffice it to say I did not live up to the church's requirements for proof of repentance and was voted out as a member on April 23, 2006 -- almost six years ago.
Separated from most of our five children, most of whom remained under the authority of the church leadership, Lisa and I joined another church after explaining the reasons why I was churchless and lacking a letter of recommendation. I was accepted on my statement as a repentant born-again believer saved by Christ.
I have always wondered, seeing people whose lives have been devastated by a natural tragedy or an overwhelming loss of loved ones in untimely death, how they go on. In time, they do. And they laugh again one day . . . and even in the reality of knowing how abruptly and malevolently things can turn in life and how mountains do indeed crumble, they even sin again. Such are people like me -- and there are far too many -- that despite how rigorous the work restoration, how hot the flames of spiritual damnation delivered by those who deem themselves our judges, we emerge from the pursuit of purity not without blemish. Perhaps I was not necessarily destined to fall again, but I did.
For those of you who have not wandered through the dark and seemingly-endless tunnels some men and women do -- of sexual addiction, homosexuality, pornography addiction, adultery or other form of sexual brokenness -- reach deep within and thank God for the grace that He has extended to allow you to avoid all that . . . and then extend that grace to those who dwell in an undefinable darkness. You don't have to understand it, but you can at least not add to the defilement the person feels already. Churches do have a tendency to do that: "Just in case you don't realize you are less than a donkey's ass, let us make one thing perfectly clear: you are. But we love you." (Church hate speech?)
Realize also that people rarely spring free in a leap from the sinful crevices of sexual brokenness. It is a squirming and bending and pulling and pushing and exhaustive process for most, with a fair amount of slipping, a back-and-forth of looking down and reaching up that finally puts their head above the stone walls of entrapment. Don't expect overnight success from a sexual struggler. And don't stand at the top ready to play Whack-a-Mole when he finally gets brave enough to peek out of the hole.
I was arrested again in May 2009, something I have never denied and, in fact, have written about in this blog and extensively in an additional blog: The Weight of Who I Am. In the wrong place at the wrong time and caught in a sweep, a conversation about prostate surgery and its side effects led to 12 hours in the county jail. As a result, I experienced for a second time church discipline.
Before the 2009 incident and undeterred by it, I had been working through my repentance, taking full advantage of professional counseling as well as teaching and fellowship within an organization composed of men and women restored from sexual brokenness and now committed to helping others find freedom. I realized that it was important -- despite my admitted bitterness toward Ronnie Rogers for what I believe was inappropriate involvement in the lives of my children and for blocking the potential for healing in my family -- that I return to Trinity Baptist Church to allow the discipline process to unfold and meet the expectations of the elders. Part of my hope was that, in doing so, I might be able to take some steps towards restoring relationships with my children. (The five now range from 25 to 33 and have eight children of their own.)
In December 2009, I offered to return to Trinity Baptist Church to fulfill the church discipline. I received this reply from Pastor Ronnie Rogers. You will need a thesaurus and a dictionary to work your way through this letter, something I think should never be necessary when Christians communicate with each other.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009 – e-mailed by Ronnie W. Rogers, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, to Thom Hunter:
“Am I still a member of Trinity…?” The answer is NO! Read the Scriptures: Matthew 18:15-20 (note the words “Gentile” and “tax gatherer”), 1 Corinthians (note the words “remove the wicked man”), Romans (note the words “turn away from them”), 2 Thessalonians 3:6 (note the words “keep away from”).Members of Trinity Baptist church seek to live for Christ, support and nurture our individual families, love and edify the body of Christ, preserve unity, and pursue purity; of this there is no true evidence in your life.
You said:“I tried very hard to be honest about the church discipline process.” Please save this for those who do not know you, or have you forgotten that I have a tome of documentation chronicling decades of your deceit. For example, I read your appraisals of the discipline process, which appraisals, correspond to reality about as much as your claim to repentance.
You said:“I honestly stayed away from Trinity in part because I felt that if I appeared on the property I might be escorted off.”
While many of our services are open to the public, they are only open to the public who do not pose a threat to the church. Consequently, while it may possibly be legal for you to come onto the property of TBC—I am not a lawyer so I do not know the definitive answer to that potentiality—I do know that your presence at TBC for anything at any time would be detrimental to your children, whose lives have been lacerated by your relentless unbridled wielding of your sensual stiletto, and also the members of this body because:
What kind of shepherds would we be if we welcomed someone, when we know, based upon incontrovertible, insurmountable redundant verification, that you are as committed to continuing your bovaristic sensual escapades as Paul was to take the gospel to the Gentiles. To welcome you to TBC in your perennial unrepentant state, maugre your claims, is to invite the judgment of God, for we would then show the same shocking disregard for His word as you.
You are welcome on the premises of TBC when you follow John’s admonishment to the Pharisees (Matthew 3:8), the elders see paternal love and respect in your children’s eyes—something you have callously stolen from them—when you complete the disciplinary assignment and publicly repent according to John’s prescription, when your presence brings edification, unity, love, righteousness, and truth to the body of Christ rather than a swath of spiritual destruction—maugre your habitual dissertating to the contrary.
TBC is a place where God’s people joyfully walk, serve, and worship under the authority of God’s Word, which you ever so publicly, scandalously, and flagrantly spurned and denigrated by your ostensible trustfulness, which was repeatedly, with mathematical precision, later shown to be more brobdingnagian, craftily carved self-serving sin.
The things extolled by Scripture and this church have been for years and years repudiated by your public, brazen revolt against everyone and everything decent, and your presence has crushed the lives of all of your God given wonderful children, innumerable lives outside of the church, and now in at least two churches, therefore, your presence poses a “real and present danger” to the spiritual well-being of these bodies of believers—as you do with any local church, although they may be unaware of it for a while because of your mastery of the art of deception. Consequently, are you welcome at Trinity for any occasion? NO
In now almost 30 years of being involved in church discipline, I can honestly say that the accumulation of all of the sin and deception of the lives that have arisen to the place of requiring formal removal, when compared to your arrogance, shamelessness, depth of deceit and unmitigated disregard for love of family, church, truth, God or anything sacred demonstrated by your love for self and sin is comparable to the flicker of a candle compared to the fires of hell.
I know you better than those whom you are still able to deceive, and while I am not a lawyer and thus assured of the legalities regarding your right to walk into a public service at TBC, as a theologian I am assured of the unmitigated gall and arrogance that would even foster such a consideration in your mind; moreover, as a pastor I am charged with guarding the flock against all spiritual attacks, and your rank as a threat is extreme based upon the objective facts—this quite contrary to the surfeit of your asseverating your repentance.
I see you based upon your behavior in light of Scripture, which characterizes you in no uncertain terms, as a spiritual wolf, Acts 20:28-29, Matt 7:15-16; an evil man who continues to creep into the church Jude 4, rejects authority Jude 8, cares for yourself Jude 12, continues to cast up your own shame Jude 13, speak arrogantly, grumble, find fault with everyone who exposes you and requires more than your words as proof of repentance, flatters people who are unaware that you exploit them with false words 2 Peter 2:3, cause divisions Jude 19, are worldly minded, devoid of the Spirit, revel in deception 2 Peter 2:13, have eyes full of adultery and that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in sin 2 Peter 2:14, speaking arrogant words, entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, and a slave of corruption 2 Peter 2:19.
I stand by the scriptural description of you based upon indisputable facts recognized by all who know your ways (Romans 16:17-18), which includes all of your children, the elders and people of TBC, the pastor at Berry Road, lawmen, judges, etc.
Therefore, we guard the flock from you Acts 20:28, in order to protect the spiritual life of this body of believers (1 Timothy 6:20), and follow the words of the Spirit of God to “reject a factitious man” (Titus 3:10-11) until you follow (Matthew 3:8) which you for thirty years have mocked as a myrmidon of self.
Those to whom you show this letter in order to once again portray yourself as a bonhomous weak victim just seeking a helping hand, will only be deceived because they do not know Scripture, you, or carry the burden of praying regularly that God will heal the profound wounds you have wantonly inflicted upon your children, all the while intensifying their pain by your unabated spiritual skullduggeries and invectively attacking them and anyone who refuses to let you distort truth, facts, or Scripture for your own aggrandizement.
Some think to call a terrorist a terrorist is too harsh; Jack the Ripper a criminal worthy of death too un-redemptive, and this letter to you lacking love. For the naive, when you have crossed their path they will be wiser, and I pray for their protection. For the unsuspecting, we pray for security. For the interim pastor at Berry Road who apparently wanted a new member more than he cared about truth or your spiritual health, thereby becoming willingly derelict of his calling and therefore unleashed your sin in and upon the church, putting the entire church at risk and causing his successor pastor Josh Wagner and his leaders untold anguish as they sought to deal with you biblically, nothing less than his repentance will ever make that right; and that is true of every pastor who knows of your being formally disciplined by now two sister churches and yet arrogantly adds your name to yet another church roll.
This is equally true of any leader of a ministry designed to help homosexuals, who repeatedly imbibes at your cistern of deception regardless of the poison he must digest each time. If the consequences of his credulity were not so grave and eternal, such a leader’s disregard for truth and frivolous behavior would be laughable.
But alas, these are indeed your prey in waiting; now Thom, before it is ever too late, as so oft you have, go quickly and allure them, devour them and tarry not, for your time for such nefarious skulking is fleeting indeed!
When your children come to the elders with one heart and one spirit overflowing with the salve of a father’s love upon the wounds they bear deep within their empty hearts, and tell us that you are changed, you have repented, we will with open arms and tender hearts commit to you once again as we have done in the past, that we will walk, pray, and support you through the trials of recovery.
Watching and Waiting,
Ronnie W. Rogers
Though years have passed since my receipt of this letter, the pain is immense when I read it. For several reasons. One . . . I recognize the person about whom Ronnie talks, the me of the past. Though repentant and forgiven by Christ, I will always bear the burden of the harm I inflicted on others and will forever struggle to truly forgive myself for it. Secondly, I know that, while this particular letter is pointed at me, its disdain and dismissiveness are way too familiar to other Christians who have struggled with sexuality and found themselves tottering on the brink of self-destruction only to reach up from the pit to find other Christians prying their fingers from the rim.
Thirty years is a long time for anything, and a particularly long time to have your life dominated by your battle with sin, the ups and downs, the days where freedom seems at reach and the days when it seems beyond the breach. When our fellow Christians determine to remind us of our painful and destructive past, do they not realize that every day is already an anniversary, every minute a milestone of something in our past, every second a reminder? My regrets are as immeasurable as the salt of the sea.
Particularly painful is to know that many Christians who fell long and hard into the dark will always be seen by many of their former brothers and sisters as permanently broken to the point of only being marginally useful for the Kingdom . . . and perhaps even seen as a constant threat, a wolf only waiting for a new opportunity to prowl. What the church does in the name of protecting the flock and our own sensibilities is often the most arrogant persecution practiced.
For instance, in the more than six years since church discipline began, resulting in my removal from Trinity, not one of the church leaders or members has approached me to determine whether the heart-longed-sought-after repentance ever occurred . . . the expressed reason for the discipline in the first place: "Our earnest heart's desire is to see full repentance, along with restoration of the 'joy of the Lord' in your life and family, as well as testimonial restoration of your church family." Every communication with the church has been initiated by me and rebuffed in turn.
Not a phone call? Not an e-mail? Not a follow-up of even the lightest variation?
Not one. I truly wish I could say that the actions of the church leaders had some positive impact, but I cannot . . . and that is not a statement made on a whim. Could they have? Yes . . . but not through a man determined to elevate his own spiritual standing, and his position as an authority on church discipline, by denigrating the very worth of a man over whom he had authority and thus, at least, some responsibility.
About two-and-a-half years ago, I began chronicling my journey through repentance and healing here in this blog -- nearly 200 posts so far, striving to not only continue through the struggle into full repentance, but also to help others who have experienced sexual brokenness, particularly unwanted same-sex attraction. During that process, my life has changed dramatically and I have seen what happens in our lives if we consistently and persistently seek to discover our personhood in Christ and not in persons. Signs of a Struggle led to the writing of two books, now available. Do we not have a responsibility, when rescued, to turn back with a hand to those who still flail behind us?
In recent years, the "watching and waiting" expressed by the pastor has resulted in direct attempts to thwart opportunities offered to me to use my own experience of redemption and grace to help others, to pay forward the comfort I received from God in times of trouble to those in their own deep trouble.
In November 2009, I was approached by The Baptist Messenger to write a two-part series about how the church could better minister to members who struggle with homosexuality. The first part ran, attracting the attention of the Norman pastors, who proceeded to make serious threats against the editor of the Messenger, putting the entire future of the publication in doubt should part two run. Part two, of course, did not run in the Messenger, although it did run elsewhere: SBC Voices. Perhaps you can tell me what was so dangerous about them.
Last year, I was approached by the organizer of a major men's retreat which draws upwards of 3,000 men and asked to be a presenter, with the topic Sex and the Church: This is No Time for Silence. Again, the Norman pastors threatened a boycott of the retreat and to reign terror on the organizer. My venue was removed. In hopes of keeping the subject in the retreat so men who attend can still hear the Biblical truth about homosexuality and pornography addiction -- immense threats to Christian men and women -- I have made suggestions for men to replace me who might be more palatable to the blind guides of Norman.
I believe Ronnie's attempts at spiritual superiority and spiritual discipline are more akin to spiritual abuse and terrorism and that, in the case of our family, he multiplied the harm for reasons only his own sinful heart can see clearly and then refuse to acknowledge. That's what sin does, and, in some cases, it perfects itself in those who are spiritual leaders.
I don't know how many times I have been told by well-meaning people that time takes care of all things and that it will only take time for all of this to work itself out. The only time I embrace now is eternity and the only Thing that will work all of this out is God. It takes more than a pompous pastor with a hefty thesaurus, a boatload of anger, and a thirst for vengeance.
The years have passed and I can write these words with greater motivation than just venting or putting a picture to the ever-present sorrow. There is a greater purpose. We need, as men and women of the church, to see that our responsibility to love people back to wholeness and holiness is not detoured by squeamish, hand-washing ministers who over-protect their flocks like some mothers spray germ blockers and distribute antibiotics.
I know that many of you have members of your family -- sons or daughters or brothers or sisters or mothers or fathers -- who are already entrapped in sexual brokenness. You should not have to choose to hide your concerns about their addictions for the sake of protecting them from the church. You should be able to get help from your church to help them and to keep your family together. It is a long haul and it does not fit nicely into church calendars and themes. However, though some pastors and church leaders clearly perform this important role very poorly, the church is still the greatest hope we have for helping our loved ones find freedom.
In the past few weeks, I have been participating with others in an effort to read the entire Holy Bible in 90 days. I was struck by the stubbornness of just about everyone in Exodus. Pharaoh and the Egyptians for not letting go and the Israelites for not letting God. A verse inspired the title for this blog post because I found myself envisioning what the Egyptians must have felt in the plague of darkness.
I passed through a deep, dark tunnel into a light that once seemed to be only a pinpoint. Sadly, by the time I made it through, a lot of people I thought might be there, are gone, perhaps by design. For those of you who have only just entered, or are standing inside that darkness, feeling the sludge beneath your feet and imagining the things which might be on your left or right or reaching down from above, just walk. Step by step. Some will wait for you at the other end. Let the others go on, for they are ill-equipped to greet you.
Please help launch my new book, "Who Told You You Were Naked?" The Counterfeit Compassion of Culture, just released and available on Amazon.com. Please go to the link and read about the book. I think you will definitely want this one! Let's arm ourselves against the lies of culture.