I grew up in a close-knit Christian family. There was never any doubt that my parents loved me. My father was the busy pastor of a small church who also worked another full-time job. I grew up with strict Christian discipline, and our family life revolved around the church. There was little time for anything else. I didn’t get to spend much time with my dad or with other boys my age doing “man stuff.”
There were no other boys in our neighborhood, so I played with my sister who was one year younger. Even at school I was more comfortable playing with girls. I was not interested in sports; I preferred music, drawing and reading. In second grade, my teacher wrote on my report card, “Tony needs to spend more time with the boys.” She was right. From childhood, I was the shy, quiet kid trying to hide my true feelings. I thought I had plenty of reasons for shame. When I was about six years old a man whom I admired molested me. This sexual encounter led me to believe that this was the only means to acceptance and intimacy with another man.
Although I was never molested again, I found myself waiting for it to happen. To my young mind the reason it never happened again was because I wasn’t good enough; I didn’t measure up. Feelings of inadequacy began to take root in my life. What I really craved was closeness with a man, but I associated it always to the sexual act.
By my early teen years I found myself equally attracted to boys and girls. Emotionally, I still enjoyed the company of girls and would sometimes do the boyfriend/girlfriend thing just to keep a friendship. But puberty seemed to come slow and late for me. It reinforced my insecurities to see physical changes in other boys at school. I didn’t realize it, but my desire to become a man turned into lust. That lust for manhood led to homosexual desires. I began to believe that I was gay. At the same time, I knew I could never speak my feelings out loud. Sexual issues were never discussed in my home or in my church. I felt obligated to resolve this issue on my own.
These feelings stayed repressed during high school and college even though they were always just under the surface. I never acted on them during those years in any way. Living in a dorm where other men respected me did wonders for my ego and self-esteem. My best friend introduced me to a sweet girl and we started dating. For the first time, I had an intimate relationship with someone who affirmed me and loved me. I was sure that since I had never acted on any homosexual tendencies, I could keep them repressed and her love would be my healing.
We were married after our second year of college with my secret turmoil intact. We were very much in love, but our love did not bring healing. I had never become a man. In my own mind I was still a little boy, so my wife became my nurturer, almost like a second mother. This dysfunctional relationship worked only because we dedicated our home to the lordship of Jesus Christ and because of my wife’s unconditional love for me. We had four children, and even though my struggle caused tension in our home we kept the appearance of the perfect family. I became a minister and a strict disciplinarian as my father had been.
Several years into our marriage a friend brought an x-rated video to our house, which I watched with him. At first, I was repulsed by it, but I found that through pornography I could fulfill my fantasies without actually acting out. So, one movie led to another. Movies led to magazines. Magazines led to the internet. I continued to delve deeper and deeper into pornography until I found myself addicted and unable to break the cycle.
Eventually, when I found myself alone with a gay friend, fantasy wasn’t enough. I gave in to his sexual advances and to my own lust for a period of time. After these encounters, I knew that something had to change.There was no fulfillment or happiness for me in that kind of relationship. What I had been looking for since I was a six-year-old boy was not found in sex with another man.
I wanted help, but I kept this sexual addiction as my shameful secret from everyone, including my church family, my wife and my children. I was sure that my life would be over if anyone ever found out what I was doing. I imagined that I would lose my ministry, my livelihood, my family, my friends, and possibly my freedom, my health and my life. I did not realize how the opposite was true. By holding onto these shameful secrets, I was literally killing myself.
Diseases of which I had never heard began to attack my body. I developed ulcerative colitis, pericarditis, debilitating arthritis, and gall bladder disease. There was no family health history to blame for these, and they were not contagious diseases. Each time I visited my doctor he would ask me about my stress level. My answer was always the same, “I’m fine.” He already knew what it would take me years to figure out: stress can kill you.
Trying to live two different lives, one public and the other private, is very stressful. The Apostle Paul describes this lifestyle in Romans 8:13, “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” I tried to manage the sickness and function normally, but it was impossible. The sicknesses took control of me. I became weak, lost weight and became dehydrated due to the inability to eat and the loss of blood. While I knew my condition was serious, I still had hope.
Late one night, I was lying in the back of an ambulance being rushed to the hospital. A paramedic was holding the printout of the EKG he had just performed on me. He pointed to a couple of peaks in the jagged line on the paper and said, “This shows you’ve had a heart attack.”
Those words will put panic in the mind of a 36-year-old man. However, at the very moment he spoke those scary words, I looked past him and saw the city lights through the windows in the ambulance door. I felt an assurance from the Holy Spirit that someday, somehow God would use me to help hurting people in my hometown. I wanted to pursue that with everything within me, but the sexual addiction was so strong that I could not let it go.
Eventually, I ended up in the hospital literally on my deathbed due to the colitis. I was so sick and weak that I thought I would never go home. After a week of unsuccessfully trying medicines and intravenous feeding, the doctor finally performed a colostomy. With many of my family members and friends praying, the nine-hour surgery was a success. I thank God that He allowed me to live to tell the story.
After my recuperation, I finally contacted the Exodus ministry in my hometown. My thoughts were that perhaps they could help me deal quietly with the issues, and no one would ever have to know. The director was gracious and met with me regularly and helped me understand what I really needed. He was a great listener, and he showed me how to allow God to bring healing into my life. I began attending the men’s support group and found acceptance and encouragement from other men who had similar life circumstances. It wasn’t easy, but eventually I was able to confess all my struggles and failures to my wife and to my children. They have truly demonstrated God’s grace to me through their continued love, acceptance and affirmation.
I resigned from the church I was pastoring in order to take some time to receive counseling and to open myself up to the healing of Jesus Christ. My family and I joined a church we had never attended. My new pastor and church family members have walked with me through some difficult days after my denomination informed me that I could not remain ordained. Pastor White has allowed me to share my testimony openly in our church services. I have received grace and have been restored to ministry. On days when I have felt discouraged God has always sent some godly brother my way to offer me encouragement, or a swift kick in the pants – whichever was needed most.
It took me forty years to grow up, but my family is now closer than ever. I am happy and satisfied as a son, husband, father, grandfather, and as a heterosexual man. I am not ashamed to share my story with anyone who will hear it. It took the power of God to break the shame in my life, and it takes the power of God to break the bondage caused by shame.
When I recently read these words from Isaiah 54:4 they seemed to leap off the page at me; “You will forget the shame of your youth.” I realized that it was true. You really can forget the shame. The events have not been forgotten, but I don’t look back at them with shame. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
For two full years I dealt with events of my childhood and finally found freedom from emotional turmoil that had been building up all my life. I didn’t realize the full scope of that freedom until I read the verse in Isaiah. God had removed the shame! Now, when temptations come or when I have an inclination to turn back to my old thoughts or ways, I am not ashamed to ask for help. I have family and friends who will listen. Shame finally has no power over me!
I now find great fulfillment in helping other men who are facing similar situations. As a person willing to openly share my testimony, I am able to see lives changed. Whether like me a man has struggled in silence for years or if he has openly embraced the gay lifestyle, I know that there is freedom from sin and shame. Whether standing before an audience or speaking face to face with another man, I can openly and honestly relate from my own experience the power of the grace of God to remove disgrace caused by my failures. The fact that I am able to minister to anyone at all is evidence of God’s grace continually at work in my own life.
Tony formerly served as the Associate Director of Hope for Wholeness. He continues to assist in editing and graphic design. Tony is the Founder and Senior Pastor of Transformation House, in downtown Greenville. Tony and Judy Moore have been married 30 years. They have four children and eleven grandchildren.