Join Josh as he speaks with Drew Berryessa about his journey through SSA into freedom and healing.
when I finally confessed, my struggles, my sin, my failure…
..there was no opportunity to talk about my struggle without feeling condemned
and those are both schemes of the enemy, to isolate us from God and his people and all of God’s provision…
Click for Full Podcast Transcription
Well, I’m really excited about what we’re going to do today on the podcast. It’s Josh Glaser here and not with Kit Elmer this week, but a new friend of mine, Drew Berryessa is joining me from Portland, Oregon, Portland,
no, Medford, Oregon, but that’s close
Medford, Oregon. Yeah. Drew is the author of a book called Are we there yet sexuality of the church and the road to transformation. And he’s also the founder and director of a ministry called a living letter. And you can find more about that on our show notes. But true, so grateful for you and grateful that you take some time to chat with us today about really important stuff. So I’d love to start with just if you could just share with our listeners just a brief bit about like about your story and what you can even introduce what we’re talking about today. That’d be great.
Sure. So briefly, with my story, I grew up and accepted Christ at a really young age. And as so many people, I think they grow up in the church and struggle with what I did, which was same sex attraction. Even though I was growing up in the church that didn’t prevent me from being vulnerable to, to brokenness, to relational struggles to just a whole lot of stuff that bloomed by my early teen years into a full fledged struggle with same sex attraction. And found as I was moving through my adolescence and involvement in youth group, just a lot of fear and tension with that particular struggle, particularly because back in the I think, the early 90s, the church wasn’t really great about how to handle this particular issue. And I’m glad that we think as a church, we’ve come a bit of a long way on that. But it was quite a struggle back then, and, and really struggled in silence and in fear and in a lot of shame, with, with my sexual orientation, all through my teen years until I was about 19 years old. And then, in just the sheer frustration of not knowing how to address the struggle, living in secrecy, and feeling completely isolated, and alone in it, I was very vulnerable, and to come to a good relationship with another guy that I met at church, and hid that relationship for the duration of it for about six months before surrendering that, and then hiding for another two years before really coming to the boiling point of confession. And when I did finally confess my struggle, and my my, my sin and my failures, I was met with incredible amounts of grace and understanding from a youth pastor, and from my community, but not a lot of help. So they are really encouraging and they believe God to do redemptive work in my life, but none of them ever really heard a real life story of someone walking out of that or knew kind of the path to how to help disciple me through it. And I was living in a small town in Central Washington. At that point where I grew up, and I the LORD Providence ended up within a few months of confessing my struggle moving to Portland, Oregon, but the only sees a strange place to send someone to recover from homosexuality. That’s where the Lord sent me. And within a few weeks, was connected with the Ministry of Portland fellowship there, and really began my journey of discovering all of the root reasons why I was dealing with what I was dealing with, and began to, for the first time in my life really have a lot of hope for redemption. And that was now almost one, about 20 years ago that I, I walked in the doors of that ministry, and since then, the Lord has done such an incredible work of redemption and healing and transformation in my life. And now, like you said, I grew up in a ministry called Living letter ministries, I had been in full time ministry helping those who struggle with same sex attraction for over 15 years. And I help educate the church, how to respond to these issues, and I have the joy of being a pastor in a church as well. And you know, I’m, I’ve been married for 16 years and I have three beautiful daughters. So you know, it’s been quite a journey.
Yeah. Yeah. That’s great. Thank you for sharing all that and your, your, your vulnerability there too. Let me hone in on 1 thing that you said you’re talking about that time when you when you finally came to Confess what you’ve been dealing with. And you use, you’d said three things you said, when I finally confessed my struggles, my sin and my failure? Can you parse that out for me? Because I think I think a lot of times with this topic, there’s a lot of things that get conflated. And yeah, it looks like we’re having different conversations about, you know, what am I responsible for? What am I not responsible for?
What’s sinful? What’s not? Who am I? Who am I like, so what do you mean by those things? And how do you break some of that apart?
Absolutely. I think that, to be frank, I would not have parceled that out back then the way that I did today. Because I, I grew in my understanding of what I was dealing with. And the reason why I say my sin, my struggle and my failures is because, you know, one of the, one of the realities that I I really came to understand was that my vulnerability to same sex attraction wasn’t, it wasn’t a sin. It wasn’t something that that I was guilty of, it was something I was experiencing. And when I was growing up, back in the church, in the 90s, and even this kind of idea, infiltrate a lot of Christianity Today, there’s a lot of guilt associated with with vulnerability, particularly in the world of same sex attraction or gender identity. Because there is such, there’s sinful behavior attached to that. And it is really difficult sometimes for the church, and even the individual to delineate between their behavior when they partnered with their vulnerability versus just being vulnerable, you know, alone. So it’s like, and part of that process for me was understanding the difference, of course, between just being attracted to the same sex and understanding that some of that had nothing to do with sin, or sexuality, it just had to do with really liking or admiring an individual and, or comparing myself to another individual, which really wasn’t homosexual at all, it was just an element of, of understanding myself in relation to other people, and what drew me to other people, and a reflection of some deep unmet needs in my life, and, and for me to delineate what I was struggling with, versus how I’d send in my failures, you know, recognizing your struggle, also recognizing the deficits in your life, the things that you’d had no choice in, that we all in our common humanity, you know, all have things that we have to deal with, that were felt to us, not things that we were chosen, or we had chosen ourselves. And with, with this particular issue, that struggle, became very, very, very insidious, because there was no opportunity to talk about my struggle without feeling condemned. Right. You know, and so, when I confess my struggle, and I don’t use it, in terms of saying confession, like, and, you know, like, I need to be forgiven for anything, but rather just admitting it, and, and speaking the truth of what I was dealing with to other people, and not being alone and isolated with it anymore, right, I think, such a powerful thing. Because when we’re alone and isolated with a particular struggle, whether it be same sex attraction, or anything else, we are limited to our own perspective. And when we invite people in, we get a broader perspective to our senses. So that’s what I mean, when I say struggle, like I, to be honest about what I was dealing with, and, and being able to separate that out from who I was. Yeah, and so then my sin is confessing how I then had taken my vulnerability, and partnered with it to commit what was sin, you know, I got involved in a sexual relationship with another man. There was no getting around the fact that that was sinful action. And also, at that point, had had been struggling with pornography use and fantasy and masturbation and all those things where we’re sinful behaviors that were the founder of birth in my struggle, but weren’t. And my struggle was very different than natural sin and the failures You know, that’s just a you know, my older maybe Armenian guilt, you know, legalistic guilt and just double down, doubling down on sin and failure.
Yeah. Fair enough. Yeah. Yeah. Take it out. You can just have one or the other you don’t need but I love what you said when you I love the way you put it when you said it wasn’t something I was guilty of. So you talk about your vulnerability towards same sex attraction. You said it rationally I was guilty of. It was something I was experiencing. I just want to I want to kind of turn if we could promote And face listeners, especially those who themselves are struggling or experienced same sex attractions, right, those who have loved ones who do and say that’s really a word for for you, too. Not something that you’re guilty of, it’s something that you’re experiencing. And the other thing comes to mind as you’re talking that I think is so important is without that kind of clarity, that the temptation, the attractions, the even the persistent sexual orientation, can become a place of real. You talked about the isolation, like it has separates me from other people who, because I’m somehow uniquely different. Yeah, can that it can also head in the direction of self hatred that says, there’s something uniquely defective dirty wrong with me, and I hate it. And, and those are both schemes of the enemy, isolated from God and His people. And from all God’s provision for God who loves us as we are God who walks with us and helps us God who advocates for us. It does not condemn us, but comes to save us. And yeah, I mean, I think it’s just beautifully the way you said it was beautiful. I want to encourage anybody. Well, let me let me let me turn us a question back to you like, if, you know, in that right there in that in that focal point, like, how would you say, and we will get into this in another podcast, but just real briefly, how? Like, what’s the alternative to that? I mean, how does somebody take that reality of this is not something you’re guilty of, it’s something that that you’re experiencing, or it’s not something you’re your loved one is guilty of something they’re experiencing? How do you how do you be put some put some verbiage around? How you how you respond to that, or shoe leather? What do we do with that? That’s, that’s helpful for people?
Absolutely, I mean, I think that one of the first things that we have to do is we have to kind of separate the idea of, like I said, what we’re experiencing and who we are. And I think that when we begin to do that, we create a little bit more space to interpret what we’re experiencing, because if I, if I started, like I did, when I was a young kid, looking at my experience of same sex attraction, and then immediately going to this, you know, place of condemnation of like, that means that this is what I am, like, you know, your attractions, your feelings, your behavior, to find your identity. And so because I feel this way, I am, like a gay, that really leaves me in a real condemned place. But if I instead I just say, this is what I’m experiencing, then I have a choice to make a choice to make it what I want to do with my experience, and how I want to understand it, and how I want to analyze it to see, well, then what is my response need to be, and that leaves my identity, completely separate from what I’m experiencing. And, and that is, that’s been so helpful in ministry to family members of those who have maybe even embraced, again, identity, for me to be able to help people say, you know, they might understand themselves in the terms and this is why but it doesn’t mean he have to understand them. In those terms, we can look at what they’re experiencing, and maybe even what they’re captive to right now, but still look at other good, right, you know, praiseworthy things to establish our identity. And for me being able to, to separate the two and take what I was experiencing and put it in one box to my identity. And another one, I was able to actually find some room to respond to my experience rather than being feel immediately built in condemned by it.
And I think that’s the that piece is part of why self hatred is so it’s so insidious here and isolation so insidious, because it doesn’t leave room and I love the way so that just gives you some room and if something is our identity, if this is who I am, whether that’s you know, I am a I am a thief, I am a drinker. I am a glutton. I am saying that, and I think we’ll find that language in the pages of Scripture. But I think there’s a there’s a unique way that that when we’re caught in a sin, we can, we can know ourselves that way. And I think there’s a unique way, especially in the area of same sex orientation, same sex attractions, that that’s that those have gotten conflated so inextricably for so many people. Absolutely heart It’s hard to find room between my experience and and who I am. And, and that that’s a huge, huge challenge for people. I know, I know, Christians who would say, look, it’s just a lot easier for me to say I’m a gay Christian than it is to say, I’m a Christian who experiences same sex attractions. And I think if we get a chance, you and I are going to dive into that more deeply in another podcast but but what i what i want to draw it right there that I think it’s so important, what you’re saying is, you know, whether whether that point is fair or not, be defined yourself that you want to, I think it’s it’s, it’s helpful, no matter what to be paying attention. To my ex, if my experience of myself automatically tells me who I am, right, it’s harder to make different choices than or even to know what my options are. But if it automatically is conflated, what my experiences and what my identity is, then my options are limited. And that that seems to be counterproductive for anybody, no matter what your theology, no matter what you think, no matter. I mean, options are a really helpful thing for us, and they’re really important to God.
And I think the church is is on this topic is guilty as well. Because when we speak often in the church of same sex attraction, or people engaged in that behavior, well, there’s not a delineation often spoken of, of, you know, homosexual behaviors. And it’s said, often, homosexuality is a sin. And the way that that articulates you a person in that struggle is immediately they feel condemned by their vulnerability or by their, by what’s tempting them, rather than delineating that the behavior is the sin. And even I mean, I’ve, you know, grew up in the church struggling with same sex attraction, I can remember fiery quote, you know, quoting of Leviticus 1822, by one of my first pastors, saying, you know, you know, do not lie with a man, his bone lies with a woman, you know, instead of reading the Scripture, as is written and saying, it is about an abomination, meaning the behavior, he superimpose the word gay, oh, and it, you know, it’s like, so immediately if you if you feel that you are tempted to that, you, you know, and with the modern day, language of homosexuality is a sin. Immediately, there’s a link that the church is agreeing with that identity, or behavior orientation condemns you. And that puts anyone in that struggle in an already defeated guilty place before they ever have a moment to respond to the Holy Spirit will be obedient or lay that behavior or that temptation down there guilty before they start
until, or, or I think more and more and more frequently, we’re finding, instead of just being stuck in a place of guilt there. People are abandoning the church. They’re saying, look, this is not this can’t be absolutely this isn’t Jesus. I know. And I think a lot of even a lot of people a lot of Christians who, who have a heart of mercy, and who, who maybe are not swimming in these waters so closely, who say, Yeah, actually, the church’s stance on this just doesn’t seem right. And I think a lot of it does boil down to the kinds of talking about Yes, another question. So So you’ve made a delineation between and this one, the reasons I, you know, I know our ministry has talked about this in other places, or attractions are not the same thing as as behavior, right? temptations are not the same thing as behavior, knowing, you know, knowing you have an attraction. You can have attractions without temptation. You can have attractions and temptation without the sin of lust, or the sin of whatever the sexual experiences. So they just ask you, just a straightforward question about your own experience. You have been through this own journey for how many years now? About 20 or so. So yeah, you’re you’re a newbie to this, but
Do you as a guy who grew up experiencing unwanted same sex attractions, you didn’t ask for them? You found you have them? You’ve been on this journey. You’re now married to a woman you have three daughters? Yes, still experienced same sex attractions.
So it’s a great question of whether or not it’s still experienced same sex attraction. And I want to that’s such a nuanced question. And it’s one that requires kind of a lot of time to answer. And normally, we don’t get those moments in a soundbite. But yeah. So what I will say is what I experienced today is far different than what I experienced 20 years ago, and the ability to delineate between like the nature of attraction versus lust, or orientation, or sin, or even sexuality has been such an important distinction in my life. Like, you know, today if I am, if I experienced that attraction, normally what I’m experiencing is where I see someone who’s admirable or I need a new person, and I think I want to be their friend and I am pulled in that direction to develop relationship. And, and that is, you know, as much attraction as anything else is, but because I’ve walked with the Lord for 20 plus years, in this journey, I’m really aware of my heart and I’m really aware of, of where my vulnerabilities might be or where areas of deficit in my life have been in the past and extremely diligent to work on those things and maintain them and to walk in health. So as I walk in health, no, I don’t experience the attractions, or sexualized attractions or temptations that I used to be riddled by, I might look at someone and recognize that they’re attractive. But I mean, that everybody has the ability to do that. The memories in my life that really helped me understand the nature of this was if we haven’t made it to share it. Back when I was first walking out this journey, and at first confessed my struggle to my community, one of my best friends is like a dream opposite of me. He’s, he’s, you know, he was a college basketball player and personal trainer, and he’s literally tall, dark and handsome. And I kind of looked like a hobbit. So like, we were the odd couple. Yeah, nice. You know, just think samwise gamgee. That’s, that’s me. And we were walking through a sporting goods store to try to like find, I think we were shopping for a mission trip that we’re going to go on. And, and we were walking by the swimsuit section, and there was an advertisement with a guy this looks, you know, like the ideal version of male physique. And I noticed it, and I immediately felt condemned by that. And I thought, well, there, there it is. There’s my sin. Again, I’ve noticed that shirtless man on the advertisement. And I was in this shame cycle of condemnation. And then a friend looked at it goes like that’s ripped. And I looked at him and I was puzzled I, I said, What? Do you mean, what I said, You see that? And I remember him looking at me, just incredulously. And going, what do you think I see when I see other guys. And I was like, I don’t know, beanbag chairs.
And I remember him saying, like, Drew, I want to look like that. Like, I would like to look like that bad guy looks, you know, he’s an attractive guy. And this guy doesn’t have a shred of same sex attraction, or sexualized attraction in him. And that ability to just sort of slow down the script and say, Oh, you see him, because you have eyes, number one. And number two, because he’s admirable. And so as I walk through life now, looking at not only kind of what the nature of attraction is, outside of sexuality, I might experience a pull towards someone, but I don’t, I don’t all automatically categorize it in the realm of sexuality. I allow the Holy Spirit to speak my heart and go, Okay, what was the poll here. And, you know, it’s not always just like big characteristics. Sometimes I might be envious of someone I might be feeling insecure, you know, based on their intellect or their status or something. And then I have to deal with those things in my own heart. But that is nothing like the prison I found myself in 20 years ago. And so it’s a very different experience. Now, I will say this. And I think that it’s really important that we admit this. And in this realm of ministry, and in recovery ministry, I have the responsibility before the Lord, to maintain my personal integrity, my personal health, because those places in my life, they were vulnerabilities that were very powerful. And Jesus didn’t give me amnesia. He didn’t take away my history. And if I don’t manage my life, well, if I don’t maintain healthy relationships, if I’m not walking with Him in step with the spirit, could I be vulnerable to that and teach them again? Yeah, I could, just like so many others have been. And I think that being able to delineate the difference between your vulnerabilities, your attractions, what lust is, and then what sinful behavior is, actually allows us to have a better evaluation of where our heart is, and address it more healthily.
So appreciate that. I want to just kind of turn the conversation just slightly because I think that that nuanced response of recognizing I may be categorized in three different things that you talked about. One was the importance of real soul care you you’ve learned through this process, to know yourself to know the kinds of things that you’re you’re drawn to, but also what you might really be looking for behind image. There’s also that the difference between the the presence of the attraction and a sexualized attraction, which is really, really important distinction, and I think, and that goes for all of us and we live in such a hyper sexualized culture. I know that when I walk with men, dealing with whether same sex attractions or attractions to women, that one of the real pitfalls people get into is, is that this when they notice themselves drawn to somebody, it they immediately throw it into the camp of this is that part of me that’s broken. This is the bad part of me. The reality is that God has created the human body, human beings male and female, incredibly wonderful, powerful, beautiful. Amazing, what a relief to know that when our eyes or hearts are drawn to another human being, that’s actually something that God intended. And what we do with that, yeah, what we do with that draw is, is the next the next phase. And I think part of the process of sanctification, part of the process of becoming more like Christ as we walk is allowing that, that admiration, to turn us towards wanting to, to, to love and serve the other person with our bodies, as opposed to using their bodies for our own self gratification, whatever ways that looks. And so I’m especially drawn to that distinguish, and I think my question to you is, is is not really even fair. When I when I look at through the lens that you asked like, when I asked, Do you still experience same sex attraction? You said, you know, if you answered No, with the paradigm that you just described for us, we really you would have been describing being an unhealthy person we all have. We want to delineate what’s the difference between that and having a same sex, sexualized attraction? And then on top of that, and then what we do, what do we do with that, if that’s just part of our experiences, which we’ve talked about is not necessarily something we’re guilty of, it’s something that we’re experiencing. And now, how do we want to hear truth, I think that the things you bring up, I couldn’t say it better than you said it, they give so much more room for conversation, dialogue, discipleship, a personal journey in this area. so grateful for you and the journey that you’re on. And I know that there’s so much more we could talk about, we’re gonna record more podcasts with you, because we, we like you and want people to hear about what you’re doing. And, again, if you want to learn more about Drew, you can find his book, are we there yet? online, we’ll have links in the show notes and also living letter in the show notes. And of course, as always, if you’re struggling with same sex attractions, or you have a family member, who is regenerations, here, we’d love to walk with you as well. So Drew, thank you so much. Maybe Drew, would you would you just close this out? And maybe just praying for any man or woman who’s listening? Who is personally kind of maybe hear what you’re saying they’ve dealt with same sex attraction before? And maybe they’re hearing this perspective for the first time? Or it’s kind of new to them? Would you just take a moment, pray for them?
Absolutely. Father, we thank you so much for your incredible love for us and your good design in us. And, Father, I just lift right now to you, any man or woman carrying this and feeling just a complex set of feelings right now relief, over, maybe they’re not so broken that you can’t redeem or restore, and maybe even frustration and anger that this is the first time they’re hearing it. Father, I pray that your spirit will so infiltrate the hearts of every man and woman who finds themselves locked in or struggling with same sex attraction or gender identity or even any heterosexual attraction that has become mastering their life. Father, we you insert, just that moment of pause with your spirit into theirs now and give them your insight to see the difference between the longings of their heart and the misdirection of their heart. Father, will you help us all to be able to walk in such communion with your spirit that we know are able to distinguish the good things you’re calling us to, and the ways that we are tempted to go wrongly, Lord, you’ve given us such an ability to think and to to and into, analyze into and to discern your heart for us and your Spirit gives such opportunity to slow the script down. Father, I pray that men and women in this particular struggle will know your heart for them so well. That you are a God that gives opportunity to respond to our God that gives us strength in the moment and grace to resist an agent You are a God that never criticizes us for the for the longings and for the needs you created in us, as the Father, give every person struggling in this area, your spirit to discern the difference in those things. And the in the fight meant to walk with you in them. Father thank you for the opportunity today to share this. Amen.
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