On November 19, 2003, I flew from Boston, MA, to Cleveland, OH, to share my faith story with an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter at a nearby college. The original invitation was to share my story with about 30 InterVarsity students.
The LGBT+ Community understandably was very concerned about some wacko evangelical coming to share a message of hatred and bigotry. Others had preceded me with their banner waving signs of hatred for LGBT+ persons. They thought I was one more voice of hate coming to openly express hostility toward them.
The irony is that I flew from Boston and arrived on their campus only hours after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled gay marriage legal in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. They were frustrated by my coming to their college, but they found humor in this my arrival from Boston just hours after gay marriage was legalized.
Honestly, from my heart, I never realized the degree to which they expected my message to be hateful until I arrived their campus and saw the dozens of protesters. It was shocking, and I was deeply humbled by the reality that they sincerely thought I was a weapon of hatred. My conviction was, This is what they expect from followers of Jesus Christ?
They could not have been nearly as afraid as I was: I had never, ever shared my faith story in front of such a large crowd. The group of 30 turned into 750 people with approximately 350 LGBT+ persons present.
Before the event started, I shook hands with and got to know numerous protesters. I wanted to hear what their concerns were…
One young woman said, “I am here because I grew up with two moms.” One young man said, “My brother is gay.” Another slightly older woman holding the hand of a young child said, “I am here because I need healthcare for my son.” What had become distant concerns for me since I surrendered my own homosexuality were all of a sudden presented to me freshly in the frustrated hearts of these young people.
People not so different than me…
Knowing of all this commotion before I traveled to Ohio, I spent the three days before this event fasting and praying, asking God for guidance. I was more than desperate in thinking about facing this crowd — after all, I was not in ministry full-time, and I loved LGBT+ persons. I did not seek out this opportunity to share my story, and I certainly did not intend to harm anyone physically, emotionally or spiritually.
But in addition, I knew I was imperfectly healed. And now I would be facing an entire campus that thinks ‘change’ means a complete absence of same-sex attraction! I must admit that in my preparation the thought crossed my mind that I should just lie… tell the story that I just “Came to Jesus and everything has been so easy since that day.”
But God whispered, The witness of an imperfect Christian will be a bridge to people who feel judged by ‘perfect’ Christians.
I knew I would have to tell the truth: That I am transformed, but not totally “healed.” I was at peace.
God blessed as I shared my story. God opened a door through which the Gospel of Jesus Christ could be shared beyond the walls of our church into the gay community. After the event, several protesters that I had met hugged me and responded, “Thanks for not judging us. Your message was not what I expected. We may not agree with your decision, but thank you for bringing this message in a more Christian manner.”
Because I was transparent, it gave others permission to be transparent as well. One young gay student in a same-sex relationship said, “I cried throughout Bill’s entire presentation because of the parallels between his life and mine. I have a partner and I struggle with that every day as a Christian. Is this the right thing for me?”
About a month after this event, I was so moved by all of these encounters that I sat down one night to journal at around 10:30 pm. When I looked back up, the clock read 4:30 am and the end result was a 50-page vision statement that became the foundation of Fotos, Inc. (now “Lead Them Home”). It was clear that God had given me this vision: it was something I could not have produced on my own.
My passion burned inside. I asked others to read the document, Vision For Reaching the Gay Community With the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As much as people loved me, few actually read the 50-page document! Understandably so! But I was affirmed to keep working on it; and that I did.
Over the next 2 years (2004-2005), I reduced the 50-pages down to four words: Share, Care, Heal and Protect. You can read my first blog entry to learn more about these four words.
During this time, I also had to battle the internal church culture that left me with many biases — these “planks” had to be removed — and that was a difficult, soul-searching, Scripture-researching experience. I spoke with pastors and theologians to ensure that the end result was a Biblically-sound ministry.
It would take another year (early 2006) before I had the courage to leave my long-time business career to devote full-time to this calling. This Ohio college event, sponsored by both InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Campus Crusade for Christ, was the event that God used to call forth the entire founding of Lead Them Home, Inc.
I thank the many staff and student leaders, as well as all the LGBT+ attendees, for their role in shaping my faith to look more like Jesus. Without meeting them and getting to know their needs and their fears, I could never have known just how concerned they are about evangelicals. Getting this first-hand insight was so jolting only because I knew that Jesus has called His Church to go beyond our walls to reach those who feel judged by us.
To obtain a DVD copy of this Ohio college event, simply contact us.