As the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) addresses the “Hope of our Calling,” one voice stood out with the message that the hope of our calling means we are called to a life of healing and wholeness that includes a biblically based understanding of sexual identity.
At a luncheon hosted by OnebyOne, Patrick Silvis, program coordinator for the Portland Fellowship, gave a testimony of how God’s power has transformed his own understanding of his sexual identity and enabled him to address his internal struggle between spirituality and sexuality.
Silvis, raised in the church by an intact family including his mother, father, and brothers, tells of his early years. The picture he paints of his early spiritual development included the enjoyment of storytelling that included the great stories of the Bible where God was the super hero. He learned to love serving in the community and working with youth and felt that his gifts were valued and useful.
At the same time, there was an inner world that was not as bright, as he started to experience insecurity about his gender. In a family with male siblings, male cousins and male friends, Silvis recognized that he didn’t quite fit in. “I grew up in a world of boys, but I didn’t feel like I was one of them as I really preferred being with the girls or with my mother, rather than my father,” Silvis explained.
“I started to wrestle with the issue internally, but finally God changed everything, and I realized that God did not make a mistake in creating me. I had the biology of a boy, and I was supposed to be a boy even if I was a different kind of boy,” stated Silvis. Still, he felt he was holding a secret inside, that he wasn’t a real boy.
A sexual encounter with an older boy resulted in even more secretiveness as he felt he couldn’t discuss his feelings or what had happened. “We were always told to give God your best, not your broken and messy pieces.” If people did ask if he was gay, he would respond logically that he wasn’t dating boys so of course not. But, then he would start to question himself and feel self-hatred.
As he considered that he really wanted marriage with a family and children, the battle between the his spiritual identity and his sexual identity started to grow but he tried to stuff it down with additional service projects, including becoming a missionary.
“At the end of the day, I was still frustrated, still looking at life from a place of need, wanting affirmation and acceptance, even as I felt my own needs didn’t matter. By this point, service was the key to any value I had,” continued Silvis.
Even as he felt some relief in a culture where standards of masculinity were different, he realized that he could no longer white knuckle through the turmoil. Reading the passage from John 8 that says “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” Silvis realized that he needed counseling.
Within that context, he came to understand that God is faithful and pursues us. “He wants all of us – even the broken places. When you give him all of you, God can transform your heart and give you new desires,” says Silvis with assurance.
About that time, he was introduced to Portland Fellowship, where he finally heard words that told him he wasn’t crazy, and that while the road ahead would be hard, there was indeed hope in his calling as a child of God. In the context of the discipleship program, he realized that his struggle with homosexuality was really only a symptom of the real problem.
As he entered into the program, he had to lay down all of the things that had given him an identity – his job, his friends, his title of missionary. “All I had to say about myself was, ‘I’m Patrick.’” As his identity was stripped away, he heard the voice of God telling him, “You are my son. Why don’t you trust me?” In that message, Silvis realized that God was grieving with him and offering healing in ways that were more than he could imagine.
Silvis heard many voices in that place of confusion and temptation. One friend said that he was simply failing to accept his identity as a homosexual and was only running from the truth, but he made the decision to trust that God would conform him according to God’s will.
On the Portland Fellowship website, Silva states, “I am discovering the new identity in Christ that God had for me all along. God has been so faithful, and I’m starting to believe in the Scriptures that tell me who I am in Christ: I am ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:14). I am ‘precious and honored’ in His sight (Isaiah 43:4) and His unfailing love for me will never be shaken (Isaiah 54:10). I’m beginning to rest in the truth that my worth is found in who I am, not in what I do.”
He gave some advice to those attending, particularly when faced with a family member sharing their struggle with sexuality and unwanted same sex attraction.
First, realize that there is grace and truth that can only be found in relationship with others, at least with others that realize the individual isn’t a project to fix. Within those relationships, there will be many voices, and it requires a humble attitude. Some of them won’t be helpful, but they offer what they can.
Silvis ended by saying, “There is no silver bullet, but there can be a realization that we all struggle. Life is a journey to wholeness.”
Silvis seems to have found a degree of wholeness by not defining himself as the world might see him, but as God sees him – as a child of God, called to have hope that God will transform his mind. “To heal, I had to accept the good, let go of the bad, and to move forward” – telling his story and giving the gift of sharing to others.
Silvis has chosen to tell his story through the Portland Fellowship. Their website states the following, “Our programs have been created by men and women who have experienced the love of God in their lives and the desire to encourage and support others. Our methodology includes biblical instruction, spiritually-oriented accountability groups, trained lay-counselors, personal testimonies, and professional referrals to help you discover your true identity in Christ. In addition, we equip churches and individuals to effectively offer hope and healing for those struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions. We also provide support to those who have loved ones – who have embraced homosexuality as their identity.”
OnebyOne is an organization with a home base in New York that believes God’s transforming power is able to engage those who are struggling with their sexual identities in much the same way as each of us submits our own will to the will of Christ.