When the offender is your friend

You might’ve seen the story in the Star Tribune, or on KARE 11, or on Huffington Post — the headline “Ex-gay counselor, arrested for molestation.” When I saw it, I clicked on it, because I have gay friends and acquaintances, and I’m curious about those who attempt to “cure” homosexuality.
Normally, I would’ve responded to the headline and the story as thousands of commenters on the Internet — with disgust, outrage and insults. “Sicko.” “Pervert.” “Wackjob.”
But this case was different, because the sicko in the story was my friend.
When I was in junior high, he showed up at our church and starting hanging out with my friends and me. He was a student at a nearby college, where my dad taught and I later attended.
We were probably too young to see “Harold and Maude,” but he took us anyway, introducing us to the Suburban World Theater and the Uptown neighborhood where we later spent so much time.
He took us on overnights to a mansion on Summit Avenue where he provided home health care to a dying old man. He showed us a secret room accessible only through the kitchen cupboards.
One summer I was the assistant counselor in his cabin at a Bible camp.
In hindsight, it looks like textbook predator behavior, but knowing the mindset of an adolescent evangelical, and knowing my friend, I don’t think it was.
This was the late 1970s, and in our community, we didn’t talk about homosexuality. If someone had told me my friend was gay, or a predator, or a pedophile, I would’ve looked at them like they were speaking a foreign language.
Through all of our experiences, he never tried anything with me. I’m fully aware that victims of sexual abuse can repress it out of their memories, but I sincerely believe I had nothing to repress.
My friends say the same. With one of them, our friend spoke openly about his homosexuality — and his guilt and shame about it — but he never did anything inappropriate. He took another friend to talk to a gay man. My friend remembers it as a teenage adventure — not a come-on.
My friend was a remarkable young man — a ’70s spiritual seeker. He wanted more than anything to follow Jesus, but no doubt he thought his sexual desires were incompatible with his spiritual ones.
Several years later, two of us attended his wedding. To a woman. Twenty years after that, I ran into him again when I worked with his wife and got to know his son.
Great kid. Smart, thoughtful, and kind — just like his dad had been in college.
We met for coffee a few times but soon learned we had little in common. He was a charismatic evangelical, and I was a hard-headed cynic.
Knowing him, he had probably convinced himself that he was doing God’s work — somehow attempting to teach others the self-control he had exhibited with me and my friends, and the “cure” (or denial) he had exhibited in his marriage.
This story is a tragedy from every perspective. If the criminal complaint is true, at least two victims fell for my old friend’s “therapy,” and my friend’s attempt to cure himself may have spread sickness to those he was supposed to be helping. Then there’s his family — wife and kids, siblings and parents — who will never live down his notoriety.
Finally, there’s my friend himself, who has spent his adult life attempting to reconcile an irreconcilable reality: that the God he loved so much had created him with a disease he could not for the life of him cure.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.
This column was published in the Mille Lacs Messenger on Nov. 22, 2012.

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