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Sharing in Faith: I left The United Methodist Church … then met Brian and Joe

Mark Ongley <br />Photo courtesy of Mark Ongley.

The Rev. Mark Ongley
Photo courtesy of Mark Ongley.

While still in seminary, I decided I’d had enough.  As a teen, I had read numerous articles in the United Methodist Reporter about fights over homosexuality. My conservative Evangelical United Brethren pastor pounded the pulpit with each mention of the subject as he railed against liberalism. 

Finally, after having just sat through a meeting where conservatives were gearing up for the 1980 General Conference, I concluded, “I’m not going into ministry to argue with people. I simply want to make disciples.” So I left for a small evangelical denomination.

Then in 1991, two gay men began to attend my church of 45 people. Brian and Joe had formerly been lovers but now were convinced God wanted them to stop. I was clueless how to help them; I simply loved them and discipled them.

To my surprise, God led me back to The United Methodist Church in 1995, only now the “issue” had faces. These men were my friends.

I began to grapple with how to minister to and with gays and lesbians while still being faithful to the traditional view of scripture. That grappling led to doctoral studies, where I received a counseling degree with a special focus on sexual issues.

Then my eyes were pried wide open. The church has been blind to a host of sexual issues. Since 2001, I have counseled several hundred people: victims of sexual abuse, sexual addicts, the sexually averse, those hooked on fetishes and bondage, and yes, even people struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction.

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Some have found tremendous help and healing from the counseling in all of the categories listed above, including same-sex attraction. Some have experienced little help in all of those same categories. But each person has been extremely grateful to find someone in the church who is compassionate, knowledgeable and competent to deal with such matters.

We are missing the boat here. While our church is seemingly in mortal combat over an issue that affects less than 5 percent of our culture, we are doing precious little to bring healing to the many whose lives have been devastated by abuse, addiction and aversion. 

This is not to dismiss the pain of gays and lesbians. I have walked with them through their pain.  One such lady, after two years of counseling, remarried and now does short-term mission work in Africa. But I’ve also walked with others who have tried every form of counseling and prayer and continue to struggle every day of their lives.

We may never agree on homosexuality. Would to God we would at least become a safe place to talk about and find healing for all of our sexual issues.

The Rev. Mark Ongley
Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania


Posted September 18, 2014.