When someone flashes a knife at you while you’re street witnessing for Jesus, you don’t ask questions. You keep walking. That’s what I did when I was sixteen and on my first missions trip to Albany, NY.
One tactic we Pentecostals often employed while street witnessing were our personal testimonies. I never felt like I had a testimony to share though. My pastor attempted to rebuke the demon of homosexuality out of me when I was thirteen. I was led to believe that was my testimony. It wasn’t though. Mine was still unfolding.
Begin Route Home
“Want to play house?”
“You always want to play house,” Noah said with an exasperated tone. Despite his initial reluctance, he agreed. This was our usual Sunday afternoon game. Every Sunday morning after church, I begged my parents to let me play at Noah’s house for the afternoon. They also agreed reluctantly.
A rainbow painted on the wall of the enclosed staircase leads you up to Noah’s bedroom. This Sunday we were on his top bunk bed pretending to drop our kids off at school. We were five-years-old. We both sat on the edge of the bed with Noah in the driver seat and me on the passenger side.
“Watch out for that deer!”
“I know! I saw it,” he snipped back.
“Kids, are you hungry,” I asked the teddy bears sitting behind us. “Maybe we should pull over for some food.”
Noah agreed. He parked our pretend car at an imaginary park.
I pretended to get the picnic basket out. “Who wants peanut butter and jelly? Annie, you want a peanut butter and jelly?” Annie was my make-believe daughter. When we finished fake eating, I told Noah the kids went off to play so we could be alone.
It was just us now. There was no one else in the room, real or pretend. We both laid on our sides facing each other. Our foreheads touching. My left arm was stretched over him. Noah had one arm stretched over me and the other under me. Holding me, we kissed. This felt like home.
I was sixteen now and that moment was far from me. I spent the majority of my Sunday afternoons now trying to rid myself of the desire to be held by Noah. “I rebuke that thought and bring it into the obedience of Christ, in Jesus name” was the mantra I learned to repeat incessantly under my breath until my homosexual thoughts and temptations passed. Of course, the thoughts would pass, they’re thoughts after all. However, my attraction toward men never wavered.
I wanted to believe in the Gospel I was sharing. I wanted to go back to what felt like home. But as far as I could tell, the Gospel wasn’t saving me and a sense of home was becoming more difficult to find.
“What took you so long?” She asked with a tone that felt intrusive.
Emily was waiting for her food. “Everyone else ordered already” adding that I now had limited time to order and sit down to eat.
“I had to poop,” attempting to sound humorous. I cued her laughter by asserting mine first.
It was one of our last nights in Albany and our youth group attended a revival service at another church across town. On our way back to the church where we were sleeping, we stopped at a McDonald’s for food. Before my bladder exploded, I made a beeline from the church bus to the restroom.
I avoided urinals because I feared I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation of trying to catch a glimpse of another guy. The privacy of a stall would keep me safe from that temptation. I locked the door. Fluorescent lights intensified by the stark white plastic walls assaulted my eyes. I noticed a magazine tucked behind the toilet. Hoping it was porn, I pulled it out from behind the toilet to discover it was porn indeed. Jackpot. I wasn’t just a repressed homosexual. I was a raging hormonal teenager too.
The excitement of this moment overtook me. Every few minutes someone new walked in and jiggled the stall door handle. I froze and remained perfectly quiet until they moved on. I knew I would regret this as soon as I finished but for those few moments – I felt free.
Emily believed my response. Another bullet dodged I thought. The weight from the guilt and shame of what I had done started to make itself known. Who was I to think I had any right to claim I knew Jesus? The feeling of hypocrisy rapidly evolved into self-hate. This pattern and downward spiral were becoming familiar.
My mind grew dense with thoughts of defeat and disgust for myself. I believed I gave the devil a foothold back into my life and now the spirit of homosexuality was going to come back stronger this time. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I be stronger and resist the devil?
My guilt and shame convinced me to confess and repent. I decided I would meet with the pastor and confess everything. I believed another exorcism might work this time.
Make a U-Turn in 100ft
I was shy of 32-years-old and sitting in my first AA meeting in the heart of West Hollywood. I’m not an alcoholic but I was in rehab. At these meetings, a new volunteer is selected every week to read the 12 steps, “Step One: We admitted we were powerless – that our lives had become unmanageable.”
Tucked away in a popular park with tennis courts and a large playground was a gymnasium filled with about 200 gay men, including me, doing just that – admitting we were powerless. AA meetings have many of the same elements a church does – a speaker, a podium, fellowship, a primary source for all its teachings (known as “the big book”). I felt at home.
I admitted myself into a rehab center after spending months contemplating suicide. I reached out to an online friend who founded the organization. Without notice to my family and best friends, I disappeared for two months into the Hollywood hills. My life had become unmanageable and I was ready to confront it.
How Did I Get Here?
For the previous three years, I was frequenting sex workers and bathhouses while I was in a relationship. Long gone were the days of feeling guilty over masturbating to a porn magazine I found in a dirty McDonald’s bathroom. I graduated to another level.
I admitted to myself I was a sex addict when I understood I had no control. It didn’t matter how smart, successful and handsome my boyfriend was. Nothing would satisfy my hungry ghost until I collapsed physically or financially. In those three years, I discovered depths of dissatisfaction I hope to never revisit.
“So, do you walk around with an erection all the time,” one of the elderly women I befriended in rehab asked. She was just trying to understand what it meant to be a sex addict. We laughed together. The question was ridiculous but she didn’t know how to ask any other way and that was okay. I was just happy someone asked and I was no longer frozen by fear over it.
“It’s more like your body shivering while you’re trying to fall asleep because you’re craving a certain fantasy to be fulfilled and you’re doing everything you can to just stay in bed. It meant having to decide between buying food for my dog or myself because I spent all my money on sex workers that week. I even pretended I was sick to leave work in the middle of the day because I feared I would miss out on the perfect guy at the bathhouse,” I shared with my new alcoholic friend.
That was the first time I opened up to anyone and talked about what it was like for me without judgment towards myself and fear of being disliked.
Stay On This Road for 1,000 Miles
It was time to come clean. I was going to tell the pastor what happened in the McDonald’s bathroom. I wrote a letter confessing to my parents first. In it, I wrote I needed to be honest because I knew I was never going to be free if I wasn’t. Moved by the letter my mom and dad agreed I needed to see pastor again.
We met after a Sunday evening service as we did for my first exorcism. With sincerity, I sat in the chair as pastor kneeled down beside me to pray.
“Father we come before your throne of mercy and grace. We praise you Father God for the good Father we know you are. We love you and worship you, Lord Jesus. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Do you feel that, Azariah? I’m feeling the fire of God. Do you feel that?” The pastor often asked this question when she prayed for someone.
With my eyes closed in prayer, a broken and desperate “Yeah” was all I could manage to say at a whisper.
She pronounced her words with an edge. Wielding them like swords sharp enough to cut through this dimension and into the spirit realm.
Her volume rose, “In the name of Jesus – SATAN! We rebuke you! You have no power here! You have no authority over Azariah! In the name of Jesus, we PULL you out!”
Her bracelets ratteled as she motioned her arm like she was pulling an actual demon out of me. Frankincense and myrrh infused anointing oil wafted from her hands.
She took breaks from shouting to speak in tongues then resumed, “We plead the blood of Jesus against you demon of homosexuality! We know who you are. Spirit of perversion, we BREAK you off! We know how you got in Azariah. Now, come OUT!”
Your Destination Will Be On The Left
It was my third week in rehab and my roommate Scott was on my last nerve. I hated how he acted nice to someone then belittled them as soon as they left the room. Every Wednesday we met in a room overlooking the famous Sunset Boulevard for men’s processing group. This particular Wednesday my face and body language were letting everyone in the room know I was upset about something.
“What’s going on with you over there Azariah? You seem different” the therapist prodded.
After a moment of hesitation, “I’m tired of us acting like we’re okay. We’re in rehab. None of us are okay. I’m not okay. And we’re talking about stuff that doesn’t matter. Meanwhile, Scott wants to act like everything is okay.” I snapped.
Scott interjected, “What are you talking about Azariah? We’ve all been through some shit together and talk about it. ” Scott was about to become my punching bag.
I exploded, “What are you talking about?! We haven’t been through shit together! I don’t even know you! I know you talk shit about people as soon as they leave the room though. Let’s talk about that!” For someone who is often viewed as quiet, I suddenly had very pointed opinions that drove Scott to storm out of the room but not before he said, “Whatever you’re tripping on, it’s not about me.” He was right.
Devin, the therapist, asked what you’d expect a therapist to ask, “What are you feeling right now, Azariah?”
I couldn’t remember the last time I erupted like that. It was like the time in seventh grade when Tyler asked me if I got my sandals out of my mom’s closet so I punched him. I ran out of the school and hid in the cornfield across the street.
“I feel like the little boy who lost his temper all the time,” I responded. Except, this time, I didn’t run and hide in a cornfield.
He pressed harder, “What are you really angry about?”
Every wall inside me collapsed at that moment. The dam broke open and an ocean polluted with anger, rejection and shame poured out. My chest caved in. My hands attempted to hold my heart in. The demon was finally coming out, “I’m angry they lied to me. I trusted them.” I wasn’t angry at Scott. None of this was about Scott.
“They told me Jesus was real. They told me if I believed I would be better. I believed. I trusted them. I trusted them.” I said sobbing and gasping for air as I did on the night of my first exorcism. As soon as those words came out, I knew healing this would be my testimony and my path back home – my true home.
(Author’s note: All the names of individuals in this story have been changed to respect their privacy.)