Philia

    June 2000

    "They'll Know We are Christians by Our Love"
    Christian Consultation on Boylove Explores the Challenges of Support
    By Heather Elizabeth Peterson
    Philia

    Support groups for boylovers were the topic of the second annual Christian Consultation on Boylove, which was held from Thursday, June 8, to Sunday, June 11, in a church near Washington, D.C. The consultation was sponsored by the Christian Boylove Forum and was attended by eight boylovers, three non-pedophiles, and a minor-attracted adult who takes part in a sexual recovery group.

    WE ARE ONE IN THE SPIRIT, WE ARE ONE IN THE LORD

    Music and worship were the heart of the consultation, which took place on the weekend of Pentecost, a traditional ecumenical holiday celebrating the formation of the Christian Church.

    On Friday morning, consultation members gathered in the sanctuary of the church to sing together such hymns as "They'll Know We are Christians by Our Love."

    On Friday evening, piano, organ, harmonica, and electric guitar accompanied the consultation members' rendition of "Amazing Grace."

    On Saturday morning, consultation members listened to modern Christian music as they joined a local March for Jesus.

    On Saturday evening, the consultation members gathered in a forest clearing in order to take part in a brief communion service. As the members sat in silent meditation at the beginning of the service, an Orthodox Christian attending the consultation spontaneously raised his voice in the Byzantine chant, "O Joyous Light." The text of the chant is the evening hymn of the Orthodox, Episcopal, and Lutheran services.

    "I didn't know that I would have an Orthodox chanter taking part in this gathering," said the presiding pastor after the period of silence was over. "Nor did I know that I would have Quaker, Anglican, and Pentecostal participation, or that two of the people here would have served as Catholic altar boys when they were young. But I'm struck by the fact that there are thirteen of us here the twelve of you and myself just as there were thirteen participants in that first Last Supper. Jesus' original disciples were a mixed lot as well."

    Chris, who participates in a Christian rock band, said on Friday night, "Some of you will remember that I posted at the Christian Boylove Forum about missing the singing in church. I was avoiding going to church because I believed that the people there would despise me if they knew that I was a boylover. Well, I've got to tell you, our singing tonight is a really moving experience for me."

    WE WILL WALK WITH EACH OTHER, WE WILL WALK HAND IN HAND

    He drew a circle that shut me out  
    Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. 
    But Love and I had the wit to win: 
    We drew a circle that took him in! 

    This poem by Edwin Markham was the theme of Friday's sermon by the Protestant pastor who served as host for the consultation.

    "Jesus reserved his nastiest words, not for the thieves and murderers and adulterers, but for the leaders of the church who set standards and then went around pointing fingers and saying to people, 'You're out of the church; you're out; you're out,'" he told the consultation members. "That's not God's concept of family. Here I'm happy to say we have the makings of a real good family."

    He quoted Jesus' words from the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of John: "Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can't bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can't bear fruit unless you are joined with me. I am the Vine, you are the branches."

    "We are common vines with each other, whether we know it or not," commented the pastor. "When I heard [the consultation members'] stories, the thing that impressed me was that you support each other. And you don't agree with each other on everything, but that's not what is most important."

    Support, the pastor said, was necessary not only in order to provide community but also to encourage responsibility. "It's necessary to have a check and balance system," he said. "No matter who you are, you need someone you can check with to see whether you're going in the right direction."

    WE WILL WORK WITH EACH OTHER, WE WILL WORK SIDE BY SIDE

    The pastor's words were echoed by the consultation members in Friday's session, which focussed on the formation of groups to provide support for and encourage responsible actions by boylovers.

    Two types of support groups were discussed: peer support groups, composed primarily of boylovers, and support circles, composed of non-pedophiles who have agreed to provide aid and guidance to an individual boylover.

    Bach, Webmaster of the Christian Boylove Forum, said that he started his own support circle after he told a friend that he was attracted to boys. He believed that disclosing his sexual feelings to one person alone would prove too great a burden for that person, so he told several people he knew in order that they could talk with each other about his revelation. "The circle wasn't to support me; it was to support others I told," he said.

    Along the way, though, Bach believes that he has received assistance from his circle members in his journey of understanding his sexuality. "I believe that the Christian community is a searching community, and you can't search on your own," he said.

    Pedro concurred, saying that his support circle provides him with an outlet for communication. "My family doesn't realize that what I really want is not so much to meet with other boylovers," he said. "I want to meet with other people that I can discuss this matter with."

    Mark is taking the first steps to form his own support circle and says that he believes that such groups can help prevent societal tragedies from taking place. "Look at that whole Sam Manzie thing," he said. "Three lives were ruined."

    While Ford Prefect agreed that support groups are valuable for some boylovers, he felt that in his own life he was being more honest with the people around him by not labelling himself as a boylover. "What they see now is a heck of a lot closer to the real me than what they would see if I used labels for myself like 'boylover,'" he said.

    Ford Prefect says that the people around him see his true self by noting the positive influence he has on the children he works with. As a celibate boylover, he said, "I express God's love to others through my attractions rather than in spite of them."

    Bert, a minor-attracted adult who belongs to a support group for ex-gays, agreed with this sentiment. "I believe that the Bible forbids same-sex sexual behavior," he said, "but I also believe that the Bible encourages same-sex intimate non-sexual relationships."

    Bert told the consultation members of his own struggles to end the fleeting sexual encounters with boys that had taken place when he was younger. Now a husband and father, Bert reported that the role of the support group is important in helping keep him to his chosen path. He said, "I need support where I can say, 'I loitered too long in the restroom,' without Christians saying, 'Okay, you're out of the church.'"

    A multi-person support group is not always necessary, Bonzo suggested. In the Catholic tradition, he pointed out, church members are often encouraged to select a spiritual adviser for support.

    "The important thing," said Tobias, "is that the people who are supporting you love you."

    Dirk Gently, who belongs to Bach's support circle, said that he was glad that Bach told him about his attraction to minors. "Disclosing [your sexual attraction to children] can deepen your relationship with the other person," he told the boylovers.

    The Christian Consultation on Boylove, Bach said, is an example of the type of gathering that helps boylovers feel part of the wider community. "You're going to be going home from this consultation," he told one of the boylovers. He added, to general laughter, "We can't all go home with you. Some people here [who go home] will feel lonely and want to meet people [who support] us."

    AND WE'LL GUARD EACH ONE'S DIGNITY AND SAVE EACH ONE'S PRIDE

    A mosaic consists of thousands of little stones. Some are blue, some are green, some are yellow, some are gold. When we bring our faces close to the mosaic, we can admire the beauty of each stone. But as we step back from it, we can see that all these little stones reveal to us a beautiful picture, telling a story none of these stones can tell by itself.

    That is what our life in community is about. Each of us is like a little stone, but together we reveal the face of God to the world. Nobody can say, "I make God visible." But others who see us together can say, "They make God visible." Community is where humility and glory touch.

    These words by Henri J. M. Nouwen, recited by Ford Prefect during Friday evening's worship, were spoken two days before the Christian holiday that celebrates, as the host pastor put it, "the event joining together the apostles into a community." Saturday's session continued to examine ways in which boylovers and their friends and family could join together in seeking responsible lives for boylovers.

    Helen, who has a gay child, has participated in real-life and online support groups; she was able to contribute thoughts on how friends and family members of boylovers could unite to support each other.

    "They'll want a place to themselves," she told the boylovers. "If you're talking about how upset you are about discovering about your kid, you don't want your kid to listen."

    "It is far more difficult putting together an organization for parents of pedophiles than an organization [for parents of gays]," said Bach. Other members of the consultation agreed, speaking of the difficulties of placing parents in touch with each other.

    Both Helen and Bert indicated that a support group for parents needs to be primarily the responsibility of the parents themselves. "When will you be able to put together a parents' group?" Bert said. "When you get your first parent."

    The barriers for reaching out to boylovers seemed equally formidable to consultation participants. Bert, describing how the ex-gay movement was spread by a small advertisement in Christianity Today, said that the key to telling people that support is available is to publicize.

    The benefits of peer support groups, he said, extend beyond the people in the groups themselves. "You're going to be a great relief to churches who don't want to deal with [minor-attracted adults]," he said. "You can say, 'Send them to us.'"

    Helen continued to be concerned, though, by the practical barriers caused by the need of boylovers to remain anonymous. "I can't get my head around the problem of how you can connect with church without meeting with people in real life," she said. "Anonymous brochures aren't enough you need to meet people face to face."

    Ray agreed, speaking of his own struggle to find a middle ground between hiding his sexual identity and disclosing it in situations where such a revelation would be inappropriate.

    Disclosing one's sexual feelings was therefore seen by a number of consultation members as the foundation to encouraging the growth of support and accountability groups for boylovers. Pedro suggested that boylovers who have already told non-pedophiles of their sexual feelings could encourage other boylovers to do this by telling the story of their "coming out."

    Overall, the consultation members saw many obstacles to the growth of support circles and peer support groups, but most members remained optimistic that boylovers and non-pedophiles would grow in their understanding of the need for such groups.

    Bonzo, though, cautioned the members from focussing on this topic to the exclusion of other topics that are of equal importance to some boylovers. "The issues that I deal with are not, 'How do I contact the friends of the parents of boylovers?'" he said as the other consultation members laughed.

    AND THEY'LL KNOW WE ARE CHRISTIANS BY OUR LOVE

    Bert also indicated that some of the topics mentioned at the consultation were far removed from the concerns that he deals with in sexual recovery. "Even conservative boylovers ('let's just be friends with boys') are so far removed from what I wanted [with boys] raw sex that defenses of boylove from that point of view leave me unconvinced that any of that could help an offender like me."

    Despite his concerns about possible limitations in the boylovers' approach, Bert's desire to find common ground was evident in his willingness to allow the consultation to refer to him in its formal statement as a boylover.

    "You hit the exact word that makes the difference: 'context,'" Bert wrote to the organizers afterwards. "In the context of the consultation, I would be happy with the term 'boylover.' Outside of the consultation, it is more accurate to say I am an 'ex-pedophile.'  Or 'same-sex minor-attracted,' if one wants to avoid the 'ex-' label. For some reason I feel uncomfortable with the term 'ex-boylover' because I am beginning to see the distinction [apparent in the term] 'minor-attracted,' and I find 'boylover' to say nothing at all about [sexual] practice or age of attraction, and therefore nothing objectionable about it per se.  For that matter, I am beginning to see the same for the word 'pedophile' as well, since after all the latter is just the Latinate version of the former, but connotation of the older latter term still hangs heavy on the word, whereas 'boylover' has a fresh, new look that hasn't been spoiled by historical misuse."

    Similarly, Helen expressed her unhappiness afterwards at the idea of being inflexibly labelled.

    "I went to the consultation for my intellectual and spiritual growth," she said. "I just went there to relate to people as myself. People think of me as the mother of a gay child, but that's not my identity. In the context of the consultation and the boylovers, I am a seeker and a learner, not a doer."

    Independently, Dirk Gently also noted divisions but expressed hope for the future. Commenting on the line in "They'll Know We are Christians by Our Love" that reads, "And we pray that all unity may one day be restored," he said after the consultation, "In the midst of all the warm-and-fuzzy ecumenical sentiment, it is still a reality that there are divisions among those who follow Christ. Perhaps one day labels like 'boylover' or 'heterosexual,' liberal or conservative, will be unnecessary. And perhaps one day sacramental unity will once again be a fact which we can take for granted. Until then, we can only continue to love one another and pray for that which we may never see short of heaven."

    This year, the presence of Bert and Helen two people who had not had previous contact with the boylove community provided a widening of the discussions that had taken place in last year's consultation. Despite the various focusses of the members and their different views on pedophilia, odd synchronicities were noted by the members.

    One consultation member, for example, pointed out that Bert's decision to marry, despite the fact that his primary sexual attraction remained to boys, was similar to the boylover's own decision to enter into a domestic partnership with another boylover.

    Together, the members composed a formal statement describing the challenges and benefits of support groups. "Significant understanding of issues of faith, Christian love, and sexuality can result from discussion within a community of people with diverse backgrounds and experiences," says the statement. "Such groups can end isolation for boylovers, and provide them with an opportunity for guidance and accountability."

    Though there were a number of disagreements between the consultation members, and even between the boylovers attending the consultation, Helen believes that she was able to identify a unifying theme to the consultation.

    "What struck me,"  she said afterwards,  "is the depth of their Christian faith and their support for each other in the context of their faith." 

    Related Articles

    Philia Subject Index: Christian Consultation on Boylove

    Related Links

    Christian Consultation on Boylove. Includes 1999 and 2000 statements.

    Official Report on This Year's Consultation [Christian Boylove Forum]

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