Jeffrey Hoffman

BJA, 1988

Jeffrey Hoffman

Jeffrey Hoffman

I was born on the campus of Bob Jones University and spent all of my formative years there as a student in Bob Jones Elementary School, Junior High School and Academy. I even spent half a semester as a college freshman at Bob Jones University until a bout with pneumonia revealed that God had other plans for me.

I was eight years old when I began to discover my attraction to other males. At first, I was confused by my crushes on older boys, by the feelings I had towards my closest male friends, and by my gradual awareness of sexual feelings that I could not discuss with anyone. This terrifying, lonely secret slowly consumed me. Outwardly, I was a “momma’s boy,” and my prepubescent peers, picking up on cues from the adults at BJU, started to mock me as a sissy. As someone who has always believed, I wanted nothing more than to be Bob Jones’s definition of a godly man and a “good Christian,” so I prayed daily for God to remove these desires from me. Each night, silent tears of anguish accompanied my prayers for God to make people, including my father, stop thinking I was a sissy. Instead, an unwanted sexually-charged encounter with an adult male at our Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) church, whom I trusted, further confused me.

As I moved through puberty, those feelings crystallized into desires I tried to banish from my thoughts. But they would only return, at the most inopportune of moments, to remind me that I was different from the others. I was that word I heard Bob Jones III say so often with derision and spite as he lisped and pranced around in the Founder’s Memorial Amphitorium’s big pulpit: I was, in fact, I am homosexual.

I believed every word I heard preached from the big pulpit and in our local IFB church. And in my heart, I knew I was not who I was pretending to be. I was guilt-ridden for having discovered masturbation as a pre-teen and for experimentally masturbating with another boy. I confessed this “sin” many times, but always I returned to it. It was too comforting and too pleasurable to avoid in the midst of the turmoil and chaos of our home life and my mother’s battle with psychiatric illness.

Through my teenaged years, a profound melancholy and a belief that my “thought life,” my secret sexual awakening, was the cause of Mother’s continuing illness drove me to the depths of private despair. There were several times when I contemplated suicide. There was no one to whom I could turn to talk about these things. Bob Jones University is not a safe place for a homosexual person to be honest. So I faked the heterosexual act — easy enough to do in a place where physical contact between the sexes is so rigidly forbidden — by dating young women, affecting a sort of machismo, and playing the game to become a popular BoJo. My musical gifts as a pianist and trumpet player were my ticket to popularity and I largely succeeded at my attempts to fool others. But I could not fool myself and I knew that I could not fool God, no matter how hard I tried.

Family crises and personal crises continued to eat at my heart. My mother was hospitalized. My father had a near-death experience from a bleeding ulcer. The pressure (internal and external) to be a perfect son and perfect BoJo was too much to bear. One night, at eighteen years of age, sobbing alone once again, I finally decided I might as well own up to my true feelings and let God know what I really thought: “I hate you. You’ve made me this thing I cannot control and then brought me up in a place where I am told that my burning desire is pure evil — the worst kind of evil — and that I need to change. But I can’t change. I’ve asked you for years to change me, but you haven’t. I’ve tried to change myself, but that didn’t work either. How could you do this to me? What did I do to deserve this?”

My tirade ended, I fell back, exhausted, to try to sleep… and then I heard it. I heard the still, small voice of a grieving Father saying “My child, I love you. I have always loved you. I will always love you.” These were the words of scripture long-ago memorized. I knew this was the voice of God, and I began to understand. Shortly after that, I told my parents that I am gay.

Love.

Here is what fundamentalists don’t understand, what the received dogma of the fundamentalist movement cannot even contemplate: being homosexual is about love. I am not a sexual act. I am not lust. I am a person who has the capacity to love another human being deeply and intimately.

I came out of the closet at eighteen, but I remained celibate for long years after. It was easy for me to tell myself that I was just consumed by an evil lust when I was checking out guys at school or in the mall, but one day in my junior year of conservatory here in New York City I fell in love. Knowing that I was in love changed everything for me. I had to confront the fact that I wasn’t just attracted to this man’s body like so many other lusts before him, easily dismissed. No. Being in his presence was my great delight. Laughing together. Sharing music we both loved. Talking. Everything about him thrilled me. I loved him.

In the King James translation of St. John’s first epistle we read

7Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 9In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. 12No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. ” – I John 4:7-14

A wise Anglican priest friend once quoted St. John’s epistle to me in one of my own homophobic outbursts, saying “I have stood at the bedside of many an AIDS patient who was dying in his lover’s arms. I have seen their tenderness and love, deep, abiding human love on display in that hospital room. How dare you, how dare anyone, mock that love? How dare you or anyone say that the love those two men shared for each other in the midst of the most painful moments of their lives is not a picture of God’s love for His Church? No human love is perfect, but St. John is clear, when people love each other, God is there. Love is of God.”

Love indeed is of God for God is Love. The hatred and bigotry of fundamentalist dogma have nothing to do with God.

You are loved. I am loved. We are loved. Hallelujah!

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26 comments

  1. Steve Shamblin says:

    Jeffrey,
    I love you, my friend! We are not alone! Thank you for sharing your story.
    Steve

  2. Tracy Bidleman says:

    Jeffrey:

    Wow – thank-you for sharing your story. May it fill others similarly situated with hope that life can be different. May it remind all of us to be loving towards one another, and more importantly, that loving others can only be present when we embrace and love ourselves. Judgment, fear and hatred leave no room for love.

    I love you.
    Tracy

  3. Nancy M says:

    Jeffrey, once again, I was brought to tears as I read your story. The attempts to be the ‘good’ Christian and Bojo are so familiar to me. I too tried everything to change, and wondered why God didnt change me. I took the heterosexual route, thinking it would ‘fix’ me. It did not. it took a long time for me to come to the conclusion that-maybe He had no reason to change me! Maybe he accepts me just the way I am. I just had to accept myself the way I was. And I could not do that until I felt that GOD would accept me as I was. Hence a lot of research on my part to search what the Bible truly says about homosexuality. Which is very little. And what it does say is a lot different than how I was taught. Surprise! God loves us as we are! Even if others don’t.

  4. Powerful stuff, Jeffrey. Thanks for sharing your amazing story. It really drives home the reality of what it must be like to grow up gay in our culture – but how it’s even more difficult within fundamentalism.

    Stay strong and let’s hope we see only more progress in this area of human rights in the years to come. It couldn’t be too soon.

  5. Nancy M says:

    “…being homosexual is about love. I am not a sexual act. I am not lust. I am a person who has the capacity to love another human being deeply and intimately.”
    I was a little shocked when I read this just now-because I had been contemplating this very thing earlier this morning.
    I was thinking of the term ‘sexual” preference. To me I think that is somewhat of a misnomer. To me it’s ‘gender’ preference. I want to love a person fully, give someone my heart, my life, my world. I dont just want sex with them. The phrase “sexual’ prreference seems to give the impression to others that sex is the first thing that comes to my mind. It is not. Love is. The term fuels those with the mindset that we are sexual perverts, lusting after a sexual experience. Maybe for some that is true, but not for me. As you pointed out, it is about love. One human being wanting to love and be loved by another human being. In this we are no different than heterosexuals.

  6. Peter ohm says:

    Thanks for sharing your story! It made me cry… Tears of sadness for what you went through, but also tears of pride and joy because of where you are now and your passion to spread your love, and God’s love to others who come from a similar place.
    Love you, Jeffrey!

  7. RAMIRO LOAISIGA says:

    THANK YOU FOR SHARING ,THIS BEAUTIFULL IT TOUCH ME VERY DEPPLY, LOVE YOU JEFFREY YOU ARE VERY SPECIAL TO ME.

  8. Curt Allison says:

    Incredible story Jeffrey. Honest. Raw. Disturbing. Hopeful. I appreciate the truth of your life that is testimony to the power of God’s love. Thanks for your honest sharing. Thanks for bringing light to the darkness of homophobia. And most importantly, thank God for the gift of Jeffrey Hoffman.

  9. God is love -and he that knows not love, knows not God. Being right with God, is something YOU KNOW in YOUR heart and NO man can take it from you. Thank you for sharing… let’s pray others find the peace we have.

  10. jess says:

    Very moving and very brave.
    What is so difficult about recognizing love as Love? We are all on the planet a short time – surely good will and kindness to each brother and sister is the easiest as well as the correct thing to do. God the Father is our only judge. All we have to do is be supportive of each other. It’s just not that hard. Thank you for sharing my dear.

  11. John Hastings says:

    Jeffrey,
    Beautifully written, achingly honest – the power of the truth. Thank you.

    John

  12. Marc Palladino says:

    Jeffrey,

    I thank you for sharing your story and for reminding me GOD deserves the best we have to offer. Honesty, Integrety, Compassion and Love – what incredible gifts.

    Marc

  13. Pingback: Perfect love casts out fear | Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Alumni of Bob Jones University

  14. Thomas Glenn says:

    Jeffrey, will you please send me an email where I could communicate directly? Our “paths” are much the same. I am a Pillsbury College graduate — “Little Bob Jones”, as i think Pillsbury was then called — long, long time ago. Best, Tom Glenn, Santa Fe, NM

  15. Pingback: publichealthwatch | Uncovering The Sexual Assault Crisis At Christian Colleges

  16. John Harutunian says:

    Hi, Jeffrey-

    “being homosexual is about love.”

    I have to disagree. And I immediately add: being heterosexual isn’t about love either. As every abused woman can testify, it’s just not that simple.

    “when people love each other, God is there.”

    Agreed. But that doesn’t mean that God intends all love to be expressed erotically.

    I will pray that God may both a)heal your wounds caused by hatred and derision, and b)grant you the gift of continence as He has done for many -gay and straight alike.

    Thanks for listening to the voice of this conservative Anglican.

    In Christ,
    John Harutunian

    • Jeffrey Hoffman says:

      Dear John,

      The serendipitous irony of receiving notification of this comment Saturday afternoon just as I was leaving the service for the Consecration of a New Bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of New York at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine where I had just been a participant was not lost on me. Thank you for reading and for your response. It was a busy weekend for this organist and choirmaster (consecration on Saturday, confirmations on Sunday) followed by a delightful long visit yesterday with my dear friend and co-laborer in this work, Kathy Baldock, so I’m sorry I’ve just now had a moment to respond to you.

      You see, as I listened to the cathedral choir sing a Sufi hymn that incorporates the Arabic version of the “Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh” or “thrice Holy” hymn of the cherubim; as I heard Bishop Frank Griswold give a lengthy sermon about the bishop’s role in safeguarding the polity and doctrine of the church; as I heard Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori require of our new Bishop Suffragan, Bishop Shin, that he affirm and uphold the creeds and doctrine of the church and promise to be a good shepherd to this flock in this diocese; as I heard letters of greeting from the Anglican Bishop of Tokyo and the Bishop of London read aloud, and as I noted that a Moravian Bishop and Lutheran Bishop served as co-consecrators with the Anglican episcopal contingent that were present; as our little Pentecost celebration that morning included portions read or sung in English, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, French, Spanish, Arabic, and Latin… all of these things served as a reminder of what Anglicanism is and why I became an Anglican after leaving Bob Jones University.

      I was reminded that our communion is a global communion that was specifically designed as a Church “where catholic and protestant can worship together” united by our Common Prayers to the Christ, who is the Head of the Church: in other words, a Church where people with vast disagreements may come together in humility to love and serve Christ who is our Head and Cornerstone. I was likewise reminded of the premium this Communion places on the active work of the Holy Spirit in individual hearts, in parish gatherings, in diocesan and national conventions, in conclaves and consultative counsels; knowing and believing that the Spirit’s work is not complete and that we are to follow where we are led by the Spirit’s moving.

      A lot of people come to me for advice. Many ask me whether they should do this or that thing about their innate sexual orientation. I’m very uncomfortable being prescriptive with “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” because I do believe and trust that the Holy Spirit leads us all into truth, and I trust the Holy Spirit to do the Holy Spirit’s work in each believer’s heart. What I do feel comfortable doing (and, in fact, I believe I am being led to do) is to share my story and my understanding of the scriptures with those folks. I’ve done a bit of that in this post and the series of posts it belongs to:
      http://bjunity.org/confronting-hatred/so-what-about-the-sex/

      It seems to me you’ve latched on to a single phrase I wrote, taken it entirely out of its intended context and that perhaps you’re new to our site and to my work, specifically, so unfamiliar with my positions on the topics you bring up.

      When you say “But that doesn’t mean that God intends all love to be expressed erotically,” are you supposing my view is the opposite of that statement? When you say “As every abused woman can testify, it’s just not that simple,” are you supposing that sexual abuse and sexual assault are about the perpetrator’s sexuality and sexual orientation?

      There is a great body of research on this second topic, in particular, that clearly indicates that sexual abuse and sexual assault have nothing to do with a person’s sexual orientation and everything to do with their need to dominate and control another person without that person’s consent. I think it’s clear from this post that this is precisely not what I am talking about in describing my own experience. I’d also like to point out that I don’t discuss my private life publicly, so it seems you’ve made some startling assumptions based on the scant information I’ve provided about my personal life.

      I’m grateful for your prayers, and rest assured that you also have mine, but I will not presume to offer you unsolicited spiritual direction in the form of prayer nor to suggest to God what God’s work in your life ought to be specifically.

      Jeffrey Hoffman
      executive director
      BJUnity