Joy Paul Schwenke

B.A., Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, 1971; M. Div., Central Baptist Theological Seminary, 1975

Ed. note: As anyone who has spent any time within the network of Independent Fundamental Baptist/Bible (IFB) churches and colleges knows, Bob Jones University is the largest of an interlocking network of institutions and has for many years played a dominant role within that network through its Gospel Fellowship Association (GFA) mission subsidiary, SoundForth music, BJU Press, The World Congress of Fundamentalists and other, smaller colleges and universities where BJU graduates are faculty and administrators. It is our desire to assist LGBT people from within this larger network to share their stories, as well. If you or someone you know needs support within the larger network of Independent Fundamentalist organizations, we are here to assist you. Today, we introduce a man who is an alumnus of a now-defunct Christian college within the Fundamentalist network.

Joy Paul Schwenke

Joy Paul Schwenke

My story is not so much a coming out story as much as a forced out story. The main struggle was what I did when I was outed and finally accepted the fact that I was gay and a Christian. The two realities most certainly did not fit together in my mind when I reached puberty at about twelve or when I was outed at forty-four. They did not fit together for the next several years, and even now I struggle emotionally with reconciling those two facets of my identity.

I was raised in a Christian home. My father was my pastor; my mother was my Sunday school teacher and Bible Club leader during my early years. I trusted Christ as my Savior at an early age. One of my fondest memories as a teenager was attending youth rallies and Bible camps every time they were held. I also remember making many sincere decisions to rededicate my life during those special times and even during regular services. Specifically, I can clearly recall the Sunday evening service my senior year when I surrendered my life to serve Christ in full time service as a pastor. I attended Pillsbury Baptist Bible College (now defunct) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary in preparation for full time service to the Lord. I have to look back at my journey over those spiritual mountains and ask myself, “Was I just playing, or was it my honest intention to follow the Lord fully?” My answer could only be, “Absolutely, I was sincere; I was not playing games or pretending.”

I realized I was gay during my early teen years although I did not call myself gay. Our church referred to it as homosexual, and that name became anathema to me. Even though I did not call myself gay, from the very start of puberty I knew that I was attracted to masculine, not feminine, body features. From the moment I realized that and after every time I masturbated, fantasizing about men and not women, I felt terrific guilt, and I always prayed that God would take away that male attraction. That prayer started at age twelve or thirteen and continued uninterrupted for the next thirty-two years and beyond.

For years I refused to act on those attractions, but I knew I wasn’t a normal teen. Ironically, whenever I sat listening to one of the many sermons against sexual sins, namely fornication, I felt a little more spiritual since I wasn’t tempted to have sex with a girl. My attraction to men was pretty well hidden from anybody’s attention. I remember one time when a group of us teens were standing around talking, and one teenage boy said something very strong in condemnation of “homo’s.” Inside, I was petrified that everyone would know or find out that I was like that. At that time no one suspected.

I first experimented having sex with a man in a single, isolated episode with a classmate when I was seventeen. The next incident happened at the end of my college days. Over the next twenty years those experiences were sporadic and for the most part infrequent. I kept praying that God would make me straight, and I often did what I believed would help me achieve that end. For example, during two different periods in my adult life I attempted to memorize Bible verses. In one attempt I memorized over 1700 verses and had a regular regimen for reviewing them. It was not a substitute for getting over something but a sincere attempt to follow God’s way as I understood it.

Allow me to explain my thought process during those thirty-two years: I prayed and asked God to make me straight. After praying and asking for forgiveness, I always felt excited and hopeful that this was one step in the right direction on my journey to becoming straight. Added to this were the periods (often months or years) where I had no sexual activity with men. To my chagrin, I always found it was like going in a circle. The first steps looked like I was going in the right direction, but soon, or at least eventually, I found myself back at the same spot — being attracted to men. The day I was outed, I vowed to quit trying to become straight. I was tired of that thirty-two year struggle.

I had already gotten engaged and married during my time in seminary. Going into the marriage, I looked at it as part of God’s plan for me and certainly one step in the journey of becoming a straight man. I didn’t pretend to be straight, but I sincerely attempted to live as a straight man for my wife and eventual three daughters. This goes contrary to those who told me in counseling that I chose to be gay. My answer to that is that I chose to be straight — for thirty-two years!!!!

When I was outed, it was a tragic blow to my wife and family. It was very traumatic, and I made it worse by running away from my family and my responsibilities to them. I was utterly convinced that they would hate me. I even wrote a letter to them, asking my wife to change her name back to her maiden name and not have anything to do with me. I believed they hated me, because I hated myself. After a month of being gone, I ended up in a circumstance where I had to contact my father and ask for his assistance. He promised to help me on the condition that I would contact my family. I did, and to my surprise I found they still loved me. To me that was simply unbelievable. I also found out that it had been arranged that I could attend a counseling program with my wife to learn how to be straight. That was a decision that I pondered over seriously. My decision was made after I went into a Lambda bookstore. For those unaware it is a store that caters to gay and lesbian literature (not a pornography shop). I found the religious section and opened several of those selections. What I read was so directly opposite the interpretation of the Scripture I had been taught to believe that I left the store. In my mind I told myself you couldn’t just believe part of the Bible; it was all or nothing, and that included my understanding that gay was wrong.

I attended that counseling program with my wife for about three or four months. I went there sincerely and tried sincerely. It was there I realized that I was born this way. I began to resent God for making me this way. I also found that my family was willing to forgive me for my actions that so profoundly affected them. I also began to resent God for not answering prayer. Not answering my prayer was one thing I might be able to understand, but not answering my wife’s prayers was almost more than I could bear — to think that God would be so cold-hearted. At the end of that time, I had an episode of temptation and decided to stop trying to be straight. Again I left my family. I believed for me as a gay man to be around them would contaminate them.

I lived apart from them for four or five months. In my contact with them, I found out they still loved me — unbelievable! I knew that I still loved them. My church wrote me a letter telling me I should move back with them, and also promised that they would offer me a program of counseling to help me overcome my homosexuality. In a soft moment I decided to try again. The counseling was two parts. I attended a weekly ex-gay meeting held in a local church. I had had an earlier exposure to that so-called ministry. My greatest objection to those programs is that they start with the premise that I chose to be gay. They also teach that it is probably due to a father who was aloof. I was absolutely livid when confronted with that nonsense. I had had a loving relationship with my father, but had often heard my brother complain that he felt unloved as a child. I practically yelled out in the meeting that my brother should be gay — not me. The second part of the counseling was a weekly session with a professor trained in biblical counseling. That man had a son who was born with a defect. Toward the end of that program I told him that just as he couldn’t change his son’s physical condition, I had been born gay and was unable to change. This did not sit too well with him. This second attempt at trying to become straight ended after four months with my decision to be honest with myself, my family, the world, and God. Once again I left my family, believing I wasn’t worthy to live with them. My family was tired of me leaving (three times now) and asked for some space and time to recover. For the next seventeen years I gave them the space they wanted. Gradually my girls (now adults) made the move to be in my life, but I limited the time I would be with them. I understood how they might not be comfortable around me because I still wasn’t comfortable with myself.

When I left the third and last time I made two decisions. I decided I would never sing another gospel song again. Christian music had always been important to me. But my bitterness toward God was very strong. I reasoned that He had made me gay, that it was wrong for Him not to answer my family’s prayers, and that He had violated a Bible truth: that whatsoever you ask according to His will, He would do it. If there was one thing I was sure of, it was that it was not His will for me to be gay. About two weeks later I found myself humming “How Great Thou Art.” I got mad all over again. I told Him, “You’re not so great; you couldn’t even make me straight.” Several months later I attended a gospel concert at a local church. At the concert I heard several of the Christian songs I had grown to love earlier in life, and I realized I couldn’t continue on without the music that brought me such comfort and peace. After that I decided that I would not abandon my Christian music. It was like a little step back into sanity.

The second decision I made was to live honestly with myself, in the world, and before God as a gay man. I had been in the closet for forty-four years; I did not want to live another forty-four years the same way. I knew no other way than to admit I was gay. This meant I was in a great dilemma. I knew I was Christian, and I knew I was gay. How could I put those two together? I did walk down the road of atheism in my mind. I was not comfortable with that idea, but I did contemplate it. An easier way to try to fit the two parts together was to take a hyper-Calvinistic view of my life and circumstances. The most logical answer was to accept that God loved some people, and others He rejected. I was obviously in the second group. In college I had always argued on the free will side, but now I thought I knew the reality of the other side. I spent nearly three years being afraid God could not love me.

Through a circumstance at work with a co-worker I was confronted with the issue of trying to put gay and Christian together. At that time a local church that ministered to gay people advertised a Bible study on the Bible and homosexuality. I attended. The pastor was very encouraging and wanted to help me. He began to assess my condition. At this time I found a copy of the book by Troy Perry, The Lord is My Shepherd and He Knows I’m Gay. After reading that, I called my pastor and told him I had made a decision. When I told him of my decision to stop being mad at God and to begin trying to love Him, his answered floored me. The pastor told me that there was one thing wrong with that. With great big question marks reeling in my head, I asked him what that could be. He told me, “Before you try to love God, you have to believe He loves you.” I immediately said, “Prove to me God loves me.” (I knew He didn’t.) His answer was very simple yet profound. He quoted John 3:16 and told me that included me. He also told me that during Jesus’ earthly ministry he loved all the outcasts — harlots, lepers, and such. He told me if Jesus could love them, He could love me. That day a light came on in my head — God did love me. That night I read in Ephesians 3:18 about the breadth and length and height of God’s love. Before pillowing my head, I raised my fist and shouted, “God loves me!”

Over the next fifteen years, I often doubted that God could truly love me. Every time I went to church it was for the purpose of reminding myself that He did. Sometimes the truth of God’s love for me was strongly resisted in my inner being. Over time I became depressed and sought counseling. My counselor told me that I had a very poor view of myself. He used words like self-loathing. I spent about four years trying to convince him that I was the most wicked man on earth. This was based not only on being gay, but my guilt over failing my family, failing God and the ministry He had given me, failing all the church people where I had served, and failing my friends who had put great trust in me. During this time I almost refused any compliment that was given me (and they came regularly). My reasoning was that just as people did not know I was gay for forty-four years, they didn’t know now how evil I was.

In late 2010 my oldest daughter told me about a life changing seminar she had attended in California. She insisted I attend and wouldn’t take no for an answer. At that seminar, I confronted my resentment toward God and worked through the lingering anger I had. The seminar also helped me come to grips with my self-loathing. I learned how destructive it is, and how harmful it would be if I persisted on that path. I also began taking steps to overcome that self-loathing that kept me down.

The end result is that I have begun to celebrate the fact that I am gay. I have gone from being convinced that it was wrong, to another stage of believing that I had something like a plague that everyone should avoid, to a further stage of considering myself having something like a defect at birth, to yet another stage of enduring being a gay man as my lot in life, until I finally arrived at the realization that I ought to be celebrating that God made me gay and has a plan for my life. These have not been easy steps, but they have been real ones. I also know that others have walked a similar path. My prayer is that, having read this, you will continue in your journey and find the genuine view of God’s love and marvel at the depth and breadth and length and height of knowing that God’s love includes all of us, even when we doubt it (Eph. 3:18). And may that love be a source of peace and comfort for you always.


  1. soultwist says:

    Reblogged this on soultwist and commented:
    What an amazing story, and I relate on so many levels. My prayer is what can I do to help those that are now where we were. How can we get the message of God’s love and acceptance through to them when the shouts of Christians can be so deafening?

  2. rwh5441 says:

    Joy Paul,

    Thank you so very much for your testimony. I taught at Pillsbury and heard you preach. I was also a member of Fourth for a while. I came out to myself as a gay gentleman when I passed my doctoral comprehensives in the fall of 1990. I came out to others in 1993 when I took my present job at a state university.

    I got the bums rush out of Pillsbury in 1981. At that time I didn’t know what hit me, but now I realize that the president suspected that I was gay. It took me a while to come to the same conclusions that you have.

    Today I am a happy individual. I know that God loves me, and I still serve him as organist at a Lutheran church where I live. It is a church that is not obsessed with gay people, and I feel that I can serve without fear that someone will try to drum me out again.

    Again, I thank you for your testimony

  3. Tom Glenn says:

    Joy, I would enjoy connecting with you. I began and ended PBBC the same years that you did. Seems like a million years ago.

  4. Joy Weber says:

    “Mr Joy!!!” Oh my gosh!!! I’m gay too!! I don’t know if you’ll even remember me, but I was at 4th Baptist while you were leading the youth program (about 1973?) and I loved that we shared the same first name.

    You need to know how important you were to me. During those years that you were struggling, you still managed to be supportive and encouraging to the little girl I was. Home life was pretty awful, but singing with you at church was my anchor.

    I would so love to share more of my story with you and have a chance to talk or email. I’ve lived in Ithaca, NY for the past 29 years. I’m on Facebook and you can also contact me through my email [ed. note: Redacted and forwarded to Joy Paul Schwenke privately].

    I do hope to hear from you.