Thaddeus Heffner, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Brentwood, Tennessee, is often asked by clergy how they can help support their parishioners that struggle with unwanted same sex attraction. Recently, Thaddeus Heffner shared a few of the most commonly asked questions regarding this issue.
Q: What is one of the most frequently asked questions that you receive from clergy in regards to someone who struggles with unwanted same sex attraction?
Thaddeus Heffner: Often I am asked the question, “What about the sin?” It is an obvious question from clergy because they are called to care for the spiritual state of their parishioners.
Q: How do you answer this particular question?
Thaddeus Heffner: I answer with the same question, “What about it?”
Q: Answering a question with a question seems like you must be leading them to perhaps a broader answer?
Thaddeus Heffner: You’re exactly right. Clergy have a calling to focus on the spiritual life of their people. They do this with the best of intentions but often neglect that the person has also been given a body and a soul (psyche). I want to encourage clergy to continue focusing on the spiritual and also begin to put some emphasis on the body and soul as well.
Q: In your experience, what does focusing also on the body and soul help to accomplish?
Thaddeus Heffner: Research shows that we were made to “attach” to other human beings which just means that we were built for healthy relationships, to be cared for, loved, to know that we are worthy of love and friendship, etc. This all falls under the umbrella of healthy attachment. When we lack these things, or we feel that we are not worthy of love, friendship, or not cared for, this would mean we are in a detached state. It is through relationship, time spent with each other, and healthy community that we nourish the body and the soul, and even the spirit.
Q: But don’t people get all of these things when they go to church and are surrounded by people?
Thaddeus Heffner: The potential is certainly there to get needs met in church but too often when asked on Sunday morning how one is doing the reply is almost always, “I’m fine. And you?” – to which the other person says, “I’m fine.” These exchanges are more like drive-bys than actually being in the realm of a warm conversation between friends. No needs are being met. No connection is being made. We’ve put in our face time for another week and have six days of potential isolation before we do it all over again.
Q: So back to the “sin” question then – what do you mean by, “What about it?” What is it you are getting at?
Thaddeus Heffner: Most people are just trying to get their non-negotiable needs met. Most people make unhealthy choices because they don’t know what the healthy choices are to get needs met. Men struggling with unwanted same sex attraction fight to not act out. The actual acting out is an attempt to get their needs met – to know that they are loved, worthy, to have friends, respect, closeness, vulnerability – ultimately to attach to other men and know that they belong to men.
What if instead of only focusing on the spiritual, telling them to read their bible more or pray and fast more, spiritual leaders were to actually get involved with their lives? Instead of accepting the answer of, “I’m fine”, taking time to ask them what does that really mean, and while you are at it tell them how you are really doing too! Go out to lunch. Take a walk. Get to know them. Do life together. This would be feeding not only their body and soul, but also yours.
Q: What results do you see when this happens?
Thaddeus Heffner: When men are getting their needs met in healthy ways by safe men through community and friendship, they tend not to need to go and act out to get their needs met in unhealthy ways. So it brings us back to the question, “What about the sin?” Well, in my opinion, if we focus on the spirit only, sin will increase. It is in feeding the body and soul also that the actual sin begins to decrease because men are attaching in healthy ways, finally feeling and knowing that they belong.
Q: Any last words for pastors out there?
Thaddeus Heffner: Yes–for men that struggle with unwanted same sex attraction, and men that don’t struggle: it is not an overnight phenomenon. Friendship and community means investment and it can get messy at times. But it is always worth it. I would invite you to drop the “I’m fine” and pick up not being afraid of jumping into the mud with guys. It is important to feed the body and soul as well as the spirit. Just know that the results may take a little more time because the body and soul have been starved for so long.
Thaddeus Heffner is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Brentwood, Tennessee and is a member in good standing with the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and the American Association of Christian Counselors. You can visit Thaddeus Heffner LMFT at thaddeusheffner.com.