By Mitchell Danielson
Very few people in my life know about my sexual attraction to kids. Generally, it’s not most peoples’ business, but if I’m being honest, there are occasional times when I want to talk to certain trusted friends and family members about it. My reasons vary; sometimes it’s for advice, or simply for emotional support. Pedophilia does have a real impact on my life, much as I wish it didn’t. More generally, as a Christian, I want to readily and freely tell others what Jesus has done for me and the miraculous way he is drawing me to himself.
But at the same time, I know there is a real risk of being rejected and distrusted, including by other Christians, and that many people really don’t know what to do with the knowledge that a friend experiences pedophilia. I’m also afraid of being deliberately attacked and maligned by other Christians. I don’t want to become angry, bitter, and resentful, even though it might seem justified. I also don’t want to hide myself away from everyone and pretend this part of my experience doesn’t exist – I would become dangerously isolated. So, I need a strategy; a plan for what to do with these feelings of hurt, fear, rejection, and alienation.
(Here I need to emphasize the distinction between pedophilia, which is sexual attraction to children – an unchosen internal desire I and some other people experience – and all sexually abusive or illegal acts. I am not saying that anyone, Christian or otherwise, should ignore or minimize sexual abuse. Those who commit it need to be appropriately punished and sanctioned by civil authorities).
There are two particular areas of difficulty I’ve noticed over the past couple of years, regarding how other Christians view and address pedophilia. The more subtle and dangerous of the two is the temptation to believe that when other people devalue and reject me, it’s a reflection of how God thinks and feels about me.
See, I’ve read and heard commentaries and discussions from various Christian sources addressing pedophilia, and the vast majority of them, while well-intentioned, were pretty dehumanizing and accusatory. Sometimes they went so far as openly denying God’s love for anyone who is attracted to kids (and by extension, me), and denying His desire to redeem them. And it’s easy for me to believe that when they don’t see me as more than a pedophile, they may be right to do so. This can be especially true and painful when the person saying such things is someone I’m close to and would otherwise trust. I know that for some of these people, they genuinely don’t realize that I and many others with pedophilia choose not to abuse kids. But there are also those for whom the distinction between merely experiencing pedophilic desires and acting on those desires is worthless and laughable. It really does hurt to be maligned, and seen as dangerous or a lost-cause. I’ve weighed the question of whether or not I’m too dangerous to live.
So I need to remind myself of what is really true, and the best way to do that is to spend time with God, by talking to him and reading his words. I am created by him, I am loved by him, and he has given me a body and spirit as a unique individual. Because I love and trust him, I have asked him to lead me, and redeem me from my sinful nature- joined with him in a covenant by the blood of Jesus. Because of this mutual relationship, I am also his child. As John wrote in his Gospel,
“All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” -John 6:37
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” -John 1:12
He understands my vulnerability regarding how other people treat me, and he’s not ashamed or disappointed; rather, he wants me to run to Him for comfort and understanding (1 Peter 5:6-7).
Jesus spent most of his life on Earth being rejected by his spiritual family, the people of Israel, the heirs of his covenant with Abraham. By coming and living among them in human form, he was fulfilling the many promises made over the centuries that there would be a savior – someone to permanently reconcile the broken relationship between humanity and God. But many of his own people rejected him, and finally killed him, because they had built up their own expectations of how they wanted to be saved. Instead, Jesus had a different plan. He came to heal their hearts, and the hearts of all humanity. Isaiah 53 is a beautiful poetic description of how this played out, how Jesus suffered and that it was all part of God’s plan to redeem us.
“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” -Isaiah 53:3
Psalm 41 is also a prophetic poem; it both describes how King David was feeling when he wrote it, and how Jesus would be betrayed and mistreated.
“All my enemies whisper together against me; they imagine the worst for me, saying, ‘A vile disease has afflicted him; he will never get up from the place where he lies.’ Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me.” -Psalms 41:7-9
Sometimes this is a pretty accurate description of what living with pedophilia is like, in terms of how I am treated by others. I know that Jesus understands what it feels like to be rejected. As the band Casting Crowns has said, “If judgment looms under every steeple; if lofty glances from lofty people, can’t see past her Scarlet Letter, and we’ve never even met her.” So I’m thankful that Jesus was called a “friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19), and came specifically to save the sick and the lost. That certainly describes me well, without Jesus.
But regardless of whether my suffering comes as a result of my own sinful choices or unwarranted castigation from others, I can look to Jesus as an example of how to take up my cross, submit to God’s purpose for my life, and resist temptation (Hebrews 12:1-3). Furthermore, through this suffering in imitation of him, I can better understand how much God loves me, and love him more deeply in response – and in doing so, reject the inordinate sexual desires that come naturally to me. For as Paul wrote,
“I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that [resurrection from death] for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize [of knowing Jesus] for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 3:10-14
I have security, peace, and love in my relationship with God because of this. Nothing in all of creation can separate me from God’s love, not even pedophilia.
The second area of difficulty I want to address is my relationships with other people, and this is more complex. It has been very sad and discouraging for me to see other Christians wishing harm on pedophiles or wanting them to be permanently ostracized, even if they never want to hurt a child. Some people would insist that I must have been abused as a young child (I was not), while others have a “Pray the pedophilia away” attitude, or disbelieve my faith in Jesus altogether. A common line I hear from one YouTube commentator who occasionally mentions pedophilia is “Get therapy! Get help!” I know they are not referring specifically to me, but it is still difficult to not internalize it.
Now, there is a good and right way to pray for healing, and Trent writes about God’s regenerative work in one of his posts. Additionally, I’ve been seeing therapists regularly for most of the past eight years. It has been immensely helpful for learning how to live and cope with pedophilia, maintaining healthy boundaries and self-control, so I don’t wind up in a risky or foolish situation where I could easily abuse a child. But the simple truth is, there is currently no known therapy or cure that can reliably, predictably, and demonstrably eliminate pedophilic desires. Perhaps someday there will be a cure or a way to change these types of sexual/romantic desires, but today’s medical and psychological science has not yet even determined why pedophilia occurs, let alone how to change it.
Understandably, for many people who would treat me unkindly, their reasons are rooted in fear and anger that I might abuse a child; that I might even take pleasure in doing so. And to some extent, those fears are justified, as that is exactly what I can be tempted to do. The large numbers of people who were themselves abused as a child is sobering and tragic, and further exemplifies that this is not an irrational concern.
This charge, in particular, I need to address with great humility. As I talked about in a podcast where I shared my testimony, I sexually abused my younger brother during my teenage years and was later tried and convicted in court. Because of this, I have an acute responsibility to recognize that I now must live with certain civil limitations and expectations, beyond how things would have been if I had never given in to temptation in that manner. It is also my responsibility to avoid situations where I know I will be strongly tempted (1 Corinthians 6:18-20), and to respect others’ boundaries in regard to my past abusive actions. I recognize that some people, while still maintaining a compassionate and loving attitude toward me, may find it necessary to distance themselves from me, for the sake of their own peace and healing process. There is nothing wrong or inappropriate about this, so long as it doesn’t rise to the level of anyone projecting onto me the blame and anger of hurts and wrongs done to them by others.
At the same time, I am still human, made in God’s image, and worthy of being treated as such. It is not honoring to God (or to my brother or sister in Christ) to implicitly deny this by never saying or doing anything when I am treated wrongly. It does not glorify God if I play the role of a doormat. Hebrews 2:10-18 is a powerful passage that emphasizes how Jesus took on human flesh and its accompanying temptations. Because he has made us holy, he is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters, and he is not ashamed to include me.
But how should I respond to people when they don’t see that there’s more to me than pedophilia? The answer to that question will vary from one situation to another, but the Bible does have some things to say. First of all, other Christians are never my enemy, and it is wrong to attack them in word or deed (Galatians 5:13-15). My enemy is Satan. Even so, there may be times when someone obstinately refuses to treat me as a brother in Christ. Some people will choose to harden their hearts.
Oftentimes, it is simply not the right time or situation to do much of anything other than believe in my heart that only God has the authority to say who I am and how I ought to be treated. However, sometimes it may be helpful to talk to the person in private, to emphasize the love of God for all people (1 Timothy 2:1-7, Matthew 18:12-17), and explain to them the fundamental difference between pedophilia and sexual abuse. Other times it will be best to simply distance myself from certain people, especially if their mistreatment is leading me into sin, such as resentment and bitterness toward them, or doubts and fears of God and His promises, or if they are deliberately attacking me and trying to drive me away. (See Paul’s response to the Jewish people in Corinth, detailed in Acts 18:1-8).
It is not my place or my responsibility to overpower anyone and force them to “see the light,” and I need to avoid rash or spur-of-the-moment decisions. Rather, if someone firmly rejects God’s command to not judge my justification and calling as a son of God, I ultimately need to avoid fighting with them in that, as well. It is important to listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit in all such situations.
My heart needs to have the right attitude if I am going to react honorably. Principally, that means mercy and forgiveness toward people who are treating me cruelly or thoughtlessly. On one occasion, when Peter asked Jesus if it was enough to forgive a person seven times, Jesus replied “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22). This was a poetic turn of phrase that effectively meant “Forgive an infinite number of times.” And as King Solomon wrote,
“A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” -Proverbs 19:11
“Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you – for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others.” -Ecclesiastes 7:21-22
This forgiveness needs to be based on the love and grace Jesus first showed to me, and then acted out in my kindness and gentleness to others. I am called to demonstrate my love for others, regardless of how they have treated me, or treat me in return for that love. But even if I wind up needing to cut off a relationship altogether, I can still pray for that person, forgive them, and choose not to hold bitterness and ill-will against them. I never want to forget that God is in the business of restoration.
I once lost a very close friend in this manner and for these reasons, and living out what I’ve written here is difficult and painful. Sometimes I choose not to. But I can’t look Jesus in the eye with unforgiveness in my own heart, knowing all the things He has forgiven me for. One of my favorite songs beautifully addresses the attitude all Christians should have toward others:
“Let mercy lead; let love be the strength in your legs,
And in every footprint that you leave there’ll be a drop of grace.
If we can reach beyond the wisdom of this age-
Into the foolishness of God- that foolishness will save those who believe.
Although their foolish hearts may break, they will find peace.
And I’ll meet you in that place where mercy leads.”
-Rich Mullins, Let Mercy Lead
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been significantly blessed by a few gracious and loving friends and family members who know about my sexual attractions, temptations, and sins, and have walked with me through that experience, including discouragement from being shamed by other Christians. God brings people into the lives of all of his children to support them and encourage them; he does not expect us to be lone-wolves. At times this has been very difficult – even terrifying – but God knew what my heart needed at each step of the way, and showed me that I needed to learn to trust others. This also illustrates the importance of being part of a healthy church body, though I’m painfully sure that some who are reading this don’t currently have anyone in their life they can talk to about their own experience of pedophilia. I can’t personally make any promises in this regard, but God has done so:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” -Matthew 7:7-11
“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing.” -Psalm 68:5-6a
God has commanded the Church to be generous in time, care, and love, and if we faithfully ask him to lead us to other Christians when we need support and friendship, he will always come through. In my own experience, this has always required a significant step of faith and trust, both in God and in the people I have talked to about my attractions. And there have been a few times when one person or another let me down or betrayed my trust. But most of my experiences have been good; choosing to trust has gotten easier, and being rejected has become less painful.
Prayer has played an important role in all this; I’ve needed to pray for the strength and conviction to confess my sins and temptations, for discernment in finding the right people to ask for support, and for faith and patience as I waited for God to act. And sometimes, I’ve had to wait for a much longer time than I wanted. But God was always working, and always faithful. Sometimes he was waiting for me to take the first active step toward connecting with another person, and other times he was taking time to lead the other person into maturity, to where they were able to support me. Again, this is much easier said than done; I’m still learning to let go of shame and fear regarding this whole topic, and I feel vulnerable and uncomfortable talking about it. And that’s OK.
In conclusion, my goal is not ultimately to avoid pain, or judgment and ridicule, or to be praised and admired by people, or to have many friends. My goal is not even to stop experiencing pedophilia, though that is something I would like to happen. As Trent wrote about at the end of the same blog post I mentioned earlier, my goal as a follower of Jesus is to know him, serve him, and worship him! So, whether I am treated kindly or harshly; whether I am treated as a fellow brother or a devil; either way I can be encouraged by love from the family of God, or be drawn closer to God through sharing in his suffering. I can truly say that this has been one of the most freeing and rewarding experiences I’ve had. My security in Jesus is the key to freedom from the social shame of pedophilia.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” -Romans 5:1-5