A lifetime of trials leads to strong faith, joy
The New Testament book of James 1:2-3 says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (NIV)
Jeff Crawford is living out that Scripture with a faith uncommon to many Christians gay or otherwise.
Jeff carries with him a joy that comes from the solid faith he developed from a variety of tests - from sexual abuse by his grandmother as a young boy, to turbulent times as a teen, to divorce, and custody battles for his children.
“I grew up in Inglewood, Ohio, as an only child, and I don’t ever remember my parents getting along with each other,” Jeff said. “My dad was always out, usually with other women and we rarely went to church as a family. But I often rode a bus to the Baptist Church.”
Knowing how Southern Baptists so often condemned to hell those who were gay, Jeff suppressed any homosexual feelings or emotions he had.
“But I still remember being attracted to my male teachers, even in preschool,” he said.
To offset his family situation and internal conflict about being gay, Jeff immersed himself in music.
“School was really difficult on many levels, so when I would come home after a hard day, I harnessed that energy into practice time with my viola.”
By the time Jeff was in seventh grade, his family was so poor they were going to have to live out of the family car. Eventually, they moved in with an aunt and uncle, but the situation was less than ideal.
“Between a rocky living situation, family disagreements, fighting my attraction to men, and the awkwardness of being in junior high, I was suicidal,” Jeff said.
Jeff’s mother knew he was caught in a depression spiral and practically threw him at a new youth minister at their church, he said.The new youth minister, Mike Castle, quickly took an interest in Jeff. He was the first person to give Jeff singing lessons and also happened to be the first person to speak of gay people in a favorable manner.
“Mike told us that gay people were intelligent, often creative, and not anyone to be afraid of,” Jeff said.
Under Mike’s tutelage, Jeff continued to develop his singing talent to the point that Jeff was often singing in church, and taking on leadership roles within a variety of church ministries.
“I finally started realizing that God could use me, that I was not a reject,” Jeff said.
Mike left the church when Jeff was a junior in high school and later it came out that Mike was gay, a fact that didn't surprise Jeff.
With the absence of a youth minister, Jeff decided to take a similar role upon himself. Even though he only a junior in high school, Jeff started an independent Bible study that grew to the point where three different high schools were attending. By the time Jeff reached his senior year in high school he decided to audition for a touring Christian musical group called “The Continental Singers.”
Jeff made it into the group and in 1990 toured throughout the United States, Canada, Belgium, Holland, Russia, and Germany.While he was on tour, Jeff approached this ministry with the same fervor he approached every other ministry opportunity he had; with a lot of determination.
After touring, Jeff attended Eastern Kentucky University and once again immersed himself in ministry by becoming a youth minister.
“In the summer, I often took my youth groups to camp. During the summer of 1992, I met a guy who traveled with a drama group endorsed by LifeWay Resources in Nashville. We connected and he was affirming in my ministry.” Along with the affirmation he received, this would be the first time Jeff was confronted about being gay.
“It was such a strange time for me. He was forcing me to come out to both of us. But he was closeted as well. And he kept telling me there were programs we could attend to “fix” what was wrong with us.”
Oddly enough, this same individual would invite Jeff to pursue his music degree at Belmont and to live with him until the dorms opened that fall. Jeff soon noticed that he was a part of a pattern.
"I met the guy who came before me, and I eventually met the guy who came after me,” he said.
Jeff did well during his first year at Belmont. He recorded an album and partnered with a music business student who became his manager. However, things soon took a turn for the worse.
“Since I was working as a youth minister, I was invited to a leadership conference at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. While there, I met a guy who was an editor at LifeWay who wanted me to write a series of Bible studies for them. Complicating the situation was the fact that he was on the rebound from a guy who also worked at LifeWay,” notes Jeff.
These encounters proved to be a very confusing time for Jeff. On one hand, he met individuals who were working in ministry and affirming him in his abilities. On the other hand, these same individuals were coming out to Jeff, being sexual to a point, and often telling him there were programs to “fix” what was wrong with him.Confusion reigned.
Jeff’s second year at Belmont was less than ideal. Feeling the pressure and confusion of mixed signals from people he respected in ministry, Jeff felt his life was spinning out of control. So he dropped out of Belmont.
Soon afterward, Jeff discovered the Nazarene Church. He states, “I loved their philosophy of grace, and felt this was a church with which I could connect.”
It was in the Nazarene Church that Jeff would meet his future wife.
“She asked me if I was gay because she knew who I was rooming with was gay. I told her I struggled with it, but was doing all I could to overcome it,” says Jeff. “I just knew that she was the one, if she knew my struggles but was willing to love me anyway.”
Jeff married in 1995 and had three children. While they were married, Jeff would prove his musical talents by successfully growing music ministries at two different Nazarene churches.
However, in 2002 Jeff met Kevin. “I saw his picture in the church directory and thought if I ever meet him, I’m in trouble,” Jeff adds. Both Jeff and Kevin were married at the time.
“We didn’t mess around for over a year, but when we did, we knew what we were doing and I wasn’t sexual with my wife anymore. I told Kevin that I either needed to run from him, or I needed to run toward him with all I’ve got.”
Jeff chose the latter.
“From the outside, I had the model family. I was successfully involved in ministry, had everything going for me professionally, and had three kids that I adore. But inside, I was a train wreck.” Jeff goes on to add, “I had every reason to forget Kevin, but I couldn’t do it.” Jeff and Kevin have happily been together since 2005. Jeff’s three children have embraced Kevin as a regular part of the family.
Reconciling your faith and sexuality is rarely an easy task. Churches often send messages of hate and exclusion to those who struggle with being gay. But fortunately, that is turning around.
Jeff and Kevin are attending West End United Methodist Church where “the church has embraced us as a couple,” according to Jeff.
“I had to resign to myself that God didn’t have a problem with me being gay. I was the one who had the problem with it. God knew every thought I ever had about it and every struggle. I just had to let it go and love the man God put in my path to love,” says Jeff.