As an itinerant youth worker who did music and seminars on music in a variety of churches, the closest thing I had to a base was a small, conservative Evangelical church in east Toronto which also happened to have, throughout the 1980s, a very dynamic youth outreach on Friday nights.
On the Fridays I wasn’t booked elsewhere I would spend my evenings there listening to the performers and talking to people who just wanted to talk.
I knew Mike superficially but we hadn’t really had much in the way of conversations, so I was a little surprised when he told me that he really needed to talk with me about something important.
I had arrived early that night to unload some boxes, and hadn’t moved my car, therefore, parked as it was by the front door where teens were coming and going every few seconds, it offered a place that was both public and private at the same time. I often used it as a portable office.
Mike shut the door and began telling me how his life was plagued by lustful thoughts and how he was often swept away by uncontrollable urges; often several times in a single day, if you get my drift.
My policy had always been that I felt questions concerning sex or sexuality should be handled by the married individuals and couples who were part of that ministry’s core team, and had I known ahead of time that this was the topic of choice, I would never have suggested Mike start telling his story.
But I was also not completely unprepared. I have two stock answers to questions of this nature:
First, I told Mike that the Bible is very clear that the mind is the battlefield. I may have mentioned the verse in Proverbs 4 that reminds us to guard our hearts. I may have mentioned the one in II Cor. 5 which tells us to take every stray thought that enters our mind captive. I definitely would have got into the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus equates a lustful look with adultery.
Second, I reminded Mike that one aspect of the fruit of the spirit is self-control. That nothing, no matter what, should overtake us.
I thought those two points summarized the issue quite well. It also avoided ridiculous advice like, “Why not just take a cold shower?” That would not have been helpful at that point.
So, confident that I had done my job, nothing prepared me for Mike’s response:
“But you don’t understand, Paul; I’m Italian.”
Apparently, somehow, ethnicity, or culture, or citizenship rendered all my earlier points null and void. Mike’s self identity as an Italian canceled out all requirements to adhere to the lifestyle ideals presented in the scriptures I had quoted or alluded to.
The strange thing about this is, despite the clarity with which I can retell this story two-and-a-half decades later, I have absolutely no idea what I said next to Mike. I can guess. I know I didn’t give him an opt-out on the basis of his parentage. I know at the end he appreciated my willingness to share. But I can’t remember my response exactly.
Had Mike found the perfect excuse to just ignore everything the Bible teaches? He believed his answer to me had validity.
What would you have said to Mike at that point?