"Not an Oxymoron"
Julius had no choice but to be a criminal. This was the message he received almost daily as he opened his newspaper or watched television. News reports said that people like himself were unable to control their sexuality and used their sexuality to destroy innocent victims. Everything he heard made him worry that he too might follow this path.
His troubles increased after he moved to a conservative Christian community. "Chapels, church sermons, and devotions kept harping on impure thoughts, and how God can remove them if we submit to him," he wrote later. "I became more and more distraught. On the one hand, I prayed for them to go away, but on the other hand, I liked them and didn't really want them to go away. When they didn't go away, I thought I must not have enough faith, or I wasn't submitting my will enough to God, and therefore he was rejecting me."
Among the choices open to Julius, one in particular seemed impossible: to tell fellow Christians what he was going through. After all, how he could he tell anyone that he was attracted to teenage boys?
SILENCE AND STRUGGLES
In an era when it often seems that Christian denominations are concerned about nothing except sex, the churches have been oddly silent on the subject of pedophilia. Although renewed concern over clergy sexual abuse has caused many denominations to pass policies forbidding sexual contact between church employees and minors, the average congregation member hears little or nothing on the subject of adult attraction to minors.
In 1991, for example, the Church of England published a report on homosexuality entitled Issues in Human Sexuality. The 48-page statement contained a lengthy discussion of biblical and theological stances on homosexuality, of the place of the same-sex-attracted person in historical and modern society, of the overall sexual standards that should guide clergy and lay persons, and of pastoral guidance for the average Anglican who finds himself to be attracted to the same gender.
By contrast, a survey of eight Christian denominations last summer showed that four of them (the Assemblies of God, Disciples of Christ, Church of Ireland [Anglican], and Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod) had issued no statements on pedophilia. The remaining four (the American Baptist Churches USA, [American] Catholic Church, Church of the Brethren, and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) had issued statements condemning child sexual abuse, sometimes in no more than a single sentence. The discussions of biblical and theological issues associated with pedophilia were brief, the statements did not mention the place of minor-attracted adults in society, and no pastoral guidance was offered to pedophiles who wished to follow church rules.
An inquiry to the Church of Ireland as to the pastoral options the denomination offered to pedophiles, particularly celibate pedophiles, brought a typical response. "The Church of Ireland has no ministry to paedophiles at present," a representative responded, "nor thankfully, have we had any cases brought to our attention."
In light of the lack of institutional guidance in this area, many adults who are attracted to minors have been reluctant to consult their pastors, being uncertain as to how the clergy will react. "I'm getting frustrated by my inability to be honest with anyone in the church," Julius wrote in 1998. "I would like to worship God with people with whom I can be honest and who will still love and accept me. I would like to receive the support and compassion that the church claims it will give to those who are honest about the difficulties they face. . . . I want to learn how I can honor God by expressing my love for boys in ways that benefit them. These desires lie at the heart of my faith."
One of the few pastoral options available to Christian pedophiles are the sexual recovery programs offered by ex-gay organizations. Although such programs are primarily oriented toward eliminating homosexual desires, ex-gay organizations are sometimes willing to help pedophiles who wish to change their desires.
Robert Van Domelen, who served three years in prison for child molestation, is now director of the ex-gay organization Broken Yoke Ministries, which offers help to sex offenders and those who minister to them. He says that he knows of only one denominational program for adults who are attracted to minors. This being the case, he believes that Christians who feel such attractions need to seek assistance through other channels: telling others that they trust, joining a Christian men's group, receiving private counselling through a Christian therapist.
Support groups remain rare, he says. "A major issue is privacy for the individual, and one is not likely to see support groups listed in the yellow pages. God willing, there will be a day when that might be the case and this issue can be approached with the same realistic hope as those who struggle with alcohol and/or chemical addictions/compulsions."
Mr. Van Domelen says that he sees "amazing healing parallels" between adults who are attracted to children and "same sex strugglers," and says that, too often, people in the medical world "latch onto the standard 'Can't be fixed' way of thinking."
He adds, "For one such as myself, it is the belief that change can happen through God and the vessels He chooses that continually motivates."
At the same time that the churches have spoken little about how lay pedophiles should lead their lives, secular society has made clear its growing concern over the existence of adults who are attracted to minors. During the past year, thousands of news articles have been published on the subject, often in connection with societal dismay over the use of the Internet by pedophiles.
The depth of societal feeling against pedophiles became apparent on September 2 and 3, following an international arrest of child pornographers, when the news site CNN set up a discussion board to allow visitors to post messages about the event. The discussion soon branched out into a more general debate over how society should treat pedophiles.
Although the topic being debated was adult-child sex, many visitors directed their comments toward all adults who are attracted to children. They described such people as "sicko," "freaks," "barbaric," "trash," "retards," "animals," "deviant," "perverts," "scum," "predators," "filthy shameless creeps." Some went further and suggested that all pedophiles should be atom-bombed, impaled, castrated, or strapped to the electric chair.
Many of the visitors appeared to believe that no alternatives were available besides harsh punishment to deal with adults who are attracted to minors, and all of them equated attraction with sexual activity. When a pedophile suggested that not every adult who is attracted to children acts on that attraction, another visitor responded, "A celibate pedophile? Give me a break."
SUPPORT GROUPS OR CHILD SEX RINGS?
In the absence of strong support from churches or secular society, pedophiles have been thrown back on their own resources. Like other groups that receive little societal support, pedophiles have formed self-help organizations to seek the assistance they have not found from outsiders. Many of these support groups are found on the Internet, which provides the anonymity that most pedophiles require.
Some groups have been formed around the belief that pedophiles should receive psychotherapy or other strong intervention in order to contain or change their desires. No More Victims, an e-mail list for recovering offenders and those who feel they may offend, was active in the early nineties, and its back lists show the fear and hope that recovering offenders hold for their ability to lead decent lives. A newsgroup, alt.abuse.offender.recovery, and a series of discussion boards sponsored by the Association of REcovering Abuse Survivors and Offenders Network (AReASON) continue to draw members.
The most controversial support groups, though, have been viewed by critics as child sex rings in disguise. These are a series of discussion boards run by "boylovers," men who are attracted to boys and who tend to view their sexual feelings in a positive rather than negative light. Loosely formed around the boylove organization Free Spirits, the discussion boards provide an Internet voice for pedophiles who often have no real-life support.
Critics say that the results are dangerously negative. A vehicle for exchanging child pornography, a place for children to be lured into sexual contact with pedophiles, a medium where pedophiles can persuade themselves that sex with children is a good thing . . . These are some of the charges that have been placed against the boylove boards.
Denny Mintun, who was ordained as a Pentecostal minister and now works to prevent child sexual abuse, says that he has mixed feelings about the largest boylove board, BoyChat. "The danger is that pedophiles might be encouraged in their actions," says Mr. Mintun, who is himself attracted to older teenage boys. "The benefits, though, may outweigh the dangers. By being a public forum, rational minds may be able to talk a person out of doing something harmful."
Bruce Pringlemeir, a Baptist youth minister, has a darker view of the discussion board. He says that there may be "some degree of support on BoyChat, if you find the right person," but he worries about the atmosphere of BoyChat because some boylovers there "have claimed and boasted of their sexual escapades. I really can't see the benefit of that. . . .
"For a pedophile who is going to attempt sex with a minor, BoyChat could be a breeding ground," adds Mr. Pringlemeir, who was sexually abused when he was a boy. "Despite what the administration says, there are provocative posts that might just influence a thriving pedophile. Now, [Webmaster] Jim Finn must be given credit, he does his best to remove the post as soon as possible, but he can't be on top of it all the time. When someone has a desire to have sex with a minor, it does not help to be on a board that promotes [sex with] boys."
One of BoyChat's most vocal critics has been the Child Protection and Advocacy Coalition (CPAC). Founded in 1995 to fight child sexual abuse, the CPAC has a policy of petitioning Internet service providers to persuade them to discontinue boylove sites. "[The CPAC] considers BoyChat and similar sites to be dangerous because they foster discussion of illegal and immoral sexual activities and may also lure unsuspecting minors into such activities," says Fritz Clapp, media representative of the organization. "While CPAC supports First Amendment rights, it also recognizes that 'free speech' should not shield illegal activities."
In its "History of BoyChat," written by former Free Spirits committee member Alexis, Free Spirits charges that, between May 1997 and August 1997, the CPAC pressured four successive Internet service providers into dropping BoyChat from their servers. The CPAC denies being involved in the July 1997 case, but declines to comment on the other three cases. "It is irrelevant to the CPAC how many times BoyChat and other BoyLove sites may find themselves displaced," says Mr. Clapp. "Central to the CPAC's position is the reality that there are [Internet service providers] hosting those who seek to further the goals of pedophilia and/or assist shielding pedophiles."
In its literature, CPAC describes itself as having a "no tolerance policy for pedophiles." "The CPAC offers no apology to pedophiles . . . who choose to believe that there is some type of discrimination taking place when Internet Providers (IPs) pull down their web sites or terminate accounts and/or services previously available," says the CPAC on a page describing how pedophiles use the Internet for the "abuse and possible abduction" of children.
Says founder Anne M. Cox, "There are no polite words to ascribe to what I think and feel when I see the so-called free expression, taking place on the Internet, that has its focus on an appetite for children. In my opinion, it is vile, and so utterly repulsive my stomach has churned . . . Boy Love sites, in my opinion, are a heartache. Their creators have expressed themselves, and so are we."
BoyChat's supporters, though, claim that the charges placed against the boylove boards are without foundation.
Jim Finn, a New York City resident who heads both BoyChat and Free Spirits, is adamant in his belief that BoyChat does not take part in illegal activities such as child pornography trading and arranging for sexual contact between adults and children. "I have been active on BoyChat for over two years and I've been the webmaster for about 18 months and I've never known such activities to go on," he says. "First, BoyChat strictly enforces rules against such picture trading and against meeting boys. Not only do I and other administrators watch out for this, a very large cadre of regular posters are careful to warn newcomers about the realities of the board. Our rules are really self-enforcing. I know many of the regulars well – to the extent that I speak to them on the telephone and meet with them often in their homes. If there is any pornographic picture trading or other illegal activity centered on BoyChat, I am not aware of it. And I am not a naive person."
Mr. Finn also denies the criticism that BoyChat encourages its participants to believe that sex with children is a good thing. "Actually, I think that many posts on BoyChat encourage people to believe that sex with people under the arbitrary legal age of consent is very risky and not worth the potential dangers," he says. "One often hears horror stories about the terrible things that happen to both men and boys in such relationships. I, myself, started posting on BoyChat believing that sex with boys is not inherently morally wrong. I believed that in certain circumstances it might be worth the risk. In the years since I've been posting, however, I have changed my practical position. While my moral belief has not shifted, I no longer believe that I could risk the harm to myself or more importantly to a theoretical, future younger lover."
BoyChat offers several advantages, Mr. Finn says, not only to boylovers but also to society. "I believe that forums like BoyChat allow boylovers to come together, be open and honest about their feelings and make friends. I believe that BoyChat helps its participants to learn to stop hating themselves and in many cases to become happier, more responsible members of society. Many of us, told we are evil monsters all our lives, have little choice but to buy into the label. We can't conceive of a different reality. BoyChat helps us shed that label and learn to accept ourselves as good and loving people. I can't help but believe that isolated, lonely people are far more apt to be socially irresponsible than self-accepting ones with true friends and an honest support structure."
BoyChat participants post messages at a site marked by the BLogo – a symbol made up of a continuous line forming a small triangle (representing a boy) nested in a larger triangle (representing a man or older boy). United only by their desire to talk about their feelings and by their frequently expressed opposition to the use of force or coercion in sexual matters, the members of BoyChat hold a wide range of views on moral issues connected with pedophilia. Their disagreements become clear whenever anyone asks advice from the forum's members.
In June 1998, a fourteen-year-old boy asked BoyChat participants a question about faith: "Here are three facts: 1) The church says homosexuality is evil. 2) I think I am a good person. 3) I find [younger] boys sexually attractive. —How am I supposed to reconcile these things. Should I dismiss the church, my parents, or my feelings?"
BoyChat's participants quickly responded, but in a variety of manners. Some cautioned the boy that his feelings might change as he grew older. Others were concerned with the question of how to reconcile the boy's faith with his sexual desires.
"We did not choose our sexuality, and who are we . . . to tell God he's made us the wrong way?" said a boylover. "Let us use what we have the best that we can. We could suppress our boylove feelings, but this seems to me like the man who hid his talent in the ground. Can we use it for good? – and 'good' includes not only helping boys in need, but having good fun times as well. The Bible is certainly strict on sex – and stricter on the general teen pastime of fornication than on homosexuality (in which, of course, it is referring to practices, not feelings). 'No sex without a lifetime commitment' seems to be the principle, and each Christian must make of that what he can. Certainly, if you're not having sex, there is no contradiction between your three numbered facts."
"As you try to reconcile the feelings you have, and the inner understandings of your own heart, try to keep in mind that, as much as she may like to think otherwise, 'the church' does not speak for God, and the essence of His message of hope through Christ is love, not hate," wrote another boylover. "Jesus was scorned by the religious elite of his day because he would eat and associate with those looked down upon as morally inferior. He didn't always approve of their lifestyle, but neither did he condemn it. Rather, He understood the human condition and human predicament and offered words of encouragement as each sought his (or her) way through this strange labyrinth we call life. And for those touched by the love of Christ, they found a shinning beacon of hope leading them home. That beacon is there for boylovers, too."
"Many people are never able to reconcile their sexuality with their religion," a seventeen-year-old boylover said flatly. "The two aren't really meant to go together. As you mature, physically, intellectually, and emotionally, you'll realise that many things mature themselves. Sexuality [matures] itself from wet dreams about a crush into love. Religion [matures] itself from blind acceptance to questioning about the truth."
Another participant at BoyChat disagreed, seeing a way to reconcile faith and boylove. "When we are attracted to such boys, my belief is that it's partly due to spiritual awakening (as well as the physical glandular attraction.) Sexuality in general is holy. For one thing – fun is holy!! And sexuality can't be separated from the awakening. Anytime we have sex, we are raising those spiritual energies, for good or bad."
"I started out in a Catholic School, and in a speech I gave recently I stated that I should sue because I was never 'molested,'" said another boylover. "I failed to receive that manifestation of the love of God which the priesthood is supposed to represent."
The disagreements BoyChat members have on faith echo their disagreements on sexual activity, with some BoyChat participants believing that they should have sex with boys if boys express an interest in such an activity and other BoyChat participants dissenting from this view. As a result of the board's diversity, boylovers can sometimes be found arguing vigorously with each other over such issues.
Most of the participants are not involved in boylove activism; they simply stumble across the discussion board and discover that they can discuss matters there that they have never discussed with anyone before. One such boylover was visiting a site that published non-pornographic pictures of boys when he saw a link to a site called BoyLinks, the boylove directory published by Free Spirits.
"I knew immediately what it was from its name," said Julius, "and I was scared to death to visit it – I was afraid my [location] would be traced. I finally changed carriers so that I couldn't be traced, and I began reading the messages at BoyChat, but I was afraid to post. Then someone posted a message saying that only boylovers had access to the log files [which reveal the visitors' approximate location], so that reassured me. Even so, my hands were shaking when I posted my first message at BoyChat. I thought, 'Should I really hit the enter key?'"
Julius is not the only Christian to post at BoyChat – several members of the Free Spirits committee are Christian, and many BoyChat members belong to Christian denominations or to other faiths. Religion, though, is rarely discussed at the forum. One reason for this is that the discussion board is frequently visited by critical Christian evangelists. So often have angry messages been posted by evangelists that outsiders need only mention that they're Christian, and immediately many boylovers will become wary.
In February 1998, one such evangelist was banned from BoyChat because of repeated "flaming," and Alexis half-jokingly decided to start a new discussion board so that the evangelist could have a new forum all to himself. The result was Religious Debate Chat (RDC), the first religious board for boylovers, and the board's success has been a surprise to everyone. Rather than become a mere corral for unfriendly visitors, the board has served the additional purpose of providing a place where boylovers can debate religious topics.
One of the longest-running discussions at RDC has been over the question of whether Christianity improves or worsens boylovers' lives.
The present Webmaster of RDC, "not," describes himself as an evangelical atheist and says that he is worried about the societal impact of Christianity. "My own personal objection to Christianity and other religions is that ancient doctrines of a divine creator and of the immortal soul have become obstacles to the pursuit of a civil society and a life worth living in a potentially much better informed age," he says. He adds that Christianity has had a particularly detrimental effect on boylovers.
"I am concerned primarily by the insistence of Christianity that things be taken on faith," he says. "This has the hallmarks of authoritarianism and also situates boylove at the junction of a number of issues which Christian-influenced politics wishes us all to take on faith. These include the appropriateness of an adversary legal system and ever-harsher punishment regimes in resolving issues in personal relationships . . . and the advocacy of draconian censorship and otherwise unthinkable interventions in aggressive denial of the natural variation and expression of sexuality."
Although not all of RDC's non-Christian members are hostile to Christianity, a number of them agree that Christians are to blame for societal attitudes toward pedophiles. "Those who deeply believe in heaven, are captured by the mystery and in turn solve the mystery with rationalization of experience," wrote one. "We all have seen many believers who disavow any logical proof which contradicts their articles of faith, and they will choose to live in denial of what else may be the possibility of truth. . . . It is this mindset mechanism which causes many to deny that a boy and a man can have a loving and fulfilling sexual experience together."
The Christian presence at RDC started out strong, but gradually faded away as the months went by and it became clear that RDC would be a debate board rather than a support board. For some Christian boylovers, RDC simply did not offer them what they were seeking.
"What I really am looking for is a supportive community of Christian boylovers," wrote Julius in March. "I've found a gay web community in my church denomination, but I don't fit in there, and not everyone there accepts boylove. I have gotten a lot from BoyChat, but I really feel a need to talk with fellow Christian boylovers and be part of a community. . . .
"Is there anyone else who feels the same way?"
NO PLACE IN THE CHURCH
By the summer of 1998, Julius was feeling increasing anxiety. Gradually, through talking with other boylovers and considering all of the ramifications, he had confirmed his earlier belief that it would be wrong for him to have sex with a boy. But what steps should he take to receive support in his life as a Christian boylover? He had already rejected the idea of going into therapy, believing that a therapeutic program aimed at changing his sexual feelings would be of no use to him.
"The real problem is that there is no 'cure,'" he wrote in an essay. "There are no scientifically documented cases of successful attempts to change someone's romantic orientation – whether it be homosexual, pedophile, or ephebophile. I have read about numerous boylovers whose 'therapy' taught them to hate their feelings and themselves, and destroyed their capacity to love. They have spent years rebuilding their self-esteem and ability to love others."
Another alternative seemed to be to seek pastoral guidance from his church – but here the door still appeared to be closed to him. The conservative Christian community in which he worked had strong words to say against people with same-gender attraction; it seemed unlikely that they would be able to accept someone who was attracted to children. Nor did it seem likely that he could receive help from a liberal church.
"I've been thinking about it more and more the past couple of weeks: I'm not sure how much longer I can hold on to my faith," he wrote in a June letter. "It is hitting home how much even gay Christians and those who are 'enlightened' cannot accept boylovers. . . . I was hoping to visit [a gay-related] church some time, or another 'accepting' church I know of in a nearby city. But now I'm not so sure it would do much good. There really seems to be no place for us boylovers in any church."
Though he heard many discouraging stories from his fellow boylovers, Julius also became acquainted with a boylover who had chosen to strike out on a path rarely taken. Already part of a real-life support group for boylovers, Bach decided to go further. He told members of his family that he was a boylover. He told members of his church that he was a boylover. He told the church agency for which he worked that he was a boylover – and he worked with children.
He was not fired. "As a condition to continuing with the agency, the 'CEO' asked that a support and accountability group be set up," Bach explained in October on one of the boylove boards. "I agreed and chose the members of this very important group of people. They have not always agreed with me, but they are committed to sharing my walk and their understanding and confidence has increased as we have traveled together. They have been challenged in their faith, their world view, and especially, their own sexuality and their understanding of how it works. Without exception they have said that they have grown and stretched and they thank God for this opportunity."
In a conversation in April, Bach attributed this success to the fact that he worked for a church rather than for a secular organization. "I could never have come out in the private sector – I would have been thrown out the door. The Christian community, though, has a tradition of showing love and compassion – that's the difference that being a Christian has made to me as a boylover. . . .
"How has this changed the church?" he asked in a letter. "I think that supporting me through this crisis has certainly been a major risk as the ['CEO'] is fully aware of my attraction. They have chosen to be Christ-like in their love and acceptance and trust of me. For this I have to commend them. It hasn't been easy. . . . They have had to widen their vision for what appropriate Christian sexuality really is. They have had to say yes, it is possible for someone who is sexually attracted to children to remain celibate and work with kids. They have had to take the risk, knowing that if ever anything happens it will almost surely fall back onto their heads. This is truly the power of the Holy Spirit and the Love of God at work."
Bach's story, though, is shared by almost no other Christian boylovers; most Christian boylovers consider it far too risky to tell people in their church that they are attracted to minors. Talking the problem over together, Bach and Julius discussed the possibility of starting another religious discussion board, this one intended as an online support group for Christian boylovers.
"There was a sense that the existing boylove boards did not meet the needs of Christian participants," Bach wrote later. "When issues relating to our faith were discussed they were either rejected out of hand or booed down. We wanted to find a safe, welcoming place where boylovers wouldn't need to be apologetic about their faith commitment and its importance to their lives. A place where boylovers could discuss and discern questions about our sexuality as Christians, people who want to be faithful to Christ's teachings."
Julius had simpler reasons for wanting to start a new discussion board. "I just wanted a board that would be a meeting place for friends," he said. "I knew that there were similar forums for Christian gays but nothing for boylovers. . . . RDC was mainly for arguing about issues and that wasn't what I wanted, but rather a support place where there was a close-knit group of friends."
The Free Spirits committee, when approached about the idea, was not entirely happy. A second religious board might weaken the first one, and in any case, some of the members believed that Free Spirits should not be associated with Christianity. Bach and Julius, though, said that they would eventually move the discussion board to a new server, and a Free Spirits committee members who was not a Christian was willing to sponsor the discussion board in the meantime. By late August, the first discussion board for Christian pedophiles was set to debut.
STRONG AS A TREE
During the same period that Julius was making his first acquaintance with the boylove boards, Simon was becoming more and more frightened by his sexual feelings.
"The fact that I am sexually attracted to little girls has been known to me nearly all my life," says Simon, a German in his early twenties. "Shortly after my puberty I noticed that the girls I was attracted by were still as young as I was a few years before. The fact that I found people who shared my feelings caused me to live with these feelings in a legal way (in those times the children-nudist magazines were freely accessible)."
After discovering the Internet, though, Simon says that he became hooked on collecting pictures. "The more I tried to satisfy those needs the stronger they got and the more they were perverted," he says. "To get the satisfaction I needed the pictures had to become more and more explicit and extreme. But suddenly there was a moment when I noticed that there was no photo any more that could give me satisfaction. This was the moment when I noticed that there was only one more way to get the next 'kick' (a kick I needed like a drug addict). . . . This was the moment when I got afraid of myself and my [sexual] preference. By chance I typed 'pedophile' (in German) in Yahoo and got as the third link the link to baumstark, the salvation of my life!"
Baumstark-online was at that time the only Christian Web site for pedophiles. The site's introduction explains that baumstark is a coined word meaning "strong-as-a-tree"; it derives from the text in Jeremiah 17:7-8: "Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit."
"It is not the intention of these pages to promote Christian ideology," says the introduction. "We only want to try to help through our Christian way of seeing things. We try to offer support if there are questions, problems, crises, and we try to . . . give help in finding a way to live with pedophile preferences in a responsible way."
Baumstark was founded in July 1997 by the Rev. Andreas Mulack, a German Protestant minister who started his ministry to pedophiles in an unusual manner.
"When he got access to the Internet for the first time, he browsed through the newsgroups and saw child pornography, and got terribly angry and hateful," Simon explains. "He started to chase the people who did such things to children. Later he tried to talk to the people who read and write to the groups in order to get to know how human beings come to do this. For quite a while he did not get a response. But suddenly his e-mail box was full of mail – all replies to his postings. The contents were mainly expressions of pain. [The people] told him that they were not asked if they liked to feel that way, and that most of them do suffer because of this preference. There was one mail in which a pedophile told him his whole life story: the feelings he suddenly noticed, the inability to understand or accept his own feelings, the misunderstanding that society shows, the hiding of his love (!), and the hate he saw.
"This mail showed so much desperation that it really hurt, and Andreas started to feel pity for the people he had just started to hate. So he saw that most of the people needed and desperately sought help. And he thought of Jesus, who never was in the company of the religious people but was in the company of the sinful publicans. So he saw that this was the meaning of being a Christian: Be with those who need you."
Simon says that baumstark has turned his life around. He now helps to administrate the PedoForum discussion board, where both Christian and non-Christian pedophiles post. The forum also welcomes non-pedophiles who "are interested in the affected people and the possibility of understanding them." Several pages of the site are devoted to Christian resources; in September, baumstark started a Forum Christen und Pädophilie (Christian Pedophile Forum), but most pedophiles have preferred to continue posting at the main discussion board.
"Without this site I would have gone mad, gone to jail, or would have killed myself!" says Simon. "Only by trying to come to an understanding of this topic and by ceasing to be isolated was I able to prevent the worst. Now I have learned to handle this preference without losing control over myself and my sexuality. . . . [By working at the site] I am very happy to be able to give back a bit of the good I received. I am trying to help those who are in a similar situation as I was. And baumstark remains one of the major sources of my strength to live."
WALKING WITH THE LORD
"Since coming here I feel that a great personal burden has been lifted from my shoulders! . . . It's like being in a good church service, where you feel your soul has been cleansed."
"It was an answer to prayer discovering this site. I have been torn up inside about my feelings and my faith, I am glad to see that there are others around that I can talk to who understand."
"I'm testing the waters now . . . never talked about my religious beliefs before . . . at least not in the same context as boylove . . . hope I'm at the right place."
"I am a 19 year old boylover and a Christian. I thank God for this forum. I've been reading a few of the posts and I am so amazed that there are others that feel the way I do. I've lived every minute of my life confused over feelings that I have no control of."
Among the messages posted at the Christian Boylove Forum in the late summer and fall of 1998, several expressed astonishment that such a place could exist. For this reason, one of the boylovers posting at CBF felt compelled to say, "You 'can' be a Christian and a boylover. 'Christian boylover' is not an oxymoron or contradiction in terms. I am a boylover by orientation. I am a Christian by God's grace. One does not preclude the other!"
While baumstark has been able to help German-speaking Christian pedophiles, CBF is the only site for Christian pedophiles in the English-speaking world. The board's introduction says that CBF welcomes messages from people who aren't Christian or who aren't boylovers, though the introduction notes that debates about the fundamentals of boylove and of Christianity are more appropriate for Religious Debate Chat.
A survey conducted in October showed that CBF's participants come from a variety of Christian traditions: Reformed, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Episcopal, Catholic, Assemblies of God, Pentecostal, nondenominational, and multifaith. One participant says that he is a minister, while several more have served as youth ministers.
Three main topics have proved to be of perennial interest. One is how God regards boylovers. "Are boylovers damned to hell?" a boylover asked plaintively.
"I think there is no problem with boyLOVE, only with boySEX," responded another boylover. "The bible generally is 'conservative', it seems to forbid any kind of sexual relationship besides sex among a married couple, so there is no reason to see pederasty as a sin worse than e.g. extramarital sex."
"The bible does not say that we need to free ourselves from temptations, or that we need to be perfect, or free from sin, or of a clear conscience to be saved," said someone else. "After we come to [God], he will help us change whatever it is in our life that needs to be changed, but God does not require anyone to change, or do anything else in order to be saved, the only requirement . . . is that you accept the Lord as your saviour. . . . The christian walk is a difficult one, and while God has the power to heal even the greatest affliction, we must be like David and Paul, we must be content to accept what he has given us and rejoice in the positive things that God has provided, even in times of crisis, even when we feel (like David expressed in psalm 13) that our problems are overpowering us."
Another major topic of conversation has been how Christian boylovers should treat their desires.
"I have been walking with the Lord for a few years now," wrote someone. "I see these beautiful boys, and I can only lust after them. I quite often become attached to them, and they to me, in the few days we spend together. We become friends, and play together, and learn together. Yet so often, I can only remember them with thoughts of lust. It is to the point where it is an incredible distraction that turns me away from Christ. I am aware that I should not think this way, so when I do think like this, I consciously turn my face away from God. How do other Christians deal with things like this? I have read the book 'The Ragamuffin Gospel', by Brennan Manning . . . and it had helped me to realize that God loves us, we who cannot do the right thing, we who are dragged down into the muck and mire. But I still hate myself inside for my thoughts and desires."
Other members of CBF have asked similar questions. Does having sexual fantasies about boys contravene Jesus' admonition against lust? Is it sinful to collect non-pornographic pictures of boys? If a boylover does not believe he can remain celibate, does the Bible provide any further guidance for him?
Some Christian boylovers admit that they have a hard time accepting their churches' teachings that they should not have sex with boys. "I would love to have a relationship with a boy where we are friends and go places together, talk etc. but what if the boy wants the relationship to go farther?" wrote one. "What if he initiates some kind of sexual play? Do I refuse or not? If I refuse he will think I do not like him etc., if I go along with it then I might feel guilty about it and will have that constant [worry] of him telling somebody about it."
Similarly, a boylover who has committed himself to celibacy since joining CBF says that he continues to have doubts about church teachings on this matter. "I don't agree with some Christians' views that say that such sexual activities are wrong," he said in e-mail. "The 'strength' (I'd call it pressure) that made me decide that 'it's not worth it' was society, not God. I want to be able to express love – Godly love – to children, and I know that I won't be able to do that if I let anyone know that I have sexual feelings for a boy. Since society so mandates that Godly love for a child and sexual love for a child cannot coexist (indeed sexual love for a child cannot exist at all), I'm forced to choose. The direction of my choice certainly comes partially from God . . .1 Corinthians 13:13 says 'There are three things that endure – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.' There are many references to love in the Bible, but this one sums it up well. The most important thing is love. Far more important than anything physical."
Other boylovers, though, say that they find comfort in church teachings on sexuality.
"Instead of lust, we want to have love, and direct that love toward mentoring and helping others who have been hurt or abused," said a boylover, describing why he takes part in CBF. "We do not want encouragement to have sex with boys; rather we desire support to overcome those feelings, and to fulfill a useful purpose for God, and be an instrument of His peace. . . . My prayer is, and I know I am joined in this by many here, that God's will may be worked in our lives; not our will, but His will. His will, will be done; but we are admonished in His word to pray that it be done. Our prayers are manifested by our actions."
"As a matter of Biblical fact, Jesus was tempted," noted one CBF participant. "He also rebuked satan for the temptation and overcame the temptation. . . . If we, as Christians, are willing to rebuke the [tempter] and move on from those moments of lust, we have in fact acted in the manner God has ordained us to. . . . I have heard from several parents that they appreciate the way I interact with the boys. Maybe they have figured out my love for boys runs deeper than normal, maybe not, who knows. The point is, the boys know true unadulterated love when they encounter it and the parents see the results."
Perhaps the most popular topic at CBF has been how Christian boylovers can bring good into other people's lives.
"Oh Dear Sweet Jesus," prayed a boylover. "Give us the strength and guidance we need to fulfill Your will in our lives. Give us victory over the evil one as we attempt to share Your love with our non-boylover brothers and sisters in Christ. Your Word says, 'For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?' (1 John 5:4-5) So Father we ask for your victory to overcome this world of hatred and bigotry towards us, and the power to show them our love that You have put in our hearts. In Jesus' Name we pray, Amen!"
"I am convinced that if our love is channeled properly we can do some good things for the children we come in contact with," said one boylover. "Channeling our love is the key to taking the sin out of boylove. The more we do for these children in a mentoring way, the more our sexual desire for them will wane."
"I do feel a responsibility and love as a youth pastor and teacher that is different from the sexual feelings I might have with regards to my orientation," said another boylover. "Rather than let that be a hindrance, I use my orientation to reinforce my role as a guide and friend to those I minister to. One post recently stated of how [a boylover's] feelings of responsibility towards a young friend and faith in God allowed him to stop a twenty year drug habit, with no withdrawal. That is the kind of miracle that makes me believe in God and shows me how I can use my feelings to help others rather than harm them."
"I guess that I am at a loss for words as to how to express my confusion [over sexual feelings]," said another CBF member. "I need not forget, however, that I am a loved child of God, with my sins forgiven and my Daddy waiting in heaven to bring me home. I just wish that I could do more for Him here on earth."
"Some nights I go home and drop to my knees and cry in sheer agony!" A boylover who is a youth minister described at CBF his work with street youth. "These kids have been abused by the system, told they are worthless, used, discarded and forgotten. They are hungry, sick, lonely and scared out of their wits."
"I was 'used' for sexual purposes from the time I was 8 to the time I was 13 not by a boylover, but by a man who wanted to satisfy his own needs," wrote someone else. "There was no love involved. I was just a thing for him. When I realised that I had the same attraction, I considered killing myself. I had lived over 10 years hating myself.
"When I became a Christian, I hated myself even more. Here I was trying to follow God, but had this 'evil' side to me. It took me a long time to understand that I am not evil. I did not ask for my attraction, nor do I want to be attracted the way I am, but I am. I believe that God would never give me a 'cross' that is too big for me to handle, I feel that being a boylover is not wrong . . . if it was, I feel, then my existence is wrong. The sin comes from what I 'do' with this. I could choose to succumb to the urges and violate the laws of man and God or I can pray for strength and not allow myself to be in positions that bring me into temptation.
"I am attracted to boys 8-13, I stay away from [them] here. I do assist with the teen and college and career groups. This way I can use the love for youth that I have been blessed with for his good, not for my good."
"Today I spent the day in the hospital . . . being with the family of a young teen who tried to kill himself," the same boylover wrote a few days later. "This young fellow took a bottle of muscle relaxers . . . we are not sure if he is going to live. I was shocked that his parents called me. I was his scoutmaster before he got mixed up with a group of boys that pressured him into the belief that scouts are not cool. His mother said they wanted me there because he had told her a while back that when he grew up he wanted to be like me. I cried. The blessing I feel is one of joy because I did not give into my carnal feelings and 'touched' the boy when I had many a chance.
"I will be there for him when he gets out of the hospital."
Most of CBF's participants are boylovers themselves. One non-boylover, though, has made periodic visits to the board since its beginning.
Pastor Tim Shultz, a Reformed youth minister, discovered the boylove boards last year and attempted to become acquainted with the Christian boylovers on the boards. He was one of the earliest members of RDC but has made most of his contact with boylovers through e-mail. When several CBF members notified him of the board's existence, he arrived to offer his support.
"Many of the men I talked with said that they were suspicious of me at first," Pastor Shultz recounted in an essay describing his first encounter with boylovers. "They expected me to give them 'burn in hell' rantings and ravings. And even though they knew by the end of our dialogue that [neither] I nor God condoned their actions, at least someone from the church was willing to talk with them in a caring way. As one man put it, 'Finally someone is willing to share the truth of the Gospel with the lepers of the Internet'. . . .
"The Bible says we all have fallen short. The Bible says there is none righteous, no not one. Boylover and Youth Pastor alike have to deal with their own individual sin. Praise be to Jesus who covers our sins and shortcomings with His own perfect obedience and sacrifice on the Cross."
"I don't know what brought you here to begin with but I'll tell you what, I don't personally know any Christians who would be caught dead in a 'place' like this," a CBF participant wrote to Pastor Shultz. "You must have a great faith in God and a very sincere desire to help others. I only wish more people, Christians or not, would have the courage and open-mindedness to do what you are doing."
For the most part, in fact, CBF's boylovers have had to turn to each other for support, and the nature of the support they ask of each other varies widely. Some of the posts at CBF, Julius confesses, have taken him by surprise.
"I was not expecting a place that would prevent us from abusing because I hadn't thought of us as abusers," he says. "When [a critic] came onto the board, it suddenly occurred to me: Maybe people ought to see right away what our position is. CBF has become an accountability group, not just related to sex but also related to drinking and other subjects. I was just looking for a place to talk to friends, but I can see that for other people who might be confused about what it means to be a boylover and who might not have strong control of their feelings, it would be good to have [a group for] accountability."
Aware of some of the criticisms levelled against boylove boards, Julius and Bach recently prepared a statement giving CBF's official stance on sexual abuse and on posts of a controversial nature. "CBF believes that a distinction must be made between feelings of attraction (which are not chosen) and behavior – for which one must be held responsible," they wrote. "We believe that boylovers can control and channel their feelings so that their relationships with boys are beneficial and honor God. We are strictly opposed to the manipulation, coercion or abuse of children. We provide both support and accountability for our posters, attempting to help them critically examine their decisions and actions. Posts which do not reflect the webmaster's point of view are not deleted. Dialogue is begun to help all parties reflect on their views. All views are permitted and challenged."
It is this process of accountability that pleases Pastor Shultz.
"I think there are many problems and/or dangers associated with non-Christian boylove boards such as BoyChat," he says. "The main reason is this – there is no restraint. In this I mean that there is no other objective standard to which the board and its posters must hold to besides the FAQ which is ultimately biased. By conforming to the FAQ or rules of the particular board (BoyChat for instance), the posters find acceptance and consequently justification for many things that are actually harmful and dangerous.
"CBF, on the other hand, is a board that does have an objective standard that is above and beyond boylove and boylovers. Sure, the standard is and should be debated (relevancy, application, etc.) but it is an objective standard nonetheless. And by having this standard you can enjoy the fruits thereof – common ground, fellowship and accountability (which is lacking at BoyChat)."
Some of CBF's members do not see so sharp a difference between CBF and the other boylove boards, and they continue to post at the other boards. Many have said, though, that CBF offers a perspective they can find nowhere else. This perspective has been viewed in various manners by outsiders.
"Greetings fellow brothers & sisters in Christ," wrote a visitor.
The visitor in question was "Awakened Dad," a conservative Christian whose seventeen-year-old son PJ had died in a car accident along with a male friend who was four years older than him. On his deathbed, PJ revealed that he was bisexual and that he had been sexually involved with his friend for seven years. PJ also revealed that his friend considered himself to be a boylover. "It was this discovery," says Awakened Dad, "that started my own search for understanding about homosexuality and about boylove."
His search eventually led him to the boylove boards. "I am thrilled that God is providing a way for you all to support each other in a loving Christian way," Awakened Dad told the members of CBF. "I am very outspoken in some Christian circles because I do believe gays can be born-again Christians, boylovers can be committed Christians (so long as their lifestyle doesn't involve actual sex acts with underage children). I am a conservative Pentecostal who has served in my denomination for some 30 years and after the death of my son and his friend I came to realize a lot of 'truths' were just not so. . . . I have learned the hard way that I cannot be too vocal with non-believers or with Christians who are very narrowed minded about these issues of boylove, etc."
Other visitors, though, see the board in a different light.
"This boylove 'Jesus' wants boys to be available as sex toys," posted a visitor. "He thinks those who don't want boys to be available as sex toys are full of hate. This 100% phony 'Jesus' has a spirituality that goes no higher than a sick libido."
"My Jesus loves me, and you, and him, and her, and everyone!!!" replied a participant of CBF. "I don't know about you, but that is not my Jesus that you are talking about. I am a boylover, and my Jesus is the most important person in my life. He does not want 'boys to be available as sex toys,' any more than he wants women to be available to straight men as sex toys. I do not feel that Christian boylovers ask for a Jesus that justifies that. On the contrary, I have seen many posts that struggle with the issue of being a Christian boylover and the sexuality that goes along with that.
"My Jesus is the same one in the Bible: the one who loves tax collectors, saves worthless prostitutes from stoning, hangs out with fishermen, the same Jesus who came to seek and find the lost, who came to love all men, even though we don't deserve it, (by the way, who does deserve His love???), who is so full of mercy and grace that He can forgive us even when we turn away from Him over and over again. . . . I would love to see where in the Good Book Jesus says the following: 'I love all of you, except the boylovers.'"
"Your desperate and pathetic attempts to rationalize, glare like an over-bright neon sign," the visitor said in his next post at the board. "It could not be more obvious – at least to someone from the outside, looking in. Yet you yourselves have trouble seeing it."
"Ignore him," one boylover wrote concerning the visitor, but another boylover disagreed, saying that he would continue to exchange posts with the visitor.
"I intend to talk myself 'blue in the face,'" he said. "There's a child crying inside him and this boylover wants to help."
The other members of CBF appeared to agree. Not longer afterwards, the boylovers were posting prayers asking God to heal the spiritual wounds that the visitor had received from being sexually abused as a child. And the visitor in turn was soon sharing with the boylovers his journey in trying to recover from that abuse.
"Welcome to our 'church,'" wrote a CBF participant to a newcomer. "Our services are 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year-round. There's nothing you have to do to join, just consider yourself a member, accept God's grace, and be a part of our family."
Yet some members of CBF say they continue to long for more openness in the wider Christian church. By September, this longing had become strong for Julius.
"Sometimes I wonder why I should even consider coming out?" he wrote at CBF. "Wouldn't it mean the risk of rejection, people looking at me like I'm a freak, not trusting me, being scared of me, keeping me away from children? . . . I suddenly realized that those times I have felt close to God have always been when I'm alone. I have never felt close to God while worshipping or praying with other Christians. Why not? I guess it's because God is love, and I can only imagine being close to God with other people when these people love each other and me. The problem is that I always think that the love of the people around me is conditional, and I don't meet their conditions, because I am a boylover. I cannot feel close to God when the people who are supposed to be 'God's people' around me could not love and accept me as I am. The thing is, of course, I haven't ever given them the chance. Maybe I should."
Finally, in late October, Julius made his decision. "I have decided to come out to my pastor," he wrote at CBF. "The reality of my plan is starting to sink in, and I am feeling scared. When I do come out to my pastor, I plan to mention my willingness to have a support/accountability group to assure him that I will not do anything improper with boys I'm around. . . . I would appreciate your prayers over the next few weeks."
His post received mixed reactions from the CBF members.
"I wholeheartedly support Julius in his decision to approach his pastor and 'come out,'" wrote Pastor Shultz. "My advice, my prayer, my encouragement is that you would all do the same. . . . You recognize the harmful element of sexual attraction to boys. You don't try to rationalize it, you are seeking God's will in relation to it, and you are open to a life without it. What does that leave you with? Only the 'pure aspects' of boylove. Willing to be a role model, willing to sacrifice, share your life, and mentor a boy. I could go on and on but what is there in these aspects that you would be ashamed of? What is there in these things that you would want to hide from others? . . . Think of the good you could do, think of the youth you can reach and the lives you can change. Will you hide this light under a bushel?"
"Don't 'come out' brothers," cried a boylover. "Even if [somebody's] pastor is a great Christian with huge compassion and conviction, he can't be blind to the television, radio and newspaper stories we are continually bombarded with almost daily. Stories about horrible bad child molesters who rape and sometimes kill precious children. Or perhaps a child the pastor knew or is related to was molested once. Emotions run wild when a crime is committed against a child and not even a good pastor is immune to emotions like these. I know this is a long post but I feel very strongly against a well meaning boylover putting himself in jeopardy. I don't know when the time will be right for us to 'come out' but I really don't think it is now."
As of December, Julius was continuing to mull over the questions of how to be a Christian boylover: whether to tell people about his sexuality, whether to restrict not only his actions but his feelings, whether to seek out a therapist who could help him develop healthy relationships with both adults and children. One of the few points he is sure about, he says, is "the need to seek and live out God's will for our lives, as fully accepted members of the church." As a start to that, he continues to post daily at CBF.
Bach agrees that CBF can be of help to people such as Julius. "Posts have struck me in that they show a belonging, a coming home, of finding a place to be, within a relatively short amount of time," he said. "My prayer is that the future will bring us dialogue with non-boylovers who are willing to walk alongside us. Christian boylovers need to believe that there are Christians out there who will love them in spite of the image that may be projected in the mainstream media. Christian boylovers can feel the love of God at CBF. They can share with brothers and sisters in Christ and know that others are working out their lives, trying to be faithful to God's call, in churches of all denominations. Breaking the isolation is the first step to becoming a loving community."
CBF continues to receive criticism, both from boylovers and from outsiders. One non-Christian boylover posted a message saying that CBF promoted "'in your face' Christianity," while the Norwegian newspaper VG described CBF in September as being "dominated by conversations about it being 'natural' that young boys and children [have] sex with older men, and that this is totally in accord with the Bible and the words of Jesus."
Despite all criticism, though, CBF's members remain convinced of the value of the board. "As this message board is relatively new, I think only God has the 'gist' of what's going on," a boylover told a visitor who had asked about the purpose of CBF. "I believe he leads people here and that much of what is said might only make sense to the person it was intended for; that has happened to me several times. I can tell you that several people have been saved because of it, some have reaffirmed their faith, still others have chosen to pursue a better life than the one they were leading and need people who can relate to them.
"There is no doubt in my mind that God has a presence here, and through Him we have developed a community of support for those who might not speak out otherwise."
Letters to the Editor: Christian Pedophiles (March 1999)
Faith Communities' Statements on Pedophilia [Unconditional Love]
Darkness Into Light. By Bob Van Domelen. [Bridges Across the Divide]
Denny's Anti-Molestation Network. By Denny Mintun.
The Lighthouse. By Bruce Pringlemeir.
Surfer Boys: Boylove on the Internet. By Tim Shultz.
PJ's Memorial Page. By Awakened Dad.
Text © 1998 Heather Elizabeth Peterson