IRVINE, Calif. It wasn’t until Nancy Heche removed the dusty family skeletons from her closets that she could concentrate on cleaning out the flabby chambers of own hearta heart deflated by deceit, betrayal and disappointment.
“There really wasn’t a benefit to keeping it a secret anymore,” she said.
“We had lived with family secrets and it was time to reveal those secrets and that, I believe, is always part of the healing process. It’s not easy, but I believe exposing the secrets in our lives is part of the healing process.”
The secret was the 1983 AIDS death of her husband, Don, a Baptist choir director. It was only upon his terminal diagnosis that Nancy discovered the shattering revelation that Don had led a dual lifestyle for two decadesas a husband and father of four, and a closeted homosexual.
To maintain pretenses within their Christian circles, people were told Don died from cancer. The lie was the only way Nancy believed she could navigate through the sudden upheaval.
Three months after Don’s death, with her grief still raw, their only son, Nathan, 18, was killed in a car crash. For the second time, Nancy buried a child; a fifth child, a daughter, died in infancy.
It was then, Heche said, that she spiraled into a vacuum of darkness for seven years, walking away from God and a bubble-like faith that snapped under pressure.
It was in the black hole she found life.
“He began to use His Word to change my heart,” she said. “The story of my transformation is moving from this place of fear and anger and confusion about homosexuality, especially in a Christian family, a Christian church, to a place of love and respect. That’s been a very long journey, it’s been almost 25 years vthat it’s taken me to hear God’s heart.
Among the most personally significant Bible passages during her transition, Heche said, was the story of the prodigal son. Its meaning multiplied several years later after the disclosure that her actress daughter, Anne, had entered into a lesbian relationship with comedian Ellen DeGeneres.
Although herself a spiritual prodigal, Nancy said she emerged from the haze identifying more with the father than the son.
“It’s about me, not my daughter,” Heche said, relating to the gratitude of the biblical father and his deeply defined love.
“It’s not measuring out our love to others according to how they act, or what they believe,” she said. “In my life I had a tendency to categorize; ‘OK I’ll show love to people who are like me, but I don’t really know how to show love.’
“Well, God’s heart is, He loves. We don’t measure out our love to others according to how they act or what they believe.”
Going public with her dreadfully personal pain has, in a sense, been therapeutic, but in now way easy. Many of her family’s trials were revealed publicly when her daughters, the late Susan Bergman, and Anne, published books in 1994 and 2003 respectively. Bergman died last year of cancer. Nancy, a psychotherapist, added her own voice in “The Truth Comes Out,” which was released last fall.
All three books offered a different perspective on life in the Heche household and added tension to the strained relationship between Nancy and Anne.
“I think God has brought me to the kingdom for such a time as this,” Nancy said. “I think I have a calling on my life to speak about this right now.”
So, she travels the countryfrequently to churches and conferences with a message about homosexuality, the ability to change through Christ and the biblical mandate that Christians must love, gays and lesbians included.
This spring she appeared at a Sexual Brokenness seminar in San Diego County, where she addressed a gathering of pastors. On Oct. 13, she will be a featured speaker at Focus on the Family’s Love Won Out Conference at Mariner’s Church in Irvine.
“It’s wonderful because she obviously offers two unique perspectives, one that she is the parent of someone involved in the homosexual lifestyle and as a spouse whose husband led a secret life,” said Melissa Fryrear, director of gender issues for the government and public policy division of Focus on the Family.
Fryrear, a former lesbian who left the lifestyle, also shares her story as a Love Won Out speaker. The sessions average about 1,000 attendees, most of them parents and family members of gays and lesbians. She lauds Nancy for bringing grace, empathy and understanding from an orthodox Christian perspective.
“Testimonies are critical to making issues related to homosexuality personal,” she said. “Adding the story of a real person, who has been touched so dramatically by homosexuality, is significant.”
Labled a ‘fundamentalist’
Heche has been targeted by critics who call her a religious fundamentalist who seeks to force homosexuals into a lifestyle that is contrary to how God created them. Heche counters that her work focuses on helping those with unwanted homosexual desires. She also has a heart for families.
“Surely we do not deny people help when they want help,” she said. “I’m not trying to convert anybody. Part of my story is that this is about me, about God changing my heart, because I did have a crisis of faith and I needed to be taught.”
At the same time, there are conservative critics who view Heche’s approach as condoning sinful behavior. To that criticism, Heche said she is merely modeling the radical actions of Jesus. Obedience, she said, equals love.
“We are taught to love,” she said. “We are supposed to be known by our love. So to categorize it or think it’s going to be different for someone who is living homosexually is a misconception. We just show love. How do you show love to your neighbor who is an adulterer? How do you show love to your kids who are on drugs? How do you do it? You just show love. You love, you engage, you create a safe place, you create dialog.
“Will people change? I don’t know, but the important thing is you will change.”
Educating the church
Heche said she understands how polarizing an issue homosexuality has become, but she believes the church is best equipped to love people out of their sin.
“We’re the ones who need to make the first move,” the Chicago resident said. “We go down there and we meet people. We stand in the gap. We represent Jesus to whomever, not just the gay community. Where Jesus has stood in the gap for us with God and shedding his blood, we’re called to do the same thing.
“The church has a tendency to avoid the many difficult issues because we really don’t know, we don’t know what to do,” she said, adding that Christians are guilty of prioritizing sin.
“They are not going to go to hell because they are homosexual,” she said. “That’s not what keeps people out of heaven, it’s not having a personal relationship with Christ. Our job is to tell them about the love of Christ, to tell everybody.
“People will be won to Christ exactly the same way we were won to Christ. That’s someone showing us love. That’s even more important than if they change their sexual orientation. The truth is their sexual orientation or sexual practices will not change unless they do experience the love of Christ.”
For more information on the October seminar, visit www.lovewonout.com.