Gay and dying with AIDS, he came back to Jesus, thanks to love from family and church

Stephen Arterburn saw his brother through to the end.

By Michael Ashcraft —

On the very night Jerry Arterburn accepted Jesus at a church camp, the 5-year-old was also molested by the pastor’s son.

“When that molestation occurred, it ignited something in him that he didn’t think other guys had to struggle with,” his brother Stephen says on a Pure Passion Media video. “It produced an uneasiness with relationships with women.”

Jerry died of AIDS on June 13, 1988, at a time when the epidemic was raging largely unchecked and medical science was trying to figure out how to tame it.

“When my brother and I moved to Laguna (Beach, California) at the same time, there was another person who moved to Laguna. He was identified as Patient 0,” Stephen says. “This was a flight attendant who flew around the world and slept with about 2,000 different people. He infected so many people in that town that the AIDS virus was extremely virulent in there. I watched business after business close because there was such a high per capita gay population there. They were dying right and left.”

Before Jerry’s death, Stephen began to formulate the best way to encourage his brother to come back to Christ.

“I loved him. But I knew that what he was doing was wrong,” he says. “I wasn’t trying to convince him that he was wrong. I just tried to find a way to have a relationship with him that I could love him with.”

There were three Arterburn boys who grew up with a mom who bitterly hid her father’s suicide and a dad who was “redneck, disconnected,” Stephen says. All three sons went prodigal from their otherwise “strong Christian household” in Texas.

Stephen — who now is an author, a radio host and the founder of New Life Ministries — thought he was the worst rebel of the lot because he forced his girlfriend (attending Bible college) to get an abortion.

Jerry, who loved design and became an architect, didn’t immediately show how he was getting off course.

Stephen describes his brother as “the moral one” who owned up to his mistake, while Stephen was actually the immoral one who had slept with many young women.

“I hadn’t slept with a man. I killed my own baby,” Stephen confesses.

Jerry was about to get married, but it was called off. Both had frequent fights. Still, no one really knew why the wedding was called off.

When Jerry, at age 26, was appointed to a city planning post in Easley, South Carolina, he met a man who took him to a gay bar. He had never had sex before, but that night, “my brother felt like he was at home,” Stephen says.

“He felt total acceptance, freedom — all this stuff that he had never known: all of this love, affection, connection,” Stephen says.

From then on, it was relationship after relationship. When Jerry and Stephen both, by chance, moved to Laguna Beach, they started reconnecting. Sometimes in their talks they would debate. One topic that came up was whether homosexuality was right or wrong.

Stephen, who had come back to the Lord by now, stuck to his guns — until he realized the reason why his brother was arguing the aberrant position. His brother was gay.

As soon as Stephen found out, the arguments were over. A new phase in their relationship started, one of reaching out to Jerry with love and acceptance, though not approval of his sin.

“I was able to develop a close relationship with him, and then he got sick. I’m so glad I did because he needed me. I’m so glad he felt safe with me, that I could be there with him when he needed a lot of help — just getting up and going to the bathroom. He lost 100 pounds. It was horrible. He looked like something out of a concentration camp.”

Devastated by the news that not only their son was gay but also had AIDS, the “redneck ” father visited Jerry in the hospital and said, “You’re coming home with us. We’re going to help you through this.”

The Southern Baptist Church of his parents, instead of ostracizing Jerry, were loving and inclusive. (The Southern Baptists were conservative on social acceptance at a time when much of America was unmoved by the AIDS crisis.)

“We loved him when he was (younger). We’re going to love him through this,” a deacon said, according to Stephen. “Here’s what we’re going to do: We’re going to go over to his house and we’re going to lay hands on him and pray for him to be healed… Whatever his insurance doesn’t cover for his treatment of AIDS, this church is going to pay for. Whenever his brothers want to come in and see him, we’ll pay their air fare.”

The deacons took turns visiting Jerry every day. But there was a twist to this ministry. Instead of ministering to Jerry, he ministered to them. “They didn’t put on surgical gloves and go pray for him. These men came over there and they loved on him.”

The outpouring of love had its effect on Jerry. “That freed me,” Jerry said at the time. “It made all the difference in the world.”

In the final stages of his life, Jerry was repentant. He tried to convince people not to go down the path of homosexuality — and to those already miles in, to come back before it was too late.

As much as they would have wanted a miraculous healing, Jerry died.

“When he died, there was this amazing, full-choir, full-church funeral like you’ve never seen. Over a kid that died of AIDS,” Stephen says. “That’s what a redneck Southern Baptist church does when they’re more infused with Christ than judgment and fear. This was back in the day when people were afraid of this virus.”

If you have a child who “comes out” as LBGTQ, “don’t say anything. Just listen,” Stephen says. “Don’t defend your position or parenting. Let them know you care more about them and what they’re going through than anything else.”

There’s no need to reiterate the sinfulness of the sin: once at most, Stephen says.

“Try to connect with them and understand them. Show them compassion for the struggle,” Stephen says. “Don’t let your own shame or judgment of yourself about not being able to save them from this, cause you to totally separate yourself from them and distance yourself.”

Also don’t foster any illusory hopes that some magic words or magic prayers will instantaneously get your child off the wrong path. It may be a long-term commitment on your part, Stephen says.

“Gear up to walk with them down that path just like God is walking with you down your path,” Stephen says. “Parents that do that end up with a relationship that is extremely healing to that child, and if there’s any wiggle room in their theology or what they do with their sexuality, they’re going to wiggle back to what the parent would want. At no time to you have to worry that they think that you’re ok with that.”

Michael Ashcraft’s daughter “came out” to him one week before her wedding. Michael sells bamboo steamers online to help pay for his life expenses while he does Christian journalism.