Dealing with chronic pain, gay author learned God’s message of acceptance not fear
ADDISON — A gay talk show host called out Reece Manley for not addressing his sexual orientation in his first two books. His third, "All Gays Go To Heaven" will deal directly with the issue.
But in "Crossing Twice," he talks about weight problems that stemmed from self-acceptance and other issues that directly related to his sexual orientation.
He also describes in detail his near-death experience that changed his religious beliefs.
Manley is also a pastoral counselor who works with clients on issues of spiritual abuse.
At the age of 20, Manley was a youth minister in his church. He went to his own pastor to talk about his own sexual orientation and rather than the compassion he expected from his church, he was vilified. The pastor warned parents to keep their children away from "the child abuser."
He left that church, finished his undergraduate degree and earned his master’s and a doctorate.
At the age of 30, Manley went through bariatric surgery. While he said the weight sloughed off — he weighed as much as 420 pounds before the procedure — there were complications that caused nerve damage, leaving him with chronic pain.
As a result of an infection caused by one of the procedures meant to reduce his pain, Manley had a near-death experience. What happened then changed his life.
He now describes himself as spiritual rather than religious and describes his near-death experience as life changing and somewhat indescribable. He said his experience was somewhat different from those others described.
Before his clinical death, he said his life didn’t flash before his eyes, but certain past experiences did.
Then, once he crossed over, he saw a number of people who had been meaningful in his life who were now dead.
He said he saw a great light that he called the creator and each person was attached to that being. Describing it as a light much greater than the sun, he said it also had a consciousness.
The friends and family who were there with him didn’t have a human form but were also more like lights, somehow attached to the creator. But he said he knew exactly who each one was.
In "Crossing Twice" he wrote that his grandmother told him that his path was not complete and he had to return.
But his description in person was of being pulled violently back into this life followed by days of anger that he was not allowed to stay on the other side.
To deal with the experience, he began writing in 2007. His second book, "Spirit Thinking," includes a workbook to help people live a more spiritual life and begin thinking of God as loving and accepting.
Raised evangelical, Manley said he has had personal experience with a religion that taught him fear.
"Spiritual abuse is real," Manley said, adding, "I show people different ways to express spirituality."
As a pastoral counselor, Manley works with people who were raised in what he describes as religions based on fear. He said the God he observed in the place he called heaven during his near-death experience was a God of acceptance.
Manley works with those who grew up in religions like his own because, he said, he understands their background.
Despite that background that might have kept him in the closet longer, he came out early.
"It’s just too much work to hide," he said.
He said his near-death experience taught him that God embraces gay people. He saw many friends who had died of AIDS as bright lights. But he also saw some dark lights and those were evil people who did harm to others in this life.
And as a Christian writer, he said that he learned from his experience that God embraces people of all faiths. "I saw friends who were not Christian who were there and at peace," he said.
Manley expects his new book, "All Gays Go to Heaven," to be published later this year. In it, he recounts the story of his recovery from his near-death experience while explaining his view of God as accepting of all, no matter what religion, sexual orientation or sexual identity.
He donated 200 galley copies of the book to Youth First Texas, hoping he will reach LGBT youth and help their families accept them. He said he wished that he had something like YFT when he was a teen.
"Their website alone is a gift to the community," he said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 21, 2010.