Thursday 22 August 2013

Ex-Gay - Not the Way (Part 2) The Christian

The second part of this treatment of ex-gay ministries is focused on some of the Christian thinking behind these ministries. You have probably worked this out by now, but Christians come in all shapes and sizes. There are Christians and there are Christians. With some, it feels like they just radiate love and God’s grace, while others sound more like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, full of sound and fury and telling everyone who is prepared to listen exactly how it is. The former we want to be around. We enjoy their company, we admire their spiritual walk. The latter, we just feel like running a country mile in the opposite direction. They feel a bit like God’s military police. So let’s dive straight in and take a look at where the ex-gay people fit into all this and why they think the way they do.

Conservative / Traditional Christian Beliefs about Gay Sexuality

Before we commence an examination of what ex-gay ministries believe and do, it’s important to know first what they believe about gay sexuality in general. Here’s a basic list.

Cardinal Timothy Doaln New York
outspoken anti-gay cleric
1.       They call it homosexuality, not gay sexuality
2.       They deem it unnatural because it goes against what they believe is a God-given order in creation, male and female, found throughout nature and which potentiates the creative act of generating new life
3.       Anything that doesn’t potentiate life therefore cannot be natural
4.       Because it is unnatural, they consider it to be sin
5.       If it is sin, then by definition, it goes against God and is viewed as a rejection of God and his ways
6.       If it is sin, it is never to be entered into willingly and must be repented of, like other sins
7.       In order to maintain a good conscience, a person must determine not to repeat this sin ever again
8.       If it is repeated, there is forgiveness, but a good conscience demands a resolve not to do it again
9.       They believe that like other behavioural sins it is entirely possible not to do it
10.   They declare also that the Bible condemns homosexuality as sin in a number of places and describes it as an abomination
11.   They interpret the Bible as saying that homosexuals will be judged and found wanting, and in one place in the New testament, they interpret its inclusion in a list of sins as declaring that it is wrong enough to keep individuals from inheriting the Kingdom of God, which they interpret as being heaven
12.   Some conservative Christians treat this issue as being the absolute deal breaker (like no other) as to whether you are acceptable to God, whether you are an authentic Christian, whether you should be accepted in the Church, and whether you will go to heaven.

Who Are These Christians?

1.       They are predominantly Protestant, although there are some who are Catholic and Orthodox
2.       They are predominantly evangelical and / or pentecostal
3.       They base their faith on the reformation precept of sola scriptura, ie., scripture alone, and will not countenance any other authority in their life
4.       They view the Bible as being divinely inspired, ie., God is the ultimate author of all the texts
5.       They state therefore that the Bible is no less than the Word of God and must be obeyed and followed as the Word of God, not a man-made artefact
6.       They strenuously argue for a face-value approach to scripture, ie., a literalist approach to the Bible, where the scripture says what it means and means what it says
7.       They believe in a penal substitutionary atonement, ie., their belief about salvation is that humanity should be judged by God, so God comes to earth himself and allows himself to be murdered by the colluding Roman authorities and Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem, thus miraculously taking upon himself his own judgement, thereby removing the necessity for humanity to be judged by God. In other words, Jesus died for our sins and in our place so that we don’t have to die for our sins or get judged by God
Pat Robertson outspoken anti-gay evangelical leader
8.       They believe that this salvation can only be obtained by personal appropriation, ie., you have to pray a sinner’s prayer and ask Jesus to be your Lord and Saviour
9.       They believe that after your salvation, you have to allow God’s Holy Spirit to sanctify you over the duration of your life, which occurs by spiritual practice, ie., going to church and praying, and by eschewing sin
10.   They believe that God will personally intervene in your life to perform miracles sometimes and at least bless you in all your ways
11.   They believe in a literal second coming of Christ physically to the earth – many of them believe that humanity is already in the time when Christ will return soon

Their Style

Some of them are gentle and humble and very loving. They will welcome you, smile at you, you will feel the warmth of their bodies as they lay hands on you, you will feel the caress of their voice as they pray over you or for you. You will feel the solace of having like-minded people around you who all want the same thing for you as you do. Others, not so much. Some are assertive and even acerbic. They can be strident in their opinions and pass them off as God’s word to you. Some will want to bring you in for ‘deliverance’ from demons, others will want to prophesy over you and tell you that God has great things in store for you ‘as you leave off and come out of this lifestyle’. Some will even be passive-aggressive with you, countenancing no other position but their own.

Their Worldview

When you believe the things I have just written, it sets you up with a certain worldview. A worldview is what it sounds like, the way you view the world, other people, nature, money, work, sex, relationships, illness, death, justice and every other thing you could possibly think of that goes to make up what we call human existence on this planet. A worldview is an all-encompassing prism or filter through which we look at the whole of life. It skews our vision to the nature of the prism or filter. Needless to say, evangelicals and / or fundamentalists have a very strict and rigorous worldview that narrows their aspect and opinions down to a set of very fundamental attitudes that need to be entirely congruent with the above statements, the general ones and the ones about gay sexuality. This worldview must be in agreement with those precepts otherwise an individual’s Christian faith is brought under uncertainty and in some cases, even their salvation.

Thus, this worldview focuses almost entirely on the certainty of what is right and wrong. Right and wrong belief. Right and wrong theology. Right and wrong behaviour. Right and wrong spirituality. Right and wrong living. It places a monolithic dichotomy on what it considers to be acceptable and what it considers to be unacceptable. In other words, this worldview is about orthodoxy.

Are you the right kind of person, or not? Are you the right kind of Christian, or not? Do you believe the right kind of things, or not? It is an appeal to orthodoxy. But it is also a declaration that there exists this animal orthodoxy. There is a right way to think. There is a right way to act. There is a right way to believe. There is a right way to be Christian. There is a right way to have authentic spirituality. And you know already who they claim to have this right way, don’t you? Of course, it is them. And if there is a right way, which is theirs, then it follows logically that there is a wrong way, which subsumes pretty much everyone else.

Us and Them 

This means that everyone who does not agree with their worldview is wrong. There is set up an ‘us and them’ dichotomy that sees some people as being in and everyone else out, some acceptable, the rest not, some righteous before God, the rest not. They are not at all reticent about declaring who is in and who is out, who is doing the right thing and who is not, who is sinning and who is not. There appears to be no reluctance whatsoever in such minded Christians to pass judgment on other people and to evaluate where they are located according to their worldview.

Some Commentary

But here’s the thing. Not all of Christianity thinks this way. Not all of Christian discourse uses this kind of language or holds these precepts. Why? For a start, not all Christians around the world hold the concept of orthodoxy quite so knuckle-white tightly. This attitude to certainty, or the addiction to certainty as I call it in another BGBC Blog post, has only been around in the format with which we are familiar for just over one hundred years. It is strident fundamentalism - a faith without heart. For many Christians the world over, such an attitude feels a little juvenile. It feels like it does not correspond to what we know of human life and the level of uncertainty there is in the world and in our existence. It feels like it flies in the face of the reality of human suffering, pain, loneliness, grief and anguish which we all must face to one degree or another eventually. It feels like it is antithetical to the notion that we don’t know it all, that there is so much that we do not understand.

We do not understand God despite the wonderful teachings and example of Jesus (and even he said that he had not told us everything because we would not be able to bear it all). We do not understand the full meaning of life and how it all fits together, for us as individuals and as a human race. We do not understand the place of suffering. We do not understand the existence of injustice. We do not understand our own mortality and often stand against it to the bitter end. In the face of such a reality, such certainty feels like it is juvenile and immature.

Further to this, Christians themselves can’t agree on everything. Not even in the first century in the time of the first Christians was there a homogeneous orthodoxy that overarched all belief and discourse in matters of the new faith. As a matter of fact, for the first three centuries, there was significant to-ing and fro-ing as various Christian groups vied and jockeyed to declare that they had the real thing.

And today, we have the same situation. Put simply, there are literally thousands and thousands of different Christian groupings around the world all with a different teaching, a different focus, a different view of certain so-called orthodox precepts. They all love God and they all follow Christ as his disciples yet there is disagreement on issues and certain beliefs. Take for example, the ‘real presence.’ This is a sine qua non (indispensable element) precept for Catholic people and some Anglicans that holds that the bread and wine in the communion service literally becomes the body and blood of Christ. This is a deal-breaker for Catholics such that a Mass without a Eucharist is not really viewed as a full or proper Mass. Yet many non-Catholic denominations do not hold this teaching at all. In Australia, the Baptists, the Uniting Church, the Church of Christ and the pentecostal churches would not hold to such a view. They have a very different theology of what communion means, yet both theologies are based on exactly the same words that Jesus used at the Last Supper. The same can be said of many different issues within Christian discourse including even different theologies about the atonement, ie., what it is, how it occurred, what Jesus’ role was, exactly what happened when Jesus died on the cross, and the like. The penal substitutionary model that we saw above is not the only model of redemption despite it being the one everyone knows and has been taught.

This notion leads us into the idea that there is uncertainty. Uncertainty is the enemy of fundamentalism. It cannot cope with uncertainty. It needs certainty and orthodoxy to survive and flourish and it enforces that orthodoxy rigorously. People get terribly upset if you’re not orthodox. There is no room for the grey. There is no room for question. There is no room for doubt. There is no room for nuance, the development of ideas, growth, change, the search, the journey or the quest. Orthodoxy is a done deal. It is most comfortable with dogma, with the past and with received authoritative wisdom.

Ex-Gay Ministry Modus Operandi

The ex-gay ministry takes this fundamentalist worldview and mixes it with a bit of out-dated, pop Freudian psychology and comes up with the notion that:

1.       You’re gay
2.       That’s not acceptable to us or to God
3.       You need to change
4.       Because you don’t fit our worldview of orthodoxy
5.       You can change
6.       With God’s help
7.       And with our help in teaching and leading and guiding you
8.       And your continuation in this group
9.       And your life-long obligation to mandated celibacy
10.   And your denial of your emotional life
11.   And your immersion in Biblical scriptures that perpetuate you in sin consciousness and in verses that speak of overcoming
12.   And your resolve to act like a straight person for the rest of your life
13.   And marry an opposite sex partner when you’re ready

Now different groups run different programs and there is not enough space here to describe them all in their intricate detail. I do give some description in BGBC which you will find helpful and there are copious personal stories on the on internet including YouTube.

Some More Commentary

It is important to know that where the Bible says one thing, eg., the earth is about 6000 years old, and science says another, in this age of enlightenment, we can let go the Bible story as literal fact without losing our faith and treat it as a different kind of truth, in this case, a creation myth designed to speak to us of the vast creative act of God. We’ve done this in all sorts of areas, eg., sickness, mental health, disability, war, cosmology, menstruation, marriage, revenge and slavery to name a few. We have abandoned the strict Biblical view and values surrounding these issues and adopted a modern world approach where despite our change in attitude, we can still believe in God, follow Christ and call ourselves Christians, yet take a different view to these issues because of the discrepancy between the ancient world and our modern one, between their understanding and our knowledge based in post-enlightenment modernity. I argue strongly in my book that if we can do this in other areas of life, we should be able to do the same thing with human sexuality and treat it from a more sophisticated approach than would see all gay people the moral equivalent of temple prostitutes, sexual idol worshippers, cruel partners and exploitative sex slave traders or pimps; the focus of the Bible texts around homogenital activity. Surely we know better than that in the twenty-first century.

One of the great modern reformational movements in the Church today is that which encourages a more nuanced reading of Scripture, one that takes into account the ancient world, its ancient languages, ancient cultures, human agendas and competing voices. But our Christian thinking is also informed by modern scholarship from the disciplines of the sciences such as biology, genetics and psychology, the social sciences such as sociology and anthropology, and the humanities such as history, the antiquities and archaeology.  Our understanding of Jesus and his time and the birth of the Christian church is now so much better than it ever has been before. So it’s not about discarding the Bible, but using the Bible in a more a careful way, a more sophisticated way and yes, a more loving way, a way that brings people together not separates them apart, that focuses on the voices in the scripture that are in keeping with the Jesus message and recognising that the other voices are something else altogether.

Gay Christians

Thus, there is now a very large and ever-growing group of gay people throughout the world, who have reclaimed their Christian faith, have returned to church and who participate in the life of their local church and who have integrated their sexuality and their faith.

Gay Christians are here to stay. Why? Because:

1.       Gay Christians understand that God really is love, that God’s  essential nature is love and that God only acts from a place of love
2.       Gay Christians know that they were different when they were children, just like other gay people knew, and that this became eroticised around the time of puberty so that their natural sexual inclination emerged by itself in early adolescence and that they did not choose it
3.       Gay Christians understand that given their essential nature, they are the handiwork of a loving creator God as much as any straight person is
4.       Gay Christians know that a loving God would never judge or condemn an individual over his or her sexual orientation, a component within their identity over which they had no choice in allowing or no choice in changing
5.       Gay Christians know that such a condemnatory God would be unjust and unfeeling and understand that any hint of God being this way is the machinations of man not God
6.       Gay Christians know that such a Father is not in keeping with the teachings of Jesus about the Father
7.       Gay Christians know that their sexuality is as natural as their straight siblings’ sexuality is natural
8.       Gay Christians know of the very plentiful literature and good scholarship about what the Bible says and doesn’t say about gay sexuality
9.       Gay Christians know that unlike the focus of the Biblical passages, their sexuality is not about idolatry, temple prostitution or cruel or exploitative sexual acts

10.   Gay Christians know that they love their partners in as profound a way as straight people love their partners
11.   Gay Christians want to walk a life of spirituality, follow Jesus as their exemplar in all things and treat other people with the kind of behaviour that Jesus himself taught in his most important teachings, ie., loving, compassionate, forgiving and self-sacrificing
12.   Gay Christians know that there is no changing a person’s sexuality because it is part of human identity, ie., you can’t change your sexual orientation any more than you can change your personality
13.   Gay Christians know God would never ask such an impossible change of anyone
14.   Gay Christians know that God is not into torturing his children, casting them into a life of meaningless striving for an impossible goal and drowning in inner turmoil
15.   Gay Christians know that God wants humanity to flourish not wither, to have ‘abundant life’ as Jesus put it, which for all of us, means entering fully into our total humanity
Me speaking to
Sydney Freedom2b group 2012
16.   Gay Christians understand that humanity is created with sexuality and that it is not unclean, filthy, sinful, depraved or evidence of a rejection of God
17.   Gay Christians know that according to Jesus, the first and greatest of all commandments is love and that the second greatest commandment is also love
18.   Gay Christians understand sin as estrangement: from God, from each other, from the self, and that this sin is the cause of human suffering
19.   Gay Christians have accepted themselves and try to love themselves because they know that God loves them
20.   Gay Christians understand that their sexuality is a gift of a wonderful creative loving God who is not diminished by anything any human can do.

So, don’t fall for the prayer meetings that try to change your orientation. They won’t. Don’t fall for the kind words or the offered grace. These will not make you straight. Don’t fall for the myriad Bible verses you are supposed to live. These will not change you from being gay. Don’t fall for the laying on of hands or the prophesying or any other spiritual phenomenon.  For many, these things have their place. But they will not change a gay person into a straight person or make an easy life for someone who denies their natural self. Make no mistake, any claims that spiritual effort will turn you straight are false and will only serve to diminish your life by taking you down a path of false spirituality linked to mental illness. And this is a dark path. YouTube it if you don’t believe me. There are plenty of personal stories published that you can see for yourself.

This is not what God had in mind for you when you were created and brought into this incredible world. You were meant for thriving. You were meant for flourishing. You were meant to grow and become all that you are capable of. A life of becoming. And in your case, and mine too, a gay life of becoming.

What Kind of God?

I walk with a God of love, whose very nature is love. A God of compassion. A God of flourishing. A God of the cosmos, both within and outside our universe. Any other kind of God doesn’t really make sense to me and frankly, I don’t think I’d bother. When we love, we use the power of God. When I love my partner, that love comes from God, because all love is ultimately of God. When I kiss him good-bye and feel a little pang when I see him go off to work and I will not see him until we both get home later that evening, that little pang is love. It is from God. That is why so many say that love is the strongest force in the universe. Love is unquenchable. 

I marvel at what retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu said. "I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place. I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this." He has caught something here in this statement. It is about the kind of God who would create someone gay, and science has shown us that we do not choose our sexuality but that it is developed mostly in the womb, and then condemn them for it. What kind of a God would do that? What kind of a God do we believe in? Is that kind of God really worth all the trouble? I don’t think so. And I don’t think it fits with the relational God whom Jesus talked about. It flies in the face of everything that Jesus taught us about a loving Father.


Your walk with God I know is important to you, otherwise you would not be here. You want to do the right thing. You want God to be pleased with you and to accept you. You do not want to feel rejected. And you certainly don’t want to lose your faith. My friend, you are not alone. Thousands upon thousands of people all over the world have been here before, have tramped this wilderness and arrived at the same conclusion.

“I am gay. I have always been this way. I didn’t choose it. I feel like I’m not a bad person. I want to live out my faith and be true to myself. I want to live an authentic happy life and find love. I want God to be part of my life. I want to feel comfortable in knowing that God loves me as a gay person.”  

If you are gay, you are gay because you were meant to be gay, just like the rest of us. You are an awesome creation full of so much beauty, full of so much love, full of so much potential. If you have not read my book, I would urge you to do so. Borrow one or get your own copy and read it. BGBC canvasses all the questions that gay people of faith have. I know, because I had them and so I wrote about them and did so in some detail. Being Gay Being Christian took me four years to write. It has a wealth of information in it that will help you ask some reality questions and help you get some reality answers.

And the greatest answer of all is that if you are gay, you were meant to be that way. God fashioned you in your mother’s womb just as much as any straight person. I reckon God knows a thing or two about human beings. We are the pinnacle of his creation and have been set in the wonder of this blue planet sitting in the darkness of space to flourish and become all that we can. Don’t waste that opportunity on living a life-lie. Don’t waste that opportunity by living an inauthentic life. Don’t put some poor opposite-sex partner through years of turmoil only to break up and separate or offer a life of second-best for you both. 

Be honest. Be yourself. Have a faith in a God who loves you and intended you for growth. It can mean the difference between hitting the mark and missing out why you’re here.

In Part 3, I tell my own personal story. Click below for the link.

Ex-Gay - Not the Way (Part 3)

Pax et Amor - Stuart

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