Notice: This post is bit longer than my usual entries. (Does size matter?)
Last week, nine former “ex-gay” leaders released a joint Statement calling for a ban on so-called Conversion Therapy. The Statement was picked up by national and international news outlets, and went viral on Facebook. I was proud and honored to be one of those who signed the document. I also shared my own “ex-gay” story and why this campaign is so important to me. I think the Statement is historic: this many people, with this much actual experience in “ex-gay” leadership, speaking out in one voice about the damage these programs cause. That's HUGE!
I wondered if those still involved in Conversion/Reparative Therapy—the current leaders of "ex-gay" ministries—would even acknowledge what we said…but I didn’t have to wonder long. They reacted quickly, with defensive orthodoxy, Bible thumping, self-righteous posturing, cries of persecution, anti-gay rhetoric, unreliable promises, disingenuous concern and false accusations. Pretty much what I expected!
- Our statement was deemed “desperate.”
- The leader of Restored Hope Network, a group of "ex-gay ministries, stated categorically that none of us have ever been to a professional therapist, suggesting that we merely gave up before we could be helped out of our homosexuality. (Not true!)
- We were accused of being racist because we are all white. (WTF?)
- One prominent leader ("Voice of the Voiceless") used the occasion to rant about how they (current "ex-gay" leaders) were being persecuted for trying to help people escape homosexuality.
- In general, these leaders saw our Statement as further proof we couldn’t “prevail over [our] same-sex desires” and leave the “homosexual lifestyle.” One leader asserted that "the real story" is we couldn't maintain our "own personal discipline as Christians" so we had "lost credibility."
- Overall, our Statement was seen as merely an attempt to justify our failure. We were compared to the inevitable group of people who join a weight loss group, but don’t lose the weight. (Yep, I'm fat...and I'm still gay!)
- We were accused us of heresy, as they fell back on their strict understanding of the Bible, in complete disregard to any other possible interpretation. As one leader explained, “it is non-negotiable that the Bible regards homosexual behavior as sin.”
As I’ve read the responses of these leaders, several things struck me:
1. I can’t change anyone’s theology. Most of these leaders are where I was many years ago. I was convinced (for a while) I was right. It took time, and honesty, to finally admit I was wrong. I do contend it was different then than it is now, where we have such universal access to information. I didn’t know much beyond what I was being told; today, that can’t be an excuse.
Theology is very personal, and often pragmatic. (i.e., what we believe works for us.) The way it changes is through illumination, which is a divine process and above my pay grade. I can try to educate and be a living "incarnation" of my Truth, but when all is said and done, there must be a willingness to change.
However, it is a fact that the Bible is not as clear as they purport. If that were true, there would not be the ongoing, intense conversation taking place in the church today. Many eminent Bible scholars give a very different perspective, and even some conservative Christian leaders have come to see that it's not as black-and-white as some insist. These "ex-gay" leader may choose to hold on to what they believe (that's the pragmatic aspect of theology), but it is not accurate to insist there is no other way to interpret the Bible on a few obscure verses.
I don’t blame them, nor do I hate them. I just disagree with them! I admit that I'm always confused by their refusal to examine what they do in light of the long history of those who have left leadership and denounced the practice. I am not surprised by their rigid adherence to their beliefs, but I’m saddened by their complete refusal to even consider the validity of differing convictions. Throughout history, Christians have disagreed about the Bible. Churches and denominations have formed because of different ways to understand parts of Scripture. And that includes the topic of what the Bible says about "homosexuality." But as we read their response and general rhetoric, their message is clear and condemning: those of us who disagree can’t possibly be Christians. I see that as the actual heresy.
2. They are persistently deceptive. This is a difficult statement for me to make, but I am convinced it’s a fact. Their response is just further evidence that these leaders (and their avid followers) are not above bending the truth to suit their needs and prop up their programs. They will make definitive statements as if it’s true, such as the leader who stated that none of the signers had been to a professional therapist. How would she know that? (And it’s not true!) They will ridicule research that discounts their techniques, or in some cases, twist the results and use it to support their practices.
Author’s Note: Several researchers have publicly stated their findings are being misused by these groups.
Lisa M. Diamond, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology and Gender Studies in the Department of Psychology at the University of Utah.
Professor Gary Remafedi, M.D., of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota
These group promise “change” in their marketing materials and the phrases they use imply they can cure homosexuality. While they deny they’ve ever promised to turn a gay person into a straight person, when they use terms such as “walking away from homosexuality,” “freedom from homosexuality,” and “leaving homosexuality,” I think the implication…and the fraud …is clear. They will exaggerate their success, over promise on their results, and explain away anyone who ’t left the program.
3. It’s easy to shift blame. Historically, these groups will demean and seek to discredit anyone who leaves the program or speaks out against them. These dropouts and dissidents will be accused of not investing “enough” in their own recovery, or not wanting it "enough." (You didn’t pray enough. You didn’t read your Bible enough. You didn’t try hard enough. You are not righteous enough.) Think of the weight of guilt that puts on those in the programs. Especially after they leave. You will not hear “ex-gay” leaders give the slightest hint that they might be the problem, or that the program and the techniques might be at fault. It’s just easier to blame those who abandoned the program; they are collateral damage in light of the organization’s eternal commission.
4. The stakes are financial. Their defensive, protective stance is understandable, considering it’s more than what they believe, it’s what they do to earn a living. I think they could be frightened. What if we are right? I personally don’t see their reaction as a mother hen protecting their babies; I think of them as corporate executives, protecting their revenue stream and their income. It’s not easy to admit you are wrong when your salary is dependent on others believing you are right. And if your livelihood is at stake, even if don't believe you're right, would you speak out?
I often jokingly refer to them as “ex-gay for pay.”
Taken as a whole, their response was the standard fare served at the “ex-gay” kitchen—an unsavory stew mixed up with a mass of clashing ingredients. There are light chunks of Bible, sliced to fit their own recipe. It’s sweetened with the traditional religious words of love and concern, heavily salted with the need to repent, and peppered with a divine threat of eternal damnation. It’s heated with the passion of unwavering conviction and served as the only possible meal to those who are hungry for food to help them live a healthy life.
Some of the “ex-gay” groups are now referring to us as the “Notorious Nine.” I like that; it's nicer than some of the things said about us. (More on that in the next post.) But I do want a t-shirt with that nickname emblazoned on the front!
For me, this is not about who’s right and who is wrong.
It’s not about peacefully coexisting, and adopting a live-and-let-live attitude.
They can believe what they choose, but the practice of those beliefs are hurting people. Especially impressionable young people who could be damaged for years by these programs.
So while it may appear I am attacking individuals—the “heart” and “voice” of the organizations—in reality, I oppose their programs, their techniques and their teachings.
And this experience has only strengthen my commitment to continue my efforts to unmask their lies, shine a light on their deception, debunk their practices and expose their empty promises. It's what I've been doing for many years.
They claim to have the only one possible solution, and it has been proven to be bogus and dangerous. I want those who are struggling with their sexual orientation to know that what these ministries offer…the food they serve…is not the only option.
As Auntie Mame reminded us: “Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”
In my next post, I’ll share the lessons and insights I’ve gained as a result of the responses and reactions to our Statement.