Earlier this month, I was one of nine former “ex-gay” leaders who released a joint Statement calling for a ban on Conversion Therapy. It was picked up by national and international news outlets, including interviews with several of the signers. It went viral on Facebook. I also shared my own “ex-gay” story and why this campaign is so important to me.
Most of the reporters and bloggers who published the release were supportive of our decision to come together and make this Statement, and the comments on those sites were generally affirming and positive. Many applauded our clear stance on the harm caused by Reparative Therapy. Some saw this as another indication of the demise of “ex-gay” treatments. A few expressed hope that it will used as “testimony” in upcoming state cases to ban Conversion Therapy.
Author’s Note: I wrote extensively in the last entry about the response/reactions of those who still practice Conversion or “ex-gay” therapy—it was intense, harsh, defensive, restrictive, misleading…and not surprising.
Admittedly, a few reporters gave the impression this was the first time any of us had spoken out about Conversation Therapy, when the truth is that some of us have been vocal and active for many years. This inaccuracy caused an uproar with readers.
As I’ve read the comments, pondered the responses/reactions, and I think I’ve learned (or was reminded of) some useful lessons that I can take away from the experience.
Lesson 1. Forgiveness is not instant or easy. The hurt and pain that so many endured in these programs are evident in words they used when responding. It broke my heart once again to see that level of damage, which makes this campaign to ban these therapies even more essential.
I issued an apology, and asked for forgiveness many years ago. But I know it may not be granted. One person was clear: “I don’t forgive you. I condemn you. You disgust me.”
Forgiveness can’t be demanded, and I must resist getting defensive. I think an apology needs to be reinforced, and perhaps repeated, especially when the offense hurt another person. An apology should be accompanied by corrective actions.
I can’t change the past, or undo some of the decisions I made. However, I can try to make the present and the future different. Once again, I renew my commitment to stand against these groups.
Lesson 2. The Bible is a barrier. To say that Christians disagree on the Bible would be an understatement on the scale of saying the Grand Canyon is a hole in the ground. It’s why Methodists are not Presbyterians, and why Baptists don’t have a Pope. It’s why some churches baptize by dunking, and others by sprinkling. It’s why there are Charismatics, Pentecostals, Calvinists and Universalists...and a granola bag of other varieties.
I wish we could rejoice together about the faith, strength, comfort and encouragement we derived from the Bible. I wish that in spite of our differing interpretations, the Bible could be a source of unity for Christians. However, on this topic, there seems to be little room for civil conversation, much less compromise. Instead of being a bridge, the Bible is a barrier.
Not to over-generalize, but I think it’s because those who defend the use of Conversion Therapy and those who practice it are typically Conservative/Fundamentalist in their theology. They believe the Bible is to be taken “literally” and are convinced Scripture indisputably and undeniably teaches homosexuality is sin. For that reason, it can be overcome…just like any other “sin.” They are predisposed (and programmed) to believe in Conversion Therapy, regardless of any evidence to the contrary.
My experience doesn’t matter.
Science doesn’t matter.
Research doesn’t matter.
History doesn’t matter.
They need to believe Reparative programs work, because it fits into their faith framework. It is pointless to disagree or argue, because “It’s not my opinion, it’s God’s Word.”
To me, that’s not genuine faith, it’s blind dogmatism.
If those of us who released the Statement are telling the truth, if medical and mental health professionals are correct that Reparative Therapy doesn’t work, if the research does prove that sexual orientation cannot be changed…they must re-think some of their own core beliefs.
Who has time for that?
Lesson 3. Perception is reality. It’s a common axiom in the world of PR and Communications that it doesn’t matter what you say, it matters what people believe. (Did we learn nothing from Chicken Little?)
We got so much support and affirmation, particularly within the LGBT community. But not from everyone. For some, our words were judged as lies and our motives were seen as selfish because (in their perception) the Statement did not contain an apology. We were called some nasty, hateful names. (e.g., evil, despicable snake, con man, spineless worms, unforgivable, monster) Some wanted retribution…or worse!. A “christian” man announced that he “loathed” us as blasphemous and unforgivable because we willfully and intentionally harmed God’s creatures. (I regret to admit, I uselessly engaged him and asked how he knew our intentions and if he felt blasphemous by hurting me, one of God’s creatures.) For the most part, those commenting did not know us, but they believed certain things about us. That was their reality.
It took us several days to write the Statement, but it could take years to change people’s preconceptions. For me, it was an indication of how much more work needs to be done.
Author’s Note: In fact, all of us have apologized, and didn’t feel that was the purpose of this Statement; we saw this more about what we are doing now. But because these past apologies, and our subsequent activism were not detailed in the release, the readers’ reaction came from a predictable vacuum of information. Thankfully, those reactions were in the minority.
Lesson 4. DON’T READ THE COMMENTS! I know better. Whether it’s a fluff piece about a TV show on an entertainment site or a political editorial, every time I read the comments, I get angry.
I think it’s the wall of anonymity that allows us to disassociate, making it easier to be cruel. Sitting at a keyboard, staring at our laptop screen, we might forget that we are talking to and about actual people. With their own feelings and fears. I definitely don’t think we would say it aloud, to the person’s face.
I’m no stranger to people saying nasty things about me. I’ve lived through rumors and outright attempts at character assassination.
Author’s Note: Trust me, I was the Pastor of two congregations, and church folks can be mean! I’m an author and I’ve worked with harsh editors. I’ve had readers write disapproving reviews of my books and my blogs.
I have always tried to learn from my critics. But it helps to listen with humble detachment, a healthy dose of self-confidence and some honest self-talk. I know that I’m not a snake, or a monster. In reality, I am a kind, caring person. I like to think that the man who said he “abhors” me might reconsider if he got to know me. (Or he could join the group of those who do know me and still abhor me. <shrug>)
I have no regrets about signing my name to the Statement opposing Conversion Therapy, and being part of this important campaign to bar it in the next five years. I think the potential harm done to those who enroll in these programs is much greater than any backlash, misrepresentation or criticism that may be directed at us for our past involvement. And who know? We might educate a few minds along the way.