The Core Belief of "Ex-Gay" Programs
Before Exodus International closed, it was the umbrella organization for nearly 200 “ex-gay” groups, churches and individuals throughout the country. Just prior to the closing of Exodus, a similar, smaller (though more inflexible in theology) break-away group called Restored Hope Network (RHN) formed.
The individuals and groups that promote “ex-gay” treatments are different, as are the methodologies they employ. Often, groups and ministries are Person/Personality Based—growing out of one person’s experience of “change.” That person might not have actual training in psychology or counseling, sometimes not even formal theological education, but became the “poster child” for the cure, as well as the personality and pattern for the program, and how it promotes their services. (Methodology is discussed in Functional Flaws.)
But while the organizations, individual and approaches might vary, there is a common, unifying environment that births these groups: conservative, Evangelical/Fundamental theology. (You probably won’t liberal or progressive congregations who sponsor or support such programs or ministries.) And the one Core Belief that they hold true is the Divine Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. They see the Bible—or more precisely, their interpretation of the Bible—as definitive.
We don’t have time to discuss the concept of Biblical Inspiration; it’s a complex topic with many intricate aspects, and much disagreement. (e.g., inerrant, infallible, plenary, canonization, etc.) Essentially it’s the belief that God “inspired” or supernaturally guided the people who wrote the Bible to write the words that God wanted written, and then God orchestrated the compilation of the books God wanted included in what we know as our Bible.
Those who hold to a strict view of Inspiration see the Bible’s original manuscripts as without error, though many rarely make the distinction between the manuscripts, their favorite translation or their own interpretation. According to the statement of belief from RHN’s website the Bible is “the highest authority in matters of faith and practice.” That’s fairly common with conservative/Fundamental theology. What it typically means (and not to be simplistic) is: when science and Scripture appear to be in contraction, the Bible (or their interpretation of the Bible) wins.
It’s this view of Inspiration and Scripture that provides these groups and individuals with three very common Foundational perspectives, or shared values:
1. Sexuality is Binary. The creation story, which is to be taken as actual and historic, gives us the divine design for romantic, intimate/sexual connections. God created male and female. Therefore, any activities or interests outside those precise parameters would not be ordained by God, particularly same-sex relationships. (“Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”) It follows for many that the sole purpose of such relationship is procreation.
I do not believe the Creation Narrative (nor the Bible, for that matter) was meant to be taken literally, and certainly not as a blueprint for human sexuality. For example, if this restrictive view were given a broader application, it would dictate that only couples who can procreate should be together. “Go forth and multiply.”) For me, I take notice of the original language in the story, where God said it was “not good” for us to be alone, so a “suitable helper” was created. I think those who would insist gay and lesbian people must be alone, and never experience the kind of intimacy intended by God as part of their inherent sexual orientation, are missing a crucial element in the story. It is not good!
2. Homosexuality is a Sin. The theological presupposition that homosexuality—either as an orientation or as an act/behavior—is sinful forms the basis of “ex-gay” programs. It’s why these groups exist and how they are able to perpetuate their spurious practices. In fact, if conservative churches didn’t unapologetically proclaim the sinfulness of being gay, there would be no need for their services because few would feel the compulsion to try and change.
Obviously, I don’t believe being gay is sinful, nor do I believe that gay relationships are wrong. (Hey, I’m married to the man with whom I’ve spent nearly 20 years.) I’m convinced the Bible has been distorted to push these concepts, but that detailed, tedious discussion is for another time and place. The point here: this idea of sin is a primary tenet of these groups. Why else would they exist? The reality is, those who believe homosexuality is sin NEED these groups. Psychology can’t cure sin. Medicine can’t heal sin. In fact, it’s why there’s often a resistance to “secular” counsel in this matter. Sin is spiritual, and like any other sin, it can be overcome. “All things are possible...” Since it’s sin, then repentance, and prayer, and Bible study...spiritual disciplines are the answer.
Modification: Recently, some Christian groups have begun to acknowledge that sexuality might be inherent, but they won’t bend on the “sin” dimension of that birth-condition. So, it’s not sin to have gay feelings, but it’s wrong to act on those feelings.
To me, this would make homosexuality a cruel, divine practical joke. We are born with desires and attractions that can only be fulfilled by a person of the same sex, but they can never be fulfilled…because they are sin. So if we think about it, homosexuality is the only “sin,” whose punishment is a life devoid of that special, intimate relationship for which Genesis says we were all created. God sais “It is not good...to be alone. (cf: Genesis 2:18)
In my opinion, it’s comparable to saying “Yes, you were born left-handed, but the use of that appendage is not the norm, so it’s not appropriate and unacceptable. You must choose to change. You must become right-handed!”
3. There are Eternal Consequences. The same understanding of the Bible that defines homosexuality as sin also condemns the unrepentant homosexuality to eternal damnation. (Please know: this is not supported in the Bible, but it is one of the foundational beliefs of this mindset.) You will hear Christian parents distraught about their gay or lesbian child because they fear for their eternal souls. Conservative pastor preach this message relentlessly. Those who promote these programs employ this divine punishment as a means of fundraising (“Help us save those bound for hell.”) and as incentive to enroll. (“You don’t want to spend eternity separated from God and those you love, do you?”)
Conclusion: The Core Tenet—the foundation—of these programs is their belief in the Inspiration of the Bible. God’s Word is the Authority, more than science and certainly more than human opinion. Because they hold so firmly to this belief, they view human sexuality in the simplest way: male and female, designed for one another. There is no room for variation, nor discussion. With this unquestionable doctrine comes the classification of homosexuality as sin, combined with the threat of eternal punishment in hell and rejection by family and faith community. It makes for a powerful incentive, and it’s probably why so many sincere gay Christians are encouraged...or required...to enter these programs. (More on that in the section: Questioning the Allure)