Thursday, August 23, 2012
In my last post, I brought up the issue of anti-reparative therapy laws. After much thought, I decided it might be helpful to discuss my thoughts on the matter of reparative therapy a bit more thoroughly.
First off, what is reparative therapy? Reparative therapy (also known as conversion therapy) is treatment designed to help a person change their sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual. Over the years, many Christian organizations, including Exodus International, have promoted reparative therapies in order to help a person struggling with their non-heterosexual desires and attractions to live a more Godly life. The idea is that God did not plan for anyone to be gay. That being the case, these therapies are designed to help you become as God intended: heterosexual.
As I mentioned in my last post, and as many of you know from reading this blog over the years, I have in the past undergone such therapy to help me change my sexual orientation from gay to straight. This mostly consisted of counseling, reading a bunch of literature on the subject, and trying out certain practices to change my mannerisms and behaviors and the way I relate to others, both male and female. Even though I learned a lot about myself in that process and did find some small level of decrease in my attractions to other men, I was never able to fully lose those attractions or become more attracted to women. My sexual orientation did not change.
Now, could it have changed? Yes. I think with God, anything is possible. God could have helped change my sexual orientation. But He didn’t. And the fact that He didn’t was proof enough for me that God is not overly concerned with who I’d like to share a bed with, so much as what sort of relationship I have with Him. I learned over time that being gay is not a sin, and is nothing that I should ever feel bad about.
Now that I’ve said “being gay is not a sin”, I should clarify what I consider “being gay” to mean, because I know even in this regard people have different definitions. To me, if someone says they are gay that ONLY means that they find people of the same sex sexually attractive. It does not mean that they sleep with (or have sex with) people of the same sex, nor does it mean they are atheist, drag queens, immoral, hedonistic, have rejected their sexual identity, or anything else. It ONLY means that they find people of the same sex sexually attractive. All of those other things are issues unto themselves. That being the case, I say again that being gay is not a sin. God does not have a problem with one man finding another man sexually attractive, or one woman finding another woman sexually attractive. God does not fault us for any temptations we may have. If we are faulted for anything, it is our actions. And even that, for two men (or two women) to love each other and be committed to each other in a sexual relationship, I’m not so sure anymore is something that God really has a problem with (we can discuss this at a later time).
I gave up trying to change my sexuality a long while back, and I did that because I just did not feel that it was working, and because I did not think it really mattered to God if I was gay or straight. But did this fight ever matter to me? Yes. It mattered more than anything. Why, you might ask? It mattered because deep down I knew that being gay meant that I was different. I knew the majority of people are not gay, and I thought wrongly that if God had wanted people to be gay, then many more people would be. I also thought, based on my own interpretations of the bible and those that I heard regularly at church, that being gay (not just when it came to actions, but to thoughts and temptations as well) was morally wrong. I heard people talk about gays going to hell and God hating gays, and I took that very personally. So much so that I thought God must really hate me, that there was no hope for me, that I was some sort of freak, and that if anyone ever knew the truth about me, they’d hate me and reject me as well.
Was I right, and were the people who told me such things or implied such things right? No. And should I have had to seek out treatment, believing I’d be more Godly if I were straight? No, I shouldn’t have. However, the damage was done. And this damage, as I said, was not solely brought on by others. A lot of it I brought upon myself. I put a lot of those chains around my neck and weighted myself down. I was prideful and embarrassed to admit I was gay. I was scared of how others would react. I thought if my parents knew they’d get all angry or depressed at the thought of me never marrying and having kids. In a nutshell, I worried too much about what others think, or would think. And I let that influence me negatively. It didn’t help, either, that I knew no one who was gay or who I thought would understand that I could talk to about it. And I know, in some instances, this caused me to believe in some of the stereotypes that you see on TV and in the movies. I thought I didn’t have much choice but to become like what I saw in media, and I didn’t want that. I had no role model or person to guide me at all. And so I became lost.
With everything that happened to me and that I went through, and knowing that it still can and does happen to others, I believe reparative therapies should not be completely banned. I believe they should be voluntary, but that they should continue to help people faced with similar problems. I believe this because when I first sought out help from Exodus, it was not so that I could learn to be a better human being or anything like that. I simply wanted someone or something to help me to no longer be gay. I received help in this area, but I was also taught by my counselor from Exodus that being straight should not be my goal. He told me this up front. He also helped me realize it was no sin to be attracted to other men, that gay sin was no worse than any other sin, and that if God could love all of those other sinners, surely He could continue to love me too. I thank Paul for teaching me these things, because they proved to mean more to me and be more helpful to me than any of that other stuff. But I know, looking back, I may not have believed Paul about these things had he not also offered to help me change my sexual orientation. At the time, that was what meant the most.
This last summer, Exodus International made a fairly big change. Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International, announced that the organization would no longer support or promote reparative therapy. Their goal has changed from promoting a change in sexuality, to simply promoting a Godly lifestyle and a relationship with God in faith, whether gay or straight. This may sound too much like what they promoted before, but really it isn’t. There is that fine line distinction that makes the whole thing different. No longer will they advocate sexual orientation change as a part of living a life pleasing to God. What this means is that they now teach it is okay if you find people of the same sex sexually attractive. They have finally recognized that being gay is not a sin (for more about Exodus’ recent change, read this).
I think this new direction for Exodus is an important one. It’s important because it is more biblically based. Nowhere in any of the bible is it stated that being gay is a sin. Nowhere is it stated that if you are gay, you should become straight. And rather than focusing mostly on trying to help people become straight, they are going to do more to help people, whether gay or straight, find a relationship with God. This last thing I think is most important, because in this change, Exodus can now position itself as a true olive branch between the Church and those who have turned away from it or been hurt by it because of their sexuality. Exodus can now promote the truth that whether you are gay or straight, it doesn’t matter, anyone can begin a relationship with God, become saved in the faith and grace of His son, Jesus Christ, and can ultimately have forgiveness of their sins. They can also promote a better way for churches and ministers to reach out to those affected by homosexuality. I personally believe this will have a far better impact on the Church and in reaching out to bring homosexuals to Christ, than anything they were doing before.
But, if reparative therapy is no longer going to be offered or supported by them, how will those seeking that sort of help find it? As I’ve said, I do not believe reparative therapy should be banned or completely done away with. However, I do not believe reparative therapy is the best way to go for anyone struggling with their sexuality.
The best we can do is to reach out to our fellow LGBT neighbors, friends, family, and strangers with love and kindness. Truth is always best revealed when it is presented in love. If we in the church and as a society taught that it was okay to be gay, and that you could still be gay and be a Christian, and treat these people as we would want to be treated ourselves, then we might honestly begin to see a new dawn when Christians and homosexuals no longer view each other as enemies (at least to the degree that so many do today), but rather as friends—even if they do disagree from time to time. Instead of teaching people that they’re going to hell for being different, or pushing them out of the church, or fighting against them in any number of the ways that they have been fought, it would be far more beneficial for everyone involved using the sort of outreach Jesus himself modeled for us. Instead of hate, we love. Instead of pushing away, we welcome. Instead of lying, we tell the truth.
Now, I’m not saying that it’s okay to be gay and go around sleeping with everyone. Being sexually active outside of marriage, however it happens, is still sinful. It’s okay to be gay, but you can be gay and still sin sexually, just as any heterosexual can sin sexually. Both can be forgiven though. And whether a person is sinning sexually or in some other way, that shouldn’t keep us from responding to them as Christ would have.
So, where does all of this leave reparative therapy? My hope is that at some point, it can completely be a thing of the past, with no need for existence. I would hope that the church would open its arms and become a much more welcoming, less judgmental place. I would hope that parents would realize that even if their children grow up to be gay, that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with them and it’s the end of the world. They’re still their child and they’re still worthy of their love and respect, and their lives can still be worthwhile and pleasing to God. I would hope that society in general would become less judgmental, and that people would particularly come to realize how negative some of their comments and actions can be sometimes. And, above all, I would hope that whenever a person is bothered, for whatever reason, by being gay, that they could learn to accept themselves and find help readily available to them whenever they should need it. I’d recommend a kind voice, an offer of friendship and support, and a good old fashioned hug to begin with.
But if these things never happen for a person, and if their entire hope rests upon the idea of becoming straight to improve their condition in life, then I would also hope that somebody would be willing to offer them the type of help that they want. Whether you think they are right or wrong for wanting that sort of help, it may not matter if offering it is the only way you can even begin to help them to see that there is a better way. Some people, such as I was, may just be too stubborn to believe any alternatives upfront. And so you have to work with them from where they’re at. From there, you can show them a better way.