Monday, December 12, 2005

The Rising Cost of "Ex-Gay" Ministries--Faith

I run across negative anti-church/God attitudes among queer folks all the time, especially white queer folks. I know when I perform one of my shows in a gay-affirming church, no matter how many rainbow banners they have furled out front, some queer folks won't step foot into a church.

Not because of hatred, but because of hurt. Judy Shepard said it best, "Church hurt is the worst kind of hurt".

I often hear the stories of people who have been through "ex-gay" ministries. Afterwards they often try to sort out their faith, and many, like jilted lovers, end up walking away from the very relationship they wanted above all others, a relationship with God.

Last week I had coffee with a Love in Action survivor. We both live in Connecticut now but had entered the Memphis-based "ex-gay" program on the same day nearly 10 years ago. He spoke about how after years of attending anti-gay Christian churches, "ex-gay" ministries and then Love in Action, he could not open up the Bible any longer. He sought with all his heart to find transformation through Jesus Christ, but when he realized that change from his same-sex attractions could not happen (and experienced the subsequent rejection from church folks) he struggled to hold onto his faith.

At his new blog, Heath, a young man from Texas who is gay and had been raised as an Evangelical Christian, writes about the effects of a "faith" that relentlessly attacked him
I've been bitter towards Christianity for the past few years. My heart has been hardened, and I've been carrying around this tremendous weight of anger inside of me. I was so hurt, but part of me longed for the old days. The days when I was so sure that God was up there in his Heaven, and that he loved me, and that everything would be okay. I wanted to believe like that again so bad... but I was scared. I was scared to go back to Christianity, because I was so scared of getting hurt again. I didn't know what to do or where to turn.
Chris from Liverpool, England sent me some of his story to post on my Homo No Mo Survivor's page.
I too am a survivor of the ex-gay movement. I was brought up in a very religious background and felt ashamed I was attracted to other men. I often felt suicidal and had massively low self-esteem.

After casual, empty encounters with men, I was so empty and I discovered the wonderful "loving" arms of the ex-gay movement. Things were good at first, but as time went on, I noticed that a leader in the group was having a bit of an obsession with me. But I felt so guilty and ashamed of myself that I could have been convinced to do anything.

He was into us having a "David and Johnathan" relationship and it became more and more homo-erotic as time went on. It climaxed in an incident where I ended up being molested and sexually assaulted by him.

So I was left devastated. I went on a massive crusade o(f) removing every shred of Christianity from my life, and I succeeded.
The other day Lisa, a young woman in Connecticut wrote me
I find the ex-gay movement interesting since I've been an ex-gay before though I don't consider myself one now. I try not to get into the religion thing too much but "something" keeps dragging me back. :) I am a ex-Jehovah's Witness who is lesbian and with that said, I feel like I have to come out twice. Once for being lesbian and a second time for my former religion. Talk about a cross to bear, though I don't believe in the cross thing, (but that's another story.)
Over and over hear the stories of lost faith, of longing for faith. Miraculously some folks have been able to inegrate their faith with their sexuality. You find them at the Gay Christian Network at queer affirming faith communities all over and visiting this blog.

But so many more live divorced from the Divine. The effects of rejection have soaked into their souls. They won't dare go back to their former faith communities and have yet to discover a new way.

"Ex-Gay" ministries like Exodus, "a nonprofit, interdenominational Christian organization promoting the message of 'Freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ'" actually do more to destroy the faith of lesbians, transsexuals, bisexuals and gays than bring about real, lasting liberation. They don't intend to do so, but they do help free us from the shackles of a fear-based, unworkable intolerant religion. Then sitting in the ashes we ask ourselves the critical question, "Now what?" For some, this is when the adventure really begins.


At 5:25 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is born out by my experience of managing the GLBT mixed chorus in Denver. We had potential members who would not sing with us because we rehearsed and performed in a church, and our number one request from members of the GLBT public was to move our performances out of the church.

And when we did finally begin performing in a community theater, attendance went up. Unfortunately, there just isn't any place for the chorus to rehearse other than a church that has the facilities--kitchen, chairs, piano, reasonable acoustics, storage, and meeting space, for a price that we could afford. If there were, I would have jumped at it. Our membership would have gone up significantly.

At 6:18 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now What?

Indeed. Earlier this year I finally left behind the (loosely 'ex-gay') celibacy-supporting ministry I'd been attending for a long while. I've also largely left the Anglican church which I've been a part of for over 25 years, though I'm still keeping up with some friends there.

It's been a chicken and egg situation. I can't solely blame the 'ex-gay' stuff for my loss of faith, but I can't ignore the fact that the acrimonious debate in the wider church on the 'gay issue' has been one of the driving forces that made me reassess my faith.

I also finally realised that I'd been lied to: about the false hopes over reparative therapy and its dubious psychology; about the 'wrongness' of anything gay; about the questionable interpretations of those six verses in the bible. All of those played a part. Plus the obvious homophobia in parts of the conservative church, despite their 'hate the sin, love the sinner' platitudes.

I'd been lied to there, so where else had I been lied to? It knocked my faith in the church, and in the bible, and I finally asked the hard questions I'd been avoiding for too long. I realised that I'd been clinging to an increasingly fundamentalist biblical-literalist form of faith whose leaders tended to demonise anything that questioned it.

And as for the rest of the world? Here in the UK, most folk consider the church largely irrelevant and out of touch. I'm just thankful that my non-Christian friends put up with my attempts to convert them for so long, and still remain good friends.

I found Alan Jamieson's book 'Churchless Faith' a real insight into why so many people leave behind their strong orthodox faith and leave churches in large numbers. Some rediscover a new and re-energised form of faith, others lose faith completely. I'm in the limbo state, still believing in God in some wider sense, but feeling a certain bitterness towards the church/faith/self that held me in such a repressed asexual state for such a large part of my life. And all that in a belief system that seemingly encouraged self-assessment often in order to find more things to feel guilty about, so that they could be forgiven. Now it all seems so far removed from anything that Jesus said, if we really know what he said anyway.

I'm finding it difficult to explain to my new gay friends just why I'm coming out so late in life, and how faith played its part in that. There's no doubt that some of these gay folk bear deep scars from the hateful things that the church has poured on them over the years, and I can now understand why so many of them are allergic to any mention of the church and other faith groups.

I needed to get that off my chest.

"This is where the adventure begins". Maybe I'll find something of God ahead. I just don't know.

At 6:29 PM , Blogger Ann said...

So often within the ex-gay movement I heard leaders saying that people who had reconciled their sexuality (their homosexuality) and their spirituality had "changed their theology to fit their lifestyle" (and this was a very bad thing) rather than changing their lifestyle to fit their theology.

Let's just reframe the loaded term "lifestyle" for a moment. Think: experiences, my intuition, my feelings (yes, feelings)and thoughts, my common sense, my dreams, and so other words, my unfolding self. Perhaps if all these things point to a different understanding of who God is and what God might be doing in my life and the world...just perhaps my theology SHOULD change.

Isn't that what we've seen in feminist, womanist, Black, liberation, Asian, and mujerista theologies? Hey, "mostly white European male scholars," my experience of life and God moving in my life is different. So do I just continue to discount that as I've done for centuries? Or do I affirm my experience of life and God in that life as valid.

At some point, when we move away from the ex-gay movement (if we do), we have to give ourselves permission to re-experience God.

At 10:14 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I started to comment on this post, and it got a little out of hand. Since I have recently been chastised for excessively long comments to blog posts, I would like to offer a link to my own page of thoughts. Twice today, I read about gays seeking/finding faith after Christianity, and so I offer my own story:

Thank you for your indulgence. ~Jay

At 11:24 PM , Blogger Eugene said...

Jimbo said: I'd been lied to there, so where else had I been lied to?

I am so with you there. I feel very fortunate to have hit this point at a time when God's made himself very real to me and I've got a circle of friends and family members who are fully supportive of my journey, but all the same I don't know what I'll still believe when I come out the other end.

Even if the church is even partly right on this issue, it's failed so miserably in how it treats us that it might as well be completely wrong. Sometimes that feeling of betrayal makes me want to walk away from the church altogether, everything else notwithstanding.

At 7:12 AM , Blogger Contemplative Activist said...

I know many people who have found themselves leaving churches - some because of their sexuality, others for different reasons.

On the one hand, people often experience a great deal of hurt when they leave churches. Sometimes it seems as though we imagine being "unacceptable" to the church means we are "unacceptable" to God as well.

However, that is simply not true.

Some of the most inspiring people I know are those who have left churches and sought out a new way of having faith. People who live on the fringes tend to have a lot of personal integrity, honesty and understanding of others. The tragedy is that so many people see themselves as "second class citizens" because of the messages they hear from the church.

At 11:28 AM , Blogger Peterson Toscano said...

Wow, these comments really flesh out what I was trying to say in my post. Thank you for weighing in and sharing your experiences and insights.

Mike, I am not surprised at your experience with the rehearsal space. How amazing and aweful that places of worship, where one would expect to find comfort, joy and new life, instead one fears rejection, verbal violence and spiritual oppression.

I know that there are many churches who are open and affirming, but even so, many churches need to find a new model that feels, tastes and sounds different from traditional worship services (even traditional "contemporary" worship services). Time for some new wine skins.

At 9:40 AM , Blogger Adrian Lovel-Hall said...

Everyone has a story and everyone needs to be heard. I have found that through my involvemenet with ex-gay ministries my story was heard just so long as I told it the way "they" wanted it told.

It's time for me to stand up as a Gay Christian and let the truth be heard about my life and my relationship with God. I know beyond knowing that God has accepted me in what He wants for me - to be a full human being.

Coming out just these past few months to family and friends has been a good experience and even more so that I did it under the protection and love of a Church. St Bart's Chruch in New York City allowed me the space and time to come out ... they welcomed me as Christ would have been welcomed and I am grateful ....

Chruch people and words can hurt ... but we need to be honest ... we need to speak and be heard and then listen ... we need to affirm and be affirmed ... we need to love and be loved.

God has been such an important part of my life and when the dark days of my ex-gay leadership experience tried to overpower my life, I turned to God and organized Christianity ... and I found peace.

It's not easy being in the minority but we are in the majority in Christ despite where and how we worship God .... as long as we keep our eyes on Him.

At 10:31 AM , Blogger Peterson Toscano said...

Adrian, thank you for posting, and that in the midst of returning to South Africa! I find it AMAZING that you found such an affirming reception in a church that facilitated your coming out process. What great encouragement!

I'm thinking and praying for you as you move back into life at home.

At 10:56 AM , Blogger Adrian Lovel-Hall said...

Thanks Peterson ... life's going to be good even in a country where the gay white community is the minority. Good news is that the Coinsitutional Court in South Africa approved Gay Marriage this month!!!! Keep you posted

At 10:12 PM , Blogger eddie{F} said...


I am one more to add to the statistic. I lost my faith after being through the "ex-gay" mill. I don't think I would ever regain it. Just where I am at, and how I feel now.



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