Sunday, August 05, 2007

Change Was NOT Possible--part 3 of 3

This is the third in a three part series.
Part One: What Was I After and Why?
Part Two: What Happens When Change is not Possible?

Part Three: Living on the Outside

After I exited LIA, I lived for a short time as an ex-gay apart from being in the program. I kept accountable, denying myself daily, being careful where I went and what I thought. I took up the struggle as my daily cross to bear, believing that God would give me the strength to bear it each day, one day at a time. It was pretty much everything I did for the past 17 years, but this time with more therapy and tools at my disposal.

During his talk at the recent Love Won Out Conference in Phoenix (hat tip to Jim Burroway) Alan Chambers spoke about denial.
I think you can expect a life of obedience. Matthew 16:24 talks about those who take up their cross and follow the Lord. They have to live a life of denial. And in the early days of when I started speaking and debating and doing all sorts of things related to the issue of homosexuality, and took my position with Exodus, people used to say, "Oh Alan, you're just in denial." I used to get so mad when they'd say, "You're just in denial. You're just denying who you're really are." And I'd say, "No I’m not. I'm not in denial. I'm not in denial." And then I came to the place where I realized, you know what? God calls us as Christians to a life of denial.

I love that today, I realize that I do live a life of denial. Not denial of who I used to be, not denial of who I could be today, but I deny what comes naturally to me.
I too denied what came natural to me. My same-sex desires existed in me from the earliest time. I tried casting them out, handing them over to God, therapizing them away, containing them and ultimately denying them and nailing them to the cross. I crucified myself with Christ and died daily. The problem was I was not dying to “sin”. No what I thought was sinful in my life, my same-sex desires, only grew stronger with a natural energy that I could not destroy. No but I did died daily, by inches, my personality and my well being suffered.

Then one day I woke up and surveyed my life. I took stock of the depression, the stress, the feelings of self-loathing, and the exhaustion. I considered Jesus’ promise when he declared
Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
I stayed in bed feeling the weight of the burdens piled on top of me. That yoke was not easy and the burden was not light. It crushed the life out of me. The letter of the law kills but the Spirit gives life. No matter how much I trusted in the Spirit’s power, I had insisted that the Spirit enable me to follow the law of man and not the word of God, and the law was killing me.

Then I said to myself, “What are you doing? This is insane!” And at that moment I woke up as if out of a coma and for the first time in nearly two decades I understood that my pursuit to change and suppress my sexuality was unnecessary and unhealthy. Sure I experienced change, but not what I had hoped for. The ex-gay process transformed me into a joyless, uptight, frustrated drone of a man, growing more and more distant from God despite the many hours of daily prayer and Bible study.

In my journey I began to realize that I needed help with specific issues. I objectified people and their bodies as sexual objects. I had the tendency to be compulsive and addictive in my sexual life and not see sex as a means of loving and building a relationship but as a means to quench an unmet need. I also realized how much I wished to fit in and please the straight men around me and live in such a way as to gain their approval and acceptance. But none of these issues had to do with my natural orientation towards men. In fact, mine was a very human struggle that many more straight men face than do gay men.

But in demonizing all same-sex desire, branding it evil, demonic, unhealthy and abnormal, I sought to destroy it. First I tried to magically alter it into heterosexuality and when I understood the implausibility of such a miracle, I then tried to silence and suppress my desires looking to God to enable me to destroy myself.

I sought the wrong things. Instead of focusing on the simple message of Jesus—love your neighbor as yourself—I coveted my straight neighbor and tried to become just like him. In the end I hated myself. I felt ashamed of myself and as a result I acted shamefully.

I accepted that I could not rid myself of my same-sex desires. I grew to understand that my desires were not abnormal or wrong. I accepted and affirmed myself. I then began to see real change in my life—the ability to address the sexual compulsion, the moral will to stop objectifying people as mere sexual objects.

I also found a new honesty with God and others, a transparency that eluded me for years. Friends and family noticed the difference over the past eight years and remark how I am much more alive, solid and emotionally available than ever before.

Some suggest that since we never can actually change our sexuality that we should still strive to cage it in, silence it and nail it to the cross. For me I realize that such a life does come not from a following God but from following man.

Change from being gay to straight was NOT possible for me, neither was it necessary. Trying to NOT be gay didn't work either, even when I viewed it as my sacrifice to God. Pursuing to change and suppress my sexuality came at a great cost. Sure I learned some good lessons, but ultimately the process caused me more harm than good.

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At 5:54 AM , Blogger Allyson Dylan Robinson said...

Your thoughts here formed a connection in my mind with the way I've often heard the life of celibacy referenced in Protestant Christian contexts. Celibacy receives high praise from Paul, who asserts in 1 Corinthians 7, "It is good for a man not to touch a woman." Undergirding this is example of Jesus; it seems abundantly clear to me that his mention of "eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" in Matthew 19 is self-referential. Yet, whenever the topic comes up among Christian men (at least in my experience), the tendency is to seize upon Paul's allowances (i.e. "Because of immoralities" in 1 Cor 7:2, "If they do not have self-control" in v. 9, etc.) rather than his primary teaching. Admitting (often sheepishly) the power of sexual desires in their lives, they proclaim, "A life of celibacy is not for me. I don't have the strength for it." Interestingly, the example of Jesus gets completely ignored in these conversations. It amazes me how we (Protestants) have so privileged the heterocentric conception of family that the model provided by Jesus himself has been completely excluded from the picture. (I suppose Martin Luther's abolishing of the monastic orders and making monks and nuns marry bears some of the responsibility for this, but I digress.)

Anyway, it seems inconsistent to me to excuse heterosexuals from more than a summary consideration of celibacy because they feel they lack the strength for it, yet to demand it of LGBT people.

While I'm on the subject, it also seems unfair to expect me to do decent theology or hermeneutics at 4:30 in the morning. But here we are.

Give Marvin a hug for me, Peterson. He left me a very sweet voicemail the other day. I think you should go easier on him...he sounded a little stressed out. =)

At 8:21 AM , Blogger Peterson Toscano said...

ally, very cool. You make an important connection. The teaching is clear, "It is better to marry than to burn."

I mentioned this once on a TV program where I appeared alongside of Alan Chambers. The host looked perplexed,
"What do you mean by burn?" I said, you know burn with lust, sexual desire. Some fires are not meant to be contained.

Yes, some, very few, are called to a life of celibacy, but for most of us, this is unrealistic and even dangerous long term (witness the abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.)

Of course going the route and marrying a person of the opposite sex is not usually a useful solution as most of those marriages seem to fail, and often happen at the expense of another person's happiness and satisfaction.

It confuses me that some anti-gay rights leaders talk about the wild and crazy promiscuous life that they believe gay men lead, yet when we seek to validate our relationships and build stable homes, these same family values folks seek to undermine our success by creating and maintaining legal barriers to our unions.

Ally, so glad you commented at 4:30 am. See what you sparked? Nice.

At 8:40 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peterson, You have explained it so well. The ex-gay agenda, indeed that of many churches, is Law based and full of burden and crushing weight, causing us to strive on our own strength to shed that weight. They leave out the ministry of the Holy Spirit that is ours as a result of the victory that Christ won on the Cross of Calvary. Indeed, His yoke is easy and His burden is light. "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1 (NASB) Instead of walking in liberty, we walk around in bondage working for that freedom that is ours in Christ. We become human "doings" and not human "beings". Barry

At 1:25 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't feel that the goal is to become straight. The goal is to live the Christian life in wholeness. I believe that some people are able to develope straight tendencies, but ultimately, this is not the message of "ex-gay" ministries. Living a life consistent with Christian teaching is the goal.

At 3:12 PM , Blogger Peterson Toscano said...

anonymous, the history of the ex-gay movement and the church has been one of change. They advertised, "I Questioned Homosexuality: Change is Possible" It is only recently that they have been more clearly publicly stating that change in orientation is not a realistic goal. They rarely say though what they are actually advocating is celibacy for most people with same-sex attractions.

Yes, living a life with Christian teachings is absolutely essential. That is what I finally was able to embrace. The problem was I wasn't following Christ's teachings about homosexuality, I was following man's anti-gay teachings in Biblical disguise.

I do not want to open up a discussion about what the Bible says and doesn't say about people with attractions for people of the same-sex. That ground has been covered before by other people in other places.

If you truly believe that the scriptures say that you should not engage in same-sex love, then by all means be faithful to how you see it. Similarly I need to be faithful to God and to what God has taught me in my journey. I have learned to question what the world says about same-sex love and consider how the church has taken on the ways of this world. (Romans 12:1,2)

At 9:24 PM , Blogger KJ said...

Well said, Peterson. I also agree with your comments to the anonymous contributor. Peace to those who feel led to "ex-gay" ministries, regardless of what that means, as I have great confidence that the Spirit uses many routes to help us understand that ultimately we all must come to rest in the providence of God.

That, or course, does not mean that the claims of ex-gay ministries should not be challenged, and I think that greatest challenge is the openly-lived life of peace of the GLBT believer. There is not better way to send the message, "All out are in free!"

At 9:19 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peterson, thanks for posting this, I think it helps other people understand what gays and lesbians in conservative faiths put themselves through. I wish I could say that I found the light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to all this, a way to reconcile sexuality and faith but so far I have been unsuccessful. Like many, one of the casualties of this life experiment was my faith, not exactly what I had in mind when I started on this strange journey decades ago.

At 10:21 AM , Blogger BentonQuest said...

Sorry if this is leading things off track...

PW, has your faith really become a casulaity or has it changed into a new form? I think we often equate questioning faith to losing faith because of pastors who are not comfortable with questions. Questions are not bad and God does not frown on questioners. Maybe casuality is the wrong word. Perhaps your faith is just in a chrysalis, waiting to emerge renewed and ready to fly?

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

Benton, you could be right, it is still a bit early in the story to make claims one way or another. Perhaps the best way to describe my situation is that several months back I passed a watershed moment and now I'm not sure my faith made it over the crest with the rest of me.

At 5:02 AM , Blogger Alan said...

I have analyzed Exodus' Mission Statement and Doctrinal statements and would like feedback.
God bless us all.


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