Why I Stopped Teaching My Kids to Believe in God

This article first appeared in The Good Men Project.

Children&GodRather than tell my kids what or how to believe, I’d rather they do their own research and come to their own conclusions.

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My kids attended a private, conservative Christian school for nine and seven years, respectively. It was a commitment their mother and I made early on. Our oldest daughter was barely two months old when the Columbine massacre occurred on April 20, 1999. We wanted to make sure she was protected from such horrors. Though we couldn’t guarantee anything, we felt our kids were better off in a protected environment.

I grew up in a conservative Christian home on conservative Christian politics. As soon as I could vote, I voted for Ronald Reagan; the second time, right after I turned 18. I voted as a conservative until 2000, when I finally left the Republican Party because it became too liberal for me. So putting our kids in a conservative Christian school wasn’t a big leap for us.

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I worked with them to memorize their Scripture verses each week and always prayed for and with them before bed. I believed I was doing what was best for them, while reaffirming my own faith.

I proudly attended every school open house. I followed my daughters as they showed off pictures of Bible stories they created with colored construction paper, crayons and cotton. I worked with them to memorize their Scripture verses each week and always prayed for and with them before bed. I believed I was doing what was best for them, while reaffirming my own faith.

But as my kids grew older, I began to have serious doubts about what they were learning. My doubts had nothing to do with the school administrators’ indiscretions, or parental hypocrisy. People have free will. I get it. Quite frankly, I’d had mostly great experiences in church. I was actually getting less comfortable with the uniforms, the uniformity, and lack of allowable personal expression. The list of “do not’s” was getting longer as they got older than the list of “do’s”. Is that what I believed? Did I want them growing up being told what they couldn’t do?

One of the last straws came from an open house I attended. As we weaved through the desks I looked up to see Scripture verses dangling from the ceiling. John 15:10. “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” I couldn’t shake the word “if.” I wondered how they were processing all of this information or if it registered. Did they believe they had to do something to be loved? Were they getting the message that love was conditional?

As I walked out of the classroom that night, I grabbed my daughters by the shoulders. “I want you to know that God loves you no matter what,” I said.

As I walked out of the classroom that night, I grabbed my daughters by the shoulders. “I want you to know that God loves you no matter what,” I said. They looked a little confused. They didn’t know what prompted my statement and were too preoccupied by the crowd and excitement of the attention to ask.

We ended the year with a run in with the new dean. The parking lot was busy at the end of each school day with cars lined up around the school premises. Parents waited patiently for their kids to be released, driving by the designated curb and stopping so their children could get in. I thought of a clever bypass to the chaos. I parked at the end of the lot and had my children walk to me. It worked all year until the dean decided, unilaterally, that it was much too dangerous for a 13-year-old and her 11-year-old sister to walk through a string of parked cars.

When I confronted him, he told me this policy was in the school handbook. It was not. It never had been. That’s when I told him that if 13-year-olds are incapable of walking through a line of parked cars without getting hit, he and the school had much bigger problems than they could solve. With that, we exited the school for the last time.

With eighth grade over, my 13-year-old was ready to spread her wings and made it known she wanted to change schools. Her sister, a free spirit by nature, felt the same. I cried filling out the paperwork for public school. I was frightened by the “what if’s.” At the same time, I was excited by the possibilities and the plethora of new opportunities and programs our private school couldn’t afford. We were all growing up.

I was coming to the realization that I had spent most of my life in fear and that the unconditional love I believed in was actually very conditional.

I was coming to the realization that I had spent most of my life in fear and that the unconditional love I believed in was actually very conditional. I believed what I believed because I’d been taught it. I wasn’t given the option of figuring out whether or not it was true; I was only given the option of studying to confirm it was true. I began to see it very differently, particularly looking at it through my children’s eyes.

I came to realize that part of loving my children didn’t mean teaching them “the way of the Lord” carte blanche. It meant teaching them how to think, make rational decisions and search for truth on their own. I’d been feeding them information, just as their school had. I was producing uniformed Christian clones. That wasn’t working for me, and I was sure it wouldn’t work for them.

Truth, I’ve learned, is not elusive or exclusive when we sincerely search for it. Truth is much too large to be contained between the pages of a single book and, if God does exist, He, or She, or It does not tremble in fear, or go manically ballistic because humans act like humans. I certainly don’t see God needing to be involved in politics so He can take a better swipe at controlling behaviors.

I am done living in fear and I don’t want my children to live that way either. I want them to be everything they are supposed to be, whatever that is, even if it falls outside of “normal.” Perhaps especially if it falls outside of normal. Those people seem to be the ones who make the biggest differences in the world.

I want my children to be passionately in love with life and see all people as valuable, unconditionally lovable, equal, worthy, whole, complete, unique and deserving. I don’t want them to be bigoted, prejudice, hateful, exclusive, or fearful, which is what I see much of the evangelical world, of which I was a part, has become.

Rather than tell my kids what or how to believe, I’d rather they do their own research and come to their own conclusions. I’m not afraid of their questions; I’m not afraid of the answers they find. In fact, as I tell them, they can believe anything they want to believe as long as they can tell me how they came to their conclusions. And quite frankly, in my finite state of humanness, I’m not qualified to grasp the magnitude or explain the universe beyond my own experience with it. I bring a very small perspective. God, on the other hand, is big enough to take care of Himself.

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I love the deep conversations I have with my kids. I love watching them explore and question the world around them. I love the array of friends they have acquired; friends of different ethnicities, sexual orientations and religious beliefs. I love the open conversations we have about politics, sexuality and what they want out of life. I love that no topic is off limits and there is no shame in being human. I trust that their search for truth is with unfettered sincerity, respect for life and a belief that everyone, no matter what, deserves to be loved. I can think of no better explanation of God than that.

Photo – Flickr/Rob Ellis

The South Is Rising Again! And it Needs to Stop.

Entering MIssissippi

This post first appeared in The Good Men Project.

Implementing still more laws that segregate and discriminate, Southern states showcase the worst of human fears and ignorance.

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In March of 2016, Georgia passed a law that allowed tax-funded organizations to deny services to same-sex and unmarried couples. HB 757 was intended to protect ministers from having to perform same-sex marriages – something that has always been protected in the country’s constitution – but then the senate took the bill even further.

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Think Kim Davis. Just don’t think about her four marriages. Ironically, she could have been a victim to this law if it had gone into effect a few years earlier.

Georgia’s senate decided that the bill should prohibit the government from taking action against anyone at a state-funded organization who holds a “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such marriage.” Think Kim Davis. Just don’t think about her four marriages. Ironically, she could have been a victim to this law if it had gone into effect a few years earlier.

In spite of numerous businesses speaking out against the bill, with threats of moving out of Georgia all together, it passed. Fortunately, on March 28, Governor Nathan Deal vetoed the bill stating; “”I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, of which I and my family have been a part for all of our lives.”

Not to be overshadowed by it’s neighbor, Mississippi passed a bill, which was signed into law on Tuesday, April 5, 2016, by Governor Phil Bryant. Like Georgia, this law allows businesses with “sincerely held religious beliefs” to refuse service to LGBT people, going a step further to state that gender is “determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.” The bill is called the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.”

LGBT people can lose their jobs, housing, and be refused service for food, or even protection by public officials. Someone only needs to say their “sincere” religious beliefs won’t allow them to serve.

And North Carolina’s HB 2 was created out of a special session on March 23rd, then passed and signed by the governor on the same night. It repealed a new ordinance expanding LGBT protection passed in Charlotte on February 22nd. More than just removing those LGBT protections, it made the new state law the final word, which means the law cannot be expanded by cities or local governments to protect anyone outside of race, religion, national origin, color, age, biological sex and handicaps. LGBT people can lose their jobs, housing, and be refused service for food, or even protection by public officials. Someone only needs to say their “sincere” religious beliefs won’t allow them to serve. HB 2 goes further, also ensuring that the minimum wage does not go higher than the state’s $7.25 an hour.

South Carolina’s Senator Lee Bright mirrored the HB 2 bill, minus the economic restrictions, just this week, targeting transgender students. It states, “Local school boards shall require every multiple occupancy bathroom or changing facility that is designated for student use to be designated for and used only by students based on their biological sex.”

Senator Bright told WYFF news, “I’ve about had enough of this. I mean, years ago we kept talking about tolerance, tolerance and tolerance. And now they want men who claim to be women to be able to go into bathrooms with children. And you got corporations who say this is OK.”

Just for clarity’s sake, while there are no recorded incidences of children being attacked by a transgender person, laws typically don’t prohibit attackers from attacking.

If all of this sounds vaguely familiar to anyone with any knowledge of Southern history and the civil rights movement, that’s because it is. Historian Jason Sokol, noted in his essay, White Southerners’ Reactions to the Civil Rights Movement, “The ‘Southern way of life’ encompassed a distinctive mix of economic, social, and cultural practices… It also contained implications about the region’s racial order — one in which whites wielded power and blacks accommodated.”

“…white Southerners produced and absorbed cruel stereotypes about African Americans: that they were unclean and shiftless, unintelligent and oversexed. Blacks became either clowns or savages, with no area in between.”

Blacks were demeaned and dehumanized, Sokol says. “…white Southerners produced and absorbed cruel stereotypes about African Americans: that they were unclean and shiftless, unintelligent and oversexed. Blacks became either clowns or savages, with no area in between.”

There are two issues at work here: 1) A challenge to the social norm and 2) a lack of education. The consequent reaction is fear and retaliation, just as it was during the civil rights movement. In fact, in Florida, just last week, the Department of Children and Families removed LGBTQ-inclusive language from its rules. The sentiment expressed through this move is the same as Senator Bright when he said, “I’ve had about enough of this.” Unfortunately, according to Lambda Legal Senior Attorney, Currey Cook, about 20% of kids in foster care are LGBTQ, which leaves the most vulnerable children unprotected at a time when they need it the most.

Most of us get uneasy when our way of life feels challenged. Today people can barely have a political conversation without becoming defensive. Introduce protections for a class of people deemed “unclean, shiftless and oversexed,” and you have the makings of a rebellion. Throw in the fear mongering of religious and conservative news organizations and you have the makings of another civil war.

The lack of accessible education many people have in some of the more economically challenged areas exacerbates the problem. For example, Mississippi is second to last for the lowest high school graduation rates in the United States. Not surprisingly, Mississippi is also the poorest state in the nation.

When people are not exposed to ideas and experiences outside of their own, they create emotional and intellectual walls of “security,” or defense mechanisms to keep themselves mentally safe.

Most of the college freshmen I’ve taught find it difficult to critically think outside of their narrow worldviews. Asking them “why” easily creates a deer-in-the-headlights reaction. They are prepared to spit back information they’ve learned, but not equipped to explain reasoning behind their gut instincts. When people are not exposed to ideas and experiences outside of their own, they create emotional and intellectual walls of “security,” or defense mechanisms to keep themselves mentally safe.

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All of that said, I grew up in California after the civil rights era. My parents came from Southern roots and have little education beyond high school. Sometimes I heard racial slurs in my home, and I remember my father often shaking his head in disbelief at people or things he didn’t understand. He had strong feelings against interracial dating at the time. My grandmother, who didn’t have a mean bone in her body, usually referred to black people by the n-word. Never with malice. It was just how she grew up in poor, rural Missouri in the early 1900s. We were a Christian family who believed in the literal translation of the Scriptures.

Yet, no matter what was said or thought at home, I was taught to treat people with decency and kindness. As I grew older, Grandma changed the n-word to “negro,” or “colored,” and my father let go of his prejudices, usually defusing differences with his quick wit. One thing I appreciate about my family is their willingness to learn and grow.

It’s easy to get sucked into the political divisions we’re confronted with day after day. Creating controversy and stirring the pot is how media networks make money. At the end of the day, however, we’re all humans with the same need for love, security and belonging, irrespective of race, creed, sexual orientation, or even gender identity. We don’t have to agree with each other, or even understand, to support each other. It’s a matter of simple human decency.

As Rabbi Mark Sobel wrote in his church newsletter:

“First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out,

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out,

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out,

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Photo – unknown

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“Gay Men Are Full of Disease”

This article first appeared on The Good Men Project.Email

Internet trolls and religious zealots are alive and well, full of prejudice, ignorance, and discrimination, proving there is more work to do.

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I’ve gotten in the habit of checking the email on my phone when I get out of bed in the morning. As my eyes struggle to focus, I try and get a quick run down of what happened during the night while I slept. Once in a while, as I did recently, I see something like this: “Gay Men Are Full of Disease, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Infection, HIV and Parasites.”

I usually scroll right past those messages to see if there is anything important in my mailbox. Most of the time there is not. I’m not even sure why I check my email first thing in the morning. It’s a habit I probably should break.

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While these emails don’t tell me anything new – I almost ALWAYS know where their “research” comes from – I’m more curious about the people who send them. I wonder what they would be like if we were not separated by virtual walls. I wonder what they hoped their emails would accomplish. I wonder if they are desperately running from their own demons, as some research suggest. On the occasions I’ve contacted them to ask, I’ve never gotten an answer. Only more Bible verses, “warnings,” and justification for their sociopathic behavior.

Not surprisingly, I usually receive these kinds of toxic messages from anonymous senders. In this case, “ProlifeDisciple” stated, “My email address highlights my faith & position in life-affirming ministries.  My position & faith remain constant regardless if my name is Mary Smith or Jane Doe.”

“I’m too much of a coward to have an actual conversation with you and I’m not convinced enough in my own position to discuss it, so I’ll just throw information at you that supports only my side of the argument.”

In other words, “I’m too much of a coward to have an actual conversation with you and I’m not convinced enough in my own position to discuss it, so I’ll just throw information at you that supports only my side of the argument.”

Other than clogging up my already cluttered email box, these emails don’t bother me. What bothers me more is that there are people in the world who still think like this, in spite of decades of research that tells us differently, or who only read information that supports their position.

Following World War II, there was something called “scientific racism,” which supported the idea that racial differences in IQ were in our genes. Naturally, it was believed, people of color were on the lower end of the spectrum. People believed this for years with ideas supported by part of the scientific community.

Science has come a long way these days by creating new methods of research to eliminate as much bias as possible and including larger sample sizes. Science also, of course, adjusts as new information becomes available. Religious beliefs, on which these emails are based, do not.

Contrary to their intended purposes, these messages let me know there is more work to do. The consequences of such thinking can be detrimental to the more vulnerable members of our society.

Contrary to their intended purposes, these messages let me know there is more work to do. The consequences of such thinking can be detrimental to the more vulnerable members of our society.

For example, according to research, 20-40% of homeless youth are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and one study showed that 26% of youth were kicked out of their homes by their parents when they came out. For those kids who end up in foster care, they are more likely to be moved around than non-LGBT kids. In a 2002 study, as reported by the HRC, LGBT kids were placed in, on average, 6.35 foster homes, compared to the overall average of 3 homes.

According to Dr. Michael Friedman, 85% of LGBT youth report being bullied in school, with 40% stating they are physically bullied and 19% stating they were physically assaulted. The U.S. Department of health says that because LGBT youth live in a society that discriminates and stigmatizes them, they are more vulnerable to mental health issues, such as loneliness and depression.

Gay marriage aside, there are still 29 states where someone can be fired for being LGBT.

Gay marriage aside, there are still 29 states where someone can be fired for being LGBT. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports more than 15% of same-sex couples were less likely to get favorable responses back on inquiries about housing than their straight counterparts.

Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender and Sexuality reported that 75% of LGBT people who have an encounter with the police face some form of verbal, physical or sexual harassment.

It’s no wonder that some LGBT people struggle with self-esteem and acceptance, which can lead people – all people – to do all kinds of crazy things. This includes sex, drugs, and other risky behaviors. Where there is acceptance and education, however, there is a decrease in infection. Where education isn’t available and sexuality is oppressed, there are higher rates of STD’s and pregnancies. The highest rates of STD infection, for example, is found in the Bible belt, as is the highest number of teen pregnancies. The Bible belt also hosts the largest number of evangelical Christians, and the highest poverty and crime rates.

So let’s talk about those gay men “full of disease.” Most of the gay men I know are not HIV positive, nor do they have STD’s. They are typically family men, and many of them are people of faith. Most of them are in long-term, monogamous relationships.

The Christian right tends to use HIV, as they have since the 1980s, as a talking point that AIDS is God’s judgment against gay people, often citing Romans 1:27b, “Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

The Christian right tends to use HIV, as they have since the 1980s, as a talking point that AIDS is God’s judgment against gay people, often citing Romans 1:27b, “Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” HIV, however, did not originate with sex, it originated through meat infected with the disease, which humans ate.

In the United States, according to the CDC, 28% of projected infections of HIV are heterosexual men and women. Gay and bisexual men, and MSM’s (men who have sex with men, but do not self-identify with a homosexual orientation), have a higher risk. Blacks, however, are at greatest risk, representing around 12% of the U.S. population, they accounted for 44% of HIV infections in 2010 and 41% of people living with HIV in 2011. Hispanics and Latinos accounted for 21% of people living with HIV in 2010. They are 2.9 times more likely to contract HIV than white men and Latinas are 4.2 times more likely to contract HIV than white women. Education is more readily available in more affluent cultures.

Contrast these numbers to Swaziland, Africa, where nearly 28% of the population is infected with HIV, with women at the highest risk.

Homosexuality has been around since the dawn of man, sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, have not. Also, anal sex is not a practice of all gay men, but is practiced by a significant portion of heterosexual couples. Promiscuity among gay men isn’t because they are gay; it’s because they are human.

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But here’s the main problem with my email friend. These are the people who permeate many conservative churches where homosexuality is just as prevalent inside the church as it is on the outside. For 25 years, I was on the inside lying about my sexual orientation. I, too, was taught that gay men were filthy, disgusting and sinful. I believed that homosexuality was only about sex and depravity. I learned to live in intense shame, believing there was something inherently wrong with me, something with which I struggle to this day. I attempted suicide to do away with the atrocity that was my existence. I involved myself with years of conversion therapy only to throw away a significant portion of my life, appeasing an ideology that wasn’t true in the first place.

My “sin” was living a lie and pretending to be someone I wasn’t. My redemption came when I owned my story, started living authentically, and separated fact from fiction. Gay men aren’t full of disease. People who spread a toxic message of hatred and fear in the name of God are.

Photo: Getty Images

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Dear Closeted Gay Christian Teen

This post first appeared on The Good Men Project.Letter

Growing up gay in the Christian faith leaves some teens feeling isolated and fearful. Advice from someone who’s been there. 

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I still remember the cold chills that ran down my spine when it finally dawned on me that I was gay. I never asked for it. I never wanted to be “that way,” whatever that meant. I wondered if those feelings would go away over time, or if I would always be attracted to the same sex. The only thing I knew for sure was that I had to pray that God would take those feelings away and I could never tell anyone.

That was 36 years ago.

I’d like to tell you that those feelings went away after I submitted my life to God, that I got married and raised a family like I wanted to, and that everything is fine. Well, I did get married to a woman and we had a family. Everything is fine now, but the road here was long, difficult, and excruciatingly painful. It’s not one I would wish on my worst enemy. If you’ll listen, let me save you some time in your own journey.

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Be Honest With Yourself
I wasted decades trying to fit in and be someone I was never meant to be. I lied a lot. But it’s not that I was lying on purpose; I was trying to convince myself that I wasn’t gay. I was trying to convince others that I was “normal,” like them and that I fit in. No matter what I said, though, I felt ashamed. I felt like I never fit in anywhere.

I spent an enormous amount of energy hiding my own feelings from others, but mostly hiding my feelings from myself. I learned to say what I was supposed to say and I said it so often I believed it.

Be who you are, even if you feel you can only be that when you’re alone. You don’t have to come out all at once, especially if you don’t feel safe. God knows you and nothing you say or do is going to change the fact that He loves you. I now believe that there is no greater calling in life than to be exactly who we are. It’s from that space that we do our best work and have our best relationships.

Don’t be deceitful
Shame can drive us to do a lot of things we wouldn’t normally do and put us in dangerous situations. Meeting strangers on the web or in a park without anyone knowing may seem like a good idea, but it’s not. While you may feel like you’re not in a position to completely come out, don’t do anything stupid. Your parents may have a difficult time dealing with the fact that you’re gay, but it would be much worse to hear that you had been hurt, or worse, killed.

But deceitfulness is not always life threatening. More often, it starts small and leads to bigger lies. I got married believing that I was “healed,” after going through conversion therapy. Conversion therapy didn’t cure me, it just taught me to lie even better. My girlfriend believed God had healed me because that’s what the ministry told her. That’s what I told her. I really wanted it to be true and so did she. When we divorced six and a half years later, now with two babies, my deceitfulness impacted more lives than just mine. The lies I told, that I thought I needed to tell, turned a bad situation worse.

Make Peace With Your Faith
Growing up in the Pentecostal, evangelical world, I believed homosexuality was wrong. I preached it. When I finally came to terms with the fact that I was gay, I also decided that since I couldn’t be gay and Christian, I would just be gay.

There are over 41,000 denominations in Christianity alone, meaning there are thousands of interpretations of the Bible and no one person can say that he or she has “the truth” more than anyone else. If God were that concerned over interpretations and “the truth,” wouldn’t He have made the message a little more clear?

I realized that my faith caused me to live my life in fear. I measured everything I said, did, thought and believed in fear of making God mad, or fear of going to hell. I spent so much energy worrying about what God thought of me, I didn’t have enough energy to give to others.

Here’s the bottom line: No one can say with any authority what the actual interpretation of the Bible is, or if there is one. In fact, no one can say with any authority whether or not God even exists. Those who can prove God’s existence and their relationship with Him can only point back to their interpretation of the Bible and their feelings. Those are merely beliefs, not facts, and certainly not absolute truths.

Whatever your feeling or relationship with God might be, it is sufficient to know that you are loved, you are valued and you are uniquely you. God doesn’t expect anymore of you than who you are, exactly the way you are.

Life is Bigger Than Your Sexuality
Though it may not feel this way now, especially as a teenager, your life is much bigger than your sexuality. You have much to give, much to receive and a lot of living yet to do. Yes, life does get better, even when it doesn’t turn out the way you expected it to. Perhaps life gets better because it turns out in ways we never saw coming.

In the grand scheme of things, who you love isn’t as important as simply loving. Life was never meant to be spent in fear, self-loathing, or worrying about what others think of us. It was meant to be spent building and cultivating relationships with fellow human beings.

Your sexuality is a small piece of you; it is not all of you. As you get older – and you will get older – you’ll find that the depth of relationships transcends the mere sexual attraction to others. Eventually, your sexuality will seamlessly blend with your personality, your way of life and gradually take a back seat to the things you most enjoy.

♦◊♦

My advice is to take a deep breath, try to gain perspective on where you are now and know that you are not alone. In the end, you will find peace with God, your family and yourself.

Resource:
The Gay Christian Network

Photo – Flickr?FaceMePLS

Tim

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Honestly Deceptive: The Art and Science of Self-deception

BlindThis post first appeared on The Good Men Project.

What we see in other people is seldom as it appears, but what we see in ourselves may not be true either.

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I frequently start my speeches with an experience I had on a radio show nearly 25 years ago. I’d been invited, as a minister and staff member of a notorious conversion therapy ministry, to talk about my experience of going from gay to straight. The concept was met with cynicism from the show’s host, and contempt from the lesbian guests he included in our interview. He never told me they would be there.

As the show progressed, the lesbian guests were clearly perturbed with my seemingly aloof answers and word puzzle responses. Finally, one of them said, “Let me ask you this question. What will you do 20 years from now when you find out this [being ex-gay] didn’t work?”

As I say in my speeches, to not be straight was a concept so far beyond my thinking at the time, that it never entered my conscious mind. I had to be straight and live a straight life. Every fiber of my being, inside and out, told me that God had delivered me from homosexuality. I was straight. I would never be gay. The Bible was clear on the issue. As a Christian, there was no turning back, or accepting sexuality other than the one I firmly believed was the absolute truth about me. I was a heterosexual man who simply struggled with same sex attraction.

Six years after my wife left me, and almost 15 years after I left the ex-gay ministry, the fortress of self-deception began to crack. I was nearly 40 years old, still tightly holding to the belief that I was a straight man. I had become mentally and physically ill telling myself I was straight. Ultimately, I was dragged into reality against my will, as I detail in my book Going Gay, and I spent the next several years coming to grips with the fact that I was indeed gay. I had always been gay and nothing – marriage to a woman, two children and church membership – was going to change that fact.

♦◊♦

While my self-deception might seem extreme, it is certainly not uncommon. We lie to ourselves every day, whether it’s the amount of alcohol we consume, the money we spend, what we think we look like (better or worse), or why it’s OK to take a pad of sticky notes from the office. And self-deception is easier than we’d think.

H. L. Mencken said, “The truth that survives is simply the lie that is pleasantest to believe.” When we are born, we are handed a set of morals, values, truths, and acceptable behaviors. As we grow, we internalize our beliefs, particularly about ourselves, and build a cognitive schema, or pattern of thinking about the world around us and how we relate to it. We create what neurologist and author, Robert Burton, would call a storyline.

Our storyline, or narrative, creates an illusion of who we are and what we believe about ourselves. Those beliefs help us decide whom we will marry, where we will work, our politics, religious beliefs, where we will live and how we will spend our money. When asked to describe ourselves, the narrative is what we tell people around us, even if it is not necessarily true. Usually, we say it and mean it with all sincerity and no one can tell us differently.

To defend our positions, we point to the things around us that verify, at least in our own minds, how it is true. In my case, I was married to a woman and we had two children. I was also a conservative Christian with strong beliefs about acceptable morality and sexual orientation. While my feelings and sexual desires belied the outward appearances, the narrative I told myself is the one I truly believed.

Dr. Michael Shermer, author of several books on belief, says that humans look for patterns, which confirm what we strongly feel to be true. He calls this “association learning patternicity,” or the tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless noise. The tendency to find patterns go up, Shermer says, when we feel a lack of control.

But how can someone remain so self-deceptive for so long against so much evidence? The simple answer is dopamine. It’s the brain chemical that makes us feel good and is released in our brains whenever we reward ourselves mentally, or physically. Sex, food and drug use are examples of when dopamine is released in large doses. It’s part of the reason we over indulge in those types of behaviors.

But dopamine is also released when we create stories, right or wrong, about other people and ourselves. We don’t like to live in uncertainty. As part of our evolutionary biology, we need to know what’s lying under the rock, or who the people are that we’re sleeping with. When we can fill in the blanks, whether we are right or not, our brain releases dopamine and rewards us for completing the story. At the same time, the release of dopamine also causes us to see more patterns, which we interpret in favorable ways confirming that what we believe is true about ourselves and other people.

Additionally, our stories are driven by emotion in the immediate need to self-protect, according to sociologist, Brene Brown and author of Rising Strong. Making up stories, or the narrative about us is part of our basic wiring and making meaning helps us self-protect. As Brown says, “We don’t need to be accurate, we just need to be certain.”

Neurologist Robert Burton notes that the “ah ha” moments that many of us have, can shut down uncertainty and vulnerability so that our brains can experience dopamine, which can also keep us from getting to the truth. Brene Brown adds that we get a shot of dopamine even if we only create half a story and that story is wrong because our brains are simply wired to make meaning, not correct meaning.

♦◊♦

In many ways, self-deception is how we have evolved to deal with the inconsistencies of life. It’s how we face threats and opposing points of view, which don’t fit our world view, or cognitive schema. It’s also a convenient way to keep from facing the realities of life that we don’t like about ourselves, or having to face the harsh truth that there are things about us that we need to face and come to terms with.

As Brene Brown points out, our bodies long for truth. They tell us when we’re not being honest by reacting with physical signs of stress. Our biology seeks to live authentically and true. We can only ignore the signs for so long before the façade begins to crack and we have to face reality. In my case, coming to terms with my sexual orientation released me to become the person I was meant to be all along. The overarching effect was that the people I love were able to do the same.

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Are You Hiding Bad Behavior Behind Your Religion?

This post first appeared on The Good Men Project.

AbelBibleClaiming grace and forgiveness doesn’t mean you can be a jerk to everyone else.

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In August of 2015, Michigan Republican Representative Todd Courser devised a plan to cover up his affair with fellow Representative Cindy Gamrat. Both ran their campaigns and were elected on conservative Christian values. The affair continued for months amid speculation and consequent denials.

In a weird, twisted tale, Gamrad’s own husband, unbeknownst to anyone, began stalking her and her secret love affair to blackmail her lover, Courser, into resigning his position. In an even weirder response to the blackmail, Courser concocted a story of homosexual encounters to throw the blackmailer and fellow Republican critics off the scent. Being gay, he thought, would be an even bigger story than a heterosexual affair, and one he could more easily deny.

Courser and Gamrad’s downfall finally came when Courser fired his aide, in whom he had confided everything. Fellow Republicans, who told them, in no uncertain terms, that they were a disgrace to the party, voted both Courser and Gamrad out of their positions.

In a recent 20/20 interview, Courser, finally confessed all the sordid details, explaining, “Everybody would hear that I’m a believer in Christ. They wouldn’t hear the part that I’m failed and flawed, you know, like everybody else.”

The sickening irony is the pretentiousness on which Courser built his “traditional values” political career. He easily dismissed his behavior as “failed and flawed,” and yet had no tolerance for behaviors of those people with whom he disagrees. By his own ideology, Courser believed that he deserved grace; his opponents needed to be voted out of the system of equal rights. Why? Because he is a “believer in Christ.”

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In other words, simply claiming to be a Christian relieved Courser of the responsibility of human decency. His transgressions – deception, lies, adultery, abuse of power – were quickly and easily erased because of a profession of faith. The ultimate show of Courser and Gamrad’s arrogance and audacity came only a week after their dismissal when they decided to run for office again to try and regain the seats they were thrown out of. Voters weren’t buying it and both lost re-election.

Courser and Gamrad are not the first to hide bad behavior behind their piousness. There have been a long string of conservative Christians in recent months, including former Family Research Council’s lobbyist, and reality TV star, Josh Duggar.

Duggar’s child molestation charges, and then affairs, became media fodder for months as the stories of deception and cover-up unfolded. Infamous Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, a former pastor, stood beside Josh Duggar stating in a Facebook post that Duggar’s actions were “’inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable.’”

Rowan, Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis refused marriage licenses to same sex couples in spite of her four marriages, affairs and illegitimate children, all of which are condemned by her fundamentalist faith. Yet, again, presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, and presidential candidate Ted Cruz, along with a long list of conservative Christian leaders stood beside her. One pastor called her a “minister of God.”

Davis explained away her discretions by saying, “Following the death of my godly mother-in-law” (she doesn’t state which one) “over four years ago, I went to church to fulfill her dying wish. There I heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. I am not perfect. No one is. But I am forgiven and I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God.”

In years past, we have seen the likes of televangelists Jimmy Swaggart caught with prostitutes, Jim Bakker’s affair with Jessica Hahn, former leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard’s drug abuse and gay encounters and countless other politicians and “family oriented” leaders caught in an array of deceptive and illicit activities. What they share in common, besides bad behavior, is their belief that a confession and admission of guilt sets them apart from other human beings, namely non-Christians, and places them back on the pedestal of “not perfect, but forgiven.”

Affairs sometimes happen, even among the most devoted of spouses. Planned, long-term deception and cover-ups, however, require a lot more energy, thought and intent. Belief that “God will just forgive me,” reduces whatever graces the individual believes about God to a tool for power, manipulation and control. Perhaps the person claiming forgiveness doesn’t see what he’s doing, but it’s obvious to everyone else and diminishes, even further, the intended message of a loving and forgiving God.

When religious people set themselves apart from their actions, claiming “imperfection” and “brokenness,” yet do not extend the same grace to non-believers, those words translate into “self-righteous” and “holier-than-thou.” When politicians and preachers spend their lives denying equal human rights to LGBT, non-religious, or non-conformists citizens, the glaring hypocrisy creates walls and chasms between groups of people. Politicians and religious leaders expect special favor because they are “sinners saved by grace,” while they continue to dehumanize and further disenfranchise people who hold a different point of view.

Courser, Gamrat, Duggar and many of the others hid behind religion because they wanted to continue the dishonest behavior they enjoyed. None of them had any intention of stopping the behavior, as represented by the fact that they did not come forward on their own; they were exposed. While they can claim that God has forgiven them, and perhaps even justify why they should enjoy their former positions of distinguished citizenships, their integrity has been lost forever. God himself cannot erase the consequences of their actions. Their legacy is deception, cheating and lies. Thanks to the Internet, it is electronically encased forever.

The disturbing fact is that religious ideologies, particularly fundamentalism, attempt to squeeze people into conformity. When people don’t neatly fit into the gender, sexual orientation, or philosophical categories, they compromise. They justify behaviors, which are often driven underground.

One study, for example, by researchers at Brock University in Ontario, Canada found that states primarily identified as religiously and politically conservative looked up more online pornography than more liberal states. The Bible Belt, according to research released by one pornographer, has the highest consumption of gay porn.

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The false dichotomy of hiding behind religion is that religion often covers the shame people feel over behaviors they want to control, or the belief that tells them they are shameful, sinful and unworthy. The circular thinking that accompanies the thought – I am sinful and need religion, which tells me I am sinful and need religion – keeps people from finding freedom from the bad behaviors that drive them and which causes them to use religion as a cover in the first place.

Faith and belief can have positive roles in people’s lives, as evidenced by a multitude of studies. Religion in and of itself is not bad, but using it to avoid introspection, or worse, to marginalize others by manipulation and control doesn’t make a person better, it makes him a jerk.

Photo –Caity Rymel

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Growing Up Jewish and Gay

This post first appeared on The Good Men Project.

JewishGayA man shares his story of coming to terms with his sexuality and conservative faith.

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Paul was born into a Jewish family in the South at a pivotal time in history. It was 1960, just 15 years after the holocaust, and four years before President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. “Race was an important identifier,” Paul said. “Where I grew up, Jews weren’t really white. We were part of this very tiny minority that belonged to this ‘other faith’ community. It was like we were space aliens, just kind of these oddities.”

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Paul’s family, like their southern counterparts, took their religion seriously. “Our liturgical calendar ruled our lives,” he said. Paul and his brother were active in their synagogue and close to their rabbi. “He was our neighbor,” Paul adds. Like most minority communities in rural places, he describes his Jewish community as close-knit.

Paul didn’t give much thought to feeling differently about himself, perhaps because, by community standards, he was already different. At age 14, his parents sent him to an Episcopal boarding school in Texas. “In retrospect,” he said, “the school was pretty liberal compared to what was around it, but it didn’t feel that way at the time.” It’s where he studied and developed a great admiration for Sigmund Freud, who became somewhat of a solace for him through Paul’s years of puberty.

Freud’s work made Paul see himself as normal. “[My homosexuality] wasn’t so much a conflict. Freud hypothesized the part of the sexual identity process from 14-15, and I totally identified with that,” he said. “The crushes I had on those boys were ways of comparing myself to them, identifying with them, and being a better man.”

Paul said he told himself he was smarter than the other kids and more aware of what he was going through. “They were using ‘fag’ and stuff to put each other down, and I thought that’s exactly what Freud would predict. I’m kind of above that.” Yet, Paul identified as more of a nerd than gay, until he was around 18. He wasn’t quite ready to come out to his parents, yet.

“Anita Bryant was big, my senior year of high school,” he said, “and I remember my father talking about how she was so clearly wrong. Anita Bryant’s Save Our Children campaign proliferated the idea that gay people recruited children and made them gay. Paul said his father knew that wasn’t true. But Paul waited until his sophomore year of college before he finally told his parents he was gay.

“I went to college in suburban Los Angeles,” he said. “[The college] was very accepting before its time. We had an openly gay dean of housing.” As liberal as his parents may have appeared, however, when Paul gave them the news, “they didn’t accept it very well.”

“The Jewishness that I grew up with was basically like fundamentalist Christianity,” Paul said. “We didn’t eat pork; they didn’t drink. They didn’t dance; we didn’t drive on Saturday. The theology was kind of the same, but we just had different rules. My parents believe in a Southern Baptist God, but he’s Jewish.”

Paul said he credits his college experience for saving his life. It was the late 70s and early 80s. The AIDS crisis was just beginning. “I had very idealized views of what love and sex and relationships were supposed to be like,” he said. Between his sophomore and junior years of college, Paul worked as an intern in New York City. “I’d go down to Christopher Street and it was so clear I had no connection with [those gay men]. It was very sexualized and very disco and poppers. It was not my life. I had turned up my nose at all of the male pornographic sexuality and bath houses.” Paul said he was looking for something with more meaning. Sadly, many of the people his age, some of whom were his college cohorts, were some of the first people to contract and die from AIDS.

Later, a professor invited Paul to a conference called the Gay Academic Union. He said, “I went to it and it was full of people just like me; the nerdy professor types who were gay.” Paul described the event as “eye-opening,” seeing that other gay people could be serious and academic. He discovered many Jewish professors, some of whom taught at USC and UCLA.

“So when I got to college, I found there was this Judaism that was much more liberating and intellectual,” he said. “The conflict wasn’t with Judaism itself.” Paul called out the distinction between Orthodox Judaism, which believes in the literal interpretation of the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible, with conservative Jews, who tend to be more socially liberal and see the Scriptures as words of wisdom.

“Because we’re a minority, issues of liberation are really important for Jews,” he said. Paul made a concerted effort to involve himself in Jewish culture that was different from the one in which he grew up. In fact, by the time he reached his senior year of college, he applied to rabbinical school to become a rabbi.

“On the application we had to write about our religious experience,” he said. “I decided to write about my coming out as a religious experience.” The admissions counselor was less than impressed.

During the interview process, Paul watched the counselor’s colleagues interrupt their 45-minute meeting to congratulate him on his new baby. Yet, the counselor’s response to Paul was, “We cannot have openly gay students. I think sexuality is so private. Why would you share this with people?”

Paul exploded. “Nobody’s asking you to keep your sexuality private. Why would you ask me to keep mine private?”

Not dissuaded, Paul went on to attend Harvard Divinity School, where he earned his Masters of Divinity degree and became a Unitarian Universalist minister. Upon graduation, however, Paul said, “At the end of the process, I really wasn’t cut out to lead a faith community. Nonetheless, his drive to help others only took him in a slightly different direction

Paul earned a Ph.D. in psychology from Texas University and became a marriage and family therapist. He specializes in psychodynamic therapy and spiritual issues where he works in private practice in Chicago. He and his husband have been together for 24 years.

♦◊♦

In regards to his spirituality today, he said, “If I had to check a box I’d check atheist, but I don’t think Judaism and atheism are mutually exclusive.” He points out that “before Christianity there wasn’t this idea you had to believe something.” He said he believes that “religions are simply metaphors that people have chosen to help them be good people and to understand something that is essentially incomprehensible.”

Photo – Getty Images

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Gay and Muslim in America

This post first appeared The Good Men Project.Gay&Muslim

How one man navigates his Muslim faith and sexual orientation.

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Jareem sat across the table from me at a café in Davis, California, the first time we met. It was early fall and he had just started another year of college. A mutual friend connected us. I had written a book about coming out of the closet as an evangelical Christian, and Jareem, a Muslim-American, had just come out to his parents. Our friend had given him my book.

I knew nothing of Islam, let alone anything about Muslims and homosexuality. “I have a confession to make,” I told Jareem, “I’m so ignorant about Muslims I don’t even know what you people eat.” His eyes lit up as he laughed.

♦◊♦

Like most Americans, I got my news from TV. ISIS, and the barbaric practice of throwing gay men from the roofs of tall buildings, had been all over the news that summer. All I could imagine for Jareem is that he must have had a few rough months during the school break at home with his parents.

Jareem’s parents migrated to Los Angeles, California from Pakistan in the 1980s, after his dad’s brothers and sisters moved to the states. “Until age of 10, my family wasn’t too religious,” he said. But my mother prayed five times a day and my dad only prayed once in a while.” He described his formative years of growing up in a “semi-conservative household.”

When Jareem was around the age of 11, his mother got involved in a well-established American-Islamic organization. Jareem said there is a saying in Arabic that translates to mean, “Mothers are the gateway to religious behaviors in the household.” His family was no exception.

He noticed he was drawn to other boys around the age of nine. “When it dawned on me, I would talk about it [to my mother] vaguely. Her opinion was law,” he said. He would test the waters to see what kind of reaction she would give, and it wasn’t a positive one. “Being Gay meant you didn’t want to take on the responsibility of building a home and a family”At 22, Jareem is a highly articulate, introspective and intelligent young man. So it was no surprise to hear that he and his mother attended academic lectures, learning about the faith and Koran when he was just 11-years old. “That jump-started a change in my narrative,” he said. By the time he was 14, he was heavily involved in the Islamic community and gaining notoriety and stature among the leadership because of his commitment to the faith and the unusually eloquent way he communicated as a boy. He found himself preaching in front of crowds of hundreds and leading prayers in the mosque. But Jareem felt something wasn’t quite right.

As Jareem hit his stride in the Muslim community, in his early teens, he also became fully aware of his “same sex attraction,” as he refers to it. “It was around high school when my friends were having relationships with their significant others that I started realizing what was going on,” he said. “That’s when I realized there was a divide.”

Yet, as a leader, Jareem said, “You have to act differently.” So he internalized his struggle and looked for answers within his faith. Between the ages of 18 and 20, “I finally started to revive myself,” he said. “Not just look at religion in the text, but the meaning behind the text. [That] is the spirit of religion. That is the key to understanding what God intends for us.” That epiphany was when Jareem said he became more calm and found peace within his religion.He described those years as the dark period of his life. “I remember being in the bathroom one day crying my heart out and questioning if God even existed. I went through a phase looking at Judaism and Christianity and eventually back to Islam, wondering if religion was something I should accept,” he confessed. He described the pain of questioning his faith as if it was ripping out something that was buried deep inside of him. “I wondered if I would ever find love. Would I ever find the right person?” He said. That question, for a brief period, pushed him to the point of believing there was no God.

Several months after our first meeting, I talked with Jareem again and asked how things were going at home. His parents, particularly his mother, blamed his friends and the school for making him gay. When they sent him back to school they took away his car. Jareem has since come out to his closest friends at school, who had no idea he was gay.

What I found especially curious, as I talked with Jareem, was his continued use of the words “same sex attraction.” Those are familiar words, frequently used by conversion and reparative therapy practitioners and “ex-gays.” I asked him how he would describe his sexual orientation.“My mentors and friends have accepted me,” he said, “but have told me I should remain abstinent for the rest of my life to prevent any sinful actions” His mom, who took him to a Muslim psychologist upon his confession, told him he has to change. “My parents believe that I can and will change,” he said. “She tries to crush my self esteem to make me a better person.” Even though he knows the intentions behind her words, it doesn’t make her words any less painful.

He wonders if he will ever find someone with whom he can display his affection. He is continually researching and asking scholars for their thoughts and opinions on the issue of homosexuality, which is as divisive among Muslim scholars as it is Christian scholars.“I’m continuously trying to figure out whether or not it’s permissible for me to act upon my sexuality,” he said. “However, I don’t think of problems involving just myself, but I’m constantly worried about other Muslims.” Jareem said he prayed that God would just let it be his problem so that no one else would experience what he’s been through.

Yet, Jareem believes in his heart, “There is no fair God who would ever program someone to feel a certain way, but tell them, ‘You can’t have love on earth.’ It’s not God-like,” he said.

At the same time, he holds on to the feeling that perhaps there is a possibility he will find that one special woman to whom he will be attracted and marry. “Being gay or straight is not wrong,” he adds. “It’s what you feel and what makes you happy in life. I wouldn’t go out of my way to marry straight, but if I found the right person, I would marry her.”

♦◊♦

Jareem says he is not a fan of labels because they are divisive, and points to the dissension between Shiites and Sunnis to make his point. He sees himself as a visionary, someone who sees far off into the future and sees what it will be like 20 years from now. “That gives me hope and trust in God,” he said. “I haven’t found the answer yet to know if I need to remain celibate, but my trust in God will not be demolished.”

Photo – Getty Images

What is Like to be Gay and Mormon?

This story first appeared on The Good Men Project.MormonChurch

A man shares his personal story of coming to terms with faith and sexuality in the Mormon Church.

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In November of 2015, the Mormon Church declared that, not only are gay Mormons apostate, their children could not be blessed or baptized until they are 18, and then only after disavowing same-sex marriage. While it was already generally accepted among the Latter Day Saint (LDS) culture that same-sex relationships were sinful, many interpreted the new declaration as a hateful move toward the children of LGBT people. In fact, it was reported, around 1,500 people resigned from the church the next day, following the announcement.

The seemingly abrupt declaration on this issue from the Mormon hierarchy alienated thousands of LGBT people and their families, already struggling to come to terms with their sexuality and faith. Just three months later, 32 suicides were reported in one support group alone, said the founder of Mama Dragons, and LGBT support group for parents. Additionally, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that “Therapists have seen an uptick in clients who reported suicidal thoughts.” What’s clear, is that it’s not easy being gay and Mormon.

♦◊♦


At first, Bryan looked for ways to minister to his boss, once he found out he was a Mormon, but over time, and as he studied the Book of Mormon, Bryan was instead drawn into the religion. Of his relationship with this person he said, “I felt truly loved for the first time.”As a young man, Bryan did not grow up in the LDS church. He was raised as a Southern Baptist, but found his home in the Mormon Church after moving to Washington D.C. and befriending a man who was the antithesis of his dad. “I grew up with a critical, hot-tempered father,” he said, “who put his own interests of hunting and fishing with his buddies above spending time with me.” In his new friend, who worked several levels above Bryan’s boss, Bryan found someone “more like the type of dad that I’d always wanted to have,” he said.

The leader of his new church, who knew that Bryan had just turned 30, approached him a week after his baptism. “He said I needed to get married now because I was, as Brigham Young phrased it, ‘a menace to society,’” Bryan said. Bryan confessed his personal struggle with same sex attraction to his leader and was told that his sexual “frustrations” would be resolved once he just found a good wife.

“Just remember,” this person told Bryan, “The head of our faith says that there is no reason why any two people committed to gospel principles can’t be happy.” Bryan said he gave him a deadline of six months to find that person.

“Shortly before the wedding, I was overcome with an overwhelming sense of panic as I realized that along with a wedding would come a honeymoon,” Bryan said. “I was about to go from a life currently devoid of almost all physical contact to the most intimate of human relationships.” Bryan said that sex and love with his new wife was more amazing than he thought it would be and described the event to a friend later as, “the best minute and a half of my life.”Bryan believed that his life would change and, with his new baptism, his old feelings of attraction toward men would disappear. But within six weeks, he said, “I discovered that those same thoughts, attractions and weaknesses were creeping back and consuming me again, which created a feeling of hopelessness and despair.” Through series of events, however, Bryan made a renewed commitment and soon found the woman he believed God wanted him to marry.

Soon he became a father of four sons and describes the next several years of that part of his life as a blur. “Because I was so busy, thoughts related to same-sex attraction rarely surfaced anymore,” he said. “Still, there was an uneasiness that I felt from time to time. Sometimes, though rarely, I felt I didn’t want this life at all, as good as it seemed, and I just couldn’t put my finger on what exactly it was that I was missing, even though I felt that I was truly ‘fixed.’”

Bryan had suffered horrible sexual abuse as a teenager at the hands of a middle-aged man. Triggers began bubbling to the surface: the smell of motor oil, or words stenciled on cans of emergency water which lined the wall of a basement, similar to the one in which he was raped. He felt he was coming undone.

At first, Bryan’s wife was relieved to hear of his struggle. “I always knew there was something that kept this wall there between us. I’ve been waiting to have this talk for 25 years,” she told him. But as time went on, she grew angrier. She felt deceived.One afternoon, Bryan picked up the mail and found an LDS magazine. His eye was drawn to a picture of some attractive young men on the cover, but it was the title that caught his attention: “Living with Same-Sex Attraction: Our Story.” Bryan stopped everything he was doing and read the stories. The article referenced a book he had, which he’d forgotten about, that also told the stories of gay Mormon men. He grabbed the book and read all of it that night. At the end of the book, he recognized the name of someone he knew and decided to reach out to him. Bryan ended up sharing his entire story for the first time ever. “Becoming more authentic is what led me, in a huge leap of faith and trust, to first confide my story to my family,” he said.

“She felt that our whole marriage was a lie,” Bryan said. While he was feeling like a weight had been lifted off of him, she was detaching.

Bryan began sharing his story with others on a website he founded. The purpose of the site was to give voice to the many ways gay Mormons choose to live their lives. “Becoming truly authentic led to an increased desire to share the story of my journey with others,” he said. That journey has not been easy. Last year Bryan and his wife divorced after more than 25 years of marriage.

Bryan’s church includes many members of the gay community and he still serves in the church, but as an openly gay man. It’s important to him to create an environment where others feel valued and included. When asked about his position on homosexuality and celibacy, he said, “I’ve gotten much more tolerant and accepting of people’s individual choices and the right to have those. I’ve come to the conclusion that a loving heavenly father would not relegate people to hell for things beyond their control. For every person who has a faith driven life, it is a personal decision between abstinence and unabashed anonymous sex. Everybody has to find a place where they can reconcile all the aspects of their life that works for them. It feels wrong for me to have sexual experiences with people I don’t feel strongly about.”Bryan still holds to his faith, though he admits that it looks different than it did. “Part of the transition over the last couple of years has been to put less emphasis on the appearance of doing the right things and being a better person. Rather than trying to become ‘a good Mormon,’ my focus has become trying to love and serve other people,” he said.

Bryan and his family have made peace with his decisions. Though his children are grown, he and his ex-wife still spend time with their family and grandchildren. Bryan’s children have come to admire their father and his work within the gay community, especially since some of their own friends have admitted they are gay.

♦◊♦

Still, Bryan admits that it is difficult. “Being gay and Mormon,” he said, “you don’t fit into either world.” He struggles to find people with whom to share his life, who also share his religious beliefs and values. In a word, Bryan said what it’s like to be gay a Mormon, is lonely.

Photo – Getty Images

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Let Me Explain

PrayAwayTheGay1Several months ago I was contacted by a journalist who introduced himself by saying he could never write about me because of my involvement in ex-gay ministry. He was polite, but blunt. He was afraid of the hate mail his readers would send him if he wrote about my book. More honestly, he said he could simply never do it in good conscience.

I get it. What Exodus stood for when I was involved in the mid-90s, and what it became after I left, was atrocious. It dehumanized millions of people and told them that there was something wrong with them; that they were unacceptable to God the way they were. It caused good people and their families’ unbearable pain. Some then, as now, have committed suicide over the message. Families have been ripped apart. There is no excuse.

But there is an explanation.

In the early ‘70s, fresh off of the charismatic Jesus Movement, came the idea that whatever an earnest Christian asked for, God would grant it. Homosexuality, it was believed then, as now in most fundamentalist circles, was a sin. Therefore, if a gay Christian simply prayed for God to remove it, it was done. Regardless of the feelings, he or she was considered “ex-gay.”

At first, the ex-gay message was only shared and believed among the few involved in the sanitized hippie population of the Jesus Movement. But more organizations began popping up around the United States, carried by the expanding charismatic crusade. Those organizations were eventually organized into what became Exodus International in 1976. For the next 20 years, through religious-political groups like Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, the ex-gay movement became something it was never intended to be: political.

In the fundamentalist church, it was no longer a question of whether or not God could change someone from gay to straight, it was expected. The message of “freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ” was preached from pulpits, even though there was no understanding of how, or if, it worked. The churches didn’t know that most of the early founders of the ex-gay movement had abandoned, and even denounced the movement as ineffective and damaging, before it ever got off the ground.

Fundamentalism, just like the ex-gay movement, had taken on a life of its own. Those who didn’t measure up were simply tossed aside. Those who dissented, were metaphorically stamped with a scarlet letter as deceived, backsliders, or ungodly. The quickest way to both dehumanize someone and avoid having to examine one’s personal beliefs and motivations is to deflect the discussion and point to that person as the problem.

Many of us who were leaders, as well as ex-gay participants, came to the ministry with fundamentalist backgrounds. The Bible, we believed, was the inerrant Word of God. If anything was wrong, it was us, not the Bible. We learned to suppress our sexual orientations, talk like the culture in which we were a part, and believe that we were really changing. The ex-gay message was merely an extension of the Christian faith to which we so firmly clung.

The mental conflict, for many of us, took years to come to the surface. Away from the ex-gay ministry, and off the stage, we had to face real life. In spite of our feelings, we refused to believe that we were gay and that we were wrong about God and our message. To be wrong meant the very core of who we were was wrong. That meant our entire lives would change. For many of us, that’s exactly what happened.

Ex-gay ministry is an extension of the fundamentalist, evangelical church. The problem was, and always has been, systematic in nature. Teach the Church what homosexuality is really about, and ex-gay ministry goes away.

However, it’s not that simple. As I’ve written before, three things have to be present to change someone’s mind: cognitive dissonance, critical thinking, and experience. People can live their entire lives experiencing any one, or two of those things together, but their minds won’t be changed until they experience the third piece of the puzzle. Then, and only then, will they start to rethink their positions. Just like we former leaders had to do, these people will need to dismantle what they believe and rebuild it on a different platform. Without a significant reason to do so, it will never happen.

When reparative therapy, based on outdated and debunked theories, became part of the Exodus message, the door opened further for even more inhumane practices. This time it was under the guise of “professional counseling.” This, too, is all part of the same faulty thinking, at least as it relates to those who believe it further validates their fundamentalist world view. It all dehumanizes, oppresses and shames the LGBT community. Like other recovering ex-gays and fundamentalists, I am all to familiar with the pain, the shame, the anger and the suicidal thoughts that always seem to lie just under the surface of “normal.”

I realize there are those, like the journalist who contacted me, that would like us former leaders and founders to simply go away. The leadership of the new version of “Exodus” would like us to go away, too. The reason we were in the ministry in the first place is not because it was a way to gain publicity and make money. We truly loved the people to whom we ministered and believed that what we were doing was for their eternal good. We were wrong. As a former leader in ex-gay ministry, I cannot apologize enough for my involvement.

Few people know the internal workings of the ex-gay “regime” and right wing politics like we do. Even fewer people have relationships with political figures and influential pastors like we do. Some former ex-gay leaders were, or are, well-known public figures. When they speak, the media listens. Because of their involvement, reparative therapy for minors has been outlawed in four states and the District of Columbia. Currently, there is a federal policy on the table that may outlaw reparative therapy for youth around the country.

I know of no one who makes a living speaking strictly about his or her involvement with ex-gay ministry. We mostly self-publish our books to ensure our stories get told so that others can learn the truth about ex-gay ministries. Those books and occasional speaking engagements allow us to reach people who have either been personally affected by the church or reparative therapy, or who can relate to religious conflict we experienced. To quote Robin Robertson, “Our mess is our message.”

I cannot stress enough how important ex-gay survivor stories are, both for ending conversion therapy and for personal healing. Stories should be shared whenever and wherever possible. There are two sites available: Beyond Ex-gay, and ConversionTherapySurvivors.org. Still, because of the damage done by fundamentalism and the ex-gay message, many survivors cannot speak for themselves. They suffer tremendous shame and are simply unable to share their lives.

We, as former leaders have set up a website, Former Ex-gay Leaders Alliance (FELA), to work together and speak out as a group to put an end to ex-gay ministries around the world. While we cannot reverse the damage that has been done, we are working to keep it from continuing.

Photo – Flickr/^@^ina (Irina Patrascu Gheorghita )

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Do Religious Freedom Laws Make Logical Sense?

This article first appeared in The Good Men Project April 5, 2015

FreedomOfReligion

The ways we justify our reasoning has less to do with sound arguments than you may think.

——

“Arkansas Governor: My Son Asked Me To Veto ‘Religious Freedom’ Bill,” read the Huffington Post headline on my Facebook stream. Governor Asa Hutchinson repeatedly confirmed he was ready to sign the bill as soon as it came across his desk. So what happened? Economic pressure?

Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, certainly opposed it. Hutchinson definitely saw the backlash against the state of Indiana when their law went into effect, and I’m sure that had something to do with it. But the fact that he called out his son as a significant influence spoke volumes.

♦◊♦

Our emotional reactions are so swift and unconscious, logical reasoning doesn’t have time to catch up.

Our initial, gut reactions to moral, political and religious issues come from a combination of heredity and upbringing. For those of us indoctrinated in a particular religious or political belief system, we see things through the lens of those beliefs. Our emotional reactions are so swift and unconscious, logical reasoning doesn’t have time to catch up.

In his book, The Happiness Hypothesis, Dr. Jonathan Haidt introduces us to the metaphor of “the elephant and the rider.” The elephant illustrates the unconscious thought process; the automatic, emotional visceral brain. The rider illustrates our reasoning process; the conscious, verbal, thinking brain. The way to train the elephant is not by brute force, but by making mindful, conscious decisions through reasoning and logic. Often times, reasoning conflicts with what our core values tell us is right and wrong. You can think of this as the little human rider trying to tell the big elephant where to go.

As a former 25-year member of the religious right, I completely understand where the religious freedom laws are coming from. They are an elephant reaction to seemingly widespread acceptance of LGBT people. Many believe it is only a matter of time before gay marriage will become the law of the land. From a conservative Christian’s perspective, government sanctioning of gay marriage is not only an affront to God Himself, but can only lead to persecution of those who believe the Bible sanctions marriage between one man and one woman. (Click here for a more accurate view of Biblical marriage.)

In order to avoid being caught in the crosshairs – between God and country – a law that protects someone from having to “approve” of the “vile acts” of homosexuals, is a necessary evil. That’s the elephant talking.

…research shows when we are only with others who think like us, we tend to go deeper into our own values, moving us further right or left of center and convincing ourselves that we are right and everyone else is wrong.

The problem with “logic,” however, is that sometimes it only makes sense to us, or to our group. Harvard Professor Cass Sunstein, in his book, Wiser – Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter, says that research shows when we are only with others who think like us, we tend to go deeper into our own values, moving us further right or left of center and convincing ourselves that we are right and everyone else is wrong.

It’s not difficult to imagine, then, how a group of seemingly persecuted religious individuals came together to do something about a perceived problem.

So where does Governor Hutchinson’s son come in to this? Stay with me for a moment.

There are three ways in which the rider – the conscious, verbal, thinking brain – can guide the elephant, and they are not mutually exclusive. In other words, they all work together to bring about change in our thought processes and reactions.

1. Cognitive Dissonance
This is holding contradictory beliefs at the same time. For example, someone may oppose gay marriage for religious reasons, but have a gay child. He or she knows the child personally and realizes that all of the stereotypes and beliefs taught about homosexuality from a religious point of view do not apply to that child. This causes a conflict between a belief held to be true, and the reality of what is seen.

Once a mental conflict arises, a person now has other experiences that confirm the long-held belief may indeed not be completely accurate, or in fact is completely untrue.

2. Experience
Experience is knowledge of an event through involvement or exposure. Once a mental conflict arises, a person now has other experiences that confirm the long-held belief may indeed not be completely accurate, or in fact is completely untrue.

3. Critical thinking
A person who can think critically about their experiences, or make clear and reasoned judgments, particularly when those experiences don’t align to long-held beliefs, is now steering the elephant.

According to the Huffington Post article Governor Hutchinson said, “My son Seth signed the petition asking me, Dad, the governor, to veto this bill…And he gave me permission to make that reference, and it shows that families — and there’s a generational difference of opinion on these issues.”

Governor Hutchinson was experiencing cognitive dissonance between what he believed to be true and the influence of his son, whom he trusts and respects. He recognized and valued the difference of opinion between generations, as well as the toll this bill was having on families, and I’m sure, businesses. What we see is a combination of cognitive dissonance, experience and critical thinking swaying the governor’s point of view.

But what does this say about the future of those who believe in the need for such laws? Is there any hope of bringing them around?

First of all, let’s differentiate what Indiana has done compared to the 19 other states with religious freedom laws. Indiana’s law is the only one that specifically applies to disputes between private citizens. While Texas has a somewhat similar law, it exempts civil rights protections. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed by Bill Clinton in 1993, was put into effect to protect citizens and entities against other entities or governments, not to protect citizens from each other.

It’s difficult to address the issue by simply defining what Christianity is about or what Christians should do. There are multiple facets of Christianity and the Christian label is available to anyone who wants to claim it. Logically, religious freedom bills don’t make any sense. Gay marriage is still likely to be approved by the Supreme Court, and to make matters worse for the Christian right, the LGBT community becomes the underdog. Historically, this means stronger support, particularly from younger generations.

The problem the Christian right has with the LGBT community stems from misinformation about LGBT people gathered from the 1950s. This outdated and debunked propaganda fits nicely within their fundamentalist worldview and, unfortunately, is still proliferated by the large, well-funded, religious PACs firmly planted in political wallets. It is a shining example of what happens when the elephant controls the rider.

Photo – Flickr/michael_swan

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Brain Sex: Gender, Sexuality and Cultural Roles

This article first appeared in The Good Men Project March, 29, 2015

Brain SexNeuroscience teaches us what it means to be human.

——

Growing up in a staunchly conservative Christian home, I was taught very defined gender roles. Years later, when I came out as a gay man, it was nearly as difficult to reconcile my view of gender roles as it was my religion. I describe a little of this in my book, as I was getting acquainted with other gay men:

Simon caught [my friend] Joseph’s eye at a local pub where we were meeting…Simon embodied all of the gay stereotypes that movies portray and reality TV adores. If I thought I’d conquered my own homophobia, Simon was about to reveal the raging Evangelical Republican that dwelt inside.

“Hey, cutie,” he said to Joseph while clutching his gold lamé coin purse.

“Hi.” Joseph smiled. I was watching what looked like a bad b-movie unfolding in front of my eyes.

“My friends and I are going to a bar down the street to hang out some more. Do you want to come with us?” Simon asked. I was certain Joseph would say no.

“Yeah, sure. Why not?” he said and looked at me, “You wanna go?” Simon disgusted me. I wasn’t sure what this half-man-mostly-girl was up to, but my suspicions ran high. I reluctantly went with Joseph and his new friends to the bar, mostly because I felt Joseph was going to need an alibi.

Simon carried most of the conversation, waving his thin little arms around like a junior high girl, sauntering back and forth to the bar to refill his drink. My disgust must have been written all over my face.

Going Gay, My Journey From Evangelical Minister to Self-acceptance, Love, Life, and Meaning (CK Publishing, 2014)

I’m ashamed to admit that I held on to that discomfort for years, looking down my nose on any man who didn’t act like the narrowly defined, Christian bred idea of masculinity I so firmly believed to be true.

♦◊♦

As I studied and researched gender and sexuality, however, I first learned that the two were not the same.

As I studied and researched gender and sexuality, however, I first learned that the two were not the same. Sexuality is about attraction to another person, not about how masculine or feminine the sexually attracted person acts. My friend, Joseph, for example, spent 10 years in construction work. Most people never knew, or suspected he was gay. Simon, the person to whom he was attracted, could pass as a girl if he wanted to dress the part, though he was also sexually attracted to men.

Gender roles are also not as clearly defined. One reason for this is that we are not purely binary, only male and only female. Neurology Professor Jeanette Norden breaks down the differences in her lectures on Understanding the Brain (a must-have series for neuropsychology nerds).

Genotypic sex
This is our gene, or chromosome type sex. Most of the time, females are XX and males are XY. However, there are instances where someone can appear to be one gender on the outside and have the opposite sex chromosomes. There are also individuals who have XXY Chromosomes. A majority of those are male and some are born with female genetilia.

Phenotypic sex
This is the genitalia with which we are born, and is determined by the development of internal and/or external genitalia. Generally, genotypic and phenotypic sex are related, though that is not always the case. As noted above, there are instances where someone can have the chromosomes of one gender and outwardly display the genitalia of the opposite gender.

   Gender identification

Those who feel they were born with the wrong body are often diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a disconnect between the gender they feel they are the body they have.

This is the subjective perception of one’s gender and is a construct created by the brain that relates them to their gender identity. Those who feel they were born with the wrong body are often diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a disconnect between the gender they feel they are the body they have.

Brain sex
Brain sex is the structural difference between male and female brains. The clinical term is “sexual dimorphism,” meaning brain structure size, number or density of neurons, etc. that separates male brains from female brains. There are particular areas of neurons that may be more or less dense in female vs. male brains and vice versa. Brain sex also contributes to how a person relates to his or her environment, as well as gender identification and expression.

Brain sex is determined in humans before birth, while brain sex in a rat is postnatal, or after they are born. There is a critical period of time when brain sex can be manipulated. Studies show that when testosterone is given to a female rat during that critical period, she will sexually act like a male. Similarly, when young male rats are castrated, stopping the induction of testosterone that masculinizes their brains, they exhibit nesting behavior, typically found in female rats.

People are born with a combination genotypic, phenotypic and brain sex types, meaning there is a combination of gender expressions and sexuality.

People are born with a combination of genotypic, phenotypic and brain sex types, meaning there is a combination of gender expressions and sexuality. Gay men, in one study, were found to have the nucleus of a female brain, though it is difficult to definitively tell whether or not this plays into sexual behavior.

Similarly, a study of females with adrenal hyperplasia, showed that the adrenal gland appeared to have masculinized the brain. This study found these women were more likely to behave as tomboys, show aggressive behaviors, and identify with males, even when they were younger. They also showed an increased preference of other females as sexual partners.

Most cultures tend to exaggerate the differences between males and females. Much of this has to do with who establishes the rules and what is considered culturally acceptable for each gender. In American culture, highly influenced by religion, we tend to keep gender roles more clearly separated and defined.

However, as cultures become more open about sexuality, sexual orientation and a blending of roles, people feel more open to express themselves more authentically. We see this play out in younger celebrities such as Alex Newell, who played Glee’s transgender student, Unique Adams, and EJ Johnson, Magic Johnson’s son. Both blend traditionally male and female clothing options into their own styles. We call this gender fluidity, or the gender expression of a person who may feel male one day, female a different day, a combination of both, or neither.

♦◊♦

It’s important to point out that expression of sexuality and gender can be changed, as well as behavior, however brain gender and sexuality cannot be altered by experience, therapy, or shaming or embarrassing anyone. These are variations found in humans and animals, and noted in science throughout history.

I have to admit that learning the science behind what has become such a political issue was eye-opening. It’s where knowledge meets compassion and subjects become people.

Following my friend Joseph’s month-long tryst with Simon, I asked, “How you can you so easily accept people like him?”

In his wisdom he said, “There is a reason people do what they do. Who am I to judge them when I don’t know their stories?” Come to find out, people’s journeys are really only part of their stories.

For more information, watch this Buzzfeed video, What It’s Like To Be Intersex.

#BornPerfect

Photo – Flickr/ djneight

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Is My Gay Agenda Anti-Christian?

This article first appeared in The Good Men Project March 22, 2015

MyAgenda

A former evangelical minister turned LGBT advocate comes clean about his motives.

——

This week I was accused of having it out for Christians. In fact the person said that all she seems to find from me is “judgment, criticism, no respect for the Fundamentalist’s beliefs and constant bombardment of article upon article of how ‘Christians’ are wrong.”

This is true. And here’s why.

♦◊♦

I spent over 25 years of my life as a fundamentalist Christian. I grew up in church and then became a minister. I spoke out against homosexuality and, by default, homosexuals themselves. When my accusers called me homophobic, I flat out denied it. After all, opposing sin isn’t homophobic, it’s heroic in a culture that seems to worship idolatry and human beings over God. I stood firmly against the tide, with God on my side. Besides, I protested, the Bible is very clear on the issue.

And then I came out.

I was a gay man trapped inside a minister’s body. I tried to believe, do and say all the right things. I prayed and memorized books of the Bible. I was a worship leader, leading hundreds and sometimes thousands of people into the throne room of heaven. I had a relationship with Jesus that, at times, felt like it moved mountains.

After decades of this, I mentally cracked under the strain. It forced me to rethink what I believed and it violently pushed me into reality.

The problem is that I had become so accustomed to deceiving myself about the fact that I was attracted to the same sex, I made sure others believed it, too. I pushed it down, prayed, confessed, cried, and pushed it down some more. After decades of this, I mentally cracked under the strain. It forced me to rethink what I believed and it violently pushed me into reality.

Up until then, ideology and dogma ruled my life like a tyrannical dictator. And, in the name of God, that’s exactly how I treated people who disagreed with me. Compassion, I discovered, was impossible to find for others when I had none for myself. I could no longer avoid the fact that what I believed was a lie.

Then there’s something that happens to a person when he gets honest with himself. With the judgment gone, I started listening to other people’s stories in a way I had never listened, nor could I listen, before. And the stories I heard…

From across the country and around the globe came stories of other Christian men and women who had been thrown out of their churches, lost their jobs, families, and life-long friends all while simply trying to “do the right thing.” Some eventually committed suicide, believing that the problem was with them. They received and believed the message that they were better off dead and in heaven, then gay and in hell.

My friend Amy, from Memphis, Tennessee shared with me this week that her partner’s brother, a fundamentalist Christian, told his ten-year-old daughter that she could no longer follow his sister on social media. It was one more sign of rejection for Amy’s long-time partner.

At 17, her Christian family put her on Zoloft because she was gay. When that didn’t change her, she was kicked out of the family, ignored, berated and shamed. They removed her from family functions and refused to have anything to do with her. Only after a young cousin died did her mother finally realize that she didn’t want to lose her daughter completely without some kind of relationship. Still, the bonds are strained.

The cold hard reality is that 20-40% of homeless youth are LGBT. In the Bible belt those numbers go up significantly, as high as 80%.

The cold hard reality is that 20-40% of homeless youth are LGBT. In the Bible belt those numbers go up significantly, as high as 80%. According to the Human Rights Campaign, “Highly rejected LGBT youth [by their families] are MORE THAN 8 TIMES as likely to have attempted suicide and 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.” They are also 3 times more likely to use illegal drugs compared with young people from families with little or no rejection.

Unfortunately, many from the fundamentalist Christian community will brush those statistics off thinking, if not saying, “Those people get what they deserve.” After all, the Bible clearly says the wages of sin is death. And the most important thing a Christian can do, in the mind of many fundamentalists, is follow the Bible.

But here’s the deal. Christian fundamentalism is relatively new. In fact, historians pinpoint it to around 1920, at a time when science and faith in America began to collide. It caused a split between what became Christian modernists, or the more liberal segment of the faith, and fundamentalists who believed the Bible must be taken literally.

As I began to study the roots of Christianity itself, I discovered that the Bible, as we know it, came into existence some 500 years after Christ lived. Homosexuality, a word not coined until the late 1800s and not added to the Bible until 1946, was virtually ignored, until around 1,200 AD.

Since the inception of Christianity there have been disagreements about what books should be included in the Bible and, in fact, there are several Bibles, all under the “Christian faith” umbrella. Additionally, there are over 33,000 sects of Christianity. Evangelical Christianity is purely an American phenomenon, which began in the 1730s, evolving into a brand of Christianity that is oddly synonymous with the American Dream.

Christians in the United States, particularly evangelical fundamentalist Christians, often represent their faith with a sense of entitlement.

Christians in the United States, particularly evangelical fundamentalist Christians, often represent their faith with a sense of entitlement. Many feel they should not have to offer the same hospitality to the LGBT community as they do the rest of humanity. It is similar to what the black community experienced during the civil rights movement, much with an attitude also grounded in the fundamentalist Christian faith.

Fundamentalists talk about a clash of rights, as though granting equal human rights to the LGBT community will somehow nullify their own. However, to my knowledge, no fundamentalist has ever been denied services because he or she self-identifies as a Christian, which is a chosen behavior and belief system. No fundamentalist has ever been tracked down and killed in the streets for simply existing. No fundamentalist has been denied the right to marry the person he loves. No fundamentalist has been told she is mentally ill because of her feelings. No fundamentalist has been separated from a dying partner because he was the “wrong” gender. No fundamentalist has ever committed suicide because she couldn’t stop being a fundamentalist. No fundamentalist has ever been made to feel he was a second-class citizen just because he was born.

♦◊♦

So, yes, I have an agenda. It’s to challenge the fundamentalist Christian community that their dogma and beliefs, based on highly suspect beginnings, are little more than thinly disguised discrimination. It’s to force them to look at the damage decades of mental, and sometimes physical abuse have caused families, for no purpose other than blind obedience to a belief system. It’s to challenge a view that God is more concerned with sheer obedience than inhumane behavior. It’s to give the self-righteous pause about looking down their noses at those who disagree with them. It’s to offer a valid, scientific explanation that all people are created equally, with natural variations, including gender and sexual orientation.

So when I write an article, post a controversial meme on social media, or speak out against religious dogma and discrimination, what I’m trying to say is look at the world from another point of view. Put down your Bible for a minute. Set aside what you think God is about. If God loved the entire world so much that He sent His only son to die for it, is He really more concerned about people perfectly understanding a book that no one has ever been able to agree on, more than simply loving people and treating them kindness, decency and dignity? That’s my agenda. I’m fairly confident that is His, too.

Photo – Abel Perez

♦◊♦

Just yesterday, a friend pointed me to another person who had reached the limit in her own struggle to come to grips with her life and fundamentalist upbringing. I found it poignant and wanted to share it here.

 

I am Angry, by Dena Lynn

I am finding myself so, so, so very enraged tonight. I am angry … just seething with rage at the rape of my soul.

The system of religion (in my case, Christianity), that claimed to be the foundation of ALL Truth (& the ONLY Truth), told me that everything about me that makes me human is also that which makes me aberrant, evil, and unworthy … despised by the very Creator who made me.

That my body is sinful, and that’s why it must die; that my mind is corrupt, and that’s why I must. not. think; that my emotions are untrustworthy, and that’s why I must. not. feel; that my heart is deceitfully wicked, and that’s why I must never-ever, not ever, trust myself; that my motives are impure, and that’s why I must never make my own decisions; that my desires are evil, and that’s why I must never want anything, and if I get what I want, it MUST be sacrificed and taken away; that my personality is prideful, and that’s why I must repent of anything that makes me unique; that my talents and gifts are worthless, unless they’re being used in service to God, and with God getting all the credit; that everything about me is evil, and must be denounced, despised and confessed as utter worthlessness; that everything about me is wretched, and that is why I, like everyone else, had to be cast away from God, separated from the Source of All Life. Don’t bother trying to fathom how that would even be possible, just accept that I’m uber-evil, to my very core, period. It marinated me in shame.

BUT, that if I accept my depravity, and confess it (before God and man), and face that God “loves me so much,” that even though He hates me the way He made me, and even though somebody’s gotta shed some blood in order to pay for this … God chose to kill God to appease God …Jesus dying on the cross, to pay the price that all us evil humans deserve to pay for being the way we’re made, by God. And that’s the “good news.”

Oh, and there’s a catch. See, God loves me SO much, wants to be with me forever SO badly, that he gave me this gift … annnnnd … if I don’t accept this gift, if I don’t admit that I’m evil, and receive this offer of salvation/connection-back-to-god; if I don’t “love him back” that way, then he has no choice but to send me to hell, where I’ll be consciously tormented and tortured forever and ever, without end.

That, I was told, is “unconditional love.”

Oh really? If I were courted by a man who said, “I love you with all my heart, and I want to be with you forever, and I’ll give you everything, but if you don’t love me back, and accept my gifts, then I have no choice but to stalk you and hunt you down, and torture you and kill you,” I might acquiesce, but it would be out of fear. I couldn’t actually love under those conditions.

I bought into it. I did all that because the fear of the consequences was too strong and because everyone in my life who I loved, trusted, and was told I had to obey, wanted me to do so. And I didn’t want to risk their rejection…as well as God’s. Did I have a choice? Does a dependent child ever really have a choice? Does the adult whose entire tribe is comprised of those who – loudly, staunchly, adamantly – believe that, really have a choice? When it’s “acquiesce or be banished” is that really a choice?

It turns out that I had a choice. And it turns out that banishment was indeed the price to be paid. Eleven years ago, following a life changing experience – and experience trumps doctrine … but only every time – I asked for “truth at all cost.” Truth mattered that much to me. I knew it was the only thing that would give me the security I so desperately needed. I was willing to risk everything I once believed, for the sake of truth. It cost me plenty. I lost nearly everything.

Truth came in like a slow-motion avalanche, toppling sacred cows like dominoes: hell; judgement day, and the whole second-coming of Jesus; original sin;sin, period; the origins of Christianity; the “inerrancy” of the Bible, and that it’s “God’s Word to be obeyed and followed”; and finally, once I “real-eyes’d” that nothing can be “separated” from the Source of All Life and live, the very foundation of Christianity itself.

And so, without any sort of decision, I noticed that I shed it, like a garment that could no longer fit me. The concept of God got far larger, kinder, vaster, more loving, less male, more inclusive, less exclusive, less separated, more innate, less “out there” and more “in here,” less human-hating, and more human-integrating. So that even the word “God” no longer fit, being far too limiting for All That Is.

Sounds good, right? Sounds like I was let out of prison, and catapulted into wide-expansive freedom, right?

Here’s the deal. The very painful, very discouraging, very enraging deal. It’s one thing to get the girl out of religion. It’s another thing entirely to get the religion out of the girl.

Conditioning is tough to overcome. No question. It’s part of life for all of us. But when the conditioning is stamped and sealed with “This Is The Absolute Truth of The Very Being Who Created You,” when that conditioning goes to the core of who you ARE as a human, when that conditioning carries the Extreme Authority of God Almighty, that conditioning goes deep, and digs in its talons, and keeps showing up, no matter WHAT I now know and believe; no matter how much proof I’ve evidenced, no matter HOW many books, seminars, healing sessions, ayahuasca ceremonies, hypnotherapy sessions, mantra-recitations, affirmation-repeatings I’ve experienced. That conditioning acts as though it has the legal right to BE there – as if I signed a contract that I can’t find – and to reduce my life to a mere shadow of what I KNOW it’s meant to be!

I do not know ANYthing as insidiously damaging to the soul, than Christianity. Period. And if you didn’t experience it, if you were spared it, then celebrate it. But make no mistake, you don’t get it.

NO, I do NOT see the good in Christianity. I know and love many Christians, but I despise the system of Christianity. Just as I can love a slave, but utterly despise the system of Slavery. What makes Christianity even more insidious is that it claims to be the highest good; that it claims to be the ONLY truth.

I despise ANYthing that enslaves anyone and I am infuriated that no matter what I do – and I don’t know of anyone who has tried to get free any harder than I have – this thing keeps its grip on me. This thing continues to hold me in slavery AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO DO TO GET FREE!

I am angry!!!!!! SO angry!!! And, dammit, I will remain angry, I will feel this anger until it passes. And then I shall feel whatever comes next.

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The 4 Problems With Reparative Therapy Laws

This article first appeared in The Good Men Project March 15, 2015

IBelievedYourJunkScience

 

A former “ex-gay” leader rips up the argument against laws  that ban therapists from trying to convert LGBT kids.

——

Last week in Colorado, the House voted to pass HB15-1175, which prohibits licensed therapists and other mental health workers from using conversion therapy, also known as ex-gay or reparative therapy, on minors. Similar bills are making their way across the country to protect LGBT youth from often misinformed and misguided parents on the harm and dangers of this outdated practice.

House Republican Gordon Klingenschmitt, however, wasn’t content with just a vote of dissension, but chose to write a two-page letter outlining the main problems he has with the bill. With similar bills at various stages in other states, Klingenschmitt raises common concerns among other conservative opponents.

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Anti-conversion therapy laws prohibit free speech
This is true, if you are of the opinion that lying, misleading, misinforming and providing false hope are considered free speech from a licensed professional. Along that line of thinking, we should also no longer punish contractors, doctors, lawyers, or any other professional making a promise he or she cannot deliver.

In February, 2015, Superior Court Judge Peter F. Barsio Jr. said that conversion therapy is “a misrepresentation in violation of [New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act], in advertising or selling conversion therapy services, to describe homosexuality, not as being a normal variation of human sexuality, but as being a mental illness, disease, disorder, or equivalent thereof.” Homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses in 1973.

Today, nearly all mental health organizations, after over 40 years of research, have determined that sexual orientation cannot be changed, only behavior, and that usually for only a short period of time, or the behavior is driven underground, creating more mental anguish for the person attempting to change it.

While free speech allows the general public to say anything they want, it does not allow doctors to practice medieval and outdated practices on their patients, particularly when those practices have been repudiated and proven to cause harm.

While free speech allows the general public to say anything they want, it does not allow doctors to practice medieval and outdated practices on their patients, particularly when those practices have been repudiated and proven to cause harm. Preventing the practice of reparative therapy holds mental health professionals accountable to their peers for acceptable therapeutic practices.

Anti-conversion therapy restricts religious freedom
This is also true, as was the case when laws were enforced to end slavery, provide for interracial marriage, end segregation, create gender equality and force religious people to treat other human beings with dignity, because they are human beings, not because they have the same religious beliefs.

The famous astronomer, Galileo, was also accused of stepping on religious principles when he used science to discover that the earth was not at the center of the universe. It would be another 350 years before the Catholic Church finally apologized for calling him a heretic and trying to burn him at the stake. (Whoops!)

Religious thinking is traditionally years behind scientific discoveries, and further behind when it comes to adjusting dogmatic and often inhumane beliefs. In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.”

These bills take away parental rights
This is not true. This bill reinforces what the mental health and medical communities have known for years, that conversion therapy not only doesn’t work, it is potentially harmful. The bill does not (unfortunately) stop parents from sending their children to ex-gay camps, pastoral counseling, or other types of non-licensed therapy, or even impede on their religious liberties to enforce their unfounded beliefs on their children. What it does do is send a clear message that the practice of reparative therapy has been found to be ineffective at best, and harmful, dangerous and deadly at worst.

Many of these therapists make an enormous amount of money from parents willing to do anything to change their child’s sexual or gender orientation, in spite of the facts.

Again, these bills are aimed at holding licensed mental health professionals accountable for their actions. Many of these therapists make an enormous amount of money from parents willing to do anything to change their child’s sexual or gender orientation, in spite of the facts. These bills do not attempt to change a parent’s perspective on the “rightness” or “wrongness” of homosexuality, but they do acknowledge that seeking professional help does not change the child’s orientation and removes the legitimacy of attempting to do so by a licensed therapist.

The bill would threaten freedom of press
This particular dissension is probably the most telling of all the opponents of reparative therapy. As Klingenschmitt noted, “There is a manual for conversion therapy. Many of you, when you swore your oath to defend the constitution, raised your right hand to God, and you placed your left hand on that book.”

Naturally, Klingenschmitt, who holds a PhD in theology from Pat Robertson’s Regent University, is implying that the bill would ban the Bible, as he understands and believes it. As in the case of Galileo, it is a particular interpretation of the Bible that is at odds with ending the practice of reparative therapy.

According to the World Christian Encyclopedia (2001) there are over 33,000 Christian denominations and sects. Each believes that their interpretation and version of the Bible or Scriptures is correct and the others are wrong. Essentially, it is people like Klingenschmitt who deny this type of protective legislation to legitimize their view of Christianity and invalidate the research and experience of others who do not hold their world view.

Until homophobia is eradicated from society and religious bigotry, reparative therapy belongs in the realm of belief.

Anti-reparative therapy laws most certainly do not threaten the freedom of press. There are many books on reparative therapy, written by a number of prominent proponents of the practice. Most of them are ministers, but all claim to be Christians who believe that homosexuality is sinful and something that can and should be changed. Until homophobia is eradicated from society and religious bigotry, reparative therapy belongs in the realm of belief. It does not belong in a society that believes its constitution was to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, [and] promote the general Welfare…”

The reason our country was not founded on religious principles is because there is never any agreement on unfounded ideologies, other than those based on a common “belief.” However, belief must be suspended in light of evidence. The two are not always mutually exclusive, but in the cases where they are, truth, a verified or indisputable fact, trumps belief.

The arguments against reparative therapy are purely religious arguments at their core, often shrouded in first amendment jargon to disguise their lack of reasoning and substance. Right-leaning representatives are often persuaded by anecdotal stories of those who share either personal beliefs, or the beliefs of their financial supporters.

Click here to see which states currently have active laws and legislation on reparative therapy.

#BornPerfect

Photo – Flickr/Daniel Gonzales

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Motivated to Change! Guest post by Author Bill Prickett

This article first appeared on Serendipitydodah, a space for “for LGBTQ people and friends and family members of the LGBTQ community attempting to develop and maintain healthy, loving, authentic relationships.” 

civilrightsmemorialabcGrowing up, I could tell that my attractions were different than those of other boys. I didn’t have a word for it, but the kids at school quickly filled in the blanks—queer, faggot, sissy. Shame was born. And a desire to conceal my feelings.

I became a Christian in college and was taught these “desires” were unacceptable. I was serious about pleasing God, and had decided to enter the ministry, so getting rid of them was a priority.

I got married, and things were fine for while. But the attractions were always there, under the surface. Then I heard about those who declared they had changed. So I read books, attended workshops, went to counseling, and engaged in concentrated religious disciplines.

As a husband, father and a successful Pastor, I was committed to achieving this change. In time, my story gained prominence. I was featured in the media, and asked to speak at churches and conferences. National ministries and local therapists consulted me as a resource. People began to seek me out for counseling. Or they were sent to me by their parents or church leaders. From this grew a ministry to help those who also wanted to change their sexual attractions.

But in spite of my outer facade, I knew the inner truth. After years of unrelenting effort, I admitted to myself that the attractions were still there. I had not changed.

I was emotionally crushed with guilt of my perceived failure. I resigned my church rather than live a lie. Eventually I filed for divorce after 19 years of marriage to a woman who did not deserve any of this.

My family, my ministry, my reputation…the life I’d built…crumbled.

That was three decades ago. It took years to restore a relationship with my children and to repair the damage inflicted on my self-image and my faith.

Today I work with those who’ve been wounded by these programs. I see the damage inflicted by their deceptive promises using exaggerated stories of “success” and their discredited methodology.

I stand with many other former “ex-gay” leaders and survivors to expose these snake-oil practitioners and their spurious practices who prey on uninformed, anxious parents and vulnerable young people. I speak out against their lies, half-truths outdated, disproven research.

I also stand with mental health organizations who’ve concluded sexual orientation cannot be changed, and shown these programs can cause lasting psychological harm. I personally lost a dear friend, who chose to put a shotgun to his head and pull the trigger when it was clear he could not change.

I want to see these groups discredited and “Conversion” Therapy outlawed. It’s time to acknowledge the truth. A history of human wreckage makes it evident—these programs are emotional, mental and spiritual abuse.

End the abuse now.

Too much time, money and energy has already been spent trying to change what is unchangeable, fix what is not broken or cure what is not a sickness.

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Bill Prickett is a writer, blogger, cultural observer, gay Christian, advocate for equality, former ex-gay leader exposing the fraud of reparative therapy, long-time Bible teacher and author of 3 books. Check out Bill’s site for more info.

 

 

 

I’m Losing My Conservative Values

This article first appeared in The Good Men Project March 8, 2015

ConservativeValues

 From Staunch Conservative Evangelical Minister to LGBT Supporter and Human Rights Activist

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Several months ago I was walking across the campus of a Northern California State University to meet a friend. Two young activists stopped me with a question I couldn’t ignore, as I was about to walk across a street. “Do you support gay rights?” One of them asked.

“I do,” I said, wondering where this was going. Those familiar with my story know it took me a long time to get to that place. Even as a proponent of LGBT people, it didn’t mean I had completely tossed out my relatively conservative values.

With the skills of seasoned evangelists, these young women took me down an intellectual and emotional journey of all the reasons we should continue to help the LGBT community, some of whom can still lose their jobs because of their sexual orientations. When they asked me to sign a petition, I asked for a pen. When they asked me for a donation, I reached for my wallet.

“Who do you represent?” I asked.

“The ACLU,” they said.

It was as if I’d stepped out of a warm shower and someone dumped ice water over the top of my head. I grimaced. “Um…I’m good,” I said and walked away.

In my conservative thinking, the ACLU are the crazy ones, founded in socialism and fighting all that is good and holy. I was raised to oppose the ACLU. Giving them money was akin to registering as a soldier for Putin’s army. I’d sooner register as a Democrat!

♦◊♦

It appears to be true what the conservatives say about “those homosexuals,” if we let them have their way then the good ol’ USA will never be the same.

Still, I’ve changed. I’m not the conservative I once was. Quite honestly, once I started supporting LGBT equality, I started losing my conservative values. It appears to be true what the conservatives say about “those homosexuals,” if we let them have their way then the good ol’ USA will never be the same.

Let’s hope not.

Under our decidedly “Christian nation,” in which I once believed and upheld, we have achieved the number one status in the world with the highest illegal drug use and eighth in prescription drug use; number one in TV watching; number one with most prisoners per capita and home of the largest prisoner populations; number one in teen pregnancies, though number six in divorce rates compared to other nations; number one in student loan debt, though 24th in literacy; and the U.S. has the largest national debt of any nation.

50 million people live below the poverty line, which is nearly 16 percent of the population at one of the richest nations in the world. Healthcare costs per person is $8,233, which is two and a half times more than all other developed nations. What we do well in this country is greed.

Somewhere along my journey I’ve come to realize that people are more important than things and money. Inequality has been historically supported by conservative values, ranging from opposition to civil rights and women’s suffrage to unequal pay. I can no longer support those values.

Unlike my upbringing, which taught me that uniformity meant security and absolute authority meant order, I’ve discovered that the person in power interprets uniformity and absolute authority.

I no longer feel the need to control anyone’s behavior but my own. Unlike my upbringing, which taught me that uniformity meant security and absolute authority meant order, I’ve discovered that the person in power interprets uniformity and absolute authority. The goal isn’t progression, it’s to oppress people into submission, particularly those who are different, or don’t fall neatly into the cultural norm of the day. I’ve learned to accept people as they are and, in doing so, appreciate the unique giftings they have to offer.

I believe in family values, even if those families don’t look like mine. The human race, as a species, is built to survive and thrive. There is no one size fits all and I’ve been fortunate enough to experience many types of families, each with a blend of genders, ethnicities and ages. The undeniable, yet reliable thread in all of them is love. I believe in more love and less contention.

I’ve learned to accept people as they are with no expectations for them to change, or become anything more. My friendships have expanded, become richer, and based on nothing more than one human being connected to another. Setting aside judgment has opened me up to not only accept others, but also serendipitously learn compassion for myself.

The damage done by infusing belief over reason and science continues to harm families and tear at the threads of our nation.

I no longer believe that religion belongs in politics. While our country was founded on the freedom of religion, it was not founded on religious principles. How could it be? With over 34,000 different denominations within Christianity alone, Christians can’t even agree on which one is right. Evangelical Christianity, of which I was a part, is the newest of the Christian religion sects, developing in the 1730s and evolving into the fundamentalism we see today, only as recently as the first part of the 20th century. The damage done by infusing belief over reason and science continues to harm families and tear at the threads of our nation.

I believe everyone has a right to be heard, regardless of financial position or social status, and that all humans must have equal rights, equal protections and equal dignity. As an educator, I have learned that a formidable company, or nation, is built on the strengths of human capital, diverse thinking, and equal ground. Devaluing one group over another sets up a hierarchy of control and manipulation, allowing a segment of society to gain power and grow rich, subverting and condemning others into servitude.

♦◊♦

No, I have not become so open minded that my brains have fallen out, as my father sometimes says of liberals and intellectuals. I still believe in accountability, balanced budgets and smaller government. I believe in a constitution that is by the people and for the people. But I also believe that where there is prejudice and oppression, it’s sometimes necessary for judges to step in and make decisions based on sound reasoning, instead of religious and societal bigotry. If we waited for society to come to the conclusion that black people were humans, too, our nation would likely still be segregated.

As I wrote in my book, “It’s difficult to love people when we see them as an ideology, a false doctrine, or a lifestyle. They cease being people…and become political fodder, which must be debated, voted on and controlled.” I’m not naïve enough to believe that one political party is going to solve all our problems and I’m still staunchly politically independent. While political positioning may inflict the problems, the very real outcome is human casualty. So, I guess I’m losing my conservative values in favor of simple human decency, dignity, and equality.

Photo – Flickr/ Zoe Foodiboo

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In Defens(iveness) of Religion

This article first appeared in The Good Men Project March 1, 2015In-Defensive-of-Religion

True religion doesn’t need defending. What’s true can stand on its own.

——

Growing up in a Pentecostal denomination, passion came with the territory. My grandfather once prayed over a meal for so long he broke into tongues, only to be scolded by my grandmother for turning dinner into a revival. It was all in good fun on her part. As far as our family was concerned, anytime was a good time for a prayer meeting. And for over 25 years, as an Evangelical Christian minister, I sang, preached, and told others about my beliefs with fervor.

But like many people whose realities don’t match up to their beliefs, my viewpoints began to change. I couldn’t reconcile how God would let my wife divorce me and allow my family to become another statistic. That was the first crack in the armor of faith that once covered me like a custom-fit suit. More unanswered questions led to more cracks, until I realized I could no longer believe in the religion in which I was raised. The armor crumbled. I was free.

I soon discovered, however, that my newfound freedom made people uneasy. Some of those with whom I’d ministered and/or been friends, no longer spoke to me. They attacked the simplest of statements and discarded my decades of experience as a Christian and minister. It was as though my mere existence was an affront to God and He sent them to ridicule and dismiss me. Seemingly overnight I went from a loved, valued and esteemed member of a family to a disdained outcast.

♦◊♦

It’s one thing to disagree with someone who holds a different, or no religious, point of view, but verbal assaults are something else. My good friend, straight ally and LGBT advocate, Kathy Baldock, once posted a comment in an Evangelical Christian forum. (She still identifies as an Evangelical Christian.) She had spent years researching the information she shared. But because her point of view was different than a majority of the readers and commenters, she was met with:

“You ignorant dbags are treating a sin like it’s something they are born with…Please pull your heads out of your butts and actually talk to God and read his book.”

“You are a ‘Christian’ but you believe people are born gay? So you believe in science over our creator?”

Dr. Richard Beck describes this defensiveness as “Terror Management.” He wrote that when religious people “feel existentially vulnerable” they “respond by reinvesting in, defending, and shoring up…cultural worldviews (the source of our meaning in life). These defensive responses, collectively called ‘worldview defense,’ have been measured in a number of ways, from denigrating outgroup members to harshly punishing those who violate our cultural norms.”

In other words, when the very core of someone’s existence is called into question, it leaves him or her feeling exposed. The natural response is to cling even tighter to those intrinsic beliefs and lash out at the person, or group, threatening to challenge them.

There is something about questioning one’s core beliefs that is unnerving. Someone likened it to being a stray dog with a broken leg, perhaps one that is not well socialized. When you try to help the dog, he bites at you because he is in a vulnerable situation. Dr. Beck quotes Freud as saying; “The believer will not let his belief be torn from him, either by arguments or by prohibitions.”

As a society, we’re seeing religious defensiveness play out particularly in response to equal rights for LGBT people and gay marriage. The notorious Alabama’s Chief Justice, Roy Moore, said in an interview, “Our rights do not come from the Constitution, they come from God.” In spite of the interviewer’s in depth knowledge of the legal system, Judge Moore would not, or perhaps could not, see the situation from any other point of view. His defensiveness short-circuited his ability to reason and this otherwise intelligent man was incapable of engaging in a thoughtful conversation. (See the 25 minute interview here.)

♦◊♦

Dr. Joseph Burgo noted one of his favorite therapists’ thoughts on defensiveness as “lies we tell ourselves to ward off truths too painful to accept or unbearable emotions and feelings.” He went on to say, “What makes them so difficult for us to recognize [them in] ourselves is that we’ve spent a lifetime believing those lies and we want to go right on believing them because the alternative is to feel pain.”

Do religious people not truly believe what they preach? Not necessarily. However, where there is faith, there is at least some level of doubt. For Christian fundamentalists, for example (of which I was a part), the belief that the Bible is the Word of God and contains all truth, leaves many unanswered questions. It presents an angry God who, on one hand, says His love is everlasting, but, on the other hand, if you don’t accept it, will send you into a fiery hell for all eternity. Theologians and Christian apologists have built complex explanations and word plays to account for the Biblical discrepancies, but even people with the strongest of faith feel something is off.

Many of the more “evangelistic” religions use this defensiveness as a way to deputize their followers. Rather than sitting around questioning the outright authority of the faith, their job is to win people “into the Kingdom” through Coercion, threats, or force. We see this currently happening with ISIS. However, it is also a part of Christianity’s history. Interestingly enough, when President Obama pointed this out, the religious right who dismissed the horrific murders and crimes against humanity in the name of God verbally assaulted him. (See Religious News Service; Was Obama right about the crusades and Islamic Extremism?) Denial is easier than justifying incongruences of the faith.

Unfortunately, changing one’s worldview is a difficult process, even in light of mentally conflicting information. We need to look no further than the U.S. congress to see a battle over ideologies, each side believing they are right and the other is wrong. Gridlock ensures that no one gets anywhere and nothing changes. Indeed, defensiveness is not found only in those who hold strong religious beliefs.

I’ve always found it ironic that those who believe in an all-powerful God work so diligently to silence those who don’t. What they can’t do through evangelism and prayer, they accomplish through political action committees and legislation. True religion doesn’t need defending. What’s true can stand on its own.

Photo – Flick/David Wise

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Afraid of the Bees – Guest Post by David Parker

BumbleBeeIt was late August. The sun was shining and it was still pretty warm out. There was a steady breeze blowing off the water and the maple leaves, which had just begun their autumn transformation, were sweeping back and forth in lazy figure eights at the tips of their branches.  My windows were down and my farmer’s tanned arm, which was soaking up the last bit of sun it was likely to see for the next nine months, was draped out over the edge of the door of my green Ford Ranger pick-up. Kelly Clarkson’s “Behind These Hazel Eyes” blared out of the three working speakers at the highest volume possible, without distorting the sound. I was on the way to my classroom at the daycare. I ran the kindergarten after-school program. I had with me in the pick-up three large bags of Kio and Goldfish for my classroom fish tank. As I drove, a big fat honeybee ricocheted off my driver side mirror and up my flapping t-shirt sleeve. I slammed on the brake, shrieked something awful, and grabbed at my sleeve trying to confine the angrily wiggling insect within a fold of the fabric.  Of course I was too late as the little bastard had stung me just above the tan line of my exposed arm.

♦◊♦

 Sometimes life can be cruel and my life had been hard. Very hard. By the time I turned 21, I had lived in 61 different places, my father had been in prison for nearly fifteen years, and my mother – though I think she tried – was at her wits end. Just before my 10th birthday, my mother sent me to live with three different relatives, each stay only lasting a few months. She then sent me to a boarding school for teen misfits in the mountains of Eastern Washington called, The Flying H Youth Ranch. I stayed for over two years.  I’m not sure I’ll ever understand why I had been sent away those times, but I do know that at least once my mother said to me, “Three kids is more than I can handle.”

A week after my 15th birthday, she put me in a state run foster care system. Despite that she, along with my twin brother and older sister, lived just 15 minutes away, she left me in foster care until my 17th birthday. Once out of foster care, but still in high school, I relied on families from the church to take care of me. This was the church to which my last foster family belonged.

For the rest of my junior year of high school I moved about every two weeks. With three months of my senior year left, I ran out of places to stay, so I moved into a church run homeless shelter with everything I owned. My mom still lived just a short distance away and my Aunt and Uncle just a bit further then that. Neither wanted anything to do with me. After graduating with a 3.6 GPA, I entered the work force and started trying to make my way, but always forging on alone. I spent many, many years going to therapy just to deal with all of the baggage from a lifetime of craziness and unimaginable hardship.

At the age of 25, I landed the best job I had ever had as an After School Program Leader at my church. The church had become my home. I literally lived in a house owned by the church on the same street as the main church building. I sang on the worship teams for both the main church body and the ENORMOUS college ministry on campus. Every part of my life was in some way connected to that building and its people. They had become my family and friends. It was by the far the safest place I had ever been.

♦◊♦

Once back inside my truck, as I rounded the last bend in the road along the waterfront, I noticed a co-ed pair of joggers emerging from the interurban trail onto the shoulder of the road I was on. My eyes were immediately drawn to the butt and legs of the 30 something, tanned, AMAZINGLY well built, tight-running, gear-wearing man. I remember thinking, OMG he is soooo hot. Then I stared at him in my passenger side mirror as I drove by. It wasn’t until he was no longer in view that I realized what had happened and I exclaimed “Noooooooo!!!”

At that moment a pit of an ominous feeling swallowed my heart; the thin veil between my true reality and the reality I had constructed in my head was ripped in two and was never going to be put back together. It was as if someone had set a trap for me and at that right moment pulled a lever, opening the trap door where I stood. In an instant, everything I knew about myself suddenly meant nothing. It meant worse than nothing, it meant that life was about to get hard again and I wept bitterly over the death of the small taste of hope and progress I thought I had started to make.

A few days later, and still pretty down about it all, I went to my counseling session with a pastor from church.  I told her, as tears again began to fill my eyes and stream down my face, that I was GAY!!!  There was a pause from her as she searched my face.  She asked me in perhaps the most concerned tone I had ever heard from her… “Well, have you ever acted on it?”

To which my response was, “What do you mean?” She then asked more pointedly if I had ever touched a man in a sexual manner. “No, of course not,” I said.

With some relief she said, “Oh, then you’re not gay, you’re just same sex attracted. That’s way different.”

I’m not going to lie…that made me feel better. According to her, temptation was perfectly fine as long as nothing came of it. However, she then proceeded to ask me to quit my job in the daycare. I didn’t understand why she was asking this. I loved those kids and they loved me. They had helped me heal a great deal as I was able to re-witness childhood through their little eyes. I also had medical benefits for the first time since foster care and the most money I had ever made up to that point. Naturally, I declined to quit my job and dismissed her idea.

About a week later my boss called me into the office at the daycare and told me, “I know that you are going through a lot right now. We think that you need some time to sort through that. Come September, if you have things in order, feel free to reapply for your position.” I was dumbfounded and devastated.

Just a few days later, the pastor in charge of the college ministry called me into his office to tell me, “I know that you have a lot going on right now…” But as if I had been a salmon hauled into a boat and bludgeoned over the head to stop my flopping around, his words merged into a haze that went in one ear and out the other. I refocused just in time to hear myself getting kicked out of the house I was living in. Again I went numb and in a zombie-like manner, packed my things and moved on.

I immediately found work at the local pet store where I had purchased the fish. I found a home with some of the college guys from the church ministry group and just kept plodding along one foot in front of the other. Then the worship pastor called me into his office about a week later. As if it were the new motto of my life, he repeated the same mantra, “Hey, I know that you have a lot going on right now, and I just think that it’s probably best that we cut back how often you are on the team; that way you can deal with that stuff.” It felt like someone had shot a crossbow bolt into my chest.

At that moment I realized that the pastoral staff had been talking to my counselor about my “issues” and had been coached on how to disconnect me from the structure of the church. It was like having the arrow twisted in place. The pain was intense. As my heart sank, there was a numbing and heavy feeling building in its place. The worship pastor then let me know that my future involvement in the church was dependent upon my dealing with “those issues.” He then pulled a brochure out of the thin drawer that hung just below the keyboard on his desk. It was a relatively plain brochure with the outline of a cross broken by waves of water running through it. Just below the image were the words “Living Waters.”

♦◊♦

It was the Second week of September 2005. I had paid $1,000, received my books and other materials, and started on my three-year journey to true brokenness. Twice a week for 6 months I gathered with 30 other participants and staff. We worshiped at the foot of a big wooden cross for about an hour. For an additional hour we received a teaching on all the ways in which we may or may not be broken, followed lastly by an hour of small group time. During small group, we all took turns listing how the previous week’s message had affected us, how we thought we were broken, and all the things we had been convicted of “by the Holy Spirit,” regarding our pasts. Then the leaders would recap how we were broken, damaged, needy, greedy, selfish, demon possessed, prideful, stubborn, and that we were doomed if we couldn’t let Jesus take it from us. They told us that He wanted to take it and that He was begging us to let Him take it. Each and every week we spent 6 hours recognizing our need, recounting our failings and the feelings they produced, recanting our broken ways, “receiving forgiveness,” and finally recommitting to Jesus to be pure and righteous in His eyes. Regardless of all this, we were ushered into the exact same process again the following week.

The shame that eats at your soul every waking moment starts with the knowledge that you are a sinner, one of the worst, and it doesn’t matter how far you have taken the sin, whether private thoughts, or hardcore carnal acts. The “truth” remains that you are perverted and broken in far more and grander ways than you could possibly hope to fix. It became impossible to make and keep eye contact with anyone.

I quickly lost the ability to sing, and then every childhood message of being unwanted, unneeded, and unloved echoed once again within the gaping cavity of my rib cage. My soul was pulverized and heavy, it was like everything I thought I was, hoped to be, and wished I wasn’t, had been smashed with a sledge hammer and was now nothing more than a pile of shards. Everywhere I went, I was pushed inside my prison that was paved and painted with a sharp cutting jagged stucco of broken dreams and failed attempts at being loved. What made it all that much worse was that I agreed to all of this because I thought it was the right thing to do and because I didn’t want to be alone ever again. I agreed to have my beating heart ripped out of my chest and dissected because I thought those people loved me and wanted to help me. I never felt more damaged, broken, vile, and rejected then I did at the end of those three years of conversion therapy. Every attempt to strip part of myself off and cast it away only served to disconnect and disfigure parts of who God made me to be.

When I imagine running into the leaders now and making eye contact, I see in their imagined gaze only their wasted love, my broken promise, and inability to change myself.  The whole chapter of my life was the equivalent to standing in the center of the bee hive, allowing, and even asking to be stung, over and over again because quite foolishly I hoped it could do some good. After all the stings and injected toxins, I instead only became allergic to the stings. After the three years had passed, I realized that to stay, to be stung one more time, would cost my life.

It has been 6 years now and while I’m happier and healthier than I have ever been I still find myself ducking behind displays at the grocery store and leaning down in my car as I pass the church. I still find my heart in my throat when I’m talking to a Christian. Still, I’m marching on and moving forward one step at a time. Yet, it still feels like I’m alone.

♦◊♦

It was mid June in the late afternoon. The temperature was in the high 80s and a light ,intermittent breeze spilled into the neighborhoods from the waterfront. I sat on a stump in my garden, perhaps a bit to near the blooming comfrey and pineapple mint, which when gently tussled by a breeze filled the air with a magical scent. A group of white pigeons walked up and down the red brick path. The female darted to and fro, picking up seeds and bugs, while the male pranced around behind her. The male pecked at her neck every time she stopped in a constant attempt to chase her back to the nest in a little building nearby. Behind the adult pigeons a pair of youngsters, that were just learning to fly and feed themselves, squealed and flapped their wings in pitiful up and down motions. They begged to be fed by their parents who seemed to be thinking more about the next clutch of eggs and less about their existing brood.

Suddenly, a big FAT honey bee flew across my field of vision at eye level, snapping my attention back to myself, my safety, and my needs. I went as stiff as a board, except for gently blowing on the bee to discourage it from landing. I crossed my fingers that it would move on. Sure enough, the bee meandered over to the nearest comfrey stalk and slowly worked each of the little black dotted purple flowers from bottom to top.

All of a sudden, an image of Jesus popped into my mind. It wasn’t just a picture or painting, but rather a mosaic of his likeness made from what appeared to be broken tiles of different colors and shapes. Along with the picture came thoughts, How do I know what Jesus looks like? How do I know His character?

In my garden, I realized that what I knew of Him should come primarily from Scripture, then from my own life, and then the world around me. I realized that on top of my image of Jesus being the cliché blue-eyed European Jesus, I had also bought into many of the character flaws perpetuated by his human followers. My mosaic was more a representation of Him based upon the bits and pieces I borrowed from this broken world and the broken people who lived in it. It was at this moment I decided that getting back to the basics needed to be the next leg of my journey.

This June will be the sixth year from the day I sat on that stump. It has been a constant and sometimes hard-fought battle to unlearn the message of brokenness and re-learn, in any form, a message of acceptance and value. When I started realizing that every message of condemnation and conviction were from people and not from God, it felt incredibly freeing. The hardest parts of recovery have been living in this town where all of this happened while still having the possibility of running into the leaders and participants at the grocery store, gas station, or Starbucks.

Struggling to engage in a church where half the people you know don’t agree with “who you have become,” and don’t see anything wrong with the way “the Church” treats people like you, has also been one of the hardest pieces of recovery. However, when I stop and think about the sting of it all, I remember that big, FAT bee clumsily bumbling from little purple flower to little purple flower and I find peace again. In a great design, I realize that I am a beautifully made as a part of God’s creation and not some crazy defect to be sanded down or painted over.

Photo – Porsupah Ree

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Can You Love the Sinner and Hate the Sin?

This article first appeared in The Good Men Project February 15, 2015

LoveTheSinner

A pithy Christian statement creates walls with the LGBT community and loves no one.

——

As a former leader in ex-gay ministry (reparative therapy), I had honed the art of loving the sinner and hating the sin, or so I thought. It took on the appearance of tough love. “God loves you too much to leave you that way,” was my mantra. I’m not a co-dependent person by nature. In fact, I’m often referred to by my family and friends as Sheldon Cooper, the mildly autistic and emotionally detached scientist from the Big Bang Theory. As a Christian, however, I felt it was my loving duty to steer people toward the inerrant Word of God, which clearly told them how to live.

When someone in our ministry would “fall,” meaning they had a sexual encounter, I would pray with them and quote Scriptures that I thought would help. Sometimes those Scriptures were comforting and sometimes they were warnings about the wages of sin. After a few of those falls I would lose patience with the individual and determine that he really didn’t want help in the first place. If he left the church, I would let him go. No reaching out. No questions about how he was doing. As far as I was concerned, he decided to leave God and “follow his fleshly desires.”

I called my actions love.

♦◊♦

Looking back, I’m embarrassed on a number of levels: the arrogance, the pride, the audacity to believe that only my way was right, the callousness, the lack of humanity, and the disgusting representation of God I thought I was.

What I called love, was a thinly veiled attempt at hiding the fear I felt about being dragged away into deception and sin, and away from God.

Crossing over from an ex-gay leader and conservative Christian minister to LGBT advocate was a long, painful journey. I see things much differently now and interpret the actions, behaviors and words of anti-gay Christians through a new lens. What I called love, was a thinly veiled attempt at hiding the fear I felt about being dragged away into deception and sin, and away from God. In fact, nearly all of my life of faith was really a life of fear. I couldn’t see it and no one could convince me otherwise. I adamantly argued I was not homophobic, or narrow-minded, I was simply living by Christian principles and in a deep relationship I shared with Jesus.

I’ve interviewed many former ex-gay leaders and talked to some of the founders of the ex-gay movement. I’ve asked them, like I’ve asked myself, “What were you thinking?” I’ve received many of the same responses: “I thought I was ‘doing the right thing’.” “I thought it was sad that people chose to leave, but that was their problem.”

And then the tables turned on us.

It’s an odd position to find oneself in, especially after years of being in the “in crowd” of church leadership, standing on the platform and sharing from the pulpit. Suddenly, the people with whom you’ve built what felt like family relationships, no longer call. You hear that they are having the same conversations about you that you had about others. “Did you hear about Tim? It’s so sad. Let’s pray for him. He’s been deceived by the devil.”

I changed my point of view because I was wrong…I was wrong about what it means to love others.

Of course, on this side, I’m wondering why they aren’t putting the pieces together. I changed my point of view because I was wrong. I was wrong about people, about God, about science and about the Bible. I was wrong about what it means to love others.

I recently had a conversation with a psychologist and asked him how it was possible for people to simply quit loving someone with whom they disagreed. I discovered there is a name for it. It’s called “the shutting off of affective bonds.” He stated that it is a common feature of high control groups. In other words, we love people with such stringent conditions, that if those conditions aren’t met, we emotionally disconnect.

I see this a lot from Christian parents of gay kids who kick their children out of their homes. 20-40% of homeless youth are LGBT kidsSeveral studies show that LGBT kids are much more likely to attempt suicide when they do not come from, or have, a supportive family environment. It’s a far cry from the grace of the Gospel many so valiantly claim to be a part of as Christians.

As a father of two teenage daughters, I love my children fiercely. There is nothing they could do or say that will change how I feel about them. We don’t always agree, but when I think of my children I don’t think about what we disagree on, I think about why I love them. As they’ve grown up I’ve stopped looking for ways to fix or change who they are, and now ask, “How can I support you in reaching your goals?” I try to parent out of love, not out of fear.

That type of “love” requires no faith, arrogantly assumes to have all the answers, preposterously assumes to speak for a supposedly almighty, all-powerful God…

When we love out of fear, our minds are filled with “what if’s.” What if someone doesn’t make the right decision? If we allow them to live with what we deem a sinful life, they could bring sin into the church, into our lives, unleash the wrath of God and ultimately (as many TRULY believe) destroy our nation. That type of “love” requires no faith, arrogantly assumes to have all the answers, preposterously assumes to speak for a supposedly almighty, all-powerful God, and let’s face it, gives a lot of power to one person, or one group of people. How big is God anyway? He can’t handle it? Or he’s got such a temper he’ll destroy everyone because we decided to just love people?

I’ve learned that loving people where they are releases my expectations on them to become what I think they should be, and allows them to become the person that they are supposed to be. As a Christian, that means allowing people to make their own decisions, come up with their own interpretation of the Bible (there are over 34,000 Christian denominations) and live their lives with all the grace that the Christian Gospel represents. It is TRULY a life of faith and uncertainty, but most definitely a life of love.

♦◊♦

In my experience, many Christians are preoccupied with sin – defining it, labeling it, and trying to avoid it. In fact, I attended a Wednesday night meeting a few months ago where the congregants confronted their pastor for not preaching enough about sin. He wisely asked, “Whose sin? Yours or someone else’s?”

It’s difficult to love people when all we see is who we don’t want them to be, or we define them by a behavior, which they may or may not even be doing. No quality relationship works like that. I have often said, when I’m speaking in churches, before you try out those pithy statements on people you don’t know try them out at home. “Honey, I love you, but not your sin.” Now see how far your relationship can go from there.

Photo/Flickr – A.Shazly

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Ex-ex-gay: A Journey Toward Healing

A Journey Towards HealingSomeone recently wrote me about his experience in ex-gay ministry:

I guess I feel a bit like I’m in a blender. On the surface I feel like I’ve got this all under control but my insides are so scrambled and shredded I can’t tell up from down or left from right.

He went on to tell about how he was treated by those who were once his friends, so loving and kind, as long as he followed the path they said would make him whole. When it didn’t work, he was cast aside to make room for the next person.

It’s a story I’ve heard over and over again. Men and women feel conflicted over their sexuality and their faith, both of which share equal parts of their thoughts and biology. Desperate for help, they contact organizations that may not overtly promise changing their sexual orientations from gay to straight, but make it clear that any faithful commitment to God – in the way they prescribe – will bring about change. When change fails to come, the individuals are blamed for a lack of results. They didn’t believe the right way, believe long enough or hard enough; they weren’t committed enough. They didn’t understand God correctly, didn’t read the Bible correctly, or simply failed to have some kind of divine interaction that would have erased the wrong programming. Thus, as the writer so eloquently put it, they feel a bit like they are in a blender.

♦◊♦

Now what? What are you supposed to do when the promise of change didn’t work? Feeling like a failure, and when you need people the most, you are abandoned. What you thought was wrong feels right and what you thought was right feels wrong. On top of the confusion are feelings of betrayal. You find yourself angry at something you can’t quite put a face to and furious at a system without a leader.

The foundation on which you based everything you’ve ever thought, or done, voted on, stood for, rallied against and felt passion about suddenly disappears. People who said they would love you forever, friend you for life, or die to save you, left you stranded in a sea of confusion. Instead of throwing a lifeline, they cast a net of hateful words, ominous warnings, and final goodbyes.

The journey out of the ex-gay web is a long one. It will never be without scars, but there is a way to begin processing the pain.

Embrace your pain
I spent years running from my pain, which resulted in physical and mental health problems. I used humor to cover it, food to ignore it, and isolation to numb it. Just like physical pain tells you there is something wrong in your body, emotional pain tells you there is something wrong in your soul. Ignoring it won’t make it better.
Acknowledge what you feel. Let it be present. Cry, yell, keep a journal and come to terms with it. Pain and suffering is part of what makes us who we are. No one is immune from it, but it can either create empathy for others, or cause us to become cynical and critical. By recognizing our pain, acknowledging and embracing it, we allow ourselves to feel and love more deeply.

Share your story
The last thing I wanted to do when I began to come to grips with my sexuality was tell others. I wasn’t a proud gay man; I was a confused failure as a Christian, husband and minister. That kind of shame kept me in hiding. Shame is consuming. It tells you that you don’t belong anywhere. You’re not like anyone else and you don’t deserve to be happy. But sharing your story, whether it is with one friend at a time, blogging, or standing in front of an audience connects you with other people who understand your pain. More often than not, they identify with your feelings, even if they can’t share in your exact experiences.

People are hungry for authenticity. Our Hollywood culture of perfection is a mirage of emptiness. No amount of money, good looks, or fame can erase the shame of imperfection. If it could, we wouldn’t hear of so many famous people committing suicide, botched plastic surgeries, divorces and drug abuse. Find a place where you feel a level comfortableness and begin to tell your story.

Choose to forgive
Anger is a secondary emotion. If you feel angry at ex-gay and church leaders, it is most likely based in the hurt and pain they caused you. Their actions may have very well changed the course of your life, and this pain is deeply rooted. Your anger is not only understandable, but justifiable. The depth of damage caused by the ex-gay industry, and evangelical church by extension, has caused some to commit suicide, others to swirl into the depths of depression, and countless broken marriages and families. There is no excuse and there are no words to repair the damage.

The only thing you can do to move forward is choose to forgive. Forgiving doesn’t let people off the hook. It doesn’t erase the pain or the memories; it only releases us from the grip of those that did the damage. Most likely, many of us are long forgotten by those ex-gay ministries. We are another number to them, and considered deceived by the enemy. Our anger isn’t going to bring about an apology, it’s only going to encapsulate us in a relentless cycle of self-destruction, preventing us from moving forward. Choose to forgive those who hurt you and choose to live your life on your terms.

Find a community and stay in it
Whether it’s online, offline, or a combination of both, find people with whom you can relate on some level. Share your thoughts and feelings. Don’t run away and don’t isolate yourself, even though that’s what you feel like doing.

We all need community and there are always people who share our interests. It’s just a matter of finding them. Keep reaching out and keep staying connected.

Remember that YOU MATTER
The pain you have experienced and the feelings of worthlessness are not you. Those are the results of what you have believed about you, probably based on what others have told you about you. You have a right to grieve. You have a right to feel. You have a right to get angry. You have a right to express yourself. You have a right to be human. You matter. You are as valuable as any other human being. Don’t give into the depression of what was. That is not the sum of who you are and there are many better days on the other side of the pain.

If God is God…
The confusion caused by religious zeal and hurtful theology condemns people into shame and fear. It is a religious system of circular thinking that many don’t even realize they are in. They use Scriptures that tell them they are sinful and then go back to the same Scriptures for healing from their sinfulness. They never find grace, healing, or change.

However, if God is God, He is not threatened by theology (which, by the way, is only the “study of” God, not the ultimate truth about God). If God is God, He is not threatened by doubt, questions, anger, or disappointment. He is not held to religious interpretation (34,000 views of God in Christianity alone). He is bigger than churches, politics, religion and sexuality. He is not bound by culture. He is not a Christian, a Jew, or a Muslim. He cannot be bound to a single book, or explanation. If God is God, He is greater than any human understanding, interpretation, and reasoning. His grace is beyond grasp and His compassion beyond comprehension. If God is God, He loves you for who you were created to be, exactly the way you were created to be.

For help, see Beyond Ex-Gay.

Photo – Flickr/BK

Tim

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