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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Can You Love the Sinner and Hate the Sin?

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


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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Are Christians Ready to let go of the Idea of “Ex-gay”?

This article first appeared in The Good Men Project.

3016988767_c774d67c77_o (1)There’s no such thing as an “ex-gay.” It’s time to put reparative therapy behind us.


This past week, Rev. Russell Moore, director of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, was reported by the Religious News Service as denouncing reparative therapy for gays. “The utopian idea if you come to Christ and if you go through our program, you’re going to be immediately set free from attraction or anything you’re struggling with, I don’t think that’s a Christian idea,” Moore said.

The problem is, after more than 40 years there is not a shred of peer-reviewed scientific evidence that proves anyone’s sexual orientation has changed.

It’s an idea that originated in the early ‘70s with Love in Action and Exodus International, two of the world’s most renowned organizations that tried to change people from gay to straight. The problem is, after more than 40 years there is not a shred of peer-reviewed scientific evidence that proves anyone’s sexual orientation has changed. Researcher Lisa Diamond has most recently provided over a decade of groundbreaking research on sexual fluidity, but even then has stated in a personal interview that she has never seen a single person change from gay to straight.


Why were we trying to change someone’s orientation in the first place?
Changing someone’s sexual orientation is an antiquated idea from the earliest psychotherapists at the turn of the century. Many believed homosexuality stemmed from a poor parental relationship(s), or was the result of abuse or other trauma. The problem with what became a mainstream hypothesis about homosexuality is that no one bothered to research well-adjusted gay people until the 1950s. It was nearly 20 years after this research that homosexuality was finally removed as a mental illness diagnoses from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses. By that time, religious zealots had jumped in the parade of belief that same-sex attractions were nothing more than unbridled debauchery. One by one, science and the gay community is still trying to dismantle their floats.


“Tens of Thousands” of Ex-Gays
Anecdotal stories, such as the one told by Christian rapper Jackie Hill-Perry, don’t make the myth disappear any faster. “The Word of God itself, apart from Jackie Hill, testifies that people can change,” she was heard to say on a Christian Radio show. Other testimonies, such as that of Gospel artist Donnie McClurkin, and more “seasoned” ex-gays, such as Frank Worthen, David Kyle Foster and Stephen Black make the waters murkier for those who want to believe God will change someone’s sexual orientation as evidence of faith.

In 2013, after a failed attempt at providing a show of force in Washington DC, Ex-gay Pride Month’s organizer, Christopher Doyle, told American Family Radio’s Sandy Rios that “tens of thousands” existed but are “in the closet because of fear, shame and threats from gay activists.” According to Right Wing Watch, who shared the story, less than ten people showed up for the first (and last) Ex-gay March on Washington.

The “tens of thousands” number is a common phrase used in Christian media and quoted by faithful hopefuls in response to scientific claims that sexual orientation cannot be changed.

The “tens of thousands” number is a common phrase used in Christian media and quoted by faithful hopefuls in response to scientific claims that sexual orientation cannot be changed. The truth is they don’t exist. In fact, once Christian organizations latch on to an “ex-gay” individual, he or she is usually catapulted into Christian stardom, appearing frequently on the top-rated Christian media outlets, such as the 700 Club, Focus on the Family and Trinity Broadcasting Network. It’s generally the same person, or a small group of individuals that do the talking for the “tens of thousands.” The consequences become a problem of their own for that individual.

John Paulk, whose name is synonymous with the ex-gay movement, said in Politico Magazine this year, “More and more, when I’d have to get up and speak to crowds about my gay conversion, I felt like a wind-up toy. I’d go back to my hotel room, fall on the bed and start weeping.” He issued a statement of apology in 2013 for the pain he caused so many others by his deception, though his own change was something he, too, desperately wanted to believe.


So what about those who appear to have truly changed?
Sexual and gender researcher Dr. Lisa Diamond’s first book, Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire, focused on female sexual orientation, Women’s sexuality is more complex than men’s sexuality, or so it was thought, which allows some women to become romantically involved based on emotional attraction, rather than simply a physical one and regardless of gender. However, Dr. Diamond’s research found something much broader than we thought about human sexuality before. It is a vast and shifting phenomena for both sexes, not nearly as cut and dry, black and white, or as identifiable as previously thought.

Is it possible for someone who identifies as gay or lesbian to remain in a heterosexual relationship? Yes. One former ex-gay leader, who is still married and no longer believes in the ex-gay message, told me that they are 60% attracted to the opposite sex and 40% attracted to the same sex. They see no reason to leave their spouse or family simply because their beliefs have changed. Dr. Diamond also told me she has seen cases where someone was romantically attracted and attached to the gender of the opposite sex, though the person identified as homosexual. Religion does not play a factor in either of these cases, however religious obligation can and does play a factor in some situations.

I know many who once identified as ex-gay, but now have gone silent on the issue. They are not “in the closet because of fear, shame and threats from gay activists,” as Christopher Doyle suggests. In private conversations they have in fact realized they are still gay. Some have confessed extra-marital gay affairs or hookups throughout their years of marriage, gay porn, or inwardly long for a gay relationship. However, they have also maintained their faith, or told me they willingly chose to get married because they wanted a wife and kids. In spite of it all, they’ve said, they don’t have regrets about their choices to do so.


We take issue with unsubstantiated claims of sexual orientation change and the false hope it holds out to young people, their families, and their churches.

Those of us in the gay community, and former ex-gays, do not take issue with gay people who choose to remain celibate for their faith, or any other reason for that matter, or those who decide they simply want a traditional family. We take issue with unsubstantiated claims of sexual orientation change and the false hope it holds out to young people, their families, and their churches. The cold, hard reality is that not everyone can remain single, or celibate. Even the Apostle Paul was aware of this when he said that it is better to marry than burn with lust (1 Corinthians 7:9). Ironically, many Christians want to deny marriage to lesbians and gays, as well.

As Rev. Moore eluded at the Ethics and Religious Liberties meeting last week, the idea of “ex-gay” therapy has come and gone. Religion News Service writer, Sarah Pulliam Bailey even noted, “Earlier this year the 50,000-member American Association of Christian Counselors amended its code of ethics eliminating reparative therapy and encouraging celibacy instead.” Each of these steps brings us closer to ending the harmful practice of reparative therapy and allows people – all of us, not just the LGBT community – to live authentically, accepting ourselves and others, the way God intended.

Photo–Daniel Gonzales/Flickr

Why are We Still Trying to “Fix” Gays?

This article first appeared at The Good Men Project.

broken-manI went to see my doctor a few months ago because of recurring headaches. After running multiple tests, he determined that I had a rare blood condition that needed to be treated. We discussed available methods, but none surprised me more than his suggestion that the most effective method was leaches. That’s right. The kind you read about in early medical textbooks and see in movies from the dark ages. He said he would let these parasites suck the bad blood out and then infuse me with new blood. He was convinced that this was the best, and most effective, method for treating this condition.

After doing my research, and getting a second opinion, I came to the conclusion that this doctor should never be allowed to practice medicine in the state of California, where I live. I wondered where he got his license and why it hadn’t been revoked

My story is not only untrue, it’s ridiculous.


The fact is, we would never allow someone to practice medicine on people with such barbaric methods, based on an antiquated and debunked hypothesis. Furthermore, we know for a fact that treating someone with leaches simply does not work. It’s never worked. Any medical doctor who tried to do so today would lose his license and possibly be required to undergo a mental evaluation.

The fact is, we would never allow someone to practice medicine on people with such barbaric methods, based on an antiquated and debunked hypothesis.

Yet, in most states, mental health professionals are allowed to do something very similar. They are allowed to practice reparative therapy, an attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation from gay to straight. Of note, reparative therapy is never used to change someone’s sexual orientation from straight to gay. The practice is almost exclusively tied to conservative, religious organizations, as are the therapists who perform it. Reparative therapy is sometimes referred to as conversion therapy, the ex-gay movement, or more academically, sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE).


Why try to change someone’s sexual orientation?

The idea behind reparative therapy is that homosexuality is unnatural, not God’s design or God’s best for the men or women who experience it. This concept of “unnatural” didn’t start with the church. The idea that homosexuality was something to be “fixed” originated around the turn of the century with Sigmund Freud. Freud is considered the father of psychoanalysis, whose many theories revolved around psychosexual stages. Homosexuality was a new term, and a relatively new concept in the late 19th century.

Freud’s view of homosexuality changed over time and he is noted as eventually stating, “Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation; it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function, produced by a certain arrest of sexual development” (Freud, Sigmund, “Letter to an American mother”, American Journal of Psychiatry, 107 (1951): p. 787)

This idea of “arrested sexual development” was believed to be true for half of the 20th century, until psychologist Evelyn Hooker conducted the first study on gay men, in the 1950’s, who were not already seeing therapists for other mental health issues. Her research discovered that there was no difference in intellect, emotional or psychological well being between heterosexuals and homosexuals. Several years later, in 1973, through a series of events, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality as a mental disorder from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). (Read more about the facts about homosexuality and mental health.)


What do we know about the effects of reparative therapy?

Dr. Douglas Haldeman, in 1991, noted that, “…empirical studies fail to show any evidence that conversion therapies do what they purport to do: change sexual orientation” (p 149). In 1990, Bryant Welch, then executive director for professional practice said, “research findings suggest that efforts to ‘repair’ homosexuals are nothing more than social prejudice garbed in psychological accouterments” (ibid p 150). Based on research from Faustman, 1976, McConaghy, 1981 and Rangaswami, 1982, Haldeman said, “Individuals undergoing such treatments do not emerge heterosexually inclined; rather, they become shamed, conflicted, and fearful about their homosexual feelings (Ibid p 153).

There have been several studies and reviews of research over the last 40 years that unequivocally prove a person’s sexual orientation cannot be changed.

There have been several studies and reviews of research over the last 40 years that unequivocally prove a person’s sexual orientation cannot be changed. Dr. Lisa Diamond, the foremost expert on sexual fluidity – being attracted to, one at a time, one sex and then the other – has clearly stated that she has never seen a person’s sexual orientation change in all her research. In a personal conversation, she told me she has seen it expand, but never reverse.

However, fringe groups like NARTH, the National Association for Reparative Therapy of Homosexuality, and ex-gay religious organizations, such as Restored Hope Network, refuse to acknowledge this research, frequently picking and pulling only what they want to use to substantiate their purely religious point of view.

To be clear, the practice of reparative therapy has been condemned by these groups:

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics
  • The American Counseling Association
  • The American Federation of Teachers
  • The American Medical Association
  • The American Psychiatric Association
  • The American Psychological Association
  • The Interfaith Alliance
  • The National Association of School Psychologists
  • The National Association of Social Workers
  • The National Association of Secondary School Principals
  • New Ways Ministries
  • The People for the American Way (and last but not least)
  • 9 former ex-gay ministry leaders and founders.

Sadly, the LGBT community continues to be used as fodder by the political and religious right. This summer, the Texas Republican Party chose to include reparative therapy as part of its political platform. The environment for today’s young LGBT person growing up in a conservative Evangelical Christian home has not changed much in the last 40 years. I was one of those kids and it took me nearly 25 years to realize there was nothing wrong with me after all.

Only two states, California and New Jersey, have outlawed the practice of reparative therapy for minors.

Only two states, California and New Jersey, have outlawed the practice of reparative therapy for minors. The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) has been leading the #BornPerfect campaign to put a stop to the practice. Samantha Ames, a NCLR staff attorney, was quoted in Buzzfeed as saying, “Two years ago, we could barely get people to believe that conversion therapy is still going on in the United States, but these laws are seeing momentum now.”


What can you do to help?

Raise awareness and be vocal about stopping the practice in your state. For more information, contact the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Where can you go if you need help?

If you are an ex-gay survivor, there are resources available at, as well as, If you’re interested in connecting with other ex-gay survivors, contact me

For more information, see Author Bill Prickett’s article “How to listen to an Ex-Gay Testimony.”

Let me know what you think!



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How to Listen to an “Ex-gay” Testimony, Guest blog by Bill Prickett


This is one of the most important blogs I think I’ve ever posted on the topic of ex-gay. Former ex-gay leader and author Bill Prickett concisely, accurately and articulately addresses what to listen for when someone claims to be ex-gay. Please like and share this important message. – Tim Rymel


It’s no secret that I believe “ex-gay” (reparative) therapy is bogus and dangerous. Regardless of my very clear position, people will regularly send (unsolicited) “personal testimony” videos, accompanied by a statement like: “Well, how do you explain this person’s wonderful change?”

Note: For the record, I don’t like to question anyone’s personal experience. It’s their experience, not mine. You tell me you were healed when Jesus appeared to you on a piece of toast? I say, Amen. You insist that God speaks to you through your Shar Pei? I respond: Hallelujah!
I will reserve my opinion…right up until you insist that your experience is THE pattern all others must follow. (i.e., God only speaks through small dogs!)

One of my chief problems (it’s difficult to boil down my problems to just one) with these testimonies is they rely solely on self-reporting, and therefore are unverifiable. While I appreciate the motivation to share the Good News of God’s work in their life, there’s still the issue of proof. It’s not that I’m calling them liars; I’m sure they are very sincere…but I think they’re sincerely wrong!

Let’s be honest, I can make any kind of claim: “I have overcome my cravings for the tasty delights of chocolate. I never even think about eating a luscious Snickers bar.”
Without the aid of ESP or Vulcan mind-melding, finding my well-hidden stash, or catching me with caramel hanging out of my lips, there’s no way to contradict the veracity of my candy victory testimony.

Over the years, I’ve detected revealing patterns in these testimonies that only reinforces my hardcore conviction that sexual orientation cannot be changed. As you listen to someone who claims they changed from gay to straight, please don’t take the declaration at face value, even though the person might be an earnest Christian. Ask these questions:

1. Do they have “lingering” sexual desires or temptations? 
No matter what else is claimed, when I hear someone confess they still have those “desires,” it’s Game Over in my mind. They can call themselves “ex-gay,” “former gay” or healed or cured or whatever, but they are…overstating. I’ve heard “ex-gays” who still “struggle” after 10-15 years. Shouldn’t that tell us something?

2. Are they confusing behavior with orientation?
It’s one thing to say “I am no longer sexually active,” but it’s something else to say “I am no longer gay.” If a homosexual never has sex, that doesn’t make them straight; they are merely a celibate homosexual. Let’s not confuse discipline and willpower with an actual change in orientation.

Note: There’s a similar problem when erroneous evidence is presented, such as “I am now married, with a family.” Getting married is a choice, not proof of sexual orientation.

3. Is this simply a contrast of extremes? 
Often the person will give shocking details about their former life—sexual promiscuity, alcohol or drug abuse, stealing, hustling, pornography, etc. Then something intervened. Maybe a life-changing religious conversion. Perhaps a 12-step program. We can applaud the miraculous improvements in their life now, but it’s not the same as a change in sexual orientation.

4. What “tense” is being used?
Many ex-gay groups practice “positive confession,” the premise that we say what we want…as if we already have it. Instead of saying “I want to be free of my homosexuality,” I confess “I am free of my homosexuality!” Rather than admit “I’ve asked God to heal me of these desires,” I proclaim “I am healed, in Jesus’ Name.” It’s actually “future perfect” tense, using present tense phrasing—grammatically incorrect, as well as factually misleading.

5. Are they employing accurate terminology?
Statements like “I’ve rejected the gay lifestyle” could mean anything. (Or nothing, since “lifestyle” is not a accurate description of what it means to be gay.) Another common one is “I turned my back on homosexuality.” That’s vague, and is not the same as a change in sexual attraction. (It’s like saying “I dyed my hair, and turned my back on being a red-head?”)

6. Do they have adequate credentials?
Those who talk about the methods required to go from gay to straight are generally not medical or mental health professionals. Most often, those who lead “ex-gay” groups are those who’ve been through the program themselves, with little additional training.

Likewise, those who insist the Bible is “absolutely clear” are typically not theologians. Unfortunately, that doesn’t prevent them from speaking authoritatively as if they were. In point of fact, there is disagreement about what the Bible says about homosexuality; it’s not as black-and-white as some would purport. There is also no consensus about the cause of homosexuality, though reputable professionals know it’s not a choice. (Every major professional medical and mental health organization has come out against reparative therapy.)

7. What is the timeline? 
We know that sexual orientation is complex, so be wary of simplistic, quickie methods for “cure.” (“I prayed about it, and God took away my desires.”) In addition, often the person speaking has only been living this new “ex-gay” experience for a short time. It’s like someone who recently lost a significant amount of weight; they’re excited and convinced they will never gain back the weight. But what happens six months or a year…or ten years down the road?

For me, after 30+ years of monitoring the “ex-gay” movement, none of the testimonies have swayed my beliefs that sexual orientation is innate and unchangeable. I’ve been called skeptical, but I prefer to think of it as…weathered. (Okay, cynical!) My advice: when you listen, try to hear what’s not being said. Separate what’s actually true and what is wishful exaggeration.

Bill PrickettBill Prickett is the author of two novels, The Mind Set on the Flesh and Sow the Wind, Reap the Whirlwind (available at He is a former “ex-gay” and ex-gay leader. For more information, visit his website,

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A Drag Queen for Jesus

This article first appeared at The Good Men Project.

Jason-and-MommaWhen my mother was caught wearing pants at home (a pantsuit) in the 1960s by members of our small, Pentecostal congregation, the pastor swiftly chastised her for putting on “men’s clothes.” When Jason DeShazo decided to don high heels, lipstick and a wig, his Pentecostal pastor (also his father) became his biggest supporter. My, how times have changed.


DeShazo, 35, found a way to minister to a segment of the underserved gay population. “I’ve always had a heart for the trans[exual] and drag communities,” he said. “They have kind of been forgotten by the LGBT church movement. We’ve accepted them, but we didn’t know what to do with them.”

DeShazo knows a thing or two about finding acceptance. Raised in a conservative Pentecostal Church in rural Florida, he knew at a very early age he was gay. He contacted Exodus International, when he first came out, to attempt to change his orientation. It was something he initially thought he needed to do.

At the time, Exodus International was at the heart of the ex-gay, or reparative therapy, movement. It was the mid-90s and the war between the Christian conservatives and the LGBT communities was virulent and heated. “At that point,” DeShazo said, “I just suppressed things and really kept it between me and God.”

DeShazo faithfully attended youth group outside of his small, hometown congregation and began working in street ministry. It was there that he fell in love with performing. He saw how the use of drama and mime impacted people’s lives in a positive way. “I would bring it back to my own congregation but it wasn’t really accepted,” he said. Instead, the congregation made it very clear to DeShazo that attempting to use such “worldly antics” was something of which neither they, nor God, would approve.

DeShazo knew he wanted to serve God, but the disapproval from his church and the pressures of his own struggle between his faith and sexual orientation all but led him in that direction. “I wanted to trust the people in my life who were my spiritual leaders. I went for deliverance, trying to do everything I could do, but things weren’t changing,” he said.


By the time he reached age 20, however, he came to terms with his sexuality and faith.  Through it all, DeShazo says he knew God was saying, “Hey, I love you. This is how I created you. You need to walk this path.” His father, realizing that DeShazo was gay at a very young age, also came to terms with his son’s sexual orientation, even telling him, “I see God in you and I know the call. I know the God you serve is the same God that I serve.” DeShazo’s father has since preached alongside his son in prison ministry settings and churches.

When DeShazo met some drag queens and transgendered people while living in Tampa, he was immediately drawn toward the idea of performing drag himself. “It was a cool way of entertaining and bringing joy and laughter to people,” he said. His drag persona, Momma Ashley Rose, was born.

However, after performing a few times and getting to know more people, DeShazo saw the seedier side of the entertainment industry, which included drugs and alcohol. “I started to see it happen and it creeped me out,” he said. Still working out the details of his faith and commitment to God, he knew that was something he didn’t want to be a part of. DeShazo hung up his heels and took a hiatus from the drag scene.

“At that point I really focused even more on my faith,” he said. “I had moved to Atlanta and found a wonderful church where I began to minister.” Knowing that God had a call on his life, DeShazo was leading the arts ministry. This time, he was allowed to use the creativity he had longed to use in his home church as a teenager, and incorporated plays, dances, flags, and other types of expressive worship.

Through a connection to a church in Southern California, DeShazo, and his partner, moved to Long Beach, where his creative arts ministry would expand.  “We met some amazing people out there and started working with the LGBT Center,” he said. The center was in desperate need of finances at the time and that’s when the pastor of the church suggested DeShazo revive his role of Momma Ashley Rose.

“We did this whole fundraiser for the LGBT youth center and raised quite a bit of money. At that point I really began to feel a call that God had been leading me to the drag and trans[exual] communities as a way of just loving them,” DeShazo said. But it didn’t stop there. “I felt that my call wasn’t just to the gay community, that I needed to expand the entertainment side of the ministry and I began to do fundraisers for food pantries, soup kitchens and any type of outreach to build bridges to the community.”

Unlike many adult drag shows, Momma Ashley Rose’s show is family-friendly and God-centric. “For people who feel that they have been rejected or unloved, for whatever reason, I want to let them know that somebody, somewhere loves them.” It’s a simple message embedded with deep meaning among a population frequently banished, not only by a church culture, but sometimes from within the LGBT movement itself.


DeShazo certainly isn’t without his critics. “Even as Momma Ashley Rose I get responses like, ‘How dare you shove it down my throat,’ but I don’t. Or, I’ll get, ‘How dare you call yourself a Christian and be gay.’” DeShazo says, “I try not to use the term ‘Christian’ too much. I’m a believer in Jesus.” Christian, he says, can carry a negative connotation in society, especially among those in the LGBT community.

Undeterred, DeShazo believes that the path he is on is one that God has laid out for him. “When I step on stage, I just feel a little bit of God. Something in my life is shining out.” He says he never lashes out at those who disagree or misunderstand him, nor does he go down the rabbit hole of fruitless discussions, which lead people on Scriptural tangents and dogmas. DeShazo remains dedicated and determined. “My whole goal and focus is to let people know they loved, they are accepted and they are wanted.” That is the message of Momma Ashley Rose, and the ultimate message of the Gospel DeShazo delivers.

For more information visit

— Photo courtesy of Momma Ashley Rose

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Winning the Battle and Losing the War

I messed up. Someone sent a message after hearing me on a radio show and said I should ask Jesus into my heart and repent of my “debased lifestyle of homosexuality.” I reacted. Actually, I overreacted.

For a few days I justified my behavior. This person made a ton of assumptions about me, dismissed my journey, and talked down to me, as if he were spiritually superior.  Besides, I reasoned, at least I was doing something to better the lives of others instead of making snap judgments and condemning people to hell.

In reality, I was hurt. I’d like to think I’m above being hurt, but the journey out from under the long arm of evangelical fundamentalism is a long one. Though some friends have made the journey as well, many more friends and family have not.

I made assumptions about this person and his statement towards me. I didn’t pursue him by asking questions, or discovering the human being behind the statement, I just went off. It’s easier and faster to go off on people than face our own wounding and show compassion. But isn’t that what we’re asking of others? Get to know us? Show compassion?

As a recovering fundamentalist I think I have a pretty good grasp on what evangelicals believe and think. I would have made a similar statement a couple of decades ago and felt I was doing so out of love and concern for the person’s soul. It’s very hard to maintain that perspective on the other side of this issue now.

To make matters worse, we quickly take sides, congregating among ourselves and building community, not based solely on support, but to lash out at our perceived enemies. We pat ourselves on the back for clever quips meant to penetrate and break the spirit, not the mind. In the process, we allow ourselves to become victims of our own choosing. “Look what she said to me!” We proclaim, strengthening an army, but losing our humanity.

As an educator, I understand where perceptions and belief come from and how and why people react the way they do to hot topic issues.  But just because I understand, doesn’t mean I’m above being hurt and overreacting. I have to consciously choose thoughtful self-control. Sometimes, my emotions get the best of me. That’s OK, too. I extend myself the same grace I try to give others. I even allow myself to rant and rave to a loved one with whom I feel safe, while I figure out a more appropriate response. The safety of loved ones cannot be overrated.

There are certainly those out there whose only purpose is to crush a segment of the population they don’t understand. Among them are those who want to love, but don’t know how. It is difficult to tell the two apart. Many of us have been hurt. Some have been victims of physical violence, brutal attacks and blatant hatred or discrimination. Who could blame us for fighting back? At the end of the day, we’re human beings with emotions.

Winning a war is a strategic process. It involves thought, planning, understanding the opposition and self-control. Winning a battle, however, requires brute force, bigger weapons, more ammunition and a little luck. There is need for both in the process of social change, but we have to be able to tell the difference between the war and an insignificant battle of wits.


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Open Letter to Anne Paulk and the Restored Hope Network

In response to Anne Paulk’s statement to 9 Ex-Leaders of the Gay Conversion Therapy Movement Apologize


First of all, let me say that I love and respect you. I will cherish the friendship that we had many years ago. I don’t wish you or anyone at Restored Hope Network any harm. I have the utmost respect for the Worthens and made a point of mentioning that in my book.

If we’re going to look at this with “intellectual honesty and inquisitiveness,” let’s start with numbers. (However, I recognize that this is not as much about honesty as it religious zeal.) I could accept a “recidivism” (a term usually used to talk about criminals) rate of 20%. However, change therapy isn’t even close. Let’s start with the most recent and robust research, in which over 1,600 people participated. 73% of men (894) and 43% of women (166) attempted change in this study. (The other participants were not attempting to change their sexual orientations.)

Until this study, “No known study to date has drawn from a representative sample of sufficient size to draw conclusions about the experience of those who have attempted sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE).” (Journal of Counseling Psychology, Sexual Orientation Change Efforts Among Current or Former LDS Church Members, March 17, 2014, John P. Dehlin, Renee V. Galliher, William S. Bradshaw, Daniel C. Hyde, and Katherine A. Crowell, p 2).

Further more, “Virtually all studies to date have relied on convenience sampling, without any attempt to draw from nonbiased sources” (Silverstein, 2003). “Most studies have focused on the outcome of interventions led by licensed mental health professionals, while neglecting to directly assess the effectiveness or potential harm of self-help, religious, or non-licensed efforts to change, understand, or accept sexual orientation” (Dehlin, et al., 2014).

The results?

“With regard to self- reported sexual attraction and identity ratings, only ONE PARTICIPANT out of 1,019 (.1%) who engaged in SOCE reported both a heterosexual identity label and a Kinsey attraction score of zero (exclusively attracted to the opposite sex) (ibid, P 6).

Just to be clear, that’s not even close to 20%.

The study went on to show that “the SOCE methods most frequently rated as either ineffective or harmful were individual effort, church counseling, personal righteousness, and family therapy” (ibid P 6).

“…methods rated as effective did not appear to generally reflect any changes in sexual orientation but instead referred to several other benefits, such as ultimate acceptance of sexual orientation, a decrease in depressive or anxiety symptoms, and improved family relationships. One such example from the personal righteousness narratives illustrates this point: ‘Instead of meeting original goals, the direction of the goals changed as I learned to accept and love myself as I am—as God created me.’” (ibid, P 7).

Douglas Haldeman, in a 1991 – 23 years ago, mind you – noted that, “…empirical studies fail to show any evidence that conversion therapies do what they purport to do: change sexual orientation” (Sexual orientation conversion therapy for gay men and lesbians: A scientific examination. In J. Gonsiorek & J. Weinrich (Eds.), Homosexuality: Research Implications for Public Policy (pp. 149-160). Newbury Park, CA: Sage, P 149).

In 1990, Bryant Welch, then executive director for professional practice said, “research findings suggest that efforts to ‘repair’ homosexuals are nothing more than social prejudice garbed in psychological accouterments (Haldeman, 1991, p 150).

Based on research from Faustman, 1976, McConaghy, 1981 and Rangaswami, 1982, Haldeman said, “Individuals undergoing such treatments do not emerge heterosexually inclined; rather, they become shamed, conflicted, and fearful about their homosexual feelings (p 153).

To state a 20% recidivism rate is naïve at best, and dishonest at worst.

Secondly, your statement, “Amazingly, I do not have any evidence of the nine going through ‘reparative therapy,’ or any other type of professional psychological care in their attempts to resolve unwanted same-sex desires” is an outright lie.

You know that I went through Love in Action. John Smid was there for 22 years and would assume, as the executive director, he learned a thing or two about reparative therapy and how it works. You also know Michael Bussee’s story, as the founder of Exodus. I cannot speak for everyone, but I would bet that most, if not all of us have gone through Christian therapy, as well as secular therapy. I personally spent thousands of dollars on both. None of us came to our decisions lightly. Rather than dismiss our experiences, why don’t you delve into them? Just read my book! I will gladly send you a free copy.

By the way, God is MUCH bigger than I thought he was. Ironically, I learned that through secular counseling.

No child should ever have to endure the shame of being told he or she is broken, especially at such a pivotal age during development. Call our statement political if you want; I call it human decency to stand up for those who cannot defend themselves. They are held under the religious tyranny of well meaning, yet misinformed parents and religious leaders. For us as leaders and founders of the ex-gay movement to remain silent would be despicable.

You mention that, “professional training includes ethics and is overseen by state psychological ethics boards,” and that should be a consideration for putting minors through reparative therapy. Let me remind you that there is nothing ethical about reparative therapy for minors and that is the reason reparative therapy for minors has been opposed by:

the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, The American Psychological Association, The Interfaith Alliance, the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Association of Social Workers, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, New Ways Ministries, the People for the American Way and, last but not least, 9 former ex-gay ministry leaders and founders.

If you want to talk about unethical, let’s talk about the ministries and organizations that continue a practice deemed by the mental and physical health communities as harmful. (

Yes, I believe people are born perfect the way they are, with the incredible diversities in talents, abilities, color, genders and sexual orientations. The Bible says we are “fearfully and wonderfully made, “ (Psalm 139:14). Research also shows that we have built in morality  (Paul Bloom, 2013). God thought of everything, didn’t He? It may not match your idea of morality, but the human race continues to thrive in spite of the fact that 2/3’s of the world don’t identify as Christians, nor follow your moral code of conduct.

Furthermore, your beliefs about the causality of homosexuality have LONG since been cast aside by the American Psychological Association ( Your organization is out of touch with science and reality. Evenlyn Hooker, in the 1950s was the first to note that there is no psychological difference between heterosexuals and homosexuals (The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual, 1957).  Your beliefs about homosexuality as a perversion are ignorant, uneducated and make you and your organization sound foolish.

I have met many, many gay men and women. Their integrity stands far and above many self-identified Christians. They are free to be themselves, live honestly and love God. They are loving and kind parents. My own children told me I’ve been not only a better parent since I accepted myself, but a better person.

In regards to your interpretation of Scripture, there are 33,000 sects of Christianity (World Christian Encyclopedia, Oxford University Press, 2001). Your version, which used to be my version, came to America in the late 1800s/early 1900s. How do you know you’re right and everyone else is wrong? Your interpretations of those Scriptures are not the only interpretations. Like the Pharisees of the New Testament you choose the law – your law – over love. “But the greatest commandment is love,” Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:13.

Truth will definitely prevail, but the damage you and your organization continue to inflict on people in the meantime is harmful and unnecessary. So, we as former leaders of reparative therapy will stand up, speak up, and tell our stories.


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The Gift of Deconstruction

Brain_EraseKim Harrison tweeted to Senator Ted Cruz, “In regards to the invasion of our national sovereignty by illegal immigrants – I DO NOT want to hear about compassion and humanity…”1 Harrison was not pleased to hear that conservative Cruz handed out teddy bears and toys to the parentless children attempting to cross the U.S. border.

“Jesus would not break the law!” shouted another woman to the children, who could only understand her tone, not her words. In his usual sardonic approach, John Stewart pointed out that Jesus was, in fact, known for breaking the laws.2

The irony in these statements is that those who hold these beliefs don’t see the irony in their statements. I held similar beliefs for over 25 years. I was pro-life and pro-death penalty. I said that Jesus loved sinners and that no one was better than anyone else, while I voted to deny equal rights to all human beings. I spoke of the love and compassion of my Savior, while preaching death and hell to those who refused to believe the message like I did.

Too often we imprison ourselves attempting to live up to an ideal that reinforces our beliefs instead of questioning the ideals that place us in those prisons in the first place. In the process, we often nullify the very foundation of those beliefs.

Mike Lux, author of The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be, wrote, “Conservative Christians manage to ignore the literally many hundreds of Biblical quotes about social justice by making Christianity a religion solely focused on one very selfish goal: whether they get into heaven or not.” 3

I recently heard a lecture by Dr. Darryl Ray4 who said part of our inability to change this line of reasoning is because we get stuck in cyclical behavior: we return to our beliefs for clarification, which only reinforces what we already believe. In short, this is the definition of insanity. We do the same things repeatedly, expecting different results.

When my wife divorced me, I began to question what I believed about God. One thing led to another and, before I knew it, I had deconstructed a life-long held belief system. Anything and everything was up for grabs. I could do whatever I wanted without an ounce of guilt, or worry about going to hell.

Not only did I learn that I had no interest in dishonesty, espionage, murder or other overt evil deeds, purported in the Bible as the acts of non-Christians, I was in fact a good person. I met other good people. Together, we began doing good deeds for others. Life-long depression lifted, God came to life as viable, loving, intricate, philosophical, scientific, compassionate, and caring.

Questioning one’s faith can feel like betrayal of God and country. Deconstructing one’s belief system is nearly impossible without a reason to do so. Even a willful effort can take years, if not decades. Those of us forced to rethink our beliefs go through a grief process of denial, anger and pleading with God to put things back the way they were. Seldom do we see the blessing that lies just over the bridge of acceptance.

However, the rewards are immeasurable.  We discover that the very heart of God lies in the uncertainty of man. God is never threatened by questions; He does not abide in political parties; He cannot be contained in the walls of churches, denominations, doctrines or creeds. In fact, it seems God hangs out most often with immigrants of faith, who are anxious to see what’s on the other side.





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What will the neighbors think?

Nosy-NeighborThe first time I ever ventured into the gay community I was working as a substitute teacher at an Evangelical Christian school. I had recently left the Republican Party, because they were too liberal. California’s now infamous Proposition 8 was all the talk among the gay men with whom I was dining. I’d voted yes, against gay marriage. It’s no wonder when I left that night that I didn’t exactly feel like I found my people. In fact, it was a year before I would come back.

Most of my life was spent trying to figure out where I fit in. I was frequently the only white guy in black churches when I was a musician. My, now, middle of the road politics are too liberal for the conservatives and too conservative for the liberals. I’m too gay for some Christians and too Christian for some gays. It’s always something.

For many years I hid pieces of my life from at least someone, significant or otherwise. I wondered what they – my community, family, friends, co-workers – would think of me if I shared my real life with them. I didn’t want to lose the perceived security by risking it. Besides, my life felt insecure enough as it was. If they didn’t accept me, who would?

When I finally got to the place that risk was less risky than the shame that consumed me, I took the risk. And I found out what the neighbors really thought. Here are a few of their opinions:

“Finally! Someone is willing to say what I’ve been thinking.”

“I’m so glad I’m not alone.”

“You are brave and you inspire me.”

“I’ve never felt closer to you.”

“Can I tell you what’s going on with me?”

“Me, too!”

We don’t find our true communities until we find our true selves and are willing to share our lives and imperfections with the people around us. Until then, we are nurturing a community to which we don’t belong. When I got real, not only did I find my community, I lost interest in what anyone else thought. It no longer mattered.

I learned that honesty breeds security, while dishonesty nurtures perception. Perception builds walls around us that keep people away and leave us locked up in a prison of our own insincerity. Though virtual, no one can penetrate the barrier of our making. The only way through comes from the inside.

Our culture has built a system of competition among neighbors. Who has the most stuff? Who has the best family? Cultural Christianity adds another layer by asking, Who is the most godly? Whose life is most perfect? Neither represents real life that is complex, confusing and, at times, crushing. The next time you ask, “What will the neighbor’s think?” Remember they are probably thinking, I wish I knew someone who could relate to what I’m going through.

Perhaps that’s you.


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5 Ways Pastors Can Reach Out To The Gay Community

Gay_friendly_churchI recently received an email from a pastor asking how he could reach out to the gay community without compromising his Biblical view of marriage. The fact that a conservative pastor is asking how to reach out to the gay community at all speaks volumes to me. We can’t have a dialogue if we’re not talking.

While I have my own response to his question, I wanted to hear directly from the gay community. I asked and this is what they said:

  1. Don’t come with an agenda

If your sole purpose is to evangelize the gay community by telling them there is something wrong with them and that they need Jesus, don’t bother reaching out. We’ve heard that message before. It was made loud and clear by the likes of Fred Phelps, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and many pastors before and after them.

  1. Drop the assumptions

Misinformation about the LGBT community abounds in conservative churches. Much of that, sadly, came from organizations like Exodus International. Ministries, such as Love in Action (where I worked), perpetuated the idea that homosexuals are pedophiles or mentally unstable. Research has long since debunked those myths and found LGBT persons indistinguishable from heterosexuals on psychological tests. Also, none of us chose our sexual orientation anymore than a heterosexual chose his or her orientation. We choose to love and be loved, just like you do. Period.

3. Contact LGBT affirming pastors and find out what they do.

Many affirming pastors have listened and heard the heart of members of the gay community. They know them well and they’ve learned how to love them. Call them. Ask what they do that is effective. Even if you don’t agree with their theology, many of these pastors are a wealth of information on how to love people unconditionally.

4. Put down your Bibles

It’s easy to hide behind Scriptures, but by stepping from behind the pulpit and sitting in the pew you actually become human. Once the platform of doctrines and ideologies are removed, we’re all just the same. Jesus seldom quoted Scriptures. He told stories from real life, relating to people in ways they could understand. Besides, practically EVERY gay person knows the anti-gay Scriptures. Many have been beat over the head with those Scriptures, even if they never attended a church. There are over 33,000 denominations, each with a different take on the Bible, all believing they are right and the others are wrong. Set aside your interpretation of the Bible and choose to be human.

5. Be prepared to change

While I appreciate that a conservative church pastor wants to talk, many come with the idea that it’s the gay person who needs to change. Not one time have I ever seen a Christian walk away unchanged after a genuine and authentic relationship has been established with someone from the gay community. Compromise, a word that scares many Christians, takes on new meaning when people share their lives with honesty and love.  Start there and see what God may have in mind for you.


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Be Ye Transformed

Romans12-2I paced the floor of my upstairs apartment night after night, memorizing books of the Bible: Galatians, Ephesians, 1st Timothy, 2nd Timothy. I must have sounded like a madman to the neighbors. I thought by committing Scriptures to memory my struggle with homosexuality would end. God would transform my very existence from an ugly encapsulated gay caterpillar to a beautiful heterosexual butterfly. In reality, I was pleading with God to help me live up to an unachievable ideal.

I grew up in church learning the mystical approach to becoming a better Christian: learn the Bible, pray and believe God.  While that’s a great recipe for creating religious zealots, it doesn’t lead to genuine change. Here’s why.

Lasting change is a multi-step process. It involves self-awareness, motivation, and critical thinking. Change only begins to happen when we take an honest inventory of who we are. Even then, it’s one thing to recognize our issues, quite another to do something about them. How many of us have looked at the scale, realized we had a problem with our weight, and forgot all about it by the very next meal? Awareness doesn’t always lead us to change; sometimes it just leads us to beating ourselves up.

True change NEVER involves shame. Shame sends us into hiding and lying about who we are. Authenticity is the only vehicle capable of taking us down the road to transformation. I don’t become a better person by denying who I am; rather, I honor the journey by embracing my flaws and imperfections. When I stop fighting against nature, nature becomes a force that fights with me, not against me.

Likewise, forced motivation never works. Forced motivation comes from guilt, the feeling that we should be doing something we’re not. True motivation comes from within. It is a genuine desire to love because we want to, not because we have to.

There is no quick road to transformation. Memorizing volumes of books, religious or otherwise, may make you smart – or perhaps mad – but knowledge alone will not change you. Transformation is a natural progression of growth, as we choose to love, show compassion and apply wisdom and meaning to our journeys.

May your life be continually transformed.


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Book Review: A Life of Unlearning One Man’s Journey to Find the Truth (Audiobook) by Anthony Venn-Brown

ALifeOfUnlearningMy assistant introduced me to the work of Anthony Venn-Brown. Immediately, I was intrigued by his story: a former Assemblies of God evangelist gone gay. An oddly familiar theme.

Venn-Brown has an impressive list of ministry credentials and achievements. He was born and raised in Australia, where he currently lives. As I listened to him tell his story of rising through the ranks of the Assemblies of God in the ‘80s, I imagined where I was at that time in the U.S., deeply entrenched as an Assemblies of God music minister. We celebrated our charismatic and successful evangelists. I’m sure I heard of him, but I don’t remember.

Venn-Brown doesn’t hold anything back. Sometimes it felt as if I was listening to a novel, and at other times erotica. I wasn’t sure who his audience was. The information is much too risqué for your average church-going, American family, who simply wants to understand the homosexual struggle. Though titillating, the details didn’t seem relevant to the story. (Not to say I didn’t enjoy them…ahem.)

I also didn’t need to hear all of the relationships and encounters Venn-Brown painstakingly described. By the time I neared the end of the book, I began to wonder if he had any concept of love at all. Each of his many sexual trysts were positioned as though he had found the one person with whom he would experience lasting love. Inevitably, however, those relationships ended and the cycle repeated itself. Those were the kinds of stories I’d heard about in the ‘80s that drove me to ex-gay ministry for help. In his defense, Venn-Brown didn’t give up on love in spite of the odds against him.

He aptly identifies his struggle with God. The mental acrobats of trying to make sense of events, such as hearing God give him a specific date he would be released from the army and seeing it come to pass, countered other experiences which led him to question if anything he believed as a Christian was ever really true. It’s a human struggle to which most of us can relate. For those of us who served in ministry, it is a bitter battle between what feels like the two halves of our core.

I have to give Venn-Brown props for the courage to tell his story. My heart ached for his children and his wife as he repeatedly let them down. It was especially difficult to hear how he eventually left them without ever saying goodbye. As a father, leaving my children is an act that is unfathomable. Still, Venn-Brown never attempts to justify or make excuses for his behavior. He simply told his story.

Venn-Brown eventually comes to many of the conclusions I came to in my book: God is bigger than we believed Him to be and we are called to be authentic and honest with others and ourselves. It is then that we find our purpose. His conclusion is brief in comparison to his story.

Venn-Brown was ahead of his time by coming to terms with his sexuality and, eventually, his Christian faith. Many of the things he has worked for through his organization, Ambassadors and Bridge Builders International, is beginning to have a worldwide impact. Many more loving and LGBT accepting Christian organizations, particularly in the traditional evangelical churches, are popping up around the world. Anthony Venn-Brown has long since been leading this reformation.

Regardless of whether or not one agrees with Venn-Brown’s conclusions, his story is worth reading. It contains the history of where we have come as a Christian LGBT community and offers a gentle reminder of a history we don’t want to repeat.

Click here to buy a copy of A Life of Unlearning from


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Would You Jump Off A Cliff to Save Your Life?

cliff-jumpPhillip was married with three children and living the good life in the suburbs of a Northern California town. He was a successful lawyer at an environmental law firm. Phillip loved his wife and family, but couldn’t stop meeting guys for an occasional hookup. Inevitably, he felt guilty after every encounter, but he knew he’d do it again.

Charlene was the mother of two, held a PhD in Biblical studies and taught at a local Bible College in a big Mid-western city. In spite of her loving husband and well-earned reputation as a woman of integrity, Charlene was living a lie. The despair of hiding her truth as a transgender person drove her to a secret life of alcoholism. She attempted suicide on more than one occasion. Her family kept it a secret.

On the outside, it looked like these people had everything anyone could ever want. Why couldn’t they be happy? What drives someone to put his or her entire life, career and family at risk?


It seems counter-intuitive. Why participate in risky behaviors and lose a seemingly secure environment of family and status? Inside every human being lives the desire to be known for exactly who we are, not who we are perceived to be. Living a lie, even if only we know it, can drive us mad.

Psychotherapist Ken Page wrote:

“When we’re denied love, our battle to reclaim it teaches everyone what love really means. Virtually every LGBT person is forced to make a choice: We must choose between self-acceptance and self-loathing. Truth and safety. Yet this choice is universal. It’s bigger than sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s everyone’s challenge. Being the first to say “I love you.” Expressing a part of ourselves we’ve hidden from everyone. Standing up for an unpopular idea. Saying “no” to our own guilt and shame so we can move ahead with what really matters to us. There are countless ways to come out.”1KenPageQuote

My introduction to heterosexual marriage was difficult at best. Life, by being obedient to God, as I understood it, soon became perfunctory. The American dream of fitting in was equivalent to getting a new car: within the year, the new car smell was gone and the cost of maintenance began to outweigh the emotional cost of keeping the car. Life became a list of things to do to maintain status quo. I was dying a slow, painful, passionless death. I wanted to live.

Though divorce was decided for me, it was still six more years before I found the courage to step outside the box I was certain contained all the answers. Living, I discovered, was all about uncertainty. It was the biggest step of faith I’d ever taken. The willingness to get rejected on a grander scale. It was jumping off a cliff with nothing more than a hope that a branch would stop the fall on the way down.

For years I preached that people should follow the rules. Think inside the box. Color inside the lines. Like Columbus’ crew, I feared sailing too far in any direction meant falling into the abyss.

As it turned out, the further I sailed the more enchanted with life I became. Risks turned into discoveries. Admissions of guilt became calls for friendships. My pain turned into my passion.

I was finally alive.

1Page, Ken, Finding Love, Why Coming Out Isn’t Just for Gay People, Psychology Today, May 5, 2013,


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Why I Don’t Talk About Scriptures

After 25 years in ministry, three years of Bible College, and countless hours of Bible study, I’ve learned the Scriptures well. For decades I tried to reconcile my sexuality and faith, particularly concentrating on those few passages that relate to the topic of homosexuality. I wasn’t looking for a way around the passages to justify my behavior. In fact, I wasn’t participating in any behavior at all. I was trying to figure out how to make the feelings stop. I believed the Bible held the answers.

Memorizing Scriptures, having demons cast out of me, and fasting never changed anything. If the Bible held the answers, I eventually determined, I had to look at it differently. Yet, the thought of changing a view of Scriptures as a fundamentalist felt outright blasphemous.

I knew from my time in ministry, and from vigorous Biblical studies, that the Scriptures have been used to justify behaviors and actions of all kinds throughout their history, including killing, discrimination, hatred, arguments, and divorce. A Scriptural case can be made for virtually anything.

In fact, the Scriptures have been the source of disputes and wars since their inception. In EVERY case it was a matter of interpretation. Examples can be found in the Bible itself, such as Matthew 12:2

“But when the Pharisees saw this they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is against the law to do on the Sabbath.’”

And Acts 15:1-2a

“Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’ 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them.”

Roman Emperor Constantius II, the son of Constantine the Great, instituted the first anti-pagan laws between 337 and 361 A.D. (Kirsch, J., 2004, God against the Gods, pp. 200-1, Viking Compass). This is when Rome was considered a Christian Empire. By the 350s the death penalty went into affect for anyone who performed or attended pagan sacrifices, or worshipped idols (Theodosian Code 16.10.6).

“Christian Empire” sounds eerily familiar to “Christian Nation.”

The Bible, like any other book or document, I eventually realized, can mean almost anything, especially when you introduce complexities such as literal vs. metaphorical vs. allegorical vs. poetic meanings. On top of that you have historical and cultural overlays, not to mention language and concept interpretation.

When my Mexican-American fiancée tells me he has a difficult time interpreting simple Spanish to English phrases because there are no English words to capture the nuances of the language, I can only imagine how hard it is to capture the meaning and nuances of an ancient language from a culture we can only surmise from history.

According to World Christian Encyclopedia, there are over 33,000 Christian denominations worldwide (Oxford University Press, 2001). Of course, every one of those 33,000 denominations would tell you that they are right and others are wrong.

Evangelical Christianity, similar to what we know today, began in the 1730s, according to David Bebbington, historian and professor at the University of Stirling in Scotland. However, religious scholar, Randal Balmer, noted that:

“Evangelicalism itself…is a quintessentially North American phenomenon, deriving as it did from the confluence of Pietism, Presbyterianism, and the vestiges of Puritanism. Evangelicalism picked up the peculiar characteristics from each strain – warmhearted spirituality from the Pietists (for instance), doctrinal precisionism from the Presbyterians, and individualistic introspection from the Puritans – even as the North American context itself has profoundly shaped the various manifestations of evangelicalism: fundamentalism, neo-evangelicalism, the holiness movement, Pentecostalism, the charismatic movement, and various forms of African-American and Hispanic evangelicalism” (Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002).

In spite of what many evangelicals think, their interpretation of the Bible most certainly does not date back to the beginning of Christendom. It has changed and morphed with time and culture. Really, one needs to look no further than the concept of slavery. In 1860, Rev. James Thornwell wrote:

“The parties in this conflict are not merely Abolitionists and slaveholders, they are Atheists, Socialists, Communists, Red Republicans, Jacobins on the one side and the friends of order and regulated freedom on the other” (, u.d.)

Change a couple of words and you have this today:

“The parties in this conflict are not merely anti-gay and pro-gay, they are Atheists, Socialists, Communists, Democrats, Radicals on the one side and the friends of God and Tea Party Republicans on the other.”

I don’t deny the efficacy of Scripture. However, when one group claims it as “absolute truth” and proceeds to interpret it without any historical, cultural or contextual references, refutes scientific facts, and oppresses another group, Scripture become purely tyrannical. The Bible is then fodder for enforcing a set of beliefs and ideals, rather than a pillar of godly authority.

I refuse to engage.

There are many, many books on biblical interpretations from every imaginable angle. One does not prove nor disprove another, nor set itself up as the final word on all things Christian. Remember that theology is simply the study of God and doctrine is merely a system of teachings related to a set of beliefs. Neither, in and of themselves, declares absolute authority.

As an educator, when I teach a class, regardless of the topic, I scan the room and take my best guess at which cultures, backgrounds and experiences are represented. I know that I’m going to say the same thing multiple times in multiple ways to make a point. Even then, some will interpret my words to mean something else, others will understand it only within the confines of their own experiences, and many will not grasp the concept at all. And I don’t teach rocket science.

Humans, in our finite state, cannot comprehend concepts beyond our own cultural, group and individual experiences. We will always interpret information and understandings based on our beliefs and backgrounds. Always.

The more experiences we have and the more people with whom we come in contact will expand our understanding and perceptual interpretations, but we are always at the mercy of the amount of information we are physically able to comprehend. By design, I believe, that amount of information is limited and requires us to interact with people unlike ourselves. God, on the other hand, is infinite in knowledge, wisdom and understanding.

Confining God to a single book reduces the Creator of the Universe to a mythical genie, incapable of anymore than He has already been predefined as, and predetermined to do. It nullifies His hand in the wonders and discoveries of modern day science. It stymies the mystical relationship of human-deity relationship to a system of religious tradition and institutional practice.

I will let others interpret and defend what they may or may not consider Scriptures. They can hash out and argue definitions and words. I have excused myself from fruitless discussions and arguments. I’d rather spend my time being grateful for the life God has given me and loving others no matter what they believe.


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Keeping Up Appearances

KeepingUpAppearancesWalking through San Francisco’s Fishman’s Wharf a couple of years ago we saw a homeless man holding up a sign that read, “Spare $$$ for Alcohol Research.”

I’m not one to contribute to the delinquency of, well, anyone, but this man’s outright honesty made me stop. (We also got a picture with his permission.)

He told us exactly what his intentions were. There was no wondering about where it would go, if he was scamming us, or if he secretly lived in a upscale condo on the other side of town. None of that mattered. He wanted a drink. He said so. We gave him the money.SpareChange

I’ve been on a journey over the last year to come clean, completely clean. Going Gay laid everything on the line: the pain, the mistakes, the fears and the quest for wholeness. Since I’ve started this journey I’ve been bombarded with messages from others longing to do the same. They don’t always feel what they believe. In fact, sometimes their beliefs conflict with their realities. They wouldn’t dare say it out loud, at least not in their churches or their homes. Sad, really. Those are the places we should be able to say what we think and feel without fear of abandonment, judgment or retribution.

I thought the reason I kept up appearances was so others would like me. In reality, I kept up appearances because I didn’t like myself. No amount of money, education or stuff changed that. Keeping it together was exhausting and unfulfilling. My self-hatred made me think even God looked down on me with a disparaging eye.

I’ve learned that the solution to some of life’s biggest problems often lie in the opposite behavior that seems most intuitive. I want to be alone when I’m depressed, but spending time with others helps me get through it. Giving things away seems to bring the most fulfilling rewards.

The same can be said for keeping up appearances. The only ones really impressed by them are us. When we look like we have it all together, it separates us from others who don’t feel like they do. In reality, none of us do. Let’s be honest, life is messy. Life is too short to pretend we’re living. So, in the words of the much too popular song from the movie Frozen, just let it go.


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Book Review – Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate

Torn bookI’m a little embarrassed to admit that it took me so long to finally read Justin Lee’s book. Quite honestly, I wasn’t ready. Nearly 20 years after leaving the ex-gay movement I was still licking my wounds and hiding in the shadows of perceived failure. Only recently have I been able to venture back out into a discussion about religion and sexuality. I wish Lee’s book had been written 15 years ago. Had I read it, I doubt there would have been a need to write mine.

The similarities in our stories were eerie. Then again, as Lee states in his book, there are many stories like ours. Too frequently, gay people born into Christian homes walk paths along psychological destruction in their quests to reconcile faith and sexuality. Well-intending churches and ex-gay ministries only exacerbate their journeys.

I love Lee’s sincerity as a young Christian. It was relatable to me, growing up in a fundamentalist home and also having my eyes set on ministry. The fear, the shame and the questions we felt for simply growing up represent many other young gay Christians on the same path.

Lee does a great job explaining the Scriptures that trip up most Christians on the issue, as well as explaining his own questions about them. As he says, he wasn’t looking for a way around them, but to figure out how to live according to them. I appreciated that, while making a well-articulated case for gay Christians, he ultimately left the reader to come to his or her own conclusions.

What I found most intriguing was that at the time Lee was being led to feed from the ex-gay trough by the leaders of his church, my colleagues and I were traipsing across the country touting “freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ.” He was our targeted audience. The culture war was in full-bloom and we were appearing on radio and television shows around the nation. John and Anne Paulk had appeared on Oprah Winfrey and their images were now engraved as the quintessential icons of the ex-gay movement. In spite of his own pain and confusion, however, Lee had the clarity of mind to not drink the Kool-Aid.

Lee’s systematic and logical approach to homosexuality and Christianity is clearly articulated throughout the book. Naturally, I have a bias on the subject, but his arguments are well thought out and his sincerity is evident. Regardless of a reader’s ultimate conclusion, the message is concise, personal and compelling.

If a church or Bible study group wants to have an honest discussion on the topic of homosexuality and Christianity, Torn is the place to start. It is genuine and disarming. Lee approaches it with a full understanding of the Evangelical Christian perspective, and does so with honesty and compassion. In my opinion, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate should be required reading for every Bible student, pastor and lay person sincerely interested in ministering to those affected by homosexuality in the Church.

 Torn can be purchased through by clicking on Books in the menu above.

Click here for Justin Lee’s Blog.

Click here to learn about the Gay Christian Network.


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Gays, Christians and Change Management

PushTheButtonChange management is a term you usually hear at work. It’s a common phrase the training department tosses around when they want you to stop doing one thing and start doing something else. It seems simple, though, doesn’t it? “Don’t press that button, press this one.” It’s not. I’ve made a good living in organizational development because people refuse to stop pressing “that button.” My job is to convince them why want to press the other button instead.

By the time training materials are created, the new processes have usually been vetted, tested and proven. We have statistics, samples and evidence that it works. So, you would think a simple request, “Please press this button and not that one,” should do the trick. Nope. Still not happening.

Over the last few months I’ve read a number of blogs, books and studies on the topic of Christianity and homosexuality. At the very least – and I mean very least – the argument for committed gay Christian relationships is inconclusive. Viewed in an historical, scientific and cultural context, the evidence that homosexuality is a natural part of human existence is overwhelming. The Bible says nothing about gay committed relationships because it was not a concept, or a term, until the 19th century. You’d think any sound-minded, reasoning person could see it.  So why does this issue continue to divide the evangelical church and the rest of society? Furthermore, what can we do about it?

The Division

We in change management encounter three categories of people: 1) those who refuse to change no matter what, 2) those who are skeptics and 3) those who jump on the bandwagon right away. These are human characteristics found in every culture and every aspect of society. There is indeed a segment of the evangelical church that has always been on board with acceptance of gay people. Skeptics are willing and able to look at the facts and, given the right amount of time, adjust their views accordingly. Then there are those who won’t change no matter what. Unfortunately, these people usually the most vocal.

In my first book I reference social psychologist Kurt Lewin who discovered that whenever change presents itself, people go through three phases, which he refers to as unfreezing, change, and refreezing.

In the first stage people are presented with a problem and recognize change is coming. It presents itself as a mental conflict and they will either respond by ignoring it, or decide if they want to move forward. The question is motivation. Is there motivation for moving forward, and if so, what is it?

Bear with me. We’re getting to the gay thing.

The second stage is the most difficult because it is the most uncertain. In the change phase people discover that their safety net – their beliefs – is in question. It’s an uncomfortable place to be. Many turn back, refusing to accept anything other than what they know. In my book I go into further research and give examples of how people will even risk their own health at this stage rather than change.

If a person manages to get to stage three, the refreezing stage, they have accepted a new view or a new habit. This now becomes a way of thinking and a way of living their lives.

OK, so this is where the gay thing comes in.

Many Christians already have a preconceived idea of what being gay is and that it is automatically wrong.  They are in the first group of people refusing to change no matter what.  This has nothing to do with intelligence. It has more to do with the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” They have little or no experience with gay people and attempt to squeeze what they do know into their world view where the Bible, the way they understand it, holds absolute authority.

Moving them into the second category of people, skepticism and questioning, will only happen when they have a reason to do so, i.e., a loved one comes out, or something else causes them to question their own beliefs. This is an extremely difficult place to be. Our religious and political beliefs are generally the foundation for who we are as people. They guide our moral decisions and actions.

My divorce was the catalyst for me rethinking and looking for answers. I couldn’t wrap my brain around what was happening to me as a Christian. Divorce was wrong and unacceptable, yet there was nothing I could do to stop it. Over the course of several years I questioned everything. Even then, those questions about faith felt like I was betraying my very core. It was unnerving. I was moving from certainty to uncertainty, the place where faith is most alive, but also where it feels like a bigger chance to be wrong.

Affecting Change

Remember that people’s inability to change is less about you, and more about how their psyches work. Practically all of us surround ourselves with like-minded people who share like-minded ideas. Regardless of our intelligence or education level, few of us like to be uncomfortable or feel challenged. I once had a Yale University educated friend who couldn’t handle my moderate politics. He exploded when I dissented with his liberal-learning viewpoints. I was taken aback at how a friendly discussion suddenly turned so volatile, especially with someone who held an Ivy League degree.

Motivating someone toward change is seldom accomplished through statistics and research. Just ask anyone who has tried to quit smoking, or change his diet. People know what they need to do. Motivation that works typically comes from within, or intrinsically. We usually refer to this as a heart change. How do we affect this kind of change? Tell your story.

With the pending release of my book, I have to admit I’m anxious. I’ve never been this honest with myself, or others. The story is raw and, at times, ugly. But the story is important because it’s not that unique. There are many others like me who have been deeply wounded. They, like I did for nearly 20 years, hide in their shame. The only way to overcome shame is to confront it head on.

Sharing our personal journeys is disarming. There are always aspects of our lives to which others can relate. Even though the details may vary, our experiences are universal. We live in an idealized society that dictates what perfect people and perfect families look like. People are hungry for authentic relationships.

Change can and will happen, but not through angry exchanges, or name-calling. So the next time you want to push that button. Don’t. Push the other button by sharing your story.


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You Don’t Have to Love Me

Love&HateI, like many Christians, grew up with the phrase, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” It’s a statement, when used in the Church, that infers Christians can show compassion and love for others, while not condoning their activities, or “lifestyles.”

There are a number of problems with the statement. For starters, it’s arrogant and judgmental. It assumes the “love-er” has the right to judge the “love-ee.” By it’s mere suggestion, it divides people into a hierarchy: the righteous and the sinner. It lacks empathy, compassion, and human dignity. It was never used in the Bible. In fact, Jesus was considered a “friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19).

I always suggest that people who like to use these pithy statements first try them out on their significant others and see how well they go over: “I love you, but not your sin.”

Many religious people have separated themselves from anyone who does not share their beliefs. They may associate with people outside of church, but rarely do they build meaningful relationships. “Those people” too often embody the sin the religious hate. To avoid the sin, they avoid the sinner.

American Evangelical Christianity has become consumed with the concept of sin. Sermons more often contain what not to do and who shouldn’t be doing it, than empowering people to “love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Rules and regulations, laws and lawgivers, have hi-jacked the simple, yet powerful, message of grace.

Christianity, unlike any other religion, is all about grace. To receive it, there is nothing that needs to be done, said, or believed. It can’t be nullified or taken away. It can’t be trampled on, or devalued. It is the greatest gift to mankind, and it is unimaginable and incomprehensible.

The beauty of this kind of grace is that it releases the receiver from any expectation. So you can hate my sin, but you can even go a step further: You don’t even have to love me. Grace has that covered for both of us.


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