Motivated to Change! Guest post by Author Bill Prickett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End the abuse now.

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

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

 

 

 

Ex-ex-gay: A Journey Toward Healing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For help, see Beyond Ex-Gay.

Photo – Flickr/BK

Tim

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I’m a Gay Man Who Married a Straight Woman

This article first appeared in The Good Men Project.

WeddingWhen religion makes a promise reality can’t keep.

“My eyes opened around 2:00 A.M. to the sound of a crowd screaming in the background. I had fallen asleep on the sofa and was, once again, being awakened by a late-night airing of The Jerry Springer Show. No sooner did I regain consciousness than depression wrapped itself around my psyche like a tight-fitting shoe. I let out a barely audible sigh. Sleep often eluded me; insomnia was now as much a part of my routine as brushing my teeth. I slept when I could.

“I hated the Jerry Springer show, but changing the channel required too much effort. “What are you going to tell our son?!” the distraught guest screamed at her husband, a transgendered cowboy who was on the show to come out to his wife and introduce his Harley-riding boyfriend. “Our son’s only ten,” she said, her voice growing quieter and more desperate. How could someone do that to his kid? I thought. And why on national TV? As I watched her bury her head in her hands, shaking with sobs, a tear formed in the corner of my own eye and slowly drifted over the bridge of my nose. With my own divorce imminent, my emotions were raw.

“It had only been a couple of months since my wife told me our marriage was over. We had been married for six and a half years and, though our marriage was rocky from the start, I never expected to be in this situation. I made a commitment for life. In addition, the thought of not seeing my daughters every day, putting them to bed at night and waking them up in the morning, was more than I could bear. I was devastated.

“Another roar from the raucous Springer crowd brought my attention back to the television. The husband’s cocky attitude made me angry. I didn’t know if the story was real, but my heart ached for his little boy just the same. This man projected the self-centered callousness I saw in my wife. I hated him. I hated her. I mustered the strength to find the remote and press the power button. The screen went dark.”

Excerpt from: Going Gay My Journey from Evangelical Christian Minister to Self-acceptance, Love, Life, and Meaning (CK Publishing, 2014).

♦◊♦

We were young, in love, and believed that, with God on our side, the whole world had been laid out before us.

Like most couples, my wife and I, full of hope and promise, walked down the aisle of the church where we married. We were both dedicated, Evangelical Christians. I was in the ministry at the time. We were young, in love, and believed that, with God on our side, the whole world had been laid out before us.

But I was gay.

People frequently ask if my wife knew I was gay when she married me. The answer is a bit more complicated than a simple yes or no. I had gone through an ex-gay ministry, the most famous one in the country in fact, and was working for them when we got married. My wife and I believed I had been “healed” of my homosexuality, or was at least in the process of being healed. Our faith taught us to trust, pray and believe that God could do miraculous things.

It wasn’t too long into the marriage before we both began to sense something was wrong. There was an invisible wall that separated us emotionally. I wanted to believe it wasn’t there and denied it vehemently when she brought it up. We prayed harder. I had sufficiently suppressed my sexuality in the years leading up to the marriage. I believed my lack of sexual attraction meant God was healing me. What it really meant was that I had learned to subdue it to the point that I felt almost no sexual attractions at all. This gave me a sense of satisfaction, feeling as though my spirituality was higher than my carnal self. At the same time, I only felt half-alive.

I controlled practically everything around me, from how I dressed to how my house looked, to what I wanted others to perceive about me. It was exhausting. I detracted from intimacy by causing an argument, making a joke, or claiming to be too tired. The latter was mostly true since I put so much energy into pretending. In those rare times we had sex, it was more like building a fence than building a relationship. I was proud of the fact that I got through it, all the while hoping she didn’t notice how uncomfortable I felt.

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The emotional strain grew worse and the friendship that once held us together began to come undone.

By the time we were pregnant with our first child, the relationship had nearly reached a breaking point. Divorce, however, wasn’t an option because of our Christian commitment. We prayed harder. We read our Bibles. We faithfully attended church, Bible studies and Christian fellowship. The emotional strain grew worse and the friendship that once held us together began to come undone.

Nearly as miraculous as the virgin birth itself, she was pregnant again. We knew exactly when it happened, in a moment – a brief moment – of truce. The pressures of life weighed on us as we both became disillusioned with church. The lack of answers and spiritual guidance for our troubles left us blaming each other. I hated her.

Soon, there was nothing attractive about her at all and I felt my marriage – the unspoken golden promise of ex-gay ministry – was an albatross that kept me from finding God. But I was trapped. With divorce out of the picture, I prayed God would take her home. I could make it as a single dad with two daughters, but I couldn’t bring myself to divorce her. That would be a sin.

Still, I wasn’t prepared when she took the initiative and divorced me. I reeled from the pain of failure, wondering how a just God could allow me to go through so much turmoil in one life. Wasn’t fighting the sinfulness of homosexuality enough? Now divorce? Where was the Christian promise of abundant life Jesus talked about? Why didn’t the magic formula of Bible reading, prayer, fasting, worship and fellowship work? I was an ordained minister, of all things. If anyone knew how it worked, it was me.

For six years following my divorce, I sat mostly in silence, isolating myself from the rest of the world. I frequently stared out of the large pane glass window in the back of my house, trying to figure out what happened. Faith and sexuality had been neatly compartmentalized to keep me from going insane. Now they were merging into one. Questioning my beliefs felt blasphemous. They were the very foundation on which I made decisions, lived, breathed and raised my children. I simply could not be wrong about them. The Bible could not be wrong.

♦◊♦

It’s been 12 years since my divorce. My ex-wife and I have jointly worked together and raised our children, even spending holidays and birthdays together. Our beliefs are drastically different than they used to be. It’s difficult to go through decades of inner turmoil and come out completely unscathed. Most of what I once believed about Christianity, I now see as nothing more than religious fervor, organized into murky factions of the same basic ideology. We call these denominations. There are 34,000 of them. Which one is “right” is anybody’s guess. I no longer care. I don’t think God does either.

I believe that God is bigger than the minute details that too frequently occupy our thoughts.

The Evangelical Christian Church’s idea that God can change people from gay to straight is misguided at best and malicious at worse. Men, women and children have been sold the promise that people can and should change their sexual orientation, based on interpretations of canonized texts. When it doesn’t work, the person wasn’t trying hard enough, didn’t have enough faith, was never a Christian in the first place, didn’t do it right, didn’t do it long enough, didn’t have the right counseling, and on and on goes the list. It all boils down to religion making a promise reality can’t keep.

I believe that God is bigger than the minute details that too frequently occupy our thoughts. When I let go, I discovered life was never meant to be an uphill battle. Rather than simply trying to survive I can focus on helping others. That seems more Christian to me, and lines up perfectly with reality.

#BornPerfect

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Photo: Flickr/Albert Palmer

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.)

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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 BeyondExGay.com, as well as, TimRymel.com/Resources. If you’re interested in connecting with other ex-gay survivors, contact me Tim@TimRymel.com.

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

Let me know what you think!

Tim

 

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

Listen

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 Amazon.com). He is a former “ex-gay” and ex-gay leader. For more information, visit his website, BillPrickett.com.

Join in the conversation by leaving comments below.

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

Anne,

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. (religioustolerance.org/hom/expr.htm)

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 (http://web.archive.org/web/20130808032050/http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/sexual-orientation.aspx). 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.

Tim

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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?

Love.

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, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/finding-love/201305/why-coming-out-isnt-just-gay-people

Tim

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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 TimRymel.com by clicking on Books in the menu above.

Click here for Justin Lee’s Blog.

Click here to learn about the Gay Christian Network.

Tim

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Can You Show Compassion without Compromise?

how-to-compromise-01-hear431I responded to a blog on a Christian website about Compassion without Compromise. I praised the writer for keeping the conversation going and admonished her to take other people’s experiences at face value. I shared a little of my story and someone responded to my post with this:

“Christ gave you his life, maybe you can give him your all, take up your cross, and make Him the real king of your life- instead of a relationship that He deems is sinful, when you are hurting Him. We all have things that are hard to not do. Many people decide to not fight it, many people say it’s just who they are, etc… Jesus says He will give you the strength to fight, and the Spirit will be with you. He said to go and sin no more. Yes, He loves you very much, but if you choose an earthly relationship over a relationship with Him, that is your choice- and unfortunately, you are creating a wall between you and Him. He loves you more than your partner. Don’t put Him second.”

In essence, she’s saying, “You’re just not trying hard enough,” and dismissed years of struggle with just a few words, in the few minutes it took her to write her thoughts, with a single paragraph. Did she think the light would suddenly turn on for me and I would say, “You’re right! Why didn’t I think of that?!”

Years after my divorce I told my ex-wife I never understood how she so quickly moved on. She said, “I had emotionally disconnected from our marriage. In my mind our relationship was over long before I met the other person. I didn’t just wake up and decide to be with someone else. I had already gone through a painful separation process.”

The church is still in love with idea that homosexuality fits neatly in a black and white Biblical context. The answer, to someone who has never gone through the struggle, is simple. It’s so easy to see. The Bible is clear and the discussion is over. Like my ex-wife, I did not come to the place I am today lightly. There were plenty of tears and torment, especially for someone like me who has always tried to “do the right thing.”

The pithy statement church goers like to make,  “compassion without compromise,” is a misnomer. It ends the discussion before it starts. It assumes, like the lady who responded to my post, that the church is right and everyone else is wrong. It doesn’t require any deep thought, nor does it take people’s stories into account. It’s answering a question that hasn’t been asked yet; solving an equation without knowing the problem. The frustration from the gay community is that they, we, are not being heard. I did it, too.

I met Tony at work around 1991 while I was in the Love in Action live-in program. He wasn’t as secretive about his sexual identity as I was about my involvement with ex-gay ministry. When I realized Tony was gay I worked up the courage to talk to him. Besides, with all I’d learned I knew I could help turn his life around. “You know you don’t have to be gay,” I told him.

“Excuse me?” He was lighting a cigarette and my statement caught him off guard.

“The reason people are gay is because of poor relationships with their father or traumas that happened in their lives. It is possible to change,” I said with as much compassion as I could muster. And I meant it.

“Um.” He looked confused. “I had a great relationship with my dad. Unfortunately, he died when I was a teenager. We used to play sports together and I helped him in our family business. He knew I was gay. He didn’t care. He loved me anyway.”

“Well, something must have gone wrong,” I insisted. “Think back. What do you think happened to you?”

“Nothing happened to me,” Tony said. He was clearly irritated with my insinuation that the relationship with his father wasn’t like he said it was. “Listen, no offense, but I hope you find what you’re looking for. I’m happy the way I am.”

I walked away feeling pity for Tony. Obviously, he didn’t know what he was talking about. He was suppressing memories and was in so much pain even he didn’t know it. As long as I was right and Tony was wrong, there was no reason to have a discussion. I could show compassion without compromise…without thinking, without questioning what I believed to be true, without coming to different conclusions, without making Tony human and accepting his experiences at face value.

True compassion gets dirty, asks the tough questions, makes compromises when necessary, and shows integrity.

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

Tim

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Angry At A God Who Doesn’t Exist

AngryMy father held his empty coffee cup over the side of his armchair and continued reading the morning paper. Soon, Mom walked by, took it out of his hand, refilled it and handed it back. Neither of them said a word. I don’t remember how old I was, but I laughed aloud. I’d never noticed the finely oiled machine that was my parental upbringing.

When I got married I had a similar vision of what marriage would look like. Unfortunately, my wife did not share that vision. In fact, we saw our lives looking quite differently. In the United States over 50% of marriages fail. The reason for nearly every failure has to do with unmet expectations.  We all have them.

Even our relationship with God comes with expectations. More often than not, those expectations are unspoken, even un-thought. There’s an old Pentecostal song that says, “God’s not dead…I can feel him in my hands, I can feel him in my feet, I feel him all over me.” Beyond what I thought or believed about God, my emotions, so I assumed, spoke to his existence.

There were a lot of cracks in the armor of my belief as I grew up, but I chose to ignore those. Ironically, when I had decided that God simply did not exist, it was a liberal Christian friend of mine who said, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Liberal Christians, as I was raised to believe, were going to hell. Nevertheless, it was too late. I couldn’t wrap my brain around God any other way than how I perceived him in my traditional, cultural view. I wanted nothing to do with religion, hers or mine.

Like a jilted ex-husband I held resentment. I felt duped. I felt lied to. None of my expectations were met. Where was God when I made the decision to get married? Where was God through all of those years of trying to change my sexual orientation? I believed he loved me and wanted the best for me, but that didn’t seem to be the case during those years of torment. Nature took its course without interruption. People made decisions in spite of my prayers. My children have grown up in two homes despite my willingness to stay in the closet and lie about whom I really am.

So at what, or whom, should I be angry? Ex-gay ministry? Organized religion? It would be easier to deal with my anger if it came with a face. Instead, it is a belief, a philosophy, and an ideal. I put my faith in something that took the shape of my wish, and what I presumed to be absolute truth. The thing that I believed was gone, but the resentment and anger toward it remained.

For several years the topic of religion, Christianity in particular, remained off limits to friends and family. Anger simmered beneath my stoic exterior, though I thought I had moved on.  My kids attended a private Christian school and I comfortably distanced myself from their Bible assignments, cordially interacted with their teachers and judged the administration for their intolerance of others.

Anger is an emotion that needs an outlet. Like pasta left to boil too long, our mental state turns to mush. Anger seeped into other areas of my relationships, fed my depression and kept me from addressing underlying, or secondary emotions. I missed the relationship I had built with what I understood of God. Spirituality took the form of music and worship with me and that door was closed.

To face the anger, I first had to acknowledge it.  It exists. My life did not turn out the way I wanted and I was disappointed.  If there was anyone to blame, it was me. I did what I thought was right at the time. Really, that is the best any of us can do. I’m learning to let myself off the hook.

Science leads me to believe that what I call God exists, but not in the form I was raised to believe it. I realize others have come to different conclusions. That’s the beauty of the human experience. Life is too big for us to know everything. We can only make peace when we realize how small and finite we are. We can only love and accept others when we acknowledge the value of their experiences, though they are different from our own, and validate them without trying to interpret meaning for them.

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

Tim

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Untangling the Tangled Mess

TangledMessBefore I entered Love in Action’s live-in program in 1990 I was invited to dinner to learn more about the ministry from the 1989 participants. We sat around a large table in a dated dining room with an enormous bowl of spaghetti and meatballs in front of us.

As the food was passed around Frank Worthen, Love in Action’s founder, invited me to ask anything I wanted to know about the men or the program. I am naturally an introvert. To speak about any topic in an intimate setting with 12 people I didn’t know was unnerving. To discuss my deepest darkest secret with strangers was simply not going to happen.

Marty, a Texan with a southern drawl and a laugh big enough to make his home state proud saw my apprehension. “Well, I’ll start,” he said. I laughed nervously. I tried to pay attention while not dropping the bowl of spaghetti, or making too much noise with my utensils.

“I was basically out of money, out of drugs and out of lovers. That’s what brought me here!” He said with a bellowing howl. Frank quietly chuckled while barely moving his mouth.

I couldn’t relate. I had never run out of money, thanks to my parents, never done drugs and I was unclear what a “lover” was. Perhaps, I don’t belong here, I thought to myself. Still, Marty’s story was interesting. During my time at Love in Action I met others like him: people who were gay, but had so many other issues layered on top of issues it was difficult to separate one from the other.

We, in the ministry and in the evangelical church, lumped it all together: sin. It was cut and clear. Marty, and people like him, needed more prayer, more time in the Word and to surrender to God. We’d pray for them while silently, and pitifully, judging them, not understanding why they couldn’t stay on the straight and narrow.  I saw many more come through the doors while on staff at Love in Action and we naïvely thought we could help them.

Like so many others, I thought my homosexuality was the axis of all evil. No matter what I did, I couldn’t make it go away. Confession of my same-sex thoughts only brought more shame. All of the attention I gave to running away from this monster seemed to only draw me toward it. When confessing didn’t work, I simply stopped talking about it. The very vehicle I used to untangle the knot tightened it.  Shame did the rest.

I took all the blame in the Winter of 2001 when my wife left. Though I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel on my fight to be free from homosexuality, it was made perfectly clear that the reason my relationship failed was because I wasn’t normal. I was incapable of giving her what she wanted. There was an emotional wall between us and it was all my fault. She had already moved on and found someone else. I couldn’t compete. It would be years before I’d realize many of the struggles we faced, outside of me being in a heterosexual marriage where I didn’t belong, were normal.

Many of us in ex-gay ministry believed something was wrong with us. We were broken. Leaders who tell someone that the reason he or she struggles with sexual addiction or drug abuse is because they are gay tightens the knots of confusion and ignores the much larger issues that drive the behaviors. Humans are complex creatures and a one-size-fits-all answer doesn’t work.

In many cases, such as mine, people are driven underground. I so desperately wanted to believe I was not gay I convinced myself that by modifying my behavior I was not. I surrounded myself with people who held similar beliefs and I provided them with answers that satisfied and sustained our shared faith. The pattern had become so ingrained, I didn’t know I was lying. Only my mental and physical health gave it away.

I actually thanked my ex-wife recently for making the break while our kids were still young. It wasn’t an admission of guilt on my part as much as it was an acknowledgement that she accepted the fact I was gay long before I did. She provided me the opportunity to come to terms with my sexuality and allowed me to start the journey of self-acceptance, even if it was against my will.

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

Tim

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Believing is Perceiving

ThinkingReligionsSeveral years ago I was teaching a corporate class and sharing a concept a participant simply could not grasp. For the next 10 minutes I presented the idea every way I could think of to help her understand. Finally, one of the other students raised her hand and said, “I think I see what’s going on here.” She looked her classmate in the eye and in three seconds cleared up everything.

“Oh. Got it,” my learner said, as if the last 10 minutes never happened.

Huh. I thought. That was interesting. I filed the interaction away and mentally visited it several times through the years. By the time I entered graduate school I had many more encounters with, and questions about how, humans perceive and learn. I was at the beginning point in my life of rethinking what I understood about the world, God and my relationships to others.

In my book I talk about the role of perception as it relates to communication. Though I simplified its importance, perception is really how we relate to the world around us. Perception comes from our cultural influences, the groups we belong to and our biology. It was once thought that our eyes were like video cameras recording information as it happened. Now we know that our eyes filter everything through perception.

Our brains gather information and store it in ways we can understand. It’s how we learn and how we perceive. We like to learn systematically: step 1, step 2, step 3, but we store information chaotically. In other words, if I give you three pieces of information you are going to connect that information to what you already know, and believe to be true, and store it away for recall. We call this a “cognitive schema,” or the process our brains use to make sense of our world. An example of perception based on beliefs is how racially divided our country is on the issue of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.

I was still reeling, like much of the rest of the country, from the attack on 9/11, 2001, when my wife announced she wanted a divorce just two months later.  In spite of the anger I felt toward her and the dismal life that had become our existence, I didn’t want a divorce. How could she do this to our family? My thoughts anguished.

True to my beliefs I prayed for her. I prayed that she would change her mind, come back to her faith and that the error of what she was doing would suddenly become apparent to her. I read books on spiritual warfare and our battle against the devil’s fight for our souls. That was, after all, what was really going on, I believed. She was backslidden and no longer following the ways of Christ. There was no other explanation. I prayed hard and earnestly that God would change her.  I truly, with all my heart, believed God was going to put our family back together and that my testimony of change from homosexuality would be more powerful than ever.

As time went on and reality set in, I began to ponder life differently. I wondered why what I believed about God wasn’t my experience. The idea that “His ways are higher than our ways,” wasn’t working for me. I needed answers. I’ve always been an analytic, but I always asked questions in the context of my beliefs. Consequently, I always received the same answers.  Those answers were no longer sufficient.

I wondered what would happen if I began asking questions as if everything I believed was  not true. It was a scary proposition. To do so would be to rip out from underneath me the only foundation I’d ever known. I preached it. I wrote songs and sang about it. It was intertwined in every fiber of my being.

Like most of the country I didn’t know much about Islam or Muslims when we were attacked on 9/11. My introduction to the religion was plane hijackings and catastrophe. Yet, these terrorists so strongly believed in their cause they were willing to die for it.  Christianity was no different. The westernized version is not nearly as violent as Christianity of the past, but the belief is just as strong.  I realize there are different sects and different versions, but each sect believes it holds THE truth and all others are wrong. Certainly, in the name of ecumenicity, Christians are willing to accept the “non-essentials,” but core truths are worth splitting churches over.

The funny thing about perception is that humans only have a minute piece of it. We are finite creatures living in a vast universe with wonders and history our brains are too small to understand. Yet, we speak with such certainty. To claim a corner market on THE truth is presumptuous at best.

The more I learn the more I realize I don’t know. I have more questions than answers, but letting go of my preconceived ideas allows me to think in broader terms. Life is too big and people are too complex to cast into a narrowly defined mold or outcome.

I haven’t shut the door on Christianity, as some propose, but I see it much differently. Without the cultural trappings it is a religion of love, redemption and acceptance. To me, in this very real human world, that’s what has become important. Stripping away what I wanted to believe with what was really happening – and being honest about it – seems to be what that message was about all along. I couldn’t see it until I forced myself to see things differently.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

Tim

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Going Gay

Life'sAJourneyOne of the comments on my last blog stuck with me. The comment was, “I just find it interesting when someone believes in something for most of their lives and then changes their mind when it effects them directly.”

A person changes his mind when he decides to have oatmeal for breakfast instead of eggs, or when she decides not to go to the grocery store, though she’d been planning on it most of the day. To suggest that someone simply “changes their mind” is to trivialize years, if not decades, of emotional and psychological anguish. People try to reconcile a faith that simply doesn’t acknowledge his or her reality.  It’s called cognitive dissonance: anxiety that results from simultaneously holding contradictory or other incompatible attitudes or beliefs (dictionary.com).

The anxiety I experienced when I was younger led to a suicide attempt, followed by years of depression and a failed marriage. Fortunately, I’m too much of a control freak to take drugs that would alter my consciousness and I hate the taste of alcohol. I’ve known many others who dealt with the cognitive dissonance by getting hooked on meth, becoming alcoholics, and throwing themselves into frequent anonymous sexual encounters. All the while, they stayed in church, read their Bibles, participated in Sunday School and suffered in silence.

What I find terribly ironic about what is preached in many churches, and even what the Boy Scouts say they hold so dear, is this idea of honesty. Coming to terms with one’s sexual identity is the most honest thing he or she can do. It’s especially difficult in a culture that holds belief higher than truth. Belief cannot be proven. Gravity is truth. We must all adhere to gravity. The Bible, and especially a specific interpretation of the Bible is belief. Yet, many of us tout our beliefs (religious, political, or otherwise) as though they are facts to which everyone must adhere.

In spite of the physical and mental ailments I endured for decades, I held on to my faith, as it was taught to me. It was my belief in God the Father that ultimately led me to accept my reality. I knew as a human father I would never want my children to struggle the way I had struggled all of those years. To allow it, especially if I had the power to change it, would be no less than cruel.

Most people are followers. They think and do what they are told. Why wouldn’t they? Life goes along at an even pace and things seem to naturally fall into place. It’s when something doesn’t fall into place like it’s “supposed to” that we actually have to question ourselves and yes, even God.

I spent many years examining, deconstructing, and reconstructing my thought processes, what I believed, why I believed it and what my behavior would be as a result. My struggle taught me respect for others and their journeys. It’s taught me that I don’t know everything. I am learning to love more unconditionally and accept people exactly as they are. I feel I’m becoming the person I was always intended to be, I just never thought I’d become that person by going gay.

I’d love to hear what others think and their experiences.

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

Tim

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Yes on Prop 8 – Mis-stepping into the gay community

Prop-8-yes-noI sat across the table from Michael and Manuel at my first ever gay Meetup. The Meetup had just been started by Jack, who recently moved into the Sacramento area from Atlanta, GA. His southern charm put me at ease. After months of self-talk, I decided to step out and meet other gay people. I grew up in a conservative, evangelical christian home and my life, for nearly 25 years, had revolved around church. Needless to say, I felt out of place. It was about to get worse.

It was 2008 and the town of Sacramento was all abuzz with Proposition 8, the now infamous proposition that overturned the ban on gay marriage.

“Did any of you have a chance to help out at the gay and lesbian center on prop 8,” asked Jack?

Michael put down his fork and politely wiped his mouth, “I went there as often as I could,” he said. Manuel nodded in agreement. The conversation continued on for a few minutes about the evils of Prop 8 and who was behind it. My stomach turned. I had nothing to add to the conversation. In fact, I had voted yes on Proposition 8. It wasn’t about gay marriage for me, it was about the ability of a judge to overturn the vote of the people that was of most concern.

I managed to dodge the question altogether, but meeting other gay people didn’t help me exactly “find my peeps.” If ever there was diversity, it was me: a gay, American-Indian, conservative who sang black-gospel music. My children should have no problem getting into any college they want.

Dinner was soon over and as we got up to leave Jack said, “Before we go, let’s get a picture.”

I wasn’t sure how to gracefully decline so I smiled and said,”Sure! Why not?!” I knew why not. I had been substitute teaching at a private Christian school. If they found out I was gay, I would never be able to teach there again. I contacted Jack that night after I got home and asked that he not post my picture on the website. Graciously, he agreed.

I recently learned that those of us who carry shame have a difficult time “fitting in.” If we don’t accept ourselves it is impossible to accept others. We will always feel like we don’t belong. After leaving the ex-gay ministry I didn’t feel I belonged anywhere. What does a person do who spends 25 years of his life as a minister and then suddenly doesn’t believe it anymore? He flounders. He searches for purpose and meaning, while trying to avoid the people in his past who could help him find it. So much irony in it all.

Now I’m reaching out to those in my past with my partner’s great advice:
Don’t assume people will reject you simply because you reject you. Give people a chance to show you who they are.

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

Tim

 

 

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