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.) Continue reading “Open Letter to Anne Paulk and the Restored Hope Network”

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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