Why I Stopped Teaching My Kids to Believe in God

This article first appeared in The Good Men Project.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo – Flickr/Rob Ellis

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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.”

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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.

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.

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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.

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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 MommaAshleyRose.com.

— Photo courtesy of Momma Ashley Rose

Let me know what you think.

Tim

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What It Means to be a Truth Seeker

I was quoted in a Buzzfeed interview as saying, “I’m not even sure God exists.” I could hear the collective gasp from my former evangelical friends and ministry co-workers. I’m pretty sure that statement alone, never mind the rest of the story, moved me to the top of their prayer lists. But let me explain.

I’m a skeptic. I always have been, even when I claimed the Christian label. I approach life wondering how things work, why they work that way, and what it all means. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the memory to go with it, so if I take something apart I can never remember how to put it back together. In my house, anything that breaks with more than three parts (including the batteries) gets replaced, thrown away, or goes to a mechanic.

Life is complex and intricate. Most of it remains unknown. Even the physical world, in which we live, is vastly unexplored. The human mind, whether created or evolved, is capable of loving, hating, and leading us to commit atrocities or unimaginable kindness. We are more often convinced by emotion than evidence. If we contemplated all of our inconsistent beliefs and actions, we’d go mad. So our brains automatically make adjustments for us so we can sleep at night. It really is amazing.

Where is God in all of this? I don’t know. Perhaps He is not in there at all. Perhaps He is the ultimate consciousness that ties it all together. Perhaps He is the energy that keeps it moving, or perhaps He is the master orchestra leader paying meticulous attention to the details. It’s all a matter of faith, isn’t it? No one can say with any certainty, in spite of his or her best felt conviction.

What I find most intriguing is that a majority evangelical Christians believe God is transcendent above physics, science and the natural world, but don’t believe for a moment that He is capable of doing anything outside their understanding of a two thousand year old, 66-chapter book. They have trapped Him in their proverbial genie’s bottle of Scriptures, rubbing the magic lamp, as it were, whenever they want Him to grant their wishes.

That doesn’t make any sense to me.

If God is God, no one will ever be able to figure Him out, nor contain Him, nor second-guess Him, nor presume to “know” Him, and certainly not presume to know someone else’s relationship to, or with Him. As I have often said, we are finite human beings in an infinite world.

Whenever we become convinced of our beliefs, we have left the uncertainty of faith and crossed over into the certainty of religion. We have entered the realm of man-made precepts, cultural ideals and moral laws. We presume to speak on behalf of God, forcing others to uphold our ideals, our understanding of God and our formula for serving, pleasing and appeasing God. Otherwise, we believe, God will bring unimaginable judgment upon everyone if we – and they – don’t do it the “right” way.

I refuse to play the game.

UncertaintyOfFaithWith 33,000+ sects of Christianity alone, including what most evangelicals would consider the apostate teachings of Mormons and Roman Catholics, there are nearly as many interpretations of the Bible as there are people. Speaking as a professional instructor, if this were a corporate training program and God were the CEO, this would be a colossal failure.

I am a truth seeker. I am not intimidated by information that contradicts what I believe to be true. I am open to learning, changing and making adjustments. I learn from the experiences of others and value their wisdom. This allows me to accept people where they are and show compassion without placing judgment on them. I don’t feel the need to change them or correct them. In fact, I may learn something I didn’t know before. Living in the uncertainty of faith allows me to live authentically, love more freely and give without any expectations.

If God exists, I believe He seamlessly embodies love, acceptance, forgiveness, compassion and grace. He shows Himself in humanity through every act of kindness, every gentle touch and through words of encouragement. He exhibits His power when we stand against poverty, injustice and unfair treatment of those who have been disenfranchised and marginalized. Just as Jesus instructed. When human beings are treated with dignity, respect and fairness, He is exalted. My life of praise is not found in a three-cord song, or a pithy lyric, but in the way I treat others.

If God is God, He is above culture, religion, politics and human understanding. He is not threatened by incongruent beliefs, cognitive dissonance, or our inability to comprehend or believe in Him. Human morality does not change His nature, surprise Him, scare Him or send Him into a panic.

If God is all truth, then as a truth seeker, I am a follower of God.

Tim

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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.

Tim

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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.

 

1 http://www.forwardprogressives.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Capture1.png
2
http://thedailyshow.cc.com/full-episodes/4od1ye/july-14–2014—dahlia-lithwick
3
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mike-lux/the-ultimate-contradictio_b_499056.html
4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFe70QabxvQ

 

Tim

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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.

Tim

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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.

Tim

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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 Audible.com.

Tim

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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” (USHistory.org, 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.

Tim

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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.

Tim

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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.

Tim

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Churchianity

Churchianity“Why didn’t you hold that last note longer?!” my senior pastor yelled at me at yet another one of our Monday morning this-is-what-you-did-wrong-yesterday private meetings. “You didn’t even give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to move,” he continued. His disappointment in me was obvious. The gripe sessions were getting old and I was growing weary. Now he was inferring my actions were powerful enough to keep God at bay? I don’t think anyone is that good of a piano player. In hindsight, I should have been flattered.

I’d only been at that church for two months, but I’d been leading worship for nearly 20 years. I was tired. Tired of putting song lists together, tired of church politics, and really, just tired of church. What was the point of it all? I had become a cog in the huge spinning wheel that is American Evangelical Christianity.

I had been indoctrinated to believe that the purpose of church was the spiritual nourishment of the people. I was an appointed and anointed priest. The people were the ones to spread the Gospel when they weren’t in church. That seldom happened. If they were indeed “spreading the Gospel,” it usually meant giving awkward testimonials about Jesus to the waitress at the local diner, or witnessing to a neighbor over coffee. You can’t say too much to the neighbor because you’ll see them again.

We felt really good about ourselves if we managed to organize and send a busload of youth to San Francisco to pray for the homeless. Sometimes we’d send money to Mexico or help build more churches like ours to do the same things in other countries. We called that evangelistic outreach. Getting our hands dirty meant all-church workdays around the church property.

Most importantly, we nodded our heads in agreement as the pastor regurgitated familiar Bible passages with passion. We prayed with fervor and acknowledged our sinfulness Sunday after Sunday while Wednesday nights were spent making sure we understood every detail of the Scriptures. After all, we would hate to do all of that work and end up in hell on a technicality. We never said it that way, but we were quick to point out to others, particularly those outside the church, where they were wrong.

Our emotionally-charged worship services confirmed that we did not have religion, but a relationship. Confidently, we raised our hands, spoke in tongues and patted our musicians on the back for another job well done, leading God’s people into His throne room.

Our church and denomination ran like a well-oiled corporation. You start out as a youth pastor and eventually move up to an assistant pastor and then a senior pastor. If you are charismatic enough, or you build a large enough church, you can move into denominational leadership. Either way, it was possible to make a comfortable middle to upper class living. Just don’t rock the boat by questioning controversial doctrines, the tenants of the faith, or making people uncomfortable.

I don’t mean to sound cynical, or detract from the sincerity of the church community. I, too, was very sincere. I melded into an Americanized, culturized and pasteurized version of Christianity that assured my entrance into heaven at the lowest possible cost.

Churchianity replaces authenticity with idealism. We relate to God based on who we think we should be, not who we are. We present ourselves to God as constantly broken and sinful, ignoring the work of the cross, which made us whole.

Churchianity locks God in a box, which determines what He can and cannot do. Science, research, human complexities and differences are only allowed in the realm of whom we believe God to be. His power to love and accept others is limited to our own.

Churchianity confines spirituality to our interpretation of the Bible, which is defined, determined and decoded by our cultural understanding, allowing for no more or less than we are told.

Churchianity binds us in fear of a petty divine being who waits for us to falter and judges us for saying the wrong word, believing the wrong thing, having the wrong thought, or loving the wrong person.

Churchianity stifles human creativity and expression. It forces us to conform in thought, belief, lifestyle, purpose, action, and relationship.

Churchianity wages political war on a culture that refuses to conform to our theocracy of values, beliefs and systems of operation. Human casualties are simply an unfortunate cost of battle.

In truth, little is known about the man Jesus outside of religious writings. Many of those are conflicting and lack historical facts. What is apparent, however, is that Jesus defiantly stood against religious traditions and boldly stood for the disenfranchised. He was disregarded by religious leaders and celebrated by the marginalized.  Christianity was never designed to facilitate cultural conformity, or used as a vehicle to build ecclesiastical empires. At its heart it is a very simple message: God loves you exactly the way you are. Go and be that.

Tim

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