“Gay Men Are Full of Disease”

This article first appeared on The Good Men Project.Email

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Getty Images

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Dear Closeted Gay Christian Teen

This post first appeared on The Good Men Project.Letter

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

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

That was 36 years ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resource:
The Gay Christian Network

Photo – Flickr?FaceMePLS

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Honestly Deceptive: The Art and Science of Self-deception

BlindThis post first appeared on The Good Men Project.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo – Getty Images

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Are You Hiding Bad Behavior Behind Your Religion?

This post first appeared on The Good Men Project.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo –Caity Rymel

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Growing Up Jewish and Gay

This post first appeared on The Good Men Project.

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

——

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

♦◊♦

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

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Gay and Muslim in America

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

How one man navigates his Muslim faith and sexual orientation.

——

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

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

♦◊♦

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

♦◊♦

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

Photo – Getty Images

What is Like to be Gay and Mormon?

This story first appeared on The Good Men Project.MormonChurch

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

——

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

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

♦◊♦


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

♦◊♦

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

Photo – Getty Images

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The 4 Problems With Reparative Therapy Laws

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

IBelievedYourJunkScience

 

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

——

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

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

♦◊♦

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#BornPerfect

Photo – Flickr/Daniel Gonzales

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I’m Losing My Conservative Values

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

ConservativeValues

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

——

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

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

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

“Who do you represent?” I asked.

“The ACLU,” they said.

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

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

♦◊♦

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

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

Let’s hope not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

♦◊♦

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

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

Photo – Flickr/ Zoe Foodiboo

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Behind the Closed Doors of Conversion Therapy

This article first appeared in The Good Men Project November 23, 2014

Love in Action FounderThe former leader of renowned ex-gay ministry, Love in Action, answers the question, “What were you thinking?”

 ——

John Smid married his partner, Larry McQueen, in Oklahoma last weekend. That wouldn’t normally make the news, since gay marriage is now legal in 33 states. But Smid is not your average gay guy who waited patiently for gay marriage to creep into his nearby home state of Texas. In fact, for over two decades Smid stood in opposition to gay marriage, not just as a bystander, but on the front lines of the Christian political right telling everyone that gay people could change.

♦◊♦

It was September of 1990 that Smid became the executive director of Love in Action (LiA), the oldest and most renowned ex-gay ministry in the world at the time. People came from all over the globe to Love in Action’s unique residential program to put aside their gay tendencies and find “freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ,” as LiA’s slogan touted. Love in Action partnered with Christian celebrity heavy hitters like James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Pat Robertson’s 700 Club.

LiA’s programs and popularity grew among conservative Christians over the next 35 years, reaching its peak by 2004.

The organization initially started in 1973 when a small group of people gathered in the San Francisco Bay Area to reconcile their homosexual orientations with their newfound Christian faith. Incidentally, 1973 is also when the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Illness. LiA’s programs and popularity grew among conservative Christians over the next 35 years, reaching its peak by 2004.

“2004 was the banner year,” Smid said. “We had more clients and more programs and more stuff going on than we ever had.” Love in Action, by then, was unarguably the largest ministry under Exodus International’s umbrella, which by 2006, boasted 120 U.S. and Canadian ministries and an additional 150 ministries in 17 other countries. With an annual budget nearing $750,000, Smid said Love in Action had an average of 25 residential clients at any one time. Programs, at that time, lasted from two weeks to nine months, taking in anywhere from $1,500 for a two week period, up to $7,000 for a three month stint.

In spite of what it looked like on the outside, however, no one was getting rich. “I made $52,000 a year for many years,” Smid said. His licensed therapists made from $40,000 to $45,000 a year, low by industry standards. Group sessions ran six times a day, along with individual therapy. A part time chef kept the staff and clients fed so they could focus on their sessions and healing. “We had people on our staff who were licensed professionally, the same as [those who work at the] Betty Ford clinic, or other clinics that do that. We had licensed addiction therapists. We were as credentialed, in terms of our staff, and yet we were only charging $7,000 for three months. Other places charge $35,000 for one month.”

♦◊♦

Unlike the initial program of the early ‘70s where people came to seek God and pray for deliverance of their unwanted same sex attractions, Love in Action stepped beyond the idea of “ex-gay,” a spiritual conversion, and headlong into the more trendy practice of reparative therapy. “We were not successful at changing people from gay to straight and we knew that,” Smid confessed. “We didn’t talk about it, but we knew it. Exodus’ network was like that. Nobody talked about it.”

It was, and still is in some cases, a community of faith that upholds the ideals that are taught, higher than the truth that is lived.

On why he never checked the inefficacy of the research on Exodus organizations’ programs, Smid said he didn’t think there was any research at the time, other than what famed anti-gay psychotherapist Joseph Nicolosi was telling them. “He had a good way of selling and marketing his plan. We believed him,” Smid said. The ministry organizations were afraid to admit to each other that things weren’t working as advertised. It was, and still is in some cases, a community of faith that upholds the ideals that are taught, higher than the truth that is lived.

“We began to believe that a person would create a homosexual desire as a reaction to life’s wounds or injuries,” Smid said. “So the homosexual attraction was a cover. It was a false image, a distraction to somehow falsely repair the sexual or emotional abuse, or the abandonment of the things [that happened to them] in their childhood.”

The belief that homosexuality was a sin and, therefore repairable, kept LiA pursuing the next wave of treatment possibilities. “‘Dr. Nicolosi, he’s got the answer,’ we’d say. ‘It’s reparative therapy! That’s what we’ve been missing!’” Before that, Smid said, “it was Leann Payne. Oh, it’s spiritual…Oh, it’s the Vineyard! It’s Living Waters. They seem to be having success. Oh, no, it’s professional therapists…It’s an addiction, that’s what we’re missing.”

“To be honest, I think a lot of that stuff was overcompensating for what we knew inside was not happening.”

The ministry hired a well-respected Christian counselor for a program director. “He gave us legitimacy,” Smid said. “To be honest, I think a lot of that stuff was overcompensating for what we knew inside was not happening. We were accepted by the [Christian] professional community and we were kind of bound together because the American Psychological Association said we shouldn’t be doing this.” Smid explains that he, and other ministry leaders, dismissed the APA as, “Well, they’re just worldly.”

♦◊♦

Smid began to have a change of heart, though a long way from rethinking what he believed, when the ministry gained unwanted national attention. A teenage boy was put into one of the programs by his parents and against his will. His social media postings found their way to documentary director Morgan Fox. Soon protestors picketed in front of Love in Action’s residential homes and ministry offices demanding the boy’s release. That story is told in Fox’s documentary, This is what Love in Action looks like. Over time, Smid and Fox developed an unlikely friendship. Smid documents his spiritual and social transformation in his 2012 memoir, Ex’d Out: How I Fired the Shame Committee. He resigned from the ministry in 2008.

“Once I started listening to people and opening my ears to the pain, I realized what I had done.”

When asked if he’s ever looked back and had any oh-my-God-what-have-I-done moments, Smid said it was over a period of time. “When I wrote my first apology, a very generic apology in 2010, that was in response to that [moment]. But I didn’t know how to describe it. I didn’t know how to formulate what I had done. I wanted to hear from people because I wanted to hear what I’d done to them. How did I hurt them? Once I started listening to people and opening my ears to the pain, I realized what I had done.” In addition to his public apologies and statements, Smid has tried to reach every client with whom he has had contact over the last 22 years and personally apologize.

In July, 2014, Smid and eight other former ex-gay leaders and founders, released a formal statement calling for the end of reparative therapy. In the letter they stated, “We grew up with the repetitive message that LGBT people were not enough — not straight enough, not Christian enough, not manly or womanly enough, not faithful enough, not praying enough. Never, ever enough. ‘Toxic’ probably sums it up best.” The former leaders joined forces with the National Center for Lesbian Rights #BornPerfect Campaign, which seeks to outlaw reparative therapy for minors. Currently, only two states, California and New Jersey, have ended the practice.

Smid continues to speak out against ministries like Love in Action and Exodus International. “I finally realized I had been taught wrong. I really believed it. Someone had lied to me and it’s an anti-gay bias people are believing and teaching,” he said. On the issues of homosexuality in society, and specifically in the conservative church, Smid said, “I think we have all been given a bill of goods here and people follow them without challenging them.” John Smid is certainly challenging them now.

Photo – Courtesy of John Smid

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This is the Lady Your Pastor Warned You About

This article first appeared at The Good Men Project.
Kathy_Baldock (1)“My name is Kathy Baldock and I have come here to put a face to the person you bullied and tormented and to give you the opportunity to take responsibility for your actions.” Baldock drove from her home in Reno, NV to deliver that message to a pastor in Texas. He made two mistakes: 1, he created videos attacking Baldock’s pro-LGBT stance without any logical reasons and 2, he didn’t apologize when she asked him to. She happened to be in Texas for a conference anyway and this man’s senior pastor also wouldn’t respond to her requests for an apology. She’s not one to give up.

♦◊♦

“I had a death-grip on the viewpoint that you can’t be a practicing gay person and a Christian.”

Baldock’s ballsy approach to life is only equaled by her compassion toward the LGBT community and her love for Jesus. But it wasn’t always that way. She notes in her book, “I’m one of those nice people; I’m not mean-spirited. I wouldn’t intentionally harm another person, but my beliefs were the truth because they were based on verses directly from the Bible. I had a death-grip on the viewpoint that you can’t be a practicing gay person and a Christian.”

Her worldview began to unravel when her husband of 20 years decided he didn’t want to be married anymore. Baldock’s seemingly successful Christian family was crumbling in front of everyone. “To process my sorrow in healthy ways and to keep my mind and body productive,” she said, “I took up two new activities: studying Italian and hiking in the nearby mountains.” It was that second one, hiking, that was about to change everything.

“Netto was spared my Christian attempt to rid her of sin and get her right with God.”

On the trail, she frequently ran into a woman named Netto. “I soon suspected Netto might be a lesbian,” Baldock said. “At any other time in my Christian walk it would have been easy for me to tell her what she needed to do.” However, now with Baldock’s own life falling apart, she didn’t feel she could tell anyone anything. “Netto was spared my Christian attempt to rid her of sin and get her right with God,” Baldock said.

Over the next several years, through Netto, Baldock began making more friends in the gay community. Finally, confronted with those who identified as gay and Christian, Baldock decided to attend a Gay Christian Network Conference. “I was bewildered,” she said. “Undeniably, the Holy Spirit, who had been moving in my life for decades, was in the room and in the lives of these gay worshippers. As confused as I was, it felt as if we were in a holy place. The sacredness of the moment was completely overwhelming; I was deeply moved. I took off my shoes, slumped to the floor, and cried.”

♦◊♦

Baldock, 58, an engineer by trade, inquisitive by nature, and tenacious by birth, began to research her questions. What she found was a complex link between how women have been viewed over the centuries; changing religious views; the invention of evangelicalism; the influence of religious infusion into American politics in the 1970s; and the evolving view of sexuality, which only began in the late 1800s.

Not content with simple “Wikipedia” answers, Baldock went straight to the sources, contacting the history makers themselves whenever possible. “Beyond just wanting to know ‘how’ the lenses formed,” she said, “my personal faith drove me deeper. I wanted to find a way to help repair the damage and even rescue the Bible out of the midst of the rubble heap of discord.”

The contentious relationship the Church has with the LGBT community hasn’t been going on as long as one would think.

Baldock said her book, Walking the Bridgeless Canyon, “examines the lenses through which we, in particular, Christians, have come to view the LGBT community.” The contentious relationship the Church has with the LGBT community hasn’t been going on as long as one would think.

Baldock discovered that the term sodomite originated around the 12th centuries and applied to both men and women who engaged in non-procreative sex. Sex acts between men and boys, once seen as a normal part of culture, came to be seen as a perversion. It wasn’t until the late 19th century, with advancements in medicine and science, which challenged religious thinking, that people began to notice that some individuals were attracted to age-appropriate same sexes. Until then, there had been no distinction in sexual orientations.

Baldock points out that there were no fiery sermons about homosexuality coming from the pulpits in the early ‘70s. The first recorded sermon came from W.A. Criswell, considered the father of modern fundamentalism, who preached a sermon on homosexuality on September 21, 1980.

Criswell, and other fundamentalists, had been wooed to the polls through the carefully constructed efforts of a young Republican political strategist named Paul Weyrich. It was the 1960s when Weyrich began to conceptualize ways to bring in the largest untapped voting block in America: unregistered conservative fundamentalist Christians. A majority of these fundamentalists had not been involved with politics and lived in relative isolation as far back as the mid-1920’s.

There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs…

Not everyone was happy with the idea, according to Baldock. In fact, she quotes Barry Goldwater, in a 1981 speech to the U.S. Senate warning against Weyrich’s approach:

“On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs…The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent.”

Nevertheless, Weyrich sought out a moral issue about which these voters would care. He knew his fundamentalist and Reconstructionist base were motivated by fear and belief in the mandate from a holy and vengeful God to save America from moral decay and deconstruction. Homosexuality fit the bill.

Baldock carefully and meticulously leads her readers through historical events leading up to where we are today in the battle between the religious and political right, and the LGBT fight for equality. Her eye-opening book brings together the disparate pieces of past and recent history into a holistic picture of current attitudes and events. She lovingly, but firmly, challenges the attitudes and beliefs of Christians caught in the cultural crosshairs of misinformation.

In fact, Baldock was so moved by her convictions about the mistreatment of the LGBT community, that she released a straight apology video, now viewed nearly 8,000 times on YouTube, and from which many young people recognize her when she walks in pride parades. Baldock can be spotted wearing her “Hurt by church? Get a #str8apology here” t-shirt.

♦◊♦

After all, it’s not about her, it’s about repairing the breach that divides Christians and the gay community.

While Baldock’s ministry is based on personal engagement and conversation, she has little tolerance for Bible-thumping churchgoers who lack reason. If you claim to be a Christian and your plan of attack, like the Texas pastor, is an anonymous hit-
and-run approach, don’t be surprised when she shows up on your doorstep asking for an apology. After all, it’s not about her, it’s about repairing the breach that divides Christians and the gay community. That’s her passion and she’s more than happy to tell you herself.

Kathys_BookFor more information on Kathy Baldock, her non-profit organization, or to have her speak at your church or event, go to Canyon Walker Connections. Order Walking the Bridgeless Canyon at Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

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Tim


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When Parents are Forced to Choose Between Their LGBT Child and Their Church

This article first appeared at The Good Men Project.

family-in-churchI couldn’t believe what my friend was saying to me. I’d known her for years and she knows I’m gay. She had been one of my biggest supporters. Now, sobbing on the other end of the phone after finding out her own child was gay, she was saying things like, “What did I do wrong?” “Can I fix this?” and “What will people think of me when they find out?”

I was caught off guard and couldn’t help but wonder, Is this what she truly thinks of me? I’m broken? That I should be ashamed and embarrassed? It was the first time I realized how intrinsic homophobia is built into our culture. It’s no wonder some parents react the way they do.

◊♦◊

We’ve all seen the videos on social media. The “good Christian parents” attack their children, call them names, and swear at them. “In the name of God” they tell their children they will no longer support their wicked “lifestyles.” These parents throw them out, disown them and truly believe it’s what God would have them do.

It’s a sad fact that of the estimated 1.6 million homeless youth, around 40% are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. One study found that, “the risk of attempting suicide was 20% higher among sexual-minority youths in less-supportive environments” (Duncan & Hatzenbueler, 2014, p 272).

And then there are the other parents; the ones who want to do the right thing at all costs. Yet, as enlightened as they may or may not feel prior to their child’s disclosure, they suddenly find themselves fearing for their child’s safety. They mourn the loss of a parents’ dream and are quickly forced to choose between their church families or their children. The pain is very real, intense, and often unexpected.

◊♦◊

“I was always very vocal around the house about supporting gay rights and calling out nastiness when I heard it,” one mom told me. “So I was not that surprised when our daughter came out to us at 14. What did surprise me was how thrown for a loop I was.”

Our two sons came out to us on a three-way phone conversation. I said to them I was concerned for their souls. My husband said they were breaking his heart

“I was so afraid for her,” she continued. “Afraid for her physically, realizing that not only did I have to be concerned about all the threats that just being a woman in our society poses, but double that for being gay. I was afraid for her emotionally; it can’t be easy being a gay teen in our community.”

She discovered that her fears didn’t stop there. Like many parents, she realized the refuge she once found in a church community became a place of hostility.

“We stopped going to church to avoid the chance that she might be hurt even by glances or whispers,” she told me. “And I still can’t bring myself to attend any church that would not lovingly accept my daughter as being as perfect as God made her. This has been the biggest loss, the loss of a church community. I refuse to be part of an organization where my child is not welcomed.”

◊♦◊

Another mom from Long Island said, “Our two sons came out to us on a three-way phone conversation. I said to them I was concerned for their souls. My husband said they were breaking his heart. We spoke with my husband’s priest and my pastor. They basically said: ‘Tell your children God loves them and you love them, but they will be living in a sinful state if they are in a relationship.’ I could not eat and lost 10 pounds in a very short time.”

She said she found some “horrible, horrible things some evangelical pastors said that convinced me they could not possibly be speaking for God.” So she read books, found information on blogs and came to the conclusion, “I believe my children were born Gay. God is fine with that and so am I.”

◊♦◊

“I believe my children were born Gay. God is fine with that and so am I.”

Even while accepting other people and their gay children, the impact of having a gay child of one’s own is a different story, according to Nancy, who lives in Southern California. “When my child came out I will admit I was heartbroken,” she said. “The initial reason for my heartbreak was I knew my child would be treated badly.  Attending a Christian High school and Christian College, they could not be who they really are for fear of being kicked out or fired from their jobs. Then thinking further down the line, no biological grandchildren or ‘traditional’ wedding were just a few of my thoughts.  It was not the future I had envisioned for my child.  Having said that, in the grand scheme of life, those things are not as important as my child feeling loved and valued.”

I lost many friends and I no longer attend that church. That was a huge heartbreak to me, to find out how ugly people could be.

Nancy went on to say, “The very few people I lost were from conservative Evangelical backgrounds.” That, as it turns out, seems to be a common theme.

“The church we attended blamed me for [my son] being gay,” said Harriet Miller of Lookout Mountain, GA. “They even sent my husband and me away to two different Christian counseling centers. I lost many friends and I no longer attend that church. That was a huge heartbreak to me, to find out how ugly people could be.”

◊♦◊

Dawn Bennett, of Nashville, TN, and the author of the soon-to-be released book Loving Pearl, said, “I’m a Christian. I have been my entire life. When [my daughter] Pearl came out at church, we were not contacted by the youth pastorate staff. Instead, she was told she could be taken through a ‘sin breaking’ class to be saved from that most awful sin in her life… Ultimately, we did leave that church and to this day my daughter does not attend.

‘How well did you love my people?’ To that I hope to be able to say, ‘As best I could while excluding no one.’

The solace many of these parents found came with the resolve, as it did with my friend, to take a second look at their faith, instead of their children. In the process each of them stated they found deeper meaning in life, in love, and in family.

Bennett went on to state, “…my goal in this whole journey is to be able to answer the question I believe God will ask me at the end of my life, ‘How well did you love my people?’ To that I hope to be able to say, ‘As best I could while excluding no one.’”

◊♦◊

For more information on supporting your LGBT child or loved one, go to PFLAG.org.

Photo: Flickr/Jimmy and Sasha Reade

Let me know what you think!

Tim

 

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

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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.

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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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Guest Post: To Christian Parents of Gay Children, by Susan Cottrell

I’m excited to publish an important and popular post by guest blogger and Author of “Mom, I’m Gay,” Susan Cottrell. Susan and her husband, Robert, live in Austin, Texas and are founders of FreedHearts Ministries, an organization that helps parents love and accept their LGBT children, without losing their faith.

neil-patrick-harris-and-momYou want to shove those words back in and put the lid on. But you can’t. Your child is gay. This goes against everything you’ve been taught. It was not what you had in mind, and you instantly wonder where you went wrong.

When you become a parent, you know to expect the unexpected. But for many Christian parents, nothing can prepare them to hear that their beloved child is gay. This is the child you have cradled, spoon fed mashed bananas, and dreamed a beautiful future for. How could this be? What will the church say? What will your friends say? What does the future hold? You can’t even get your head around this.

If you are a Christian parent, family member or friend to whom your loved one has come out as gay or lesbian, then this is for you. I invite you to sit down, relax, maybe get a cup of tea, and soak in what I’m about to tell you. My hope is to guide you as we walk for a bit through this maze of confusion, to help you find your way to wholeness.

In most Christian circles, this is not good news, and you may begin to spiral into reflection and self-searching. We’ll get to that. But at the bottom of it all, this is not about you. Most parents’ first mistake is to make it about them instead of about their son or daughter. So let’s talk about some of the major stumbling blocks for Christian parents.

1. This is not an offense against you. This is not something your child did to you. They did not “choose gayness” to rebel against you, get back at you or make your life miserable. In fact, it really has nothing do with you. You did not cause this; it’s not a failure on your part. As a younger Christian, taught that homosexuality is a sin, I believed that trauma somewhere in someone’s past caused homosexuality, even if they didn’t remember it. To my surprise, God completely shifted my understanding and revealed to me the many people who had a great childhood and are still gay. He also reminded me of the many straight people who had traumatic childhoods, yet remained straight. Your expectations may lay shattered at your feet. But those are your expectations for your child. Quite simply, they may not be God’s expectations. Ask God to replace your vision for your child with His.

2. This orientation is not news to your child. They likely did not tell you the first time they noticed their same-sex attraction. In fact, they have probably lived with this quite a long time. They had to discover how true it was. They had to watch other young teens grow into puberty, and realize they weren’t developing the same feelings. Perhaps they dated the opposite gender to see if passion might develop, and yet none did. By the time they come out to you, they are pretty sure of what they’re saying. You may have to work through a slate of brand new emotions about this, and your emotions will affect them, but theirs are not brand new. Do not ask them if they are sure, if maybe they want to take a little time and see what happens. Instead, consider the journey they have been through. Ask them things like, “When did you know?” “How long have you felt this way?” and tell them how you are grateful that they are including you, that they don’t have to go through this alone anymore.

3. Now is a key time to embrace your child. Imagine for a moment the courage it took to tell you about their sexuality, especially when they know it seems to contradict your core beliefs. In this moment, your child needs to know he did the right thing by telling you. You may flood with fear, doubt, anger, grief, disappointment, shame, anguish or guilt, but do not let those hinder you from expressing your unconditional love and admiration for your child. Your child will have their own list of emotions to deal with; don’t hand them yours. Give yourself time to process all of your own emotions. Be kind to yourself and your child through this.

4. They were terrified to tell you. The risk they took is very real. Some gay teens have been shamed, banished, threatened, beaten, and shunned. They know that once it is said, it cannot be unsaid. They took this chance either because they trusted you and hoped for the best, or because they could not stand to live inauthentically any longer. You have a strong child. Be proud. You have the opportunity to make the most of their trust and come through for them with the unconditional love of a parent. That’s your job as a parent and a Christian — to love unconditionally.

5. Praying, wishing and believing will not make your child straight. If doing these things meant that homosexuality would not visit a Christian home, then we wouldn’t see it cropping up so often. I have heard countless stories of people who prayed without ceasing, but nothing changed. Picture with me the false faith-healers who pray to heal audience members’ maladies; when there is no result, those charlatans tell the poor kid in the wheelchair, “Maybe next time you’ll have enough faith to be healed.” Where does that place the blame? If anyone has ever been healed in that setting, it is God’s choice, not the one in the wheelchair. Has anyone prayed themselves straight? I don’t know. Meanwhile, countless stories of those who prayed, did everything right, followed every suggestion, and poured themselves wholeheartedly into being straight–only to experience disappointment and self-loathing. Your child does not deserve this.

6. For teens, there are still many changes to come. Don’t panic! Let them discover themselves. What did you know at 18 that you feel the same about today? Come to think of it, sexual orientation is probably one of the few things you were sure about. Do not require a certain life path for your son or daughter at this time when the world is their oyster. Haven’t we yet learned how crippling it is to have to please someone else? Do not tell them that it is a phase that will wear off. Acknowledge how far they have come, that they have an exciting future, and that you will be with them every step of the way. If they discover that their orientation may not be what they thought, then they alone will discover that. Telling them you are praying that they change, or that they will likely “straighten out” as they get older, will only distance them from you. Worst of all, do not send them to “reorientation” camp. This traumatizes countless teens, cementing deep shame and self-hatred.

7. Adult children are out of your hands. Even more than teens, adult children are beyond your parental authority. You have done your best as a parent, however flawed you were. (We all were!) You must trust God with this child you have raised. Embrace them and love them as a fellow believer–Jesus asks that of you. Do not shun them or take other action, which will only alienate you from their lives. Instead, look forward to the many major life events ahead, and be there for them as you wanted your parents to be there for you.

8. Put other peoples’ responses aside. The opinion of your pastor, your Bible group, or your extended family are not as important as your son or daughter’s well-being. Put others’ opinions aside and focus on how God would lead you specifically. If you can’t say in your heart that your child is more important than others’ opinions, then seek the Lord about this and ask Him to restore your priorities.

9. Bear your son’s or daughter’s burdens. Let the weight of unanswered questions and discomfort rest on you. You are not the one being pressured to change your identity. Your child has the whole rest of the world to navigate; you are uniquely equipped to help bear their burden and so fulfill the law of Christ, as Galatians 6:2 tells us. Your relationship with your child calls for that much. Don’t press for answers or easy solutions. As with other big events in life, get comfortable with not knowing, and patiently let God reveal answers in His timing.

10. Finally, remember that we are not responsible to change people’s behavior. Not our job, even with our children, especially as they get older. If you think you’re going to make your pianist into a football player, give it up now. Jesus is not about behavior modification; He is about life, His life flowing through us. That is what grace (kharis) means — to let Jesus’ love flow through us instead of feeling obligated to fix everything. Your job is to love people, especially your child. Let God use this situation to show you what it means to love unconditionally. While we love others, God is at work in ways we can’t see.

This road is likely not one you would have chosen, nor initially welcomed. But if you seek Him, God will show you the beauty of the journey. Perhaps God has chosen you for such a time as this, to shine His love amidst all the anger and hate (even if your beliefs about it never change). Perhaps He will work through you to restore His name that has been so maligned to a group of people who need Him — as we all do. God is good at giving us quandaries we didn’t expect, to rock our little tiny worldviews. He shakes everything that can be shaken until all that’s left is what is unshakeable. Cling to Him in this time, and He will bring about something wonderful — for you and your family.

Please feel free to comment below on your experience of your child coming out, or email me directly through the contact page on FreedHearts.Com. God bless you on this journey.

Susan

Cottrell-SusanSUSAN COTTRELL is a national speaker, teacher, and counselor with years of Biblical study and discipleship experience. Her books include: Mom, I’m Gay – Loving Your LGBTQ Child Without Sacrificing Your Faithas well as How Not to Lose Your Teen and The Marriage Renovation. Through her nonprofit organization – FreedHearts.org – Susan champions the LGBTQ community and families with her characteristic tender-heartedness, and she zealously challenges Christians who reject them with her wise insistence that “loving God and loving others” are the foundation of the rest of the scripture, just as Jesus said.

She is the Vice-President of PFLAG Austin, and her “Mom, I’m Gay” book has been endorsed by The Human Rights Campaign and others.MomImGay Sharon Groves, PhD, HRC’s Religion & Faith Program Director says, “I often get asked by parents for resources that can address the struggles of raising LGBT sons and daughters without having to leave faith behind. Susan Cottrell’s book, Mom, I’m Gay, does just that. This is the kind of book that parents will love.”

She and her husband have been married more than 25 years and have five children – one of whom is in the LGBTQ community. She lives in Austin, Texas, and blogs at FreedHearts.org and here in IMPACT Magazine’s FreedHearts and Jesus Blog columns.

 (c) Susan Cottrell, 2013, FreedHearts Ministries

Open Letter to Anne Paulk and the Restored Hope Network

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

Anne,

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

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

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

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

The results?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Furthermore, your beliefs about the causality of homosexuality have LONG since been cast aside by the American Psychological Association (http://web.archive.org/web/20130808032050/http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/sexual-orientation.aspx). Your organization is out of touch with science and reality. Evenlyn Hooker, in the 1950s was the first to note that there is no psychological difference between heterosexuals and homosexuals (The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual, 1957).  Your beliefs about homosexuality as a perversion are ignorant, uneducated and make you and your organization sound foolish.

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

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

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

Tim

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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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What will the neighbors think?

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m so glad I’m not alone.”

“You are brave and you inspire me.”

“I’ve never felt closer to you.”

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

“Me, too!”

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

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

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

Perhaps that’s you.

Tim

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