Why I Stopped Teaching My Kids to Believe in God

This article first appeared in The Good Men Project.

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

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

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

♦◊♦

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

♦◊♦

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

Photo – Flickr/Rob Ellis

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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Ex-ex-gay: A Journey Toward Healing

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

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

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

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

♦◊♦

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For help, see Beyond Ex-Gay.

Photo – Flickr/BK

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I’m a Gay Man Who Married a Straight Woman

This article first appeared in The Good Men Project.

WeddingWhen religion makes a promise reality can’t keep.

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

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

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

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

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

♦◊♦

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

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

But I was gay.

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

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

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

♦◊♦

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

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

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

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

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

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

♦◊♦

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

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

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

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

#BornPerfect

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Photo: Flickr/Albert Palmer

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

This article first appeared in The Good Men Project.

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

___

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

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

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

♦◊♦

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

♦◊♦

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

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

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

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

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

♦◊♦

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

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

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

♦◊♦

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

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

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

Photo–Daniel Gonzales/Flickr

Why are We Still Trying to “Fix” Gays?

This article first appeared at The Good Men Project.

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

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

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

♦◊♦

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

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

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

♦◊♦

Why try to change someone’s sexual orientation?

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

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

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

♦◊♦

What do we know about the effects of reparative therapy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

♦◊♦

What can you do to help?

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

Where can you go if you need help?

If you are an ex-gay survivor, there are resources available at BeyondExGay.com, as well as, TimRymel.com/Resources. If you’re interested in connecting with other ex-gay survivors, contact me Tim@TimRymel.com.

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

Let me know what you think!

Tim

 

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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

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Tim

 

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A Drag Queen for Jesus

This article first appeared at The Good Men Project.

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

◊♦◊

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

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

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

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

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

◊♦◊

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

◊♦◊

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

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

For more information visit MommaAshleyRose.com.

— Photo courtesy of Momma Ashley Rose

Let me know what you think.

Tim

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What It Means to be a Truth Seeker

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

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

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

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

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

That doesn’t make any sense to me.

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

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

I refuse to play the game.

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

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

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

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

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

Tim

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Winning the Battle and Losing the War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim

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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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5 Ways Pastors Can Reach Out To The Gay Community

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

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

  1. Don’t come with an agenda

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

  1. Drop the assumptions

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

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

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

4. Put down your Bibles

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

5. Be prepared to change

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

Tim

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Be Ye Transformed

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

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

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

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

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

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

May your life be continually transformed.

Tim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to buy a copy of A Life of Unlearning from Audible.com.

Tim

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Would You Jump Off A Cliff to Save Your Life?

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

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

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

Love.

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

Psychotherapist Ken Page wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

I was finally alive.

1Page, Ken, Finding Love, Why Coming Out Isn’t Just for Gay People, Psychology Today, May 5, 2013, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/finding-love/201305/why-coming-out-isnt-just-gay-people

Tim

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Why I Don’t Talk About Scriptures

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

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

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

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

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

And Acts 15:1-2a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Change a couple of words and you have this today:

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

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

I refuse to engage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim

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Keeping Up Appearances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for Justin Lee’s Blog.

Click here to learn about the Gay Christian Network.

Tim

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