Let Me Explain

PrayAwayTheGay1Several months ago I was contacted by a journalist who introduced himself by saying he could never write about me because of my involvement in ex-gay ministry. He was polite, but blunt. He was afraid of the hate mail his readers would send him if he wrote about my book. More honestly, he said he could simply never do it in good conscience.

I get it. What Exodus stood for when I was involved in the mid-90s, and what it became after I left, was atrocious. It dehumanized millions of people and told them that there was something wrong with them; that they were unacceptable to God the way they were. It caused good people and their families’ unbearable pain. Some then, as now, have committed suicide over the message. Families have been ripped apart. There is no excuse.

But there is an explanation.

In the early ‘70s, fresh off of the charismatic Jesus Movement, came the idea that whatever an earnest Christian asked for, God would grant it. Homosexuality, it was believed then, as now in most fundamentalist circles, was a sin. Therefore, if a gay Christian simply prayed for God to remove it, it was done. Regardless of the feelings, he or she was considered “ex-gay.”

At first, the ex-gay message was only shared and believed among the few involved in the sanitized hippie population of the Jesus Movement. But more organizations began popping up around the United States, carried by the expanding charismatic crusade. Those organizations were eventually organized into what became Exodus International in 1976. For the next 20 years, through religious-political groups like Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, the ex-gay movement became something it was never intended to be: political.

In the fundamentalist church, it was no longer a question of whether or not God could change someone from gay to straight, it was expected. The message of “freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ” was preached from pulpits, even though there was no understanding of how, or if, it worked. The churches didn’t know that most of the early founders of the ex-gay movement had abandoned, and even denounced the movement as ineffective and damaging, before it ever got off the ground.

Fundamentalism, just like the ex-gay movement, had taken on a life of its own. Those who didn’t measure up were simply tossed aside. Those who dissented, were metaphorically stamped with a scarlet letter as deceived, backsliders, or ungodly. The quickest way to both dehumanize someone and avoid having to examine one’s personal beliefs and motivations is to deflect the discussion and point to that person as the problem.

Many of us who were leaders, as well as ex-gay participants, came to the ministry with fundamentalist backgrounds. The Bible, we believed, was the inerrant Word of God. If anything was wrong, it was us, not the Bible. We learned to suppress our sexual orientations, talk like the culture in which we were a part, and believe that we were really changing. The ex-gay message was merely an extension of the Christian faith to which we so firmly clung.

The mental conflict, for many of us, took years to come to the surface. Away from the ex-gay ministry, and off the stage, we had to face real life. In spite of our feelings, we refused to believe that we were gay and that we were wrong about God and our message. To be wrong meant the very core of who we were was wrong. That meant our entire lives would change. For many of us, that’s exactly what happened.

Ex-gay ministry is an extension of the fundamentalist, evangelical church. The problem was, and always has been, systematic in nature. Teach the Church what homosexuality is really about, and ex-gay ministry goes away.

However, it’s not that simple. As I’ve written before, three things have to be present to change someone’s mind: cognitive dissonance, critical thinking, and experience. People can live their entire lives experiencing any one, or two of those things together, but their minds won’t be changed until they experience the third piece of the puzzle. Then, and only then, will they start to rethink their positions. Just like we former leaders had to do, these people will need to dismantle what they believe and rebuild it on a different platform. Without a significant reason to do so, it will never happen.

When reparative therapy, based on outdated and debunked theories, became part of the Exodus message, the door opened further for even more inhumane practices. This time it was under the guise of “professional counseling.” This, too, is all part of the same faulty thinking, at least as it relates to those who believe it further validates their fundamentalist world view. It all dehumanizes, oppresses and shames the LGBT community. Like other recovering ex-gays and fundamentalists, I am all to familiar with the pain, the shame, the anger and the suicidal thoughts that always seem to lie just under the surface of “normal.”

I realize there are those, like the journalist who contacted me, that would like us former leaders and founders to simply go away. The leadership of the new version of “Exodus” would like us to go away, too. The reason we were in the ministry in the first place is not because it was a way to gain publicity and make money. We truly loved the people to whom we ministered and believed that what we were doing was for their eternal good. We were wrong. As a former leader in ex-gay ministry, I cannot apologize enough for my involvement.

Few people know the internal workings of the ex-gay “regime” and right wing politics like we do. Even fewer people have relationships with political figures and influential pastors like we do. Some former ex-gay leaders were, or are, well-known public figures. When they speak, the media listens. Because of their involvement, reparative therapy for minors has been outlawed in four states and the District of Columbia. Currently, there is a federal policy on the table that may outlaw reparative therapy for youth around the country.

I know of no one who makes a living speaking strictly about his or her involvement with ex-gay ministry. We mostly self-publish our books to ensure our stories get told so that others can learn the truth about ex-gay ministries. Those books and occasional speaking engagements allow us to reach people who have either been personally affected by the church or reparative therapy, or who can relate to religious conflict we experienced. To quote Robin Robertson, “Our mess is our message.”

I cannot stress enough how important ex-gay survivor stories are, both for ending conversion therapy and for personal healing. Stories should be shared whenever and wherever possible. There are two sites available: Beyond Ex-gay, and ConversionTherapySurvivors.org. Still, because of the damage done by fundamentalism and the ex-gay message, many survivors cannot speak for themselves. They suffer tremendous shame and are simply unable to share their lives.

We, as former leaders have set up a website, Former Ex-gay Leaders Alliance (FELA), to work together and speak out as a group to put an end to ex-gay ministries around the world. While we cannot reverse the damage that has been done, we are working to keep it from continuing.

Photo – Flickr/^@^ina (Irina Patrascu Gheorghita )

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In Defens(iveness) of Religion

This article first appeared in The Good Men Project March 1, 2015In-Defensive-of-Religion

True religion doesn’t need defending. What’s true can stand on its own.

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Growing up in a Pentecostal denomination, passion came with the territory. My grandfather once prayed over a meal for so long he broke into tongues, only to be scolded by my grandmother for turning dinner into a revival. It was all in good fun on her part. As far as our family was concerned, anytime was a good time for a prayer meeting. And for over 25 years, as an Evangelical Christian minister, I sang, preached, and told others about my beliefs with fervor.

But like many people whose realities don’t match up to their beliefs, my viewpoints began to change. I couldn’t reconcile how God would let my wife divorce me and allow my family to become another statistic. That was the first crack in the armor of faith that once covered me like a custom-fit suit. More unanswered questions led to more cracks, until I realized I could no longer believe in the religion in which I was raised. The armor crumbled. I was free.

I soon discovered, however, that my newfound freedom made people uneasy. Some of those with whom I’d ministered and/or been friends, no longer spoke to me. They attacked the simplest of statements and discarded my decades of experience as a Christian and minister. It was as though my mere existence was an affront to God and He sent them to ridicule and dismiss me. Seemingly overnight I went from a loved, valued and esteemed member of a family to a disdained outcast.

♦◊♦

It’s one thing to disagree with someone who holds a different, or no religious, point of view, but verbal assaults are something else. My good friend, straight ally and LGBT advocate, Kathy Baldock, once posted a comment in an Evangelical Christian forum. (She still identifies as an Evangelical Christian.) She had spent years researching the information she shared. But because her point of view was different than a majority of the readers and commenters, she was met with:

“You ignorant dbags are treating a sin like it’s something they are born with…Please pull your heads out of your butts and actually talk to God and read his book.”

“You are a ‘Christian’ but you believe people are born gay? So you believe in science over our creator?”

Dr. Richard Beck describes this defensiveness as “Terror Management.” He wrote that when religious people “feel existentially vulnerable” they “respond by reinvesting in, defending, and shoring up…cultural worldviews (the source of our meaning in life). These defensive responses, collectively called ‘worldview defense,’ have been measured in a number of ways, from denigrating outgroup members to harshly punishing those who violate our cultural norms.”

In other words, when the very core of someone’s existence is called into question, it leaves him or her feeling exposed. The natural response is to cling even tighter to those intrinsic beliefs and lash out at the person, or group, threatening to challenge them.

There is something about questioning one’s core beliefs that is unnerving. Someone likened it to being a stray dog with a broken leg, perhaps one that is not well socialized. When you try to help the dog, he bites at you because he is in a vulnerable situation. Dr. Beck quotes Freud as saying; “The believer will not let his belief be torn from him, either by arguments or by prohibitions.”

As a society, we’re seeing religious defensiveness play out particularly in response to equal rights for LGBT people and gay marriage. The notorious Alabama’s Chief Justice, Roy Moore, said in an interview, “Our rights do not come from the Constitution, they come from God.” In spite of the interviewer’s in depth knowledge of the legal system, Judge Moore would not, or perhaps could not, see the situation from any other point of view. His defensiveness short-circuited his ability to reason and this otherwise intelligent man was incapable of engaging in a thoughtful conversation. (See the 25 minute interview here.)

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Dr. Joseph Burgo noted one of his favorite therapists’ thoughts on defensiveness as “lies we tell ourselves to ward off truths too painful to accept or unbearable emotions and feelings.” He went on to say, “What makes them so difficult for us to recognize [them in] ourselves is that we’ve spent a lifetime believing those lies and we want to go right on believing them because the alternative is to feel pain.”

Do religious people not truly believe what they preach? Not necessarily. However, where there is faith, there is at least some level of doubt. For Christian fundamentalists, for example (of which I was a part), the belief that the Bible is the Word of God and contains all truth, leaves many unanswered questions. It presents an angry God who, on one hand, says His love is everlasting, but, on the other hand, if you don’t accept it, will send you into a fiery hell for all eternity. Theologians and Christian apologists have built complex explanations and word plays to account for the Biblical discrepancies, but even people with the strongest of faith feel something is off.

Many of the more “evangelistic” religions use this defensiveness as a way to deputize their followers. Rather than sitting around questioning the outright authority of the faith, their job is to win people “into the Kingdom” through Coercion, threats, or force. We see this currently happening with ISIS. However, it is also a part of Christianity’s history. Interestingly enough, when President Obama pointed this out, the religious right who dismissed the horrific murders and crimes against humanity in the name of God verbally assaulted him. (See Religious News Service; Was Obama right about the crusades and Islamic Extremism?) Denial is easier than justifying incongruences of the faith.

Unfortunately, changing one’s worldview is a difficult process, even in light of mentally conflicting information. We need to look no further than the U.S. congress to see a battle over ideologies, each side believing they are right and the other is wrong. Gridlock ensures that no one gets anywhere and nothing changes. Indeed, defensiveness is not found only in those who hold strong religious beliefs.

I’ve always found it ironic that those who believe in an all-powerful God work so diligently to silence those who don’t. What they can’t do through evangelism and prayer, they accomplish through political action committees and legislation. True religion doesn’t need defending. What’s true can stand on its own.

Photo – Flick/David Wise

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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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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

♦◊♦

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

This is the Lady Your Pastor Warned You About

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

♦◊♦

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

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

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

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

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

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

♦◊♦

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

♦◊♦

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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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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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What will the neighbors think?

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m so glad I’m not alone.”

“You are brave and you inspire me.”

“I’ve never felt closer to you.”

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

“Me, too!”

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

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

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

Perhaps that’s you.

Tim

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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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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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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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You Don’t Have to Love Me

Love&HateI, like many Christians, grew up with the phrase, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” It’s a statement, when used in the Church, that infers Christians can show compassion and love for others, while not condoning their activities, or “lifestyles.”

There are a number of problems with the statement. For starters, it’s arrogant and judgmental. It assumes the “love-er” has the right to judge the “love-ee.” By it’s mere suggestion, it divides people into a hierarchy: the righteous and the sinner. It lacks empathy, compassion, and human dignity. It was never used in the Bible. In fact, Jesus was considered a “friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19).

I always suggest that people who like to use these pithy statements first try them out on their significant others and see how well they go over: “I love you, but not your sin.”

Many religious people have separated themselves from anyone who does not share their beliefs. They may associate with people outside of church, but rarely do they build meaningful relationships. “Those people” too often embody the sin the religious hate. To avoid the sin, they avoid the sinner.

American Evangelical Christianity has become consumed with the concept of sin. Sermons more often contain what not to do and who shouldn’t be doing it, than empowering people to “love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Rules and regulations, laws and lawgivers, have hi-jacked the simple, yet powerful, message of grace.

Christianity, unlike any other religion, is all about grace. To receive it, there is nothing that needs to be done, said, or believed. It can’t be nullified or taken away. It can’t be trampled on, or devalued. It is the greatest gift to mankind, and it is unimaginable and incomprehensible.

The beauty of this kind of grace is that it releases the receiver from any expectation. So you can hate my sin, but you can even go a step further: You don’t even have to love me. Grace has that covered for both of us.

Tim

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