The South Is Rising Again! And it Needs to Stop.

Entering MIssissippi

This post first appeared in The Good Men Project.

Implementing still more laws that segregate and discriminate, Southern states showcase the worst of human fears and ignorance.

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In March of 2016, Georgia passed a law that allowed tax-funded organizations to deny services to same-sex and unmarried couples. HB 757 was intended to protect ministers from having to perform same-sex marriages – something that has always been protected in the country’s constitution – but then the senate took the bill even further.

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Think Kim Davis. Just don’t think about her four marriages. Ironically, she could have been a victim to this law if it had gone into effect a few years earlier.

Georgia’s senate decided that the bill should prohibit the government from taking action against anyone at a state-funded organization who holds a “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such marriage.” Think Kim Davis. Just don’t think about her four marriages. Ironically, she could have been a victim to this law if it had gone into effect a few years earlier.

In spite of numerous businesses speaking out against the bill, with threats of moving out of Georgia all together, it passed. Fortunately, on March 28, Governor Nathan Deal vetoed the bill stating; “”I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, of which I and my family have been a part for all of our lives.”

Not to be overshadowed by it’s neighbor, Mississippi passed a bill, which was signed into law on Tuesday, April 5, 2016, by Governor Phil Bryant. Like Georgia, this law allows businesses with “sincerely held religious beliefs” to refuse service to LGBT people, going a step further to state that gender is “determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.” The bill is called the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.”

LGBT people can lose their jobs, housing, and be refused service for food, or even protection by public officials. Someone only needs to say their “sincere” religious beliefs won’t allow them to serve.

And North Carolina’s HB 2 was created out of a special session on March 23rd, then passed and signed by the governor on the same night. It repealed a new ordinance expanding LGBT protection passed in Charlotte on February 22nd. More than just removing those LGBT protections, it made the new state law the final word, which means the law cannot be expanded by cities or local governments to protect anyone outside of race, religion, national origin, color, age, biological sex and handicaps. LGBT people can lose their jobs, housing, and be refused service for food, or even protection by public officials. Someone only needs to say their “sincere” religious beliefs won’t allow them to serve. HB 2 goes further, also ensuring that the minimum wage does not go higher than the state’s $7.25 an hour.

South Carolina’s Senator Lee Bright mirrored the HB 2 bill, minus the economic restrictions, just this week, targeting transgender students. It states, “Local school boards shall require every multiple occupancy bathroom or changing facility that is designated for student use to be designated for and used only by students based on their biological sex.”

Senator Bright told WYFF news, “I’ve about had enough of this. I mean, years ago we kept talking about tolerance, tolerance and tolerance. And now they want men who claim to be women to be able to go into bathrooms with children. And you got corporations who say this is OK.”

Just for clarity’s sake, while there are no recorded incidences of children being attacked by a transgender person, laws typically don’t prohibit attackers from attacking.

If all of this sounds vaguely familiar to anyone with any knowledge of Southern history and the civil rights movement, that’s because it is. Historian Jason Sokol, noted in his essay, White Southerners’ Reactions to the Civil Rights Movement, “The ‘Southern way of life’ encompassed a distinctive mix of economic, social, and cultural practices… It also contained implications about the region’s racial order — one in which whites wielded power and blacks accommodated.”

“…white Southerners produced and absorbed cruel stereotypes about African Americans: that they were unclean and shiftless, unintelligent and oversexed. Blacks became either clowns or savages, with no area in between.”

Blacks were demeaned and dehumanized, Sokol says. “…white Southerners produced and absorbed cruel stereotypes about African Americans: that they were unclean and shiftless, unintelligent and oversexed. Blacks became either clowns or savages, with no area in between.”

There are two issues at work here: 1) A challenge to the social norm and 2) a lack of education. The consequent reaction is fear and retaliation, just as it was during the civil rights movement. In fact, in Florida, just last week, the Department of Children and Families removed LGBTQ-inclusive language from its rules. The sentiment expressed through this move is the same as Senator Bright when he said, “I’ve had about enough of this.” Unfortunately, according to Lambda Legal Senior Attorney, Currey Cook, about 20% of kids in foster care are LGBTQ, which leaves the most vulnerable children unprotected at a time when they need it the most.

Most of us get uneasy when our way of life feels challenged. Today people can barely have a political conversation without becoming defensive. Introduce protections for a class of people deemed “unclean, shiftless and oversexed,” and you have the makings of a rebellion. Throw in the fear mongering of religious and conservative news organizations and you have the makings of another civil war.

The lack of accessible education many people have in some of the more economically challenged areas exacerbates the problem. For example, Mississippi is second to last for the lowest high school graduation rates in the United States. Not surprisingly, Mississippi is also the poorest state in the nation.

When people are not exposed to ideas and experiences outside of their own, they create emotional and intellectual walls of “security,” or defense mechanisms to keep themselves mentally safe.

Most of the college freshmen I’ve taught find it difficult to critically think outside of their narrow worldviews. Asking them “why” easily creates a deer-in-the-headlights reaction. They are prepared to spit back information they’ve learned, but not equipped to explain reasoning behind their gut instincts. When people are not exposed to ideas and experiences outside of their own, they create emotional and intellectual walls of “security,” or defense mechanisms to keep themselves mentally safe.

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All of that said, I grew up in California after the civil rights era. My parents came from Southern roots and have little education beyond high school. Sometimes I heard racial slurs in my home, and I remember my father often shaking his head in disbelief at people or things he didn’t understand. He had strong feelings against interracial dating at the time. My grandmother, who didn’t have a mean bone in her body, usually referred to black people by the n-word. Never with malice. It was just how she grew up in poor, rural Missouri in the early 1900s. We were a Christian family who believed in the literal translation of the Scriptures.

Yet, no matter what was said or thought at home, I was taught to treat people with decency and kindness. As I grew older, Grandma changed the n-word to “negro,” or “colored,” and my father let go of his prejudices, usually defusing differences with his quick wit. One thing I appreciate about my family is their willingness to learn and grow.

It’s easy to get sucked into the political divisions we’re confronted with day after day. Creating controversy and stirring the pot is how media networks make money. At the end of the day, however, we’re all humans with the same need for love, security and belonging, irrespective of race, creed, sexual orientation, or even gender identity. We don’t have to agree with each other, or even understand, to support each other. It’s a matter of simple human decency.

As Rabbi Mark Sobel wrote in his church newsletter:

“First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out,

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out,

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out,

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Photo – unknown

Tim

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Is My Gay Agenda Anti-Christian?

This article first appeared in The Good Men Project March 22, 2015

MyAgenda

A former evangelical minister turned LGBT advocate comes clean about his motives.

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This week I was accused of having it out for Christians. In fact the person said that all she seems to find from me is “judgment, criticism, no respect for the Fundamentalist’s beliefs and constant bombardment of article upon article of how ‘Christians’ are wrong.”

This is true. And here’s why.

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I spent over 25 years of my life as a fundamentalist Christian. I grew up in church and then became a minister. I spoke out against homosexuality and, by default, homosexuals themselves. When my accusers called me homophobic, I flat out denied it. After all, opposing sin isn’t homophobic, it’s heroic in a culture that seems to worship idolatry and human beings over God. I stood firmly against the tide, with God on my side. Besides, I protested, the Bible is very clear on the issue.

And then I came out.

I was a gay man trapped inside a minister’s body. I tried to believe, do and say all the right things. I prayed and memorized books of the Bible. I was a worship leader, leading hundreds and sometimes thousands of people into the throne room of heaven. I had a relationship with Jesus that, at times, felt like it moved mountains.

After decades of this, I mentally cracked under the strain. It forced me to rethink what I believed and it violently pushed me into reality.

The problem is that I had become so accustomed to deceiving myself about the fact that I was attracted to the same sex, I made sure others believed it, too. I pushed it down, prayed, confessed, cried, and pushed it down some more. After decades of this, I mentally cracked under the strain. It forced me to rethink what I believed and it violently pushed me into reality.

Up until then, ideology and dogma ruled my life like a tyrannical dictator. And, in the name of God, that’s exactly how I treated people who disagreed with me. Compassion, I discovered, was impossible to find for others when I had none for myself. I could no longer avoid the fact that what I believed was a lie.

Then there’s something that happens to a person when he gets honest with himself. With the judgment gone, I started listening to other people’s stories in a way I had never listened, nor could I listen, before. And the stories I heard…

From across the country and around the globe came stories of other Christian men and women who had been thrown out of their churches, lost their jobs, families, and life-long friends all while simply trying to “do the right thing.” Some eventually committed suicide, believing that the problem was with them. They received and believed the message that they were better off dead and in heaven, then gay and in hell.

My friend Amy, from Memphis, Tennessee shared with me this week that her partner’s brother, a fundamentalist Christian, told his ten-year-old daughter that she could no longer follow his sister on social media. It was one more sign of rejection for Amy’s long-time partner.

At 17, her Christian family put her on Zoloft because she was gay. When that didn’t change her, she was kicked out of the family, ignored, berated and shamed. They removed her from family functions and refused to have anything to do with her. Only after a young cousin died did her mother finally realize that she didn’t want to lose her daughter completely without some kind of relationship. Still, the bonds are strained.

The cold hard reality is that 20-40% of homeless youth are LGBT. In the Bible belt those numbers go up significantly, as high as 80%.

The cold hard reality is that 20-40% of homeless youth are LGBT. In the Bible belt those numbers go up significantly, as high as 80%. According to the Human Rights Campaign, “Highly rejected LGBT youth [by their families] are MORE THAN 8 TIMES as likely to have attempted suicide and 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.” They are also 3 times more likely to use illegal drugs compared with young people from families with little or no rejection.

Unfortunately, many from the fundamentalist Christian community will brush those statistics off thinking, if not saying, “Those people get what they deserve.” After all, the Bible clearly says the wages of sin is death. And the most important thing a Christian can do, in the mind of many fundamentalists, is follow the Bible.

But here’s the deal. Christian fundamentalism is relatively new. In fact, historians pinpoint it to around 1920, at a time when science and faith in America began to collide. It caused a split between what became Christian modernists, or the more liberal segment of the faith, and fundamentalists who believed the Bible must be taken literally.

As I began to study the roots of Christianity itself, I discovered that the Bible, as we know it, came into existence some 500 years after Christ lived. Homosexuality, a word not coined until the late 1800s and not added to the Bible until 1946, was virtually ignored, until around 1,200 AD.

Since the inception of Christianity there have been disagreements about what books should be included in the Bible and, in fact, there are several Bibles, all under the “Christian faith” umbrella. Additionally, there are over 33,000 sects of Christianity. Evangelical Christianity is purely an American phenomenon, which began in the 1730s, evolving into a brand of Christianity that is oddly synonymous with the American Dream.

Christians in the United States, particularly evangelical fundamentalist Christians, often represent their faith with a sense of entitlement.

Christians in the United States, particularly evangelical fundamentalist Christians, often represent their faith with a sense of entitlement. Many feel they should not have to offer the same hospitality to the LGBT community as they do the rest of humanity. It is similar to what the black community experienced during the civil rights movement, much with an attitude also grounded in the fundamentalist Christian faith.

Fundamentalists talk about a clash of rights, as though granting equal human rights to the LGBT community will somehow nullify their own. However, to my knowledge, no fundamentalist has ever been denied services because he or she self-identifies as a Christian, which is a chosen behavior and belief system. No fundamentalist has ever been tracked down and killed in the streets for simply existing. No fundamentalist has been denied the right to marry the person he loves. No fundamentalist has been told she is mentally ill because of her feelings. No fundamentalist has been separated from a dying partner because he was the “wrong” gender. No fundamentalist has ever committed suicide because she couldn’t stop being a fundamentalist. No fundamentalist has ever been made to feel he was a second-class citizen just because he was born.

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So, yes, I have an agenda. It’s to challenge the fundamentalist Christian community that their dogma and beliefs, based on highly suspect beginnings, are little more than thinly disguised discrimination. It’s to force them to look at the damage decades of mental, and sometimes physical abuse have caused families, for no purpose other than blind obedience to a belief system. It’s to challenge a view that God is more concerned with sheer obedience than inhumane behavior. It’s to give the self-righteous pause about looking down their noses at those who disagree with them. It’s to offer a valid, scientific explanation that all people are created equally, with natural variations, including gender and sexual orientation.

So when I write an article, post a controversial meme on social media, or speak out against religious dogma and discrimination, what I’m trying to say is look at the world from another point of view. Put down your Bible for a minute. Set aside what you think God is about. If God loved the entire world so much that He sent His only son to die for it, is He really more concerned about people perfectly understanding a book that no one has ever been able to agree on, more than simply loving people and treating them kindness, decency and dignity? That’s my agenda. I’m fairly confident that is His, too.

Photo – Abel Perez

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Just yesterday, a friend pointed me to another person who had reached the limit in her own struggle to come to grips with her life and fundamentalist upbringing. I found it poignant and wanted to share it here.

 

I am Angry, by Dena Lynn

I am finding myself so, so, so very enraged tonight. I am angry … just seething with rage at the rape of my soul.

The system of religion (in my case, Christianity), that claimed to be the foundation of ALL Truth (& the ONLY Truth), told me that everything about me that makes me human is also that which makes me aberrant, evil, and unworthy … despised by the very Creator who made me.

That my body is sinful, and that’s why it must die; that my mind is corrupt, and that’s why I must. not. think; that my emotions are untrustworthy, and that’s why I must. not. feel; that my heart is deceitfully wicked, and that’s why I must never-ever, not ever, trust myself; that my motives are impure, and that’s why I must never make my own decisions; that my desires are evil, and that’s why I must never want anything, and if I get what I want, it MUST be sacrificed and taken away; that my personality is prideful, and that’s why I must repent of anything that makes me unique; that my talents and gifts are worthless, unless they’re being used in service to God, and with God getting all the credit; that everything about me is evil, and must be denounced, despised and confessed as utter worthlessness; that everything about me is wretched, and that is why I, like everyone else, had to be cast away from God, separated from the Source of All Life. Don’t bother trying to fathom how that would even be possible, just accept that I’m uber-evil, to my very core, period. It marinated me in shame.

BUT, that if I accept my depravity, and confess it (before God and man), and face that God “loves me so much,” that even though He hates me the way He made me, and even though somebody’s gotta shed some blood in order to pay for this … God chose to kill God to appease God …Jesus dying on the cross, to pay the price that all us evil humans deserve to pay for being the way we’re made, by God. And that’s the “good news.”

Oh, and there’s a catch. See, God loves me SO much, wants to be with me forever SO badly, that he gave me this gift … annnnnd … if I don’t accept this gift, if I don’t admit that I’m evil, and receive this offer of salvation/connection-back-to-god; if I don’t “love him back” that way, then he has no choice but to send me to hell, where I’ll be consciously tormented and tortured forever and ever, without end.

That, I was told, is “unconditional love.”

Oh really? If I were courted by a man who said, “I love you with all my heart, and I want to be with you forever, and I’ll give you everything, but if you don’t love me back, and accept my gifts, then I have no choice but to stalk you and hunt you down, and torture you and kill you,” I might acquiesce, but it would be out of fear. I couldn’t actually love under those conditions.

I bought into it. I did all that because the fear of the consequences was too strong and because everyone in my life who I loved, trusted, and was told I had to obey, wanted me to do so. And I didn’t want to risk their rejection…as well as God’s. Did I have a choice? Does a dependent child ever really have a choice? Does the adult whose entire tribe is comprised of those who – loudly, staunchly, adamantly – believe that, really have a choice? When it’s “acquiesce or be banished” is that really a choice?

It turns out that I had a choice. And it turns out that banishment was indeed the price to be paid. Eleven years ago, following a life changing experience – and experience trumps doctrine … but only every time – I asked for “truth at all cost.” Truth mattered that much to me. I knew it was the only thing that would give me the security I so desperately needed. I was willing to risk everything I once believed, for the sake of truth. It cost me plenty. I lost nearly everything.

Truth came in like a slow-motion avalanche, toppling sacred cows like dominoes: hell; judgement day, and the whole second-coming of Jesus; original sin;sin, period; the origins of Christianity; the “inerrancy” of the Bible, and that it’s “God’s Word to be obeyed and followed”; and finally, once I “real-eyes’d” that nothing can be “separated” from the Source of All Life and live, the very foundation of Christianity itself.

And so, without any sort of decision, I noticed that I shed it, like a garment that could no longer fit me. The concept of God got far larger, kinder, vaster, more loving, less male, more inclusive, less exclusive, less separated, more innate, less “out there” and more “in here,” less human-hating, and more human-integrating. So that even the word “God” no longer fit, being far too limiting for All That Is.

Sounds good, right? Sounds like I was let out of prison, and catapulted into wide-expansive freedom, right?

Here’s the deal. The very painful, very discouraging, very enraging deal. It’s one thing to get the girl out of religion. It’s another thing entirely to get the religion out of the girl.

Conditioning is tough to overcome. No question. It’s part of life for all of us. But when the conditioning is stamped and sealed with “This Is The Absolute Truth of The Very Being Who Created You,” when that conditioning goes to the core of who you ARE as a human, when that conditioning carries the Extreme Authority of God Almighty, that conditioning goes deep, and digs in its talons, and keeps showing up, no matter WHAT I now know and believe; no matter how much proof I’ve evidenced, no matter HOW many books, seminars, healing sessions, ayahuasca ceremonies, hypnotherapy sessions, mantra-recitations, affirmation-repeatings I’ve experienced. That conditioning acts as though it has the legal right to BE there – as if I signed a contract that I can’t find – and to reduce my life to a mere shadow of what I KNOW it’s meant to be!

I do not know ANYthing as insidiously damaging to the soul, than Christianity. Period. And if you didn’t experience it, if you were spared it, then celebrate it. But make no mistake, you don’t get it.

NO, I do NOT see the good in Christianity. I know and love many Christians, but I despise the system of Christianity. Just as I can love a slave, but utterly despise the system of Slavery. What makes Christianity even more insidious is that it claims to be the highest good; that it claims to be the ONLY truth.

I despise ANYthing that enslaves anyone and I am infuriated that no matter what I do – and I don’t know of anyone who has tried to get free any harder than I have – this thing keeps its grip on me. This thing continues to hold me in slavery AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO DO TO GET FREE!

I am angry!!!!!! SO angry!!! And, dammit, I will remain angry, I will feel this anger until it passes. And then I shall feel whatever comes next.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo–Daniel Gonzales/Flickr

Why are We Still Trying to “Fix” Gays?

This article first appeared at The Good Men Project.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why try to change someone’s sexual orientation?

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

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

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

♦◊♦

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

Let me know what you think!

Tim

 

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

Listen

This is one of the most important blogs I think I’ve ever posted on the topic of ex-gay. Former ex-gay leader and author Bill Prickett concisely, accurately and articulately addresses what to listen for when someone claims to be ex-gay. Please like and share this important message. – Tim Rymel

 

It’s no secret that I believe “ex-gay” (reparative) therapy is bogus and dangerous. Regardless of my very clear position, people will regularly send (unsolicited) “personal testimony” videos, accompanied by a statement like: “Well, how do you explain this person’s wonderful change?”

Note: For the record, I don’t like to question anyone’s personal experience. It’s their experience, not mine. You tell me you were healed when Jesus appeared to you on a piece of toast? I say, Amen. You insist that God speaks to you through your Shar Pei? I respond: Hallelujah!
I will reserve my opinion…right up until you insist that your experience is THE pattern all others must follow. (i.e., God only speaks through small dogs!)

One of my chief problems (it’s difficult to boil down my problems to just one) with these testimonies is they rely solely on self-reporting, and therefore are unverifiable. While I appreciate the motivation to share the Good News of God’s work in their life, there’s still the issue of proof. It’s not that I’m calling them liars; I’m sure they are very sincere…but I think they’re sincerely wrong!

Let’s be honest, I can make any kind of claim: “I have overcome my cravings for the tasty delights of chocolate. I never even think about eating a luscious Snickers bar.”
Without the aid of ESP or Vulcan mind-melding, finding my well-hidden stash, or catching me with caramel hanging out of my lips, there’s no way to contradict the veracity of my candy victory testimony.

Over the years, I’ve detected revealing patterns in these testimonies that only reinforces my hardcore conviction that sexual orientation cannot be changed. As you listen to someone who claims they changed from gay to straight, please don’t take the declaration at face value, even though the person might be an earnest Christian. Ask these questions:

1. Do they have “lingering” sexual desires or temptations? 
No matter what else is claimed, when I hear someone confess they still have those “desires,” it’s Game Over in my mind. They can call themselves “ex-gay,” “former gay” or healed or cured or whatever, but they are…overstating. I’ve heard “ex-gays” who still “struggle” after 10-15 years. Shouldn’t that tell us something?

2. Are they confusing behavior with orientation?
It’s one thing to say “I am no longer sexually active,” but it’s something else to say “I am no longer gay.” If a homosexual never has sex, that doesn’t make them straight; they are merely a celibate homosexual. Let’s not confuse discipline and willpower with an actual change in orientation.

Note: There’s a similar problem when erroneous evidence is presented, such as “I am now married, with a family.” Getting married is a choice, not proof of sexual orientation.

3. Is this simply a contrast of extremes? 
Often the person will give shocking details about their former life—sexual promiscuity, alcohol or drug abuse, stealing, hustling, pornography, etc. Then something intervened. Maybe a life-changing religious conversion. Perhaps a 12-step program. We can applaud the miraculous improvements in their life now, but it’s not the same as a change in sexual orientation.

4. What “tense” is being used?
Many ex-gay groups practice “positive confession,” the premise that we say what we want…as if we already have it. Instead of saying “I want to be free of my homosexuality,” I confess “I am free of my homosexuality!” Rather than admit “I’ve asked God to heal me of these desires,” I proclaim “I am healed, in Jesus’ Name.” It’s actually “future perfect” tense, using present tense phrasing—grammatically incorrect, as well as factually misleading.

5. Are they employing accurate terminology?
Statements like “I’ve rejected the gay lifestyle” could mean anything. (Or nothing, since “lifestyle” is not a accurate description of what it means to be gay.) Another common one is “I turned my back on homosexuality.” That’s vague, and is not the same as a change in sexual attraction. (It’s like saying “I dyed my hair, and turned my back on being a red-head?”)

6. Do they have adequate credentials?
Those who talk about the methods required to go from gay to straight are generally not medical or mental health professionals. Most often, those who lead “ex-gay” groups are those who’ve been through the program themselves, with little additional training.

Likewise, those who insist the Bible is “absolutely clear” are typically not theologians. Unfortunately, that doesn’t prevent them from speaking authoritatively as if they were. In point of fact, there is disagreement about what the Bible says about homosexuality; it’s not as black-and-white as some would purport. There is also no consensus about the cause of homosexuality, though reputable professionals know it’s not a choice. (Every major professional medical and mental health organization has come out against reparative therapy.)

7. What is the timeline? 
We know that sexual orientation is complex, so be wary of simplistic, quickie methods for “cure.” (“I prayed about it, and God took away my desires.”) In addition, often the person speaking has only been living this new “ex-gay” experience for a short time. It’s like someone who recently lost a significant amount of weight; they’re excited and convinced they will never gain back the weight. But what happens six months or a year…or ten years down the road?

For me, after 30+ years of monitoring the “ex-gay” movement, none of the testimonies have swayed my beliefs that sexual orientation is innate and unchangeable. I’ve been called skeptical, but I prefer to think of it as…weathered. (Okay, cynical!) My advice: when you listen, try to hear what’s not being said. Separate what’s actually true and what is wishful exaggeration.

Bill PrickettBill Prickett is the author of two novels, The Mind Set on the Flesh and Sow the Wind, Reap the Whirlwind (available at Amazon.com). He is a former “ex-gay” and ex-gay leader. For more information, visit his website, BillPrickett.com.

Join in the conversation by leaving comments below.

A Drag Queen for Jesus

This article first appeared at The Good Men Project.

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

◊♦◊

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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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 – 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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Gays, Christians and Change Management

PushTheButtonChange management is a term you usually hear at work. It’s a common phrase the training department tosses around when they want you to stop doing one thing and start doing something else. It seems simple, though, doesn’t it? “Don’t press that button, press this one.” It’s not. I’ve made a good living in organizational development because people refuse to stop pressing “that button.” My job is to convince them why want to press the other button instead.

By the time training materials are created, the new processes have usually been vetted, tested and proven. We have statistics, samples and evidence that it works. So, you would think a simple request, “Please press this button and not that one,” should do the trick. Nope. Still not happening.

Over the last few months I’ve read a number of blogs, books and studies on the topic of Christianity and homosexuality. At the very least – and I mean very least – the argument for committed gay Christian relationships is inconclusive. Viewed in an historical, scientific and cultural context, the evidence that homosexuality is a natural part of human existence is overwhelming. The Bible says nothing about gay committed relationships because it was not a concept, or a term, until the 19th century. You’d think any sound-minded, reasoning person could see it.  So why does this issue continue to divide the evangelical church and the rest of society? Furthermore, what can we do about it?

The Division

We in change management encounter three categories of people: 1) those who refuse to change no matter what, 2) those who are skeptics and 3) those who jump on the bandwagon right away. These are human characteristics found in every culture and every aspect of society. There is indeed a segment of the evangelical church that has always been on board with acceptance of gay people. Skeptics are willing and able to look at the facts and, given the right amount of time, adjust their views accordingly. Then there are those who won’t change no matter what. Unfortunately, these people usually the most vocal.

In my first book I reference social psychologist Kurt Lewin who discovered that whenever change presents itself, people go through three phases, which he refers to as unfreezing, change, and refreezing.

In the first stage people are presented with a problem and recognize change is coming. It presents itself as a mental conflict and they will either respond by ignoring it, or decide if they want to move forward. The question is motivation. Is there motivation for moving forward, and if so, what is it?

Bear with me. We’re getting to the gay thing.

The second stage is the most difficult because it is the most uncertain. In the change phase people discover that their safety net – their beliefs – is in question. It’s an uncomfortable place to be. Many turn back, refusing to accept anything other than what they know. In my book I go into further research and give examples of how people will even risk their own health at this stage rather than change.

If a person manages to get to stage three, the refreezing stage, they have accepted a new view or a new habit. This now becomes a way of thinking and a way of living their lives.

OK, so this is where the gay thing comes in.

Many Christians already have a preconceived idea of what being gay is and that it is automatically wrong.  They are in the first group of people refusing to change no matter what.  This has nothing to do with intelligence. It has more to do with the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” They have little or no experience with gay people and attempt to squeeze what they do know into their world view where the Bible, the way they understand it, holds absolute authority.

Moving them into the second category of people, skepticism and questioning, will only happen when they have a reason to do so, i.e., a loved one comes out, or something else causes them to question their own beliefs. This is an extremely difficult place to be. Our religious and political beliefs are generally the foundation for who we are as people. They guide our moral decisions and actions.

My divorce was the catalyst for me rethinking and looking for answers. I couldn’t wrap my brain around what was happening to me as a Christian. Divorce was wrong and unacceptable, yet there was nothing I could do to stop it. Over the course of several years I questioned everything. Even then, those questions about faith felt like I was betraying my very core. It was unnerving. I was moving from certainty to uncertainty, the place where faith is most alive, but also where it feels like a bigger chance to be wrong.

Affecting Change

Remember that people’s inability to change is less about you, and more about how their psyches work. Practically all of us surround ourselves with like-minded people who share like-minded ideas. Regardless of our intelligence or education level, few of us like to be uncomfortable or feel challenged. I once had a Yale University educated friend who couldn’t handle my moderate politics. He exploded when I dissented with his liberal-learning viewpoints. I was taken aback at how a friendly discussion suddenly turned so volatile, especially with someone who held an Ivy League degree.

Motivating someone toward change is seldom accomplished through statistics and research. Just ask anyone who has tried to quit smoking, or change his diet. People know what they need to do. Motivation that works typically comes from within, or intrinsically. We usually refer to this as a heart change. How do we affect this kind of change? Tell your story.

With the pending release of my book, I have to admit I’m anxious. I’ve never been this honest with myself, or others. The story is raw and, at times, ugly. But the story is important because it’s not that unique. There are many others like me who have been deeply wounded. They, like I did for nearly 20 years, hide in their shame. The only way to overcome shame is to confront it head on.

Sharing our personal journeys is disarming. There are always aspects of our lives to which others can relate. Even though the details may vary, our experiences are universal. We live in an idealized society that dictates what perfect people and perfect families look like. People are hungry for authentic relationships.

Change can and will happen, but not through angry exchanges, or name-calling. So the next time you want to push that button. Don’t. Push the other button by sharing your story.

Tim

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Churchianity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim

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Truth or Dare (to Love)

TruthorDaretoLoveThe relationship I have with my older daughter has turned awkward. When she was younger I handed out wisdom like the Grand Poobah on a Tibetan Mountain. But she’s not seven anymore. Her problems are much more complex. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still see myself as the Grand Poobah with pearls of wisdom to share, whether or not she, or anyone else for that matter, wants to listen. These days, however, it seems I’m learning more from her than she’s learning from me.

“You know, research shows…” I started one of my lessons over dinner after she shared a particularly vulnerable moment.

“Dad! I don’t care!” She interrupted me mid-sentence. “I know what I feel and I’m telling you your research is wrong!”

There was a long, silent pause. I stared daftly at her trying to figure out how her feelings were more important than my incontestable data. But I have numbers and facts, I thought. It was a true Sheldon Cooper moment. I was right. She was wrong. I could prove it. What I couldn’t do was wrap my brain around her words. Then again, that’s not what she wanted. She wanted me to wrap my arms around her heart.

I realized that in our rush to disseminate facts, we humans are too often willing to lose the war to win the battle. I could have yelled numbers and qualitative data at my daughter, beat her into a corner with ‘truth’ and walked away knowing, with a fair bit of certainty, that I was right. I would have, eventually, felt compassion for her plight knowing that if she just did what I told her to do everything would be fixed. She’ll thank me for it later, I would have told myself. That’s what I could have done. Funny how logic takes a back seat when we really love people.

I grew up in church with the certainty of what I believed. I memorized books of the Bible and could quote them like a well-rehearsed actor in a play. I dulled out Scriptural remedies to whatever ailed the listener. It’s ironic that I couldn’t find my own. Or maybe it isn’t.

Numbers. Research. Doctrines. Theology. Sure, it may all be mentally simulating and make for great conversations, but at the end of the day those things are little more than speculations, or left-brained hypotheses. A hungry child is yet to be fed. A wounded soul still waits to be comforted. A human being, silently and hopefully, waits to be loved, affirmed and valued.

It’s easier to speak truth than love. We can regurgitate facts like a bad chicken dinner. It happens automatically with no forethought. Love, however, is much more taxing. Love is willful and purposeful. It’s stepping out from behind our pulpits and laying down our certainty for no more of a guarantee than an awkward connection with another human being. Love has no rules to follow, or regulations to read. It’s risking that we might be wrong, or perhaps it’s simply a dare to be vulnerable, authentic and real. So. Truth? Or dare to love?

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Tim

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A Lesson from Fred Phelps. And it’s not what you think!

GodHatesFagsFred Phelps, pastor of the infamous “God hates fags” Westboro Baptist Church is reportedly lying on his death bed, excommunicated from the “monster he made,” according to his son Nate. To date, no one has disclosed why he was excommunicated from his own church. Regardless, I was happy to see civil comments in the multiple blogs I read about the hate-filled pastor’s demise.

No matter what side of the issue your on regarding gay rights, or Biblical authority, I think we all agree that Fred Phelps actions were unconscionable. So why did he do it? What would drive an otherwise intelligent man (he was once a lawyer) to spend his life pointing the finger at others? Perhaps it was mental illness, or trauma. Certainly the fervor and dedication to his cause of ill will was unusually strong. But there is one thing we share with Fred Phelps. Belief.

Belief is the strongest motivator of human behavior. It can be influenced by psychosis, drugs, or just childhood. It doesn’t matter whether or not what we believe is true. As long as we believe it strongly enough we will act on it. Fred Phelps acted on his belief and influenced generations in the process. There were those along the way who questioned him, but they were soon excommunicated. How could someone be that closed-minded?

All of us perceive the world around us with limited perspectives. It’s how we, as finite human beings, were designed. Even if we could understand everything, our brains are physically too small to process it and we are limited by only five senses. Quantum mechanics shows there is a lot more going on than meets the eye (ear, nose, tongue and nerve endings).

Many of us are a lot closer to holding bull-nosed, dogmatic beliefs than we’d like to think. Those beliefs are the cause of arguments and dissensions in our everyday dealings with other people. And we humans really hate to be wrong.

It’s easy to shake our heads and pass smug judgments on Fred Phelps for his beliefs that dehumanized and disrespected people. However, what beliefs do we hold that keep us from giving people the full respect they deserve?

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Tim

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Can You Show Compassion without Compromise?

how-to-compromise-01-hear431I responded to a blog on a Christian website about Compassion without Compromise. I praised the writer for keeping the conversation going and admonished her to take other people’s experiences at face value. I shared a little of my story and someone responded to my post with this:

“Christ gave you his life, maybe you can give him your all, take up your cross, and make Him the real king of your life- instead of a relationship that He deems is sinful, when you are hurting Him. We all have things that are hard to not do. Many people decide to not fight it, many people say it’s just who they are, etc… Jesus says He will give you the strength to fight, and the Spirit will be with you. He said to go and sin no more. Yes, He loves you very much, but if you choose an earthly relationship over a relationship with Him, that is your choice- and unfortunately, you are creating a wall between you and Him. He loves you more than your partner. Don’t put Him second.”

In essence, she’s saying, “You’re just not trying hard enough,” and dismissed years of struggle with just a few words, in the few minutes it took her to write her thoughts, with a single paragraph. Did she think the light would suddenly turn on for me and I would say, “You’re right! Why didn’t I think of that?!”

Years after my divorce I told my ex-wife I never understood how she so quickly moved on. She said, “I had emotionally disconnected from our marriage. In my mind our relationship was over long before I met the other person. I didn’t just wake up and decide to be with someone else. I had already gone through a painful separation process.”

The church is still in love with idea that homosexuality fits neatly in a black and white Biblical context. The answer, to someone who has never gone through the struggle, is simple. It’s so easy to see. The Bible is clear and the discussion is over. Like my ex-wife, I did not come to the place I am today lightly. There were plenty of tears and torment, especially for someone like me who has always tried to “do the right thing.”

The pithy statement church goers like to make,  “compassion without compromise,” is a misnomer. It ends the discussion before it starts. It assumes, like the lady who responded to my post, that the church is right and everyone else is wrong. It doesn’t require any deep thought, nor does it take people’s stories into account. It’s answering a question that hasn’t been asked yet; solving an equation without knowing the problem. The frustration from the gay community is that they, we, are not being heard. I did it, too.

I met Tony at work around 1991 while I was in the Love in Action live-in program. He wasn’t as secretive about his sexual identity as I was about my involvement with ex-gay ministry. When I realized Tony was gay I worked up the courage to talk to him. Besides, with all I’d learned I knew I could help turn his life around. “You know you don’t have to be gay,” I told him.

“Excuse me?” He was lighting a cigarette and my statement caught him off guard.

“The reason people are gay is because of poor relationships with their father or traumas that happened in their lives. It is possible to change,” I said with as much compassion as I could muster. And I meant it.

“Um.” He looked confused. “I had a great relationship with my dad. Unfortunately, he died when I was a teenager. We used to play sports together and I helped him in our family business. He knew I was gay. He didn’t care. He loved me anyway.”

“Well, something must have gone wrong,” I insisted. “Think back. What do you think happened to you?”

“Nothing happened to me,” Tony said. He was clearly irritated with my insinuation that the relationship with his father wasn’t like he said it was. “Listen, no offense, but I hope you find what you’re looking for. I’m happy the way I am.”

I walked away feeling pity for Tony. Obviously, he didn’t know what he was talking about. He was suppressing memories and was in so much pain even he didn’t know it. As long as I was right and Tony was wrong, there was no reason to have a discussion. I could show compassion without compromise…without thinking, without questioning what I believed to be true, without coming to different conclusions, without making Tony human and accepting his experiences at face value.

True compassion gets dirty, asks the tough questions, makes compromises when necessary, and shows integrity.

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Tim

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Why are the Christians silent?

JesusIn 2001 Americans watched in horror as our country was attacked by Muslim extremists. Most of us didn’t know much about the Muslim religion, but our introduction by violence and death certainly didn’t make a good first impression. For years, I believed that all Muslims were extremists and I said so. In fact, one friend finally told me that my sweeping generalizations made me sound stupid and uneducated.

The biggest impact on my belief wasn’t simply what happened on 9/11, it was the silence of the general Muslim community following the attacks that made me believe they stood in agreement with those vicious terrorists.

Recently there have been bills introduced in a number of states that allow people of faith – particularly the Evangelical Christian community – to refuse service to those they believe are homosexuals, or hold values that offend their religious beliefs. In Uganda, Christian right extremists backed a bill that not only discriminates against homosexuals, but ensures prison sentences and allows for public humiliation.

I’d like to believe there are those on the Christian right who take issue with the discrimination and torture of these individuals, but like the Muslim extremists, so far they have remained silent. In my 25 years in ministry in the evangelical church I met genuine, loving people, or so I thought. Where are they now?

My Facebook friends list consists of people who are pastors, leaders and members of the evangelical community, people with whom I served so closely I considered family. I read their political posts, and mostly agree with their points of view. I get it. Government is too big, special interest has taken over the court system, morality is shoved down our throats by the liberal media. If we share an opinion that isn’t politically correct we’re likely to receive backlash, lose a television show, and be mob-lynched by left-leaning journalists.

But we’re not talking about politics, ideals, theology or doctrine here. We’re talking about human lives, the precious souls of which Christ died to redeem, as you and I passionately preached in our time together. Are these not the same people Jesus stood against his pharisaical counterparts to protect? Did he ever ask or make judgments about their moral choices before he fed, healed or spoke to them? Was he ever concerned about their sexual preferences, practices or politics? The answer is clearly no.

Christians have scratched their heads wondering why the LGBT community is so hostile towards them. Perhaps it’s not what is said as much as what is not said. What is more important at this time in our history? Winning a political victory in which “God’s law” oppresses and humiliates a segment of the population with which you disagree, or reaching out to “your enemy” with compassion, humility and simple human dignity. Though it’s an often over-used question, I must ask: What would Jesus do?

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

Tim

 

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Angry At A God Who Doesn’t Exist

AngryMy father held his empty coffee cup over the side of his armchair and continued reading the morning paper. Soon, Mom walked by, took it out of his hand, refilled it and handed it back. Neither of them said a word. I don’t remember how old I was, but I laughed aloud. I’d never noticed the finely oiled machine that was my parental upbringing.

When I got married I had a similar vision of what marriage would look like. Unfortunately, my wife did not share that vision. In fact, we saw our lives looking quite differently. In the United States over 50% of marriages fail. The reason for nearly every failure has to do with unmet expectations.  We all have them.

Even our relationship with God comes with expectations. More often than not, those expectations are unspoken, even un-thought. There’s an old Pentecostal song that says, “God’s not dead…I can feel him in my hands, I can feel him in my feet, I feel him all over me.” Beyond what I thought or believed about God, my emotions, so I assumed, spoke to his existence.

There were a lot of cracks in the armor of my belief as I grew up, but I chose to ignore those. Ironically, when I had decided that God simply did not exist, it was a liberal Christian friend of mine who said, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Liberal Christians, as I was raised to believe, were going to hell. Nevertheless, it was too late. I couldn’t wrap my brain around God any other way than how I perceived him in my traditional, cultural view. I wanted nothing to do with religion, hers or mine.

Like a jilted ex-husband I held resentment. I felt duped. I felt lied to. None of my expectations were met. Where was God when I made the decision to get married? Where was God through all of those years of trying to change my sexual orientation? I believed he loved me and wanted the best for me, but that didn’t seem to be the case during those years of torment. Nature took its course without interruption. People made decisions in spite of my prayers. My children have grown up in two homes despite my willingness to stay in the closet and lie about whom I really am.

So at what, or whom, should I be angry? Ex-gay ministry? Organized religion? It would be easier to deal with my anger if it came with a face. Instead, it is a belief, a philosophy, and an ideal. I put my faith in something that took the shape of my wish, and what I presumed to be absolute truth. The thing that I believed was gone, but the resentment and anger toward it remained.

For several years the topic of religion, Christianity in particular, remained off limits to friends and family. Anger simmered beneath my stoic exterior, though I thought I had moved on.  My kids attended a private Christian school and I comfortably distanced myself from their Bible assignments, cordially interacted with their teachers and judged the administration for their intolerance of others.

Anger is an emotion that needs an outlet. Like pasta left to boil too long, our mental state turns to mush. Anger seeped into other areas of my relationships, fed my depression and kept me from addressing underlying, or secondary emotions. I missed the relationship I had built with what I understood of God. Spirituality took the form of music and worship with me and that door was closed.

To face the anger, I first had to acknowledge it.  It exists. My life did not turn out the way I wanted and I was disappointed.  If there was anyone to blame, it was me. I did what I thought was right at the time. Really, that is the best any of us can do. I’m learning to let myself off the hook.

Science leads me to believe that what I call God exists, but not in the form I was raised to believe it. I realize others have come to different conclusions. That’s the beauty of the human experience. Life is too big for us to know everything. We can only make peace when we realize how small and finite we are. We can only love and accept others when we acknowledge the value of their experiences, though they are different from our own, and validate them without trying to interpret meaning for them.

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

Tim

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