Sunday Sermonette: Formers

Last week, a group describing themselves as former gays, lesbians, and transgenders marched on Washington.

That always sounds so aggressively militant, doesn’t it? March on Washington? When you can all fit on a single short bus, however, it’s somewhat less so. Anyway, this group of fifteen people, members of the Changed movement, wanted everyone to know that it’s possible to change your sexual orientation with the help of Jesus. And if Jesus isn’t enough, torture, um, “conversion therapy” ought to be allowed. And LGBTQ civil rights makes them feel bad and ought not be allowed.

This particular ex-gay group was organized by Church United, a fundamentalist church whose stated mission is “To respond to the spiritual problems threatening our communities today,” whatever that means. Apparently the existence of LGBTQ people with the same civil rights as everyone else is one of those problems.

Like most fundamentalist churches, their understanding of human sexuality is abysmal. God created two sexes. Male and female created he them, and they are complementary. There are normal straight people who are attracted to the opposite sex as God intended, and then there are those who suffer from “same-sex attraction.” No nuance, no bisexuals, no Kinsey scale or Klein grid, just Good or Sinful. So naturally, there are going to be some people who, having had same-sex experiences, settle down with an opposite sex partner. Nothing miraculous about it, no conversion necessary.

About twenty years ago, I was in the process of pursuing ordination to the diaconate of the Episcopal Church. To their credit, they’re very, very careful about this. In one of the many interviews I had with psychiatrists and church leaders, I was asked about my sexual history. This was the late 90s, the Church hadn’t yet approved gay marriage, but our bishop was known to be in favor. Being gay would not have been a bar to ordination. I told them about my history, and about falling in love with my wife. “So, would you say you are cured of homosexuality?” asked a rather dignified older woman who spoke with a British accent: “homoseksuality”. I told her that I thought nothing of the sort, that I considered myself a monogamous bisexual. I suspect that had I agreed with her, I would have been immediately disqualified. Clergy in denial of their sexuality is one of the biggest problems in any church.

But reading the Changed group’s press material, it’s clear that denial is their stock in trade. There’s no need for the Equality Act, they say, because LGBTQ people aren’t really marginalized. They’ve always had the option of participating in the broader culture “on a normal level.” Just stay in your closet, don’t be flamboyant, don’t flaunt it, don’t hold hands, don’t marry, don’t put a picture of your loved one on your desk… After all, other homosexuals in history have lived quietly without choosing to “prioritize their sexual mores.” Besides, giving LGBTQ people rights means less rights for everyone, doesn’t it?

They also object to the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act of 2019, which would ban so-called conversion therapy nationwide. This bill has the backing of every major medical and mental health organization in the country and is already the law in 18 states. There is no credible evidence that conversion therapy can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and quite a lot of evidence that attempts to do so causes active harm including depression, substance abuse, and suicide. It’s not a gay / straight thing, they insist. It’s a lost / saved thing. 

We know what has happened to previous ex-gay movements. Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, co-founders of Exodus Internation, got married and apologized. John Paulk, founder of Focus on the Family’s ex-gay ministry, apologized for the harm he did caused and denied that sexual orientation change is effective. John Smid, former director fo Love In Action, came out as gay, apologized, and stated he’d never seen anyone change sexual orientation. 

The fact of the matter is that what you suppress is what you obsess about. Only time will tell what will happen to the fifteen folk who proudly claimed to renounce their former sexual orientation in Washington last Wednesday. I hope they find real love, not just pie in the sky bye and bye when they die. That’s the funny thing about love. It’s stronger than religion. 


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