I was watching this program on Oprah’s OWN where host Lisa Ling did an expose on the religious group called Exodus International. The folks at EI, headed by an “ex-gay” Alan Chambers, believed they could “pray away the gay.” Chambers, himself gay, now classifies his sexual status as a former gay person “set straight by God.” After living as a gay man for years, he got married in 1998 and has two adopted children.
However, the other co-founder of Exodus International has taken a different path and has left the organization. Michael Bussee now lives as an openly gay man with his partner and says that his only regret is teaching the harmful message that one can pray away being gay. He said it is not only impossible but dangerous to tell gays and lesbians that who they are sinful and need changing.
Bussee told Ling that he is still a Christian and has a relationship with God, just a more honest and open one now. He admitted accepting who he is the most liberating decision he could have made. One devastating experience changed everything for him, he said. While still part of Exodus International, a young man whom they had “prayed away the gay” for couldn’t resist being who he really was and after “falling from grace”–having a sexual encounter with another man–he took to slicing his genitals, then pouring chemicals in the wounds, all because he felt so ashamed of what he had done.
Interestingly, Chambers has since changed his views and now believes that praying away the gay is not a cure but rather harmful. He no longer teaches that praying to God can change one’s sexuality but rather now emphasizes acceptance. This radical shift in doctrine has ostracized him, for denouncing “praying away the gay” has branded him a “heretic” in the eyes of evangelicals.
Janet Boyd, another person featured, was a lesbian for 14 years but claimed God has changed her to straight. She is now a pastor who strongly and unwaveringly believes in “praying away the gay.” Ling returned to visit all the key players in this documentary a few years later and one young man was still struggling after five years to overcome his attraction to men, even though he said Boyd prayed away his homosexuality.
This strikes me as extremely baffling—that people who believe God can do all things possible to he/she who has sufficient faith, rationalize struggling five, 10 years later with who they are. Why aren’t they cured immediately if God wanted them to denounce their “unnatural” life?” Then again, folks can rationalize anything to suit their dogma.
So these Christians who proclaim to believe in a God of love prefer to force gays and lesbians to lie and suppress who they are, live in agony and turmoil rather than accept who they believe they are? Isn’t the real “sin” or tragedy denying or lying about who you are and not living an authentic life?
Some states are beginning to take a stand against this form of therapy and California Gov. Jerry Brown has recently signed a bill into law banning “praying away the gay,” officially called “Reparative Therapy,” from being used by licensed mental health professionals. (Read it here: Calif. bans 'praying away the gay' or reparative therapies).
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann’s family clinic came under scrutiny in 2011 when a young man told CNN that her husband Marcus Bachmann, a mental health professional, tried to “pray away his gayness” at the family clinic Bachmann Associates. (Read more on this here: http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-new
Churches have taken to ostracizing Christian teens who brave this judgmental world by daring to live authentic lives. One organization has jumped in to rescue these young people from a live of self-hate and pain by opening a camp in Minnesota where they can go to be themselves. At the “New Name Project” they get to literally look into a mirror and rename themselves “children of God.” There are no judgments at this camp, only self-acceptance. For there they believe that six verses in an entire Bible where homosexuality is referred to negatively cannot define who they are.
Though many religions may subscribe to different beliefs, most unite under one common bond; that homosexuality is wrong. From Islam to Christianity, same-sex relationships are heavily frowned upon and called “a sin,” punishable by death in some parts of the world. Which bring us to that all-important question: what exactly constitutes “a sin"?
As a young girl attending Catholic schools, sin was stressed as the “thing” to avoid at all cost, lest I lose my soul and a place in heaven. I was never quite sure what sin was but the nuns assured me that anything the Bible said I shouldn’t do, like lying and stealing. That was elementary school or, as we called that stage of education where I grew up,primary education.
By the secondary years or the middle school/high school phase, the “sin” progressed to other areas, and the nuns drilling at my all girls Catholic school now included sex, fooling around with boys, not attending church, disrespecting our elders, swearing, using God’s name in vain; gluttony, envy, jealousy, the list seemed endless. I remember thinking God must be really uptight and a big grouch, for there didn’t seem to be much we could enjoy in life.
When my parents left the Catholic Church and became evangelicals, the “sin” list appeared to grow. Now wearing pants, to bright nail-polish or lipstick counted as wrong. Then around 14, I began to think for myself and let’s just say, things didn’t add up. Thus my questioning began the answers extremely unsatisfactory and the rest is history. Suffice it to say, religion and I sort of had a painless divorce when I was about 16. My parents were heartbroken.
The short of a long story is: They say we are created in “God’s image and likeness” but it seems more like we have created God in our image and likeness. Those who hate, discriminate, marginalize, ostracize, practice sexism etc., have created a God who reflects their bigotry and intolerance—all in the name of religion. In my world “God” says “come as you are” and that includes straight, gay, bi, old, young and those in between. Sexuality should never define one’s “goodness.”
What does your God look like?