Tuesday, October 8, 2013
To Change or Not to Change. Is that REALLY the question?
For those of us with Same-Sex Attraction who have chosen NOT to embrace a "Gay" identity or pursue gay "relationships" there often appears to be a great divide. This was going on long before the closing of Exodus and Alan Chamber's apologies last summer. It has also long been a source of contention with the Courage Apostolate, the Catholic equivalent and to a certain extent with JONAH, the Jewish version, StraightWay, the Muslim ministry, and Evergreen (LDS).
There are many of us who have strong convictions and emotions regarding one or the other "side." There are many others who would be somewhere in between these extremes and/or have not formed an opinion. I saw a blog post recently that referred to them as "Side A" and "Side B."
I have found myself at different times on both sides and there have been times when I have felt strong emotions (Anger, Fear, Sadness, and Joy) at the mere mention of one or the other. I have also received strongly worded emails (10+ pages) from people who very upset with me for mentioning one or the other.
I doubt I will be able to adequately address the "arguments" in one blog post, but I'd like to examine the underlying emotional charges. I'll try my best to do this objectively, but if you see any biases or errors in my analysis, please let me know. ;)
While society's overall attitudes toward Homosexuality and people who experience Same-Sex Attraction has changed rapidly over the last ten years, most of us have at one point in our lives still experienced significant external pressure to "change" and to become "100% heterosexual." This is especially the case for most of us who grew up in Conservative Christian homes where homosexual inclinations themselves (not just immoral homosexual acts) were seen by many churches as "evidence of a reprobate mind."
I had this experience when I was 14 years old. I had already been struggling with my gay thoughts and feelings for over two years and praying incessantly that God would "change me" when I came home one day to discover that my parents had found and read my journal.
The next few months were hell on earth for me. My parent's view of the development of SSA (fed by the rhetoric of the preachers they listened to, like John Hagee) was that FIRST, a person sells their soul to the devil and THEN, they eventually develop SSA (Same-Sex Attraction). They could not reconcile how a Christian who REALLY believed could experience any SSA. It was beyond their comprehension at the time.
Since I KNEW that I had already been pouring my heart out to God and pleading with him for the previous TWO years to cure me of homosexuality, I found especially hurtful that they believed the reason I had SSA was that I obviously didn't really mean it when I had been baptized and professed Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.
For our family, some relief came when my parents finally talked to a real therapist who was training in Reparative Therapy. It was only then that they began to realize that my Same-Sex Attraction might have some other causes other than just ME being EVIL.
By that point though, it was too little, too late. I had completely shut down emotionally and was unable and unwillingly to even attempt to discuss the issue with them or anyone else. I managed to convince them that it had all just been "a phase" and we all agreed to not bring up the topic again. It would 19 years before I mentioned the subject to them again.
When I was in my early twenties, I often tried to join "Gay Churches" but always soon realized they had truncated the Gospel significantly in order to make it fit their desires. This grew tiring and I would always try to find my way back to a REAL church.
The conservative Christian Churches I tried, were usually a little more tolerant than my parents had been, but they also still couldn't seem to understand how my SSA (and by that point Sexual Addiction) had not been completely CURED by my answering the altar call. When I tried to be authentic and explain where I was STILL struggling, it often caught them by surprise and they seem to insist that the answer was more prayer ("and this time REALLY mean it.").
My own experience is very different from many of my friends who were part of Exodus and/or other Ex-Gay Ministries. Most of them never embraced the Gay identity and many of them never acted out on their homosexual inclinations. They experienced positive nurturing support and love from Church-led ministries which at least understood that they did not CHOOSE to have Same-Sex Attraction and that they were not "EVIL" or "Reprobate" for having experienced SSA. I probably would have had this experience myself IF I had talked with an actual Ex-Gay ministry instead of trying to find understanding and support from Christians who had never experienced Same-Sex Attraction.
I believe the attitudes of most Christians have changed over the years, but there are still many who would not really understand how SSA is different from Opposite-Sex Attraction (OSA) and cannot be controlled or channeled in the same ways. It is VERY different from the OSA struggles described in the book Every Man's Battle (a book that I would now recommend for OSA friends, but discourage my SSA friends from reading).
For a long time, my own gut reaction to any Church-led or faith-focused ministry addressing SSA was that they were saying what my parents had said that I "Chose to be this way" and/or that I would be 100% straight IF ONLY I had really meant it when I prayed. I realize in retrospect that most faith-based programs are NOT saying this and most of them never have said anything of the sort.
Reactions to "Reorientation Therapy," "Reparative Therapy" or "Sexual Orientation Change Efforts": I have often received visceral emotional reactions from my Christian SSA friends whenever I have mentioned anything regarding "Orientation Change" or even emotional healing programs like "Journey into Manhood". In almost all cases, the individuals with the biggest emotional charges have NEVER actually experienced any form of Reparative Therapy. The reactions vary slightly, but the biggest emotional charge tends to be regarding the expectation of "change." It seems likely that their reactions are based on the same emotional wounding that I received (although from a different perspective). One friend of mine said it best in this sentence: "How dare you suggest that I need therapy?!" - In essence, most of them feel that the mention of Reparative Therapy or any form of Psychological assistance for reducing Same-Sex Attraction is implying that they are Mentally Ill.
They seem to think that the purpose of "Reparative Therapy" or other emotional healing and "change programs" are to FIX THEM or make them 100% straight. While there are some people who have experienced this complete change through therapy and/or prayer, it is usually not the case that we experience 100% change instantaneously.
This is the case for every other area of life as well. Many times a drug addict will answer an Altar Call at a church and surrender their lives to Christ. This is where the healing BEGINS, but it is not necessarily where it ENDS. As Christ works in their heart and transformation begins to take place, they may also be able to benefit from Rehab or working through a 12-step program. That does not diminish Christ's healing power. He could choose to instantly heal them if he wanted to, but often he has benefits for us and lessens to teach us through our obedience and gradual healing process.
With regard to Reparative Therapy and Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) there is a lot of debate about whether it really "works." Almost everyone thinks though that for it to "work" it must be an instantaneously 100% change. That is a ridiculous and impossible standard to judge anything. For me, I can say that I have benefited TREMENDOUSLY from Reparative Therapy and everyone I know who has actually tried it would say the same. Even those I know who gave up and went back into gay relationships, say it was "helpful and positive experience."
The Pro-Gay groups often try to argue that Reparative Therapy and other forms of Reorientation are "harmful" because they do not produce 100% change instantaneously. If you look closely at any of their claims, ALL of them are based on the idea that people will be "disappointed" and therefore "depressed" if they continue to experience some aspects of homosexual inclinations. They conclude that it is therefore better to encourage someone to embrace a "Gay" identity and avoid getting real help. That is such a ridiculous thing to say. If we used the same logic, we would say that Insulin should be banned and Diabetes is "Healthy and Natural." - After all, Insulin has not been proven to permanently CURE diabetes with one shot - therefore it MUST be "harmful."
My Same-Sex Attraction has been significantly reduced over a short period of time. It is now no longer a major struggle in my life. I am grateful for that. I have studied every aspect of Reparative Therapy and there is no possible way that any aspect of it could ever be "harmful." Nonetheless, it is a human scientific endeavor and does not rise to the level of Infallibility that the Christian faith relies on. The Christian Faith and in fact all monotheistic religions have always acknoweledged that homosexual "relationships" are harmful to the emotional well being and spiritual lives of everyone involved. This truth is independent of the effectiveness of any particular human effort to reduce or "change" homosexuality. Diabetes was harmful to the human body even before Insulin was discovered as a treatment in 1921.
It is possible that Reparative Therapy could be replaced eventually with other therapies even more effective, just as Insulin might eventually be replaced by something else. These are tools that God has enabled us to use to enhance our lives, but they are not the focal point of the Christian life. We do not have to choose one "side" or the other. We simply need to focus on Christ, follow his will, and be open to the gifts he sends our way (which for ME, happened to include Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, Reparative Therapy, Joel 2:25, and Journey into Manhood), but most importantly prayer, the sacraments, and spiritual healing through Christ.