Thoughts on Exodus International, Reparative Therapy, etc.

I read an interesting article yesterday in Christianity Today about the demise of Exodus International, an evangelical group that tried to help homosexuals to overcome their homosexuality.  The authors had been involved in Exodus International.  One of the authors, Christopher Greco, said the following about his own experience:

“During the two years after I (Christopher) resigned from ministry as a broken 25-five-year old, I met this Jesus anew and realized some things about myself; I was free to make a choice, and I really didn’t want what being gay offered me. This was not even an option before encountering the testimonies of Exodus founder Frank Worthen and Desert Stream founder Andy Comiskey.

“I slowly began to experience the sobriety in thought and flesh I had been teaching others about. In the desert, I discovered my love for Dorothy and my desire to share my life, and body, with her—not because my mother wanted me to, not to please my pastor, not to fit in, and not because I was afraid I’d go to hell if I didn’t. After I relinquished control over my future and stopped trying to change, my desires did change. And there’s been no shadow of turning during our 22-year marriage.

“Though we realize that our story is not a prescriptive for all who have struggled with unwanted SSA, it is our story and—contrary to the very vocal naysayers—we are neither liars nor outliers. The voices of those who were wounded by Exodus International currently dominate the media. Their stories and their pain are legitimate and should not be dismissed. However, make no mistake, we believe there are equal numbers of us who have experienced unmistakeable transformation through the love and power of the resurrected Jesus revealed through Exodus and other such organizations.”

Here are a variety of thoughts:

1.  I find what Christopher says to be very humble and mature, and that contrasts with my own limited exposure to reparative therapy.  I am not gay, but I one time received a brochure advertising a reparative therapy group, perhaps because I subscribe to Christian conservative publications via the Internet and thus got on somebody’s mailing list.  This brochure featured a woman who was heartbroken because her son was gay, and thus she thought that she wouldn’t have grandchildren.  Apparently, this group was advertising itself as the solution to her problem.  I was utterly disgusted by this brochure.  What Christopher says is different from this brochure, however, because Christopher is saying that he didn’t change to please somebody else.  Rather, it seems that change came when he was not looking for it.

2.  I like how Christopher presents change as something personal.  I think that, a lot of times, conservative Christianity tries to pressure people to do things that they do not truly want to do, and people go through the motions to fit in, or to please others, or to appease some God who will supposedly throw them into hell if they don’t shape up.  I don’t see how that approach brings about genuine change.

3.  I want to stress, though, that I’m not saying that every homosexual can change if he or she truly wants to.  I’m against trying to make one person’s story into another person’s story.  Just because one homosexual Christian finds peace with celibacy or within a heterosexual marriage, that doesn’t mean that every homosexual who goes down this road will find peace.  There are plenty of people who will testify that such a road resulted in disaster, for them and for those who were in their lives.  Moreover, there are plenty of homosexuals who testify to the torment they experienced of continually asking God to deliver them from their homosexuality, with no results, but they finally found peace within a same-sex relationship.

4.  On the other hand, I don’t want to discount the experiences of people who believe that they have gotten some benefit from reparative therapy programs, or some system of support.  There are homosexuals who believe in conservative Christianity, and they are not convinced by those who argue that the Bible does not prohibit same-sex sexual activity.  They may be seeking some support system that can help them to keep from acting on their desires.  Who is anyone to say that this is wrong?  Consequently, even though I have no problem with anti-discrimination laws or with marriage equality, I have reservations about laws that would ban reparative therapy.  (Or it depends.  If the therapy is abusive, then perhaps it should be banned—-see here.)

5.  A lot of times, those who believe that homosexuality is an orientation from birth argue that some who claim to be cured of their homosexuality were not really gay to begin with.  This may be true.  But what this tells me is that there are people out there who may believe that they are homosexual, and they really are not.  Perhaps there are environmental factors that explain their same-sex attractions.  How could we make a blanket statement that reparative therapy does not work, when it may work for some people who were not born homosexual?  And yet, I acknowledge that this is a delicate situation, for there are probably many homosexuals who were born that way.  For them, reparative therapy is most likely a bad idea.

6.  I think that what’s important is that people don’t force their narratives onto others.  People have to make their own decisions, based on what they find to be true in their own lives.  Suppose there is a homosexual who is in a reparative therapy program, and what he is hearing does not resonate with his own experiences.  He had a good relationship with his parents, he was gay as long as he can remember, he was not abused, etc.  He should not be pressured to accept some narrative that does not coincide with his own experiences.  But suppose that the narrative resonates with someone else—-helping that person to gain clarity.  Maybe he would choose to pursue reparative therapy, and he might find it beneficial for him.

7.  I’ve never really cared for certain evangelical approaches to homosexuals or homosexuality.  Actually, I’ve loathed those approaches.  It makes me sick when some heterosexual conservative Christian gets on his high horse and says that homosexuals must be celibate for their entire lives, then he goes right home to his wife and kids.  That is disgusting and reprehensible, in my opinion.  But I have admired some of the homosexual Christians who have chosen celibacy.  I’m not saying that I believe every homosexual Christian should walk that path, but I appreciate what homosexual Christians who have chosen celibacy have to say.  They have a depth and a humility that contrasts with the shallow, pompous, know-it-all, smug, condescending arrogance of so much of American evangelicalism.

8.  I don’t particularly care if heterosexual conservative Christians read this post and take offense at what I wrote.  But I do care if homosexuals—-whether they be side A (those who think that one can be a Christian and in a same-sex relationship), side B (homosexual Christians who don’t believe that same-sex sexual activity is permitted by Scripture), or neither (a non-Christian, perhaps)—-are offended by this post.  I don’t want them to be offended by it.  These are just my reflections, and I am open to changing them with new understanding.  I may not have phrased everything delicately, but choosing words or phrases in writing is not an easy task for me.  Please feel free to comment, but I will not publish or interact with comments that are overly vituperative.  I’ve interacted with liberal trolls in the past, and that’s just not something that I want to do!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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