I’m never surprised when someone who claimed not to be gay suddenly announces that, surprise, they actually are gay. Like I’ve said many times before, I haven’t met a so-called ex-gay man I didn’t think was still gay. Not one. It’s one of many reasons I left the Christian Right and the advocacy work I did for them.
For the record: I haven’t met an ex-gay woman I didn’t think was still gay, either. But some women I know fall along a spectrum of sexual attractions and can’t be confined to an either/or duality. Still, regardless of where we fall on the Kinsey scale of 0-6, we can’t and don’t change. I’ll save this discussion for another day.
Whenever someone gives up denying their true attractions and decides to embrace the reality of who they are, the same people run to their keyboards or bully pulpits to offer the same criticisms we’ve heard for years: We didn’t try hard enough, or weren’t committed to God, or decided meeting our emotional and sexual needs was more important than living sacrificially. This level of condescension is maddening. The assumption is that we’re weak people who are inferior to the average Christian who marries an opposite sex partner, regardless of their pet vices.
What I’ve seen in two decades as a Christian devoted to God and striving to please Him is countless gay people who wanted to do the same, to please God. The gay people I met–who said they were same-sex attracted because “gay” is too affirming a word–truly wanted to please God…and church leaders, and family members. We read our Bibles. We prayed. Boy, did we pray. We attended Sunday services, Bible studies, home groups, prayer meetings, outreach events. There was nothing we didn’t do to please God.
Many of us developed good habits from these practices. We learned diligence, commitment, self-control, sacrifice, and, most importantly, empathy—a true knowledge of the depths of pain others endure. I met a young Christian man who was gay and smoked like a chimney. He didn’t want to be gay because he knew his father, a pastor, didn’t approve. This young man sought counseling, joined groups to help him stop smoking, and even quit his job and relocated to a place where he could find help for his same-sex attractions. His efforts paid off. He no longer smokes. Oh, and he’s still gay.
I know another gay man who blew off his assignments in college to hang out at clubs and party. He dedicated his life to God, and pursued self-discipline. He ended up graduating with honors. He, too, is still gay.
I know a lesbian who couldn’t stick with a job. She went to an ex-gay boot camp and suffered all sorts of humiliations. She sat in my living room until late one night a couple of years ago, describing the daily emotional torture of this camp. Today, she’s moving up the ranks in a job she’s held for a few years, and she’s in a committed lesbian relationship.
The conclusions to be drawn from these stories is clear, except to those who refuse to see: What could be changed did. What couldn’t be changed didn’t. It’s that simple.
The Church, the body of Christ, needs to understand that forcing people to change an elemental aspect of who they are is nothing short of spiritual abuse.
Those of us who were told we couldn’t be Christians and gay were clobbered (and in turn clobbered others) with the verse in 1 Corinthians 6 that comes after a litany of behaviors that will bar you from entering the Kingdom of God.
The verse says, “Such were some of you…” Those five words form the basis for the belief that gay people can become straight. “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11 NASB).
There is no mention that gay people can become straight, but “were,” the past tense of “to be,” somehow became an anthem in the Church for changing sexual orientation. Instead, gay people were left spiritually abandoned, treated like unclean lepers forced from their communities and marginalized in shameful “ex-gay” colonies, and preached to until they entered mixed-orientation marriages where both spouses suffer.
After forty years of trying to change people into straight heterosexually-married couples for the supposed benefit of the family, it’s time for the Church to admit that its efforts have failed. In the face of more and more defectors, a single message sounds above the din loud and clear: We don’t need to change. The church does.
Yvette Cantu Schneider is a former policy analyst at Family Research Council, former director of women’s ministry at Exodus International, and author of the book Never Not Broken.