A Change of Affection—A Gay Man’s Incredible Story of Redemption
If you search my Amazon profile, you will see that I read and review books — almost four dozen books, now — in the Christian non-LGBTQ affirming niche. They all share a few similar core messages: homosexuality is sexual brokenness. We cannot find the reason for it, but it is likely, at its point of origin, resultant of The Fall in Genesis, where all evil entered the world. The Bible is clear on God’s stance on marriage and homosexuality. Marriage is only between a man and a woman. Homosexuality is the result of anything from demonic oppression to open rebellion against God to childhood sexual abuse, unbalanced parenting, or just human brokenness. Whatever the cause, it is both morally and spiritually inferior to heterosexuality.
Generally, these non-affirming authors believe, because God can do anything, he can fully change one’s homosexual orientation to one that is heterosexual (“God created the universe; he can heal sexual brokenness in an instant. But sometimes he allows various struggles to persist, because we are being sanctified.” (p. 125)) Others believe those who are gay can find sexual satisfaction and high levels of relational and even sexual intimacy in heterosexual marriage, while still others acknowledge, people are indeed LGBTQ and need to lead a life of sacrifice and permanent celibacy.
Author Becket Cook begins “A Change of Affection” with his personal story. Beyond that, the book falls neatly into the oft-repeated pattern described above.
Cook is a Christian who is same-sex attracted. Again, if you read even just a few books within this niche, you will notice there is a recently-established resistance to using the words “gay” and “Christian” together. In Cook’s case, he writes: “I don’t identify with that old lifestyle (being gay) anymore. I am now a new creation in Christ. I am a follower of Christ to happens to experience same-sex attraction.” (p. 121)
The inference is that someone who identifies as a “gay Christian” is lower in spiritual hierarchy than a “same-sex attracted Christian,” they may even be excluded from eternal salvation. Cook makes his hierarchical spiritual understanding quite clear: “Can you be gay and Christian? This one is complex, so let’s break it down. First, we must define what it means to be gay. If you mean continuously and unrepentantly engaging in homosexual behavior, then no, you cannot be a gay Christian. But if you mean having a same-sex orientation but not acting on that impulse, then yes, you can be gay and Christian.” (p. 120-121) To be clear, one need not engage or have engaged in any sexual behavior and still identify as a “gay Christian.”
Usage of this jargon is fairly recent in the conservative Christian world. There was a time when people could only imagine two options—you were either gay or Christian, but not both. Then, slowly, beginning in the early 2000s, people began to identify as both gay and Christian. For decades, they had been refused Christian status and along with it, the language to express their life experiences.
Now, they and their families, seeking authenticity, want to express their unique experiences. When someone says, “I am a gay Christian,” they are telling us something about their journey. Rather than playing semantics police, let’s listen to them. One non-affirming author goes so far as to suggest we not use the terms heterosexual, homosexual, straight, or gay in church environments at all. If we do, we may create “affective apartheid.” (Yuan, Holysexuality, p. 72)
When a book includes the author’s personal story of journeying to God (which many of them do), and this one does, I steer away from commentary or “assessment” on the personal testimony. After all, we each have a unique story; I respect that. However, most authors add directives and expectations that are presented as both scripturally sound and absolutely reflective of God’s directives and expectation for those who are homosexual. After all, the Bible is “utterly clear” on the subject of homosexuality “not just in the so-called clobber passages, in which homosexuality is specifically called out as sin, but also in the entire scope of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.” (p. 135) That’s the part of the book I focus in on, comment on, and challenge.
I don’t question Cook’s belief and intention to deliver a loving message. But, his book is just another variation on the other four dozen I’ve read and reviewed. Cook is certainly passionate about his beliefs and admits he is willing to risk ridicule, unpopularity, and job loss to tell people that continuing as a self-identified homosexual has eternal consequences. He is burdened. If he doesn’t tell gay people that their behavior is a sin it is as though he is acting as an accomplice to their murder. (p. 168) Though he admits he may sometimes be acting the part of the older brother in the Prodigal Son story, “(s)ometimes, while driving through West Hollywood or wherever I see two gay men holding hands, I find myself rolling my eyes and thinking, Come on guys! Don’t you know that homosexual behavior is wrong? Don’t you see how destructive it is?” (p. 181-182) Though “(p)osting gay-affirming statements on social media might make my friends seem more loving towards the LGBT community, but is actually quite deadly and destructive.” (p. 156)
Though I am straight, I’ve immersed myself in the LGBTQ community, particularly amongst those who are Christian, for almost twenty years. I’ve heard hundreds of first-hand accounts about how the latest shiny I-no-longer-identify-as-gay book has been offered to “help” LGBTQ Christians in their spiritual journey, or “help” deal with their “sexual brokenness struggles.” Additionally, I know hundreds of parents with LGBTQ children who are resistant recipients of such books given with a hopeful encouragement that their children can change with enough prayer, enough instruction, or enough love.
I know hundreds of people who have left non-affirming churches, and that’s not just LGBTQ people, but their families and friends too, because their church culture has created highly exclusionary rules or restrictive hoops they must navigate to remain in the community. It’s just become too exhausting to try to get their churches to understand they are no less than Christ-followers just because they are not heterosexual, or support those who are LGBTQ. It is too exhausting to ask leadership yet again to re-examine their ideology and theology. The typical response if “the Bible is clear on this topic.” Thankfully, there are denominations and shifting churches that will welcome in those who are rejected.
So, what about this concept that the Bible is “clear” on the subject of homosexuality? Is that so? Problematically as well, the check-off list for what LGBTQ Christians can/cannot do, how they identify, if and how they can “heal,” if they are welcome or not in churches if they can serve in churches, keeps on changing. If the Bible is so clear, why has the check-off list changed so much over time?
I find this odd. Is God changing, are people not hearing him correctly? Or might it be something else? Are people creating theology and shifting it when each version is found not to work? Most people, pastors and certainly the authors of these four dozen books, don’t seem to realize how the pastoral advice given to gay people has radically shifted over the past seventy years.
Typically, my semi-epic book reviews challenge the author’s theology, studies that are misused (this is quite common), and lack of actual involvement with the people they are rules-making for. (There are authors who so clearly write books about transgender people without ever being in relationship with any! Ryan Anderson, J. Allen Branch, Andrew Walker, Alan Schlemon.) I’ve included some of my standard processes in this review. But, along with my friend, Stan, who said told me this week, “I just cannot do this anymore. I cannot fight to be heard and never be heard. I am just too tired to engage any longer,” I’ve grown weary too.
This week, I’ve grown a bit more weary than usual. The constant barrage and flow of the yet-another book, another sermon, or talk, another person who needs to tell and rescue LGBTQ Christians from their orientation has become more personal and painful than usual.
I have a dear friend who lives an exemplary Christian life. Like Cook, he is Talbot seminary-trained. It took decades for him to come out. He didn’t want to do anything to displease God. He’s amongst the kindest, most generous and loving, and most passionate for Jesus and his Christian faith people I know. In trying to reconnect with their family, they have treated him with disdain and shame. If you’re LGBTQ and from the south, and Southern Baptist, in particular, you likely can easily imagine the ugliness and blame they’ve already piled on him in the past. He lovingly tried to re-engage them this week. Not missing a beat, they continued the pile-on and shaming.
Another friend is a wonderful and extremely gifted creator and thinker. He is a very successful businessman. He decided to finally come out to his family. It’s become imperative. He’s been diagnosed with a rare and likely fatal disease and wants to marry his long-time partner. The attempted exchange was disastrous. Even though he tried to approach people privately and arrange for meetings outside the event, family members were angry at him for “disrupting” their event. Some other time, or no time at all, would suit them better. They, too, dumped blame and shame on him. Where have some Christians learned to master these skills of poor and damaging treatment of LGBTQ Christians?
If you care to learn, I have some insights. Expected or not, appropriate for this space or not, I am going to include a mini-lesson in this review. Those who could most benefit from these informed insights may only read this here, so, join me.
First, is the Bible is “utterly clear” on homosexuality as a sin. Do you realize that the word homosexual(s) made its inaugural appearance in the Bible in the 1946 Revised Standard Version New Testament (in I Corinthians 6:9-10)? And, further, did you know homosexual(s)/homosexuality was added in five additional places in the Bible as recently as 1971?
That’s likely fairly stunning information to most of you. The passages all referred to sexual acts resulting from excessive behaviors, rape, lust, manipulation, or abuse. There were no categories of heterosexual or homosexual when any section of the Bible was written.
Even as gay people became more obvious within the culture in the early twentieth century, conservative Christians weren’t focused on them at all. Their sights trained on other topics: evolution, alcohol, women, teen sex, Catholics, and communists. They never preached about homosexuality, heck, they never preached about marital sex!
Considering the slow progression of understanding human sexuality, and in particular sexual orientation, even in the 1970s, little was understood about those who were gay. There just had to be something intrinsically wrong with those who did emotional, romantic, and sexual attractions differently than heterosexual people. Without any scientific or medical support, homosexuality was considered a mental illness right up until 1973.
Recall that I mentioned the word “homosexual” was first introduced into the Bible in 1946. The translation team for the Revised Standard Version of the Bible combined two Greek words as “homosexual.” (They did the translation work for I Corinthians in the 1930s. If you want to know more about this, search my website. I’ve been working on original archival research.) The translation team was operating under the same understanding as the wider culture—homosexuality was a mental illness.
More than a decade later, the team’s translation decision to use the word “homosexual” was challenged. As a result of the detailed challenge, the head of the team admitted to making an error in using the word “homosexual.” He assured the challenger that the team would correct the translation error in the RSV revision. Unfortunately, RSV-r was not published until 1971. By then, the error had stood, almost unnoticed for twenty-five years.
Even with the word “homosexual” plainly appearing in the RSV, there is no record of the usage of I Corinthians or any other biblical passages used in pastoral counseling to “correct” gay people until the mid-to-late 1970s. The standard pastoral advice given to gay people (recorded only a few times in the 1940s) was a referral to a therapist or psychiatrist for professional help. After all, homosexuality was a mental illness, not a moral issue.
We begin to see an almost unnoticeable shift in conservative spaces in the 1960s with the onset of the field of “biblical counseling.” Christianity could “heal” the mental illness of homosexuality.
When in 1973, the American Psychological Association corrected their non-science, non-study-based decades-old wrongful designation of homosexuality as a mental illness, one may have hoped people in the religious world would revisit the placement of the word “homosexual” in the Bible as well. The 1971 RSV-r had just been changed from “homosexual” to “sexual perverts.” “Sexual perverts” was not a category of people, it could be any person who used or abused sex or others sexually, certainly not just homosexuals.
The conservative church newly focused its concerns on the moral decline of America. Moral wedge issues were used to drive previously unengaged voters to the polls. Homosexuality was one of the top wedge issues. Even with the word right there in the Bible, no anti-gay theology was created.
Christian anti-gay books began popping up at the end of the 1970s. These books were stigma and ideology-based, not theological at all. No longer a mental illness, conveniently, homosexuality was now a sin.
By the late 1970s, the first wave of “Becket Cooks” came along.
The now fully-discredited (and deceased) junk science purveyor Dr. Joseph Nicolosi pushed his work into the Christian ex-gay world. His writings were used to support much of the work of you-can-change-your-orientation Christian ministries like Exodus and the hundreds of organizations under their umbrella, Love Won Out, and Love in Action. In the 1980s, these organizations promised full change from homosexuality to heterosexuality by tapping into the power of God. They also encouraged gay people to enter into heterosexual marriages or live in life-long celibacy.
After three decades, most of those groups have shut down. Many former leaders subsequently admitted to their errors, to the lack of change, and frequently, told their own stories of near-destruction trying to pretend to be what they never were—straight.
It was time for a new version of being gay in the conservative church. The old methods and demands weren’t working. Enter the 2010s. What’s the church to do with LGBTQ people who were wrestling with their faith, coming out, finding community in other LGBTQ Christians, wanting to stay in church, and being unable to change orientation?
When something does not work, it’s time for new guidelines, a new language, and refreshed “theology.” It’s all still just surface work. It all still demands that LGBTQ people not be allowed equal status to straight Christians. The opposite of homosexuality was heterosexuality (but that wasn’t happening), so, it became “holy-sexuality.” In flowed numerous books by gay, or same-sex attracted Christians, admitting they could not change their orientation but were indeed Christians. (Hill-Perry, Citlau, Yuan, Butterfield, Bennett, Coles, Cook) They entreated others to join them in God-mandate holy sexuality or life-long celibacy. Oh, how their 1960s forefathers in biblical counseling, who thought they, too spoke for God, would have scoffed at them. Imposed celibacy, ala the Catholic clergy? It was a trick of the devil!
There is still the option to marry heterosexually (supported by Sprinkle, Kaltenbach, Yuan, Citlau, Dallas, Butterfield, Hill-Perry, Bennett, Black, and Brown).
Since the 1940s, goalposts, requirements, and dictates kept changing.
But here is the bottom line: a great moral injustice (the conservative Christian approach to changing or rejecting LGBTQ people) was the result of factual errors (mistranslated words, and viewing homosexuality as a mental illness, then a sin).
What do we/you do with and about all this? It’s gotten pretty complicated. Do you ignore it, remain complicit, and carry on?
Most conservative religious leaders certainly have ignored, remained complicit, and carried on. The authors whose books (including “A Change of Affection”) I have read and reviewed certainly have done the same.
I’ve read all these books. Not many people can claim that. They are all basically the same. The books are full of the easy, thinly-constructed, sloppy, crowd-pleasing work that continues to bolster the gay-must-change narrative.
I would be so impressed if just one of these authors whose books I’ve read did some decent historical work around social changes in the roles of men and women, investigated the very young history of anti-gay theology, or even peeked into the history of biblical counseling for LGBTQ people and how that has shifted, and get honest about it all. They may not come to the conclusions I have. Fine, at least do some deeper work.
Just a modicum of some academics.
Just a drop of foundational work.
Just one little step outside and challenge the norm.
But, they don’t. They tell their story (no complaint there, we all have one) and rehash the trash.
But they never do the damn work!
It’s exhausting. It’s sloppy. It’s damaging.
LGBTQ people and their families already have one foot out the door of churches, a large group of them will end their relationships with God altogether.
Mr. Cook writes that not telling people about their homosexual sin has eternal consequences (p.168). Exclusionary, shaming, man-created teachings he supports also have not only far-reaching eternal consequences, but they also have earthly consequences too. I am continually disturbed by authors (Sean McDowell, Christopher Yuan) who need evidence of studies to prove that such teachings are doing damage to LGBTQ people.
I know many of the non-affirming religious leaders. I know they have the intellectual capacity and skills to do the work. Most people won’t allow their strongly held-viewpoints to be challenged. It’s risky. There can be a significant loss. If a person plays at higher levels and they (and their family) make some or most of their income from books and speaking, they’ll no longer be invited to speak if they changed their views. Book sales will plummet. Reputations will suffer. There is a cost to correcting this injustice.
But there is a far bigger cost to allowing it to stand.
Yet still, please, Christian leaders and pastors, authors, people in the pews, and mostly those who have LGBTQ people in your lives, invest in participating in one of the most important works of justice in the church today—the deconstruction of anti-gay theology.
Search my name on Youtube, I’ve done a two-part, five-hour substantial overview that greatly expands on some points I’ve contained in this review, start there.
Mr. Cook, I am sure you are a well-intentioned and lovely man. Today, I am profoundly sad for E and M, whose families have bought into a gross moral injustice that has been inflicted on an entire people group. Your book, the radio podcast videos, and guest speaking appearances to promote your book will be weaponized against LGBTQ Christians. Intended or not.
This moral injustice can be corrected, and it will be.