[dropcap]I[/dropcap] had been a Christian for just under a year when it happened. I had moved into a church house with 7 other young women, made many good friends, and gotten into the habit of reading my Bible for hours each day. It was obvious to everyone that I was on the right track with God and determined to serve Him. My friends began to refer to me as The Bible Answer Woman because I was so well acquainted with scripture and had learned dozens of verses by heart.
To help with our spiritual growth, every member in my church was assigned a discipler—an experienced Christian to teach and guide a fledgling in her personal walk with Jesus—and my mentor was an effervescent, cute-as-a-button young woman named Shelley. Shelley called early one Sunday morning in the summer of 1993 to tell me that Suzanne, the campus pastor’s wife, wanted to meet with both of us at her house after church. Shelly didn’t say why. I was nervous and racked my brain for something I had done wrong. I couldn’t think of anything.
The pastor’s wife had been circumspect with me since the day we met and made it clear I wasn’t one of her favorites. To earn favored status, you had to be a girlie girl—pretty, feminine, and focused on finding a husband. Suzanne sat on a rocking chair in her living room and glared at me. Shelley perched next to her in a straight-back chair, and I poised rigidly across from them on the edge of the couch, waiting to be reprimanded for a wrong I had no idea I committed.
“The other day at our prayer meeting in the park,” Suzanne began, her tone cold and even, “I saw a spirit of homosexuality on you.”
Ours was a charismatic, non-denominational church with a light emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We received words of knowledge, which in this instance, could be characterized as personal information revealed by the Holy Spirit for guidance or edification.
We spoke in tongues as a prayer language, but didn’t cheer during the sermon beyond a tepid “amen” of agreement. We laid hands on people during prayer, but weren’t “slain in the Spirit”—falling to the floor when someone prayed for us in front of church.
I didn’t question what Suzanne said, I listened and nodded. Then she raised her voice, “You lied! You didn’t tell us about your homosexual past. You’re putting your friends and roommates at risk by keeping secrets.”
Shelley touched Suzanne’s arm, “That’s enough. Yvette did tell me, but it didn’t seem important and I forgot.”
Suzanne leaned back in her rocking chair, temporarily appeased. “We are going to lay hands on you and cast out the demon of homosexuality. Once we’re finished here, you’re going to tell your roommates and your friends about your past and what we did about it.”
I was stunned. I had to tell my friends what? That I was gay before she and Shelley cast the demon out of me? It was an awkward conversation to have with friends, as if I was confessing to them some great sin, even though I hadn’t had a partner for nearly two years.
“And another thing,” Suzanne added, “I’m putting you in quarantine: You can’t go anywhere other than to work and to church, and you can’t spend time with your friends. Just read your Bible and pray.”
They laid hands on me and prayed in tongues for several minutes for commanding, in Jesus’s name, the demon of homosexuality to leave my body and for a spirit of holiness to replace it. Suzanne told me I was a new creature in Christ, “the old has passed away, the new has come,” and that I needed to walk out my salvation in fear and trembling. That meant taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.
Every time I felt the urge to spend time with a particular friend, I was told to question my motives, to think about why I wanted to be around her. Instead of developing normal friendships, I was admonished to second guess myself and search for evil, impure desires. It was an endless mind game, day after day, that contributed to my alienation from the group I felt I needed if I wanted to be a Christian. Authenticity was not an option; fitting into the mold was vital.
After that experience, at 27, I should have packed my bags and never looked back. But I didn’t. I wanted to please God, no matter what He required of me. The pastor emphasized repeatedly that church leaders were placed in their positions by God, and that to disobey them was to disobey God Himself. If I wanted to worship and serve Jesus, I had to do what the leaders told me.
I confessed my lesbianism to my friends who were stunned and dismayed that I was being humiliated by church leadership, but they, also, had to respect how pastors and leaders chose to discipline those under their care.
I was treated with suspicion by the pastors for a long time, and, although, no one preached against homosexuality per se but against sexual impurity in general, there were times when one pastor in particular would mock gay men, letting his wrist go limp and lisping a few lines from the pulpit. I burned with rage and said something to Suzanne. “I can’t bring any of my gay friends to church. How would they feel if they saw a pastor mocking them? It isn’t right.”
She said, “It may not be right to mock gay people, but it’s better to side with brothers and sisters in Christ who serve the Lord than it is to worry about sinners’ feelings.”
I said, “But aren’t we supposed to treat others the way we want to be treated?”
Suzanne responded, “If you knew the road was destroyed and cars were heading for a cliff, wouldn’t you wave your arms at drivers to stop and turn around? It’s the same thing.”
Every time I disputed something the church leaders did or said, Suzanne would tell me, “The Bible says to trust in the Lord and not to lean on your own understanding. You think you know better, but you don’t. You think you can reason your way to an answer, but you can’t. You have to trust Jesus, not yourself.”
One of my close friends clipped an ad from a Christian magazine. The print was so small, I could barely read it. It spoke about a ministry called Exodus that helped gay people heal from their same-sex attractions. I didn’t see being gay as a psychological problem, but a spiritual one. After all, the APA removed homosexuality as a mental illness from the DSM-III in 1973. But I met with Christian counselor Joe Dallas to hear his views. I confidently stated that I had been healed from lesbianism through prayer and deliverance, and that I hadn’t been in a relationship with a woman for years. He nodded with a knowing smile, and said, “You may not realize it now, but you have a lot of work ahead of you.” Then he launched into an explanation of reparative or conversion therapy that is based upon the premise that homosexuality is caused by stunted psychosexual growth, as a result of poor bonding with the same-sex parent. He gave me a handful of cassette tapes of his talks, a book he had written, and sent me on my way.
Several months after my meeting with Joe Dallas, Suzanne called me to her house again, and said Jesus told her I was conceived out of wedlock. I didn’t know if this was true, but after some careful investigation, I found that it was. Now I questioned my upbringing and my relationship with my mom. Was it this that had caused my homosexuality? Suzanne said my “sinful conception” sowed in me a spirit of rejection, and my mother’s rejection and resentment allowed the spirit of homosexuality to enter my life. I went down yet another road, looking for roots and causes of my lesbianism, and ways to heal from it. The church taught me to doubt myself, to question my feelings, to look to others for answers.
When parents objected to being the purported cause of their children’s homosexuality, Christian counselors and theorists changed their views and said it wasn’t how a parent treated the child, but how the child perceived their parent’s treatment, in addition to the child’s innate overly sensitive nature. By removing blame from the parents, parents were more inclined to push their gay kids to become straight through counseling and para-church ministries like Exodus.
Shame and self-doubt are the crux of praying away the gay, of ex-gay ministry, of conversion or reparative therapy, of any gay-to-straight mandate that requires a person to attempt to change their sexual orientation. Not only is it impossible to change from gay to straight, it is dangerous to try. When gay people find they can’t change after months and years of effort, of fasting and praying and reading their Bibles, they begin to wonder what is wrong with them: why can’t they change when others allegedly have, why has God turned His back on them and not made them straight? This is when shame takes hold—the lie that there is something intrinsically wrong with them.
There is something acutely crushing about being disdained by the people who should be accepting us as we are, with no mandate to change. I didn’t realize I could be gay/bisexual and a Christian. The only people I knew in the Christian world thought it was a sin to be gay. Now I know better. As my friend Sara Cunningham from Free Mom Hugs said recently—if a church does not accept you as an LGBTQ+ person with gifts to share, and does not recognize or perform same-sex weddings, they are practicing some form of conversion therapy. They espouse the gay-to-straight mandate.
You may contact Yvette at yvette@CanyonwalkerConnections.com