Thursday, July 28, 2011

Literalism Kills

A sad story out of Philadelphia today. 
A Delaware County man has been arrested and charged with murder in the beating death of an elderly Landsdowne man who had befriended him and made him executor and sole beneficiary of his will. 
John Joe Thomas, 28, of the first block of Sunshine Road in Upper Darby, allegedly told police he killed Murray Joseph Seidman, 70, because the older man had made sexual advances and that the Old Testament spelled out stoning as the punishment for homosexuality. 
"I stoned Murray with a rock in a sock," Thomas said to police, according to court documents.

Thomas, who was charged with murder, was silent as he was led past photographers this morning. 
According to the court documents, Thomas called police Seidman's apartment on Jan. 12 and they found Thomas sitting in the hallway crying: "I'm not going down there again, there is too much blood." 
Police found Seidman in his apartment face down. The medical examiner later ruled Seidman died as a result of blunt force trauma at least five days before being discovered. 
Neighbors described Seidman as a friendly soul who liked to eat out, watch movies, and bowl. He worked in the laundry of Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital for 40 years until he retired. Hospital officials said he was well liked by his coworkers and a "landmark" at the institution. 
It was at the hospital where Seidman met and befriended Thomas, according to neighbors. The young man and Seidman were often seen together grocery shopping and going to church. 
Lansdowne police Chief Daniel Kortan said the break in the investigation came when Thomas allegedly told a witness he beat an older man to death. 
"I killed a man," Thomas allegedly told the witness. He then described how he placed batteries and rocks in a sock, and hit Seidman in the head at least 10 times. Thomas then returned to Seidman's apartment several days later and called police, saying he had discovered the body, according to court documents. 
When police interviewed Thomas on Wednesday he said Seidman had been making advances toward him over a period of time. Thomas said he read in the Old Testament that homosexuals should be stoned in certain situations.
Admittedly this man was probably mentally unstable. Never the less it is always sad to see where a shallow, literalist reading of the Bible can lead.

Bradlee Dean, Another Bigot With "Christian" Friends

Bradlee Dean, founder of the very weird You Can Run, But You Cannot Hide Ministries, has gotten in hot water for insinuating that Muslims are being more moral than Christians by calling for the execution of homosexuals. Now he's attempting to sue Rachel Maddow for airing his comments on national television. He claims that he didn't really mean what he said and that Maddow is committing slander against him.

So did Maddow take his words out of context? Well listen to the whole segment and decide for yourself...

And in case you're still not convinced this man is a bigot, check out his endorsement of Bryan Fischer and Scott Lively's Holocaust revisionism. (And by the way, if Scott Lively is just a lone fringe figure as some conservatives claim, why is he so often cited by high profile figures like Fischer?)

And of course there's the audio of him pining after the good 'ol days when homosexuals where castrated and hung.

And lest you think that this man is just some lone, fringe wacko keep in mind that Presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann has repeatedly supported Dean and his "ministry". And she's not alone, Republican Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer came under fire for donating money to Dean's organization as well. Emmer's response to the criticism? "I think they're good people." Good people indeed...

Tony Perkins Agrees With Me About Sexual Orientation Change

I've argued here before that all ex-gay ministries really change is behavior and identification, not a person's core sexual orientation. Well now Tony Perkins, of the Family Research Council, has himself said the same thing. In the Washington Update feature over at Perkins says the following (emphasis mine):
Journalists' "fact-checking" services can be just as prone to bias and factual error as the politicians they're checking. PolitiFact analyzed former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's recent statements on the origins of homosexuality. Meet the Press host David Gregory had asked: "Is being gay a choice?" Pawlenty began his response by saying, "Well, the science in that regard is in dispute." PolitiFact rated that lone sentence as "false." But the "choice" question is meaningless unless you also define what you mean by "gay." Same-sex attraction is not a choice, but homosexual conduct and homosexual self-identification are choices. Pawlenty ignored the silly "choice" question and answered the more relevant one--what causes homosexuality?--accurately. He went on to say, "There's no scientific conclusion that [homosexuality is] genetic." PolitiFact rated this statement "mostly true"--but grudgingly. 
Most of their "analysis" was devoted to explaining that if Pawlenty had said it's not "biological" (rather than "genetic") it would have been false. They quote the American Psychological Association's research on "possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social and cultural influences" and concede, "no findings . . . permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation . . . is determined by any particular factor." Pawlenty is right. And PolitiFact's contradictory conclusion that "scientists do believe that sexual orientation is caused by biology" is wrong.
Of course Perkins' claim that scientists do not believe that sexual orientation is caused by biology is patently false. It is true that the scientific community is still unsure as to exactly which factors cause homosexuality (much as they are still unsure about what factors cause left-handedness) and to what extent those various factors effect sexual orientation relative to one another. But there is little disagreement over the fact that biological factors do indeed play a significant role. Studies of fraternal birth order, gay twins and brain structure have all indicated the significant likelihood of strong biological factors in the development of homosexuality. Of course Perkins et. al. won't be admitting that any time soon...

Ann Coulter to Gays: Sit Down And Shut Up

When Ann Coulter speaks of wanting a Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy for all of society what she is really asking is for gay men and women to return to the closet. This is, I think, the desire of many conservatives who "tolerate" gay people but say they don't want our "agenda" shoved down their throats. What they really mean is, "we won't bash you so long as you stay in the closet." This kind of intolerance is inexcusable.

Eddie Long Abuse Victim Outed

This is bizarre, to say the least. And while it's important to keep on the story, given Revrend Long's anti-gay preaching, I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea of outing a sexual abuse victim who clearly wanted to remain anonymous.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Anti-Faith Bigotry Is Still Bigotry

Reverand Emily C. Heath over at Bilerico has a wonderful piece about the anti-faith bigotry of some in the queer community.
Monday morning my latest post was published on Bilerico. The piece which, while not an attempt to evangelize or impose my faith on anyone, dealt with religion. Just as every post dealing with religion that I've placed on this site, the comments were immediately not just negative, but filled with hatred and vulgarity directed towards my faith. 
This is the reality of what it means to be a queer person of faith. You get slammed from all sides.
I don't really mind. If I lost sleep over every hateful comment I heard in my life I'd be walking around comatose. But what is always ironic to me is how much anti-gay Christians and the rabid anti-faith folks have in common. The narrowness of world views, the inability to tolerate beliefs different than their own, the stereotyping of all members of a given group, the quickness with which both groups resort to name calling all point to a simple truth: they are all fundamentalists.

I'm sure the rabidly anti-faith folks don't think that label applies to them, but it does. The reality is that most atheists do not typically berate people of faith, call them names, or dismiss them as brainless. Most that I know are live and let live types. My atheist friends and I make no attempts to convert one another and are able to discuss our different beliefs in calm, respectful ways.
They are not the people I'm talking about here. Who I am talking about are the LGBT people who engage in behavior that, if it were directed at any other group, would rightfully be identified as bigoted and bullying.
Read the whole thing here.

Nobody Owns The Gospel

In the late 90's Corpus Christi, a passion play taking place in modern Texas that depicts Jesus and his Disciples as gay, stirred up quite a bit of controversy. I'm sympathetic to those who are offended by anything that would portray Jesus having a sexual relationship (such as Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ), but to my knowledge Corpus Christi never depicts Christ as having any sexual relationships himself. Rather it does the unthinkable by showing the Lord overseeing a gay marriage ceremony between two apostles.

Now there is a documentary about the making of the play coming this year, which will surely create more controversy.

Of course the apostles were not actually gay (so far as we know at least), but it's not as if the Gospel story hasn't been re-purposed before, told with any number of twists on the traditional story. So why is this particular re-imagining so blasphemous?

A Conversation Between A Gay Man And His Mother

I think most gay people can identify with this. Personally I can really relate to the way he talks about hiding from his parents. I know that my own mother and father probably feel and think many of the same things as this woman, mostly that if they just wish I would have said something. Hopefully one day homosexuality will be normal enough that kids don't fear talking to their parents about their struggles.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tim Pawlenty on Gay Marriage

I think it is interesting that Pawlenty steadfastly refuses to refer to gay couples and instead repeats the phrase "domestic relationships". In some ways I think this is a central point in the argument against same-sex marriage, the idea that gay couples don't really have the same kind of love and commitment that opposite sex couples do. In the eyes of people like Pawlenty two people of the same sex who have shared a home, a bed and a life together aren't really the same as opposite sex couples who share those things. They are instead just like any other "domestic relationship". You know like friends, siblings or other relatives sharing room and board together, but never intermingling their lives and their souls as married heterosexual couples.

This is, I think, the same view held by those who cite Genesis in religious arguments about homosexuality. The particular verse most often cited by traditionalists is Genesis 2:24, "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh." Most who use Genesis will then bring up Christ's words in Mark 10:6-9,
“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
What the traditionalists miss, I think, is that Christ here is not talking about what types of couples are acceptable to God, but rather about the type of union experienced by the couple and how that relates to divorce. Divorce should not be taken lightly because when two people marry they becomes "as one" and such a union is not dissolved easily or without severe consequences. But if, as I and every gay person I've ever known argue, two gay men or women can experience that same love, that same one-flesh nature, then the whole argument falls apart. If in fact our souls can become one in the love of marriage and fidelity then, well as Jesus Christ himself put it, "what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

Congratulations New Yorkers!

Today marks the first day that same-sex couples in New York can get married. Check out some photos and videos of the celebrations below.

Photos taken from Queerty and GoodAsYou posts (here, here and here).

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Andrew Sullivan: Why Gay Marriage Is Good for Straight America

Andrew Sullivan has a poignant op-ed in Newsweek defending marriage equality.
You can have as many debates about gay marriage as you want, and over the last 22 years of campaigning for it, I’ve had my share. You can debate theology, and the divide between church and state, the issue of procreation, the red herring of polygamy, and on and on. But what it all really comes down to is the primary institution of love. The small percentage of people who are gay or lesbian were born, as all humans are, with the capacity to love and the need to be loved. These things, above everything, are what make life worth living. And unlike every other minority, almost all of us grew up among and part of the majority, in families where the highest form of that love was between our parents in marriage. To feel you will never know that, never feel that, is to experience a deep psychic wound that takes years to recover from. It is to become psychologically homeless. Which is why, I think, the concept of “coming out” is not quite right. It should really be called “coming home.”

In the end, I had to abandon my home in order to find it again and know the place for the first time. I left England just after my 21st birthday for America and its simple foundational promise: the pursuit of happiness. And I gave myself permission to pursue it. I will never forget the moment I first kissed another man; it was as if a black-and-white movie suddenly turned into color. I will never forget the first time I slept next to another man—or rather tried to sleep. Never for a moment did I actually feel or truly believe any of this was wrong, let alone an “intrinsic evil,” as my strict Catholicism told me that it was. It was so natural, so spontaneous, so joyous, it could no more be wrong than breathing. And as I experienced intimacy and love for the first time as an adult, all that brittleness of the gay adolescent, all that white-knuckled embarrassment, all those ruses and excuses and dark, deep depressions lifted. Yes, this was happiness. And America for me will always represent it.
I still didn’t think it would ever happen to me. I thought I was too emotionally damaged, my emotions and sexuality severed by all those years of loneliness and arrested emotional development. I thought my heart had too much scar tissue, and I could live my life well enough with just friendship and occasional sexual encounters or dates. But when I first set eyes on my husband, I knew I had lucked out. Some things you simply know. And when we finally got married, a few years later, and our mothers walked us down the makeshift garden aisle, and my sister gave the reading through tears, and one of our beagles howled through the vows, and my father put his arms around me and hugged, I did not hear civilization crumble. I felt a wound being healed. It is a rare privilege to spend your adult life fighting for a right that was first dismissed as a joke, only finally to achieve it in six states and Washington, D.C. But how much rarer to actually stumble upon someone who could make it a reality. And to have it happen to me in my own lifetime! This joy is compounded, deepened, solidified by the knowledge that somewhere, someone just like I was as a kid will be able to look to the future now and not see darkness—but the possibility of love and home. That, I realized, was really what I had been fighting for for two decades: to heal the child I had once been—and the countless children in the present and future whose future deserved, needed, begged for a model of commitment and responsibility and love. 
And that is why it has been such a tragedy that conservatives decided this was a battle they were determined to fight against, an advance they were dedicated to reversing. It made no sense to me. Here was a minority asking for responsibility and commitment and integration. And conservatives were determined to keep them in isolation, stigmatized and kept on an embarrassing, unmentionable margin, where gays could be used to buttress the primacy of heterosexuality. We were for them merely a drop shadow for heterosexuality. What they could not see was that the conservative tradition of reform and inclusion, of social change through existing institutions, of the family and personal responsibility, all led inexorably toward civil marriage for gays.
Read the whole thing here.

Friday, July 22, 2011

America Like Nazi Germany Because Of Gay Rights According To Lou Engle

Lou Engle, of the influential International House of Prayer, apparently believes that America has become like Nazi Germany by granting gay people civil rights.

Again this guy, like Bryan Fischer whom I wrote about yesterday, is far from a fringe figure. The IHOP church attracts over 4000 people every Sunday and their massive revival style gatherings attract huge crowds. It is disheartening to hear such ridiculous rhetoric come from someone who, for many, represents the face of mainstream Charismatic Christianity.

Andrew Marin On Love

Andrew Marin, of The Marin Foundation, has a great piece on love over at Red Letter Christians.
"I know what love is supposed to look like and feel like. I know how I am suppose to love because Jesus invented the come-as-you-are-culture. Therefore if I am a believer in Jesus I must follow in his ways. TheWay. 

It’s an odd thing when you think about it: That I must act, feel, support and have my spirit entwined with another in such a way that it provokes a deafening reaction of realness, contentment and security that are sunken deep into the core of the others’ being. That’s what love is."
You should totally check out the whole thing here.

Family Research Council Caught In Lie, Responds With More Lies

During Wednesday's DOMA repeal hearings Senator Al Franken called out Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family for misrepresenting a Health and Human Services study about family structure and children's health and well being. Well the Family Research Council wasn't too happy about that, and responded:
"Homosexual activists are gloating over an exchange Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) had with Tom Minnery (of Focus on the Family affiliate CitizenLink) at yesterday's hearing on a bill to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Minnery had cited a December 2010 federal study which showed that children raised in a "nuclear family" have better health outcomes. Franken, however, triumphantly noted that a 'nuclear family' was defined (in part) as one headed by 'two parents who are married to one another'--not two opposite-sex parents. But did Franken forget the law he wants to repeal? DOMA says, 'In determining the meaning of . . . any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States , the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.' 
Since this was a federal study published by a federal agency based on a federal survey conducted by federal (Census Bureau) employees, its definition of 'married' is bound by DOMA. Even if, by chance, the interviewers or authors violated that law, the survey data was collected from 2001 to 2007. During that time (and only from mid-2004 on) there was only one state (Massachusetts) in which homosexual couples could 'marry.' The vast majority of homosexual couples raising children fall in the categories of 'unmarried biological or adoptive family,' 'blended family,' or 'cohabiting family'--all of which have poorer outcomes for children than the traditional 'nuclear family.'
 This would be a pretty good take down of Senator Franken, except that Debra Blackwell, lead author of the study, has said that Franken was correct:
" 'Sen. Franken is right,' the lead author of the study told POLITICO. The survey did not exclude same-sex couples, said Debra L. Blackwell, Ph.D., nor did it exclude them from the 'nuclear family' category provided their family met the study’s definition. 
The study’s definition of nuclear family is: 'one or more children living with two parents who are married to one another and are each biological or adoptive parents of all the children in the family.' 
That means the study does not provide evidence that straight couples’ children necessarily fare better than same-sex couples’ kids, as Minnery claimed."
The sad thing is that there is some grain of truth in what the FRC said about gay couples not being able to be married and thus not being counted. I'd imagine that there weren't remotely as many same-sex couples surveyed by the study as opposite-sex couples, and certainly not enough to make any concrete conclusions from the data. But this just points to the reality that children in families headed by same-sex couples are being disadvantaged by laws like DOMA and other anti-equality measures. I've said it before and I'll say it again, if these groups really cared about children and families they would want to ensure that all children in all families receive all the benefits of having two legally married parents.

Peterson Toscano Recalls Exercism of Anus Dwelling Demons...

In the wake of recent media attention given to Ex-Gay therapies due to the Bachman controversy  Toscano has posted a great article about his time in one such program. Here's the money quote:
"I attended L.I.F.E in NYC back in the early 1980′s as a young person looking for answers about my sexuality and faith. In addition to meeting some new friends, having raucous praise times, receiving Bible lessons, and sharing spaghetti dinners with fellow strugglers, I also got tangled up with an exorcist who tried to extract demons of homosexuality from my anus. She suggested they crawled up there during a sex act. Really I’m not making this up. I was desperate to try anything, but soon after the session started, I felt so uncomfortable I aborted the procedure. Likely the “therapist” assumed it was the demons in my anus who were making a fuss and influenced me to shut it down."
Go read the full article here.

Gays & Guns

I personally believe in non-violence. It seems to me that when Jesus talked about turning the other cheek he meant it, and lived it out on the cross. But I also believe in the individual's right to defend him/her-self. So I actually like what LaSalvia has to say here, it's too bad that many left leaning LGBT groups will mock and malign him for daring to take any position other than theirs.

Ex-Gay Cliches

These two mostly come off as a bit disjointed and unhinged. It may simply be the editing or lack of time, but they were all over the place. I would like to look at the typical Ex-Gay cliches he uses though (which rarely apply to most gay men) and compare them to the homosexual I know best, myself:

"My father sucked" - personally I happen to have been very close with my father and resent those who led him to believe he'd failed me somehow;

"I was an addict" - I never touched drugs and alcohol until after I had been pushed out of my church and faith because of my sexuality, and even then I never engaged in any substance abuse that wasn't normative for my circle of friends and most others at Indiana University, where I was studying at the time;

"I was a slut" - I've never been particularly promiscuous, and frankly my straight friends in college were far more promiscuous then myself;

"I was molested" - While I actually can relate to this bit of his testimony, my experience came after I had realized I was attracted to other boys and my inhibition in stopping or reporting the abuse stemmed from the shame I felt because of those attractions. Essentially I knew I was gay, and thought that the abuse was God's way of punishing me for having been attracted to and 'experimented' with other boys before;

"I was a sissy" - While I may have had some stereotypical gay traits (I like musicals and a good tear wrenching drama), I was mostly your typical boy. I loved video games and movies, the more violent the better, played army with my friends and spent most of my time stomping around outside in the woods.

And unfortunately Joy Behar doesn't ask the most important question: Are you still attracted to men? Has this man actually changed his sexual orientation, or has he, like most ex-gays, changed his behavior and identity? These are two fundamentally different things and are incredibly important in the on-going ex-gay debate, as well as the wider debate surrounding homosexuality in society.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bryan Fischer Is A Bigot

Bryan Fischer hosts the talk show Focal Point produced and broadcast by American Family Radio. AFR is a network of over 180 radio stations being broadcast to over 40 states and is owned by the American Family Association. Suffice it to say this is a relatively mainstream program coming from a large and relatively mainstream Christian organization. As you listen to the things Fischer has said on his program below keep in mind that he is being broadcast right alongside James Dobson's Focus on the Family as well as several other mainstream Christian radio shows.

I don't think you have to agree with me on homosexuality and the Bible to agree that this man absolutely should not be representing Christianity on a national stage. I've started a petition at, if you don't want this man representing your faith, please sign it.

This is Why DOMA Must be Repealed NOW

The Fruit of the Spirit

In Matthew 7:16-20 Jesus, in his famous Sermon on the Mount, says the following: 
"You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits."
Paul elaborates on this in Galatians 5:22-23, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." As gay Christians we often point to the good fruit clearly present in loving, committed same-sex relationships as evidence of their holiness. I agree with this approach, but I'd like to take a different one. Instead of asking if our relationships produce good fruit, something which can often be subjective. Instead why not ask what kind of fruit the traditionalist approach to homosexuality has produced? Remember, Christ does not say that every good tree bears mostly good fruit, he says that, "[a] good tree cannot produce bad fruit." Period. End of story. So I offer up the testimonies below and ask, is this good fruit?

Focus on the Family Defines Change

I stumbled across an article titled "What Do We Mean When We Talk About Change?" written by ex-gay activist Jeff Johnston over at CitizenLink, a Focus on the Family affiliate. The idea of "change" is pivotal in this debate, and opinions about it are strongly correlated with opinions about homosexuals in general. According to a Pew Forum survey of opinions regarding homosexuality:
"Belief that homosexuality is immutable is strongly associated with positive opinions about gays and lesbians – even more strongly than education, personal acquaintance with a homosexual, or general ideological beliefs. For example, about two-thirds of people who think homosexuality can be changed (68%) have an unfavorable opinion of gay men. By contrast, nearly six-in-ten (59%) of those who think homosexuality cannot be changed have a favorable opinion. This pattern holds even among groups of people who are similar in religious beliefs, partisan affiliation, and other factors."
So it is important to tackle this issue head on. In particular we need to address what groups like FotF claim about change given their prominence, popularity and perceived respectability. So what does FotF say about change?

The article discusses several aspects of change, many of which are rather vague. One such change is a "[c]hange in motivation," in which Johnston at least admits that most men who pursue change, "are initially motivated to seek change from homosexuality by fear, shame or guilt." He also mentions a "[c]hange in identity" in which he claims that all people are born heterosexual and that, "the Bible says that we humans are made male and female in the image of God – reflecting a heterosexual intent in our design – and that homosexual temptations do not define anyone." Johnston also seems to imply that most gay men, "feel victimized and rejected" but downplays the role of societal condemnation of homosexuality in such feelings.

In a particularly insulting section covering "[c]hange in relationships with men and women" Johnston mentions several "relational sins – often connected with the homosexual struggle" which include:
"o Lust – desiring to use another man for one’s own pleasure and fulfillment;
o Envy – wanting to own another’s masculinity, wanting to possess another person’s attributes;
o Contempt – looking down on “straight” men or women, despising men who are unattractive, old, or effeminate, or fearing and hating women;
o Control – wanting to control another’s behavior, affections, time, or thoughts; and,
o Lying – not telling the truth about what one thinks or feels in order to maintain a relationship, not being honest about thoughts, feelings, behaviors or attitudes."
 He of course cites no research that would support the idea that gay men are generally lusting, envious, contemptuous and controlling liars, he simply asserts it as fact. I for one do not seek to "use" other men (can one assume then that all straight men seek to "use" women?), nor have I ever felt envious of any of my boyfriends' masculinity. The idea that gay men "[fear] and [hate] women" seems particularly ridiculous. I suppose I can be a bit controlling, and years in the closet have certainly left me often feeling all too comfortable with lying to protect myself, but neither of these issues seem particularly relevant to my sexuality.

Now that we have an idea of how FotF and Johnston see homosexuality and, more importantly, how they believe men must change to even begin a 'journey to healing', let's take a look at what 'healing' actually means to them. Citing ex-gay author Joe Dallas Johnston writes:
"For many, same-sex attractions do change dramatically, and attractions for women develop. In his book, Desires in Conflict, Joe Dallas describes the reasonable expectations that many have experienced: 
o change in behavior;
o change in frequency of homosexual attractions;
o change in intensity of homosexual attractions; and,
o change in perspective – homosexuality is no longer a life-consuming or dominating issue. 
He goes on to write that many men also move into healthy other-sex relating. Although not everyone experiences this type of change, it doesn’t mean that it can not happen or hasn’t happened for many. There are myriad testimonies of men who have moved out of homosexual behavior and into healthy God-honoring heterosexual relationships."
I appreciate Johnston's honesty in mentioning that, "not everyone experiences this type of change," but let's be honest, that is not the part most people struggling with this issue will notice. What they will be drawn to is the claim that "reasonable expectations" involve "chang[ing] dramatically, and attractions for women develop[ing]." And further that, "many men also move into healthy other-sex relating," which of course implies heterosexual attractions. But are these claims honest? Do "many men" in these programs report "chang[ing] dramatically"?

There are two studies most commonly cited as proving change is possible, the Jones & Yarhouse study from 2007 (updated in 2009) and a 2003 study from Robert Spitzer. I want to look solely at the Jones & Yarhouse study because they are admittedly coming from a conservative Christian perspective. Not to mention Spitzer has claimed several times that his research has been misused by ex-gay advocates.

First I think it is important to define sexual orientation change. There is no doubt that some people engage in sexual behavior contrary to their sexual orientation. It is entirely possible for a homosexual to reject those feelings and engage in heterosexual behavior. But heterosexual behavior does not make someone heterosexual any more than homosexual behavior makes someone homosexual. Prison inmates who engage in homosexual behavior are certainly not homosexually oriented and will return to heterosexual behavior as soon as they are able to. So how should we define change in orientation? I would suggest that sexual orientation change would consist of the reduction, if not eradication, of homosexual feelings and the emergence of heterosexual feelings. Is that what Jones & Yarhouse found?

(Much of the information below is drawn from a critique of the Jones & Yarhouse study at Ex-Gay Watch. You can also find the authors' response there.)

First it is important to note that Jones & Yarhouse worked directly with and were funded by Exodus International, a Christian ex-gay group that promotes reparative therapy, to gather their sample. Further, while they claim that their study is longitudinal and prospective, which is to say that they followed participants from the beginning of their therapy and performed follow ups, in fact over 50% of their participants had sought treatment outside of Exodus for any number of years prior to their involvement with the organization. This is an issue because researchers acknowledge that past recollections are often inaccurate. A perfect study of sexual orientation change would measure participants orientation at the time they began attempting change, rather then asking them to recall 'how gay' they were when beginning therapy after having spent several years in that therapy. Unfortunately such studies are difficult and, to my knowledge, do not exist. And while Jones & Yarhouse did their best to overcome this problem, they tend to overstate their success in doing so.

Nevertheless Jones & Yarhouse's findings are interesting and informative. Of the 98 participants 11 claimed to have changed, with one recanting that claim later. That even one of their successes recanted is important to note given that this was not a long-term study and the authors admit the possibility that more of their successful cases could potentially recant later. And how do the authors define change? Well of the 10 successful cases (I'm not counting the one who recanted) one admited to still having unwanted homosexual attractions and another claimed to still have homoerotic dreams. Jones & Yarhouse also counted 23 individuals who had committed themselves to celibacy as successes, even while admitting that they had not experienced any “strong movement toward heterosexual attraction." It also has to be noted that those involved in ex-gay ministries and programs are potentially motivated to misrepresent their condition, possibly skewing the data further. And finally Yarhouse himself, in a recent edition of Edification: The Transdisciplinary Journal Of Christian Psychology, wrote:
"If attractions do not necessarily signal an identity, it became clear that there was an important distinction to be made between sexual attractions, a homosexual orientation, and a gay identity (Yarhouse, 2005). This “three-tier distinction” moves from descriptive to prescriptive, by which I mean that talking about same-sex attractions is a descriptive account of a person’s experiences: “I experience sexual attraction to the same sex.” Personal identity is still subject to further reflection. 
From my perspective, a focus on orientation can mistakenly assume that the traditional Christian sexual ethic in some way hinges on the causes of homosexuality and whether a homosexual orientation can change. Sexual identity, in contrast, focuses the discussion on an endpoint by bringing to the foreground patterns of behavior and an identity that reflects that over time. 
It may be helpful, then, to distinguish between what is in a person’s effective will. The experience of same-sex attraction is not in a person’s effective will, at least not in the same way as behavior and identity is. Most people I have met who are sorting out sexual identity questions find themselves attracted to the same sex; they did not choose to experience same-sex attractions. What they are choosing is whether or not to integrate their experiences of attractions into a gay identity."
Here Yarhouse is admitting what many gay activists have long claimed, ex-gays do not change their core sexual orientation, rather they alter their behavior and identity. This is not at all the kind of 'change' promised by Johnston and FotF. And furthermore Jones & Yarhouse, in their 2009 update to the study, offered this cautionary statement:
"[W]hile we found that part of our research population experienced success to the degree that it might be called (as we have here) “conversion,” our evidence does not indicate that these changes are categorical, resulting in uncomplicated, dichotomous and unequivocal reversal of sexual orientation from utterly homosexual to utterly heterosexual. Most of the individuals who reported that they were heterosexual at T6 did not report themselves to be without experience of homosexual arousal, and they did not report their heterosexual orientation to be unequivocal and uncomplicated."
Stanton Jones has been quoted as having said the following:
"A typical hetero male finds himself attracted to a wide range of females. But among the successful people who reported conversion the typical response was 'I'm very happy with my sexual responses to my wife, but I don't experience much hetero attraction to other women.' Also, when asked and pressed about whether they still find attraction to men, they will say: ‘Yes, if I let my mind go in that direction.' "
So it would seem that clients of reparative therapy programs do remain homosexual, even if they alter their identity and/or behavior. Again, this is not even remotely the kind of dramatic change promised by FotF in Johnston's article. And given that true sexual orientation change is likely impossible, and even 'conversion' as Jones & Yarhouse define it is rare, one must ask whether such therapies are actually worth undertaking. In particular it is important to know whether those who do not 'succeed' (i.e. the majority) at such conversion attempts are harmed.

Jones & Yarhouse actually researched the potential for harm from such programs in their study. While the authors claimed that no such harm was found, the testimony of their subjects said otherwise. Some participants claimed to experience feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, frustration, loneliness and emptiness. Others claim that their faith was damaged and that they felt like they had wasted an enormous amount of their lives. The authors themselves even admit to knowledge of anecdotal evidence of individuals committing suicide after failing to change. This all begs the question, how many 'success stories' are required to come out of these programs to outweigh the worse case scenario of suicide? How many ex-gays are worth the life of one such 'failure'?

*For a comprehensive review of the literature on reparative therapy see the American Psychological Association's report 'Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation'.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hate the Sin AND the Sinner? More on Albert Mohler's Reparative Therapy Article.

I wrote about Southern Baptist Convention President Albert Mohler's recent article responding to the media's coverage of the reparative therapy issue a few days ago. In that article I noted that Mohler's basic suppositions, that homosexuality is emphatically rejected by the Bible and no "real" Christian can affirm homosexuals, underpin the entirety of his, and many conservatives', view of this issue. But there was something else notable about what he wrote that I didn't pick up on at first.

If you are gay, or have talked about LGBT issues with a conservative Christian, you have almost certainly heard the phrase 'love the sinner, hate the sin'. The entire point of this line is to defend those who oppose homosexuality against accusations that they really just dislike, or even hate, homosexuals. While it might be a trite line, it accurately represents many Christians' attitudes towards gay people. As these people and organizations have turned to ex-gay therapies as the solution to the 'homosexual problem' they have also been forced to admit that a homosexual orientation, in and of itself, is not sinful. It is, they would argue, the actual behavior that is sinful. So if you are a homosexual, and ex-gay therapy does not result in the development of heterosexuality (which, arguably, it never does), then you can simply live a life of celibacy without worrying about whether any of those thoughts or desires are damning you to hell.

I bring up all this background in order to point out how significant it is that in his article Mohler states this, "the Bible speaks rather directly to the sinfulness of the homosexual orientation — defined as a pattern of sexual attraction to a person of the same sex." He goes on to argue that, in his interpretation of Romans 1:24-27, "Paul identifies the sinful sexual passion as a major concern — not just the behavior." Finally he concludes that, "[t]he New Testament reveals that a homosexual sexual orientation, whatever its shape or causation, is essentially wrong, contrary to the Creator’s purpose, and deeply sinful."

So in Mohler's view clearly one cannot hate only homosexual behavior, but must detest even homosexual feelings. He admits that therapy to change those feelings has been rejected by every major medical association, but goes on to claim that, "we will hold little hope for any secular therapy to offer more than marginal improvement in a sinner’s life." This is a truly bizarre statement given that virtually all ex-gay and reparative therapy programs are deeply rooted in a religious, and generally Christian, world view (hence the somewhat derogatory phrase "pray away the gay" used by many gay activists) and decidedly not secular. I know of almost no prominent therapists advocating for reparative therapy who are not Christians. That being the case, we're still left wondering why these programs never seem to actually work as intended.

What I find most insulting about this is the way it ignores the experience and witness of the vast majority of gay Christians. Having grown up in a devoutly religious Christian home, I can tell you that I spent countless hours in prayer agonizing over my sexual orientation. I begged and pleaded with God to change me. I pursued reparative therapy with a Christian counselor. And yet, nothing happened, God chose not to change me for some reason.

Mohler says that, "Christians cannot accept any argument that suggests that a fundamental reorientation of the believer’s desires in a way that increasingly pleases God and is increasingly obedient to Christ is impossible." I actually agree with him. Through Christ all things, at least those which are pleasing to Him, are possible. And yet you won't find a single person who has gone through reparative therapy and come out completely heterosexual. At best you will find ex-gays who have learned to reject what "comes naturally", as the famous ex-gay Alan Chambers put it, in order to pursue a heterosexual lifestyle or, as is more often the case, a life of celibacy. Why is that? If the desires themselves are sinful and disordered, then it would follow that God would remove those desires from a faithful believer. Even if we're talking about demanding celibacy of gay people, one would expect God to honor such faithfulness with the removal of homosexual desires, if not the emergence of a heterosexual orientation.

So if a "fundamental reorientation of the believer's desires" cannot be "impossible" as Mohler claims, then why is it? Why has God not fundamentally reoriented the desires of the millions of gay men and women who have gone through Christ-centered reparative therapy programs? I'd argue that it's because God never intended for us to change to begin with. He made us just the way we are and the only thing that would be "deeply sinful" would be to reject that, to look up at the potter and demand He make us as we want to be.

Fish Out of Water

I cannot recommend this movie enough. Short and to the point, it gives the best argument against anti-gay theology I've seen outside of the long theological tomes written on this issue. You can stream it for free on Netflix, or watch it on YouTube for $2.99. I do have to admit that those representing the other side here, particularly the infamous Fred Phelps, aren't exactly stellar theologians offering serious critiques. Nevertheless it generally does justice to the Biblical witness on this issue. And if you really want the best possible rebuttal you can always read some Robert Gagnon, if you can stomach it.

Lies in the Name of God are Still Lies (And Probably Worse...)

Sociological research is a tricky thing. It relies heavily on statistics, which can be notoriously unreliable, and can often be spun any way we want. Case in point, Focus on the Family, along with several other anti-gay groups, routinely cites a Health and Human Services study to claim that children do much better with a mother and father then with two fathers or two mothers. During today's hearings on the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act Senator Al Franken took FotF's Tom Minnery to task over their misuse of that study.

As a Christian I find it particularly egregious that these supposedly moral, Christian organizations would blatantly lie and deceive in order to further their agenda. They are welcome to their opinions, and they're welcome to make the best case possible for those opinions. But lying, even for sake of maintaining "Biblical morality", is still lying.

What's worse is that this isn't an isolated instance. These groups have repeatedly used studies comparing single mothers with married parents to conclude that children being raised by same-sex female couples are harmed by not having a man around. Zack Ford over at ThinkProgress has a good post explaining why Focus on the Family’s ‘Fatherless’ studies are irrelevant to DOMA.

There is a reason God calls us to honesty, deception ruins our credibility and can destroy our witness. As Senator Franken put it, “I frankly don’t really know how we can trust the rest of your testimony if you are reading studies this way.”

"Won't Somebody Please Think of the Children!"

During today's Defense of Marriage Act hearings Tom Minnery was forced to admit that DOMA harms the children of same-sex couples.

Somehow this reminded me of The Simpson's Helen Lovejoy:

I think this is the crux of the marriage equality debate. Gay people are living their lives and forming families whether groups like Focus on the Family like it or not. Given that many of these families have children, the question becomes one of priorities for FotF and others. Do they care more about winning the marriage fight or protecting all children in all families?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Because Fag is Such a Funny Word...

Real classy Bob...

Does Affirmation = Church Decline?

I've had this argument used against me many times. It goes something like this: Conservative evangelical denominations and churches are growing, mainline and affirming churches are dying, thus God must be against the affirmation of gay people. So having dealt with this before it was nice to find an article pointing out the errors in that line of thinking:
"The big losers among mainline denominations are United Methodists, who shed nearly 20% of their members between 1990 and 2008, according to the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). The Methodists do not ordain gays and lesbians. Presbyterians and Lutherans each lost about 5-6% of their members. Episcopalians went down 20% as well, but on a much lower scale than Methodists: in 1990, there were about 3 million Episcopalians in the US. In 2008, there were around 2.4 million. Not chump change, to be sure, but nothing like the staggering 3 million Methodists who disappeared in the same period."
Of course in the end I don't put much stake in the numbers game anyways, but it's interesting data nonetheless.

Albert Mohler on Reparative Therapy

Albert Mohler has written an article on reparative therapy claiming that "the Bible clearly, repeatedly, consistently, and comprehensively reveals the sinfulness of all homosexual behaviors" and "[t]he normalization of homosexuality simply cannot be accepted by anyone committed to biblical Christianity." The entire article really rests on these suppositions. If either of them are incorrect then everything else Mohler has to say about the issue is moot. But are they correct?

Are the Episcopal Church of America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Presbyterian Church not "committed to biblical Christianity"? Are the Methodists then toying with the abandonment of "biblical Christianity" because they are currently debating this issue? And what about the many gay-affirming Churches in non-affirming denominations?

What frustrates me so much about Mohler's rhetoric here is the implication that because I disagree with him, and because I am a gay Christian, I am not really a Christian and my faith is counterfeit. Even more aggravating is the accusation that anyone who would dare support or agree with me has also abandoned the 'true faith' and either is in jeopardy of losing their salvation or, more likely, never had a real relationship with Christ to begin with.

I am all about having dialogue with those on the other side of this issue, even knowing that all the logic in the world probably won't convince them. But when the other side asserts that to disagree with them is really to disagree with God, and thus tantamount to blasphemy, I fear we have lost any common ground that could lead to a productive conversation.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What I'm Doing And Why

I am a twenty-something gay man, and I am a Christian. These two identities don't always mix well, particularly in other peoples' minds. Having come back to my faith recently I decided it would be nice to have a place to write about all the issues I'm working through as I cultivate a new and authentic faith. And frankly, I think everyone following me on Facebook will appreciate me having another place to post about LGBT issues and vent. So here I go...