Fear and Coercion in ExGay Ministry

Fear and Coercion in ExGay Ministry

JohnSmidPensiveB&W#1This is the second post this week on homosexuality and youth. I’m outraged once again about the mixed messages of love and rejection that come from well meaning, but deeply misguided Christian homes.

“I love you and want you to know that God loves you and wants the very best for you! I also want you to know that God disciplines a son He loves and if you continue in this behavior, you may suffer God’s consequences here on earth, and possibly in eternity if you don’t repent and follow God’s ways!”

In many circles this statement is all too familiar. In many families this statement is similar to many that parents say to their growing children. On first read it sounds loving, and significant and should be taken seriously. Within those who grow up wrestling with homosexuality or any gender identity struggle it isn’t all that easy to process. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t sound loving at all and for many, it actually sends them into great inner turmoil that seems to have no resolve.

I struggled my entire life with my identity and my sexuality. In my earlier years I really had no words to describe it. When I was young, our culture didn’t discuss sexuality openly and in our family we were in such a mess that we didn’t really discuss much of anything. I was alone.

As I grew, I moved into choices that I thought might lesson my struggle, but they often turned out to be more damaging. But again, I had little to no resources to help me navigate through my life. When I was a young adult I discovered the gay community. I believed I’d find people who understood and a community that would love me. What I found was humanity and some very discouraging relationships. I didn’t know that was all too common for twenty-somethings and my experience wasn’t tainted just because I was gay.

When I was presented with the Christian message I thought surely God knew what I needed and what was best for my life so I bought into my new religion hook, line and sinker. As I embraced the hopeful messages of God’s love and redemption, I also embraced the false notion of God’s rejection and retribution. What I didn’t realize was how much fear I embraced along with it. The fear led me into deeply seated legalism that permeated my soul and sent me into losing something deep within me. The damage has been very difficult to heal and find freedom within my life.

I recently read an article by an organization called Restored Hope Network. It’s an organization that is based on the things I used to embrace about God’s love, and his retribution. Its focus is on homosexuality and they preach against homosexual relationships and the potential of God’s punishment and separation if someone doesn’t repent of their homosexuality.

In a statement by Anne Paulk, the Executive Director for Restored Hope Network she said:

“I want to briefly address a view that was recently expressed on local CBS TV, with which we declined the interview. In this report, a local celebrity psychologist who appears often on the news said this,

“To try to force somebody or really coerce somebody to change something about themselves that cannot be changed really can put these people at greater risk for suicide or other mental health issues.” said Dr. Robinson.”

We are also against the concept of forcing and coercion. Her comment is not relevant to our ministry whatsoever nor our summer conference in San Diego.”

I understand Anne’s statement. In my history of ExGay leadership I would have never thought we were coercive. I always believed our ways were loving and I wanted more than anything to encourage people towards God’s ways because I believed I knew what God’s ways were for homosexual people. But today I see things so differently.

As I review my own experience I can now see that I was coerced by force out of fear of God’s retribution. I was taught, and I believed that God would eternally punish people for disobedience. I couldn’t have possibly allowed myself to even ponder that being gay might be okay with God. I didn’t realize just how coercive our ways were. The pressures coming not from “this is what I want you to do” but rather, this is what God wants you to do and that was even more damaging. I also see how deeply manipulative my message was. Using fear tactics is a powerful tool to get people to do what we believe is best for them.

This morning I received a message from a FaceBook friend.

“Hi John, thank you for offering to speak with me. The question has arisen because a young student of my partner’s is being forced by his parents to engage in this atrocity (ExGay conversion therapy) and yesterday he was taken to a suicide crisis center. I am so angry, so sad. I am also inspired to write a post, carefully and thoughtfully; explaining why “ex-gay” is anti-Christ. Anything you can share with me from your experience and of the process of how you “escaped” the thinking and process. What role did faith (if any) play in you accepting yourself? Do you have any advice for parents who still believe their child should be forced into this?”

This is still happening, my friends! A young teen being forced into therapy that he doesn’t want, nor see the need for. How can this be healthy? How do his parents think this could possibly have a good ending?

Just this week, a Colorado House committee passed a ban Tuesday on gay conversion therapy practiced by a licensed mental health professional. And rightly so! Someone has to step in and protect these young people from the harmful practice!

It was good to speak with my FaceBook friend but she and I both realize the harmful position this young guy is in and how little chance his parents will actually see the light and stop this insanity. He needs burden bearers and I’m thankful his teacher is one of them but she is very limited in her influence on the situation.

So, in reality, Christian messages of retribution can be extremely coercive! They can be very manipulative and in the end the consequences can be deadly! My prayers go out to this young man. I hope he can find some resolve internally and that he will find people who will support him through this terrible time in his life. Nonetheless, he will forever be burdened with a history of suicidal ideation and fear that he will be rejected based on the fact that he is gay.

We must continue the discussion and open our hearts to new realities regarding people within the LBGT community.

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2 Responses to “Fear and Coercion in ExGay Ministry”

  1. Jeremy Marks says:

    Another excellent blog John – thank you I endorse everything you say.

    Maybe I could share here something I put as a response to another FB entry that might not be seen widely? It is closely related to your subject here:

    In my ex-gay ministry days (1987-97 roughly, because I did not explicitly begin to publish my change of convictions until 1999), we saw the world and God’s purposes as being completely at odds with one another. Like Shadrach, Mishack & Abednego, you chose God’s way as the radical alternative to the world’s way. It didn’t matter how much expertise the health professionals had, they were simply wrong and were therefore to be shunned as much as you would shun a devil worshipper because their thinking would lead you ultimately in the same direction. So of course Anne Paulk of the Restored Hope Network doesn’t quote sources directly – why bother when they are all “wrong”! Everything I was taught from evangelical churches confirmed this.

    The ex-gay ministries were, in my view, the inevitable result of trying to put into practice the teaching of evo churches worldwide. That problem still exists especially in African countries, China and anywhere else where Christian fundamentalism is on the rise. And I think the underlying reasoning why the whole ex-gay stuff is so profoundly toxic and damaging is because the theology it is based on is a dreadful view of the atonement – the angry God (angry against all sin) is going to torture you forever unless you repent and accept the torture and agonising death of his son Jesus on the cross in replacement for the punishment we all “deserve”. This, to my mind, is one of the most pestilential doctrines ever to be spewed out of the pit of hell (if I believed in hell) and is the real root of the problem. In a sense the ex-gay movement is merely a pawn in the traditional evo church’s agenda! I fear that our battle is against much greater forces than the ex-gay movement. Fortunately, thanks to the very many hugely enlightened thinkers and writers today, Brian McClaren, Richard Rohr, and a great many others, we can discover a very different kind of theology of the atonement and a very different Christian experience. Thanks be to God.

  2. John Smid says:

    Excellent points, Jeremy! So very true.

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