Pray the Gay Away and Other Spiritual Abuse that will Never be Walking Through My Door.

If you’re of the fundamentalist persuasion and you want to remain my friend, you should give this one a miss.  Go and find something else to do before I terminally offend you.  Really.

Yes, I believe in God (on a good day).  I believe in the Bible, although not as a literal step-by-step life instruction manual.  We take our children to church (when A LOT of planets are aligned, which is shamefully rare).  I do my best to live as I believe is right with help from all the above.  But you can’t seriously expect me to believe that anyone chooses to be gay.

Thinking through my belief on this is relevant at the moment because of decisions our church is making, which is a post for another day.  So here we go.  Hold on to your hats.

If I’m understanding it right, the theory is that we all start off – I dunno, neutral?  Heterosexual, I suppose – and at some point in early adolescence some people, quite a few really, look at other options available to them.  There’s heterosexual which is the mainstream majority and allows you to get married or not, have kids or not, attend church on the same standing as anyone else if you feel like it, or not, and generally live however you want with nobody much paying any attention.

And then there’s homosexual.  With this one you get to spend your teenage years feeling different and out-of-place (by all personal accounts I’ve heard) which significantly raises your chances of suffering from a whole range of mental health issues including suicide.  You get to be gay-bashed by morons in nightclubs.  You get to come out to your family and friends which may be fine or may end in them never speaking to you again.  You get to be the on-going target of prejudice and bigotry and hate.  You can get married – just – but you’re out of luck if you want your favourite vicar to officiate.  You may be able to be a parent, but it’s unlikely to be straightforward and you then get to see your child subjected to the same prejudice.  If you want to attend church you have to look for one whose members don’t consider you an abomination, and then defend your temerity in believing that God could possibly love the likes of you.

So are you seriously trying to tell me that a single person – let alone 10-20% of the population – would weigh up those two options and, given absolutely free choice, say ‘That second one looks great!  Let’s do that then!’

‘Lifestyle choice’ is when you opt to work part-time to spend more time with your kids.  Nobody deliberately causes themselves loneliness and alienation to enhance their lifestyle.  It’s a nonsense.  It’s like saying people would choose to become Jewish in Germany, or female in Iran, or disabled anywhere.  Nobody opts into a marginalised minority.

Even the real fundamentalists who espouse this view as an alternative to admitting that people are born gay, and therefore created that way by God who makes us all in His image, don’t really believe it because if they did why would they need to run so many ‘pray the gay away’ programmes?  If it was a free choice and people changed their mind, wouldn’t they just choose to be heterosexual again?  Why would they need therapy and prayer and (mental shudder, but it happens) exorcism?  You can’t have it both ways, people.  Either it’s something which people are choosing freely and could therefore un-choose, or else it requires said prayer, therapy etc which kind of implies that in fact it’s not easy to change – really very difficult, nigh on impossible by most accounts – and therefore probably wasn’t something entered into on a whim by a teenager who just wanted the best clothes and quiche recipes.  I’ve spent my adult life among small children and believe me, there are times when it’s clear from a very early age that a child’s marching to the beat of a different drum.  You can’t tell me that homosexuality, or transgender tendencies, or anything else along those lines are choices deliberately made by a three-year-old.

Exodus International is a ministry which for 37 years has run these ‘pray the gay away’ programmes.  They recently closed down because they acknowledged that not only did it not work – the director himself admitted that, though married with children, he still has same-sex attractions after all these years – but it also did immeasurable harm.  One of the most heart-wrenching things I’ve read recently is his apology to all the people whose hearts, spirits and faith have been broken over the years through involvement in their programmes.  In California therapists have been banned from this type of ‘conversion therapy’, although the court cannot regulate it within the church.

When we lived in Ireland our Irish flatmate said once that now that it’s much more acceptable to be gay, Ireland is running out of priests.  Many young men entered the priesthood to hide the fact that they weren’t so keen on getting married and producing 15 children because this was a society which put enormous value on doing just that.  The difference in number between young men training to be priests two generations ago and those doing so now – almost all of them – is the number who weren’t there because they felt called by God, or because they were passionate about saving souls.  They were there because it was the only way out of a society which would have rejected them as sinful and deviant.  And then what happened?  Exactly what you would expect when you make people believe that their essential nature is already abhorrent to God and man, then add the incredibly unnatural constraint of life-long celibacy.  Generations of choir-boys paid the price.  Yes, every individual who committed crimes against children is fully responsible for their actions and there is no excuse.  But anyone – by definition, every gay person in that particular society in those days – who has been brought up in fear of a wrathful God and has then realised that they’re unforgivable anyway has themselves been a victim of unconscionable spiritual abuse and no good will come of it.

If one of my children is gay I will be a little bit sad on their account because, although I know that attitudes towards homosexuality in society are more positive now and I certainly hope they will be further improved in the near future, the reality is that they will still have a more challenging life because of it.  If it’s one of my boys I will be sad that if they want to become a father they’ll have many more obstacles in their way.  But I know that, whatever other sins they may commit along the way, being exactly who God created them to be will never be one of them.  People are God’s finest work  and he does not make mistakes.  He does not give them innate identities which they need to be ‘healed’ from. So those who really want to call themselves Christ-followers should probably be concentrating on celebrating his awesome ability to create diversity rather than on telling him he got it wrong again and on living in fear that a group of people will, without taking anything away from anyone else, eventually be seen as equal in law and in liturgy.


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