Ex-Gay Ministries: A Dangerous Cult
I've been a member of an online community for about five or six years now. This community is a bunch of forums: message boards on a variety of topics. If you can think of it, there's probably a forum dedicated to discussing it. In the past few weeks, two very disturbing forums have emerged, both dedicated to the fundamentalist Christian based "phenomenon" of "ex-gay ministries".
I, for one, don't believe that one's orientation is a choice, nor do I believe that under most circumstances is it changeable. I'm willing to believe that God'dess can change one's heart, but I'm not convinced that this is done with the frequency with which those in the "ex-gay" ministry would like us to believe.
Truth be told, I believe that bisexuality is closer to our true nature than either heterosexuality or homosexuality since orientation is about who we love and the soul has no gender. I tend to believe that those gays who have "changed" orientations have simply "accepted" their bisexuality and have chosen to only act on their heterosexual attractions. There are, of course, those gays who claim they are "queer by choice"— again, I believe they're really bisexuals who choose to act only on their homosexual attractions, but they tend to get upset when I suggest as much. I can understand that on some level because I get upset when someone tells me that being gay IS a choice. But I digress....
"Ex-gay" ministries are on a new offensive, out to convince not only the gay community but society at large that heterosexuality is the only acceptable form of relationship in the eyes of God. In fact, just this past week (June, 2003), the Southern Baptist Convention made "liberating" gays one of their primary goals for all member churches.
First, I'm going to ignore the fact that their beliefs are a very small minority in terms of the world's beliefs. Fundamentalist Christianity is mostly a United States phenomenon, although they are carrying this faith abroad through ministries to the poor. (Talk about a captive audience, huh? "We'll build you houses and help you get safe clean water and nourishing food in exchange for you allowing us to preach to you" is what usually happens.)
There are many Christian sects who do not see homosexuality as a sin. Even among the Baptist faith there are affirming churches who find nothing sinful about a loving gay relationship that includes physical intimacy. Even Catholics, who make up about 1/6 of the world's population, don't consider being gay a sin— it is the same-gender sex that they find sinful. To Catholics, being gay is a sign from God that you are to remain celibate and is based on a scriptural passage that speaks of eunuchs, saying some are born that way (ie, physically unable to have sex), some are made that way (via accidents, etc.) and some are created by God (ie, they're gay by nature.)
I'm also going to ignore the fact that there are over 33,000 Christian churches/sects in the US alone, each of which has it's own "interpretation" of the Bible that they believe to be "the best" (why would someone belong to a faith if they didn't believe it was their best chance of getting to heaven?) and that no faith, Christian or otherwise, can "prove" that their faith is true. Faith, by definition, is beyond proof— at least beyond scientifically verifiable and repeatable proof. Those who claim to have objective "proof" for their faith, in fact, have no faith.
However, I'm not going to ignore the hypocrisy of the "ex-gay" ministries. I can, using the Bible, demonstrate that the Sabbath is on Saturday. Genesis tells us how God rested on the seventh day. Exodus gives us the Ten Commandments, the second of which is "Thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath". Our week starts on Sunday and the seventh day is Saturday. Therefore, I declare that all those who don't go to church on Saturday are in fact sinners for failing to obey the word of God. Yet if I tell an "ex-gay" this, they will refuse to admit that they are sinners, saying that simply because I believe it to be so doesn't make it true. And yet at the same time, they expect me to believe that I am sinning by being gay simply because they believe it to be true.
That is hypocrisy, and Jesus had more to say about hypocrites than anyone else during his short ministry. So right off the bat, the very mission of the ex-gay ministry is seen to be hypocritical: they want everyone else to live by their idea of how to please God yet refuse to live by anyone else's idea of how to please God. A "do as I say, not as I do" attitude. In other words, complete hypocrisy. I could deal with the hypocrisy— after all, there are a few things in my own life which are hypocritical. I smoked yet admonished my kids about smoking. I insist they limit their snack food intake, yet I do not limit my own very well. So hypocrisy is something I could deal with. But the outright lies and misrepresentations are another story.
One of the most blatant is their claims of a "gay agenda" which they claim involves indoctrinating children into the "homosexual lifestyle". First, there's no such thing as a gay agenda— unless of course you consider the fight for equal rights to be an "agenda". Second, there is no such thing as a "homosexual lifestyle"— at least not as they describe it.
A lifestyle, by definition, is something that is common to every member of that lifestyle. The only thing common to homosexuals (and some bisexuals) is that their partner is the same gender they are. Yet these ex-gay ministers would have us believe that all gays are promiscuous, that all gays are into drugs and alcohol, that all gays have sex in bathrooms, that all gays have hundreds of anonymous partners during their lifetime, an the list goes on.
Promiscuity, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, child sexual abuse— all of these CAN be lifestyles, but they're not exclusively found in the gay community. The "gay lifestyle" simply involves nothing more than having a partner who is of the same gender. That's it. Nothing more, nothing less. And it's not true for all gays. There are celibate gays and there are bisexuals who have a partner of the opposite gender. So the sole criteria for a "gay lifestyle" doesn't even apply to all gays! It is an individual choice, be s/he gay or straight, to also be promiscuous, drug-addicted, child abusing, etc. It is certainly not an inherent part of being gay although that is what the "ex-gay ministries" would like everyone to believe.
The next misconception these "ministries" spread is that gays are asking for special rights and they then accuse gays of being hypocrites for seeking these special rights and demanding the right to be heard but denying that same right to the ex-gay ministries. Let's deal with the special rights issue first.
If someone refused to allow you to do something because of some "difference" from you (ie, the color of skin, physical ability, religion, gender, etc.) that is discrimination and it is prohibited by law. The only thing gays are asking for is to have that same protection. Simply because we fall in love with someone of the same gender does not give anyone the right to fire us from our jobs, to deny us housing or employment or to beat us up. If a straight individual were fired for that reason, you can bet that there would be a huge stink raised about it and that it would be soundly denounced by every politician in sight.
In addition, the first amendment forbids the government from making laws based on religious beliefs. There is no argument that any anti-equality force can come up with that is not tied to religion.
Arguments that revolve around procreation are pointless since the state does not ask any couple whether or not they are capable of or plan to have children. If the argument that gays can't procreate were valid, then the state should also forbid infertile couples, couples too old to conceive or those who chose not to have children from marrying.
When the states decided to recognize civil marriage and to bestow special privileges on married couples, it must, under the fourteenth amendment to the constitution, allow every citizen the opportunity to marry. Even convicts are allowed to marry. The US Supreme Court, when overturning the anti-miscegenation laws (that barred blacks from marrying whites) in 1968, ruled that marriage was an integral part of the pursuit of happiness. And yet here we are 34 years later and gays are still not permitted to marry.
Many people also believe that by including orientation in hate crime bills, gays are seeking special protection: that they are seeking to be elevated above straights by making the penalties greater simply because a victim is gay. But the bills do not say "homosexuals", the bills say "based on orientation", which includes heterosexuality. So if someone were murdered simply because he was straight, it would be a hate crime just as much if someone were murdered simply because he was gay. Or black. Or disabled. Or female. Or male. Or Muslim. Or Catholic. Or Wiccan. The hate crime bills do not say "every time a gay is attacked", they say that if orientation is the motivation, then it is a hate crime. The way I see it, if someone targets an individual using special circumstances (ie, gender, orientation, race, religion, etc.), then the punishment should carry special circumstances. Gays are not asking for "special rights", we're asking for equal rights.
Now let's move onto the alleged hypocrisy of gay rights groups. For some reason, these "ex-gay ministries" seem to think that perpetuation of and propagation of misinformation is protected under the First Amendment right to free speech. They are incorrect. They also seem to think that saying their beliefs are facts actually makes them facts. Again, they are incorrect. When gay rights groups protest this propagation of misinformation and the speaking of beliefs as facts by countering these kinds of messages on forums like those run by "ex-gay ministries", we are accused of harassing these people and of not allowing them to have their say. Again, as demonstrated in the very beginning of this article, their very ministry is based in hypocrisy and this claim of "double standards" and "intolerance" within gay rights groups is only more of the same.
If you were to visit one of the "ex-gay ministries", there are a few things they all seem to have in common.
First, they claim to be there to help those who are struggling with being gay and help them to find their way back to God. Unless you find your way back to God as they define God, you are not "saved." People who are struggling with being gay, for whatever reason, are in a lot of pain emotionally and often spiritually. When someone is in a lot of pain— and have been in pain for a long time— they are quite often willing to try anything to stop that pain. These ex-gay ministries virtually promise that if you do what they tell you to do, you will be free of that pain. They then proceed to spiritually abuse those who come to them for help.
That's a pretty serious charge, I realize, but I am prepared to back it up. Abuse is about power and control— over others. When I trained to work in a shelter for victims of domestic violence, we were taught to empower those who were seeking our assistance. The only way to truly empower them was to give them all the information they needed to make informed choices. That meant laying out for them all their options, even those that we knew were not "good" for them, such as returning to their abuser. As long as we didn't give them all their options, we were taking power and control away from them by deciding what was in their best interests.
Groups like AA often voice disapproval over judges who order convicted drunk drivers to attend AA meetings because unless the alcoholic decides for him-/herself that s/he needs help, help cannot be given. Even alcoholics must be able to control when and if they enter treatment.
The "ex-gay ministries" do not give gays struggling with their orientation all their options. They actively seek to control what information is available to them by refusing to allow "pro-homosexual propaganda" to be posted on their site. Many of them refuse to even allow any debate of the issue and those who try to show that there are other ways are gagged and prevented from making posts. They won't even allow links to Christian churches that affirm the worth of gays and gay relationships. By seeking to control what options are given to those struggling gays, they are exerting control and power over these vulnerable individuals, which makes their actions abusive.
In addition, many of the techniques that are used are the same sorts of techniques used by cults: those seeking "help" are told not to associate with their friends and sometimes even their family if their family is "pro-gay". They're told what to believe and they are chastised if they dare to question what they're told. They're told that questioning is a sign of lack of faith and that unless they simply obey what their spiritual leader tells them is God's will for their life that they are doomed to hell. And perhaps most damaging is that they're told that anyone who tries to show them alternatives is seeking to turn them away from God and seeking to lead them to eternal damnation. That anyone who questions the tactics used by these "ministries" is an enemy. These are the same kinds of things that cult leaders say to their followers to keep them "in line".
And of course they get the praise and attention of everyone associated with the "ex-gay ministries" as long as they toe the party line. But let them step outside that line and they are cut off and chastised and shamed. A recent study of the "effectiveness" of ex-gays found that of the 200 people questioned, only 8 said that they had experienced a complete change of orientation. Of those 8, 7 of them were paid staff members in the "ex-gay ministry" and the other refused to answer any further questions.
There is also a lot of misrepresentation and even deception within the "ex-gay ministries". Many who claim to be "ex-gays" acknowledge that they still have the same-gender attractions, they simply don't act on them anymore. That makes them a celibate gay, not an "ex-gay". In addition, many who claim they have switched orientations will say that they no longer want to be with someone of the same gender, but they won't go that extra "mile" and say that they do want to be with someone of the opposite gender. So essentially what the "cure" seems to be is completely shutting down one's sexual desires which is obviously not a healthy way to live. When dealing with "ex-gay ministries", it is very important to carefully read/listen to what they are saying and just as important to read/listen to what they are not saying.
It is clear from all objective evidence (ie, that not supplied by the "ex-gay ministries" themselves) that their "reparative therapy" simply does not work. In fact, the attempts to get gays to change their orientation often leaves them in an even worse emotional state than they were when they started the "treatment" because not only have they not resolved their initial issues, but they now have a whole host of new issues brought on by the rejection and condemnation of those who once supported them. The very basis of their "therapy" is that being gay can be "cured" and yet they have never proven that there is anything to be cured from other than the fact that their belief system says it is wrong. Both the medical and the mental health fields do not classify homosexuality as an illness— although they do classify homophobia as one.
But there is still an even more basic problem with "ex-gay ministries" that transcends any religious argument. Our fallible human legal system recognizes that statements made under duress or actions performed under duress are not actions or words one will be held accountable for. If I make a statement denouncing my orientation when someone has a pistol pointed to my head, I will not be taken seriously. What is the difference when the "pistol" being pointed at my head is the threat of eternal damnation if I don't do as they say.
In an emotionally vulnerable state, which is what gays struggling with their orientation are in, this threat of eternal damnation is seen as a continuation of the rejection they are already experiencing in their lives, even if the rejection is only from themselves. They already know the pain of being rejected— and if they don't renounce their orientation, they're told they're going to be rejected by God himself, not just for a week or a month or a couple years, but for all eternity. That means that they will never be free of the pain they are in when they enter these "treatment" programs. And because they are not given other options, then the only way for them to get out of that pain is to do as they're told and to make everyone believe that they mean it.
Don't get me wrong: while I may not believe that someone can change their orientation, I will not seek to prevent someone from trying and even from claiming they have succeeded. If they no longer choose to refer to themselves as gay, I will respect that. But when I know that someone who is emotionally vulnerable has been spiritually abused by groups who have demonstrated unhealthy mind control tactics and cult-like tendencies, then I will question the sincerity of that "conversion". Just as I'd question the conversion of anyone who became a Christian after the Rapture if it should ever occur. For belief and faith is not something that is based on proof— and after the Rapture, there would be "proof" that the Bible is correct (or at least it would seem to be "proof".) Nor is faith something that I believe that God wants us to have out of fear, but out of desire. (And not the desire to not go to hell, which is in truth simply a masked fear.)
The real difficulty the gay community has when dealing with "ex-gays" is that the very presence of such "ministries" is insulting to most gays because they are looked down on as spiritually inferior and immoral. As a result, many gays attack anyone claiming to be an "ex-gay", which only reinforces what they were told by their "spiritual leaders"— that they'd be persecuted for their beliefs and that they'd be scorned and spat upon by others for "changing". When this comes true, it only serves to reinforce that the rest of what they were told by the "ex-gay ministers" was true. It's not those claiming to be "ex-gays" we should be angry at— it's those who spiritually abuse them. "Ex-gays" need to be treated with "kid-glove care"— with compassion and tenderness and understanding and Love. It's those who are seeking to "change" gays who are struggling with self-acceptance who need to be stopped.
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