Category: Christian

More Thoughts on Survivor Conference

I loved seeing fellow bloggers at the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference including Eugene who posted about the surprise of seeing folks he knew from his days at a Christian college. This got Eugene thinking about how the church treats its non-straight members. As always with Eugene deep insights abound,

Side A, B, X or otherwise, the day is coming when the evangelical church will have to face the fact that there are more of us than it ever imagined; that we are their children, siblings, friends, colleagues and ministry partners; and that any constructive solution to that “problem” will necessarily involve acknowledging that we’re always going to be here, that we’re not evil and out to destroy the church, and that we can no more go away by morphing into heterosexuals than we can by vanishing into nonexistence.

The church can continue to issue ultimatums and show the door to many of its most talented and enthusiastic members, but by doing so it reveals a heart that’s selective in its compassion and conditional in its love. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” might become more than empty, self-deceptive rhetoric if more than a small handful of Christians ever came to understand what it truly means. As long as the church continues to place a higher value on on doctrine and ideology than on people, however, that’s not likely to happen.

Among Friends in North Carolina

I arrived yesterday in Asheville, NC for the yearly meeting of unprogrammed Friends from this region that extends throughout Tennessee, and North Carolina and into Virginia and Georgia (and I imagine South Carolina).

SAYMA invited me to come and give a plenary address tonight about my faith journey as a Quaker. I will also adress the teen group as well as lead a bibliodrama. I appreciate prayers, warm thoughts and holding in the Light so that I can speak from the heart and in the Spirit.

One thought that keeps coming to me is how I am a refugee. (no not a Yankee from the stiff cold North seeking refuge among friendly folks in the South–although it does feel great to be back down here). No, I am a spiritual refugee. I had to flee my own faith community, in part because of my unwillingness and inability to conform to sexual norms.

But it is no longer only about my sexual attractions. I am a refugee in regards to how I look at life and faith and even politics. I don’t fit any longer in the Evangelical church that I once called home and family.

Not that I am a perfect fit among unprogrammed Quakers. Oh, they don’t have a problem with the gay thing (well most don’t) but I talk far too much about Jesus for some.

Too gay for some Evangelicals and too Christian for some liberal Quakers. Not quite at home. Which I guess is how many refugees feel, particularly those from other countries. They find refuge, a safe place, but that doesn’t make it home.

I sometimes feel that way among Friends. Perhaps we are never fully at home no matter where we are.

Update: Sunday June 10–The time here with Friends at SAYMA went very well. Funny how when you come out (as gay, as Christian, etc) how other people come out to you too. I also had some wonderful talks about how some Friends struggle with a lot of Jesus talk because of how they had been abused in their previous faith communities. I can understand that and see how that could get in the way for some people when they hear lots of messages that use similar language. Christine and I often talk to each other about the post-traumatic stress folks can experience even in affirming churches once they hear the language and see the images from their former church experiences.

Last night I got to meet up with Kevin and his friend Brian. Kevin is another graduate of Love in Action and an ex-gay survivor. He had finished the program before I did, and we would get together for lunch once a week (we had to get special permission for this). He said he remembered how depressed I was during those times which reminded me of the days I just broke down and cried in my room sometimes for hours. No one could console me.

Yesterday in speaking with a reporter from a German newspaper, she asked, “Did you get anything good out of your experience in the ex-gay movement?” I told her that I met some amazing people, people who have become my closest friends. We went through hell together and have bonded deeply.

I get to spend the evening with a friend in Asheville and head back home to Hartford tomorrow where I will sit tight for at least three days. phew!

Why Did You Even Try to Change?

Ex-gay survivors have many reasons for wanting to change from gay to straight. Some we have never fully articulated, but recently I got to understand yet another reason why I so desperatly sought to change my sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.

During this current trip to Europe, I had a long conversation with a conservative Methodist woman from the US (who now lives abroad). I have thought long and hard about the ecounter and after journaling about it some, I decided to write the essence of it here.

After sharng with this women in detail my ex-gay saga–the steps I took, my heart to please God, and the damage the process caused emotionally, psychologically and spiritually–the woman proceded to tell me that she felt the scripture was clear on the matter and that we should not give God a timeline of when we want him to work. She then asked,

But why did you even try to change? Perhaps it was God’s will for you to bear
the burden of your gay feelings as your daily cross. We all have burdens to bear.

ME: Do you realize what you are saying? That I would go all of my life without the prospect for a companion or lover or partner. That I would even have to be concerned about having a male roomate because I might fall in love with him. Do you understand how hard such a life would be?
SHE: God can always do a miracle!

ME: Like change me? See change is essential. If not, you will live your life shut off from intimacy. Look at the Catholic Church and what has happened with so many of the priests.

SHE: I don’t want to look at the Catholic Church.

ME: You need to. They suppressed their sexuality and it came out all twisted. I grew up Catholic and some of the most bitter men I ever met were priests.

You are a divorced heterosexual woman. You may never remarry, but you always have the hope that you will find a nice man and settle down. If not, you can always get a roomate to be a companion to you. But you will deny me that hope and insist that I live a celibate life without a partner, unless of course God does a miracle. I sought God for nearly two decades for that miracle and it nearly destroyed me.

Jesus spoke about this very thing when he condemned the Pharisees saying,

You put burdens on men’s backs that you will not bear yourselves and make them
twice the sons of hell as youselves.

I finally suggested we pray together because I found her words abusive, and we were not getting anywhere. Also, I knew I had to stop the dialogue before it got any further and ugly. I found it difficult because I felt she wasn’t hearing what I had been saying and instead she said many of the same things I told her that I had told myself for years.

We prayed, but I left haunted by the memory of years of hoping, longing, praying for change, knowing instinctively that if it did not come, (and for most I met, it never did) then I looked at the prospect of a lonely lonely life.

What I Sat Under

When I lived in New York City, I attended Time Square Church. Like our friend, Marvin Bloom, I went to church every time the doors opened–Sunday morning service, Sunday evening service, Tuesday night prayer meeting, Thursday night Bible study, Friday night praise and worship step aerobic class (okay, I made that last one up).

The senior pastor, David Wilkerson, preached most Sundays either morning or evening with a message filled with dire warnings if we as individuals and a nation did not turn to God. For nearly five years I sat under his teaching, and the teachings of the other pastors, in my pursuit of holiness and nearness to God.

My personal struggle with my same-sex attractions kept me close to the front and in the choir, often at the altar for prayer and always looking for answers.

David Wilkerson has traveled widely in the world. Just today I spoke with a woman here in Sweden who heard him speak back in the late 60’s when he spoke to nearly a thousand young people in Stockholm. She said it was the first time many of them had ever heard the word homosexual (homosexuell).

He preached a lot about homosexuality, well, particularly against it. He warned that like ancient Rome, the US along with post-Christian Europe would collapse under the weight of its wickedness. And in saying that I always felt the weight of my own.

Here is a sample from a dramatic sermon (they always are) by Wilkerson given at Time Square Church in 2005.

Hell was spilling out, and Roman society had become one vast orgy. Homosexuality was a respected lifestyle, preferred among the intelligentsia. The entire culture was immersed in materialism, with the rampant pursuit of money, fame and pleasure.

snip

We are living in those last, terrifying days right now, and the signs are everywhere. Europe is becoming wholly pagan, with the institution of marriage being rejected, partners living together and family values vanishing altogether. In Sweden, 30 percent of the population lives together unmarried.

Here in New York State, we’re seeing a “great falling away” of the kind Scripture predicts. Some 410 pastors have enlisted for a homosexual agenda called “Pride in My Pulpit,” in which they hang signs in their churches bearing this motto. The message is, “We’re proud of the homosexual community, and we endorse it.” The numbers of these pastors are growing.

Well, you get the point. Week after week, I heard that message from the pulpit and used that message to help drive me to Jesus, to prayer, to the Bible and nearly to insanity and worse. I even spoke to a minister at the church about my struggle. To my shock he told me that he too had a similar struggle. He warned that it is a spiritual battle, one where I needed to bind the devil, do spiritual warfare and drive out the evil spirits in my life.

Eventually I left the church to go to a smaller house church in Yonkers, NY and then to the mission field in Zambia. When I finally returned to the Northeast of the US, openly gay and integrating my faith with my sexuality, I talked to a Time Square Friend about that minister who had counseled me back in my time at the church.

“Oh, didn’t you hear?” he replied, “Brother _______, moved back to _____ . Soon after he returned home, he killed himself! So awful. And such a man of God. No one knows why he would do such a thing.”

Sadly, I think I know why, knowing the weight of wickedness he sat under, wickedness heaped on him every Sunday. Perhaps it eventually crushed him.

Never in Sweden, right?

I am in the lovely university city of Lund where they know me as Queerstand-up komiker och aktivist Peterson Toscano. I did a talk last night before they showed the film Fish Can’t Fly. They said that that film has been the best attended event so far during the film festival.

Lots of people here say that ex-gay stuff doesn’t happen in Sweden. They no longer have an Exodus affiliated program. Their ex-gay program doesn’t say people can change, but rather they need to remain celebate. But all of these crazy things we do in the US do not happen here in Sweden. Or do they?

After my talk, I met a man who has been a Swedish Pentecostal minister for 30 years. He prayed, sought God, endured exorcisms and much more all in the attempt to change his same-sex desires or else get delivered from homosexuality. He is actually at the very start of his journey out of that closet and is not even ready to visit bXg. But he came to the talk and the movie.

During Fish Can’t Fly there is a scene that I have always hated. It takes place in a gay charismatic church in Florida. I was charismatic/pentecostal for years. I went to churches where they lifted their hands, spoke in tongues, prophesied, cast out demons and got slain in the Holy Spirit. The primary reason I joined such a church was because after some years in the Evangelical non-charismatic church, I thought I needed more power from on high in order to drive out the darkness of my homosexuality.

So whenever I see the scene of this gay church with the same worship style, I cringe. I do not think I could ever go back to that sort of a church, even a gay one. But this pentecostal minister confided in me that when he saw that scene, he wept openly. He asked, can it be that I can worship like I do and still be open about my sexuality? So thank you Tom Murray for including that scene in your movie!

Church is not big here in Sweden, and folks like Jerry Falwell, who recently died in the US, are virtually unknown. As far as I could tell, there has been nothing mentioned in the national press about Falwell except for a short blurb in on-line edition of a printed paper. One person explained that the Swedes find comments by Falwell so outrageous that they would simply print nothing about him instead of giving him airspace.

A reporter e-mailed me to ask my reaction to Falwell’s death. That is basically how I found out about it, through that e-mail and another from a fellow blogger. I bet if I hadn’t checked my e-mails, I would not know.

I read how Falwell had died probably due to heart troubles. My immediate thought was, “If he were a vegan, I bet he would still be alive today.”

Falwell is a product of the US and of the liberal policy regarding broadcasting licenses. In most countries in the world, it is extremely difficult to get airtime and especially difficult to own and operate TV and radio stations. In some places, far too difficult. But in the USA it is far too easy, and since the 1920’s, evangelists have been spewing racist, sexist, homophobic, heterosexist, poltical garbage along with the Good News right into the homes and hearts of Americans looking for answers in a Post-Industrial and Post-Modern world.

The impact is far greater than most of us can imagine. The reach that many of these folks have had is unreal. Someone like Falwell should have been laughed off the scene a long time ago, but he had reach through his media arm. And sadly, in the US, if you talk, particularly with the authority of the scriptures and a broadcast license, they will listen. Get your photo taken with a few presidents, make some clever predictions, soak your message with fear, and you have yourself an audience who will lap up all the crap you have to dish out without thinking for themselves.

This sort of thing in Sweden is foreign. The concept is bizarre. I imagine the Religous Right, who for decades has pointed to Sweden as the bastion of all things liberal and wrong with the world, would LOVE to change all of that. But with folks like Åke Green and Fred Phelps stirring up trouble, one imagines the Swedes would see the insanity for what it is–hate, fear and lies.

Nytt Inläg in Lund

That’s “New Post in Lund.” I arrived in Lund, Sweden yesterday after a short flight from London to Copenhagen (thanks Esther for the ride and for sharing a bowl of coffee with me!) The last time I was in the university city of Lund with this past September. I visited twice on that trip. The first time was with the crew from the gay theatre troupe in Malmö. Then a few nights later I came with Alex & Noa for Kulturnatten.

This time I stay with a Quaker Friend, Janet and her husband, John, who is a professor at the university here in Lund (about 40,000 students). Today I have the day off to just chill, go to a cafe and do some writing then maybe see a film. Tomorrow I give a talk at their Gay & Lesbian film festival before they screen Fish Can´t Fly.

Thursday the student group, Smålands Nation, sponsors my performance of Homo No Mo at the university as part of IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia). Then on Friday I fly up to Stockholm to meet up with Alex and also see Daniel (formerly of Malmö). Then it is off to the North to Umeä where I will hang out with Alex, Noa and their three children.

Right now it is 3.20 in the morning. Due to a combination of unresolved jet lag, too much fabulous Swedish coffee and a very entertaining dream about all the US presidental candidates, I am wide awake. (Oh, in my dream, similar to the famous question once asked to Bill Clinton about his pot smoking, where he admitted yes, he did but did not inhale, in my dream, all the candidates and their wives sit in on a cozy roundtable discussion and have to answer if they ever had a same-sex sexual encounter. The LOOK on Hillary´s face! Then there was this whole exchange between Hillary and Laura. Needless to say it got me laughing, which woke me up.)

Tonight I am thinking about the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference in Irvine this summer and what an amazing time it will be for so many of us who spend a great deal of time thinking and writing and talking about ex-gay experiences. As I spoke in Oxford Friends Meeting on Sunday, I shared how the work I do and the conference is not a direct attack on the Ex-Gay Movement.

In fact, some gay activists would most likely want us to come out harder against Exodus and others. But the hope is that by having survivors step up and tell some of their stories, we can tease out the more sublte points that will help to understand the many factors that may lead someone to enroll in an Exodus program and pursue change in other ways, in some cases, for decades.

The press and folks who do not know the issues too deeply, often make broad swipes at Exodus and ex-gays in general. I do believe that program leaders are responsible for the harm their programs cause, and I do believe that more harm than good come from most ex-gay experiences, but the bigger picture reveals that other players influence these issues, including the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer & Questioning (LGBTQQ aka the gAy,B,C´s) community.

During the Q&A at Oxford Meeting on Sunday, I shared some about my faith and my years in the ex-gay movement and in a church system that loved me unconditionally, well except for one strong condition. The audience contained lots of gay men in it along with some lesbians and no doubt bisexuals (the Invisibles as I have come to call them. Yeah, they too do exist), along with lots of straight folks.

After sharing some of my faith journey in response to a question about why I am still a Christian, one man asked, “Why do so many people use religion as a crutch?” (Which sounded to me like an opinion dressed up as a question). I shared how some of us are “wired for God” and just like our ancestors from the earliest days, we pursue a spiritual path of understanding and enlightenment and that for me to deny the God part of me, would be like those years that I denied the gay part of me.

I need to be authentic, and it would be illogical for me NOT to develop a spiritual practice and seek to know the divine. I also acknowleged that some (many?) do not feel the same way and do not understand why someone would choose a spiritual path, especially in light of the oppression many religions pratice. I concluded that I need to be honest about my spiritual path and be aware that much religion can control and hurt people, and that I must avoid those sorts of systems.

I thought about his question the next day in the shower, and considered how so many of us God-wired people have felt (and feel) like unwelcomed outsiders in the LGBTQQ community, especially when we run up against the anger and hurt and accusations we sometimes feel from people who do not share our experiences or interests in matters of faith. Yes, I know that the Church has been CRAP to most to us LGBTQQ folks, and I do not expect folks to embrace their oppressors. I understand that anything that looks and sounds and feels like that old time religion will not work for most (one of the reasons I joined the Quakers.)

But people of faith, Christian and otherwise, within the LGBTQQ community, often feel silenced and shut out by the hurt and the anger and the intolerance of folks who are either not wired for God or not interested. (Much like many of us felt shut out by the hurt and the anger and the intolerance of straight church folks. Hmmm, perhaps we learned it from them…) No wonder some LGBTQQ people of faith turn to an ex-gay program where they can both openly acknowlege their attractions for people of the same-sex along with their love for God.

It is easy to point the finger at Exodus and Focus on the Family and other groups that spread false messages about us as they promise “freedom”. And yes, these groups and leaders need to be held accountable for their actions, particularly when they become aware that they harm people. But those of us in the LGBTQQ community need to also look at ourselves and question “How open and affirming are we?”

Do we love our own unconditionally or only as long as they line up with our politics, style and beliefs?