Deflectors of the Word

Recently I spoke at a well-known British university where I gave a talk about the Ex-Gay Movement and particularly about my own journey attempting to de-gay myself.  In the talk I spoke about what happens in many programs and treatments that attempt to alter someone’s orientation and gender expression. I went into the many reasons why someone might choose this course (you can see video of these reasons here) and shared what I found to be the outcome for well over a thousand people I have personally met (at least 100 in the UK) who found that such treatments caused considerable damage.

Interspersed with my talk I performed excerpts from my plays Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House, Queer 101–Now I Know my gAy,B,Cs, and Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible. I ended as I often do with my Identity Monologue. We had plenty of time for discussion, and the very full audience asked insightful questions.

After the presentation I learned that some members of the university’s Student Christian Union attended the event. This thrilled me as these Christian Unions often adhere to traditional Evangelical lines that can promote and even at times provide treatment designed to alter a gay Christian’s sexuality. I felt pleased that they were present so that they could see how the ex-gay route is not appropriate pastoral care for gays and lesbians.

A few days later I heard through a friend at the university about the reaction of some of the Christian Union students:

It was all very interesting, but since he is not a Christian, we don’t have to listen to him.

Strange, I believe I mentioned more than once that I am a Christian and how much I value the Bible and my faith in Jesus. But then again I remember how I used to classify people during my own Conservative Evangelical days as TRUE Christian or FALSE Christian (with subcategories of worldly, fleshy, New Age and demonic). In the minds of these Christian Union members I am not a proper Christian, therefore irrelevant in a discussion about faith matters (or sexuality or creation or anything that might present an alternate view to their own).

Yeah, I used to do that too. It proved an effective means to shut out any contrary thought that might cause me to engage in critical thinking. What troubles me in regards to this particular presentation and the Christian Union students’ reaction is that I spoke out of my experience not my theology. I served as eye-witness to what I encountered during nearly two decades of ex-gay treatment. But since they judged me not Christian, they concluded that they could discount my testimony and thus avoid responsibility towards their own actions and beliefs regarding gays and lesbians.

(I can only wonder that certain celestial beings may find displeasure in mere mortals doing all this judgement work before the appointed time.)

This shutting out alternative voices through judging them unsound sources serves as a subtle yet powerful dehumanizing (and de-spiritualzing) method. Progressive Liberals do the same thing when we discount anything a Conservative says as wacko Right Wing ranting. We can reduce those different from us to a simple classification.

In fact, even in this post, my own brief description of the members of the Student Christian Union who attended my talk placed them in a certain box. For all I know only one out of a dozen members of this group made the statement about my Christian faith while most of the others considered what I said and have added it to the knowledge-base they have on the subject and will thoughtfully reflect on what they heard. Their personalities, the quirks, the interests, the diverse fields of study and experience they have get lost when I place people in categories.

Sure we find it helpful and necessary at times to understand in part the philosphy and world view of a certain person or group by assigning a name or category–Fundamentalist, Liberal, Vegan, Quaker, Fascist, Rebublican, Post-Modern, etc. But we can also filter out important information because of the the label we affix to a person.

Long ago in a little Pentecostal Holiness house church I attended in Yonkers, NY, one of the elders of the group pronounced,

Truth is truth, no matter who says it.

Tags:

This post has 18 Comments

  1. Jayna on May 20, 2009 at 1:58 pm Reply

    Well unfortunately, you can’t reach everyone know matter how moving your story is; I think many look to justify their closely held beliefs by any means rather than reconsider or grow them.

  2. Sheria in SA on May 20, 2009 at 2:54 pm Reply

    Peterson, why did the students think you are not a christian? I have been thinking hard and aloud here on that one. It is quite sad when people judge you so harshly, isn’t it. Frankly, sometimes I wish I lived in Jesus’ time because Jesus was quick to rebuke anyone who pointed fingers! A classic example is when Jesus said to the teachers of the law, “if any of you has no sin, let him be the first to cast a stone.”
    And continue using the word “de gay”, it makes me smile, I have said that before.
    Hey, I also posted a comment on your “wacky quaker message”. Knowing you, you may have your own thoughts there. Take care

  3. lower case paul on May 20, 2009 at 3:30 pm Reply

    P2,

    I think this is an excellent post.

    When you read of the words and actions attributed to Jesus, he constantly was taking the irrelevant and making it relevant… particularly when it came to individuals.

  4. Martin Kelley on May 20, 2009 at 3:53 pm Reply

    Yep, well, it’s only your duty to give the words you’ve been given by the Holy Spirit. It’s Jesus’ job to open the heart of the listener. You never know what might be getting through despite the mental blockers. As you know yourself, it’s those people who have the most invested in keeping the truth out that are the ones who most loudly proclaim it lacking in others (I myself was the most obnoxious meat eater ever until I wasn’t).

    I think a central point of the gospels is Jesus telling us we need to stop putting people in boxes, that the prostitute, tax collector and Samaritan might be good neighbors. Progressive Christians have their bogeymen just like Conservative ones. To live the truly Christian life we need to be ready to be surprised.

  5. GreenEyedLilo on May 20, 2009 at 4:43 pm Reply

    In other words, they’re just so bound and determined not to listen that they’ll come up with any justification. It’s an old story that won’t end anytime soon, but I’m sorry it affects you.

  6. nonsequitur on May 21, 2009 at 2:27 pm Reply

    I remember very well what it was like to live in and around microcosms of non-ecumenical Christians. Everyone’s opinion was automatically invalid or less valid if they weren’t as “enlightened” as our particular sect (as in, believing all the same things with no differing context or interpretation). Dissenters within the ranks were/are often ostracized.

    As you point out, this existence is very limiting and cuts one off from the outside world. I’ve seen many examples of entire groups of people who only socialized, did business and functioned within their own chosen group, sometimes relying on a few experienced elders within their group to conduct dealings with the outside world. Members of these groups were some of the most socially stunted and intolerant folks I’ve ever met, also the least adaptive to change. Yes, this can also be true of those of us who identify as liberal and inclusive.

    It is well to also point out that this is the exact same method of social engineering which is used (and has been used in the past) to control entire religious groups & ethnic/national collectives. People are extremely easy to control once their critical thinking has been circumvented and they are fully indoctrinated, having had every aspect of their life tied into a particular philosophical framework. When your entire life is tied into said framework, the natural reaction to any perceived threat is to defend it regardless of how irrational some aspects of it may be because one’s primary identity (and often a majority of what one possesses) are supplied by it. People tend to stay silent about misgivings because nobody likes the prospect of possibly losing everything & having to rebuild, yet sometimes such trauma can be a therapeutic growing experience which opens a person up to a much richer existence.

  7. lower case paul on May 21, 2009 at 3:07 pm Reply

    nonsequitur,

    In a word, “cult.”

  8. Jane on May 21, 2009 at 3:43 pm Reply

    As I was reading Peterson’s posting and the comments, a Joni Mitchell song started running through my head. (I’ve now outed my age (-:) I’ve looked at life from both sides now,/ From win and lose, and still somehow/It’s life’s illusions i recall./I really don’t know life at all.

    When I finally left the pentecostal/charismatic church I had attended for years, I remember telling one of the pastors that the thing I missed the most was my mind. I had turned over my critical thinking to a group think process. It was easy; it wasn’t painful like so much else had been. There was no one to “blame” but myself.

    Now I look at those years in terms of responsibility, not blame. It helps to keep me from beating myself up spiritually and from beating them up — in many ways. My former pastor had to be dealt with directly to release my membership. He was afraid I was on my way to hell. He meant it, and I know it broke his heart.

    Like Peterson, I too find it easy to categorize them and then excuse their beliefs and values. The fact is I was “one of them,” but never quite like “them.” It helps me remember that I need to deal with the one in front of me. We each work out our walk daily. Some days it’s uphill all the way, other days we lay down and sleep.

    I’m sad for whoever made the statement, because I want that person(s) to experience more. That’s my judegment. (Even I must make some celestial beings wonder.)

    Thank you Peterson for posting these thoughts and experiences; it helps me to see my ownself more. You are a great mirror. And I must say, we are fabulous!
    Jane

  9. Sheria in SA on May 21, 2009 at 4:30 pm Reply

    Jane, this is such a wonderful comment…It is very well written and I must add, very beautifully crafted words. It gave me something to think about! Well done…

  10. Jane on May 21, 2009 at 4:41 pm Reply

    Thanks Sheria. And I missed it before, but lower case paul, I tend to agree with you.

  11. Michael on May 21, 2009 at 8:59 pm Reply

    The simplest response, I think, is:

    “Don’t worry about it. Jesus wasn’t a Christian either.”

    :-

    Thanks for your humor and courage,
    Michael

  12. Marinkina on May 21, 2009 at 9:20 pm Reply

    Пора переименовать блог, присвоив название связанное с доменами 🙂 может хватит про них?

  13. lower case paul on May 22, 2009 at 12:00 am Reply

    Marinkina

    I can’t imagine it being said better.

  14. dhconcerts on May 22, 2009 at 2:50 am Reply

    “This shutting out alternative voices through judging them unsound sources serves as a subtle yet powerful dehumanizing (and de-spiritualzing) method.”

    I’ve experienced this for most of my life from one of my relatives. Thanks for the reminder that we are not immune from doing this to others, too.

  15. Jane on May 22, 2009 at 4:33 am Reply

    dhconcerts,
    You have succinctly said what I wanted to try and say. I am so sorry that you’ve faced this for most of your life. No one should have to go through this. I am so sorry you’ve been through this.

    Hang on to the truth of who you are and hold on strong. The core of you will always remember who you are and that cannot be taken from you. Live in strength.

  16. Joe on May 22, 2009 at 8:46 am Reply

    On the homepage of the (UK) Quakers it says this…

    The Quaker way has its roots in Christianity and finds inspiration in the Bible and the life and teachings of Jesus. Quakers also find meaning and value in the teachings of other faiths; we acknowledge that ours is not the only way.

    If you that’s enough for anyone to be a Christian, that’s OK but don’t be too surprised when others disagree.

  17. p2son on May 22, 2009 at 9:02 am Reply

    I really like this rich conversation. Thanks all. I love seeing folks connecting and talking and discussing.

    If I ever get more than ten minutes at a computer during this tour, I will respond further. But then, why need I respond with all these gorgeous comments.
    peterson

  18. Aideen on May 25, 2009 at 10:28 pm Reply

    “As I was reading Peterson’s posting and the comments, a Joni Mitchell song started running through my head. (I’ve now outed my age (-:)”
    @Jane – not to worry, I’m 21 and I know that song very well, good music knows no age barriers!

Leave a Comment