People so often ask all the wrong questions. The press has been doing this for years in regards to ex-gay programs.
They display bold headlines, Is Change Possible? Exodus leaders and other Christian spokesmen assert that YES it is possible, while gay activists counter NO it is not possible. And so it goes round and round.
People ask the wrong questions. Few ask, What does this change look like that is supposedly possible? I have spoken with leaders at Exodus in the US and others in South America and Europe. Over and over I hear from them that they understand people with same-sex attractions will most likely have these attractions for the rest of their lives. In many perhaps (most cases?), they will not develop attractions for the opposite sex.
I remember how disappointed I felt when I first heard this at Love in Action, where I attended for two years. I spent 15 years trying to become a new creature in Christ Jesus to then show up in what had long been considered the Cadillac of Ex-Gay Ministries only to find that such a change was not a realistic goal.
So the change is not in orientation but in behavior and identity. Perhaps a tiny percentage insist they shifted in their orientation, which of course is something we have to just take at their word.
When looking at most Exodus testimonies, we hear stories of people who lived as sexually addicted, miserable, lonely, faithless, confused people (who also overindulged in drug and alcohol abuse, illegal activities and unprotected sex). They found Jesus and the church, and they changed their lives.
They became celibate, began to develop healthy relationships, changed their lifestyle–not to a straight one, but to one far less reckless and destructive than their previous life.
This is not exclusive to people who are gay or lesbian or bisexual. Lots of straight people, (in fact many more than gay folks), pursue irresponsible, reckless, self-destructive lives, and they would do well to change. Most likely they will be happier, healthier and feel closer to God and others once they do (they may find themselves with more money in their pockets too. Decadence is pricey.) So yeah, that sort of change is possible and can be sought after if needed, but one does not need an ex-gay program to do this.
In fact, I believe that over time attending most ex-gay programs prove harmful for most gay people. In many ex-gay programs (and conservative churches) the leaders teach that many of clients’ problems stem from being gay and that even without the reckless lifestyle, they have to daily reject a part of who they are and deny themselves love in the way that makes the most sense and is most authentic to them. These ex-gays will almost always be at war within themselves, a war not sanctioned by the Bible but one declared by the world around them.
Which brings me to the two major questions I rarely hear the press ask or asked by people considering going into an ex-gay program.
Why is change necessary and at what cost?
Sure we can choose to no longer identify as gay. We can deny ourselves relationships with LGBT people. We can even marry someone of the opposite sex and have children. This is no great miracle. Men and women have done this for centuries with and without the help of Jesus.
Why is it necessary to change? Mostly because life would be easier for many of us. Parents would treat us better. Society would gift us with privileges and affirmation. We can feel normal for a change, for a time.
But at what cost? This is one thing that the ex-gay programs never ask. They never follow up to see what happens to people after they have been through programs. They only stay in touch with their successes, who typically have to be quiet about many of their internal struggles.
The ex-gay leaders do not meet the people Christine and I meet through BeyondExGay or the people who pull me aside after one of my talks or shows. The costs of putting ourselves through ex-gay experiences are very very high. In many cases depression, low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, suicidal tendencies, discouragement and loss of faith all regularly occur for many who have been through ex-gay experiences.
At bXg we say if someone is happy as an ex-gay, that is fine. But such a life was not possible or healthy for us. Also, such a life is not necessary.
Is change possible? Yes, our societies and churches and families and laws can change so that people who are romantically and sexually attracted to people of the same-sex can be fully accepted and affirmed and celebrated just like heterosexuals. This change takes work and love and listening and painful realization, but well worth the effort.