Part Two–What Happens When Change is not Possible?
After all my efforts, my faith in the Bible as I understood it and my faith in God and the working of the Holy Spirit, the change from gay to straight never came. In fact, the more I pursued what I thought was God’s ordained gayless path, the more I desired men, the more severe the struggle became, the more bizarre I acted out.
Finally after losing my marriage, my job as a missionary in Zambia, my close friendships and the support of my home church, I became desperate and enrolled in the Love in Action (LIA) residential program in Memphis, TN.
During orientation the staff informed us how we should envisage the program. How disappointing to hear John Smid, director of LIA, announce that none of us should expect to become heterosexual! He considered such a goal to be unrealistic and stated that most likely we would struggle with these same-sex desires for the rest of our lives.
I despaired. What a weak, powerless Gospel! Hearing this, one of the elders in my church back home questioned the spirituality of LIA. But after 15 years of believing I could and must seek to change my sexual orientation through the power of God, in deep grief I accepted the fact that such a change was not possible for me. It rocked my faith and challenged everything I had believed about the redemptive work of the cross and the blood of Jesus.
It turns out that Exodus now teaches this very message—change in orientation is not possible—although they share this mostly behind closed doors. Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, spoke at the Love Won Out (LWO) conference in Phoenix earlier this year and via a transcript of his talk, Hope for Those That Struggle, I read what Alan had to say about same-sex attractions and change.
(hat tip to Jim Burroway, who is working on his next installment of his LWO series).
And I’m going to shatter your world here: heterosexuality shouldn’t be your number one goal. Whether that’s for yourself or for your kid or for your loved one or your friend or your family member. Heterosexuality shouldn’t have been my number one goal.
The opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality. It’s holiness. And I think we in the church often get that wrong. We think, “okay, the best thing for this person who’s involved with homosexuality or involve with lesbianism is that they come out of that lifestyle and go into heterosexuality.
Well if that’s all we think is necessary, we’re setting people up for a terrible fall. The opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality. It’s holiness.
This is not the first time I heard the mantra about homosexuality versus holiness. (Is it an ex-gay creedal statement or a think-tank created mind-bending talking point inserted intermittently to stir up shame and fear?)
In many ways this statement proves more sinister and harmful than statements promoting the false assumption that change in orientation is possible (which most Exodus ads still suggest to this day.) What I hear in the mantra is that anything homosexual by default is unholy, unclean, dirty, ungodly, evil and demonic—the opposite of all things holy. I heard this same message over an over in my youth be it on the playground, in the media or at church.
In his statement, Alan Chambers declares that people with same-sex attractions, who refuse to renounce these attractions, are unclean, much like the leper or menstruating women in Jesus’ day. These ceremonially unclean members of society were denied access to the temple and intimate relationships. Anyone with a conservative church background today can decode Alan’s message to mean that people who accept their same-sex attractions are denied access to God and to heaven. It may not be what Alan intends to say (or it may be), but the statement exudes this damning message all the same. Only the righteous enter the holy Kingdom of Heaven and homosexuals are NOT holy.
Back at Love in Action, I understood that although change in my orientation was not possible, I still needed to sort out my same-sex desires and get the victory over them. I stood with a choice-my faith in Jesus or my same-sex attractions? I chose Jesus.
At LIA I determined to gather the necessary tools that would enable me to manage and contain my sexual desire. I still dreamed for the miracle of complete deliverance from same-sex desire, but I knew not to expect it. So with the goal to be a faithful soldier of Christ, denying myself and taking up my cross and bearing it daily, I plunged into two years of treatment at LIA.
I devoted my time, energy and heart to the effort. I allowed the program teachings to soak into my mind, much of it stuff I already knew from ex-gay books I had read but with a more therapeutic spin on them, but also new techniques, ideas and theories. The program took on many approaches (some times changing approaches weekly) and in some ways incorporated the “best” of what was offered in the ex-gay world.
Though writing hundreds of Moral Inventories, I re-interpreted every non-straight sexual experience I ever had and re-labeled them dysfunctional, inappropriate and addictive. I continued to spend time in prayer and Bible study staying in close contact with God and looking to God for strength. I also submitted to LIA’s training to make me more masculine by changing the way I dressed, my affect, my tastes and hobbies. In the language we used at the time, “I worked my program.”
Next–Part Three: Living on the Outside