While I was a participant (patient?) in the Love in Action “ex-gay” residential program in Memphis, TN, we not only talked about sex (A LOT!) but also about our emotions.
When in our rap sessions a participant brought anger issues (we had so much to be angry about), staff members John Smid, Mike Haley, and others often asked the question, “What is under the anger?”
They went on to explain that anger is a secondary emotion fueled by other emotions.
As a man with same-sex desires and gender-queer tendencies, I regularly feel the hate and anger woven into the policies, practices and lies packaged by conservative churches, para-church organizations, and “ex-gay” groups.
When I read about religious organizations that exclude LGBTQ people from being a part of the group (even including some Quaker groups), I feel the sting of rejection and the implicit message that there is something gravely wrong with me; I am unwelcome and unclean. I hear violence in the messages of exclusion and judgement.
But drawing on the teachings of Smid and LIA, I’ve been asking, What is under the anger? What fuels the anger of LGBTQ discrimination?
I believe it is fear. Not exclusively, but in large part.
When James Dobson rails against the “gay agenda” and raises the spectre the end of Western Civilization as we know it, I hear fear.
When LIA files a federal law suit against the state of Tennessee and claims their loss of civil rights, I hear fear.
When conservative Christians repeatedly throw up the same six scripture passages that purportedly condemn homosexualty (while overlooking the hundreds of passages that condemn heterosexual sin), I hear fear.
For the 17 years I lived as a conservative Christian and an ex-gay; I felt a lot of fear too.
I could not enter into honest debate regarding the Bible, its interpretation and authority, for fear that it would undermine my faith.
In church I was warned against deceivers who would creep into the church to lead others astray. I was warned against unbelievers who unwittingly could be used as tools of the devil to lead others astray.
I was warned about the slippery slope of sin, that the heart was deceitful and that I lived in a corrupt body and in an evil corrupt world ruled by the prince of darkness.
That’s a lot of fear. And as a result, I could not and would not work things out for myself. I trusted my leaders–the pastors and teachers and evangelists– who told me what the Bible had to say.
As I have described it before, I was in a biblically induced coma.
When Christians feel so much fear, it should raise a red flag. If God, through Jesus, is the supreme being (as many but not all Christians believe) and if God is love, and if perfect love casts out fear, why all the fear?
We do crazy irrational things when we feel fear. We create monsters out of shadows and distrust even our friends. Witness the nation-wide sway of fear on the US population after 911 and the effect of the color-coded terror alert on our ability to make rational decisions during elections.
As a Christian, I was taught that fear is the opposite of faith. I propose that fear is also the opposite of love. Sadly many Christians live terrified of their God. They also live fearful that they will be swallowed up by an ungodly world that will destroy their children and their faith. Their leaders feed them terror and misinformation from the pulpit. They learn to fear me and other LGBTQ people–some of us in their own community, church and family. And fear bears a bitter fruit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
I don’t know about you, but I am hungry for the Spirit sort of fruit in the churches and in our world.