Monday, March 10, 2008

Respecting Ex-Gays; Respecting Gays

Dr. John Corvino is a Professor of Philosophy at Wayne State University in Detroit. Some people know him more readily as "the Gay Moralist," famous for his traveling lecture "What's Morally Wrong with Homosexuality?" Over at the Independent Gay Forum, Corvino has written a fantastic piece expressing his views on ex-gay ministries.
People often ask me what I think about ex-gay ministries. I have no objection to them in principle, but serious problems with them in practice.
Corvino offers ex-gay folks respect on principle:
I have no objection to them in principle because I believe we should give others the same respect that we ourselves demand. That includes giving people wide latitude about living their lives as they see fit. If you really believe that you’re heterosexual deep down, and you want to take steps to help realize that identity, far be it from me to insist otherwise. I’ll let you be the expert on what you feel deep down, as long as you show me the same courtesy.
I heartily agree. However, Corvino goes on to offer criticism of the practices all too common in ex-gay ministries. Two of the criticisms Corvino articulates are spot-on with my convictions after undergoing five years of ex-gay treatment in two different ex-gay ministries.

The first is their tendency to promote myths about the so-called “homosexual lifestyle” by generalizing from some people’s unfortunate personal experiences. Ex-gay spokespersons will often recount, in lurid detail, a life of promiscuity, sexual abuse, drug addiction, loneliness, depression, and so on. “That is what I left behind,” they tearfully announce, and who can blame them? But that experience is not my experience, and it’s by no means typical of the gay experience. To suggest otherwise is to spread lies about the reality of gay and lesbian people’s lives. (The best antidote for this is for the rest of us to tell our own stories openly and proudly.)

The second problem is the ex-gay ministries’ abuse of science. Many of its practitioners are engaged in “therapy” even though they are neither trained nor licensed to do so; some of that “therapy” can cause serious and lasting psychological damage. Ex-gay ministries tend to lean on discredited etiological theories—domineering mothers, absent fathers, and that sort of thing. They also tend to give false hope to those who seek such therapy. By all respectable accounts, only a tiny fraction of those who seek change achieve any lasting success. Even then it’s unclear whether feelings, or merely behaviors, have been changed. While we shouldn’t reject individuals’ reports of change out of hand, nor should we pretend that their experience is typical or likely. (emphasis mine)

Well said, Dr. Corvino.

Now, be it known that not all ex-gay ministries are created equal. Two dear friends of mine work for Toronto-based New Directions, a ministry whose philosophy and practices are strikingly and wonderfully different than those of most ex-gay ministries in the U.S. Wendy Gritter, the executive director of New Directions, recently wrote a stunning guest post on Ex-Gay Watch in which she rebukes ex-gay ministries for a variety of errors, identifying several problem areas that match up with the criticisms of Corvino and many others. Gritter's post is far too long to copy-and-paste here, but I thought I'd reproduce a few paragraphs to give you a taste of what she had to say.

First, her introduction:

Thank you for the invitation to write this piece. To be honest, my knees are knocking a bit.

I want to begin by saying I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the pain that some of those who follow this site have experienced from leaders like me and ministries like the one I lead. I’m sorry that some of you connected with this site who identify as Christian have had your faith questioned and judged. I’m sorry there is a felt need for a site like XGW. I’m sorry that it feels like legitimate concerns have not been listened to. I am sorry for the arrogance that can come across from leaders like me.

I suppose I’m not what some would assume to be your typical ex-gay leader. I’m not gay, not ex-gay, not ex-ex-gay. Not male. Not Southern Baptist. Not Republican. Not even American. I’m a Gen X postmodern whose perspectives are, depending on who you talk to, too liberal or too conservative, unorthodox or too orthodox, heretical or vibrantly Christ-centered.

Interested? What a profoundly different opening statement than most of the stuff you read in the "culture wars." Next, a teaser for some of the content in her post. What follows are her three biggest criticisms of ex-gay ministry in general.
  1. We have been distracted by the politics around homosexuality. I do think there is a place for Christians to engage in the public arena. God calls his followers to be a blessing to all nations and to represent him by being the presence of shalom on the earth. Unfortunately, in many of the Christian political efforts regarding homosexuality there is little evidence of shalom. The result is that many who need to hear a gospel of good news perceive God’s people to be hypocritical and unloving (“you say you love us – but you’re fighting to prevent/take our rights”). This has perpetuated a sense of alienation that I believe, grieves the heart of God.

  2. We have been distracted by a focus on orientation change. The heart of Christian ministry was summed up by Jesus when he said, “Go, make disciples, teaching them to obey everything I’ve commanded you”. The point of a ministry like the one I lead is to support and encourage disciples of Jesus in their journey to live out their sexuality in a manner that they believe is God-honoring. If in that process they experience a deeper ability to love their opposite gender spouse (if they were already married) or a greater capacity to engage an authentic romantic, sexual, marital relationship with someone of the opposite gender, that is a gift that can be gratefully received. But such gifts can’t be predicted, they can’t be guaranteed, they don’t follow a set of instructions, or come after just the right combination of root identification and eradication. There is a sense of mystery that necessitates an attitude of humility, discussion of realistic expectations, and serenity. So at the end of the day, “change is possible” is not really the main point. Life in Christ is.

  3. We have been distracted by the question of causation. While there is clearly a place for research on this topic, and those involved in ministry should have the integrity to stay abreast of current research, by and large the conclusions (or lack of conclusion) on this matter are peripheral to the call of Christian ministry. Because there is currently such inconclusiveness on this question, conservative Christians would do well to humbly acknowledge that rather than being perceived as ill-informed, blinder-wearing, or agenda-promoting.
Wow, this woman is awesome! I encourage you to read all of her post on Ex-Gay Watch, as well as the comments that followed and her responses to them. Great stuff. Gritter is, without question, reducing the "noise" of the culture wars. I admire her work to find reconciliation and dialog between Evangelicals and gay folks.

Thank you for all your efforts, Wendy.

Hat tip: Ex-Gay Watch, Crosswalk


seithman said...

It was a great piece, though I still thinkt he last couple paragraphs were the best part of his article.

Joe Moderate said...

I agree with you, Seithman. Corvino's article was chock-full of great stuff.

Brandon said...

I think Gritter certainly has the right idea about where the ex-gay movement is flawed. Focusing on Christ should always come first, not politics, change, or causations of homosexuality and the like.

Charity said...

Your post and activities are refreshing in the current absolutist environment. The articles were great and give me hope that christians will stand up for love and stop being framed for what they are against.