Telling the Right Story

Peterson has posted an interesting video of Christine Bakke and Darlene Bogle outside the Southern Baptist Convention headquarters. Christine and Darlene are members of an “ex-gay survivors group” and this is a video of their response to the Southern Baptist’s stance on homosexuality. It’s about 15 minutes long and if you consider yourself on the more orthodox side of things then you might not agree with everything they say, but do them the courtesy of hearing their stories.

I want to take issue with some aspects of this video. In particular I want to consider the following statements made during the 15 minutes:

  1. “Promise to change people from gay to straight” – You know what, that’s what we don’t promise. What we promise is that lives that commit to the call to holiness that Jesus issues will be lives that ultimately see him at work within and without. Some people’s orientations (like my own) change, some do not, but change isn’t the goal, holiness is. The “promise to change” perspective might have been true ten or more years ago, and it might still be what some ministries claim, but most of us who pastor in the area of sexual brokenness know that being gay or straight is not the issue.
  2. “Homosexuality is a sin and can be changed by becoming saved” -What an utter piece of arrant nonsense. No-one (apart from a few whack teachers who probably never actually pastored anybody in the situation) teaches that one’s sexual orientation dictates whether you can or can’t be changed, OR that orientation will change on salvation.
  3. “They continue to be told that they are sinful, disgraced, unacceptable to the family and to God” – This is such a straw man that I don’t know where to start. Yes, I would tell someone that homosexual practice was not intended for them by God and that in the long run it will do them spiritual damage, but that’s not the same as the portrayal in this video clip that ministries teach that someone who is homosexual is by the nature of their orientation “sinful, disgraced” etc. I realise that some people on the progressive side of the debate disagree that one can separate the notion of sexual orientation and practice in terms of identity, but at least can we have the courtesy to engage with what people like myself actually believe and teach.
  4. “I am a lesbian by birth, not by choice” – Er right, and the scientific proof for this is what? Ultimately that’s a statement of faith in the absence of clear evidence, and the bi-polarisation of the issue of the development of sexual orientation in those nine simple words (birth or choice) betrays a complete lack of engagement with the current scientific debate on the subject. None of us teach that homosexual orientation is simply a choice and neither is there any direct proof that homosexuality is something you are born with. It’s more complicated then that and statements like the one above trivialise the issue and move the debate backwards, not forwards.
  5. “I came to believe that I had to change to be considered acceptable by fellow Christians and God.” – Well I’m not sure that anybody (apart from the whack fringe and by all accounts that’s not where Christine was going to church) would have taught that, so I’m curious about WHY Christine believed that. Was it something she was told or something that she started to believe despite the fact that it wasn’t true, in order to justify a reaction to that belief when she didn’t change? And sure enough Christine tells us that after four years she wasn’t straight, but was that a failure in her eyes or God’s? You see the problem with this testimony is that it’s set-up with the straw man that total change of orientation is meant to happen and when it doesn’t somehow that proves that exgay / postgay theologies are all a con. In reality the exgay path is one of walking away from “gay” and towards holiness, regardless of the hardness of the journey, regardless of the level of sanctification and wholeness this side of Glory.
  6. “It’s not about heterosexuality, it’s about wholeness” – Yes, but was Christine’s understanding of that flawed? You see for me wholeness is to do with one’s direction of journey. Am I pointing in my life towards the perfect, glorified, resurrection, sinless creature that God is one day going to make me, or am I structuring my life to point away from that? Wholeness isn’t just about brokenness having gone, it’s as much about recognising that brokenness still exists but that I’m not going to have my life dictated by it. One can be heterosexual and completely “un-whole” and one can be homosexual with no hint of heterosexual attraction and yet still whole because one chooses the path of chaste holiness.

Please don’t get me wrong – I recognise that both Christine and Darlene have had hard experiences with much pain involved, but that isn’t an excuse for taking these two stories and using them to decry all postgay ministries and pastoring. The polemic in this video doesn’t actually engage with the theology of wholeness on any substantial level. There is no interaction with the experience of men and women like myself who have experienced some measure of healing but who are also pastorally realistic about what might and might not happen when entering on this path. There are mis-assumptions and straw men that don’t do anything to foster a healthy dialogue in this area.

I welcome discussion on the above, but be warned that I will delete posts that are diatribe and not debate.

4 Comments on “Telling the Right Story

  1. Hi Peter,

    I’ve known several people involved in such ministries in Kentucky, and I think it’s a mixed bag indeed. I’ve spoken with people who say what you do, specifically, “it’s about holiness, not heterosexuality.” I’ve met others who continue to say, “I’ve always believed I had to be straight to be accepted by God.”

    I think the distance from position “B” here to position “A” is one of much prayer and time spent in Christian discipleship; I think lots of people show up believing that it’s about being “straight” no matter what the “ex-gay” leaders might try to tell them. I’ve been friends with a number of “ex-gay” Christians who clearly could only make the decisions they do and live as they do from the center of a solid understanding that God really does love and accept them just as they are, and those who continue on the path are those who find this reflected in Christ’s Church.

    And of course, not all do. While the short statement you’ve linked doesn’t even imply this, I think we’ve all heard our share of Christians say that if folks only get “saved,” everything will fall into place. Yes, they are idiots, and no, they’ve not been friends with homosexual persons (or at least they didn’t know it!), but they’re still out there.

  2. Hi Kyle,

    I agree with you that some exgay ministries are a very mixed bag indeed. But in the same way that I don’t label all those who identify as gay as being promiscuous and build a theology and ministry around that, I think we should also expect those who criticise the ex-gay experience to critique the best, not the worst arguments and experiences.

  3. Hi Peter, I will be in the UK again this August and still wish to have a proper face to face encounter with you. I find that a lot more ground gets covered more effectively that way.

    I will not respond to each of your points and will let others do so if they wish.

    A few things:
    When I have traveled to the UK to do my shows and give my talks, British folks, gay, ex-gay and straight, have repeatedly warned me that Evangelicalism, and the ex-gay movement in particular, are VERY DIFFERENT there than they are in the US. Having been to the UK about 10 times in the past 5 years, I now know that to be true. Things are VERY DIFFERENT here in the US in many ways in regards to the church and the ex-gay movement.

    Peter, here in the US there has been a long history of people promising “Freedom from Homosexuality” with slogans like “I Questioned Homosexuality–Change is Possible.” Although the internal messages are more complex, many of the ex-gay consumers I have met, weighed down with the heterosexism and very clear anti-gay sentiment from the Church, friends and families, hear that message and assume it means what it says, Change is Possible–change in orientation.

    It is only very recently that ex-gay groups have been straight forward about their message (although their ads have not changed that much). And although Exodus is the largest ex-gay organization in the USA, it has no real oversight to the teachings and practices of its member ministries. Also, lots of ex-gay work happens outside of Exodus under the radar through other ministries, Christian counselors and by pastors who may have attended an ex-gay conference or read a book. So lots ex-gay ministers still teach about healing and change.

    The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant Christian sect in the US, is VERY DIFFERENT from any Baptist Church I ever attended in the UK (I went to a few there back in the 90’s). The message that Darlene Bogle shared in front of Southern Baptist headquarters is completely appropriate considering the Southern Baptist teachings and world view. Does every Southern Baptist believe that way? No, but many do, perhaps most.

    The strident messages about salvation and change for people with same-sex attractions that the conservative churches in the US teach are not subtle at all. These are not a few fringe whack teachers out there but thousands of local and national figures who speak to millions daily through radio and TV broadcasts as well as from the pulpit on Sunday mornings and in books, magazine articles, newspaper columns and recordings.

    Many ex-gay consumers have been sitting under these teachings for years. The weight of these teachings work in tandem with testimonies of current ex-gays, who as they tell their stories with their spouses and children at their side, reinforce the concept that heterosexual living is a realistic goal for gays and lesbians.

    It is not. It is realistic only for a tiny percentage, and the vast majority of those I have met, who tried and failed, left in their wake much pain for their families.

    Christine said “holiness” not “wholeness”. She stated:

    It’s not about heterosexuality, it’s about holiness” and it felt like I could not be holy now, and that God must have given up on me too.

    There is a common mantra in the ex-gay world in the US,

    The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality, it is holiness.

    The message is clear, you cannot be gay and Christian.

    From my experience with many profoundly spiritual and loving Christians, who happen to also be romantically and sexually attracted to people of the same-sex, you can indeed be holy and gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender.

    Peter, it sounds like your experience in the UK as an ex-gay is very different from many of our experiences here in the US. Darlene’s and Christine’s stories sound consistent with the hundreds of people I have encountered here and the folks who have shared their stories at BeyondExGay. Each is slightly different, but we see common themes emerge as people step up and tell their stories.

    Some ex-gay leaders in the US have only just begun to take responsibility for their misleading messages. UK ex-gay leaders have been more forthcoming in clarifying the message. Change in orientation is not possible, but celibacy may be a realistic goal for some.

    As ex-gay survivors step up and tell their stories, we have noted how defensive and even dismissive some ex-gays in the US have been.

    From our contacts with hundreds of ex-gay survivors, the reality is that for most of the people who try to go ex-gay, it does not work, and that for many of these, their experiences have caused them more harm than good. Sure some good came of it, but at tremendous cost. If ex-gay leaders care more about pastoral care than politics, they would do well to consider our stories to see what they can do differently.

    Perhaps there in the UK you have a better way of approaching all of this so that people do not experience the emotional, psychological and spiritual damage that many of us have encountered.

    That is not to say we didn’t meet loving and caring people who attempted to help us in our former struggles. The problem was their teachings, although well meaning, actually ended up reinforcing shame while often casting blame on us when we were not successful in reaching the goals placed before us.

    We have found and are finding better ways for ourselves, and we believe that others can be spared heartache and loss if they hear our witness and warnings.

  4. Forgive me, I’m not really plugged into the whole sexuality debate and sexual healing thing as much as you guys clearly are, though I understand that it’s a really important ministry in the Church at large.
    I hope you don’t mind, but I want to suggest that it might not be helpful to make such a big deal over discipleship that focuses in on issues of sexuality. I’m not saying that because this isn’t important, but because I think that perhaps often, part of the reason why Christians in general come out with comments that are off-beat and unhelpful (generalising some of what Kyle notes) is that there are a lot of ineffective and half-arsed approaches and attitudes towards Christian discipleship. If I’ve understood correctly, the stuff you are chewing over here could be boiled down to the question, “what constitutes successful discipleship?” (Granted, ‘successful’ isn’t the best word to use, but it’ll do for now). Because that question isn’t answered very well by the Church across all life issues, it becomes much easier to highlight one issue/area over all others and I fear that this is what is happening with human sexuality.
    Whole lives need to be brought before God and transformed by the power of the cross of Jesus. Every time the spotlight hits sexuality (and usually it’s homosexuality in particular), the cynical part of me senses Christians letting out a sigh of relief because it means that the spotlight isn’t on issues of say materialism/greed, integrity, etc.
    I suppose what I’m getting at is something of a request. Might it be possible for ministries that are set up to focus resources on helping people work through stuff around homosexuality to first place that ministry squarely in a wider Church context. Maybe the fact that ministry in this area tends to be done by para-church groups in external settings rather than by integrated local church groups is a big factor? On behalf of the wider Church, I hold my hands up and acknowledge that that may well be easier said than done because of the sad state of general discipleship I mentioned above. But for the sake of this important aspect of discipleship not being either over-egged or under-played, I feel there’s some wider context work that needs to be done.

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