Readers Write: Christian Ex-Gays Try to 'Cure' Homosexuality
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
The bruising battles between right-wing Christians and gay rights groups have moved from the ballot box where 11 states banned same-sex marriage to the living room and the Church itself. Casey Sanchez's article "Christian Ex-Gays Brainwash Thousands" documents the burgeoning "sexual reorientation therapy" movement. There are three treatment centers, but over 200 churches, religious colleges and religious counseling centers have "ex-gay" programs. Major right-wing Christian organizations like Focus on the Family now have a traveling ex-gay ministry called "Love Won Out."
Despite well-funded megachurches and fundamentalist Christians dominating religious discourse, the question many of our readers asked about ex-gay conversion programs was: Is this what Jesus would do? What followed was a familiar discussion of nature versus nurture, whether human sexuality is a choice and whether or not queer identity can ever be compatible with Christianity.
One poster, slydad, weighed in on a number of these questions with a position that might best be characterized as compassionate conservative:
"There's no doubt that some people have a strong physical attraction to others of the same gender. That part of it may not be a choice. If one endeavors to live as a Christian though, we should have genuine love for everyone ... the choice is there as to whether one takes a mate that is of the same sex or the opposite sex. If one puts God first, nature will work like it's supposed to and God will steer you toward the right person. I know that sort of sounds like I'm advocating that if you're a homo that you stay in the proverbial "closet." I'm not saying that at all. I think that one can have homosexual urges and still love someone of the opposite sex. If a relationship is built on a Christian foundation, it will work. In an open and honest relationship, there are work arounds for deviances like that.
"I think that folks that choose the homosexual lifestyle are putting sex first and God second. That doesn't mean that they're lost either. It just isn't the way it ought to be."
But other readers critiqued the supposedly obvious "naturalness" of compulsory heterosexuality. Lilykins argued: "Homosexuality exists in almost every animal species on the planet. It would be UNnatural if it didn't exist in humans." Reader jvaljon1 agreed, "It's a well known FACT ... that homosexuality is an innate variation on sexuality, in all species that utilize bi-sexual reproduction ... This is a fact--read about wolves and geese, to name just two disparate species in which the same 11% are homosexual."
MindyB quotes the president of Exodus saying, "Everyday I wake up and deny what comes naturally to me." She responds, "Duh!! One cannot be 'cured' of a 'disease' if one still struggles with 'homosexual sexuality' ... Also, if his homosexuality 'comes naturally,' isn't that the same as being born with 'it,' or more specifically this is how God created you, gay (or homosexual if you rather use that term), and therefore, you must accept yourself the way God created you -- gay!"
Reader jmmartin explained the motives of sexual reorientation centers as "motivated not by some altruistic desire to 'help' anyone but to add numbers to their agenda. By convincing the world that 'gay' is something you do rather than something you are, stigmatization of gays might appear understandable and even proper."
Other readers weighed in on whether homosexuality could be consistent with a religious institution. UnEasyOne described "Cafeteria Christians" who "simply ignore the parts of the Bible they find inconvenient ... My feeling is that in order to be happy, homosexuals are gonna have to realize that this tradition has nothing to do with modern times -- and if they still feel a need for a god in their lives, recognize that YHWH (Yahweh or Jehovah) ain't their guy."
Another reader taki made similar points that the Bible was simply not compatible with non-normative sexuality, arguing, "Homosexuality according to the Bible ... is a sin. If don't like it ... fine, it still doesn't change it." Furthermore, taki wrote that, "This has nothing to do with love, because Christians are some of the biggest givers to charities than any group in this country and will continue to."
Poster kenhymes countered by using Jesus as an example: "What Jesus did was seek out the other, the marginalized, the insulted, the hated, the ones told they could never be part of things that mattered. What Jesus said was that they were the first ones in his reality, and the ones who clung to privilege and status were the last. What Jesus did was take every chance he could to turn the priorities of the social structure upside down ... Jesus would be walking in Gay Pride parades, not hanging out with suburban mega-church homophobes."
Others like Renelucy agreed, quoting Jesus, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" as evidence that Christ would be "welcoming to gay people."
The predominant view of readers expressed sorrow for those persons who had to undergo electroshock therapy or other sexual "reorientation" treatments. One reader geoweber gave himself as an example of how he lived a heterosexual lifestyle, of being married "17 years" and having "3 beautiful sons" but even after "7 years of therapy" is openly gay. He went on, "My point is that these programs designed to 'rescue' gay men CAN change their behavior, if the man is avid enough in his wish to do so. But it does not change his essence, his orientation. And he will be crippled ... by this overriding of his own essence."
Poster OUTinMinnesota put a humorous spin on the experience of electroshock therapy, writing, "My fundamentalist parents had me undergo therapy to cure same-sex attractions. I'm still gay. And now I have amazingly strong aversions to my parents and to organized religion. Yes, electroshock therapy definitely works."
Reader revolve had similar thoughts, that some people could be "'cured' of homosexuality" but went on to say that "if you took a bunch of straight people and subjected them to enough psychotherapy and social pressure, many of them could be 'cured' of their heterosexuality."
One reader, defrag, felt that the people who undergo such reorientation programs "aren't very bright -- including the victims." MindyB responded to this sentiment, saying that "most people who were brought up in that environment end up internalizing all that and believing that homosexuality is the worst in the world. Those kids who happen to be gay learn to hate themselves for being so different and for having thoughts, feelings, etc. that resemble those described as being homosexual!"
Or perhaps, we should take MR Id's advice, "If you are gay, enjoy yourself. The mega pastors do."
Alex Jung is an editorial fellow at AlterNet.