Why it's important to own our history
Without equivocation, we are profoundly sorry for the harm caused to LGBTQ2+ people due to the messaging, expectations, and practices intended to try to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. We lament the pain caused by rejecting messages of so many religious communities.
Particularly in the city of Toronto, the former name of the ministry, New Direction, can be a trigger. It still carries a connotation of “pray away the gay” and all the misery that accompanied expectations of reorientation for LGBTQ2+ people.
As hard as it is, we believe it is important to own our history as honestly as we can. Christians talk a lot about repentance but can be perceived as being unwilling to repent themselves. We want to try to be a living demonstration of repentance. We have repented of ideas, assumptions, exaggerations, and misinformation that led to harmful expectations, practices, and beliefs. We recognize that these things hurt LGBTQ2+ people profoundly and caused great estrangement and pain in churches and extended families – and that is why we have not only changed our name but we’ve profoundly changed how we welcome, accept, affirm, and celebrate LGBTQ2+ people.
We are available to anyone who experienced hurt from past practices of this organization to hear them out, to grieve with them, to acknowledge and apologize – and while we understand that we cannot change the past, if we can participate in some level of healing or closure we are humbly willing to do so. We have prepared a letter for survivors of sexual orientation, gender identity & expression change efforts(SOGIECE) or conversion therapy that you can read below.
We are also actively engaged in efforts to eradicate Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Change Efforts (SOGICE). In 2019, we wrote a letter to the Prime Minister of Canada highlighting our first-hand knowledge of the trauma caused by SOGICE and the necessity of an awareness campaign to ensure that parents will not subject their children to these practices in any form and asking the government to provide additional resources to support the ongoing recovery of SOGICE survivors. We prepared a brief for the standing committee on LGBTQ2+ Health, we spoke at a Summit for LGBTQ2+ Health re: SOGICE and conversion therapy, and encouraged our community to sign a petition seeking a federal ban. We also launched a campaign entitled, “Pastors Stopping the Harm!” encouraging ministry leaders to actively speak out about the harm caused by SOGICE.
Macleans: Quietly Ahead of the Gay Rights Curve
Broadview: I Once Led a Conversion Therapy Organization
A Letter to SOGIECE Survivors
To any individuals with past connection to the organization formerly known as New Direction Ministries,
In 2012 I met with two gentlemen who had been recipients of New Direction’s services. One was from the early years well before I took my role in 2002. The other had connected in the early 2000’s. I had not met either of them before, but I am grateful they took the time to meet with me.
Both indicated that their experience had been negative. And they both wanted to know if the organization had really taken a new direction or if some of the kinder sounding language on the website was just a gentler way of presenting the same old paradigm. These are really legitimate questions. And I understood the skepticism that I encountered.
One of the first things they asked was whether or not the organization continued to promote ex-gay theology. When I asked them to clarify for me what they meant by that, they raised some key points:
Do we think being gay is a choice?
No, we do not. We don’t know exactly what causes different people to experience consistent attraction to their own gender. It seems to be a complex combination of different factors for different people. But we certainly recognize that for many people who identify as gay, they have sensed something intrinsically unique about themselves for as long as they can remember. As they grew and developed they realized that this uniqueness could be described as being gay (or a similar term of one’s choosing). One way to describe this could be a constitutional same-sex orientation where there is little to no fluidity. A person doesn’t choose to experience this they just do.
As deconstruction of binaries around sexuality and gender continues and people identify with more fluid concepts there is even more complexity to consider. Regardless of the degree to which people make choices in pursuing romantic or sexual relationships, we do not subscribe to a “heteronormative only” paradigm.
Do we believe that there is something intrinsically wrong with being gay? Do we think being gay is a sin?
No, we do not. We fully affirm LGBTQ2+ people. We do not believe that experiencing same-sex attraction is sinful. As I’ve listened to many stories of ex-gay survivors over the years, one common theme I hear is the deep damage that resulted from feeling unworthiness, shame, and self-loathing. The truth is, each human being, no matter their sexual or gender identity, is created in the image of God, has inherent worth and dignity, and is Beloved. We recognize that Christians, including some LGBTQ2+ Christians, disagree with one another about whether a same-sex sexual relationship is sinful or not. Bottom line, we affirm the way LGBTQ2+ people love, form intimate relationships, and build families. Where we encounter disagreement we seek to promote dialogue and an environment that honours the autonomy of the individual. In our generous space community, people’s deeply personal convictions and commitments are honoured.
Do we believe that a person must try to be heterosexual to be a faithful Christian?
No, we do not. Our status as reconciled children of God is completely God’s gift to us through our faith in Jesus Christ. This gift of salvation transforms our lives such that we want to live out our grateful response. In light of this, Christians seek to become more like Christ. We see this manifested in the fruits of the Spirit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness and self-control.
We encourage people to accept the reality of their sexual identity without trying to change it. We acknowledge that LGBTQ2+ Christians have different beliefs and make different choices about whether or not to enter a same-sex relationship. Our focus is to encourage people to prayerful reflection, discerning engagement with scripture, and joyful participation in a community of faith. While the majority of our community members would affirm same-sex relationships, we cultivate a place of honour for those who feel personally convicted to live celibate lives or remain faithful within their mixed orientation marriage.
I want to acknowledge and express great sorrow for the profound hurt caused by SOGIECE paradigms. The harmful ramifications are immense. This causes me deep grief and motivates me to be very clear that this ministry does not promote or in any way support SOGIECE efforts. We lament that despite the closure of Exodus International in 2013, there are still ministries and churches that perpetuate SOGIECE messages. Our organization is proud to be part of the movement within the Christian community that fully affirms our LGBTQ2+ siblings and works to eradicate practices intended to try to change sexual orientation or gender identity.
We care about the people who have connected with this ministry, past and present, and would value the opportunity to hear your story, and invite your input and suggestions as we continue to shape this ministry to be a place that promotes generous space and hospitality in the Christian community. As we work to identify, develop, and connect those who have been harmed with multi-faceted supports, we are grateful for all the survivors who have led the project. We are committed to do this work "by, with, and for" those who have been harmed by SOGIECE.
If you would like to have a conversation about your experience with the organization when it was known as New Direction, please don’t hesitate to contact me personally here.
Dr. Wendy VanderWal Gritter
In June 2019 we launched this campaign asking pastors to sign on to the following statements:
We believe LGBTQ2+ people are created in the image of God.
We believe LGBTQ2+ people are Beloved of God.
We believe that God’s plans and purposes for people are good and do not result in shame, self-hatred, depression, suicidal ideation, or death by suicide.
We acknowledge that efforts to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity have proven ineffective and harmful.
We repent of the harm done to LGBTQ2+ people in the name of Jesus.
We pledge to participate in pursuing justice for LGBTQ2+ people.
We call on our fellow pastors to cease any spiritual interventions with the purpose of changing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Read more about this campaign and view the list of signatories here.