One really can’t speak about “bridging the gap” between evangelical Christians and gay people without addressing the perceptions and misunderstandings surrounding ex-gay ministries. Now, some would say that we (New Direction) have no business even raising the question, given that we are a para-church organization focused on sexual identity. Some would say that we perpetuate the issues.
It may seem to be splitting hairs, though I would prefer to think of it as simply our attempt to chart our own distinct course forward, but New Direction seeks to move beyond the ex-gay label. The term ex-gay has some baggage to be sure.
Anthony Venn-Brown in this blog post asks 20 questions of ex-gay leaders. In his questions, one gets a sense of some of the complaint / critique against ex-gay leaders / ministries that continues to foster a divide. If you are a Christian with a heart to befriend your gay neighbour you will do well to acquaint yourself with some of this context. It may be behind some of the cynicism that you may encounter. I would submit that there is some learning to be had here – and hope that those who hold a more traditional view of sexual ethics will humble themselves and take the time to listen and digest.
Anthony’s questions do seem to presuppose that an ex-gay leader is male and same-gender attracted and likely now married to a woman. I suppose it is apt then, as New Direction tries to move beyond the ex-gay descriptor and be effective and useful in briding the gap, that as its leader I am not male, not same-gender attracted ….. and not married to a woman 🙂 Given that this is the case, I simply can’t respond to some of Anthony’s penetrating personal questions. However, I thought I’d take a stab at some of the others.
1. Do you know of anyone who was completely gay (not a bisexual) who has become completely heterosexual?
I’m not certain I would have any way of knowing if someone was completely gay and not bisexual. Likewise, I’m not certain I would have any way of knowing if someone had become completely heterosexual. It seems to me that at some level both realities are personal and subjective. While I have come to know sga people who report very fulfilling marriages with their opposite gender spouse (including their sexual relationship), most that I know personally are also honest and authentic about the reality of a sense of vulnerability in attractions to their own gender. At New Direction we try to foster a space where people can be honest without a sense of shame or of not measuring up. We’re comfortable with the reality that people experience diverse sexual attractions and seek to focus on encouraging people to live consistently with their beliefs and values. We recognize that ex-gay ministries have seemed to be deceptive when they put on a pedestal those who claim to have gone from gay to straight. We recognize that it has seemed the amount of healing has been exaggerated or that when asked direct questions about residual sga, responses have been evasive or misleading. In response, New Direction commits to sharing honest and authentic stories. We caution Christians to not project aspects of one person’s testimony onto every gay person they meet. And we choose to focus on an individual’s faith journey over and above their sexual orientation.
8. Even though it may not have been your experience, do you think it is possible to be gay and live in a long term, monogamous relationship?
We understand that gay people have been often been lumped together and mischaracterized. This has contributed to the divide. I do think it is possible for someone to be gay and live in a long term, monogamous relationship. The breakdown of relationships is sad reality that is common to the human condition. There are promiscuous gay people and there are promiscuous straight people. We don’t find it helpful to speak of the gay lifestyle – because for 100 gay people you may well encounter 100 different lifestyles. We encourage people to get to know each individual personally before making assumptions about their beliefs and values or the manner in which they live their life.
16. When Exodus commenced three decades ago everyone believed that you had to change your sexual orientation in order to be a Christian. Considering that there are now 100,000’s of gay Christians who have come out, live moral lives, have a strong faith and believe that God loves them just as they are, hasn’t your “ex-gay” message become redundant and obsolete?
I don’t believe that a same-gender attracted person must change their orientation to be a Christian and I do believe that God’s love is unconditional for all people. At the same time, there continue to be same-gender attracted people who believe that it is not God’s will for them to express their same-gender attraction in a sexual relationship. It is in support of these men and women that a ministry like New Direction seeks to serve. Part of that support is working to create safe places within the Christian community for them to be honest and authentic about their experiences with sga. Part of that support is helping them work through experiences of shame or fear, past hurts, patterns of addictive behaviour, and building a strong network of healthy, intimate friendships.
19. Considering the majority of “ex-gay” ministries reject the growing scientific evidence that same-sex-orientation happens prenatally through both genetic and hormonal influences, how do you respond to those who are born with gender or genital ambiguities which is obviously biological?
I seek to take a humble approach to the science around causation. We really don’t know all the details about the complex factors that may play a role in predisposing someone to experience same-gender attraction. At this point, the science around prenatal factors is compelling, though inconclusive in pinpointing determination. I am deeply humbled by the complex realities facing intersexed individuals. My response is rooted in relationship where I seek to listen, love and serve the individual where they’re at. If invited, I would seek to gently explore beliefs, values and the implications of faith in experiencing love and intimacy in relationship. In a similar manner, I am humbled by the realities of individuals navigating transgender issues. My prayer is that as followers of Jesus have the opportunity to engage in relationship with individuals facing these realities, we will embody the gentle, discernment of the Good Shepherd.