“Pray Away the Gay?” a lesson in talking past one another…..

I am late entering the conversation around the Lisa Ling, Our America program entitled, “Pray Away the Gay?” If you haven’t had the opportunity to view the program, you can view it here. The program created a buzz with a fair bit of controversy and criticism. At the risk that my weighing in is “old news”, I have a few good reasons for my late entrance.

The program didn’t air in Canada so I had to wait for the online version. And unlike some folks who jumped the gun based solely on preview clips, I wanted to see the whole thing before articulating my reflections. Then when I did get the link I was on vacation – and my family rightly claimed my time and attention. But finally, I don’t tend to be a quick commenter. I like to allow things to ruminate for a while. I try to pull back to see some of the bigger picture and vicarious threads that become interwoven in the conversation that such a program is simply a catalyst for. In my experience, quick reactions just don’t make for good bridge-building as they inevitably carry more opinion than reflection. And bridging requires some quiet, prayerful reflection. Bridging invites one to quiet the din in one’s own mind and heart and strain to hear the still, small voice of the Spirit who is a trustworthy guide to extending humble respect and dignity across diversity. It takes some quietness and stillness because these conversations at the intersection of faith and sexuality are so complex. Our language needs to be both precise and poetic. What I mean by that is the necessity to ensure that parties across the conversation understand terms in a similar manner – that they aren’t talking apples and oranges inadvertently with one another – but that their conversation together is not so scientifically forensic that it lacks imagination and generosity. That’s where the poetry comes in. Conversation isn’t research (at least not first and foremost). Conversation is about relating, it is about seeing one another’s humanity, listening with a commitment to be fully present. It is connecting to our creativity in opening our minds (where we exercise our intellectual capacity), our souls (the seat of our emotions) and our spirit (where we hear the voice of God).

One of my primary observations is that anytime you tackle this complex of a topic in a one hour documentary (which is really only 42 minutes once you subtract the commercials – which my online version mercifully did), you can take one of two paths. The first path seeks to take a more general approach that introduces the topic to a broad audience. The second chooses one specific question and fleshes that out with the risk of losing some of the audience who lack the basic overview of the subject. Lisa Ling, understandably, attempted the former. The challenge is not having the time and space to ensure clarity in the tagline questions. The title of the program would suggest that Ling is wanting to discover whether or not sexual orientation can be influenced by spiritual intervention. This question is a legitimate one given the confusion of public messages from various sources. Rather than the black and white totalitarian question, “Can you pray the gay away?” exploration of the degree of influence spiritual intervention might have on sexual orientation could have been a helpful program. But, it isn’t a very marketable idea. Nuance rarely is. Rather, with the title as it was, the program invites unreflective polarity. Many will simply say, “of course not” – end of discussion. Others may feel forced to say – “yes” – even though they probably would want to offer a much more multi-faceted response than a simple closed-ended answer.

But the program also asked the question, “Can you be gay and be Christian?” At first blush, this may seem to simply be the other side of the same coin. But I would submit that these are two very different questions – and it comes down to a matter of language. I fear that without precision in our language, it will be very challenging to move forward in this conversation in a manner that embodies postures of peace-making.

I find myself increasingly agitated by the phrase, “homosexuality is a sin”. I am agitated because the concept presents itself as somehow being biblical – when it is quite frankly a projection upon the text. The bible never refers to homosexuality. Rather, it refers to behaviors. One might also argue that it addresses desires and/or temptations. I will accede to that ¬ – although I would suggest that when temptation / desires are mentioned in connection with same-sex behavior the texts are pointing to the arena of lust and not simply the presence of attraction. The bible never addresses same-sex attraction as an enduring reality and aspect of one’s sense of personhood in relation to the world of people and relationships. Likewise, the bible never addresses sexual orientation. Granted, these concepts weren’t part of the language of the day. But by the same token, one ought not to develop a position on the assumption from silence. Certainly, in the Genesis narrative, we see a picture of the first male and female. Again, however, while this describes an experience that if often viewed as normative, has been experienced by the majority, and may be described by many as God’s best, the text itself does not indicate that a variant or difference in experience ought to be viewed as inherently sinful. To assume this from the creation account again projects onto the text a prohibition that it does not specifically articulate. To imprint a sense of gender on God or to further impose an anthropomorphic