One of the reasons legalistic Christians support ex-gay/conversion ministries is because these ministries present themselves as “loving” and “kind” to the gay community because they have “been there.” Many directly state that they have an understanding of the “lifestyle” because they were once a part of it. The culturally driven church, not known for jumping at the chance to deal with the LGBT+ community directly in loving and kind ways, are more than happy to allow the ex-gays handle that for them. Especially if they do so in private meetings on a non-busy weeknight in the back of the church. These type of churches feel relieved to let someone else deal with “them” and try to convince themselves they are loving by supporting a ministry that does deal with “that challenging and complex issue” so they don’t have to do so.
The problem with the ex-gay trope, “I understand and love you because I was one of you…” is simply not true. If they understood us, they wouldn’t impose their narrative and experience on us. What they “understand” is how to convince themselves it’s ok to explain away our lives and experiences via their own beliefs and life experience. That works for their own bias affirmation and convincing the church they know more about the issue than they do. However, no one who has found congruence with their faith and sexuality believes for a moment that ex-gay/conversion ministry leaders have walked our walk or “lovingly understand” our experience with empathy.
Also, because of their experience among or around us, many of these ex-gay leaders honestly believe they know more about us and our spiritual state of being than we do. That’s not empathy, kindness, and compassion, that’s arrogance. And I say that as someone who used to say the same ex-gay/conversion mess for over two decades.
In my 20+ years experience in the ex-gay world, I rarely, if ever, met a person who had come to Exodus under good circumstances. Most were deeply conflicted from being raised in the systemic stigmatization of gay people, abuse, dysfunction and incredible emotional pain. Many felt forced into ex-gay/conversion ministries because of the threat of hell for eternity or hell on earth (lost relationships) or both. They may have had anonymous sex or flirted with gay bar party mode, but very few had ever actually had any semblance of a healthy relational LGBT+ affirming world-view before ditching it all and going the ex-gay route. Some, very few, actually had what might be considered long term loving and committed relationships. If we did recognize some good in past relationships and friendships, we were taught to minimize that as just “God being good even in our brokenness and darkness.”
The people who did have some sort of balanced and healthy perspective always left the ex-gay/conversion world quickly dealt with their real issues and went on to live as mature and healthy LGBT+ people today.
Ex-gay/conversion leaders are taught to present and see themselves as honest and loving examples of what the average gay person experiences and could/should look like. In conservative religious circles, they are given authority, moral support and sometimes a lot of money to impose their personal experience on the LGBT+ community as a whole. These ex-gay leaders are willingly scapegoated (by others and themselves) into representing all of the gay community’s “sins.” They are propped up as examples of how God views the LGBT+ community through the filter of this non-affirming person’s experience; in other words, they say God wants and will do for everyone in the LGBT+ what the ex-gay/conversion ministry leader says He did for them.
Here is an example of why that is a huge problem. I know of one woman who has written books, has gone on a lot of television programs, has plenty of speaking engagements and the backing of a high profile congressperson in Washington DC. She presents herself as an ex-lesbian who was once “gender confused.” She presents herself as a leading “expert” (her words in a video I watched) on sexuality and homosexuality in particular.
- Did she ever go to college and earn degrees relating to human sexuality and relationship? No.
- Does her brief stint, a long time ago, as a gender questioning lesbian make her an expert on male homosexuality? Bisexuality? Trans issues? Queer Theory? Etc…? No.
- Do even her few years as a young adult with a dysfunctional relational approach to a few people make her an expert on lesbianism? No.
- Does her experience as a Christian make her an expert on theology, church history, pastoral counseling? No.
The only thing she is an expert on is being able to tell a story the conservative church wants to hear, believe, and scapegoat. I have seen the trail of pain and hurt she and other ex-gay/conversion ministry leaders have left in their wake. I am still seeking to make amends for the hurt and suffering I caused during my years doing the exact same thing. They, we, were empowered to do so with a false sense of moral authority and the air of being “experts.”
In my own experience, I went around saying I had lived a gay life (even then I wasn’t thrilled with the word “lifestyle”) and Jesus had “saved me from brokenness and self-destruction.” I then imposed on that the belief that all of LGBT+ life was pointed in that same broken and destructive direction.
Yes, my experience before coming to Christ was horrible. It was an absolute nightmare in many ways. I OD’d on drugs, I got in terrible violent fights, I was abused, assaulted and used. But now I know that was not because I was gay. It was because I was a very hurt and lost soul. If I had been straight, I might not have suffered some of the assaults by strangers I experienced but the drug abuse and abusive relationships would have been with women and not men.
Today, I am an openly gay man again, and it is NOTHING like what I went through in the 1980’s. Also, getting out of the Ex-gay myopic version of the “lifestyle” has also shown me that the LGBT+ community is amazingly vast, complex, and as different from person to person as the rest of humanity is.
So, when an ex-gay/conversion ministry leader says, “I understand and love the gay community because I have been there…” Thank them for trying to understand but imposing their understanding of who we are and our experiences because of their own beliefs is not the same. It’s not an automatic pass on genuine empathy or even sympathy. Until you affirm me and my standing in Christ as one of His LGBT+ children, you do not understand me or what I believe.
If you consider yourself an ex-gay person, while I am sure we don’t agree on plenty of important issues, I am not condemning you for trying to find your way and honestly sharing your story from your perspective. My problem is those that are making a living off of false leadership/expertise on these issues; the ones trying to convince others that their story is everyone else’s filter on how to see and experience God.
The longer ex-gay/conversion ministry leaders are empowered by culturally driven conservative churches to impose their bias (bear false witness) on the LGBT+ community, they do not compel anyone to the grace and love of Christ. They will only continue to go on empowering religious stigma, cultural hatred, and public policy inequality.