Is Ex-gay Ministry “Forced” or “Coercive?”

Recently, former colleague Anne Paulk didn’t appreciate a Psychologist’s inference that RHN (Restored Hope Network, Anne is its leader) is “coercive” or “forcing” people to seek change. On the RHN Facebook page she writes (linkage Anne’s, emphasis mine):

Response to the CBS8.com Article
Anne Paulk

I want to briefly address a view that was recently expressed on local CBS TV, with which we declined the interview. In this report, a local celebrity psychologist who appears often on the news said this,

“To try to force somebody or really coerce somebody to change something about themselves that cannot be changed really can put these people at greater risk for suicide or other mental health issues.” said Dr. Robinson.”

We are also against the concept of forcing and coercion. Her comment is not relevant to our ministry whatsoever nor our summer conference in San Diego.

In fact, we know that unless a person wants to leave homosexuality and is leaning into the Lord’s will for their life along with good counseling or pastoral care, their lives will likely not change much. …

The direct link to the article she was referencing is not included in Anne’s response. Also, it would have been appropriate for her to put ellipses in front of the part of the article she did quote. That would have let her readers know that there was more to the quote than what she referenced.

Why Anne edited the way she did is something only she would know (of course.) But, it was a reminder of back in my ex-gay days, that type of selective editing was done a lot when responding to what we considered adversarial media reports. We did not include direct links, or any links and would often fragment quotes in an attempt to squelch competing ideas and not promote “worldly” messages to our audience; we paternalistically justified this as needing to protect our audience in the name of pastoral care. However, for my post, here is a direct link to the article. Nowadays it’s pretty clear to me that people can think for and protect themselves ;). Also, here is the full quote from CBS 8 by Dr. Robinson (emphasis mine):

The medical community has come out saying that being gay is not a disease. It’s a normal variant of the human condition. To try to force somebody or really coerce somebody to change something about themselves that cannot be changed really can put these people at greater risk for suicide or other mental health issues.” said Dr. Robinson.

Again, I have no idea why Anne would leave out a critical part of the quote (even if she disagrees) but the truth is every credible medical, and counseling professional associations have all unequivocally condemned conversion therapy and the idea that you can change your sexual orientation. “Celebrity” or not, I would also think Dr. Robinson has more professional training than Anne on the issue of someone seeking professional or pastoral counseling being forced/coerced into making that decision.

Even so, from my not-a-psychologist vantage point of having once been a leader at the highest levels in Exodus, I now believe Dr. Robinson’s comments are entirely relevant to RHN and other ex-gay organizations. To say that it is “…not relevant to our ministry whatsoever.” appears, at best, defensive and at worst, an exercise in willful ignorance. The harmful effects of religious stigmatization of any sort, including trying to fix something that isn’t broken in the name of God with highly pressurized consequences is incredibly damaging. The consequences are easily seen in RHN’s consistent overall messaging on what “wholeness” and “brokenness” look like and the “Lord’s will” or “creative intent” for identity and sexuality. Plus, the dangerous aspects of ex-gay ministry Dr. Robinson refers to are relevant or they wouldn’t be brought up over and over and over again since the advent of ex-gay theology 40+ years ago.

Also, I lost a beautiful friend of 23 years to suicide in part due to his struggle with being gay and Christian. Additionally, I also taught on ex-gay beliefs on various topics on the national and international level for two decades. From direct experience and observation, I now believe the ex-gay/conversion therapy worldview is perpetuated by extremely consequential mental and spiritual coercion. Back then, we couldn’t acknowledge that because our denial was incredibly powerful. We couldn’t allow ourselves to see the immense harm our beliefs were empowering and inflicting on ourselves and others. It’s with endless grief that I acknowledge my contributions to a system of belief that would lead to people to question their existence.

That is a burden I am not sure I will ever be free of.

Back then, It was inconceivable that what we were doing might not actually be God’s will; it wasn’t even on the radar that we were following cultural stigma against LGBT+ people reinforced through legalistic religion and not the Spirit.

Let’s go back to the quote of Anne listed above, and the last sentence in it (emphasis mine):

In fact, we know that unless a person wants to leave homosexuality and is leaning into the Lord’s will for their life along with good counseling or pastoral care, their lives will likely not change much.

To me, that last statement undermines Anne’s assertion that RHN and their version of ex-gay theology are not “coercive.” It is obvious they are trying to convince the struggling and disbelieving that it’s God will for you to “change.” It’s also clear that RHN believes if you are a true believer who worships (“leans into”) the way they think you should, with “good” (according to RHN) counseling, you will change.

It is a coercive act to tell hurting and/or skeptical LGBT+ person of faith that they only have one “… Lord’s will…” (as defined by RHN) option.

Here’s a fact, I had access to all the best resources, counseling and ministries for 23 years. I gave it my all, helped create quite a bit of it, too. I “leaned into” the Lord and He transformed every single thing about my life…except for being gay with a dash of bisexuality. In fact, it is my close relationship with Him that led me to eventually find peace with who I am. As I leaned on Him as my sole source of strength and wisdom… I came out of the church closet and into a more full and free life.

Part of my health, growth, and “change” came in finally casting off my ex-gay worldview and embracing who I truly am as a gay man. I am as “saved” and “sanctified” today as I was on May 31st, 1992 when I became a Spirit-filled believer.

Hopefully, now, I am no longer an asshole about it. It’s true. It’s good to not be a jerk.

Here’s another fact. Anne is not a horrible person. In fact, I loved and idolized her most of the time I was in the ex-gay movement. We are definitely not friends today, but I don’t believe for a moment she would chase anyone down and go all pointy-finger-condemning-Christian on them. I don’t think she would ever wish ill on, or seek to hurt, someone. In fact, most ex-gay leaders (the few that are left) are the same. Just like I used to be, they are true believers in ex-gay being the only way to the heart of God for someone “struggling” with their sexuality. The truly believe they have the answers to relational/sexual intimacy and fulfillment.

To be a bit cliche for a moment, while they are sincere about their beliefs, they are sincerely wrong.

It is my hope that LGBT+ people (especially in this context, those of us who are Christians) know that whatever decision you make for your life and how to live it, it’s none of my business to evaluate or judge. That said, I do believe that the doorway to the ex-gay/conversion therapy world is facilitated by the coercive stigma underlying any religious thought that somehow LGBT+ people need to be fixed or “changed.”

Good morning! This morning I was flipping through my little love quotes book, and this one just leaped out at me as something of a personal goal today. I hope it is encouraging to you too!

As I meditated on it, these thoughts came to mind. Selflessness is often a complicated; so much competes for that valued spot in our hearts. To be “other-focussed” in healthy and life-giving ways is remarkable and I hope we all find the empowerment to do that today.

Informed Freedom Brings Healthy Self-Determination & Respect

People have the capacity to make decisions for their own life that are in their best interests, life-giving and fruitful. That would seem an obvious thing to say. However, ex-gay ministry, conversion therapy, and legalistic religion do not trust people to make up their own minds on what is healthy or not healthy for them to pursue unless it fits with their ex-gay/conversion views. Whether it is with the best but misguided (in my opinion) of intentions or outright “exhortation” and manipulation, these groups will always seek to “educate” or guide someone who is questioning their sexuality down their particular well-worn paths. I do believe we were created to journey with others, but I don’t believe that it is any of our jobs to guide someone else’s direction.

In my experience, the problem with the ex-gay destination is always blurry and only gets murkier as we tried to get to an unrealistic “biblical” life. Eventually, we find the ex-gay/conversion path isn’t changing anything or going from one place to another. It is simply an incredibly long roundabout full of irreparable potholes with a never-ending emphasis on “brokenness”; all the exits are walled-off or boarded up by stacks of man-made stigma and religiously imposed unnecessary burdens. Learning how to avoid potholes and ignore the “no exit” strategy is not changing our core relational sense of being, it’s culturally conditioned behavioral modification.

That’s why many of us who have come out of that world feel like we lost ourselves after getting “saved.” In the name of getting “sanctified” (growth and being “set apart” in Christ) we were actually being hidden away on a path paved with shame for who we truly are. We were not “in process” as we were taught. We were not growing in sunshine and light but isolated in a figurative closet of terminal uniqueness. Finding who we are created to be was defined for us, not what I now believe God naturally designed and celebrates.

We were diverted from our authentic journey to follow someone else’s steps leading to a destination that doesn’t exist.

It is my hope and prayer that instead of losing ourselves in the name of “discipleship” and “overcoming brokenness” that we embrace the reality at who we are as beautiful and something to be celebrated.

Yes, coming to Christ is transformative. He has wonderfully blessed and allowed me to celebrate all aspects of who He created me to be. I look forward to learning more! He destroyed the barriers to the exits from that world by allowing me to see through the blinders of a religiously and self-imposed ideal. We are created with the capacity to think for ourselves and through the issues. For those of us who are people of faith, we will always find Him in the “peace that surpasses all understanding.”

And for the first time in my life… SO cool with you if you agree or don’t agree. I know this post is reflective of my path/journey/opinions. I’ll do me, and you do you, we’re good. However, this is my blog, so the personal observations and opinions shall continue :)…

Truthfully, it doesn’t take long to learn a myriad of ideas. We have resources available from every possible angle. I personally believe we do not need a smiling well-intentioned in their own mind ex-gay minister manipulating, creating, or seeking to steward our questions and/or pain with an assumed power to do so. We do not need parachurch organizations taking money to fix a manufactured brokenness. We can trust in our ability to think for ourselves. For those of us who are people of faith, that includes the guidance of our Creator. Jesus doesn’t need donations or a 501(c)3 resource catalog or bylaws to be a Good Shepherd.

He is with, loves, affirms, and celebrates you.

Truly, if you want an opinion I would be glad to offer one (obviously), but I will not seek to impose it. Some will agree, and others will deny that their core sense of relational being is as an LGBT+ person… that’s their decision, and I will seek to love and understand as best I can.

What I won’t be silent about is the fact that an entire system has risen up from a stigmatized foundation that exploits LGBT+ lives; a system that must be dismantled or at least revealed so that it no longer has the power to convolute issues and breed destruction.

People should be allowed to determine their path from a position of informed freedom, not from a stigmatized environment enforced by culture conditioning rooted in shame and condemnation.

Wherever you are at on the journey, I respect you. Regardless of what you think about my path, choices, and beliefs … anyone who is struggling to live an honest life regarding their core relational sense of being… I have nothing but love and empathy for you as a person and friend.

You are worthy of being celebrated and loved. I hope you feel and experience that today.

This Has Got To Stop: Ending Conversion Therapy, Opposing Ex-Gay Ministry

My friend Daniel Karslake posted the below on Facebook  this past Tuesday; will share some more thoughts after the embed:


There is a LOT of ground covered in the interview with Daniel that I hope will make it into the film.  It is my consistent prayer that Daniel’s documentary (For They Know Not What They Will Do) will stop the damage, heal the unnecessary hurt and literally save lives.

When I talk about “this has GOT to stop” it is in response to ex-gay ministry/conversion therapy. To be clear, I don’t see a real difference between ex-gay ministry and conversion therapy anymore. They may have different environments, different lingo, but the same underlying beliefs are imposed as a cure or “healing” for something that should be recognized as a gift, not a wound. Ex-gay ministry and conversion therapy both provide false hope, unnecessary hurt on top of already existing pain, and possibly personal/relational destruction on every level.

It has to stop.

Specifically, conversion therapy for minors needs to be against the law, across the board. For adults in conversion therapy or ex-gay ministries, we all have freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religious conscience. However, we can have all those freedoms while also:

  • Placing stricter guidelines/policies for state-issued professional licensing programs for counselors.
  • Hold churches that promote and financially support ex-gay ministries accountable through public scrutiny of their support.
  • We don’t have to provide the financial incentive for conversion therapy/ex-gay ministry via the state through the granting of non-profit status. Let the current ex-gay 501(c)3 model go “for profit” instead and see how that works out.
  • If ex-gay ministries/conversion therapists are allowed to go for a non-profit status, don’t let their by-laws get away with being a general “Christian discipleship” ministry either. Their goals of “overcoming” homosexuality should be overt and clear in their legal documents. Their specific ministry approach to accomplishing these goals should be crystal clear in their legal documents as well.
  • In our own spheres of influence, we can expose the legalistic/religious fear exploiting real issues that then funnels hurting and vulnerable people into conversion therapy and ex-gay ministries. For many in the church, they are taught and told that they are broken and these destructive paths are their only option. NOT true. We need to invest in positive, affirming, and life-giving resources (faith-based and secular); resources that provide help, healthy community, and opportunities for personal growth.

Ex-gay ministries and conversion therapy aren’t necessary. While there are real issues every human deals with, conversion therapy and ex-gay ministries confound and sometimes exacerbate existing pain, contextualizes who we are and our relational sense of being through stigma infused teachings, and then creates false expectations and goals with highly pressurized consequences.

This has got to stop and it will. It will the day when we realize that the only difference between us, in Christ and not, is… nothing. We all need love, help, support, and hope. We all struggle with our core relational sense of being, identity, hopes, joys, and fears. We all need each other and safe places of support and community.

While we press onward to live, grow, and love in our non-perfect lives, this unnecessary destruction stops when we embrace that we are not broken, we are beautiful. 

Home

I am sitting in the upstairs living room area of a huge house I just moved into. It is a gorgeous house where I am renting two of the four bedrooms. Renting isn’t my favorite, but it is the best option for now.

And it is a beautiful option. Love this place; incredibly grateful.

The upstairs alone is literally twice the square footage as The Little Cottage House On The Edge Of The Boonies. We (TSG Roomie and I) moved in last week after I had been living in a temporary situation in a lovely apartment for a month. So, two major moves within 32 days of each other from cottage house to a larger apartment, to a Super House.

After having moved many times over the years, these two moves seemed especially difficult. Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s that I haven’t had a roommate in around 10 years, perhaps it’s the “new”ness of trying to rebuild life from an honest foundation and finding my place in a community with brand new surroundings. I am sure it is all the above and more. It’s been a very stressful month.

Plus, just last summer, I wasn’t dating. I was comfortable in the cottage house on my own. I was literally alone a good 90% of the time and always alone at home. Now, since moving in with TSG Roomie and dating Dan, I am rarely alone. It has been a challenge and a difficult adjustment in some personal ways.

Here lately, I am reminded of when I first moved to Florida in 2002. The culture shock, entirely new environment, change of pace had a similar effect. I used to say at work or when I was speaking:

“I call Tennessee the Motherland; Texas the Fatherland and Florida… You’re On Your Own land! But I always know that wherever God’s people are, and God’s presence abides, I am “H”ome.”

Well, God’s people (myself included) can be difficult to live with :). It’s the whole human thing. However, now settling into the new place, I find life-giving soul-care knowing that He, Our Creator, is my only Home. Yes, I am a Christ follower, and I abide in Him. But I have come to learn that all people, of every faith and “kind,” are God’s people. He is Life and all things good. He is everywhere and can be found in everyone…everything.

Now matter the physical environment, my shelter is always sure when living in authentic peace and love. That sounds so Sunday School Answerish :), but it is true. When feeling untethered that meditation has always brought me back to center. It is my hope that you find your home in love and peace, too.