Ex-gays will repeat stigma and religious bigotry to fit into the conservative church, but they are not ever going to win over fellow church-goer because their “brokenness” is seen as so completely “other” than what the average church-goer goes through. There will be plenty of platitudes about “all sin is equal at the foot of the cross” and “no sin is stronger than the blood of Christ.” But in the practical day to day, the conservative church is very quick to say, “I have NO idea what it is like to go through what you go through with… you know… THAT struggle.”
Like the “scapegoats” in the Old Testament that had the sins of Israel placed on them and turned out into the desert to take away those sins, ex-gay/conversion ministries are handed the “sexual brokenness sin” issues so the church doesn’t have to look at, accept, or deal with the gift of God’s LGBT+ Children in their midst.
Ex-gay/Conversion ministries don’t mind this at all. They benefit from this arrangement. It carves them out a niche “ministry” without much competition for attention or donation dollars. With an ex-gay ministry at the bottom of a church’s local resources directory the church can say, “Yes! We love the same-sex attracted enough to help them not be that anymore with our special ministry on Thursdays at 7pm in the back room of the education building.” And as long as The LGBT+’s don’t make a show of it on Sundays and nobody gets caught in a gay bar on Saturday, the church (in practice) has absolutely nothing to do with “that very difficult and challenging sin.” They are in affect saying, “We love you but just don’t be you anymore. And if you need to ‘deal with’ your … stuff… do it over there and don’t distract from everything else we are doing.”
The “scapegoats” are burdned and sent away to their “groups.”
When Alan, the staff and myself started developing a church network within Exodus, some of the old-guard member ministries (now a part of Restored Hope Network) had absolute meltdowns about how “the church” doesn’t get it. I remember clearly one very agitated leader saying, “They can’t possibly do what we do because they can’t and won’t relate. People won’t feel safe there!”
But in front of church leaders, their song was sung to a very different tune. They (we) would say the church is a great place! Especially if they support The Gospel According to Conversion Therapy. The Church is a loving “home” if they let ex-gay ministries have access to that churches sphere of influence, receive affirmation from its leadership, receive validation as a unique and powerful work, and of course financially.
Early on, the church was more than happy to hand off “that issue” but in some cases toward the latter 90’s and ’00’s, churches would try to do their own thing only to have an Exodus referral leader tell them they couldn’t because of the alleged nuanced needs of “the sexually broken.” One leader in Texas was called by a good number of churches to help them start groups but he told them they couldn’t unless they hired him (at a very high “honorarium”) to come speak to and train the staff. None of them did start their own groups, but all of them did start referring to him.
See how that works? Either way benefitted that leader.
When I was a part of that world, many of us thought we were fulfilling our “calling.” We were true believers and those of us who did eventually make what might be considered a good salary was very rare. However, in a stigmatized and legalistic environment, as long as we said the right things, behaved the right way and didn’t challenge religious stigma against LGBT+ people, we had what we thought was an honored place in the Body of Christ.
Only, eventually after all the pomp/circumstance/ritual, we found ourselves all alone in the desert carrying hurt and burdens we were never meant to carry. We realized we are still LGBT+ and still Christian. That all of this religious stigma/abuse was perpetuated through closed meetings in a room at the back of the church and fueled by inauthentic affirmation and funds. We realize that we shouldn’t be treated as a scapegoat turned away from full acceptance and affirmation in the Church. We are as much daughters and sons of Christ as anyone else. We left the desert and refuse to be locked in the stained glass closet of shame and condemnation. We give our hurts to Christ, extend forgiveness when able, and take our place abiding as full members of the Body of Christ.
Life is so much better not being someone else’s goat wandering around the desert of rejection carrying systemic bigotry on our shoulders.
Being free is good,