Ex-gay/Conversion Ministry Leader Linda Seiler wrote what I would consider a condescending note on Facebook titled, “Why Ex-gay Leaders Go Back.”
When I wrote a similar article to hers back in the day, I feared that the leaders who left our ranks were leading people astray with substantial consequences. Unfortunately, from what Linda wrote, it is evident that the old Exodus fear-based groupthink, which is empowered by the same toxic ideology that underlies “conversion therapy,” is still as strong as ever.
The truth is we haven’t “gone back.” Instead, we matured in the Lord and moved forward. We became and are becoming happy, healthy, and whole LGBTQ+ people of faith (or not).
But that happy, healthy, and whole seeking to continue our spiritual walk LGBTQ+ person doesn’t fit in the ex-gay/conversion therapy narrative… at all. Linda is just the latest of many ex-gay leaders in every iteration and cycle of that world to write the same arguments to dismiss our reality. In their world, we must be reinterpreted, simplified, and reduced to a stereotype. When they do that, they don’t realize they undermine their efforts because it is so easily disproven.
The following are some points that stood out in her article and my response.
Claiming Spiritual Authority
“The Lord Spoke to me…” is what Linda writes right off the bat. She is claiming that the Lord is revealing to her all the assertions she makes in her post. I have no idea what motivates Linda or in any place to judge her heart. I know she believes she is sharing loving wisdom and doesn’t purposefully try to come off as condescending and stigmatizing. I have no doubt she prayed and that scripture, one of my favorites, came to mind. However, she then uses her entire article to try to force this scripture into her false beliefs about former ex-gay leaders like myself. It doesn’t occur to her that maybe, just maybe, that scripture came to mind for a different reason.
Romans 5:3-5 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Linda might be surprised by this, but I have heard from the Lord as well. That scripture still applies to my life as a gay man on a myriad of levels. It cannot be assumed that particular scripture justifies the stigma infused throughout the rest of her article. However, the truths in that scripture bring even more life, light, and hope, into my journey today than ever before.
In this context, my journey to spiritual enlightenment, I persevered to find life-giving truth after 23 years of living and promoting the ex-gay/conversion ministry lie. Of course, I have no pride in that, and it hurt myself and so many others. But, as a result of 23 years of perseverance, that journey developed my character as a survivor, truth-seeker, and leader, which gave me the terrifying (at the time) hope that maybe I could be a mature and healthy gay man of faith.
That is fundamental transformation, leaving behind old religious stigma to emerge from the stained glass closet as the miracle I genuinely am, that we all are. I still persevere to know and live in truth, to watch the man I am, emerge. Finally, my hope is not bound by fear, pain, spiritual wounds, and self-hatred. Instead, I am empowered by love and grace.
The “You Simply Aren’t ‘Spiritual Mature’ or ‘The Mark Of a True Disciple'” Argument
If you are a true disciple… (it) seems our needs aren’t being met by the world or the Lord. … If we persevere, a seed of faith begins to grow… He is for us not against us … Put off the old self with deceitful desires … (for) true righteousness and holiness.
… (the ex-gay path) is not easy, hurts to say no, you must hate your life in this world to have eternal life … We learn how to subject the desires of the flesh to His will and how to discern what is of the flesh, what is of the world, and what is of the devil–and what is of the Spirit.
As the former EVP of Exodus and in that movement for 23 years, we never believed we were hateful toward the gay community … even though we taught that “we” should hate the LGBTQ+ part of ourselves to have eternal life and not be driven by sin and Satan in the present.
You know, the whole burning in hell for being who we are thing IS hateful. Not only that, but to be driven by the flesh and Satan to live a miserable life in the present IS also, you know, a hateful thing to say. Condemning both the present and eternity is a cruel, literally, way to base how you view our experience as LGBTQ+ persons. But, again, the scripture she quotes has nothing to do with being an LGBTQ+ person in a negative sense unless you force-fit the culturally derived stigma to be read between the lines.
Put off the old self? How about a proper understanding of reality and the authentic self. What we put off is the old stigmas and bigotry that seek to hide the true self. Deceitful desires? How about the body God gave is leading us in the way that he designed us to be in a relationship? It’s our Creator’s way of allowing us to know and be known, to love and be loved in another way. He placed these blessed desires and gifts within us to bring His beauty, via our journey, into the world.
Bigotry In A Nutshell
The way of transformation is the way of the cross. And the way of the cross is the way of suffering. If we want to find our life, we must surrender what we think is life so that God can show us what His life really is. To the degree that we have hidden sin and areas that we refuse to surrender to the Lordship of Christ, to that degree we will not be conformed to the image of Christ, nor will we find our deepest longings met in him.
I used to believe the same way. But the truth is, calling pain and suffering “good” doesn’t change your sexuality. The behavioral modification doesn’t change your sexuality. Imposing legalistic toxic theology will not change your sexuality. Your sexuality and identity won’t change because they aren’t supposed to. You are who you are, a treasure to be embraced and celebrated, not a problem needing fixing.
We are only our worst enemies when we allow other’s bigoted views to form, shape, and enforce their will, not God’s, on our lives. So do not let ex-gay/conversion ministers of fear and accusation prevent you from finding your path out of that world.
I tell people that my unofficial title at Exodus was “Chief Fire Putter-Outer.” Unlike the myriads of leaders, I had to confront or remove from the Exodus list people who were living double lives or having “hidden” sins manifest in some pretty divisive and harmful ways. I was a true believer. I never lived a double life and never kept any “sin” hidden from the people in place to keep me accountable. Many leaders are still out there, some a part of RHN who have sinned in great big I-really-wish-I-had-recorded-those-conversations kind of ways. I know because they told me, yet, I don’t see them being transparent about their struggles, making amends for the hurts they have caused. They would rather condemn me for having nothing to hide instead of owning their own truly “hidden” activities that prove “change” is not possible.
It wasn’t “sin” leading me back to being gay, and it was authentic spiritual maturity that led me forward to embrace the man, the gay man God created me to be. You can try to explain away my experience all you want, but I know me, my heart, and how the Lord accepts me much better than you do.
“Coming Out” doesn’t remove suffering or “dying” to the false self. It doesn’t erase peripheral issues that might be unhealthy (codependency, substance abuse, etc.). It’s not easy being human, and about being gay, the consequences of bigotry that stole so much from us can be and are huge. To believe that we think that coming out is some free pass to be a hedonistic narcissist is stupefyingly and purposefully ignorant of our reality.
Folks can believe whatever they want about those of us exposing the truth that you can be a healthy, whole, LGBTQ+ person of faith. But they go too far when trying to minimize and redefine our journey into some sort of stigmatized caricature to be pitied instead of listening to our voices of hard-earned wisdom and experience.
For those who might be interested, life beyond stigma and fear is possible. There is a gigantic world of love, acceptance, support, and resources just waiting for you.