On my knees on the grey carpet of the living room, I felt dizzy as I read of the closure of Exodus, the peak ex-gay body in the world, with the chairman saying that 99.99% of people had not been helped. At that point I made up my mind to find out for myself, in detail, what the story was with us LGBT people – how was it that literally almost nobody had been helped by Exodus over so very many years? At that point, I just wanted the truth, either way, desperately – I’d had enough excuses and seen so much that wasn’t working.
As I knelt, I realized that for a long time, I’d utterly avoided reading the “affirming*” side, perhaps because I’d associated it with a weakening of faith. Up to that point, I’d assumed that all attempts to be affirming meant ignoring Scripture, or ignoring certain passages. As a staunch believer that God had written the Bible, and that it was thus “inerrant” (without error) I could not stomach diluting my faith to suit myself, in something that would have taken a weird twisting of personal integrity and a cost to authenticity that I just felt I couldn’t live with. I wanted a faith that was real and made a powerful difference, and diluting it seemed like the exact opposite of that!
Surprisingly, I’d never read anything affirming. I’d also gone through entire Exodus programmes without any reference to what Scripture actually said; at the least, I can’t remember any discussion and certainly not any detailed “exegesis” (ie: detailed analysis) of what the passages actually said and meant in Greek.
I was utterly dismayed – in fact, shocked – when I started reading, sitting there under conviction that I needed to pick up and read something there and then. What I started reading made immediate and deeper sense than the non-affirming side! Problems with knowing for certain the meaning of the words being translated, irreconcilable cultural differences, and clashes with the theme of loving relationship running throughout the Bible were amongst the thoughts that I encountered, running in direct confirmation of what I’d seen with my own eyes in Exodus – people falling apart and not being helped by any Exodus ministry, and people who were supposedly “healed” who still “struggled” with same sex desires, even after marrying a woman and supposedly thus having been “healed”!
I spent thousands of hours and dollars over the next 5 years studying and hanging out with some of the best theological minds I could find, picking their brains and soaking up their knowledge, testing it against both what I understood Biblically from years of study, as well as the experience of what I’d seen around me.
I was somewhat annoyed and chagrined to discover some people were only too willing to safely pigeonhole my years of study and searching as just being “what I wanted to hear” – also called “revisionism”. That is, rather than taking me seriously, it was assumed that (a) I had no integrity, and, (b) I had just read into the Bible what I wanted to hear. One would think that the Church had never changed its mind on anything – flat earth, slavery, role of women, divorce, usury all being examples where the teaching of the church has changed partially, wholly, or been sidelined, mostly in the last hundred years. Paradoxically, at the start of my journey, I’d been utterly willing to just find out what the truth was, either way! And it was only as I read more that I became convinced that traditional theology (anti) on LGBT had taken too many unjustifiable shortcuts, skipping serious textual and cultural issues. In fact even to this point I would be willing to change my mind if the preponderance of evidence shifted. Truth is important to me, and it overrides anything I might “want” to believe – and I also understand that living God’s way always bears the best fruit in every way.
It might be worth noting that, in order to tell a story that is easy to understand, I’ve made it appear very serial, that is, like things started at a defined point. In real life, it was more complex – God guided me to point after point, I met people, I had realizations – and some of these occurred before Exodus closed down. I remember one point where I very clearly felt like I’d been violated or raped spiritually by the Church. I literally had no idea why at the time, but it proved a starting point as I chose to be willing to listen and walk through the process with a God who I knew loved me, even though I felt far from his love at that moment.
One of the key things that made me aware that something was wrong was the lack of fruit. Let me explain: Bad fruit (in people’s lives) shows bad theology, that is, if the teaching is good it will have visible and demonstrated good results in people’s lives – and many of those people, in many places. Formerly LGBT people would be happy, fulfilled, excited to talk about it, and it would stay that way over the long term.
In fact the opposite was true with the church’s LGBT teaching – the results were so appallingly bad, everywhere – breakdowns, suicide, depression, people walking away from the church and their faith, counselors regularly seducing clients, and just people being deeply and obviously unhappy. Even as soon as 3-5 years after their marriages, supposedly healed people were divorcing wives and husbands – though some stayed together for 20-30 years, often leaving even greater brokenness and alienated and hurting families behind them. This wasn’t the fruit I’d expect from good, wholesome, true teaching that made a difference in people’s lives – I’d have expected to see thousands and thousands of people talking about how much it had helped and in fact what I saw was the exact opposite – demonstrated and universal harm both to the gospel and to individuals, backed up by growing amounts of secular research. And yet – we know that in any area, truth brings life (John 14:6 – note the implied connection between truth and life; John 10:10).
The fruit in my own life was a return to an active and joyful faith, as my theology shifted. As I realized that God hadn’t cursed me with an incurable sexual disease, and that he actually adored me, my first love for him returned. It was just the deepening realization that did this – I’m still waiting, patiently, to meet a life partner and in the meantime I have some amazing friends, am learning about what community means, and am actively working to build safe and inspiring places for LGBT Christians. It was just the realization that something wasn’t wrong with me that brought life-giving peace.
I met with a friend George** the other day and shared some of this rather poorly. His response was that it was in the “Septuagint” (which he couldn’t pronounce), so it must be true, and that it was all just an attempt by me to explain away the Bible! Don’t be like George! I understand that it’s hard, confusing and even frightening to look at these questions; yet the failure to be willing to search for answers that work (like the Bereans) causes our faith to remain weak and limits our effectiveness.
I invite you to be willing to look further with me in coming articles at the reasons why my beliefs changed, and my faith deepened. If you’re an LGBT person, there is hope – God still loves you, faith is real, and there is hope, family and love for you. If you’re a Christian questioning your faith based on how cruelly the Church treats LGBT people, hang around a little longer – there’s another story you need to hear.
- “affirming” – meaning the belief that the Bible supports people being gay, and within the bounds of a covenant relationship, expressing their sexuality physically. Not the same as supporting sleeping around, or drugs, or any of the other evils commonly associated with LGBT people.
** George isn’t his real name, and despite the willful ignorance, he’s a great guy.