Yesterday Bethel Church in Redding rolled out a shiny, newly-revamped campaign featuring beautiful pictures, glowing testimonials, happy people and even a hashtag, #OnceGay. While I appreciate their sincere desire to honor God and to help people walk in freedom, I just have to point out that this is nothing but the same old "ex-gay" nonsense. A cursory look at the stories and the resource section reveals the same archaic, pseudo-scientific teachings and practices that have been debunked time and again by all credible medical and psychological experts, as well as - increasingly, thank God - Christian and other religious leaders.
As I wrote about "ex-lesbian" Jackie Hill Perry back in November, people can choose to disassociate themselves from LGBTQ+ -affirming communities. People can certainly choose not to engage in romantic or sexual relationships with people of the same sex. People can choose not to "label" themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. I know, because I - and thousands of other victims of this toxic theology - did all those things.
I avoided gay publications and spaces and arts. I denied myself any significant relationships with other gay men. I called myself a "child of God who struggles with same sex attraction." But friends, can we just be honest? No matter what I did, no matter what I said about myself, I was always, always gay.
It's amazing how we can use language to deceive ourselves and other people. Jesus calls us into abundant life, and that abundance begins with authenticity. How can I love God or others if I don't love myself? How can I accept the extravagant love of God or share it with others if I can't even tell the truth about myself?
These ministries thrive on half-truths. Their stories often talk about their miserable, drug-addicted, promiscuous, hopeless, abusive lives. And the thing is, I'm not denying their stories. I know these things happened and still happen in LGBTQ+ communities and relationships. Just like they do in straight communities and relationships. What do they have to say about people like me and millions of others whose "gay agenda" is simply to live our lives? To be healthy and whole? My "gay lifestyle" doesn't look anything like the horror stories they tell.
I hate to be a pessimist, but I've seen all this before. My heart breaks for these #OnceGay people. For the vast majority of them, it’s only a matter of time before they realize #OnceGayAlwaysGay. I pray that they won't do too much damage to themselves or others in the meantime.
Two final thoughts:
First of all, as a gay man, I can sometimes be guilty of bi erasure... I want to acknowledge that some of these "ex-gay" people may very well be bi- or pansexual and just choosing to live in traditional, heterosexual relationships. I acknowledge that these people may very well be happy and healthy in those relationships.
Finally, I'm so grateful to be surrounded by progressive, inclusive Christian community. I can be honest about my gay identity and live authentically - and still be passionately pursuing my relationship with God through Jesus. I'm excited about my spiritual community at The Questand at the Journey Center. And I continue to be so excited about the new community forming around Innovative Love Coalition. Progressive, queer, Jesus-loving creatives making beautiful worship music together for the good of the church and the world. Stay tuned for so much more.