I love weddings.
Except for the seemingly interminable delay between the end of the ceremony and my ability to eat food, everything about them fills me with joy.
I recently attended the wedding of some dear friends of mine. Everyone waited with bated breath for the stunning bride to enter through the doors and grace the chapel. This is my favorite part. Through a small window I caught a glimpse of her, bedecked in white, preparing to walk toward the altar. My world kind of stopped a little. I vividly felt the moment – her anticipation, fear, joy, bliss, and…the doors opened. She took a step. It was beautiful – the awed murmuring of the audience, the slight dilation of the groom’s eyes, the way her feet seemed to barely touch the ground, lifted by the swirling stream of piano chords and arpeggios – all of it arresting my usually distracted attention. They took each other’s hands and, before God, their friends, family, and a warm spring evening, became husband and wife.
And I thought to myself, “I still want this.”
This overly long post is about “reorientation.” It’s about therapy, the possibility of change, and what it truly means to embody a healed sexuality. This is an essential subtopic in the discussion about homosexuality and Christianity. It is a commonly expressed sentiment within the evangelical church that working toward a “conversion” to heterosexual attraction is desirable and morally obligatory for all gay Christians. If you pray, I often hear, if you ask God persistently, if you are striving for holiness, then God the healer will take away your same-sex attraction and you can get married.
Bluntly, I think this is wrong. It’s just not true, and it is deeply harmful theology for men and women living with same-sex attraction. My main contention is with the certainty of the belief. God will “heal” me from my gayness if I ask. Tony has touched on this in various posts and comments, but there are simply too many Christians who have prayed daily and sought therapy and tried everything possible to change their orientation and never experienced any heterosexual desire. Was God unfaithful? Were they just not holy enough to merit his favor? Are they doomed to a broken, unholy sexuality until Christ returns or they die? No, no, and no. Those are the wrong questions.
We need some clarity on the subject. Conservative (and highly controversial) psychologists Yarhouse and Jones published a longitudinal study of Religious Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation. At the end of the report, we find that only 15% of men and women who underwent therapy experienced “conversion,” which does not mean the complete cessation of homosexual desire, but rather the appearance of some form of heterosexual attraction. That is a wildly important nuance. Many of these people were still attracted to the same sex. 23% of the subjects only experienced a reduction in the potency of their same-sex desire, placing them in a category of “chastity possible” (which I don’t totally get… I mean, even if my desires were so strong I wanted to throw myself on top of every man I saw, chastity would still be possible and required).
This study (or any study, actually) cannot support the claim that God will make me straight if I ask him to. God can do that. Definitely. He’s, you know, God. But God can also rid someone of cancer. And yet Christians die of cancer all the time. I normally avoid making such a comparison between disease and same-sex attraction, but in this case I think they are remarkably similar.
God knows, even now, that I am open to the possibility of change. He was listening when I used to pray for it every single day, multiple times a day. I would sit in Wheaton’s prayer chapel, staring at the cross, and beg him in a million different tones of voice to please just let me be attracted to girls. Something so easy for him! Isn’t this what he wants for me? Why the heck can’t I be like everyone else?! Why won’t he heal me? HEAL ME!
Then, at some point, after I had shut up a bit and started listening, I realized what God had been trying to tell me the whole time (in a James Earl Jones/ Morgan freeman voice, of course), “I have been healing your sexuality, but you are looking for the wrong fruit.”
Friends, with great joy and excitement and wonder I can tell you that God has been healing me in miraculous ways. It just so happens none of those ways involve me all of a sudden not having to combat the daily desire of wanting to make out with a dude. But honestly, at this point in my life, the mind-blowing reality of what God has done in my life far outshines the continued presence of homoerotic longings. I used to think that if I had to live my whole life with these feelings I would probably explode in a mushroom cloud of lonely angst and self-pity. But isn’t this always the lie of Satan, that something will be too painful for us to endure, too miserable for us to possibly find joy, too compelling for us to bother resisting, or too overwhelming for us to see how God is transforming us into the likeness of the Son?
My desire to be straight had become an idol that turned my gaze away from God. Everybody, it seemed, told me that God would make me straight if I was a good Christian and asked him in faith. God’s faithfulness to me became dependent on him fulfilling this one request. I became God’s master, and he a tool in my own plans for social normality. This was my sin, my great folly.
Do not presume that it is God’s will to make all his gay children straight. Rather, it is God’s will to make all his gay children holy. I firmly believe my attraction to men is no barrier to holiness. I do not make that statement lightly, and I have certainly not always believed it. At some point I’ll write about how I came to this place of acceptance because I imagine I have a lot of explaining to do for some people. I just want to make perfectly clear that the primary reason I say all this is that God has been faithful to show me the ways he has used me specifically because of my experiences as a gay Christian to bless and heal others, grow in humility through otherwise impossible relationships, and build up the church in a unique and necessary way even as I remain firmly committed to a chaste singleness.
I am not in any way disregarding or impugning those who have decided to seek therapy. But I, and Tony, think that reorientation therapy should never be forced onto anyone, never prescribed as the path to Christian discipleship or human flourishing, and only entered into by men and women who feel called to it and are fully aware of the risks and challenges that face them. We both ask that in your dealings with gay friends and family that you not rush into suggesting such therapy as the key to freedom from their problems; anxiety surrounding one’s sexuality is often only a tiny part of other psychological or spiritual struggles that will not be healed by becoming straight. Do not make someone’s homosexuality the centerpiece of their existence before God.
There is so much more to talk about, but this is, I hope, sufficient for now. Please leave comments, we want to know what you all are thinking. We would also be unbelievably appreciative if you’d share this on Facebook or whatever. Don’t forget you can email us too! We’re so technologically available!
All this to say, I am trying in my own flawed way to be faithful to a faithful God who has been revealing to me in so many unexpected ways how he is working in my life for my own growth and healing as well as for the encouragement of others. Following Jesus has meant coming to terms with my attractions and finally releasing my white-knuckled grip on my sexuality and opening myself up to his creative and surprising invitations to sanctification and wholeness.