when change never comes: reflections on reorientation therapy

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.”

…what?

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.

Peace,

Jordan

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23 thoughts on “when change never comes: reflections on reorientation therapy

  1. You guys are awesome. So seriously. Thank you so much for giving us a window into your world.

    I believe what you’re describing is actually the case with other issues Christians struggle with as well. For example, I recently went through a 2+ year experience where I was powerfully attracted to and in a really messed up on and off again relationship with a non-Christian man. I had Christians telling me that if I surrendered it to God, he would take away my desire for him. Not so. It’s over now, and I still struggle with desire for him. I think Christians can sometimes fall prey to simplistic, magical thinking where if you have enough faith God will “whisk” away your uncomfortable and ungodly desires. I think God usually is more interested in shaping our character, making us more like Jesus, causing us to desire what he desires, and learning to crucify our flesh and live in obedience to him WHILE we have those temptations. Good stuff, and as always, thank you.

    • Thanks Susanna! Your encouragement means a lot. Unwanted desires are super un-fun, yea? I think your reflections are right on, I love ’em. I’m sorry for your suffering. I hope you find joy and solace in the way God has powerfully shaped you through it. I’m sure he’ll place you in situations where the pain and confusion of that relationship will be an immense source of support and help for someone who desperately needs it. Keep looking! Blessings.

      -Jordan

  2. thank you for your openness and your humility. thank you for being willing to share your journey with us – it is an encouragement and I so appreciate the focus you have on Christ and nothing besides HIm.

  3. Thanks for your thoughts! Praise God He makes us more like Him and for His very great grace.

    Hm. Yes, God wants to make us HOLY, “in according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood”
    (1 Peter 1:2) and he wants us to, “flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart…” And we know what these fruits are: love, joy, peace, patience, etc.

    Three points:
    1) Your role in the church is not all-inclusive right now.
    I agree with the gist of your post but also acknowledge that a believer’s “orientation” may limit them from roles in the church. For example, you should never be an elder because, “an elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.” (Titus 1:6). In that same token neither can a divorced man or a man with wild children. Just as I, as a female am not to “teach or have authority over a man” with your “orientation,” your role may be limited according to the Holy Spirit inspired into Paul to write about the church.

    2) What about lust?
    You BOLDLY stated that your attraction to men is not a barrier to holiness. And I agree that being TEMPTED to sin is not sinning. Yet, taken in the wrong light you would be denial of Jesus’ strong admonition about lust, Matthew 5:28, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already…” and this is why THE REST of the new testament gives us so many admonitions to just GET OUT of the way of sin. I don’t know much about “reorientation therapy” but I would hope that other sexual sins would be addressed with similar therapy. For example, a porn addict, after being called, needs to be “reoriented” to true love and sexuality. A liar and deceiver needs to be “reoriented” to speaking the truth. In the garden God made man for woman and woman for man just like he made us unable to sin. We will never attain garden status because we are of Adam, but THE LAW OF THE LORD IS PERFECT. And His divine and natural law created us this way. As a single, unmarried Christian, I have to be reoriented to believe sex inside of covenental marriage is the true way and when I cave to even small temptations to indulge is even emotional/mental fantasies about men, I am sinning (because I’m not fleeing).

    3) Agreed. Therapy is NOT the answer. The Word of God is. And so you address one of the most tragic downfalls of 20-21st century Christianity: secular, psychological tactics for spiritual struggles. WE DON’T NEED MORE THERAPY, we need the Holy Spirit, speaking through His book, the Bible. The greatest therapy we can give ourselves is to just lock ourselves up with the Psalms for a couple months, memorize them, and realize WHO GOD IS. Then we can get who we are and these “light and momentary troubles” become eclipsed by the weight of glory.

    God is clear, but boy does He love His Son Jesus who He sees instead of us:

    “Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed,you were sanctified,you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

    Keep MAKING WAR against the flesh & persevere!

    • In regard to number 2, I absolutely agree, lust is to be fought with every ounce of strength. It is a pernicious evil that seeks to objectify and then consume someone – the opposite of love.

      But lust isn’t equatable with same-sex attraction just as it is not the same thing as heterosexual attraction. It is a bit more complicated for gay Christians, but ultimately I think the distinction still holds pretty well.

      I went to a counselor for a year at Wheaton, and he wisely focused me not on combating my homosexuality, per se, but on fighting lies I had believed about God and myself that led to sexual sins like lust etc. My fears about the future, my inability to trust God, led to me feverishly clinging to lustful thoughts because I felt like, if I let them go, I’d never know intimacy (as perverse and false a form of intimacy as lust is). Exposing those lies helped me immensely, praise God.

      Hope that is helpful in some way. Blessings!

      -Jordan

  4. “My desire to be straight had become an idol that turned my gaze away from God.” — this sentence of yours was super insightful to me; thank you. I had never before considered the desire for healing to be (potentially) idolatrous. Idolatry is often the over-consumption of a good gift–like sex, food, possessions, etc. And so it can be with healing, for although God will bring all healing in His time, impatience for it can quickly lead to idolatry: the turning one’s gaze away from Him to a lesser gift.

    • I completely agree with Adryan. This was super important to mention because there are important parallels for those who are straight. The “self-improvement projects” or behavior goals we set for ourselves can often turn into (or even begin as) idols. Then our desires to be sexually pure (for both gay and straight) become an arena for us to master a skill or conquer a problem so we can build ourselves up rather than waiting on the Lord for our strength. Of course, the Christian life is one of discipline, but not to prove to ourselves how strong we are!

      I know you guys know how important what you’re doing is. But I wanted to thank you again and continue encouraging you to keep it up.

      • Thanks so much Eric! You’re totally right, the danger of a “holy idolatry” is present for every believer. When God says his power is made perfect in weakness, I think we somehow read that as saying, “If you are weak, I’ll give you strength to solve your weakness.” At least I do. Somehow the strength becomes *ours*, and God becomes a self-help tool. It can seem so alluring and righteous, can’t it? It’s tricky. Peace!

        Jordan

  5. I am very thankful that my daughter gave me your blog. It is very intellectually and reflectively written about a subject we (parents and older adults) often misinterpret or judge with little depth of thinking and responding to the needs of our brothers and sisters. There are many battles we have to combat against this sinful, fallen world, our own desires and then how the evil one tells lies of criticism and condemnation (at least that is what we hear). I appreciate your caring about the uneducated and insensitive in love by writing this blog. Remember regardless of where we are at in His sanctification process of making us holy, we chose to cooperate with the Holy Spirit or not, no matter the battle. He has won the victory and God sees us in Christ’s righteousness.
    All glory to our Lord and Savior.

  6. Jordan,
    As I read this post, I can’t help but reflect on the ways your journey resonates with my own. While my “chronic struggle” (if you will) is not against homoerotic urges, I know (all too well) the difficulty of living with a different manifestation of broken sexuality; I know the pain of begging God to take away the deep-seated fears I have had ever since I was diagnosed with an eating and exercise disorder years ago…and they don’t go away (not entirely). I know the pain of begging God to heal my physical body and the barrenness that remains on account of what I did to it years ago…and the healing doesn’t come.

    I know the pain of having people tell me, “If you pray, if you are striving for holiness, if you ask God the healer to take away your fears and heal your body, He will.” Well, healing has been happening, but not as I expected (or hoped) it would.

    When you say, “I firmly believe that my attraction to men is no barrier to holiness,” I am filled with hope. I am filled with hope that I can say, “I firmly believe that my fears about my body and my (continued) struggle with balancing food and exercise are no barriers to holiness.” It fills me with hope that every person who knows the pain of a chronic “sin struggle” or temptation is not barred from living a holy and blameless life before God–a life that is righteous and pleasing in his sight.

    I am reminded of something that a counselor told me recently: “Feelings just are. There is no such thing as a ‘good’ feeling or a ‘bad’ feeling. There are just feelings, and to feel is what makes you human. What matters is not whether you are feeling an ‘appropriate’ emotion (as if there is such a thing); what matters is how you respond to it.” This has been greatly encouraging to me as I have continued to feel old fears at unexpected times because it reminds me that God is not disappointed in me because I feel these feelings; rather, he is delighted in me as I choose to yield control and reorient myself to him. And I believe that he is delighted in you too as you choose to yield control of your feelings and reorient yourself to him.

    Jordan, I am inspired by your courage in seeking God above all things– even above the longing you have for sexual intimacy with men or that that longing be directed toward women. I am inspired by the honesty and humility with which you are sharing a part of your story; it makes me ache to seek God above all things, too (even above my longing for deliverance from my broken body and my fears). At the end of your post, you wrote:

    “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.”

    I am encouraged. Deeply encouraged. And I hope that every person who reads this will be encouraged to reorient themselves (and the unique ways in which they experience broken sexuality) to God as well.

    Thank you for sharing, my brother.

    • You’re fantastically wise, Kari, I have so much to learn from you and your story. Thanks for your encouraging words and unrelenting kindness. You’re wonderful.

      We’ll talk more :).

      Peace.

      Jordan

  7. “build up the church in a unique and necessary way” – ExACTly. Exactly, exactly. Gay Christians are among the most important witnesses and evangelical tools that we have in these days, where sex (and its hopeful precursor, romantic love) is so idolized and mistaken as THE WAY to find communion and happiness, instead of merely a partial expression of our full communion with each other and with God. It’s easy to dismiss the “marrying Christians” as dumb or mislead romantics, and to dismiss the voluntarily celibate (including Catholic priests, nuns, etc) as libidoless or weird, but a gay Christian with a self-evidently fully functioning libido, who is celibate by conviction alone, is truly a “stumbling block to the Judeans and a foolishness to the Gentiles.” It’s a testament that this is not a “better for *me* because of *my* personality and drives,” but that this is…just…*better*.

    • Thanks so much for the encouraging words! Hopefully those of us with these experiences can be some kind of resource for churches trying to move forward in grace and truth.

      And I’ll forgive you for calling me a “tool.” 🙂

      Peace!

      Jordan

  8. One of the things that really got me angry about being gay, was that I have a heart for children, and desperately wanted to be a father. I was really upset that God gave me this passion, but (seemingly) no way to exercise it.

    In September this year, I will have been a volunteer in the Scouts for 13 years. I also spent around 8 years in youth and children’s ministry. And, I deal with 130+ children daily as a teacher. Its only been in the last 2-3 years that I’ve truly come to realise that this is where my passion for children is finding its expression. I am able to have a positive influence in the lives of so many children.

    And so, I’ve moved from being angry about never being able to have kids of my own, to being humbled by just how God has been able to use me in a small way in the lives of so many children! What an awesome God we serve!!

    Thank you for this space guys, you are inspiring me daily! And part of that inspiration is a growing desire to write about my own experiences. (But I’ll need some convincing of that 🙂 )

  9. This has been a most interesting exchange. It reminds me of a friend I know of who wrote in Romans 7: “15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”
    Find me a person (Christian or other) (Gay or straight)(old or young) who claims to not be able to relate to this passage is either a liar, just doesn’t get it or is a person we need to pray for BIG TIME (OK that gives you the clue that I’m old…..

  10. I wish I would have started following this blog back in early June when I found out about it. Several of the last generation of Christian and homosexuality bloggers (like “Disputed Mutability” and “College Jay” – or should I say, “Carolina Caffeine”) have suggested I start a blog, but you guys have pretty eloquently expressed most of what I would want to say. So anyway, apologies for replying like two months late. 🙂

    My experience was like yours in a lot of ways, except that I’m bisexual instead of gay. I also went to Taylor instead of Wheaton. (Yes, we know each other’s real names from somewhere else. I’m that guy.) In some ways, being bi made things a whole lot easier. Chastity has never necessarily meant lifelong singleness, although I’ve been single for the entire 25 years of my life. From puberty until sometime in college or so, I was still pretty ashamed of being attracted to guys and wanted to do whatever possible for change. I did some counseling at Taylor, and I really did see a lot of improvements in my life in terms of the shame, depth of relationships with other believers, etc. I just didn’t experience much change in the way of sexual feelings, which I later came to accept.

    I do think that becoming straight did become somewhat of an idol for me, despite the fact that I already had heterosexual feelings! I totally agree with everything you’ve said here.

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