I’m critical of the leaders of ex-gay ministries, but not so much of the regular folks who seek them out for help. Let me explain why. There are a lot of gay and lesbian Christians out there who cannot accept their own homosexuality as “okay” in God’s sight. For these people this is a very personal decision. It is born out of a faith that informs their conscience. They cannot act upon their sexual orientation without feeling like they have committed a sin, thus causing serious injury to themselves. If you are not a religious person this may be a hard thing to understand, but I understand it very well. I imagine that I would probably feel the exact same way if I were gay.
The problem is where do these people go? As far as the visible gay and lesbian Christian community goes, they appear to be in the minority. Churches that are gay-friendly would tell them that they are self-haters and condescendingly try to encourage them to just get over it. Regular conservative churches would agree with them about the sinfulness of acting upon their homosexuality, yet they would also run them out of town. The logical place to turn to is an ex-gay ministry. It is the one place where gay people who hold to conservative Christian beliefs about their homosexuality can get together without fearing persecution from either straight conservative fundamentalists or gay liberal fundamentalists. Gay conservative Christians need a safe haven too.
What disgusts me most about the public face of ex-gay ministries is how they allow themselves to be used by Family Research Counsel and other Christian organizations to promote false ideas about what homosexuality really is. But when you dig down to the actual individuals who join up with ex-gay ministries, I get the impression that it is quite a mixed bag. Some people buy into the idea of trying to change their orientation, but others are more realistic and just want support for living celibate. There is love and spiritual support to be found in such groups, and many of these people desperately need it. It is hard enough being gay. It is harder still being gay and Christian. But when you are gay, Christian and conservative I think you have it the toughest of all.
I’ve been watching grenades being lobbed between the camps of affirming gays and ex-gays for some time now. I agree with the criticism of affirming gays about ex-gay ministries. But I also have a suggestion to offer. In my opinion if affirming gay Christians were to be more respectful toward gay Christians who have more conservative leanings, and not try so hard to push them into accepting their gayness, they wouldn’t drive so many of them into the arms of groups like Exodus and NARTH. It is partly this hostility that ensures ex-gay ministries will always have people flocking to them. It is only the opinion of an outsider, but that is what I see from my vantage point. Of course the real problem is that the regular old conservative churches and institutions are the ones that should be supporting their own conservative gay and lesbian members instead of kicking them out in the cold. But don’t even get me started on that one.