Thursday, June 28, 2007

Three former ex-gay leaders apologize

It's been quite a day for news. Three former leaders of ex-gay ministries, Darlene Bogle, Michael Bussee and Jeremy Marks, held a Los Angeles press conference yesterday. They "publicly apologized . . . for the harm they said their efforts had caused many gays and lesbians who believed the group's message that sexual orientation could be changed through prayer" according to today's L.A. Times. Their complete signed statement can be found here.

But more important are the personal statements made by each former leader explaining the reasons they have abandoned ex-gay ministries.

Excerpt from Darlene Bogle's statement:
Before I met Des, I considered myself “ex-gay” because I had ceased sexual activity, and I spent my time promoting “change” in others. When these changes did not occur, the people in my care frequently asked how long it would take for desires to change. I lied and encouraged them to keep praying and reading their Bible. When they asked how long it took for me, I avoided the question. My heart was in the right place, but my message was not. I apologize to those individuals and families who believed my message that change was necessary to be acceptable to God.

Excerpt from Michael Bussee's statement:
Instead many of our clients began to fall apart – sinking deeper into patterns of guilt, anxiety and self-loathing. Why weren’t they “changing”? The answers from church leaders made the pain even worse: “You might not be a real Christian.” “You don’t have enough faith.” “You aren’t praying and reading the Bible enough.” “Maybe you have a demon.” The message always seemed to be: “You’re not enough. You’re not trying hard enough. You don’t have enough faith.”

Some simply dropped out and were never heard from again. I think they were the lucky ones. Others became very self-destructive. One young man got drunk and deliberately drove his car into a tree. Another (a fellow leader of the ex-gay movement) told me that he had left EXODUS and was now going to straight bars – looking for someone to beat him up. He said the beatings made him feel less guilty – atoning for his sin. One of my most dedicated clients, Mark, took a razor blade to his genitals, slashed himself repeatedly, and then poured drain-cleaner on the wounds—because after months of celibacy he had a “fall.”

Excerpt from Jeremy Marks' statement:
We continued to run weekly support groups, but over the next few years, I became increasingly aware that none of the people who had been through our live-in program had experienced any change whatsoever to their sexuality; indeed the profound sense of having wasted years of their lives in working and praying for change resulted in the majority becoming deeply depressed, cynical and in some cases even suicidal —many losing their Christian faith altogether.

"Many losing their Christian faith altogether." The quest for "change" and acceptance into the evangelical church is costing many people their faith, not to mention their sanity and their lives. Is it worth it?

Shifting, shifting

You know the general public is wising up when even self-identifying Republicans start shifting toward greater openness to gay rights issues. I quote the following information from a Log Cabin Republican newsletter I received last night (yes, I am a member of Log Cabin):

77% of Republicans believe an employer should not have the right to fire an employee based solely on their sexual orientation.

49% of Republicans believe gays and lesbians should be able to serve openly in the U.S. military, while 42% are opposed.

43% of Republicans support either marriage equality or civil unions. 51% oppose all relationship recognition.

53% of respondents agree that “the Republican Party has spent too much time focusing on moral issues such as abortion and gay marriage and should instead be spending time focusing on economic issues such as taxes and government spending.”

When asked “What issue do you think best defines the Republican Party today?” only 5% said “traditional marriage/family values.” 85% selected other issues, including the war on terrorism, immigration, homeland security, national defense, taxes and the economy.

The survey of 2,000 self-identified Republican voters was conducted via telephone and online between May 28th and June 3rd 2007. It has a margin of error of +/-2.2%. The poll included Republicans from all parts of the country—with the largest percentage (38%) from the South. Leading GOP pollster and strategist Tony Fabrizio, from Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates, conducted the survey. He served as the pollster for Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign. Log Cabin joined three other mainstream Republican organizations to help underwrite a portion of this poll.

It certainly explains why Rudy Guiliani, with his more socially liberal views, currently enjoys more popularity among Republicans than Mitt Romney. According to the same poll, Guiliani draws 30 percent support, Romney just 9 percent.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The quack science of Paul Cameron

As a college student in 1989, I remember sitting in a pew one evening hanging onto every word Dr. John MacArthur delivered in a sermon on Romans 1 on the topic of homosexuality. Always impressive in setting up the introduction, Dr. MacArthur began by inundating his audience with a battery of statistics supporting the utter depravity of homosexuals and their lifestyle. I remember feeling shocked, horrified and nauseated as he laid out for us the sinful depths to which these people, who surely had less moral sense than animals, had sunk.

At the time it never occurred to me to question where Dr. MacArthur was getting his information. He was such a highly regarded preacher and Bible scholar, all of us who attended his church revered the ground he walked on. So I was left feeling deeply shaken by what I had learned. And the loathing it bred in me toward homosexuals over the next decade inevitably outweighed any sense of having a Christian duty to love them.

Even though I was beset with so much prejudice, which I thought had been justified by scientific fact, I'm thankful I have not only come to my senses about gay and lesbian people, but I have learned that many of those "statistics" that circulate in conservative Christian circles originate from one Dr. Paul Cameron. Cameron is responsible for many beliefs that float around in conservative Christian circles such as:

*Homosexuals are 8 to 12 times more likely to molest children than heterosexuals.

*Homosexuals are responsible for one-third to one-half of all child molestations.

*Forty-three percent of all sex murders are committed by homosexuals or bisexuals.

*The average life span for homosexual males is 43, for lesbians 45.

It turns out Cameron has generated these kinds of statistics using shoddy scientific research based on skewed samples, pre-selected samples, under-represented populations, unprofessional surveying techniques, invalid interpretations of data, and possibly false or joke responses to survey questions.

Mark Pietrzyk's article serves as a decent layman's introduction to the depth of the problem with Cameron's research.

I highly recommend Dr. Gregory Herek's article which presents a more in-depth analysis of Cameron's research and surveying methods.

Dr. Herek also critiques Cameron's gay obituary study that was used to generate his statistics for the average life span of gays and lesbians. In 1998 William Bennett retracted his citation of the statistic in an article for The Weekly Standard, when flaws with Cameron's study were exposed.

It is not surprising, then, to learn that in 1983 Cameron was dropped from membership with the American Psychological Association (APA) for "lack of cooperation with the Committee on Scientific and Professional Ethics and Conduct."

In 1986 the American Sociological Association (ASA) passed the following resolution: "The American Sociological Association officially and publicly states Paul Cameron is not a sociologist, and condemns his consistent misrepresentation of sociological research."

And in case you're tempted to dismiss the positions of the APA and the ASA as evidence of a vast left-wing conspiracy, note that recently conservative Christian psychologist Dr. Warren Throckmorton of Grove City College has also taken issue with Cameron's research.

There are good scientists and there are bad scientists, and there are scientists whose work sinks beyond mere quackery into the realm of lies and deliberate deception. That is simply the way things are. But to persistently tout the work of someone who belongs in the third category because it justifies our own loathing and bigotry, even though such work has been repeatedly debunked as a miserable falsehood, is damning, truly damning to the conservative Christian church.

Update: Take a look at Dr. Throckmorton's recent blog commentary on Paul Cameron's disturbing 1999 article "Gays in Nazi Germany." I'll leave you to read the shocking excerpts for yourself. Then you'll understand why Throckmorton concluded his comments with this:
Suffice to say that Dr. Cameron is not simply ideologically opposed to homosexuality, he is fixated on “solutions” that I find abhorrent. I call on fellow social conservatives who still refer to the Camerons’ work to take a hard look at these posts and reflect on whether someone with such extreme animosity could possibly approach social science data with sufficient objectivity to be trusted.

For a list of organizations that continue to cite Cameron's work, click here.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Quote for the day

There were great advantages and yet great disadvantages to "Christendom." The advantage was that there was a common language for public moral discourse with which society could discuss what was "the good." The disadvantage was that Christian morality without gospel-changed hearts often led to cruelty and hypocrisy. Think of how the small town in "Christendom" treated the unwed mother or the gay person.

"The Missional Church," by conservative Presbyterian (PCA) pastor Tim Keller

(Hat tip: The Jolly Blogger)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Painful admissions

A Catholic high school senior writes about his struggle to accept himself as gay and sends it as his application essay to all the Jesuit universities to which he is seeking admission, even while he remains closeted from his family and friends. The result: Every university not only accepts him, but welcomes him, many with handwritten letters saying they would be proud to have him as a student. Perhaps the times are a-changing. But I also understood why they were impressed when I read it for myself.
I feel alone. I am alone. No one knows about my secret because I have lied to everyone in my life for so long that it only seems natural to keep it hidden.

I am a hypocrite. I am a liar. And I am superficial. When the subject of homosexuality comes up around my friends or people that I know, I bash it right alongside with them. Most of the time I bring up the issue of homosexuality just to put it down. I began to actually despise homosexuals to the point that I hated all gay people, regardless of who they were. I began to drive myself crazy. I examined every movement I made and I examined every word that came out of my mouth with the utmost scrutiny to make sure that it was as straight sounding and acting as possible. The fear of discovery consumed me. I COULD NOT LET MYSELF BE GAY!

But then the turning point came. Read the rest of his essay here, which his mother has posted on her excellent blog in support of her son. Her touching story of how she and her husband accidently learned of their son's sexual orientation because of the essay, and yet still accepted him with open arms, can be found here.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ratcheting up the stakes

In Anne Holm's classic children's book, North to Freedom, a boy named David escapes from an Eastern European concentration camp where he had spent nearly all twelve years of his life. The man who helps him escape mysteriously instructs him to stow away on a boat to Italy and then head north to Denmark.

Freedom is at first so exhilarating, David is sure he will always be happy and content. To take in the beauty of the sea and the Italian landscape, to be clean from a bath in the stream, to be able to go wherever he pleased were luxuries he had never known before. Then he is taken in for a period of time by an Italian family and everything changes. He sees the kind of life other children live, how their parents love and care for them, how they belong to one another and can call themselves a family. By the time David hits the road again, his contentment with mere freedom could never be the same. Because now his cravings to belong to his own family have been awakened, and this new longing is destroying the former, simpler happiness he once enjoyed.

By chance he stumbles upon information that leads him to believe his mother is alive and living in Denmark. This discovery raises the stakes even higher and drives him in hard pursuit of things he hardly dared to hope for. And yet he tells himself that he would be content only to find this woman; perhaps she could tell him where he ought to go next. But by the time he arrives at her doorstep, barely able to stand, his health ruined from the journey, he realizes that unless his wildest dreams are fulfilled in this moment, he would feel that his life is no longer worth living. It is a good thing the story has a happy ending.

It is rare to find an author who is willing to be so plainly truthful about the danger of hope. That once you begin to believe in your own dignity and worth, that you deserve to be loved and valued and cared for like anyone else, this ratchets up the stakes to the point where you can no longer accept anything less, and there is no turning back. Maybe that's why people are inclined to take the easier, safer route of learning contentment in a kind of moderate degradation, where the risks are fewer and the disappointments less devastating.

What some people call "the homosexual agenda" I see as a daring movement to ratchet up the stakes to where there is no turning back. And the gay marriage movement is about as high as you can take it. It is about people wanting their love and ultimately their humanity recognized. It is about rejecting those who would insist that their love is a fraud, or that the best they could hope for is satisfying someone's desire for a single night. The fact that many gays never do move beyond those expectations is what makes the broadness of this movement all the more remarkable.

But I see tension within the movement too, as gays wonder whether they should be content with what they have already achieved, or press for the full rights they once only dreamed of. Somehow the more progress you make, the more treacherous the climb. Because drawing closer to your true goals means putting your current contentment at risk and your real dreams on the line. So I hear people talk about settling for civil unions, because that would be pretty good. I hear talk about health benefits, hospital visitation rights, inheritance rights, which you can't deny are all very important. Gay couples are living together anyway. We are just asking the government to regulate the situation. All good points--except they fall short of the real recognition everyone is craving.

It takes nerve to push for marriage. To assert that your love can be as true and as lasting as anyone else's. To believe that someone else could want you, not for a single night, but forever. Till death do us part.

The stakes have been pushed sky high already. I'm hoping it will have a happy ending.

[Update: Welcome, readers of Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish. Thanks for stopping by.]

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Clobber passages

It always discourages me when gay Christians tell me they don't read their Bibles because of what they call the "clobber passages." Clobber passages are the verses conservative Christians routinely cite in condemnation of homosexuality, namely, Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:10. They are only six passages in the entire Bible, yet because they are cited ad nauseam with an aim to humiliate and destroy people's sense of self-worth, most gay people I know view the Bible with anywhere from fear to outright hostility.

If you're one of those demoralized people, I say go ahead and read the Bible for yourself, and don't let those crazy fundamentalists tell you what it's all about. They may sound like they know what they're talking about, but believe me, they don't. Think about it. If they really know so much about the Bible, why do they keep quoting the same small set of passages over and over again?

I've read the Bible from cover to cover seven times. It is essentially a story--an extended dramatic story that begins in tragedy and ends in triumph. It is about how God created the first man and woman, blessing them with his love and tender care, except they betrayed him for an enemy and brought sin and death into the world. The whole thing is a done deal by the first three chapters of Genesis. Yet in spite of this, God seeks to salvage the situation by making a way for human beings to be saved from condemnation before his own judgment throne. That's right. The whole story of the Bible is how God sets out to save sinners from himself. The question is, how will he accomplish it?

His plan of salvation begins with a promise to Adam and Eve, and that promise is tied to a lineage that would someday produce the Messiah. Hence the Old Testament is about tracing the unfolding of this lineage (which explains all those genealogies, right?), sometimes producing heroes who foreshadow the coming Messiah, and sometimes undergoing peril as enemies try to snuff it out. An entire nation called Israel arises from this lineage, and their failure collectively to keep God's law proves once more that their true hope lies in the Promised One, not in the futile efforts of law-keeping.

Enter the New Testament. The Messiah does come, but will his own people recognize him? Or will the lure of law-keeping, and the self-righteous satisfaction it brings, blind them from seeing the One in whom their forefathers had hoped for generations? Some do see, but others are sure he is an impostor. His humility and compassion attract the lowly but offend the self-righteous. One thing leads to another and he is ultimately destroyed. He was a blasphemer, after all. He claimed to be God's Son. Preposterous. Why would the Son of God touch lepers, befriend prostitutes, forgive tax collectors, and heal cripples on the Sabbath? A real Messiah would have vanquished the Romans, judged the sinners, and established a kingdom ruled by the Mosaic Law. Right? Glory be to God, we killed that phony . . .

But he was God's Son. He rises from the dead to prove it, and only then do people realize that his death, far from being an accident, was the ultimate atoning sacrifice offered to God for the sins of the world. The Messiah has indeed come and the way to forgiveness and life has been opened. Even the mobs that had called for his blood realize their mistake, and thousands come to believe. And what happens next, how this new hope transforms their lives, how they go out into the world and can't stop celebrating and talking about Jesus Christ--well, that's what the book of Acts and the rest of the epistles of the New Testament are about.

Yes, there are those six passages. If you wish, you can buy commentaries that will give various interpretations for those passages and you can wrestle with them. I'll have an opinion, you'll have an opinion, and so will that other person standing over there, and probably none of us will agree. But are you going to miss out on the ultimate story of God's love, forgiveness and compassion for you, just because some whacked-out extremists know how to rip a handful of Bible passages out of context and throw them in your face out of hatred and cruelty? I don't think they deserve to have that much leverage in your life. Do you?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Technical difficulties

Sorry for the light posting recently. Switching to the new beta blogger format has caused me some problems that I'm still trying to work out. But I'm loath to switch back to the original format because of the benefits of having the posts categorized by subject label in the sidebar.

I probably would have worked out all the kinks by now, except I'm also still dealing with post surgery care of my one-year-old. I believe the worst is over. So stay tuned . . .