Sunday, March 07, 2010

What change?

Friends will sometimes send me links to articles that quote from the latest evangelical leader--a seminary prof, a radio show host, some megachurch pastor--who demonstrates an ability to speak about homosexuality in calm, moderate tones while even daring to suggest that we should work toward peace and understanding in the church. Nothing earth-shattering enough to post on this blog, but I see bits of progress here and there that tell me a quiet trend of questioning and self-examination is afoot in some pockets of the evangelical church. I expect that it will grow over time. In the meantime it's interesting to check out what people have to say, and observe how the gears are turning in people's minds as these more moderate evangelicals contemplate the issue of homosexuality.

But I've noticed one little catch phrase that keeps popping up. You know how evangelicals love using catch phrases, and once the usage of a certain phrase reaches a critical mass you hear everyone saying it left and right? Here is the one I keep hearing:
"While we know that change is possible for some [gay and lesbian] people, we need to consider that maybe it isn't possible for everyone."

Then the evangelical leader goes on to plead for Christian compassion and understanding for these leftover gay people, these stragglers who evidently couldn't get their act together enough to make the full conversion from gay to straight like all the other success stories out there.

My question is, What are all these success stories of "change" that they're talking about? Who has ever successfully and completely changed from gay to straight? Anyone I know? Anyone you know? I'm not saying that such change doesn't exist on the face of the earth, but I am saying that I have never encountered any of these changed people, and I've been researching and writing on the topic of homosexuality for the last ten years.

I realize that this catch phrase is thrown out there as a way to reach those evangelicals who cling with white-knuckled fervor to the idea that gays are an ultra-depraved sub-species of the human race who don't deserve anyone's compassion--not even Jesus's. The word to them is, "Oh, but they do deserve compassion, if you would just realize that while some people can change [satisfying the evangelical belief that most gays do choose to be homosexual at some subconscious level], you also have to understand that not all people can succeed at changing, you see."

These days I find myself categorized within this small crowd of straight evangelicals who are trying to talk to other straight evangelicals about being more understanding toward the gay community. I'm thankful that the category even exists, and I'm thankful the talk is happening. But am I supposed to go out there and say, "While we know that some people can change, blah blah blah . . ." even though I have never--in all my hundreds of contacts via email exchanges and coffee dates and phone calls and dinners and conferences and small groups--crossed paths with anyone who has told me a credible story of converting from being completely homosexual to being completely heterosexual? It is a problem of honesty.

I know you should "never say never," which is why I continue to be open to the possibility that somewhere out there, someone has successfully made the gay-to-straight conversion. But the silence is strange to me, because most people who have had a positive, unique, life-changing experience that might possibly help millions of other people tend to go public about it and make their fortune publishing how-to books and traveling the country holding conferences and seminars. I know the ex-gay movement is trying to pretend that that's what they're all about--but I'm talking about the real thing, and I'm still waiting.

In the meantime I can't bring myself to feed my Christian friends the line about all the supposed change that's going on out there, regardless of what they may want to hear. Instead I say, "It's possible someone has really gone through a genuine orientation change and I just haven't heard about it yet. So if you know of anybody, please tell that person to contact me. I'd love to meet them and ask how they did it."