Thursday, 20 June 2013

Barriers to the LGBT community are SLOWLY breaking down ...

As I write this, I'm on the eve of preparing to fly out to San Francisco for my ministry sabbatical.  While there, I'm hoping to link up with various community groups and church groups that practise inclusive ministry and welcome the LGBT community into their midst, their leadership and their hearts, without placing conditions of change or conformity on them.

I'm mostly finished with packing ... the next stage is panicking.  However, I was alerted to an article by a fellow tweeter (Thanks Rachel!) about a public apology from the President of Exodus international, an international evangelical ministry focusing on reparative therapy for gay people, to the LGBT community and an announcement that Exodus International was to be closing it's doors.

This is big news for me personally, as for two years in the late 1990's, I submitted myself to a programme of 'therapy' in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, that was run using their materials.  I don't think it was organised with their approval, but it was someone who had been on their courses, and was given the opportunity to come over to South Africa and run them himself.

I suspect that the courses, if run properly, should be run by a team of well-trained people, as they attempt to dig very deep into your psyche, and alter your very sense of being.  In hindsight, it's clear how dodgy such a procedure is, but when you're a young Christian coming to terms with being gay, you're desperate to fit in with the rest of your faith community, and you're led to believe that being gay is purely about lust and that to identify in any sense with being gay is sinful and excludes you from salvation.

This is largely the premise of the course material we were subjected to, and we were led to believe that our identity as gay people was purely based on eroticised expressions of deep-seated need for male bonding, and that - with time - we would be able to unlearn being gay, and relearn how to be straight and 'bond' with other men.  We were told that any identity we felt we had as gay people was incorrect and that we should unlearn any ways in which we identified with being gay, and should teach ourselves how to be straight and do straight things.  We were told that anytime we felt a longing for a life partner or intimacy, it was wrong, and that we had to instead learn how to identify with straight men by playing football, going to the pub, etc..

The reality of all of this is that, because being gay is a matter of identity and not just erotic expression, you begin to feel 'wrong' at your core, and - in trying to be one of the 'lads' - fail miserably, and feel hopelessly inadequate, because you'll never be able to identify as one of them.  Generally speaking, straight lads are different to gay lads, have different interests, and don't feel threatened by each other, in case they discover that you're gay.  So, you spend your time feeling like a failure, feeling unlovable to God, feeling scared of being discovered, and feeling hopelessly inadequate as a Christian, because you can't change, when the organiser of the course tells you that change is possible.

This is why this apology by the President of Exodus International, the largest "ex-gay therapy" group is such a big deal for me personally.  It feels like another step closer toward the healing I've been claiming back for myself since I left the course all those years ago and went through a crisis of identity and a crisis of faith.

It's also a big deal, because many evangelical and fundamental faith groups globally base their dealings with the LGBT community on the teachings of Exodus International and other similar organisations ... that gay people need to seek 'healing', in order to be faithful, and that they can accept the LGBT community, but only on condition that they seek change and not seek to give in to what they see as sinful desires, rather than a true identity.

With this apology, the wind is beginning to drain out of the sails of that argument, and some real dialogue can begin.  I know for hundreds of thousands of LGBT people this will be too little too late from the faith community, but with any luck, it'll stop future generations from being put through life-threatening 'therapy' that attempts to change their identities and personalities.

I can't really answer why I stuck with my faith after all of that ... perhaps it's the desire to make a difference in the lives of those who come after me.  I've had many young people asking me over the years where they can go to join a faith community that won't try to change them, out them, or make them feel like freaks.  Sometimes that's easy to answer, and sometimes it's not.  It can be incredibly geographical, and I always have to warn them to be careful, as an inclusive leader does not always mean an inclusive congregation or vice versa, so their guard is always up. But at least it's beginning to look like change may be possible at a greater level, rather than having little pockets of inclusivity.

You can read the text of Alan Chambers' apology here (it's a direct cut-and-paste from the Exodus International page here - I'm merely pasting it in, as their page is quite slow at the moment.)

Three years ago, Leslie and I began a very public conversation with Our America’s Lisa Ling, from the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) regarding some of our deeply held beliefs about Christianity and the LGBT community.  Today, we have decided to carry this public conversation even further. While this conversation has and may well continue to be met with many different responses from supporters and critics, it is our desire to keep having these honest discussions in the hopes of arriving to a place of peace.
Several months ago, this conversation led me to call Lisa Ling to take another step on this messy journey.  I asked if she would, once again, help us add to the unfolding story by covering my apology to the people who have been hurt by Exodus International.  Our ministry has been public and therefore any acknowledgement of wrong must also be public.  I haven’t always been the leader of Exodus, but I am now and someone must finally own and acknowledge the hurt of others. I do so anxiously, but willingly.
It is strange to be someone who has both been hurt by the church’s treatment of the LGBT community, and also to be someone who must apologize for being part of the very system of ignorance that perpetuated that hurt. Today it is as if I’ve just woken up to a greater sense of how painful it is to be a sinner in the hands of an angry church. 
It is also strange to be an outcast from powerful portions of both the gay community and the Christian community.  Because I do not completely agree with the vocalmajorities in either group and am forging a new place of peaceful service in and through both, I will likely continue to be an outsider to some degree. I imagine it to be very much like a man I recently heard speak at a conference I attended, Father Elias Chacour, the Melkite Catholic Archbishop of IsraelHe is an Arab Christian, Palestinian by birth, and a citizen of Israel. Talk about a walking contradiction.  When I think of the tension of my situation I am comforted by the thought of him and his. 
My desire is to completely align with Christ, his Good News for all and his offer of peace amidst the storms of life. My wife Leslie and my beliefs center around grace, the finished work of Christ on the cross and his offer of eternal relationship to any and all that believe. Our beliefs do not center on “sin” because “sin” isn’t at the center of our faith. Our journey hasn’t been about denying the power of Christ to do anything – obviously he is God and can do anything. 
With that, here is an expanded version of the apology I offered during my recent interview with Lisa Ling to the people within the LGBTQ community who have been hurt by the Church, Exodus International, and me.  I realize some within the communities for which I apologize will say I don’t have the right, as one man, to do so on their behalf.  But if the Church is a body, with many members being connected to the whole, then I believe that what one of us does right we all do right, and what one of us does wrong we all do wrong. We have done wrong, and I stand with many others who now recognize the need to offer apologies and make things right.  I believe this apology – however imperfect – is what God the Father would have me do.

To Members of the LGBTQ Community: 
In 1993 I caused a four-car pileup.  In a hurry to get to a friend’s house, I was driving when a bee started buzzing around the inside of my windshield. I hit the bee and it fell on the dashboard. A minute later it started buzzing again with a fury. Trying to swat it again I completely missed the fact that a city bus had stopped three cars in front of me.  I also missed that those three cars were stopping, as well.  Going 40 miles an hour I slammed into the car in front of me causing a chain reaction. I was injured and so were several others.  I never intended for the accident to happen. I would never have knowingly hurt anyone. But I did. And it was my fault. In my rush to get to my destination, fear of being stung by a silly bee, and selfish distraction, I injured others. 
I have no idea if any of the people injured in that accident have suffered long term effects. While I did not mean to hurt them, I did. The fact that my heart wasn’t malicious did not lessen their pain or their suffering. I am very sorry that I chose to be distracted that fall afternoon, and that I caused so much damage to people and property.  If I could take it all back I absolutely would. But I cannot. I pray that everyone involved in the crash has been restored to health. 
Recently, I have begun thinking again about how to apologize to the people that have been hurt by Exodus International through an experience or by a message. I have heard many firsthand stories from people called ex-gay survivors. Stories of people who went to Exodus affiliated ministries or ministers for help only to experience more trauma. I have heard stories of shame, sexual misconduct, and false hope. In every case that has been brought to my attention, there has been swift action resulting in the removal of these leaders and/or their organizations. But rarely was there an apology or a public acknowledgement by me. 
And then there is the trauma that I have caused. There were several years that I conveniently omitted my ongoing same-sex attractions. I was afraid to share them as readily and easily as I do today. They brought me tremendous shame and I hid them in the hopes they would go away. Looking back, it seems so odd that I thought I could do something to make them stop. Today, however, I accept these feelings as parts of my life that will likely always be there. The days of feeling shame over being human in that way are long over, and I feel free simply accepting myself as my wife and family does. As my friends do. As God does. 
Never in a million years would I intentionally hurt another person. Yet, here I sit having hurt so many by failing to acknowledge the pain some affiliated with Exodus International caused, and by failing to share the whole truth about my own story. My good intentions matter very little and fail to diminish the pain and hurt others have experienced on my watch. The good that we have done at Exodus is overshadowed by all of this. 
Friends and critics alike have said it’s not enough to simply change our message or website. I agree. I cannot simply move on and pretend that I have always been the friend that I long to be today. I understand why I am distrusted and why Exodus is hated. Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. 
I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine. 
More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection.  I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives. For the rest of my life I will proclaim nothing but the whole truth of the Gospel, one of grace, mercy and open invitation to all to enter into an inseverable relationship with almighty God. 
I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them.  I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself. 
You have never been my enemy. I am very sorry that I have been yours. I hope the changes in my own life, as well as the ones we announce tonight regarding Exodus International, will bring resolution, and show that I am serious in both my regret and my offer of friendship. I pledge that future endeavors will be focused on peace and common good. 
Moving forward, we will serve in our pluralistic culture by hosting thoughtful and safe conversations about gender and sexuality, while partnering with others to reduce fear, inspire hope, and cultivate human flourishing.

Combined with the public call for inclusivity by Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis UK, an evangelical Christian ministry, and author and broadcaster, which you can read here, this is turning out to be quite a year for evangelical Christians, who - aside from the Roman Catholic Church's leadership (I say leadership, as the view in the pew is often different) - are the main opponents to greater inclusion and equality for the LGBT community.

No comments:

Post a Comment