gay christians

This is my story

I’ve been writing this blog now for almost three years, and it’s been nearly four since my coming out 2.0. Just yesterday I returned from the GCN Conference 2017, so I’ve been reflecting on my journey so far, re-reading old posts, and taking stock of where I am today. After reading the coming-out story of a new friend, I was inspired to start fresh and write my story from scratch.

Gay, Christian, and Out 1.0

I grew up the youngest of six children in a Christian household with loving parents and a large extended family. I can picture little five-year old Greg sitting with my dad as he shared with me the message that Jesus loved me. How wonderful! With simple child-like trust, I felt the flood of God’s love as I asked Jesus to come into my heart. I was nothing if not sincere as a child. Throughout my childhood, I always strove to be good, wanting to please my parents and God.

In retrospect, I’ve known I was gay since childhood – well before I ever experienced any feelings I would identify as sexual. But I never would have used the term ‘gay’ to describe myself. In my family, my church, my social surroundings, there just wasn’t any connection between what I was feeling and the word “gay” – a word that described really bad people who hated God and did disgusting things.

But nevertheless, from about fourth grade onward, I had the growing sense that there was something different about me, and as puberty approached it became clear what it was. I was attracted to guys, and not girls. I remember in fifth grade finding a Playboy magazine (in a church parking lot, of all places…), and wondering what the other boys were feeling and why they were so interested in the pictures. And then about a year later stumbling across a Playgirl… aha! I started to understand.

But as I said, all that I knew about gay people was that were bad and disgusting and definitely didn’t love God, so I couldn’t be that. So how could make sense of what I was feeling throughout my teen years? My church provided me with a framework to understand it: Satan must be tempting me with these homosexual feelings, and so clearly I had to resist with all my might.

I graduated from high school and went off to college, where I got involved with InterVarsity – an interdenominational Christian campus ministry. I suppose college is a common time for faith transitions, and for me that meant a renewed fervor, a deeper personal commitment, and a growing faith in God. I got involved in leadership, and for my remaining college years, IV was the home of my faith development.

It was in this context that I “came out” for the first time.  Of course I could never have uttered the words “I’m gay” at that time (hence the scare quotes), and the extent of my boldness was to highlight passages dealing with “homosexual temptation” in a book on Christian sexual ethics, and then giving it to my staff worker. It doesn’t feel quite right to call it “coming out,” so I’ve taken to calling it Out 1.0. But nevertheless, it led to further conversation with my staff worker, and then subsequently to my coming out (still “1.0”) to several others – my closest friends, my parents, my sister, and eventually, my future wife. All were loving and supportive in their responses. But of course all of them also reaffirmed my own internalized belief that the only good response was to fight against these temptations.

Naive, Hopeful, and in Love

When my wife and I first met, we were both deeply committed to our faith, confident that God could do anything, and hopelessly naive. As I mentioned above, I was out (1.0) to her before we even started dating, and both of us were convinced that same-sex attraction was a temptation to be resisted at all costs. So we entered into our relationship cautiously, but optimistic that God would use our sincere love for one another as a part of my future “healing.” We dated, married, and started our family together.

Disillusioned and back in the Closet

Throughout all the years of our marriage, and especially in those early years, most things were pretty good. We had four beautiful, healthy children, a nice home, good jobs, and the love and support of our families. In most areas I was happy with how my life was unfolding. But my attraction to men never diminished, and my attraction to women never increased. As the years went by and it became clear that God wasn’t “healing” me, I began to lose hope. I internalized an unarticulated but persistent feeling that there must be something monstrously wrong with me. I still had every confidence that God could do anything, so if He wasn’t doing this thing for me, it must either be because He didn’t love me enough, or else I was SO inherently wicked that I stood in the way of my own healing. Too broken to be fixed. I experienced repeated bouts of depression over many years, and became withdrawn from friends and family. On the outside I tried my hardest to put on a happy facade, wanting to forestall any probing questions about why I might be feeling sad. But on the inside I felt alone, unloved, and unlovable.

Still Gay, Desperate, and Out 2.0

I spent too many years hiding and merely surviving. Moving from  Gay 1.0 (recognizing that I was attracted to guys ) to Gay 2.0 (accepting that I am gay) took over thirty years. Moving from Out 1.0 (“I struggle with homosexual temptation”) to Out 2.0 (“I. AM. GAY.”) took a couple more after that.  Maybe I’m just a slow learner… But I eventually got there. It’s been a little over five years since I first uttered those three small but powerful words to myself. I am gay. I am gay. I am gay! 

But dammit! what lousy timing to finally arrive at Gay 2.0! My wife and I were approaching our 20th anniversary, we had four kids, and I was working for a non-affirming religious organization. And so it took me another year before I was finally ready to come out to my wife. We sat on the floor of our living room in front of the fireplace, and tears flowed freely as twenty years of pain and loneliness came pouring out. The depth of her love for me was revealed that day in that her tears were genuinely for me. She was profoundly sad that I had felt such condemnation and unworthiness for so many years, and especially that I had suffered alone. She told me she loved me just as I am. And I was undone.

While coming out to my wife marked the end of my suffering alone, it also marked the beginning of a period of pain and questioning for her. Has he ever really loved me? What do I mean to him? Has our entire marriage been a sham? How could I not have known? Why would God do this to us? 

Slow Progress

Change has not come quickly in the four years since I came out to my wife, but it has come in fits and starts. We started out by reading everything we could find on mixed-orientation marriages, learning a whole new domain of vocabulary. We’ve discovered a surprisingly large community of couples in similar situations, and among them a wide range or paths forward. We’ve been in counseling, both together and individually, and I started this blog as another place to process my thoughts and feelings. I’ve come out to a dozen or so other people, including close friends and family, and most significantly to our four children (read about When I Told my Kids I’m Gay). I’ve also attended two conferences for LGBTQ people and allies, focusing on faith issues and advocacy in the church. Even without the content of the conferences, the experience of being surrounded by so many LGBTQ people – amazing, beautiful, kind, and compassionate LGBTQ people – has been transformative.

Even as I write this, I can remember on an intellectual level how my sexuality at one time inspired such fear and self-loathing. But by and large, the emotional power has been broken. I can feel sad for that person (the younger Greg), but the thoughts and attitudes that caused him so much pain are being continually exorcised. Most days, most of the time, I can look in the mirror and say “I’m Greg. I’m gay. And I’m really glad that I am!

GCN Conference 2017

Later this week I’ll be attending my first GCN conference – an annual meeting organized by the Gay Christian Network. As with any conference there’s a full slate of speakers and break out sessions, and I’m sure they will be good. But even more, I’m looking forward to meeting with other gay people who haven’t yet given up on organized religion. I honestly don’t know where my personal beliefs will land, only that I’ve thrown off so many layers of crap I’d been taught by the church that had been weighing me down through most of my life. Of course, excising bad doctrine isn’t an easy, straightforward thing. It’s not like the “bad” doctrine resides in its own little drawer, to be neatly removed and replaced with “good” doctrine. No – it’s all much more organic than that. Beliefs – good and bad, right and wrong – are mashed up with feelings, thoughts, and habits. The process of cutting out deeply ingrained beliefs is messy and painful. So part of the reason I’m looking forward to the conference is the chance to meet other Christians who have gone through and are going through some of the same things.

There will even be a sub-group of people who, just like me, are in mixed-orientation marriages. I’ve interacted with some of these people online, so it will be good to meet them face-to-face.

Get the hell out (with love 💕)

Last week it happened again. A prominent Christian organization drew their line in the sand against the apparently looming threat of homosexuality. If you didn’t catch the news, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, “an inter-denominational, evangelical Christian campus… working with students and faculty on U.S. college and university campuses,” announced that they will fire any of their staff workers who hold affirming views of LGBTQ relationships (first reported in Time Magazine).

When I heard the news, I took to Twitter to express the pain I was feeling. I must have struck a nerve, as the subsequent thread generated over 35,000 hits – this from a guy whose typical tweet attracts two or three courtesy ‘likes.’ 😅 I’m reproducing it here in serial form:

tweet-1tweet-2

InterVarsity responded the Twitter backlash with a series of tweets to quell the response, claiming that the Times article was inaccurate (it wasn’t), lamenting the pain LGBTQ people have experienced at the hands of Christians (you think?), but doubling down on their insistence that their non-affirming stance is the only one that is scriptural. The coup de grace – referring to LGBTQ people who agree with their theology, as if that’s the end of the story.

iv8

Well, not for me. Seriously – are they implying that those who DON’T embrace their theology are somehow taking the easy way out?

tweet-3

tweet-4

tweet-5

tweet-8tweet-9

My InterVarsity staff worker was the first person I “came out” to – scare quotes because it wasn’t exactly “I’m gay,” but rather “I struggle with homosexual temptation” (the “struggle” phrasing apparently was a common trope). His response was compassionate, reassuring, but ultimately conditional based on me embracing their LGBT ideology. As long as I toed the line, they were happy to have me. I served as a small group leader and in several leadership positions, including chapter president, during my undergraduate years, and after graduating committed myself to pursuing full-time Christian work. And while that didn’t go so well (as detailed in My World Vision), I did nevertheless end up married, with kids, and working full-time for a Christian organization. So I think from their perspective, they would say that “things worked out.”

tweet-13tweet-14

tweet-15tweet-16tweet-17

It’s ironic. One of the main things that drew me to InterVarsity in the first place was its broadly ecumenical nature. Having grown up in a particular strand of evangelicalism, it was eye-opening for me to meet Catholics, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, and generally Christians of many different faith traditions that agreed on one thing at the core: we loved Jesus and wanted to be transformed by knowing him. It didn’t matter that we disagreed on a whole host of theological points; what we had in common was more important.

affirming

Somehow THIS has become their test of orthodoxy. Not views on war or life or charity or compassion; but only what you think of gay people. How did it come to this?

Not good to be alone

Adam and Eve

Photo Credit: brockit.com

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner. (Genesis 2:18, NRSV)

For some Christians, the account of the creation of man and woman in Genesis chapter 2 is foundational to their understanding of sexual ethics. “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!”  OK, sometimes they’re not quite so impudent, but that’s the general idea. The account in Genesis is taken as normative for sexual relationships, and since it involved one man and one woman, that’s how every sexual relationships should be. If that’s your perspective, this post is for you.

And my purpose is NOT to try to convince you that you’re wrong. (While I do, in fact, believe that way of thinking is wrong, I’ll save that for another post). For now I’m content to say that you’re entitled to read and interpret the passage in accordance with your knowledge and beliefs.

But I would like you to own up to the repercussions of this belief, especially in the context of the passage quoted. Chapter 1 of Genesis includes a series of mini-creations, all punctuated with the assessment “and God saw that it was good…” Then we work through chapter 2 down to verse 18, where for the first time, God notes “it is NOT good…,” in particular, not good for the man to be alone. That’s why God made a partner for Adam.

Is it relevant that God made a woman as a partner? I guess one reading of this passage might be that it was the creation of another person that was significant. Adam was no longer alone, because there was now another person. If you read the passage that way, you might take it to just mean that we need relationships with other people to be healthy. In that case, then it wouldn’t seem that the passage was saying anything about sexual relationships at all, but rather just about relationships in general.

On the other hand, maybe Eve’s gender was relevant to the story, and I think many Christians assume that to be the case. God created a sexual partner, a mate for Adam. But why? Because it was not good for him to be alone. In this case, it is a passage about a special kind of relationship – a sexual relationship. And from that we would conclude that sexuality is by default a pretty important thing for human beings.

So do you see the problem? If sex was an important part of the equation when God made Eve to address Adam’s need, then what does the church have to say to gay people? “God admits that it’s not good for us to be alone, but in your case we’ll make an exception”? “God provides a way for us straight people to have a special bond of intimacy with another human, but not for you gays”?  It doesn’t exactly convey “God loves you!”

And granted, plenty of straight people may not have such a partner in their lives, in some cases for a season, in others for entire lifetimes. But “wait” and “someday if” are very different from “never” and “even if.”  That’s a heavy burden to place on someone.

January 2016 Update

_MyHusbandIsGay

Well it’s been a long time since I’ve posted, and with the new year, I figured it’s time for an update. Way back in January of last year, I posted about coming out to a friend. In the year since then, I’ve come out to  two other friends, and just a few of weeks ago, my wife shared our situation with a close friend of hers. So, progress, I guess. No resolution; no major turning points; but incremental progress nonetheless.

So where do we stand? I’m still gay, my wife is still straight, and we’re still married. I’m still celibate. I still love my wife. I’m still confused. And I’m still afraid for the future. I’m out now to five friends – the five people I would consider my closest friends. My wife, a friend from high school, a college roommate, a graduate school buddy, and my writer friend. In the process of coming out over the past couple of years I’ve gain a few small insights.

Acceptance is a low bar

Four of the five people I’ve come out to already knew some of the story. Like my wife, they’re all people that I confided in early in our relationships. They all shared the same evangelical understanding that I embraced at that time – specifically that being “same-sex attracted” wasn’t a sin, but “acting on it” was (see Not Chipper). So with each of these friends, early in our relationships, there was a “round one” coming out. Not “I’m gay,” but rather “I struggle with homosexual temptation.” And I remember clearly what a relief it was when they accepted me anyway!

It now strikes me as sad that I felt like that was at stake. I trusted them enough to confide in them, but not enough that I had any confidence in their response.

Judgment is a two-way street

So from my teen years onward, I’ve had a group of friends who supported me as a “same-sex attracted” guy striving to live an “evangelical-approved” straight lifestyle. When I myself bought into that mindset, it was great to have such support; but as my own views changed, it just turned into a new and different closet. “Sure they like me now, but if they only knew…” Keeping Secrets is exhausting.

And so I feared their judgment if they were to find out. But it struck me recently that I had been guilty of judging them in the same way that I only feared that they would judge me. If they found out that I had become gay-affirming in my beliefs, I was afraid that they would reject me. But in truth, if they had been gay-affirming in the first place, I probably would have never pursued a relationship.

I need more gay friends

One constant throughout the years has been the perpetual sense of isolation. It certainly helps to be out to my closest friends (I’m no longer alone with my thoughts), but then again it can be isolating in a different way. For most of them, I’m their one gay friend. Pretty poor exemplar, wouldn’t you say? When I was fully in the closet, being gay was nothing in my life. Then as I came out, it suddenly became the most salient thing. But when I’m with other gay people, it feels like it’s no longer nothing, and it’s also not everything; it can just be something – a part of who I am.

Roster of Love

Roster of Love

After my earlier post Roster of Hate, about prominent fundevangelicals who attacked the supreme court ruling on same sex marriage, it occurred to me that there are also many prominent Christians who have expressed love and support, celebrating the victory. So here is my roster of LOVE – gay Christians and straight allies who celebrated the victory for LGBT people. Many of these people have positively impacted me (and I’m sure many others) through their writing and activism. There are MANY more, but I’ve just chosen a few that come to mind.

Coming out as Ex-Side-B

StillGayI recently started writing a post titled “when sadness is only a step away,” about how sometimes it feels like the smallest thing can plunge me into a downward spiral. Even came up with a nifty little graphic for it. But then I realized it wasn’t just sadness that was so looming, but also anger, anxiety, and resentment. Many of us have emotional sore spots where our emotions are near the surface – quick to be inflamed by the slightest provocation – an opinion, a phrase, or sometimes even just a word.

Upon reflection, I realized that one of my sore spots is what is called Side-B among the gay Christian subculture. For those who may not be familiar, a brief primer on Side-A and Side-B. First of all, both sides agree that there is no contradiction in the term “gay Christian.” There is no sin, and should be no judgment in having a gay orientation. A small concession, yet way ahead of many fundamentalist Christians who condemn those who even identify as gay, regardless of their actions. But the two sides differ in an important way:

Side A adherents believe that God blesses same-sex marriages. They believe that the Bible passages that have in the past been used to condemn gay relationships have in fact been misinterpreted. These passages either do not refer to gay people at all, or they apply only in a lost cultural context that no longer exists. Read more about Side A or about why the Bible does NOT condemn same-sex relations.

Side B adherents believe that, while there is nothing wrong with a gay orientation, the Bible teaches that gay sex is wrong, and therefore God calls all gay Christians to abstain from sex with people of the same sex. Read more about Side B.

So why am I so sensitive to Side-B thinking? Why does it elicit such a powerful response of hurt, anger, shame, and anxiety? Well first, I’ll note that I’m not alone in this. Stephen at Sacred Tension wrote about it poignantly back in 2013 in When Side B is the New Ex-Gay (which was recently reblogged by Susan Cottrell at Patheos). I love Stephen’s gentle and vulnerable yet clear-spoken style:

Sometimes, your heart starts to break, and you don’t know why. You catch yourself emotionally limping through life, or angry and explosive at the drop of a dime, or feeling like a small, wounded child, and not understanding why.

Such has been the case recently. I’ve been struggling with very deep feelings of anger, hurt, and betrayal – feelings that have made writing, rest, and engaging with other people in productive, peaceful ways very difficult. When I finally noticed these powerful feelings, I sat with them, trying to understand their origin. In a moment of clarity, I suddenly said to myself, I know these feelings. I’ve felt them before. 

It’s taken the past few month of processing and writing about my recent fallout with Side B (the conviction that while a gay orientation is not in and of itself sinful, expressions of that orientation in sex or gay marriage are sinful) to unearth a subterranean monster of overwhelming hurt, guilt, and rage. As is often the case, such huge emotions can influence our behaviors and thought patterns, but it can take time for us to see them clearly.

I realized that the story I’ve been living recently is a story I’ve already walked, many years ago.

Stephen goes on to describe how he was once part of the cruel and misguided “ex-gay” movement. How he once bought into the lies that assured him that he could be “cured” of being gay. But as you might guess, over time he came to realize that it was a house of cards. Though I never went the ex-gay route, I can relate to so much of the emotion that Stephen expresses.

I was Side-B before there was a Side-B. Since I was a young teen, and up until far too recently, I believed exactly the same as many in the Side-B camp. “There’s no sin in being gay in orientation, as long as you don’t ‘choose that lifestyle’ ” <ugh – excuse me while I go clean the vomit out of my mouth>. I sincerely believed that God loved me, and not just intellectually. I felt his love for me. I experienced it each day. And because I believed, as side-B adherents do, that the Bible unequivocally prohibits same-sex relations, I “chose” to forgo romantic relationships with men. Instead I “shared my struggle” with my closest friends, prayed earnestly, and resisted temptation.  I read everything I could find about homosexuality and the Christian. I sought the counsel of pastors and religious leaders. I dated women, and eventually met and fell in love the one who would become my wife. The whole story is throughout this blog, but especially at Greg Comes Out and Not Chipper, and Gay Man, Straight Wife. A regular Side-B poster-boy! I abstained from gay relationships, and God rewarded me with a wonderful and supportive wife who knew of my “struggles.”

For me, the problem with Side-B is that it underestimated and even trivialized the very human, physiological and psychological need for sex. It treated being gay at an intellectual level, while doing nothing for underlying human need. As if finding and embracing the right understanding would then somehow do away with the need. But of course it didn’t. Stephen captures it well:

Like several years before, though, I slowly became disillusioned. I watched many people lead anguished lives of compartmentalization or promiscuity, never attaining a joy that makes vocation sustainable. Many of the leaders were able to find genuine love with celibate partners, but I realized celibate partnership, while potentially very good, would hardly be workable for many people under similar circumstances. Nine times out of ten, I watched Side B people jump ship before their lives went dark.

In the same way that the promise of orientation change fell apart in my hands, the promise of sustainable and life-affirming celibacy for everyone who pursued it fell apart, too. I never believed it would be easy, but discipline is self defeating if it ends up killing you. I was left feeling crushed, helpless, betrayed and lied to all over again.

So there it is. My emotional sore spot for Side-B thinking is there because of my own experience. So when I hear young Christians embrace Side-B thinking, it makes me sad, and angry, and sincerely concerned that they don’t know what they are getting into. Now the Side-B thinker might say “That was only your experience; not universal truth. My situation is different. I’m entering into this with open eyes.” But don’t you see, your knowledge isn’t going to save you? I had all of the knowledge available to me; the support of my friends and religious leaders; and ultimately the love and support of my wife, who knew and understood things in the same way that I did. But knowledge isn’t enough. Knowing about food won’t take away your need to eat. Knowing about air can’t take the place of breathing. Knowing about intimacy won’t satisfy your need for relationships. And knowing about sex won’t meet your need for sex.

If you’re considering Side-B

Whether you plan to remain single and celibate, or marry an opposite-sex partner with their full knowledge, consider this. You may have addressed your need for spirituality; your need for openness; your need for emotional intimacy; for logical coherence. But how will you address the underlying basic physiological and psychological need for sex?

You say “I will remain celibate, just like many other people throughout time and even today remain celibate.” A practical question then: how do you plan to deal with the visceral urge for sexual expression?

  • resist and push down: very difficult, perhaps impossible, and likely with severe psychological repercussions.
  • masturbate with porn: if it’s your only sexual expression, it is extremely isolating and ultimately unsatisfying
  • masturbate without porn: still isolating, and what the hell are you going to think about? Corn flakes?

If you choose to marry an opposite-sex partner, you have additional things to consider. Are you planning to have a chaste celibate sexless marriage, focusing on all of the aspects of a wonderful relationship that you can have, even if it doesn’t include sex? Then you BOTH have to answer the question above: how will you each address your sexual needs? Or perhaps you’re planning for your marriage to include sex. This certainly seems like it could work if you are bisexual. (Or maybe not. I’ve heard from other bloggers like BellaElena that it remains a huge issue for them as well.) Even if you’re the gayest of gay, perhaps it can still be made to work. I don’t want to go all TMI here, but my wife and I enjoyed a good if not great sexual relationship for many years. Sex can meet all kinds of real needs – affection, physical intimacy, touch, expression of love. But if you are gay, even if it meets all of these needs, even if it is completely pleasurable, it  still will ultimately fail to meet your basic human need for sexual expression. So we’re back to the same question: how will you meet that need within your marriage?

These are honest questions! If anyone has answers, please share. I’m sure my readers who find themselves already in mixed-orientation marriages would love to hear. And I want to continue to believe that it can work. But if you are not already in that situation, why choose a path so fraught with danger and the risk of pain?

Time for something new

Chapter TwoWe recently celebrated our anniversary. Yes, celebrated is certainly the right word, despite the fundamental contradiction of a gay man being married to a straight wife. We’ve had many happy years, many happy times. Shared heartaches and triumphs. We love our kids; we really do enjoy one another’s company; we share so much in terms of worldview and values.

But nevertheless, my heart is dark inside of me. As time goes past, fear and shame grow stronger; pain and resentment deeper. Fear of the inevitable day when my secret will be made known to people I love. Shame for my actions – unfaithful, weak, pathetic. Pain that stems from the message that I heard and embraced again and again throughout my life: that deep in my heart I was evil, broken, bad. Resentment toward those who sold me the lie that, if I was honest and sincere, that god would “fix” me. That if I found the perfect girl, if I was honest with her from the start, and if we entered into marriage with pure intentions and faith in god, that everything would work out. Well guess what? Despite finding the best girl in the word, despite my most genuine attempt at honesty, despite our sincerest faith, it isn’t working out. It’s not OK. We both live with chronic emotional pain, a  wound that won’t heal.

The truth is, even though my resentment pretends to be directed at others – my family, my church, my culture – maybe the proper target of my resentment is me. I’ve read plenty stories of gay people who grew up in the church, in families that were not accepting of gay people, and yet at an early age they found the strength to reject the messages they were hearing. So why couldn’t I have done so? Why didn’t I?

Maybe it’s time to stop blaming everyone else for choices I have made. Time to start making new choices. I  mean, I can’t change what I thought and felt and did in the past, but what I do now and in the future – that is not yet set in stone. And I would like to think I’ve made progress. Many years ago, whenever I heard the dominant cultural narrative about what it was to be gay, I pretty much accepted it without question. I willingly embraced the judgment. Over time I found the strength to question and reject those same demeaning attitudes and beliefs, if only internally. I questioned and rejected them, yet almost always remained silent, not wanting to draw attention to myself. I didn’t want people to figure out my “secret.”

As I look to the future, I’m not satisfied with that. It’s progress, yes; and I’m grateful for it. But it’s time for more; time for something new. It’s time to speak up. Time to counter the anti-gay attitudes and beliefs still too prevalent in my everyday experience. Time to get over my stupid fear that people will figure out that I’m gay, and stop letting it determine what I do and what I say. It’s time for a new chapter.

Culture of shame

800px-Shame_grafitti

Recently I’ve been noticing shame as a topic on some of the blogs I read, perhaps because I’ve been feeling an abundance of shame myself. Two great examples come from the same blog, Vincible Ignorance.  The more recent post, titled Porn Shaming gives this:

Within purity culture, porn is to men what premarital sex is to women – it’s how we become “ruined.” It becomes yet another arbitrary standard that nearly no one meets and is used to shame and control people. I’ve seen too many very good boys and men, who are shamed into thinking they are dirty, perverted, terrible people because they view or have viewed pornography.

An earlier post titled Purity Culture gives this:

Ethics is more than sex. Sex should be weighted 1-6% of Christian moral teaching, but it’s the overriding issue. It’s why one can violate Catholic teaching on just wages, caring for the poor, or being hospitable to immigrants and it’s not the end of the world – but even so much as think the wrong thing about sex and you’re in a state of mortal sin. That’s too much power given to sex. I say, let’s stop letting sex have all of the power in moral discourse. It’s not that sex isn’t powerful – it can be spiritual, communicative, bonding – and, it can also be a biological release of endorphins, a stress reliever, or just pure physical pleasure. There are so many aspects to life, but only sex is framed as ruining one’s “pure” state by just one act. No Christian would say that one has lost their innocence once and for all with one lie, one miscommunication, or overeating. Let’s stick to an ethic of love, compassion, non-violence, consent, and health, and include sex in our application of that ethic.

Beautifully said. Readers, what are your thoughts on the church and shame?

Religious counseling makes things worse

depressed

I’ve been in therapy a number of times in my life. The first time was when I was in college, at the strong recommendation of the missions organization that had just rejected me for experiencing “homosexual temptation.” The referred me to a good Christian counselor in my area who probed my relationship with my father, and with my mother, and my feelings of inadequacy. Blehhh!

The second time was when I went away to graduate school. I was stressed about living in a bigger, progressive city, and fearful that I might falter in the “progress” I had made in my fight against the aforementioned temptation. Well, I call it “the second time,” but it probably really shouldn’t count. I went to just one appointment at the university counseling center, and quite logically and eloquently (I’m sure…) explained how and why I was experiencing these errant impulses. When my counselor revealed that he was gay, I elected not to return.

And more recently, since my second coming out to my wife, I’ve been working with a good individual therapist. So I was quite distressed (though not surprised) to hear of a recent study assessing the efficacy of mental health treatment in reducing the risk of suicide among LGBTQ people.

The study finds that seeking treatment from a mental health or medical provider did not reduce the odds of a suicide attempt. Respondents who sought mental health or medical treatment at some time prior to their suicide attempt (or, among those who did not attempt suicide, prior to the age when suicide might have been attempted) were as likely as respondents who did not seek any mental health treatment to have a suicide attempt or serious suicide attempt after this time. However, counseling from a religious or spiritual advisor was associated with worse outcomes. Compared with individuals who did not seek help at all, those who sought help from a religious or spiritual advisor were more likely later to attempt suicide.

“The findings are troubling because seeking treatment is a recommended suicide prevention strategy and this study’s results show no more positive effect for people who sought treatment. More troubling is the finding that individuals who sought religious or spiritual treatment had higher odds of later attempting suicide than those who did not seek treatment at all,” said co-author Ilan H. Meyer, Ph.D., Williams Senior Scholar of Public Policy. See more at: williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu

Did you catch that? Seeking help from religious or spiritual advisors actually increased the risk of suicide for LGBTQ people. Shocking, right? As I said, not surprising based on my own personal experiences, but nevertheless so very disappointing.

Signs of progress, though. Exodus International, one of the leading organizations advocating faith-based reparative therapy for gay people recently disbanded and issued an apology for the harm they have caused.  And a group of former leaders of the ex-gay conversion therapy movement have joined together and come out against conversion therapy.

If you are depressed, please don’t suffer alone. Reach out for help – but be careful who you reach out to!