Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Dissonance

What happens when a commitment to truth forces people to confront facts that contradict their presuppositions? In the case of many Christians, it seems, the presuppositions are allowed to trump the evidence, and anything that doesn't fit neatly into the box labeled 'Truth' is summarily discarded and ignored.

The ministry I used to attend wasn't like most Exodus affiliates; the leaders never make any promises about orientation change, never knowingly use any of Paul Cameron's 'statistics,' never condemn those who choose to enter the 'gay lifestyle,' and stay out of the political arena entirely. But even so, many of them perpetuate (or leave unchallenged) many of the stereotypes that Christians continue to proclaim as 'truths': that Moberly's theory of the 'defensive detachment' explains the entire phenomenon of homosexuality (at least for those who weren't sexually abused); that same-sex attractions are curable for most; that gay relationships cannot and never do work; that any problems experienced by gay people are a direct byproduct of their homosexuality; and so on.

If approached individually, almost all of the leaders would acknowledge that the above statements were untrue (or at least overstated), but in group sessions and outside speaking opportunities, listeners are often given a very different impression. A teenager who worries that she doesn't want to end up as miserable as her lesbian teacher is left with the impression that all gay couples are miserable. Gay people who claim to have had a good relationship with their same-sex parent aren't necessarily portrayed as liars, but clearly they've forgotten or blocked out the event(s) that caused their defensive detachment. A movie or TV show with gay characters is only considered accurate to the extent that those characters are portrayed as being thoroughly dysfunctional and completely incapable of developing healthy relationships, no matter how three-dimensional their portrayal might otherwise be.

Knowing the individuals involved I recognize the tightrope they're trying to walk; burst too many bubbles and you'll quickly lose your evangelical audience, at which point you lose all future opportunities to insert a voice of moderation into a highly charged debate. (And, to be fair, I can think of one staff member who's willing to publicly acknowledge both sides of the story in any setting, if given the chance.)

At the same time, though, I have to wonder if reinforcing those stereotypes, even through silence, doesn't simply solidify their Christian audience's own sense of rightness (and self-righteousness) and make it that much more difficult in the long run to bring people to a place of being willing (and able) to engage in constructive dialogue.

And furthermore, what happens when a 'struggler' begins to discover that those stereotypes that the group has been reinforcing are in fact untrue? Perhaps he'll take a step back and agree that he was better off being left in the dark until he discovered the truth for himself, or perhaps disillusionment will set in and drive him away from the church entirely. Or maybe he'll just conclude that both sides in the culture war are equally full of crap and say as much where all the world can read it.

There may not be any perfect solution, given the heavy "all gays are evil" indoctrination that takes place in most conservative churches, but it still seems like a rather large gamble to make when human lives are on the line. And given the ministry's stated commitment to proclaiming truth, it gives the appearance of inconsistency.

Of course, if I had all the answers I'd most likely be a very wealthy man.

3 comments:

Noa Resare said...

Your writing moves me deeply. Sometimes when you write I feel like I would like to write something personal to you, but since your blog lacks an email address I don't know how to do that. Please consider registering an anonymous email address somewhere (hush.com has a good reputation for anonymity), or send me contact information to my personal adress at noa@resare.com

SteveSchalchlin said...

Your points are very well stated. I also am acquainted with many people involved in the exgay movement, and they will tell me privately that they know all the deceptions expressed about gay people are just that: deceptions. But they can't seem to find the will or the courage to express this out loud. The "case against gay people" that they've created has been so carefully crafted and they've been teaching it so long, they have nothing to fall back on. If they don't perpetuate the little web of lies, then there's no reason for them to exist. So, they willingly allow themselves to continue the deception using carefully constructed sentences with invisible caveats. It's very sad.

Peterson Toscano said...

Eugene,
You write about something I have been thinking about a lot lately, that often uncovered ground between the public ex-gay presence and gay proponents who criticize the movement. In between are people who are not "gay" and are not straight. They are something other.

Ex-gay leaders, even in small and somewhat affirming groups like the one you attended, have to simplify the message for the general population, but a tension exists caused by the politicalization of the issues.

As a result, gay activists feel compelled to say that no one changes ever and ex-gay leaders rely on teachings they don't fully believe. And caught up in the middle is the struggler who is trying to work it all out without going insane.