Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Paul Varnell recently wrote an article (available at the Independent Gay Forum) about the contradictory statements made about homosexuality by conservative Christians. At their root, these statements can be boiled down to this set of assertions quoted by Varnell:

"1. Homosexuality leads to misery and unhappiness, and homosexual sex is totally repulsive. (But)
2. Nonetheless, it's so appealing that if people find out about it, many will want to try it. ... (O)nce they get "hooked" they can't or won't stop."

As Varnell goes on to outline, a number of variations on that theme can be frequently heard in Christian circles, with no notice ever taken of the dissonance that becomes obvious when those two assertions are placed side by side. Of course, as Christians we are forced to wrestle with paradoxes in the course of our exploration of the nature of God, but it is possible to become too complacent in our willingness to accept contradictory claims.

That willingness permeates ex-gay philosophy as well, as Exodus spokespersons repeat many of the same claims made by other religious right groups. On the psychological end all aspects of same-sex attraction are defined in the worst possible light, even when doing so requires engaging in mental gymnastics. Whenever I'm attracted to another man I'm a narcissist, seeking to worship that which I already am. Yet by being drawn to a man who's not my identical twin, any differences between the two of us are signs of my 'cannibal compulsion,' i.e. my attraction to him is an effort to compensate for my own perceived deficiencies by 'consuming' his strengths. No allowance can be made for the possibility that I might simply appreciate him for who he is without either wanting to be him or mistaking him for a carbon copy of me.

Likewise, it's impossible according to ex-gay philosophy for two men (or two women) to have a long-term, loving, monogamous relationship; those that do are actually lying about their relationship and only give the appearance of caring about each other. Nothing that openly gay individuals say about themselves or their lives can be trusted; likewise, nothing that a conservative Christian says about gays can be questioned, no matter how it may appear to be at odds with reality.

This mindset has also worked its way into theology as it relates to homosexuality. Reparative therapists and ex-gay leaders begin with the assumption that homosexuality is nothing more than an artificial (and purely psychological) imposition on our natural heterosexuality, which anyone is capable of reclaiming. When confronted with the fact that most people who attempt to reclaim their "natural heterosexuality" never see any real shift in their sexual attractions, they dismiss the problem by insisting that those who failed just didn't try hard enough, or didn't really want to change.

Which is the only conclusion one can come to if one assumes that heterosexuality is God's will for all homosexuals, and that he would therefore provide it to anyone who sincerely sought it out. What advocates of this position (which is not unanimously held in ex-gay circles, but nonetheless remains common) fail to see is that they have adopted a variation of the "health and wealth" doctrine that most Christians rightfully reject.

"Health and wealth" proponents assert that God's will is material prosperity for all of his followers; all a believer has to do is "name it and claim it," and the good life will quickly follow. Anyone who fails to achieve wealth or to overcome any and all illness through this method just didn't have enough faith. Granted, most ex-gay programs prescribe a rigorous regimen of prayer, counseling, inner healing and sometimes masculinization/feminization exercises, but ultimately the base assumption is the same.

Although some conservative Christians have begun to back away from this dubious association, they nonetheless remain saddled with the burden of having to dismiss any evidence that might paint homosexuality as anything less than a completely negative state of being. And so, by surrendering its commitment to truth in favor of ideology, the conservative church gives up its ability to minister effectively to an entire group of people.

1 comment:

Mark said...

The two assertions aren't necessarily so contradictory.

Think of drug addictions (even alcohol and nicotine). Their effects are repulsive and destructive. We know that. Still, we allow ourselves to get hooked.

That's the meme I think the ConEvos are tying into, I think.