Monday, July 30, 2007


Rather than pretend that I spent any time thinking about things blogospheric while I was out of town, here's a video for your entertainment. Coming soon (or not) to a television near you...

Monday, July 23, 2007

In Memoriam

Numerous tributes to the late Tammy Fae (Bakker) Messner have already appeared on the internet. Given that she was never an individual that I paid close attention to, I hadn't planned to comment on her passing. This morning, however, it occurred to me that writing a post about her was precisely what I needed to do.

Growing up I don't recall ever watching the PTL Club. I was certainly aware of the Bakkers, steeped as I was in the Christian subculture at an early age, but I never paid much attention to televangelists. I remember when the Bakkers started building their Christian theme park, which seemed like a rather materialistic project yet possibly an interesting place to visit. I remember when they footed the bill for their daughter's Christian music album; it was poorly produced, and the one single I heard on the radio didn't get airplay for very long. And, of course, there were all the jokes about Tammy Fae's makeup, which everyone my age found endlessly hilarious at the time. In short, the Bakkers were the epitome of '80s evangelicalism.

Then the PTL scandal hit, and overnight the Bakkers became personas non grata in the Christian community. Jim went to jail, Tammy got a divorce, and nobody seemed to want to talk much about what happened to their kids. That scandal was only one of several, as Oral Roberts had recently made a spectacle of himself with his vision of a homicidal 90-foot Jesus, and it wouldn't be long before Jimmy Swaggart (among others) fell from his lofty perch as well.

There was never a lack of prominent Christians to gossip about in those days. That was also the time period when Amy Grant took heavy flack for "crossing over" and allegedly compromising her message. I personally loved Unguarded, but still briefly jumped on the "pummel Amy" bandwagon when she appeared in a music video with Peter Cetera wearing (gasp) a tank top and singing a love song with a musician who wasn't her husband. Oh, the horror.

A few years later Tammy Fae was back in the news when she co-hosted a talk show with the openly gay Jm J. Bullock. The show didn't last long, but it gave us "good" Christians all the proof we needed that she had gone off the deep end. Surely no God-fearing individual would actually associate with an unrepentant homosexual, after all. (And of course I wasn't gay; it was just a phase I was going to grow out of any day.)

After that I didn't pay much attention to Tammy; she seemed to be little more than a tabloid celebrity, and I'd never cared for tabloids. In short, I judged and convicted her in the almighty courtroom of my mind. I may not have made a lot of noise about it, just as I was seldom openly militant about any of my opinions, but I had decided that I knew everything I needed to know about Tammy Fae Messner. Such judgments color and taint everything that we say and do, even if we never directly articulate them.

And so I reduced her to a two-dimensional caricature. It's very easy to do, certainly far easier than actually taking the time to get to know a person. Three-dimensional people are complex and confusing and they don't fit neatly into our boxes, and who really wants to expend the considerable effort that it takes to delve into all of that?

It's only fairly recently that I've begun to learn about the other side of Tammy Fae - the compassion that she extended to the gay community at a time when the rest of the Christian world was sitting back and smirking at the AIDS crisis, the grace that she offered to those who crossed her path, and the peace that she displayed when it became clear that her days on this earth were coming to an end. Even if it turns out that she wasn't correct in every aspect of her theology, it's love of the kind she modeled that will echo throughout eternity, long after all theological disputes have been wiped away and forgotten in the instant of our first encounter with God face to face.

So to Tammy Fae I now say (belatedly): I'm sorry for judging you. Judging may be what we Christians do best, but that doesn't make it a Christlike thing to do. With God's help maybe I'll get it right next time.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Although some have expressed surprise at the vehemence that a few ex-gays have demonstrated in response to the growing profile of the ex-ex-gay movement, I don't know that it should have caught anyone off guard. I suggest that not because I hold to any stereotypes about ex-gays (who are as diverse a group as any other), but because the letter being promoted by PFOX is a classic example of an individual with a Stage Three mindset.

Stage Three individuals can be very open-minded about some issues, but no dissent can be tolerated when it comes to "important" beliefs. Those who dare to disagree on matters central to the faith are regarded either as lost sheep to be patiently but firmly steered back into the fold, or as enemies to be crushed at all costs. Not all Stage Three individuals can be categorized as fundamentalists, but fundamentalism is certainly a byproduct of Stage Three thought.

This kind of black-and-white, us-versus-them thinking is hardly limited to Christians or even to adherents of any religion; one can find Stage Three individuals among virtually any group, as this commenter at Ex-Gay Watch recently demonstrated. Just as many conservative Christians have no room within their worldview for the existence of healthy, well-adjusted and genuinely moral gays and lesbians, so some non-Christians cannot fathom the existence of conservative Christians who are kind, peaceful and reasonably intelligent people.

Unfortunately there's no simple solution to this impasse, at least within the context of our current society. One can no more force a person to transition from Stage Three to Stage Four than one can rip open a cocoon and expect a healthy butterfly to emerge. People are jolted out of their comfort zones all the time as a matter of course, but not all of them turn it into an opportunity for growth. Some retreat further into their faith/belief community, rededicating themselves to the cause with even greater fervor. Others make a dramatic leap to some radically different group, trading in one set of beliefs for another without actually undergoing any internal change apart from moving the vantage point that anchors their biases.

Those few that do move forward into the wilderness of doubt often find themselves unable to call any place home, at least while they remain in Stage Four. Just as they've become cynical about the beliefs they once held without question, so they turn a skeptical eye on any other group that might try to recruit them. It's a journey that's ultimately worth the seemingly high cost, but good luck with that sales pitch.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Questions For Exodus

Cross-posted from Ex-Gay Watch. If any Exodus leaders opt to respond, they'll most likely do so over there.

Given the defensive, sarcastic, and even hostile reactions that Exodus and its political allies have offered in response to the Ex-Gay Survivors Conference and the growing profile of the ex-ex-gay movement, several questions come to mind.

1. How do Exodus and its affiliates treat those who “drop out” of their programs? Is any follow-up ever done to find out why those individuals left? If not, does Exodus just hope that those people will go away and quietly vanish? How are current participants encouraged to treat former participants?

2. Does Exodus believe that ex-ex-gays have a right to tell their stories in their own words, or does it regard only the testimonies of “faithful” ex-gays as valid? Is there room for dialogue with former ex-gays, or are they considered enemies of the church?

3. Does Exodus believe that ex-ex-gays are in danger of losing their salvation? Can God still work in the lives of those who disagree with Exodus’ theological and political opinions, or are such individuals heretics to be expelled from the church at any cost?

4. When a former ex-gay claims to have been harmed by their ex-gay experiences, does Exodus take those charges seriously or are they dismissed as political posturing? Does Exodus consider its programs so far above reproach that no complaint made against them could be valid?

5. Former ex-gays are familiar with being told (by presumably well-meaning individuals) that their disenchantment is due either to personal failure or to incorrect perceptions and false expectations on their part. What, then, is Exodus doing to correct misperceptions about the definition of “change,” which are still widespread throughout the evangelical church? What is Exodus doing to ensure that “strugglers” – and their families, peers, pastors and fellow churchgoers – adopt a proper set of expectations, including fully understanding that “change” will, for most participants, mean a lifetime of celibacy?

Ex-Gay Watch is interested in hearing how Alan Chambers would respond to these questions, but the floor is open to leaders of local Exodus affiliates as well, as we recognize that their answers may vary.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Business Time

Hmm, maybe this is what opponents of gay marriage are trying to protect us from? Yeah, I know, probably not...

Thursday, July 05, 2007


Much has already been said by others about the Ex-Gay Survivors Conference. I may have a few more thoughts to add to that volume later, but at the moment I'm more focused on what was, for me, the most important part of the weekend: connecting with people. In addition to meeting up with fellow bloggers like Christine, Eric, Peterson and the incomparable Misty Irons, I got to spend time with online friends from GCN and Ex-Gay Watch, as well as a few new acquaintances. The weekend wasn't long enough to spend time with everyone I wanted to talk to, but it was well worth the trip all the same.

The biggest surprise of the weekend, however, was running into two guys I'd known in college. Back in those days I was deep enough in denial to be oblivious to the notion that other gay students might attend a Christian college in any significant number. The only real inkling I'd had came from an anonymous confessional printed in the school newspaper one year, which suggested that the anonymous writer knew of others on campus like himself. I still assumed it was a fairly small number, and certainly wouldn't have done anything to even hint that I might be one of them.

Since then, I've talked to enough gay alumni of Christian colleges to realize that gay (or same-sex attracted, if you prefer) students are not only present (however secretly) in such settings, but may well be represented at Christian schools in numbers larger than in the general population. Whether because of the draw that ministry has for many of us or because we hoped that immersing ourselves in a Christian environment would "fix" us, or both, the potentially hostile environment of a conservative Christian community did not deter us from attending.

Whether or not administrators at these schools are fully aware of just how many gay/SSA students they have under their auspices at any given time, it's not a fact that one will ever hear them acknowledge publicly. And it's not as though anyone could take a census of Christian college students and come up with anything resembling an accurate count; I certainly wouldn't have admitted it at the time, even anonymously.

Yet we are there, and always have been. Many of us end up walking away from our evangelical roots, if we don't leave the church altogether. Some stay permanently in denial, some commit themselves to the ex-gay path, some choose celibacy, and some find a partner and enter the so-called "lifestyle." Even among those who marry an opposite-sex spouse, extremely few ever actually change their orientation, despite the fondest wishes of those well-meaning administrators who force many to attend reparative therapy sessions as a condition of their enrollment.

Side A, B, X or otherwise, the day is coming when the evangelical church will have to face the fact that there are more of us than it ever imagined; that we are their children, siblings, friends, colleagues and ministry partners; and that any constructive solution to that "problem" will necessarily involve acknowledging that we're always going to be here, that we're not evil and out to destroy the church, and that we can no more go away by morphing into heterosexuals than we can by vanishing into nonexistence.

The church can continue to issue ultimatums and show the door to many of its most talented and enthusiastic members, but by doing so it reveals a heart that's selective in its compassion and conditional in its love. "Love the sinner, hate the sin" might become more than empty, self-deceptive rhetoric if more than a small handful of Christians ever came to understand what it truly means. As long as the church continues to place a higher value on on doctrine and ideology than on people, however, that's not likely to happen.

There is no easy solution to this issue - and maybe there never will be a definitive resolution. Perhaps we're not even meant to find such resolution in this lifetime. But we can still pray that one day the church will move past its desire for easy, black-and-white answers and rediscover the example of Christ, who took every burden upon himself without expecting anything in return. Then, and only then, can the healing begin.