Tanya Erzen has a great piece at Religion Dispatches which examines the way that “ex-gay” businesses have, in a rather plastic way, tried to soften the edges of harsh fundamentalist Christianity as it’s directed toward gay people, but have simply repackaged the same hateful message:
What did the family and religious lives of these teens tell them about sexuality and religion? What produced despair so profound that death seemed their only avenue of escape from bullying?
It’s obvious to condemn the anti-gay hatemongering of Westboro Baptist church (who recently protested at my university alleging that professors teach “the ubiquitous lie that ‘it’s OK to be gay”). More troubling is the subtle and pernicious rhetoric espoused by religious communities and organizations that advise young people to transform their sexuality from gay to straight. Exodus Youth, an entire branch of the Christian ex-gay movement targets those at the most vulnerable and precarious points in their lives, arguing that instead of being gay, they are merely experiencing what they call SSA or same-sex attraction; a temporary malady that can be fixed through ministry, counseling, and prayer.
On their Web site, Exodus Youth provides “resources to help you minister to struggling youth, understand the root causes and treatment of homosexuality, address homosexuality as a church, and confront the false pro-gay theology.” The premise of Exodus is that youth must change, and that their sexuality is merely a disorder, addiction, or false identity.
Since what Exodus sells is, at heart, a nonexistent product, i.e. changing one’s sexuality through prayer and devotion to Jesus, the scientific equivalent of praying to God for a third leg, their message truly is evil, because there are real, impressionable, hurting people involved. Many of them have been either spiritually abused by their religion, or sincerely are devoted to said religion, and have been led to believe that their sexuality is the gulf that separates them from communion with their god, now and in eternity.
So groups like Exodus take scared adults and children, tell them that God has the power to change them, and then when “God” doesn’t, they feel even more rejected.
Of course, all of this is an aside from the fact that much of the point of groups like Exodus and Exodus Youth is to make straight fundamentalists feel better about hating gay people. “Look!” they say, with Sunday School donut on their lips. “We don’t hate gay people! We just hate gay-NESS! And they’re separate! Really! Why, just last week a former gay man came to speak to our Bible study about how he used to be one of those Awful People, but through the power of prayer, he is healed! And he made the most lovely flower arrangements for everyone as a take home gift!”
[Only part of that is a dramatization.]
Here’s a bit more of Tanya’s piece, and then you should read it all.
I knew a man who took his life after struggling to transform his sexuality in an ex-gay ministry for years. The ideas of “hope for healing” and “freedom from homosexuality” promulgated by Exodus Youth, religious organizations, families, and social communities are deeply entrenched and powerful. Even men and women I met in the course of my research who attended ex-gay ministries and later self-identified as LGBT still struggled. No matter how many years separated them from their experiences as young people in churches, the beliefs of their upbringing and their own same-sex desires still felt irreconcilable.
By focusing on bullying, Exodus Youth and its supporters avoid the truth that their organization endorses insidious forms of hatred cloaked in the language of compassion. Religious organizations need to carefully ask themselves what kind of compassion they promote toward the queer members of their communities. “I grieve for these young lives cut short. I grieve for the parents who love and stood by their teens, knowing what they faced at school daily,” Chris Stump writes. His grief rings hollow given that he works for Exodus. In Stump’s words, “Enough is Enough.”
Yep. Blood on their hands, too.