For two years as a teen-ager, I was a born-again Christian and an evangelical. By age 18, however, my faith had matured toward a politically independent Roman Catholicism. Later, my faith would be challenged further.
Whether I qualify as a Christian today depends on whether the person requesting my religious affiliation presumes to define “Christian.” To issue any single definition of the word, in my view, risks blasphemy.
While the evangelical peers of my teen years swiftly discredited themselves, I still feel some admiration for friends who, somehow, maintain an evangelical faith, moderate it with a spirit of hospitality and humility, and preach Biblical priorities of poverty and ethnic, religious and sexual injustice.
I know that many evangelicals like Peggy and Tony Campolo oppose the values and tactics of the religious right. But it disappoints me that few evangelicals publicly challenge the political partisans.
I was pleased today to see Evangelicals Concerned doing so, in this Seattle Times profile.
As luck would have it, the article brings together Evangelicals Concerned and Jeremy Marks, founder of the British, former ex-gay organization Courage. The group now affirms gay Christians.
“What brought about my change (of perspective) was seeing how
destructive the ex-gay ethos was to people’s lives,” said Marks, 51, who is
gay. “For all the devotion people made to coming to our ministry, the
sacrifices they made, the effort they made to overcome – the long-term
result was that nothing changed, and it brought about a crisis of faith for
them. In that crisis, some lost their faith entirely.”
The Seattle Times article notes that Metanoia Ministries, a Tacoma, Wash.-based ex-gay organization, indirectly promotes that crisis of faith.
Metanoia’s founder, “like many evangelicals, considers homosexuality a sin akin to
alcoholism or drug addiction – something ‘incompatible with a life in
Christ’ but forgivable by God and redeemable if the sinner truly repents.”
The ministry’s message, it would seem, is subject oneself to chronic guilt over affections and temptations that the organization admits may never go away.
Instead of leading to freedom from homosexuality, the guilt appears to trigger in some people a cycle of temptation, binge behavior, abstinence and renewed tempation.
And what might be the goal of this cycle of repentance and sin?
It’s “so you’re always dependent on God.”
This co-dependence sounds a bit like the 12-Step surrender to a higher power. Such a surrender works for some people, and I’m happy for those individuals. But for other people, the co-dependence on God amounts to an abdication of personal responsibility.
Born-again Christians, ex-gays and twelve-steppers often paint their past lives as an out-of-control rollercoaster of extreme ups and downs that only a Higher Power could control. In exiting from themselves, some individuals feel they have exited the problem. But this method of escape does not work for everyone. Many people’s personal issues do not conform to this rollercoaster absence of self-discipline.
Said one former Metanoia participant who eventually found the ministry unhelpful and a bit intolerant:
“All my life I’d been told gay Christians can’t exist.”
When ex-gays discover that gay people of faith do exist, that gays are capable of self-discipline and spiritual integrity, and that gays do not conform to the ex-gay stereotype, the ex-gay’s co-dependent view of God unravels somewhat.
“The more I looked at what Christ said himself
in Scripture, the more I realized that what God is looking for in his people
didn’t have anything to do with the gender of those in a relationship, but
how they were in relationships with someone,” said Cheri Storm, 34, who fell
in love more than a year ago with Kimberly McGill, 33, when both were in
their Edmonds church’s Bible study group. “Are you kind, are you
compassionate, are you honoring, are you building up someone and not tearing
I have only encountered a very few ex-gay or antigay ministries that maintain an emphasis on central Gospel themes of charity, hospitality, simple living, and equality under God. They need to make themselves better-known, but since they lack funding from the religious right, it’s unlikely they’ll be launching ad campaigns and airborne banners anytime soon.