Every time I recount the story of how I transitioned from a place of unquestioning acceptance of ex-gay ideology into the journey that I find myself on today, it comes out a bit differently as I focus on different aspects of what was, at the time, a far more complex process than a few pages of text could ever fully capture. If there’s one pivotal event that I hope I adequately account for in every retelling, it’s how I came to truly understand, for the first time, that God loves me exactly the way I am, and that I don’t have to change who or what I am to earn his acceptance.
It’s equally important to understand that God brought me to this point before I began questioning everything I’d been taught by the church about my “condition,” and not the other way around. I certainly didn’t interpret God’s unconditional acceptance as a license to do whatever my whims might happen to dicate, and I still don’t.
Words cannot fully convey just how revolutionary it was to come to the realization that not only did I not have to become somebody else in order to appease God, but he didn’t want me to be somebody else. Yet somebody else was precisely what I was trying to become through my efforts to “reclaim my natural heterosexuality.”
For better or for worse, whether because of genetics, hormones, psychological influences or some combination of the three, my homosexuality is a permanent, integral part of who I am, and God made it clear to me that he wasn’t interested in fundamentally altering the personality of somebody he had already fallen in love with, as even a partial shift in orientation would have entailed for me. Maybe it’s different for someone whose attractions were more fluid to begin with, but I wouldn’t know.
Again, the enormity of that revelation can only be appreciated if it’s understood that I was still fully committed at the time to the idea that my only alternative to heterosexual marriage was lifelong celibacy. Sure, the breadth and depth of God’s love was taught in the churches and programs I’d attended over the years, but there were always qualifications and stipulations and all sorts of implied exceptions.
Although it was generally understood that my orientation was not sinful in and of itself, virtually every Christian book, radio program, lecture and sermon I was exposed to over the course of my life made it abundantly clear that homosexuality was a tremendous evil on par with the very worst atrocities recorded in our history books. The very clear implication of all of that was that any good Christian in my position should strive to eradicate even the temptation to commit such a horrendous sin lest God’s wrath immediately descend upon me.
It might seem odd to an outside observer, but it’s internally consistent given that most strains of conservative Christian theology emphasize, to one degree or another, that every last one of us is pond scum, completely incapable of doing anything good on our own and valuable only because God chose to value us despite our inherent worthlessness. In theory, Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf empowers us to love him in return and to do good deeds.
In practice, the lessons drummed into me in church every Sunday led me to a life of fear – fear of what God would do to my worthless self if I didn’t say and do all the right things, fear of what God will do to those I love if I can’t persuade them to adopt my beliefs and standards, and fear of the terrible judgment God will pour out on our nation if his followers can’t bring enough of our neighbors to repentance.
I know I’m not the only one who has lived in that fear. It may not be openly acknowledged, but it’s a silent presence in more than a few churches. It lurks just behind the semi-permanent smile of the person who inserts “Hallelujah” or “praise God” into every other sentence just as surely as it drives the crusader who’s constantly badgering nonbelievers and “heretics” about their eternal destiny. And then there are those who just keep their mouths shut and their heads down and follow along without making too many waves, as I did.
But if “perfect love drives out fear,” as we’re told in 1 John 4:18, then something must be amiss in our churches. If fear is ever our motivation for doing anything, then perhaps it’s time for us to stop and reexamine what we really believe, underneath what we claim to believe.
All of that isn’t to say that I was never motivated by love for God, but even that love was tainted by fear – not the reverential ‘fear’ that the righteous have for God, according to the Bible, but the kind of love mixed with fear that a child might have for an abusive parent.
In truth, God was never an abusive parent. But deep down inside, beneath all of the theology I’d been taught, I didn’t really believe that he loved me. He tolerated me, if only because he couldn’t get around his own promises, but only as long as I stayed off the furniture and didn’t cause any trouble. It took a lot for God to finally break through all of the noise from the condemning voices running through my head, and those old tapes still rear up to haunt me from time to time.
Nothing has ever been as liberating and empowering as understanding – truly understanding – that I am loved, without reservation or qualification of any kind. I’ve heard so many times how freedom is supposed to come from obeying God’s laws. Obedience to God’s voice is certainly an important part of the Christian life, but it’s not the true source of our power.
If rules and regulations could liberate us, then totalitarian governments would be the greatest source of freedom known to mankind. God frees us, not by placing us back under the Law, but by giving us the one thing we desire and need more than any other: unconditional acceptance. Such unqualified love enables us to do the right thing in a way no set of rules could ever accomplish. Not because we’re “supposed to,” or because we fear being slapped down for our missteps, but because we know that we are valuable, and that those around us are valuable, and that nothing in the entire universe can strip any of us of our incalculable value.
For those that choose the ex-gay path in response to a genuine understanding of God’s unconditional love, I wish them the best on their journey. For those that choose it as a result of fear, obligation, misinformation or some combination of the three, I pray that one day they too will come to experience the freedom that no legalistic system can ever deliver.
I like the KJV Bible version of 2 Timothy 1:7
Notice that you can put “spirit” before each of those “of” phrases.
When I was nearing my 40th birthday, I was by myself one Sunday evening (here in Tulsa, living with my parents again) and I decided to get 6 individual Bibles and use each one for individual references for the 6 Clobber Passages which the Fundamentalist Christians use to proof-text homosexuality is a sin. Except back in the early 1980s, I did not know that Believers who were gay called them “Clobber Passages.” I did not know that until after I left the closet in the Spring of 1984 and moved out of Oklahoma.
The reason for doing that was I just felt that I would be a better evangelist for the Lord Christ Jesus if I did not experience feelings for certain men. After I had read each of the passages, I decided to pray earnestly and believing in faith.
I did not pray to Jesus himself; I prayed to the Heavenly Father which is exactly what Jesus said to do since we must go through Jesus first.
So, when I asked the Father to take away those feelings and why I was asking, I heard with my human ears, in a voice sort of like a human father would use when being asked the same question over and over by a child, “Joe, I made you that way and I love you just the way you are!”
Jesus had also promised that the Holy Spirit would speak and not use Holy Spirit’s words, but the words of the Father and of Himself instead. That was not the first time I heard the Father speak to me. Other times had to do when I was doing important ministry for the Lord and He gave me advice as to what to do or let Him do if for me instead.
Since I was raised by practicing (Trinitarian) Pentecostals and heard my own father have 2-way conversations with God the father from the time that I was 4 going on 5 years old, I knew that when the Heavenly Father spoke to a Believer, I would recognize his voice, too.
I think knowing this information in these Ex-Gay Watch discussions is important because so many of the early ex-gay ministries were started in Trinitarian Doctrine Pentecostal or Charismatic churches. Many of them have been taken over by non-Pentecostal/Charismatic doctrine individuals in the past 20 years or so.
The reason behind the above paragraph is the fact that so many Pentecostal/Charismatic pastors and denominational leaders still support ex-gay ministries and many of them also believe that there is a “spirit of homosexuality.” A former Assemblies of God pastor turned Word of Faith Charismatic and the pastor of Tulsa’s local Victory Christian Center said in a televised live 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning worship service that he knew how to recognize the spirit of homosexuality. I knew Billy Joe Daughtery, the pastor of VCC, since the early 1970s when he was the youth pastor of an AG and I was an adult volunteer at another AG in town.
Billy Joe gave this long laundry list of what the “spirit of homosexuality” consisted of and how could one could recognize a homosexual.
When He finished talking, I said to the TV as though he was in the room, “Billy Joe, if what you said was true, you would know that at least one of those men operating the camera this morning is openly gay when he is not at your church.” I had the TV on while I was getting read to go to the 11:00 service at Family of Faith MCC.
Well, actually two of his volunteer camera operators were at that service, David and his live-in partner. I told David what Billy Joe had said and we both thought it was funny, too. David and I were both from AG backgrounds and he had been the adult youth leader at an AG in a small town some distance from Tulsa years before.
David told me years later about the VCC service being in the ORU Mabee Center, using the schools TV production services and that the facilities director actually knew which volunteers were actually openly gay elsewhere and he did not care as long as they followed his direction back in the control room.
Eugene Wagner wrote:
What a concept! That notion hit me kind of strange but I think I understand what you mean Mr. Wagner. I think was I thinking along the same lines until I honestly took an introspective inventory of myself. I knew God made me the way I am and I was about to say “F**k you, God. If He can’t accept me and would just tolerate the person that I am…then I do…not…need…Him. But, strangely, after an episode where I was at the nadir of a failed love affair coincidentally at the same time I was dealing with family scorn and rejection that I came to realization I do not fear Him. God certainly wasn’t a fatherly figure whom I feared. I had nothing to feel guilty about**. I could stand in front of Him and proudly say: I am not afraid of the life I have made for myself. He knows me. He knows who I am and that is all that matters. My journey from this point on until I meet my Creator is following the instincts and feelings that I know are good…and associate with like-minded people.
** I’m not perfect. So, I do have a few minor quibbles with a guilty conscience.
We Believers who are followers of Christ Jesus do need to understand that paideuo, the Greek word in the New Testament translated as “discipline,” actually is the word for “training/education of boys” (modified to include all children by interpretation).
1 Corinthians 11:32
When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. NIV
The KJV has “chastened” for “discipline” which implies receiving a type of spiritual corporal punishment.
The writers of the New Testament should have found a better word to replace the Greek word phobia when talking about “fearing God.” One is not supposed to be afraid of God the Father at all, no more than one is supposed to be afraid of one’s own human father. I say that we should have a healthy respect for God the Father just like we are supposed to have for our human fathers.
I was not afraid of Dad at all; but, I did know what could happen if I did not do what he said to do or expected me to do. After I finished the 8th grade, I was never physically disciplined by him. I had rarely got a whuppin’ by him more than once a year up to that last time. I won’t explain what happened that last time but it was a case where we were both at fault and we forgave each other for what we did although we both had done what we thought was right. After the 8th grade, when I did wrong, the response was more like “I told you so” from his POV.
My self-esteem problems until I was in my 50s was being afraid of what others might think and get the wrong idea. I had professional help in that area.
Jesus said that we could boldly go before the Throne of Grace when we needed help from God the Father. That means we are not supposed to be afraid to talk to Him at all.
Often anyone who is a Believer in Jesus should trust his own instincts to make his own decisions to do everyday things. It does take spiritual maturity to be able to do that without feelings of guilt.
None of my guilt feelings related to my sexual orientation as one who is exclusively homosexual came from the Holy Spirit, it was from human beings who thought they knew how to interpret the Bible.
Eugene said: It might seem odd to an outside observer, but it’s internally consistent given that most strains of conservative Christian theology emphasize, to one degree or another, that every last one of us is pond scum, completely incapable of doing anything good on our own and valuable only because God chose to value us despite our inherent worthlessness. In theory, Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf empowers us to love him in return and to do good deeds.
And that is how they get people to buy into their belief system. Fear. You are not worth anything unless you conform to their belief system which will lead you out of the depths of Hell and into salvation not only through Christ’s sacrafice but by observing the letter of The Law.
Funny, I don’t recall Jesus forcing people to conform to his teachings. Or forcing sinners to hear his Sermon on the Mount. People came to him because of his deep love for others and his healing ministry. He was condemned for eating with sinners which I have not doubt in my mind many of those that rail against gay people would have done the same to Jesus if he walked the Earth today.
The Christian faith is summoned up in one word: Love. We need more of that in the Christian community.
Thank you Eugene for a wonderful post.
Any Believer in Jesus the Christ who believes that he is “pond scum” or “unworthy” is believing what is contrary to what Jesus taught. The God in whom I believe does not make worthless human beings.
Ken R is right. Jesus NEVER forced people to confirm to his teachings. Even if they rejected what he said they needed to do, he still loved them unconditionally.
I believe that Jesus liked to party and he never seemed to turn down an invitation to dinner. While he was usually invited, one time he invited himself to be a guest in the home of a wealthy tax collector, Zacchaeus, who lived in Jericho. See Luke 19:1-10. The Jews considered tax collectors to be sinners. Take time to read the parable which Jesus told while in Zacchaeus’ home, too, which follows in Luke 19 also.
Oh, the Sermon of the Mount covers 3 chapters, Matthew 5-7. Some Fundamentalist Christians put the Ten Commandments above Jesus’ commands in the early part of that sermon. They ignore that Jesus said about some of the Mosaic commands. Jesus said, in words to this effect, “You have it heard _____ said of old times: but, I say unto you __________. Notice he did not even say those Mosaic commandments, aka The Law, were even commandments.
When I read about conservative Christianity (especially fundamentalists and evangelicals) and their beliefs they tend to be more about quoting and following Paul and his writings then they are about Jesus and social justice. Why is that? Paul was not the one crucified on the cross. Nor did he rise from the dead on the third day. Nor ascend into heaven forty days later.
I’m curious. Can someone explain why this is?
This is not going to be the deep theological reason that I’m sure there is and that you’ll surely get (and that’s a good thing) from others…but…very simply,
Paul wrote bulk of the New Testament that is not the Gospels. The stuff he was writing was to the New Testament church….which is us…….so all of Paul’s stuff is taken as sort of “directions” for how to be a church….the thing is…..we usually don’t take into account the culture and the times in which alot of those things were written.
Ken R Said:
The extremist faction of the Pharisees were Fundamentalist Jews during the period of Jesus’ and the Early 1st Century Church’s ministry. Not all Pharisees opposed Jesus and his teachings. Just the ones who wanted to change Israel/Judea into a Theocracy and get rid of Roman Rule.
Paul NEVER met Jesus in Person. The original Church officially called “The Way” existed for quite a while before Saul (his original name) started persecuting the Believers (only official name of Jesus’ followers in the 1st Century). Saul was a Jewish Rabbi, a Levite, and while he could not stone anyone whom he considered a heretic, he could have it done under his authority.
You can read Acts 6:8-8:1 where that faction of Jews opposed the Deacon/Evangelist’s Stephen’s teachings. Saul is included in the group in Acts 6:9 and he was at the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7:54-8:1.
Stephen is erroneously called “The 1st Christian Martyr;” but since “martyr” is Greek for “witness,” the first person of The Way to preach as a witness for Christ Jesus was the Disciple/Apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Stephen was a witness of Jesus just like all of the 1st Century Believers were. If you tell folks about Jesus’ good news of salvation, that makes you a “martyr,” too.
It was nor until Saul was on his way to Damascus (see Acts 9:1-30) that he met Jesus. But, he met the resurrected Christ Jesus. While Saul was literally blind for 3 days, Jesus used that opportunity to teach Saul everything that he needed to know about what He taught and did during His earthly ministry. The Jewish Believers, especially the original Disciples, back in Jerusalem were afraid of Saul and wanted nothing to do with him. It was Barnabas, a Levite convert from Cyprus, who intervened and got the Apostles in Jerusalem to have a meeting with Saul. Barnabas was a co-evangelist later with Saul in Antioch, Syria. Because of their preaching, the Believers were first called “Christianos” by the Greek-speaking pagans in Antioch. (Note the “were called” which is in the passive voice and means that Jesus’ followers never called themselves “Christians.” Since Saul and Barnabas preached about “The Anointed (One),” “Christianos” (Anointedites?) was coined to make fun of them.)
Sometimes, when Paul got older, he started being somewhat legalistic like he was when he was a Jewish Rabbi. He even wrote to Titus who was evangelizing on the Island of Crete, “All Cretans are liars.” Paul was stereotyping the citizens of Crete when he did that.
Folks who put the “Pauline” writings (Paul’s Epistles) above what Jesus taught and did and what the Apostles and Disciples taught and did should be called “Paulists.” Paul actually did not like it when converts to The Way under his ministry claimed, in words to this effect, “We are (disciples) of Paul and we follow his teachings.” Paul wrote “Follow me as long as I am following the Christ’s teachings correctly.” Not an exact quote of what he said; but, that is what he meant. He also said, “I preach (about) the Christ and him crucified.” It was Paul who started substituting Jesus’ heavenly position title, The Christ, for the name of Jesus. If the Greek definite article for “the” is not before “Christ” is not in the text, “the” is usually implied in the suffix at the end of Christ- in the text in Paul’s writing. One needs to consider the context of the world view of the readers of Paul’s epistles and Paul’s own world view at the time, too. I could get into more detail about that, too.
Oh, real Evangelicals are actually moderates. I am Evangelical; but, I am not a Fundamentalist. Real Evangelicals, as I call them, believe that all of the Scriptures are literal when the text says or implies they are; but, there are times when things are not supposed to be taken literally. When Jesus spoke in Parables to teach a spiritually moral lesson, he was telling a “truth” while not actually telling a true story. A “parable” is an “allegory, discourse” from the Greek, parabole, from the words, para, “beside,” and ballo, to “throw.”
In the OT, there is a fable of trees selecting a king and they talked. When the donkey talked in the OT, that was meant to be taken as literal. An angel of the Lord let the donkey express his thoughts in words because the man riding him was out to destroy the Jews. And the rider was beating him for disobeying him, too.
That was supposed to be Acts 6:8-15, Acts 7 and Acts 8:1 in the above. Begin with verse 8 of Chapter 6 and end with verse 1 of Chapter 8.
Joe Allen Doty:
i believe the “extremist pharisees” you refer to would probably be better described as Sadducees, or “Scribes.” They were fundamentalist Temple functionaries, Priests who performed the rituals in the Temple. Pharisaism in the time around the first century BCE was very much a liberal religion. Today’s rabbinical Judaism is a direct descendent of the Pharisee religion. There were MANY Jewish sects, much more than there are today, in the Roman era. They all died out because of their inability to adapt – except the Pharisees. They were simple teachers of God’s goodness through His Torah and Scriptures. They did not need the Temple to make sacrifices to be good and to repent for sins (see Psalms 51:16-17, Micah 6:6-9, Proverbs 10:2), nor did they need the Temple to justify themselves as teachers of God’s Word. Sadducees were very uncompromising and in fact they were often puppets of Roman politics. They rejected the scholarly interpretations of the Pharisees: for them, only what was written down in the scripture was authoritative. Letter of the Law, literally! Talk about fundamentalism. Rabbi Hillel the Elder (c. 100 BCE) said in Talmud tractate Shabbat 31a: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the entire Torah. The rest is just commentary on this point. Now, go and learn it.”
When I think about how the Law was put on earth to benefit mankind’s kindness to their fellow human being, it makes me feel that it’s silly to pick and choose specific verses and Laws to oust and reproach a group of people.
The Gospels’ authors made distinction between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees were not Pharisees at all. But, most Scribes belonged to the Pharisee Party. The Sadducees only accepted the books of Moses, aka the Pentateuch, as scriptural.
The Sadducees were originally from the richer classes of the Jews/Israelites. They had been wealthy property owners.
I don’t consider the Psalms nor the book of Proverbs to be theological books. They are poetry books. Micah was a minor prophet and I do like verse 8 of what you quoted from Micah.
When I write about the extremist faction of Pharisees, I do that because Jesus himself used words to that effect, too.
I am not anti-Jewish; it’s just that I am not a Jewish theologian. Although I have been told that I do have Jewish ancestry. My paternal grandmother’s family surname was Ishmael.
All of the books from the Tanakh (you call it the old testament) are touched by God and contain authority for us Jews. That’s why I quoted them. Also, I quoted Psalm 51 because it’s what David wrote in praise of God’s kindness towards him after Nathan the prophet came to him in 2 Samuel 12.
I’m also not a Jewish Theologian.
But that’s enough for me; the differences between the Jewish and Christian view of Scripture are too great for me to try to reconcile. That’s for a rabbi and a minister to do together.
Since I am a minister of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, I would certainly discuss that with any rabbi, Emily K. I can be called a theologian because of my formal study for 5 semesters as a graduate theology student. While I did not finish the degree, partly for health reason, I consider myself to have the equivalent of a MA in Theological and Historical Studies degree. (The initials of that spells “MATHS.” It was not a seminary degree; it was a degree program for those who would be college instructors or professors of theology.
The Orthodox Christianity view of Scripture is not exactly the same as my own view of Scripture. Orthodox Christianity is based on various Catholic traditions, which sometimes have no connection with the New Testament teachings and practices at all.