Friday, January 8, 2010

Ex-gay? Ex-loving.

Chances are that if you are a person who is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender - and you have struggled within the church - chances are, somewhere along the way you heard these words: "We love you but hate your sin." Nothing directed toward people who identify as LGBT could be more disingenuous, more filled with hubris than combining love for another with hatred of some part of their being.

Hamartia or ἁμαρτία, the Greek word for sin frequently used in the Second or New Testament has the meaning of "missing the mark." The idea that distance from God is what needs to be shortened in our faith and personal journeys removes the dialectical premise that Love either replaces sin or leaves one in the throes of sin, pitied and "loved" from a distance.

It is this play of the fear of sin on people and their faith that funds those out to eliminate homosexuality from the face of the earth, or to simply, sadly, leave the "sinners" behind.

The ex-gay and reparative therapy movement is smart and subtle enough not to alienate most people, since more and more we all know someone who is family and gay. So rather than take on families and love within families, these groups rally together in huge megalithic collaborations and create just enough doubt, enough fear, and enough compassion to justify peoples’ oppression of anyone who is LGBT that does not abide by or follow their path. And, are you surprised that the oppression is all couched in the shameful use of the love of Jesus Christ to achieve such goals?

Quoting from Kristin J. Temba's response to Professor Mark Achtemeier's "And Grace Will Lead Me Home," in which he tells his story of transition to supporting folk who are LGBT, Kristin outlines the somewhat frightening association and collaboration of well-funded groups out to turn Christian America straight. “One by One,” the group of which Kristin is a part, was founded in 1994. Since that time, it has found partnership with, among other anti-gay groups, “Love Won Out” (Focus on Family) and NARTH (National Association for Research of Therapy of Homosexuality). What none of these groups acknowledges is that the success rate for reparative therapy, according to the APA, is in the 1-2% range. What none of these groups acknowledge is that their primary therapeutic models, however they are designed, are about suppressing feelings. What none of these groups acknowledge is that public leaders of the ex-gay groups have themselves been unable to maintain their ex-gay status, often resigning in disgrace and then being replaced the next day, as if nothing had happened. (I won't name folk here, that's not my intention. A simple search will find the information, if you are interested.)

Also what none of these groups will acknowledge is what any person who is LGBT already knows, that there are people trapped in heterosexual relations because of pressure to conform. This is what the ex-gay movement is willing to accept and misrepresent so that they can create enough doubt in the public's mind to stop our church from being fully welcoming, without special caveats, to our sisters and brothers who are LGBT.

If we wait to be convinced of what we should do, change will not occur. That is the strategy of any group seeking to maintain the status quo - "Keep the debate going, have more studies, approach justice - but don't quite embrace it, and above all keep the church free of LGBT folks by whatever means, to whatever degree you can, especially from ordination, especially from marriage. Be willing to scare people into condescension without any guilt or consequences. Surround yourself in God to hold your assailants quiet.”

It is interesting that in the discussions taking place around the country about overtures to delete or change G-6.0106b that the ex-gay groups, well-funded, well-practiced, and so smooth...are in the mix of the discussion. To me, it's like bringing creationism and evolution into this critical reformation. And if you don't think that's an effective strategy, how many of you 100% believe in evolution? I would bet that there is some hedging of that for many that comes out as, "Well, you know, God can do whatever God wants to do. So, I'm pretty sure, but who knows." Just a little doubt, the smallest of doubt - the least of fear - has always been used to oppress others. This is no different.

I believe we have been given the wonderful ambiguity of God’s great creation, not to parse or compartmentalize it. It has been given to us to embrace. All the rhetoric, all the papers, all the Gagnons and Tembens and others who create the doubt - are only able to do so because we allow them. And, I am certainly not out to try and change any of these folk. But why are they so intent on changing me and others like me? Homophobia comes to mind.

It has all gotten so complicated that the answer is simple, really. What do we believe and where are we willing to stand in finally making this church a welcoming church and model for the Good News and others to follow. Are we so afraid of risk, that we are unable to see that our membership, relevance, and yes - treasuries, are all in decline because of our fears toward our sisters and brothers and tenacious embrace of the status quo? Are we so blind that we don’t see how these actions of exclusion make us complicit in the violence they engender? Is it any wonder people flee us...

You know, when Jesus set his face to Jerusalem, I am one of those who believe that he didn't know exactly what was going to happen. However, I do believe he knew it was going to be serious and dangerous. Yet, he went. He stayed on the path because of his love for us -- all of us -- and the attempt to shorten the distance, the hamartia, between all of us and God.

It's my belief, that any vote against the deletion of G-6.0106b is the opposite of Jesus' path that we profess to follow.

When did we come to be so fearful of one another? How did we forget that being Christian was not about "ex-ing" anyone, but about risking it all to love one another, in the name of Jesus Christ?

Ray Bagnuolo

January 8, 2010


Rev. Clint Tolbert said...

"All the rhetoric, all the papers, all the Gagnons and Tembens and others who create the doubt - are only able to do so because we allow them. And, I am certainly not out to try and change any of these folk. But why are they so intent on changing me and others like me? Homophobia comes to mind."

Isn't it disingenuous to claim that you are not trying to change others when indeed you and other LGBT advocates continually try to change the church by bringing amendment after amendment before the GA? This is your right, but let's not act like you aren't out to change others. If we weren't trying to change one another the church would simply develop some way of peacefully going our separate ways....but indeed it seems that neither side is interested in just being left alone; we advocate for what we believe to be true....this makes us Homophobes?

Alan said...

When we start hooking you up to electrodes in order to "change" you or exposing you to other forms of quack aversion therapy which have been condemned by every medical, psychological, and sociological professional organization then you can make that sort of equivalency, Rev. Tolbert.

In other words, our using the democratic mechanisms available in the PCUSA to make changes to the PCUSA constitution is nothing like trying to intentionally inflict questionable (at best) psychological "therapies" on people. It sounds like your real problem is that we are simply availing ourselves of the democratic opportunities available to anyone in the PCUSA. If you don't like those age-old Presbyterian ways of being the church, perhaps I could suggest you join other non-Reformed denominations where you wouldn't have to worry about uppity folks actually speaking their minds.

But we don't really care about changing your mind, we'd be happy enough with mutual forbearance. In other words, leave us alone and mind your own business and we'll all be happier.

Rev. Clint Tolbert said...

Alan, last I saw Gagnon wasn't using electrodes or any other form of therapy (quack or otherwise). I don't know Tembens, but as I have read him, Gagnon seeks to interpret, understand, teach and submit to Scripture. This IS the age-old way of being Presbyterian....submitting to our Lord as we understand Him from the Bible.

We can debate whether his conclusions are correct...but it simply isn't honest to conclude that Gagnon and others are on a crusade to change LGBT members of the church while LGBT members do nothing, themselves, in seeking to change others. (ie. thought processes, values, understanding of God and the Word, etc...) This is the very mission of MLP isn't it? I don't have a problem with LGBT members using our constitutional processes to seek change. I just don't like the double standard that is often applied. (ie. if you seek to change my way of thinking you are trying to enlighten me. Whereas, if I seek to change your way of thinking I am labeled a homophobe.)

I am with you in condemning manipulative, coercive and forceful tactics in bringing about change.

Alan said...

Rev. Tolbert, this article specifically discusses so-called "ex-gay therapies", which is the change that it refers to. Perhaps you are confused about that, but those "therapies" have indeed used many different snake-oil methods including electroshock.

Changing minds through reasonable discussion is one thing. Changing minds through coercion and pseudoscientific quackery (the goal of the "ex gay" movement) is entirely different. Regardless of how much you would perhaps like to make them seem equivalent, they are not.

BTW, I personally have no interest in changing anyone's mind on anything. I believe we merely have to wait a few years and demographics will solve these issues for us. We'll win whether we actually change any minds or or not.

In the meantime efforts to repeal 08-B aren't about changing minds. Not a single person who is against LGBT ordination needs to change their mind on the issue of ordination in order to decide to get rid of it. Don't want to ordain a gay elder in your church? Then don't. But don't stand in the way of those of us who do. That merely requires mutual forbearance on an issue that is not now nor has it ever been an essential of the faith, it does not require anyone to change their minds about anything.

Because the far right can't change our minds and make us believe that homosexuality is a sinful choice, they have had to resort to coercion through amendment of the Book of Order. I would remind you, by the way, that it is the far right who brought *that* amendment before GA.

So apparently attempting to change the Book of Order by getting rid of 08-B is change you can't live with, but putting it in there in the first place was just fine? If you "don't like the double standard that is so often applied" I wonder why you use them yourself?

Chris K said...

Alan your repeated use of the term "far right" is pure rhetoric. There hasn't been a 'far right' in the PCUSA for decades. You know that.

And one person’s "mutual forbearance” is another person's “total capitulation.” Yes, your side may win, but there really will not be any church left when that happens. The moderates will have been forced to leave also.

Alan said...

"There hasn't been a 'far right' in the PCUSA for decades. You know that."

Hmmm... You don't find it a little arrogant to tell someone whom you don't know what they know?

Anyway, that's your opinion, not mine. To use Ray's example, I'm pretty sure any minister who states that they'd "fight to the death to keep G-6.0106b in and the queers out" would qualify as "far right." And in my experiences such sentiments aren't even remotely limited to one lonely voice.

FYI, I use the term "far-right" to distinguish the extremists from reasonable moderate to conservative folks in the PCUSA. I don't want to paint everyone on that side of the continuum with the same brush. You can believe that you know my mind better than I do and that I just use the term as "rhetoric" if you wish, I can't do anything about that. But for anyone else reading who may choose to give me the benefit of the doubt instead of instantly assuming some sinister purpose behind my words, that's why I actually use the term.

"And one person’s 'mutual forbearance' is another person's 'total capitulation.'"

Indeed, the scorched-earth policies of the far-right may mean that the denomination cannot continue when ordination and marriage are ultimately approved. Personally, I don't think that's necessary. I'm OK living in a denomination where some people, exercising their consciences, honestly cannot participate in the ordination of LGBT people. I think they're wrong, but I also think in our denomination people have the freedom to make mistakes. Unfortunately I have to agree with you that they, however, cannot live with me, as they've made plain by either leaving, threatening to leave, or not-so-graciously inviting us to leave multiple times.

So if the denomination disintegrates, who exactly is to blame in those circumstances? Clearly it's the people who throw tantrums and leave when they don't get their own way.

Oh. Well.

You raise the concern over "the denomination" which I see as yet another problem in these discussions. Some folks appear to be more interested in "the denomination" than "the people". Though the PCUSA comes closest in my mind to the way we ought to be about organizing church, based on Scripture, and though I would be sad if the far-right does end up destroying it in their all-or-nothing, pick-up-our-toys-and-leave-if-we-don't-get-our-way strategies, I'm pretty sure God won't disappear from the universe if the PCUSA disappears.

Anyway, if Presbyterian history is any guide, they'll be back in 20 years or so, after they're done with their tantrum. :)

"but there really will not be any church left when that happens."

Not any church left? Really? And you're accusing me of pure rhetoric? :) I'll still be here. And where two or three are gathered.... If that was good enough for Jesus, it's more than enough for me.

Chris K said...

"I'm OK living in a denomination where some people, exercising their consciences, honestly cannot participate in the ordination of LGBT people."

Alan. That will never be allowed in the PCUSA. Kenyon Case. check out.

This case is why it probably has to be an all or nothing battle. Unfortunate.

Alan said...

Chris K,

Yes, I know about the Kenyon case. That doesn't mean I support the decision, nor does it mean that I would support a similar decision in this case.

While slippery slope arguments such as yours can be convincing for some, they're not terribly convincing to me.

While I'm as much of a cynic as anyone, I do hope and pray that we can recognize mistakes in the past and that there is no reason we must repeat them. The far right thinks a Kenyon II is a fait accompli. Maybe they should spend more time arguing why that should not be the case instead of their scorched earth tactics.

After all, any number of LGBT folks and groups have talked about "mutual forbearance". They're on the record doing so. Seems like they've already bought the argument that a Kenyon II is a bad idea, and if they haven't, too bad. They should have thought about that before making the mutual forbearance argument.