Last night our much-loved Hungry Beast ran a story on ‘gay conversion’, along with a live forum. Gay conversion, also known as reorientation or ex-gay ministry, is the Christian idea that people with unwanted same-sex attraction can become ‘straight’. Here are a few thoughts from my Christian point of view.
Christians are deeply negative about human nature and the realities of sexual desire and practice.
Perhaps more than any other aspect of human experience, sex is stuffed up. In fact, I’m uncomfortable with my own sexuality — and I’m ‘straight’! That’s not because I believe that sex is somehow evil — far from it. It’s because I recognise myself as a broken creature, and my brokenness extends to every aspect of my person. For all the obvious wonder of my humanity, there is something out of kilter with me. Personally, I experience sexual brokenness in my desire to objectify women and to resent my wife. In other words, all Christians have twisted sexualities — there is no such thing as a straight Christian. I don’t believe that being hetero is somehow superior, because the heteros are as wonky as anyone. Sexual wholeness is entirely beyond our own efforts, even if we’re ‘straight as an arrow’.
Christians are impossibly positive about human worth and the true goodness and power of sex.
For all this profound brokenness, Christians recognise each and every human person as a ‘image of God’, made to be nothing less than ambassadors of the Creator. Because of this belief in the most profound human dignity, as a Christian I have a ridiculous confidence in the potential power of sex. What I mean is that sex is such a beautiful and powerful part of God’s design for humanity that it is capable of reflecting God’s own relationship with us. True intimacy is the meeting of two persons who are so alike and yet so distinct, as they give themselves over to the utter service of one another in total vulnerability. That’s perfect oneness, and that’s how God wants to relate to humanity. That’s true sex. Every time people have sex, I believe that’s what they’re actually pitching at, whether or not they know it. Christians believe that’s real. Sexual wholeness is not a pipe dream — it’s nothing less than God’s own master plan.
Christians see an impossible hope through an impossibly long-term perspective on life.
There seems to be some kind of Christian subculture of gay conversion. I tend to be sceptical of this and of the different gay conversion organisations. The problem with gay conversion is that it can rob people of hope. Of course, people seeking ‘reorientation’ are looking for hope — but it’s like expecting healing from cancer. It might happen, but there’s no guarantee. It’s true that a few Christians do persist with gay conversion and can speak honestly of the progress they’ve made. But gay conversion may have the dangerous implication that we can somehow achieve wholeness in just a few short years. Of course, when we inevitably don’t experience this wholeness, even after redoubling our efforts again and again, we begin to despair. Eventually, we probably end up in one of two extremes: total self-rejection or total self-acceptance (neither of which can be a Christian outlook).
Here are a couple of comments from Haydn, the Christian ‘convertee’ in the Hungry Beast story, on the forum:
“I do think that the church and some ex-gay ministries have been culpable in raising unhealthy expectations of people. Promising quick fixes and implying that heterosexual marriages ‘fixes’ people has done enormous damage. The church has also alienated gay people and it’s no wonder that many find church unattractive. For me, I don’t see myself as straight. Being straight doesn’t change the heart; Jesus does that. My sexuality is regenerated, not straight and there’s a big difference between the two.”
“I love [my wife] very much and have been careful not to use my marriage as a vehicle for sexual change. I’ve been blessed with her BECAUSE God is healing me, not to achieve the goal of healing. If I used her for healing that would be selfish on my part and I the culprit. Openness in our marriage has helped us a lot.”
Although Christians believe in a God who heals, they do not expect God to entirely heal them during this lifetime. Christians certainly do believe in healing in this lifetime — but they also believe that there is more life to come. They do not expect perfection already, but they do have the first taste of wholeness, a tantalising whiff of the beginning of new life, a small but intoxicating sense that they really are being re-made somehow. A Christian’s impossible hope is that God is recreating a new life in them and that God is never finished with us. That’s why, just as I continue to struggle with my own sexuality, I expect that a same-sex attracted Christian will continue to struggle with theirs. Yet that’s not a struggle of despair but of hope, because it is God who provides the impetus, the means, and the goal.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.