A few days ago Alan Chambers, of the now defunct Exodus International [an organisation which claimed to help ‘cure’ people of their same sex orientation], wrote an open apology to the LGBTQ community for the harm it had caused with its reparative therapy.
When my partner started to read the story out to me at 7am after I just woke up, I didn’t really know how engage with it. It seemed like something I’d been avoiding had risen to consciousness. I haven’t really dealt with my faith and sexuality in any concrete way. I guess I’ve been coming to terms with my sexuality after 15 years of having not done this, rather than figuring out what that means for a faith I had/have. And while this post won’t fully explain where I feel I am in regard to this, I feel it’s a good opportunity to address some issues that I know I have come to have an opinion on, and why I think they’re important.
This will mainly be addressed to Christians, people of various religious persuasions, and all those others [whatever your reasons] who think that same-sex attraction isn’t acceptable.
The things I’d like to talk about are 1) Why Alan Chamber’s apology is a mostly a load of crap. 2) Why it’s homophobic to not accept LGBT people into your community. 3) Why my lack of acceptance of your view on homosexuality is different from your lack of acceptance of my view on homosexuality. 4) Why I’m disappointed with a lot of my christian *friends*.
So, Alan Chambers has apologised to the LGBT community. He has closed his ‘pray-the-gay-away’ organisation. Here is an excerpt from that apology:
I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine.
You might think, if you’re at all open-minded, that this is a good thing. Well done Alan Chambers. A positive step forward. And, you know what, I think it is. It’s important to hear people who had been so staunchly against you apologise. It’s more than a lot of people would be willing to do. However, if we look a little deeper, nothing really seems to have changed. And my fear is that, this actually makes things worse. With an apology for trying to change people’s sexual orientation, make everybody ‘straight’, and exclude those who were unwilling to go along with such an idea, [i.e. support oppression and discrimination] you might expect some positive affirmation of LGBT orientations: i.e “I’m sorry that I told you that being gay wasn’t ok; for trying to help you be more straight; for the hurt this has caused you – please forgive me. It’s ok to be gay.” But this is not what has happened. There has been an apology, with no change of attitude towards LGBT peoples at the core. Here is the next excerpt from the apology:
I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them. I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself.
Alan Chambers does not believe that same sex attraction is acceptable. He does not think that gay marriage is a positive step. And he won’t apologise for this. Won’t apologise! What was he apologising for then?
Just to be clear: he will apologise for the hurt caused in the past, but won’t apologise for propping up, proclaiming, and continuing a belief system and institution which will continue to hurt, exclude, discriminate against the LGBT community. He won’t apologise for his beliefs about marriage, but he won’t try and hurt you any more by claiming that he has changed his sexual preference and erased his own same-sex desire [which he was lying about] so you should be able to too. But he will continue to believe that he had the *right* view of marriage and of sexual practice and orientation, i.e. same-sex attraction is still fundamentally *sinful*.
He says he wants to continue the conversation and cultivate human flourishing. How can someone flourish when they are constantly trying to erase part of themselves? Alan Chambers has a wife and family. He admits that he is still attracted to men. His apology was, in part, for claiming to not have these attractions, and for saying that it was possible to overcome them. His apology was not for having said that these attractions were sinful, evil, and unnatural. This, I assume, has still not changed. It’s a disgusting thing when someone apologises to you for the hurt they’ve caused, and then continues to tell you that you’re wrong and they’re right, indicating that they’re quite unaware of the hurt they’ve caused, or how they’ve caused it.
Another problem with this issue is that Alan Chambers has a wife. There will be a divide on this issue. *Generalisation warning* The Christians will say ‘Look, you can change your sexual orientation, this is the proof.’ The gay community will say, ‘He admits he’s still attracted to men, he’s just lying to himself and using Jesus as an excuse. He’s totally gay.’
I’d like to say this: if Alan Chambers wants to have a wife and be attracted to men as well as women, then that is just fine. We might call it bisexuality; we might call it being queer, or having non-normative sexuality; we might even, if we’re really progressive, not need to call it anything. I’m not interested in interrogating Alan Chamber’s personal life. What is not ok is to try and claim someone’s sexuality for your team, because you think you know best what certain indications of sexual attraction mean.
What is also not ok is for Alan Chambers to continue to tell others, inside and outside of his faith community, that same-sex attraction is fundamentally sinful. And this, I imagine, is where many of you will say ‘Well hold on a minute, if we can’t tell you how to live then don’t try and tell us how to live or what to believe.’ This is a classic response from Christians I have encountered.
I’d like to move on to why I think my attitude towards fundamentalist Christians’ beliefs is different from their attitude towards my sexual orientation.
I’ll state here at the beginning of this section that I think that those who believe same-sex attraction to be sinful and unnatural, are homophobic and bigoted. Yes. Homophobia is not only a ‘fear’ of homosexuality, but an aversion to it, discrimination against it, and delegitimization of it, whether actively or passively. Bigotry is an intolerance held towards those who hold different opinions from oneself. Many people hold these traits without knowing that they do.
There are different ways to approach the reasons that same sex attraction is acceptable. One is just to state that it is. Simple. Heterosexuals don’t have to prove, justify, or argue for their sexual preference, so why should anyone who falls outside of that category have to? Why is the weight of responsibility on LGBT peoples rather than on those who exclude them?
Some people go for this, surprisingly (this is irony for those of you who grew up in sheltered communities where you didn’t know anyone gay until you went to university, or still have never had a gay friend). It’s got various names, like acceptance and love.
But, as I know, lots of people [read fundamentalist Christians] don’t go for this argument. So I’ll try a few other approaches. But I do it with the acknowledgment that I and other non-heterosexuals shouldn’t HAVE to do this. We shouldn’t have to educate. We aren’t required to justify ourselves. Why? In order to contradict my lack of need to justify myself –Because what we believe isn’t hurting anyone. This is one reason that why what I believe is different to what you believe.
Second, most people don’t choose to have same-sex attraction, it just is part of their experience in the world. I’m not saying it’s something you’re born with either; by a culmination of various factors, one’s sexual orientation arises. But I also believe that sexuality can be fluid, can change over time. [This is not an attempt to say that everyone is bisexual.] If you’ve never thought about this, try the following: whatever your sexual attraction, try changing it. Do it now, wherever you’re sitting: imagine being attracted to the sex you are not usually attracted to. Take a few minutes. Can you do it? This experiment does two things. It either shows you that it’s difficult to change your sexuality just to tie in with a religious doctrine, or it shows you that sexuality can be fluid and not fixed to rigid categories. The argument works both ways. For anyone who has had to fight and struggle against their sexual desires, it can be distressing, tiring, and damaging. Please don’t be someone who tries to force others to do this. It’s inhumane.
A response to this will be that there are people within the Christian community who have ‘succeeded’ in ‘changing’ their sexuality: they have been transformed! Unless you are one of those people, you can never really know what it’s like, or whether that attraction has been changed, augmented, diminished, or just repressed. For Alan Chambers, his desires never went away, but he is also attracted to women. But there are many whose sexuality will not take this form, and shouldn’t be forced into a heterosexual model of sexuality. I would also add that my guess would be that 90% of those within one of these communities who has been *transformed*, if asked honestly, would have preferred it if their sexual desires were just accepted and not labeled as abhorrent. The other 10% have probably internalized homophobia to such a degree that they are still praising God that they’re not gay. I had internalised a lot of homophobia and it has taken me about a year to come to terms with my same-sex attraction after years of rejecting, avoiding, and repressing it. The fear that is associated with same-sex desire when you try to start coming to terms with it is difficult. I imagine that this fear grips many Christians who experience same-sex attraction. It can be demoralising, cause depression, and provoke suicidal thoughts and suicide. Sound familiar to anyone who’s been through it or been close to anyone who’s been through it? If this if you, please do let me know if I’m wrong. I’d like to hear of your experience.
But for those of you who haven’t ever had to think about or question your sexuality to such a degree – please stop telling people that they’re wrong and sinful. It completely erases people’s experiences, difficulties and traumas. If you’ve never even questioned, or thought about your own sexuality, let alone other people’s, then please stop to consider how difficult and oppressive your attitude may be. For those of us who have lived the experience of same-sex attraction, perhaps you could pay us the courtesy of listening to us rather than ramming the bible [albeit 1 or 2 verses] in our faces and asking us to change.
Not allowing practicing LGBT people into your community is discrimination, and therefore homophobic and bigoted. Allowing LGBT people into your community, but secretly hoping they’ll change is bigoted. Allowing LGBT people, not hoping they’ll change, but not allowing them to do certain things within the community, is bigoted.
Remember when society didn’t let black people on buses; or when women weren’t able to vote; and only the upper classes were allowed into universities? Racism, sexism, classism are still issues for our society, but discrimination against someone’s sexual orientation is often over looked by Christians as different from these. “You cant join this club because you’re black” is akin to saying “you can’t join this club because you’re a lesbian”. The response to this will be that “It isn’t me who says that it’s wrong to be gay, it’s God.” Firstly, not all christians believe this, it’s YOUR interpretation, take some responsibility for a choice you have made to believe this. It didn’t pop up from nowhere, and others in your own community disagree with you, so it is a choice. You are making a choice to be bigoted. Being asked to change this belief is not akin to being asked to change your sexuality. You can do this quite easily. You can chose to keep your beliefs and not be a bigot.
This argument that ‘God says’ was also used against blacks, women and other minorities throughout history to dehumanise and exclude them from christianity. [Sexism and the church/bible is well known, just ask any women who goes to church. See the following links for a short discussion of the bible and racism: http://bgsa.rice.edu/2012/09/05/religious-racism-jesus-saves/]. The same argument can’t continue to be used against LGBT peoples. And if it is, you can’t then complain that you get called homophobic and bigoted. This is what your attitude labels you as.
Now, I’ve been told that I am a bigot because I don’t accept fundamentalist Christians’ attitudes towards homosexuality. I don’t accept this, and here is why. To resist discrimination is not bigoted. To resist hatred is not bigoted. To resist oppression is not bigoted. My lack of acceptance is in defense and support for an oppressed minority in society. It is resistance to intolerance which doesn’t tell fundamentalist christians how to live their lives, or that they cannot have their faith; they are still free to express their sexual desires, get married, go to church, believe in Jesus, pray, etc. Your lack of acceptance for my sexual orientation is a dictation, a closing down of differences, an intolerance to others, an obstinate belief that you are superior and that others are wrong.
The bigotry would be returned if I was claiming that you couldn’t be a christian, couldn’t practice your faith. This exists in some parts of the world, and shouldn’t be accepted either. But that’s not what I’m saying. I might even want to practice a type of faith myself in the future, so I certainly don’t want to close that door. The difference is that your lack of acceptance oppresses people and that mine does not. Yours leads to discrimination in the work place, bullying in the school yard, depression, suicide, lack of equal rights [marriage], hate crimes, murder, and a host of other things that you haven’t ever thought about. Does my lack of acceptance of your intolerance lead to the same kinds of oppression for you? Your faith does not equal your belief that homosexuality is sinful. You can have one without the other. It’s not even integral.
Your faith is a choice, and your interpretation of the bible is also a choice. Please take some responsibility for these choices and stop hiding behind ‘But God says.’ You could change your attitude towards homosexuality and it would have no affect your life. Zero consequences for your daily living. You could continue to believe in God, be a christian, live the life you wanted to. The same is not true for your lack of acceptance of same-sex desire. Your choice to take issue with something that doesn’t even affect your life is what is astonishing to those of us whose lives it does affect. You think that you can control people’s behaviour regarding something which doesn’t even personally affect you. It’s the height of arrogance.
And who knows, one day it may well affect your life. One day you might be attracted to someone of the same sex. Maybe you already have been and you fear of this is why you’re so staunchly homophobic. Your children could be gay; one of your parents might come out; a close friend or a co-worker might share with you years of struggling with their sexuality. And you might have to begin to confront how your unexamined attitude then affects those relationships.
If the response to this is that that kind of belief is dishonouring to God, then all I have left to say to that is, why would a loving God be mad when two people love one another? Christians belief in love, and whether its between two men, two women, a trans guy and a lesbian, or any other combination, surely if people love and support one another, this isn’t going to be frowned upon by God. Love your neighbour as yourself: do to others as you would have them do to you. How would you feel if someone told you that you couldn’t be attracted to the opposite sex any more. It was sinful? You had to end your relationship and repent. You’d think they were crazy right? Just try stepping in someone else’s shoes for a minute. I’m not using love as the main reason here, because I don’t believe it’s the place to start actually. I’ve tried to show you some others, but love is also quite a good argument. And, if you tell me that it’s more loving to keep your conviction which says that homosexuality is sinful, then I’ll tell you that I’ve experienced that sort of love, and I’m not interested in it. It’s not more loving, it’s not better for my mental health, it doesn’t help me in the long run, and I won’t accept it as love. It’s homophobic and bigoted hate. Yes, it’s hateful.
This is why Alan Chamber’s apology is worse than an outright statement of what he thinks about homosexuality. It pretends [knowingly or not] to be loving and compassionate, when in fact it hides a rejection and a hate for queer people. I’d rather deal with someone who told me straight away that they believed homosexuality was wrong than those who wrap it up in liberal speech and try pretend that they love you and want the best for you, only to end up saying things such as ‘But homosexuality isn’t Gospel sexuality’, ‘It’s not God’s best for you’, ‘God still loves you despite your same-sex attraction.’
You know what, fuck you!
Too strong for your delicate ears? Well your whole attitude towards homosexuality is like a constant resounding fuck you to me and other queer people, so one small expletive is nothing in comparison.
I’ve been in that place where God’s best for me has been presented, and it’s not the best for me, God’s or otherwise. Saying that you respectfully disagree is a complete rejection of my experience and I find it deeply offensive.
There is a saying that the worst slave owners were the one’s who were kind to their slaves. I think the worse christians are the ones who profess their love for you but still fundamentally reject you. I have no time for this at the moment. If you think that’s just returning your intolerance towards me back at you, then you’ve heard nothing of what I’ve said. Should black people support white people who think they’re inferior? Should women stay close their male friends who continually make sexist remarks? No. They should fight against these things. In the same way, if you think that same-sex desire is wrong, then my lack of acceptance to that is a resistance to discrimination, not a reiteration of discrimination. My lack of acceptance does not discredit your personhood. Yours does mine. Coretta Scott King says that
“Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood…This sets the stage for further repression and violence that spread all too easily to victimize the next minority group.”
I don’t know how to say it any more clearly.
This video might help.
And for another response to Alan Chamber’s apology, see John Shore’s article in the Huffington Post.
And also, if you’re a fan, Owen Jones article, When anti-gay bigotry is just another lock on the closet http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/when-antigay-bigotry-is-just-another-lock-on-the-closet-8670092.html?origin=internalSearch
The final thing I want to say, to my christian friends, is that I know I’ve not be in touch with some of you for a while. It’s been a strange, complex and difficult year or so. And I haven’t always known how to speak to you about what’s been going on in my life. From the few conversations I’ve had with some christian friends about my sexuality, I’ve been told I’m deluded, confused, a moral relativist, on a path to somewhere else, spouting post-modern creeds, possessed by a sex demon, and of course, an intolerant bigot. So you can see that I’m not always hugely excited about these types of conversation. But I’ve also had one excellent conversation with a Christian, which shows me that it is possible to love, support and accept without being intolerant – in two directions! But I’d really like to hear from you in regard to this if you’re willing to engage in a dialogue about it, where ‘God says’ is not your only response to my bisexuality.
Thanks for reading.