The leader of an ‘ex-gay’ Kansas City prayer group, has just been named as a suspect in the alleged murder of his wife. According to ex-members of the group – part of the virulently anti-gay International House of Prayer “charismatic movement” – he feared that his wife was about to report the systematic abuse that she had been subject to under the guise of ‘spiritual experience’. One of the claims was that she was drugged with anti-psychotics while he engaged in sexual activity with the male members of the group.
A week ago a Minnesotan pastor was charged with eight felony counts of sexual assault on men during ‘ex-gay’ therapy sessions. It seems like every other month some anti-gay pastor is caught in flagrante delicto in a men’s room.
What on earth is going on?
It’s a tale as old as time: one of the do as I say brigade falls spectacularly from grace and emerges as (alleged!) perpetrators of the most heinous of crimes – the systematic abuse of the most vulnerable members of society; people who are turning to them for help, support and guidance.
There are members of the left wing who fall about laughing and cheering whenever such stories come to light. The self-same people that decry us as immoral, deviant, wicked and sinful falling from grace and proving themselves the lowest of the low is eternally amusing. I’m amused by it. It’s a wonderful opportunity to feel a little bit smug and self-satisfied.
But let’s not forget that at the heart of every such story are the victims – so often not only the child/adult abused, but the abusers themselves.
I watched a UK documentary a couple of weeks ago about ex-gay therapy in California. I heard the story of a man in his thirties, married with two young children. He firmly believed that his same-sex attraction was the cause of everything that was wrong with his life. He equally firmly believed that it was all his father’s fault, because that’s what the group taught him. His father was understandably devastated. In the interview he says, poignantly, that he always tried to do the best he could for his family, that he was away a lot when his son was young because he was trying to earn enough money to support his wife staying at home with the children because he believed that was the best thing for them. I raised him the same as my daddy raised me. It was heartbreaking.
Equally heartbreaking, the guy in therapy was terrified that he would inadvertently make his own sons gay if he did something wrong with their upbringing, and he watched them both closely for signs of the dreaded gayness. His youngest, he was sure, was – potentially – gay. His youngest, for the record, was one year old.
His wife, when questioned, admitted that as a teen she’d had a abortion. She felt that if her husband could bring himself to overlook her failure, her ‘fall’, then she could overlook his. I don’t think anyone in that little group was truly happy, because they were all too busy feeling guilty or blaming each other for things that were completely beyond their control.
Because that’s the problem with trying to proscribe sexuality – you’re not made gay, you’re born gay. If you refuse to believe that, then there has to be a reason. No-one is made anything without some kind of intervention, or lack thereof. In this instance, an absent father.
The documentary also followed two teenage boys. Unlike the first guy these were kids, living at home. Not legally adults. Since the documentary aired California has banned minors from being subjected to ex-gay therapy, but that ban came too late for these two. One came out at 13 or 14; he was just realising that he might be gay and struggling at school. When questioned by his mother he broke down and it all came out. His parents took the view that their son was broken and needed to be ‘fixed’. Family life was strained for some time; his relationship with his younger brother deteriorated and – reading between the lines – his father reacted violently. When asked why she couldn’t just be happy for her son if being gay was who he was, his mother responded, You might as well ask if I’d be happy for him to be a terrorist.
The second teen was sent to ex-gay therapy after a failed suicide attempt. He’d been self-harming for years. His father accompanied him on one of the group’s retreats and broke down beautifully when asked to tell his son how he felt about him. He clearly loved the boy with all his heart, but despite that he couldn’t imagine ‘anything worse’ than him being gay. When he was asked why he couldn’t accept his son’s sexuality, he – in a wonderful display of really fucked-up logic – argued that being gay made his son attempt suicide. As he saw it, the choice was clear: he either had a straight son or a dead son. He flat-out refused to consider that perhaps it was his own (or society at large’s) negative attitude towards homosexuality that made his son think that life as a gay man would be so bleak that death was preferable.
That’s why I pity the likes of the pastor who molested men during ex-gay therapy sessions. Something in his life screwed that man up so badly about being gay that instead of being a normal, functioning human being who sought a consensual relationship with someone he was attracted to, he became a sex offender. He’ll be stained by that label for the rest of his life. Yet he’s in good company. You don’t have to look far among the religious right to find evidence of sexual deviance* of every variety. Someone clearly didn’t tell them the proverb about people living in glass houses. (*by which I mean sex offenders, not homosexuals, just to be clear!).
I’m not going to start ranting about religion per se. What I am ranting about is the way some sectors organise and proscribe belief. Individual faith is a wonderful thing. It can help people through the bad times, and make the good times better. The belief in a benevolent God, the shared experience of worship, the concept of Heaven, these are all good things. When you take a belief system and start creating rules about how people apply it, that’s when you get problems. Especially if that belief system is based on a text that’s over two thousand years old and has in that time been translated back and forth between at least three dead languages.
Take Leviticus. Firstly, it’s Old Testament. If you’re a Christian (the clue’s in the Christ part), you’re New Testament, baby. But whatever, it’s all the Word of God, right? I think we’ve all heard the old Thou shalt not lie with a man as with a woman of 18:22 being bandied around. Ok, fine. If you truly believe that’s the Word of God and must be followed, then fine. Don’t get freaky with any guys. I hope you don’t blaspheme either (He who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death – 24:16), or eat pork (Of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch; they are unclean to you – 11:7-8); I hope you own a couple of good slaves, because of course You may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are round about you (25:44), but you’d better not cut your hair (You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard – 19:27) and make sure you watch what your clothes are made of (Neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee – 19:19).
See my point? If the Bible really is the true Word of God, you can’t pick and choose what bits you follow and what bits you ignore. This isn’t the difference between speeding and murder, where both are technically illegal but only one is really bad – you’re breaking the Word of God. If you honestly believe in some divine being who created all and who imparted rules for us to live by, what makes you think that He won’t mind if you pick and choose which bits to pay attention to?
But maybe you’re New Testament. Great. You believe that Jesus is the true Son of God and that his word is Law. Just show me again where Jesus says that homosexuality is bad.
Oh, wait, what’s that? Jesus didn’t say that? But I’m sure he did. I’m sure I’ve heard countless churches and pastors say that Jesus hates the gays. I’m sure I’ve heard that.
What do you mean, they made it up? Really? They presumed to know what the Son of God thinks? They presumed to put words in his mouth? Isn’t there some kind of Commandment against that???
Jesus, let’s not forget, was the guy who preached forgiveness and compassion. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Jesus understood that we’re all mortal and we all fall, but he loved us anyway, and assured us of the Father’s love to boot. Pretty nice guy. He’s the bloke who hung out with a prostitute, who believed that a Samaritan could be good, who forgave his friends’ betrayals before they’d even committed them. What a lovely, lovely man.
So how dare some hick pastor declare that he knows God’s (or Christ’s) mind? If they truly believe in God, then they know that He is watching and that He is documenting their sins.
I don’t believe that Christianity itself – or any religion, for that matter – is of itself the problem. The problem is the interpretation of religious texts by people who assume a position of authority and then start to pick and choose which bits they want their followers to believe in. People who make up details that simply don’t exist in the original tracts. People who then preach their warped idea of religion to a public who lack the understanding of the texts as a whole to form an informed and enlightened opinion on what they’re being told to believe. People who go out of their way to crusade against perceived ‘immoralities’ while turning a blind eye to the grossest behaviour imaginable.
This conspiracy goes right to the top. To the Catholic church’s repeated and shameful whitewashing of systematic abuse in every nation, where paedophile priests are moved from Diocese to Diocese without ever being reported to the police – nay, when the church funds their legal battles even after a third or fourth conviction – to the mass-abuse of unmarried mothers in convents is hushed up for decades afterwards. When a church can afford to donate $2 million to fighting American elections – money that could have been spent providing shelter, support, food and clothing to some of the most desperate and needy people in the world – then something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
Is that really what Jesus would have done?
Here’s what I believe. I believe that if there is a God, and we are all born equal in His eyes, then all this finger-pointing and name-calling doesn’t make Him happy at all. If we are all made in His image then we are all perfect just as we are: gay, straight, black, white and everything in between. We are how He made us. He gave us all the opportunity to find love and to express that love through our physical connections with each other. Sex between adult, consensual, loving partners is a beautiful thing. It is one of the best arguments that there is a God that I can think of.
What you’re really saying, when you say that God hates homosexuality, is that God got it wrong. That He made a mistake when He made us. But God is perfect. God is all-knowing and all-seeing and I don’t believe for one second that a benevolent God would ever impose on any individual a series of events that turned them into something that He abhorred when they’d done nothing wrong – which is really what every pastor who claims that homosexuals are made, not born, is suggesting. That would make Him a pretty cruel and callous God; and who could possibly have faith in such a being, never mind consider them divine?
The problem is that everyone thinks too small. There are seven billion of us currently swarming all over this planet and from Heaven, looking down, the actions of any individual are meaningless.
It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.
If I own an ant farm, I neither know nor care what each individual is up to every minute of every day. I might watch the odd one for a while as they catch my interest, but it’s a fleeting interest at best, and I won’t remember that individual even if I happen to see them again. Instead the ants become a sum of their parts. I take pleasure in watching their colony grow, I delight in their achievements as they branch out and create something truly spectacular all on their own. I feel a stupid kind of maternal pride in them.
Now if my ants suddenly split into two factions and start waging war against each other, then I’m upset. I watch from a distance, horribly distressed as they start killing each other indiscriminately; pulling down the wonderful structure they’ve spent so long creating, and which gave me so much pleasure to watch being built. I can’t do anything to stop them, I just have to hope that they sort it out and in the meantime watch them tear each other – and themselves – apart.
That, I imagine, is how God feels if He ever looks down on us. Just as it would be absurd for one ant in my fractured colony to proclaim that it understood me, so it is absurd for any human to claim to know and understand the mind of God. That’s the true God Complex. And yet people fall for it every single day. I’m not saying don’t believe. What I’m saying is believe the best. Both in God, and in your fellow men. You might not always understand, you might not always approve, but the first rule should always be Do No Harm. Don’t be blinded by political ideologies masquerading as religious truths.