Editor’s note: This launches a series of opinion pieces over the coming weeks that will address the problems created by “ex-gay” ministries and those who continue to practice or advocate for the now-discredited forms of conversion therapy. The following column is based on accounts of real people known to the authors although names and some details have been changed to protect privacy.
A couple on an early morning jog noticed a teen sitting on the curb, backpack at his side. As the couple approached, they sensed something amiss. The young man’s head was between his knees and he never looked up. Approaching quietly, the woman asked, “Are you OK?”
At first there was no response. When he finally looked up, it was obvious he had been crying and was trying to hide his face. His response was an angry, “No!”
As the story unfolded, this teenager was not OK. He had been up all night in a fight with his parents over why he was more attracted to boys than girls and why he refused to go back to what he called a “crazy church group that told him he was broken and needed to be fixed.” He was told God never would accept his choice of “that sexual lifestyle.” He said he had never participated in any such “lifestyle.”
Sometime earlier, his mother had driven him to meet the director of a gay “conversion” program at their church, and his parents forced him to attend the meetings. At each meeting, the boys were expected to describe their sexual thoughts and actions of the past week in front of the group. Participants were not allowed any contact with their friends. He was more depressed after every meeting.
In the weekly meetings, he was told that his “brokenness” was not pleasing to God. But by attending the meetings and accepting help, he was assured he could live a normal Christian life. The leaders, he said, had tried to convince the group that other boys like him, and men like him, had been freed from these sinful thoughts and behaviors.
He decided to Google other “ex-gay” websites to see for himself. He soon learned the conversion group’s assurances were not true. Almost without exception, those who had tried to change their same-sex attractions were unsuccessful.
“On the advice of the church’s conversion group director, the couple kicked their son out when he refused further ‘therapy.’ He was planning to end his life.”
All these events had culminated in the all-night shouting match the night before. On the advice of the church’s conversion group director, the couple kicked their son out when he refused further “therapy.” He was planning to end his life.
What part of this story makes you most uncomfortable? That this young man is gay? Or that a church is still promoting a thoroughly debunked “conversion” program that heaps shame, grief and abandonment on suffering teens and adults?
The good news in this story is that the couple who found this young man contemplating suicide from his place on the curb took him in. They found a competent, knowledgeable and faithful therapist who helped him accept his sexual orientation as a part of God’s diverse creation — a sexuality he did not choose and which is not likely ever to change. He lived with the couple for a number of years while he was attending school.
Meanwhile, the couple learned more about the church’s “conversion ministry.” Conversion efforts are regarded by leading mental health and education organizations as ineffective in changing sexual orientation. Additionally, research has found that “conversion” efforts are potentially damaging and often dangerous psychologically.
“Many people have been misled by programs that are, in reality, based on spiritual shaming or addiction models.”
Many people have been misled by programs that are, in reality, based on spiritual shaming or addiction models. Diverse sexuality is not about a choice. These teens and adults did not choose their sexuality any more than you chose yours. Diverse sexuality is part of their good creation in God’s image, just as your sexuality is part of your creation in God’s image.
For children and teens as well as adults struggling with anxiety, depression and/or suicidal thoughts, professional help is highly recommended. Licensed mental health providers are qualified by education, training and experience to treat anxiety and depression. For individuals struggling with diverse sexuality or gender issues it is preferable to seek a licensed professional with advanced training in human sexuality. The emphasis is on licensed.
As a culture and as a Christian community, we must unlearn so many of our old ways of responding to persons who “aren’t like us.” Issues of gender and sexuality are particularly disturbing to reconsider in light of both Scripture and science. Yet what we are learning God has known all along.
So we must face the question personally and corporately: Who are we willing to kick to the curb?
Dan McGee is an author, blogger and consultant on spiritual issues with an extensive background in psychology and ministry. He is an ordained Baptist minister with a bachelor’s degree from Baylor University, master’s degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Ph.D. from Texas Woman’s University. As a clinical sexologist and director of the Hardin-Simmons University Graduate Program in Family Psychology, Dan directed the Family Psychology Center and was responsible for clinical supervision of all interns in practice there and at satellite centers across West Texas. He is the author of Celebrating Sex in Your Marriage and Experiencing God’s Presence. Linda Francis Cross is a professional writer and communications consultant covering spiritual issues and biblical curriculum. She was an advocate for leadership development for CBF Global Missions and prior to that director of the Baptist Laity Institute of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. She has served as editor on several books and as a co-author for Radical Excellence. She is an ordained Baptist minister and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Baylor University.
At Baylor University, the debate about LGBTQ students also is shaped by a network of churches embracing conversion therapy
‘Pray Away’ and the harms of the conversion therapy movement | Opinion by Amber Cantorna
Couple helps parents of LGBTQ kids come out of the closet
Additional resources on conversion therapy are available at Good Faith Media:
The perils of conversion therapy
Churches continue practice of supporting conversion therapy
Video interviews related to conversion therapy