In my Year of Living Curiously experiment, a recent event provided the biggest challenge to my ongoing goal of elevating curiosity ahead of criticism.

Merc flaming off copy

My calendar was blocked out for the Degenerate Flame-Off weekend. It’s the coolest annual event for the glass pipe industry where all the great glass artists from around the country come to compete. With my crazy marijuana-related projects chugging along, I had to be there. Plus, it was guaranteed to be hot, sexy and sharp.

 

That same weekend I was asked to attend a protest for the national conference of Restored Hope Network, a reparative/gay-conversion/deal with homosexuality/pray the gay away event. I was torn, but then I thought,

“What do I know about this event that doesn’t come from assumption?”

Whereas I have studied a bit about the controversial topic of reparative/conversion therapy for homosexuality, my book knowledge was no substitute for experiencing the event first hand.

Plus, it was at a church and with the exception of weddings and funerals, I have never been to church. I am not a Christian. I was curious.

So I skipped the protest, split the weekend, and attended the Restored Hope Network conference and the Degenerate Flame-Off. The irony was not lost on me.

As I sat outside the church, it took much longer than usual to ready myself into my curious-before-critical state. Once inside, here’s what I learned.

Affliction or Confliction?

The gospel music filled the sanctuary and I looked for elation in the faces of the men and women with their arms lifted toward the ceiling, fingers splayed and shaking, and tears streaming down their cheeks, but all I saw was desperation.

christian arms

With all the talk about the affliction of same-sex attraction, it was hard to shake my irritation. I don’t perceive same-sex attraction to be an affliction. But then I thought about it from the perspective of men and women who do not want to be attracted to the same sex, but are. To them, perhaps it is an affliction in a similar way that being born with female chromosomes makes being born female an affliction to those that know that they are, in more ways than not, male.

I wanted to understand why these afflicted folks chose this particular type of Christianity when there are many varieties that do not consider homosexuality an affliction, but I couldn’t sneak an opportunity to poll the pews. Perhaps their true affliction was a choice…a conflicting choice of an incompatible religion with an undeniable orientation.

What Went Down?

Listening to the testimonials made it apparent that this conversion therapy was not only being sold as a cure for homosexuality, but also as a way to live around it. I wondered why it seemed like the women leaders were more convinced that the gay could be prayed away than the men. Many of the men seemed publicly desperate to eradicate unwanted attractions but privately resigned to live with them.

Most of the speakers I heard did not experience a change in sexual orientation, but found hope for help about what to do about it. They talked about their accountability partners who they go to when their same-sex urges flare up. Many have agreements about what to share and what not to share about their same-sex desires with their different-sex partners.

Tables of books and DVDs made it clear that this is an industry, a potentially big one. Each speaker I heard had created their own ministry or counseling business out of their previous role as a sinner. Some sounded smart and were excellent speakers. I got the impression that the anti-transgender business might be their next gold-rush, but I had to walk out of the transgender breakout because the “authority” was a dolt, and I didn’t know how much longer I could resist the urge to pinch her hard.

Much of the talk about what to change to be accepted in the eye of God and about what Jesus loves and does not love, got a bit confusing. For all of the success stories shared, I know that conversion therapy often fails. I couldn’t help but wonder what convinces some to change their belief from the need to change to be accepted in the eye of God, to a belief that God loves them the way they are. I also wondered if that eye of God is a literal eyeball as in “eye for an eye” or if it’s more of a metaphorical eye in the sky?

Which leads to the whole literal question…

Literally the Word of God. Really?

text

This particular program follows the literal word of God. I was curious how people know their bible is the literal word of God, and yet they can neither read nor understand a lick of the language in which the original word was supposedly written. My curiosity grew into skepticism when I saw followers look for answers from ex-sinner preachers who I suspiciously doubt had successfully finished any of the Rosetta Stone DVDs in Aramaic, Hebrew and Koine Greek.

 

Language is tricky–especially ancient language. When one searches for a zuzim, for example, how does one know whether to look for a coin or a person. That point, however, has been argued ad nauseum over plates of succulent pulled pork.

Innocuous or Not?

Although the threat of God’s disapproval was made clear, the organizers were not out capturing gay and lesbian victims, pulling them into the event.

While the Restored Hope folk didn’t seem guilty of going out and recruiting people, my eavesdropping suggested that some of the parents of young-adult “sufferers” did a little more strong-arming. The organization does advertise and proselytize that change is possible because they have participants who claim to be converted ex-gay survivors… and plenty who have given up the fight. The organization does recognize there are folks who fail to change, but they clearly don’t think that their organization offers false hope.

Opponents of gay-conversion therapy claim that the self-hating it fuels can lead to suicide. Proponents claim these programs save people.

 I overheard one young man tell a former lesbian that God told him that God would only cure one of his two afflictions, homosexuality or drug use. He was there to ask for help with the former. He was a ripe candidate because the organizers claimed to only want to help people who want to be helped. For consenting adults, that sounded innocuous enough.

And yet, it may not be as innocuous as it initially seemed because every major national health group, as well as the World Health Organization, say it’s not and they all condemn this type of therapy. Two states, New Jersey and California, have banned reparative/gay-conversion therapy for minors and it’s a hot topic. Currently there’s a nationwide campaign to ban gay-conversion therapy.

Can This Be Traced to Genocide?

anti gay

Missionary colonialists didn’t introduce homosexuality to the African continent, but cloaked in the salve of salvation, they did introduce homophobia. Globalization has been the lubricant.

According to Amnesty International, same-sex relations are illegal in 36 of African’s 54 sovereign states and countries and punishable by death in increasingly more. A fresh crackdown is underway, and it is hard to deny the culpability of missionary and evangelical groups preaching messages of the need to eradicate homosexuality. Some African countries have taken it a step farther by eradicating homosexuals.

Religion isn’t dangerous, but what people do with religion is often very dangerous. Imposition of beliefs can be deadly. It’s good that people can choose to believe what they wish to believe…until one’s beliefs begin to infringe on others.

It’s unclear what other options there are for Christians who want to be honest about their unchanging attractions, but remain convinced that homosexuality is a sin. People should have the right to hate themselves, but these types of gay-conversion programs aren’t innocuous. That doesn’t, however, make it clear that these potentially harmful programs should be illegal for miserable, consenting adults.