Thursday, January 26, 2012
Reorientation: Time to Pull that Barn Down
Driving home today I saw a barn in ruins. I didn’t have my camera with me, but it looked a lot like this photo I found. What struck me about the image of this barn was that the roof seemed to be strong and intact – continuing to fulfill its protective role. But underneath the shelter of the roof, the barn itself was in disarray. It seemed to me a good metaphor for the current state of reorientation ideology.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the system that upholds a focus and expectation that those who experience predominant same-sex attraction can and should pursue a shift towards opposite sex attraction. The system’s protective mechanism connects reorientation to other more politically inclined measures. Such a line of thought might go something like this: “If same-sex attracted people can change their attractions through prayer, support groups, accountability, therapeutic intervention, and strong motivation, then the idea of fair and equitable treatment for gay people is an unnecessary capitulation to a group of unmotivated, ungodly, selfish people who don’t care about normative sexuality and its connection to the strength of marriage and child-rearing.” Such reasoning has caused Christians, including Christians who had pursued such a process of change yet continued to experience same-sex attraction, to raise their voices in opposition to anti-discrimination legislation, anti-bullying measures, equal benefits initiatives, and civil gay marriage. Many did so believing they were upholding godly standards and that there was “no such thing as a homosexual person .... only heterosexual people with a homosexual problem.” They believed the theories of straight therapists who really have no idea what it is like to be same-sex oriented and the testimonies of those who claimed to have met the expectations of reorientation.
But what if these straight therapists have lost their objectivity? What if their reputations and careers have been built on being pioneers and leaders in this area of therapeutic intervention? What if they fail to see the invitational circle that so amplifies their clients’ desires to be straight that they self-report success that is then interpreted as absolute?
And what if the vast majority of those experiencing same-sex attraction and motivated by religious conviction are too frightened, ashamed, disappointed or disconnected to be able to honestly and authentically report the complex nature of their sexuality, attractions, convictions, commitments and self-expression? What if language meant one thing to one person and something different to another person – and assumptions about complete victory, freedom, transformation, and change were assumed but not intended?
In the last number of years we have seen an increase in articulating a more honest and clear self-assessment regarding this idea of reorientation. When I first came to New Direction, David, the support group leader for the ministry, told me in no uncertain terms that he was still only attracted to men. And while David’s no-nonsense commitment to honesty was shared by a few others who were single like him, it did not seem to be the norm in ex-gay circles and particularly among those who were married. As the years went on and I became a familiar figure in this world, I began to hear more nuanced stories behind closed doors. The need for honest self-disclosure was real and did happen with trusted colleagues. But then Alan Chambers and other Exodus leaders began to publicly acknowledge that same-sex attraction was still part of their experience – one that they daily chose to submit and surrender in light of their commitment to Christ and their spouse. This took a tremendous amount of courage – and it wasn’t always well received by those who had a lot vested in this reorientation system. But with these courageous admissions the system that had become more politicized than perhaps any of the ex-gay leaders ever intended, began to crumble.
Along a trajectory of public statements, Alan Chambers recently indicated on the GCN panel that 99.9% of folks do not experience a full and complete change in their sexual orientation. I’m sure Alan would want to nuance that by stating that some individuals do experience various shifts in their attractions, that there are seasons of diminished or heightened attractions, and that there is the reality of fluidity particularly for women. These are complex matters after all and binary black and white categories aren’t very useful for the vast majority of us. But this kind of nuanced, mysterious and unpredictable experience of attempting to manage ones’ sexuality is a far cry from the clear-cut claims of reorientation.
Just today, I received a book in the mail called, “Why I Slept with my Therapist: How One Gay Man Tried to Go Straight” by Brian Kraemer. I didn’t read the whole book yet – but read some key sections and skimmed the rest. It is one of the many accounts I have heard of the extreme measures individuals have pursued in the hopes of eradicating their same-sex attractions. Anyone who suggests that such folks didn’t try hard enough has clearly never really listened to these accounts.
So where does that leave us? It leaves us with a barn barely standing except for the roof ~ a roof of political power, straight privilege, anxious legalism, shame-based religion, and sacred cows.
My dad used to have a barn like that on his property. For a few years it just stood there, an empty relic of a time gone by. But at some point, this skeleton holding up a roof was too much of a hazard and my dad, along with the friends he recruited to help, took the time and energy to pull that barn down.
The time has come. This generation of young people knows it and many refuse to go anywhere near this unstable mess. Its time those who have propped up reputations and a spirit of entitlement move aside so that the barn can come down – so that those who might yet be trapped inside the web of expectation, shame and denial might emerge into the light.
The reality of being same-sex attracted is what it is. If this is your experience, it will not be in the best interest of your spiritual, emotional or relational health to try to hide it or convince yourself that it has changed if it has not. You still have choices and decisions in front of you. You can still choose how you want to describe this reality in your life and with whom you want to share it. You can still choose the beliefs and values that are important to you. You can still choose to live in alignment with these beliefs and values. If that means you remain faithful to your opposite gender spouse – that’s wonderful. If that means you live a celibate life – may it be life-giving for you. If that means you open your heart and mind to things you never allowed yourself to consider – may you receive generous wisdom and discernment in the journey.
But run out of this barn before it crashes around you. I’ve seen too many lives sucked into hopelessness, depression, and suicidal ideation all to prop up a power-play roof that cares very little about your personal life and health.
God loves you. Your experience of same-sex attraction doesn’t change that one little bit. He knows your heart. He sees you. And he invites you into his rest.
My friend David Hayward @nakedpastor posted this cartoon today: