The Odds and The Lord of the Rings

Earlier in my ex-gay journey, I obsessed about the odds of success or failure on that path.

“Success” for me wasn’t primarily about change in attractions. Rather, I was concerned with my ability to faithfully live out what I believe to be God’s commandment that we should refrain from homosexual sex and relationships. For me it was never about becoming straight or less gay or anything like that. It was about making it to the “Well done, good and faithful servant,” at the end of my days. It was about trying to follow Jesus Christ as best I could figure how. (Of course, the thought did cross my mind that it would all be a whole lot easier if I were hetero, but I knew that wasn’t the point.)

I knew a few ex-gay ministry leaders, so I asked them how many people they thought changed, how many people stayed contentedly celibate, and how many people “went back” to homosexuality. I took note of which sorts of people seemed to have an easier or worse time of it. I concluded from all this that my chances of either changing or being content with celibacy were pretty darn awful.

For one thing, I loved gay people and couldn’t stand most Christians. I hadn’t been at all unhappy with my gayness, and I was pretty unhappy being a celibate stranger in the new strange land of Evangelical Christianity I found myself in. If there is some inherent emptiness to gay life, I had become ex-gay before I could find it. I couldn’t understand why God was so uptight about homosexuality. (To be honest I still don’t for the most part. I occasionally see glimpses of a hint of a clue, but nothing I would really lean on.) So for me it was a walk of faith. I envied those ex-gays who saw homosexuality as an obviously terrible and destructive thing that a kind and loving God would want to rescue us from. How much easier that perspective would have made it all! Nearly every day I had an argument with God on the subject that went absolutely nowhere.

These were all bad signs.

Given that I looked like such an unlikely candidate for ex-gay success, it seemed the obvious thing to do was to quit. After all, if my chances of making the ex-gay thing work, of not succumbing to a return to the “lifestyle”, were slim to none, why put myself through all that pain for nothing? Better to get back to gaying right away, while I was still young and at my peak attractiveness and ideal weight. Better to quit the ex-gay thing pronto, before I built up a conservative Christian mindset that I was going to have to painfully dismantle in a few years anyway, after I abandoned Christianity and ended my ex-gay path in despair, as the data suggested I inevitably would. This logic seemed flawless to me, and while the Christian friends I tried to explain it to were never persuaded, they never had much of a rebuttal either.

My discipler exhorted me to ignore the odds. I would present her with piles of evidence proving that I was doomed to fail. She would say that statistics were pointless because God was working in me, and with God all things are possible. I didn’t find this very convincing. Those former ex-gays I read about, who had given up after years of struggle, seemed to have been just as Christian as I was. They had been praying just like I was, seeking God just like I was, trusting God to sustain them just like I was. Where had God been for them? It wasn’t as if all the failed ex-gays had been unbelievers, so that I had some special Christian advantage that made comparison between me and them unfair. As far as I could tell, I was in exactly the same boat they had been in before they leapt overboard.

This pattern of thinking went on until I read The Lord of the Rings, shortly before the first movie came out. (I have this thing about making sure I read books before I watch movies based on them.) And one passage transformed my ex-gay experience. It comes near the end of Book Five, the first book of The Return Of The King, in Chapter X, “The Black Gate Opens.” For those who don’t know the story (this scene appears in the extended version of the movie, but not the theatrical version) I’ll give a little context:

Frodo Baggins is on a quest to destroy the Ring of Power. In order to do so he needs to take the Ring to the fires of Mount Doom, in Mordor, the land of the powerful Dark Lord Sauron who is searching for the ring and will have complete dominion if he gets it. Alone except for his friend Sam, Frodo has been apart from his allies (the Fellowship of the Ring) for quite a long time, and none of his allies has any idea of how Frodo is faring in his desperate fools’ mission to sneak into Sauron’s land undetected by his gaze.

These allies decide to attempt a knowingly futile assault with a mere seven thousand warriors on Mordor, in order to perhaps distract Sauron from Frodo’s (and the Ring’s) presence in his lands for a short time. They expect near-certain doom for themselves, but they know that if Frodo fails, the doom will be for all mortals, so they judge the risk worth taking, and the sacrifice worth making.

But when they get to the Black Gate of Mordor, Sauron sends out a messenger to meet them, who taunts them and then:

“…to the wonder and dismay of all the Captains he held up first the short sword that Sam had carried, and next a grey cloak with an elven-brooch, and last the coat of mithril-mail that Frodo had worn wrapped in his tattered garments. A blackness came before their eyes, and it seemed to them in a moment of silence that the world stood still, but their hearts were dead and their last hope gone.”

Their last hope gone. It’s all over. Surely if Sauron has Frodo’s and Sam’s weapons, armor, and clothes, he has the Ring too. There’s no chance. There’s no hope. There’s no point. And nonetheless, they reject the terms of surrender that the messenger offers, make their stand, and fight.

Reading that was a powerful experience for me, like scales falling off of my eyes. It helped me realize that all my daily calculations about my likelihood of success in remaining faithful to God with my same-sex attractions were stupid. There are some things you attempt not because you think they’ll turn out well. You attempt them because you’ve decided that there’s something worth fighting for, win or lose. Sometimes it’s not about hope, but about something beyond hope. Something that says: So what if the odds are against me? So what if I am pretty much certainly going to fail? Just watch what a fight I put up on my way down!

This probably sounds bleak and dark and unappealing, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this outlook for ex-gays who are struggling. In fact, I now think that the prospects of significant attraction change and/or contented celibacy are far less dim than I thought then. Having grown in faith, I have become increasingly confident of the strength and grace which Christ will extend to all who seek it from His hand.

But I will say that this perspective helped me personally. It helped me break out of that rut of seesawing self-doubt on my ex-gay path and my Christian journey. My commitment to following what I believe to be God’s desire for my life became a real commitment, rather than an open question to be revisited on a daily basis as I reevaluated which way the wind was blowing. After all, I hadn’t started on this path because I wanted to be straight, or because I thought it would make me happier or healthier. I had started on this path because I had pledged my heart, soul, mind, strength, and body to a God who I believed was calling me to take up my cross and follow Him. What calculations or statistics could have any bearing on that?

This was immensely freeing for me. After all, most of my struggle had nothing to do with the actual difficulties of ex-gay life. Let’s face it: not getting laid, one day at a time, really isn’t all that hard, especially if you are making the right choices that won’t put you in the path of trouble. No, my real struggle was about fear, anxiety, worrying about a lonely future, worrying about falling and losing my relationships with God, the church, and my Christian friends.  Worrying, in other words, about the odds.  Once I made the decision to fight without regard for hope of success, my journey became so much easier, so much more peaceful. I even eventually found that state of contented celibacy that had always seemed so elusive before. (However, I met and fell in love with my husband not too long thereafter, so I only had a couple of years to try it it out.) 
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with hope and optimism, especially about the great works that God can and will do in our lives. But underneath the hope and optimism, I believe, there needs to be a foundation of unconditional commitment and devotion to God. We can hope like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that He will save us from the fiery furnace; but like them, we must also have hearts that deep down will not budge in their faithfulness to His calling on our lives whether He rescues us or not.

4 Responses to The Odds and The Lord of the Rings

  1. Christine says:

    I find this interesting, because I feel like I approached the whole ex-gay thing in a completely different way.

    For me, I didn’t really doubt all that much that I would experience change. I wasn’t even really all that aware of the dismal success rate (um, yeah, that’s biased to my opinion, I admit). And when I was presented with some of that information in 2001 or so….it took me eons to even look at it (it was the HRCs report that came out that year, or the year before…can’t remember). And I just as quickly picked through it all to shred everyone’s stories and suss out what they’d done wrong.

    For a time (at least a year or more) I was in a place where I really felt I had experienced significant change. And I was even at the point of really praying for God to bring the right man into my life.

    Anyway, It’s interesting that we ended up in opposite places…

    One would think that you being so swayed by all the negativity would have ended up where I am, and someone as motivated and believing as me would have ended up where you are.

  2. Yeah, one would think, huh? That’s what’s so amusing to me. I was like the worst exgay ever!

    I actually spent my early exgay years laughing at the True Believers. I feel pretty terrible about it now, which is probably why I reacted so viscerally to Justin’s song.

    You know, I think this probably does a lot to explain our different biases and perspectives.

  3. Christine says:

    Well, yes, that does help me understand your reaction to Justin’s song, I guess…

    I wonder what this says about expectations and expecting success versus being pleasantly surprised at anything that’s not failure? I mean, aren’t we taught that you’ll rise to the level of your expectations? Our two stories, told side-by-side would seem to indicate the opposite. Which is why both are only anecdotal, and wouldn’t constitute a scientific study….but…still….

  4. I’m actually a firm believer in pessimism and despair…but I’m saving that for a future blog post to be entitled “The Power of Negative Thinking.” Stay tuned!

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