Why I Would Recommend Exgay Ministries

I’ve voiced some concerns and criticisms about certain aspects of exgay ministry here recently.  I’ve agreed about a lot of things with someone who has said she would never recommend exgay ministries.  And I’ve expressed my lack of love for the Freud-inspired psych/healing approach which is central to how exgay groups address homosexuality.  But in spite of all that, I am pro- exgay ministries.  I would recommend them, generally, to those who are Christian and having a hard time dealing with their homosexual attractions.

(By the way, I should note that I’m using “exgay ministries” here to refer to Christian exgay support groups. I don’t have any experience of seeing a reparative or other exgay therapist, so I can’t comment on that. And I’m not talking about secular support groups or exgay residential programs for a similar reason.)

My recommendation would come with the disclaimer that exgay teachings are not a revealed religion. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with being a “cafeteria ex-gay”, ordering a la carte instead of getting the meal deal, taking what works and what makes sense and leaving what doesn’t. So be an intelligent consumer. Critically evaluate what you hear. Acquaint yourself with alternative perspectives and sources of information. Beware of anyone who tells you not to.  I think ex-gay ministries are a little bit like a college education in this sense–they can be a valuable experience, but you shouldn’t necessarily believe everything you’re told!

Here are some of the things that really “work” in ex-gay ministries, the reasons for which I recommend them:

Worship: Gathering together in worship with people desperately feeling their need for Jesus and His mercy and His touch, just pouring their hearts out in His presence, is an amazing thing. I’m inclined to think sometimes that you might not really know what worship can be like if you haven’t done it in a room of fiercely struggling homo-attracted folks.

Camaraderie and Understanding: Everybody knows how you feel today. Nobody pities you or is weirded out by you. They just feel for you. I’ve been open about sharing my struggles with hetero Christians since the beginning of my journey, and while I’ve had some great experiences with that, I have occasionally found that they respond either by awkwardly not knowing what to say, or by giving me a you-poor-thing look like I’m some kind of one-legged puppy.  In an exgay group, you will not be able to b.s. anyone with your own self-pity. You will be able to laugh through the hard times together with people who understand. You will be able to share your prayer requests without varnishing them, and you know that the others there will know exactly how to pray for you.

Gospel: Jesus will be placed in front of you week after week. You will be reminded of the gospel and especially of grace. Easy to take for granted, but I have found it a real blessing. I have found exgay groups a more consistent reminder of the gospel than any other kind of Christian gathering, except of course for church services. My Bible study small group might delve into deep insights about the book of Ecclesiastes, but I can count on an exgay group to bring me back to the basics of Jesus, gospel, and grace every time. If you are struggling hard, this may well be a great blessing to you too.

Consistency of Encouragement: You will hear the same encouragement to press on from your brothers and sisters week in and week out. In contrast, your non-Christian friends will probably think you have lost your mind with this whole exgay business, and may even be trying to stop you or sabotage your efforts and break you down. Even your Christian friends may feel very confused about the issue, and thus somewhat ambivalent in their support of you. If they do not struggle with same-sex attraction themselves, and you are having a really hard time, they may find themselves questioning their beliefs about the sinfulness of homosexuality, out of their care and affection for you, their not wanting to see you suffer or struggle. Or some Christians might fall toward the other extreme, and be too harsh, judgmental, and discouraging. You want people who will love you unwaveringly, who will call sin by its name, and who will support you in doing battle against it. You want people who will tie you to the mast when you begin to hear those Sirens singing. I have found exgay ministries to be a wonderful place to find people who will do that.

Safety: I didn’t appreciate this as much as some others, because I didn’t really feel ashamed of my attractions or try to hide them during my exgay journey. But many folks really enjoy the safe space provided by an exgay group.  In some cases, those in the group are the only people they feel they can tell.  A safe space is a good thing.

Abandonment of gay identity: Okay, This is far more controversial than the others, I’m sure. But I found for myself that moving past gay identity was essential for living stably and contentedly according to my beliefs as a same-sex attracted Christian woman. So this part of the exgay teaching I found extremely helpful. I really need to say more about it, but I don’t think this post is quite the place to do it. So let me just say this: Abandoning gay identity doesn’t mean being in denial. It doesn’t mean “naming it and claiming it”, proclaiming that you’re “healed”, that you’re totally straight and happily heterosexual, while you’re still homosexually attracted. What it means is radically altering the role that the fact of your homosexual attractions plays in your thinking about your self and your life. I used to feel that my homosexual attractions were at the very core of my being, a very fundamental part of who I was, so much so that I couldn’t imagine who I would be without them, I couldn’t separate them from who I was meant to be, from my normative conception of my life. And I used to very strongly socially identify as gay, so that I saw gay people as my people, my tribe. As a result of these things, after my conversion and conviction that homosex was sin, I felt like a walking contradiction and a traitor to boot. Different people report different experiences, but I personally found it impossible to maintain a stable, contented, faithful walk with God in accordance with my beliefs without letting those identifications go to some degree. Exgay ministries helped me to begin doing that.

Transitional value: Exgay groups make for wonderful transitional community for those moving from gay to straight worlds. “Normal”, straight, conservative evangelicals weirded me out completely for years. (I’ll be honest—a lot of them still do.) So when I was in college, I would literally run from church at the end of the service to get back to company which was far more comfortable for me and far less edifying. But with an exgay group, you can have the best of both worlds—lovers of God and of holiness that you can relax with and be yourself with. At some point, of course, exgays need to move on from that and merge into deeper fellowship with the larger church body. But as a transitional place, I think exgay groups are a great thing.

Encouragement to face and work through issues: Now, granted, I think sometimes the ideology of reparative therapy can push people to imagine into existence issues that were never there in the first place. But in general, I think their idea that we need to take responsibility for our baggage and issues and deal with them appropriately is a good one. Regardless of whether or not it eventually diminishes one’s homosexual attractions. There is a related depth of honest humility in exgay groups, a willingness to admit our weakness and brokenness and woundedness and fallenness, and I am convinced that wherever that willingness is, great blessing is just around the corner. In other segments of the church and the world, I have found a tendency to pretend to others and oneself that everything is hunky-dory, that one has it all under control. I see some people living very limited spiritual lives in part because they are unwilling to know themselves, to see themselves as they are (insofar as that’s possible.)  As Calvin and others have insisted, self-knowledge and God-knowledge are so intricately intertwined that you can’t have one without the other. In an exgay group, ideally, you come to see yourself as you are, and are encouraged to deal with yourself accordingly.

So, for all these reasons, I would recommend ex-gay ministries to people, despite whatever imperfections they may have.

11 Responses to Why I Would Recommend Exgay Ministries

  1. The Sheepcat says:

    The “Ex-Gay” Debates…

    Over at Warren Throckmorton, Michael Bussee and others have at it over the early days of the ex-gay (or ex-gay) organization Exodus. Scroll past the initial overheated battle over minutiae down to where Ed Hurst reports that Dr Throckmorton suggested…

  2. Tim says:

    I love this post. It is evidence of the calm, reflective, and studious mind of the author. I am going to blogroll this site.
    I have been blessed in my walk towards sanctity by an exgay ministry run by Leanne Payne, Pastoral Care Ministries. I am now enjoying a celibate lifestyle free from the lust addiction that plagued all of my adult life.
    Becoming a Catholic has helped me in this area a lot. It is a welcome thing to hear a sober voice in the wilderness of the Internet speaking the truth of the homosexual struggle with such thoughtfulness and clarity.

  3. Dear friend, I’ve looked at some of your previous posts briefly as well as this one, and a question comes to mind. To what extent can you attribute the discontent you have experienced with these various programmes and ministries to the fact that you are female?

    I tend to think that despite it all being lumped together as “homosexuality”, the phenomenon is a distinct one in males and females respectively. In that case, the solution for those seeking a way out may differ in significant ways, aside from the unifying things such as worship.

    What do you think?

  4. Sorry, and the point I should have included is that perhaps such ministries have concentrated on male SSA almost to the exclusion of considering female SSA, and therefore whatever value they have is only really for men.

  5. Rasheed,

    Sorry for my ludicrous slowness in getting back to you!

    The answer to your question is I don’t know. Most exgay (or whatever) programs/ministries do seem very male-focused to me. Certainly the books and teaching materials are that way too, although it’s evening out somewhat. The impression one gets from those who run such programs is that we understand male homosexuality better, but we don’t understand female homosexuality very much at all. So to some extent I think it’s a little bit a case of “When all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.” They give the women the men’s program because they often don’t know what else to do with us. :)

    On the other hand, I’ve also heard of a lot of discontented males who have gone through these programs and ministries–in fact, their frustration and dissatisfaction is *much* more striking than I’ve heard women express. So this is something of a puzzle for me. When women quit ministries and programs, their attitude is generally “Yeah, I got some stuff out of it, but it wasn’t really working for me in these respects, but no hard feelings.” Men on the other hand generally seem very grouchy and bitter. So if the programs work so much better for men than for women, why this disparity? It’s all very perplexing to me.

    But, yeah, it does seem plausible to me that male and female homosexuality are two very different things.

  6. dm, I think that discrepancy in discontent might be partly because the programs are so male-focused. If you’re a woman, looking at those male-focused books and web sites and such, it’s pretty obvious that you aren’t quite the target group, and so that might make it easier to figure, if it doesn’t fit and work for you, that, well, you took what you could. But if you’re a man, and you seem to be the very sort of person they’re targetting, and the program still fails you, well, then it’s got to be something wrong with the program. And then there’s lots more room for hard feelings.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Maybe…the programs *don’t* work for men — which is why they are bitter. That we understand male homosexuality better would seem to imply that there is an actual remedy or fixative for it. Otherwise, what is the point of “understanding” it if it doesn’t change anyone’s life? Or am I being silly for expecting such a thing?

    They cannot marry heterosexually (and/or remain faithful to the marriage) and celibacy is the only option many of them feel that Biblically they have.

    Maybe lesbians who don’t change can segue into “platonic” gay relationships and the men find that incredibly difficult.

  8. That’s possible, too (the “platonic” relationship thing). Ex-gay groups seem to say that you need strong friendships with your own sex, but also that you have to avoid excessively “dependent” relationships. Maybe, given differences in what it’s socially acceptable for men and women to do with same-sex friends, the whole business about “dependent” same-sex relationships falls harder on men than on women?

  9. Lynn,

    I think you’re right about the discrepancy being tied to expectations.

    Anonymous,

    I was actually thinking of the exexgay women I know who have very NON-platonic gay relationships. In my experience, exexgay women who blow off the whole exgay thing and the whole Christian thing and go have ordinary sexually active gay lives are much less bitter about it than exexgay men who do the same thing.

  10. Hello Disputedmutability! Thanks for sharing. I did Living Waters, and can only say amen and amen and amen to all your statements.
    Be blessed,

  11. [...] I Would Recommend Ex-Gay Ministries” Over at Disputed Mutability, she has a post with the above-mentioned title.  It’s an exceptional article and I recommend [...]

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