Is Repent America Really Loving?

February 28, 2006

On October 10, 2004, a group of eleven Christians who were demonstrating at Philadelphia OutFest were arrested on a variety of charges, including most notoriously “ethinic intimidation.” All charges were eventually dropped, but the story nonetheless has had a powerful impact in Christian circles with its foreboding suggestions of what could happen in the future if hate crimes laws are allowed. Since the event, the “Philadelphia 11” have been treated as heroic defenders of the faith in conservative Christian circles.

I want to set aside the issue of hate speech and hate crimes laws, the legality of the actions of the “Philadelphia 11”, and the question of whether they were treated worse or better than they deserved by the gay event attenders and law enforcement. My concern here though isn’t so much with the events of that day themselves, but with the adoption of the “Philadelphia 11” as conservative Christian poster children (literally–see the smaller picture on the bottom left) and defenders of the faith.

Michael Marcavage and his organization Repent America, which was behind the demonstration, profess to be acting out of love. But wouldn’t love pay heed to the efficacy of a method of evangelism? If he really wants to see men and women turn from their sin to Christ, would he show up at gay pride events with a bullhorn? I can’t help but wonder if this is more about making disturbances, getting attention, making enemies, and trying to get persecuted than it is about presenting the gospel in love to people who need to hear it. In this post I will demonstrate how Repent America’s love falls short, judging them by their own words and by resources they link to from their own site–not by what their enemies have to say about them.
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Of Genes, Studies, and Standards

February 28, 2006

So new research suggests a genetic component to sexual orientation:

“When we looked at women who have gay kids, in those with more than one gay son, we saw a quarter of them inactivate the same X in virtually every cell we checked,” Bocklandt said. “That’s extremely unusual.”Forty-four of the women had more than one gay son.

In contrast, 4 percent of mothers with no gay sons activated the chromosome and 13 percent of those with just one gay son did.

I have no comment on the research itself, except to offer the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that perhaps the unusual pattern of chromosomal activation connects to some behavioral trait in the mothers themselves, such as “overbearing” or “smothering” behavior.

But I will take this occasion as an excuse to complain about how some people on both sides of this issue can be so selectively scientific in terms of how they assess these studies. Ex-gays and other conservative Christians, for example, see the limitations of this study and those like it from a hundred miles away, and are quick to point them out. Yet somehow, the high standards which make them skeptical of studies like these and what they can be taken to show often suddenly evaporate when they assess studies which support an ex-gay position.

Conversely, some gays who are devout believers in biologically determined homosexual orientation are quick to find flaws and defects which they take to discredit pro-exgay research and arguments, while treating every shred of evidence that suggests a genetic or other biological contribution to sexual orientation as if it proved that sexual orientation was inborn and immutable.

So many people seem to “strain at gnats” in research and claims that support the other side, and “swallow camels” in the research and claims that support their own.

I personally don’t see why ex-gays need to worry about this sort of research. Sure, it hurts theories that insist that sexual orientation is entirely environmentally caused, but I’m of the opinion that we shouldn’t be hanging on to those theories anyway. We have no need to argue that there is no biological factor involved.

One thing we should remember is that the two issues of what causes homosexual orientation and the mutability of homosexual orientation are separate issues. Even if homosexual orientation were caused entirely by environmental factors like parenting and childhood experiences, it might still be unchangeable. Not everything that happens to us in life can have its effects undone, even with therapy and effort. The flip side is that even if it were determined that genetic or other biological factors completely determined which sexual orientation one grew into “naturally”, it would still be an open question whether or not capacities to enjoy sexual/romantic relating to the opposite sex could be developed, and whether or not homosexual attractions could diminish.  In any case, these questions of causation and mutability are also both distinct from the moral question of whether or not homosexual sex and relationships are sin.

I’m not saying that I believe that the causes are strictly innately biological. I don’t. I’m just saying that even if they were, that need not have any bearing on the validity of ex-gay testimonies or  conservative Christian moral beliefs.

On Alan Chambers, Ex-ex-gays, and the Golden Rule

February 22, 2006

From the Salon article on CPAC:

A 1:30 p.m. session on “Marriage in the States,” which was supposed to include Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, featured instead a self-described former homosexual named Alan Chambers. He said sodomy was like fast food: “It will kill you.” He was an expert because he had lived through the torment of gay lust, enduring “a never ending cycle of cravings and nourishment … an endless treadmill of faceless encounters, broken hearts and unmet dreams.” His research on the gay lifestyle had also taught him that gay people do not really want gay marriage (it was the liberal media) and that “lifelong homosexual relationships are not possible.” Then he declared, in the struggling voice of a recovering alcoholic, “Today I stand before you as a heterosexual man … who now lives an unparalleled life of happiness and satisfaction.” He said there were hundreds of thousands like him.

(More extensive quotes can be found here at CNSnews.)

I don’t doubt that Chambers’ personal experience with homosexuality was as desperate a thing as he describes. I don’t doubt that he never knew a lifelong homosexual relationship. But I’m not sure what his justification is for claiming that the same is true for all gay people.

Chambers later sent a clarification to XGW. Apparently he didn’t say that “lifelong homosexual relationships are not possible;” rather, he said that “lifelong, loving, committed homosexual relationships are not possible.” This suggests that Chambers accepts the existence of lifelong gay relationships, but denies that they are loving or committed. (This raises the question of exactly what is keeping those loveless uncommitted gay couples together anyway, but I’ll set that aside for now.)

Here’s the ironic bit, and the heart of what I want to get to in this post:

I am sure as an ex-gay person that Chambers is very familiar with the experience of others refusing to accept his testimony about his own life. I’ve experienced it myself, and I find it rather frustrating. It irritates me when exexgays assume I’m lying or I’ve been brainwashed, just because my experience is different from theirs. (Not all exexgays do this–some are accepting, and some are warily skeptical but respectful. God bless ’em.) But where does someone who doesn’t know me, who hasn’t lived my life, get off telling me that my life is a lie, without any evidence to back that claim up? I’ve never met an exex who actually has evidence that change never happens, although I’ve found often them very quick to insist that that’s the case.

But then why is Chambers doing the same thing?

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Four Random Thoughts on “The End of the Spear” and Chad Allen

February 14, 2006

I’m kind of upset over the whole Chad Allen controversy. But I don’t feel like writing a well-organized blogpost about it now. So here are some random thoughts.

1. Was this movie supposed to be strictly a ministry thing, using Christians at every step of the way? Were they trying to cast only Christian actors? If so, well yeah, they goofed pretty bad. But it’s apparent that they weren’t.

Then what were they expecting? What is so especially bad about a gay activist, compared to all the other sorts of worldly people out there? Did they need some “minimally moral” unbeliever? Should there have been some sort of morality test for prospective actors before they got to audition, so they could keep out the “really bad” sinners? Doesn’t that negate all our proclamations that all are sinners in need of the grace of God, that the homosexual is no better and no worse than us, apart from that grace?

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Vindication, sort of. I’m biased against straight people.

February 10, 2006

Your data suggest a moderate automatic preference for Gay People compared to Straight People.

I recently found out about the Implicit Association Test, which supposedly tests your unconscious preferences for people of one group over another. I took the test, and got the result quoted above.

I was a wee bit nervous about taking the test. I’ve often been told that my conservative religious beliefs about homosexuality (and my choice to take up an ex-gay path) stemmed from hatred, fear, or dislike of gayness. That always sounded implausible to me, but who knows what goes on in the shadowy realms of the unconscious? So I thought, “Uh-oh…now I’m going to unearth all that internalized homophobia and self-loathing I’ve subconsciously managed to disguise as ‘religious conviction’ and ‘sincere attempts to understand what the Bible teaches.'”

Well, the IAT says otherwise! And it’s from Harvard. So there.

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Both Sides Read Ex-gay Issues Into Brokeback

February 9, 2006

Chad Thompson has been criticized, somewhat justly I think, for bringing the whole ex-gay issue into his initial review of Brokeback Mountain, trying to portray the characters’ frustrations and difficulties as being about orientation change and belief or disbelief in it. He writes:

After all, isn’t that what this really is all about? The existence of God? The character of God? The power of God? One of the most famous lines in the film is “If you can’t change [your sexuality] you just have to stand it.” From a human perspective, changing something as deeply ingrained as one’s sexual orientation certainly is impossible, which is exactly why the world looks at people like me and assumes I’m a fake. But if God really is who he says he is; if God really can heal the sick, turn water into wine, and even bring the dead to life, then overcoming homosexuality wouldn’t seem that hard anymore would it?

There’s a lot I could say about this, but for the moment I’ll just point out that it’s clear that the thought of orientation change just doesn’t cross either of the main characters’ minds in the movie. Chad’s interpretation of the “If you can’t fix it, you got to stand it” quote is totally off-base. This might be Chad’s issue, and what he wants his audience to think about, but it’s a huge stretch to find it in the movie. It’s eisegesis, rather than exegesis.

But it’s not just ex-gays who are trying to find the ex-gay issue in a movie that has nothing to do with it. Here’s a quote from Wayne Besen’s review:

[Brokeback Mountain] will also help undermine the right wing’s promotion of ex-gay ministries. The dramatization of shattered families in Brokeback Mountain exposes these groups for the divorce mills they truly are.

Huh??? Blaming the ex-gay ministries for the family problems in Brokeback is a bit like blaming Richard Simmons for the obesity of someone who never once tried “Sweating to the Oldies.” You have to actually go to the ex-gay ministries for help in order to count as one of their failures.

Call Me What You Want

February 6, 2006

While I don’t like the term “ex-gay,” sometimes I find myself using it in reference to myself for its convenience and understandability. Many people know at least vaguely what the ex-gay movement is. They can get a vaguely approximate understanding of how I see myself if I use that term. But I personally don’t identify as ex-gay. Or gay. Or straight. Or bi. Or former homosexual. Or homosexual. Or heterosexual. I’m not anti-label. I just haven’t found sexual orientation to be a terribly helpful concept for understanding myself. But that’s another topic.

I’m not saying this to be obscure about my sexual attractions. If you want to know, as best as I can estimate, my attractions are around a Kinsey 1.5. (i.e., on a scale of 0-6, where 0 = only hetero attractions, and 6 = only homo attractions.) Compared to a former 5.9 or something like that. I say 5.9 instead of 6 because I once had the hots for a guy for about 10 minutes in the fall of 1996. Trust me, it didn’t amount to much in comparison to the thousands upon thousands of same-sex attractions I experienced, waking and sleeping.

If you think that a 5.9 out of 6 isn’t really gay, fine. If you think that a 1.5 out of 6 is still really gay, fine. If you think I was just always bi and that a change of 4.4 is insignificant, fine. No skin off my back. Really. I don’t think I have a stake in any of the relevant labels.

On a side note, I try my best to respect other people and call them what they want to be called. So if certain people call themselves gay, I call them gay. I may not “believe in” sexual orientation, but how I address others is not the best way to make that point.