What the Ex-gay movement and Exodus International did wrong, and what the Christian Church can do right!
When I was 6 years old I remember thinking, “I like that boy.”
When I was 9 years old I remember thinking, “That boy is cute, I want to see his private.”
When I was 12 years old I remember thinking, “I struggle with homosexuality.”
When I was 16 years old I was reading about Exodus International and Ex-gays.
When I was 17, I understood I would struggle with homosexuality for the rest of my life, THAT WHO I AM IS SINFUL and I needed the healing, redeeming, purifying love, grace, and discipline of the Holy Spirit and I was okay with that, and I wanted to follow a teaching from the Apostle James.
"Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power to prevail."
As a 17-year-old, without any Biblical education, hopefully, I have at least some now, I thought, “Oh, I need to talk to my friends about my struggles.”
And I did just that.
And it’s been an okay process. Ups and downs. I just thought I had a sinful nature just like everyone else. I would find my friends attractive at times and I would talk about it with them and process it with them and just live life with them.
Be Christian brothers.
Little did I know other Christians that struggled with homosexuality had a whole other agenda.
They wanted to be straight. They wanted to be heterosexual. They wanted to be attracted to women.
They were going through reparative therapy to go through healing, learning, and eventually waited to be attracted to women or men.
Exodus International was the biggest “Ex-gay” ministry that was out there.
I first heard about Exodus when I was 18 at Biola.
I first loved the ministry and I sought out principles that I was learning from reparative therapy advocates. I read Dr. Nicolosi’s work, Richard Cohen’s work, and listened to hours of lectures and testimonies of men explaining their process of reparative therapy.
I related to a lot of their stories.
But there was one thing I had tension with early on in my findings.
There was this eager desire to become straight. To be attracted to women.
I think a lot of reparative therapy and ex-gay theories are actually good.
And I think the goodness has been lost in the messy narrative its been included in when politics and theology debates are leading the charge on this topic.
For those that really know what reparative therapy is, I would say here are the good points,
1. Let’s talk about our upbringing and hurts and pains that took place in regards to our own existence as a male or female.
2. Let’s talk about attachments in our lives. Are they healthy or good?
3. Let’s talk about your own perception of your gender qualities. (that’s right, I believe in only 2 genders and that there is a healthy way to express those in a certain culture)
4. Let's address the hurts and pains with people that have harmed our existence.
5. Let's work on healthy attachments with parents or those that were in authority in your childhood.
6. Let's work on building confidence in our own gender insecurities.
I think I can keep listing a lot, and I would argue, all these points are really good for any human to go through.
What lost my interest was this passion or urgency to get rid of same-sex attraction and be opposite-sex attracted.
The Christian theological premise that God made men and women to be attracted (spiritually, emotionally, and physically,) to each other I can accept. Especially the physical part. There is a sexual and aesthetic attraction men and women have for each other.
But there was never a Christian theological premise that men and women cannot be attracted to their own biological sex or find beauty in them.
And this is where things get messy.
Same-sex attraction isn’t all sinful. This is where the aesthetic and sexual attraction needs to be distinguished and talked about.
Brad Pitt? Hawt or not? Most say Hawt. Doesn’t mean sexual.
I think Michael Fassbender is good looking. Does that mean I want to have sex with him? Actually, sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. Depends how far I let my mind wander.
Cameron Diaz, I think she is hawt and I don’t care how old she is.
Women are allowed to comment on the beauty of men and women.
But men are not.
All that to say, what has been lost in the Evangelical conversation about this issue is the topic of beauty.
God made beauty.
And we are allowed to be attracted to it.
Now, we need to learn how to process that attraction as we are being redeemed.
When I was following Exodus International and ministries like the Gay Christian Network, all I kept hearing was debating about did God make people gay or not. And if God did, we don’t need to change that because God made us like that. Luckily Justin Lee denounced that idea at a seminar I went to where he and Wesely Hill chatted with each other.
But a big focus, and it is still a focus today, is the topic of orientation.
There is an idea that what we are oriented to sexually means we are allowed to pursue that.
But even more intriguing to me is the idea that we can't accept our fallenness and our same-sex attraction. Even in Alan Chamber's apology letter after exodus closed down, he mentions that he never admitted to others that for years he still had same-sex attraction because during this time same-sex attraction was only considered sinful. And they didn't distinguish between the godly intimacy desired in same-sex attraction and lust in same-sex attraction.
And Exodus International seemed to be all about “change.” But to be fair to Exodus International, it was treated unfairly and so was Alan Chambers. Exodus at the end of its days wasn’t all about reparative therapy.
But many many, now Side A Christians, blamed Exodus for telling them they can be straight if they go through the process of reparative therapy.
But what I heard as an 18-year old was....
“How can we not be attracted to Beauty anymore?”
“How can we get rid of the fact that men and women are attractive?”
Exodus was focusing on childhood trauma, which isn’t bad. But got lost in the truth that as God is redeeming us, we need to learn how to process his beauty the way he wants us to.
What does that mean?
Well, it means as a man who finds other men beautiful, I need to make sure I distinguish between my want to experience intimacy with this beauty and lust with this beauty.
I need to search my heart and see the sin in my life, despite whatever childhood trauma I have experienced, and lack of attachments I may have and experience the Holy Spirit's guidance as we get to experience the goodness of the Kingdom.
And the means experiencing the Church!
Experiencing the goodness and beauty of touch.
Experience the goodness and beauty of healthy emotional dependency and affirmation from our same-sex friends.
Telling each other, “I love you.” “You mean a lot to me.” “Let’s make some friendship vows.”
Crying with each other. Celebrating life events with each other.
Let’s Experience the goodness and beauty of each other’s bodies. Let’s go camping, hiking, traveling together. Let’s sleep in the same bed with each other. Let’s go to the gym together. Let’s sit close to each other, arm and arm, leg and leg, and Chill and watch Netflix. Let’s hit the locker room together, communal showers, spas, etc. There are many ways to experience the goodness and beauty of each other’s bodies besides sex.
Sex is good, but right now it is an idol in the church and I’m over it.
Let’s experience the goodness and beauty of community.
Let’s live together, vacation together, have each other over for dinner.
Let’s sacrifice our American dream and nuclear family so the Kingdom of God can start invading the lives of people in our communities.
When I heard that men and women were trying to become straight, I thought that was silly.
When I hear Side A Christian men, blame Alan Chambers and Exodus international for “damage they have done.” I think it is silly.
One of the number one principles in the world of Psychology is that were are responsible for our choices.
Most Side A Christians became side A because they couldn’t “Change.”
But why would anyone want to change their attraction to beauty?
Maybe it was the fault of the Church and Exodus international because they didn’t address the topic of beauty.
I receive a lot of pushback about the 4TS because I challenge people to embrace the environments they belong to such as the locker room.
God doesn’t get rid of beauty when it is stained, he redeems it. He purifies it. He sanctifies it.
God doesn’t want you to turn your existence away from what you should be experiencing if that is what you should be experiencing.
A husband to a wife, a wife to a husband, a friend to a friend, a Christian to a church, an artist to a painting, a chief to food, a human to nature, a man to challenge, a woman to motherhood, women to business, etc.
God tells us to resist sin. Resist what doesn’t belong to us.
But he never tells us to change our attraction. To change our belonging.
He doesn’t say, “You don’t belong to the locker room.” “You don’t belong to communal showers. “You don’t belong to deep same-sex intimacy.” “You don’t belong to a community.”
“You can’t see your same-sex friends naked.”
What he says is to pursue all that is good, righteous and loving.
Let your mind be renewed and changed into his perfect will, which is to love Him and others.
Too many Christians buy into the lie they can't learn to control their thoughts. This isn't the Christian message of sanctification. Sanctification calls us to confront our sins, our lustful attractions. And that is dealt with differently for different sins and different time periods in the life of a Christian.
And this is what the Christian Church can do.
Let’s pursue goodness, truth, love, and now let’s pursue
This isn’t something we need to change.
We don’t need to be like the Side A Christians who tried to change their attraction to beauty.
and let's not be like Exodus International and its related ministries that tried to avoid the sin of homosexual desires so much that it becomes gnostic in its pursuit of holiness.
Let’s be Children of God that are being redeemed and being shown how to have proper desires and experiences of all beauty.
It paid off to live in the dorms and see so many friends naked and their penis’. I was taught to not sexualize them and see them as my bothers.
I was being sanctified and being taught how to see beauty the right way.