What is truth?—John 18:38
Should We Live the Good Lie?
The New York Times article “Living the Good Lie” that I references in my post yesterday discussed how many gay Christians deal with religion and homosexuality. Denis Flanigan, a psychotherapist, believes that
Some gay evangelicals truly believe that to follow their sexual orientation means abandonment by a church that provides them with emotional and social sustenance — not to mention eternal damnation. Keeping their sexual orientation a secret, however, means giving up any opportunity to have fulfilling relationships as gay men and women.
The conundrum the psychologists in the article face is what to tell their clients. Should they try to help them be straight? Should they help them stay in the closet? Should they help them come out? Which was more important, religion or sexual orientation? Warren Throckmorton, a professor at Grove City College, a Christian institution, just north of Pittsburgh said “Many theorists in the gay-affirming world have taken a view that religion is a changeable aspect of personality. But people don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘I’ll be a Baptist instead of a Buddhist.’ Religion is the way the world makes sense to them, and for them that seems like a pretty stable attribute.” He began looking for a less polarized, more nuanced approach. Wayne Besen, the founder of Truth Wins Out, an organization devoted to debunking the ex-gay ministry, disagreed with Throckmorton, “I think Throckmorton means well and really wants to help people reconcile their faith and sexuality. However, the more appropriate way is for people to find a more moderate religion that doesn’t force them to live at cross purposes with their sexual health.” And this brings us to one of the main point of this post. If we are not entirely happy with our brand of faith, why do we not chose a more moderate religion? The reason is because, as Flanigan believed, a person’s “church provides them with emotional and social sustenance.”
Many of the men and women who have strong religious faith who cannot move past the erroneous preaching of hate instead of love find that they must continue to live in the closet, even though they acknowledge their homosexual attractions and yet refuse to live openly. These people use the term same-sex attracted instead of homosexual. According to Throckmorton, “They would say they have attractions to the same sex but haven’t formed their core identity around that.”
Last fall, Jim Swilley, the bishop of the Church in the Now, in Conyers, Ga., gave a moving, hourlong coming-out sermon to his congregation, his response to a spate of suicides by gay teenagers and, perhaps, to rumors in his church about his own sexual orientation. “There are two things in my life that I didn’t ask for . . . one is the call of God in my life, and the other is my orientation. I didn’t think that those two things could ever be compatible,” he told his congregation. Swilley had been married twice. In fact, it was his second wife, Debye, who persuaded Swilley to come out. When they started dating, Swilley told her about his attractions to men. “Let’s get married; we’ll figure it out,” Debye said. Once they agreed to divorce, he intended to remain celibate for the rest of his life and to take his secret to his grave, but Debye challenged his hypocrisy. “You tell people to experience the real God in the real world, but you’re not real,” she told him. “You don’t believe God loves you as you are.” Swilley, who is writing a book about his experience, says that any therapy that doesn’t involve coming out is pointless. “You can’t believe the stuff I watched people go through,” he said “and they are all still gay all those years later. And all the people we married off to the opposite sex are divorced.”
After years of experimenting with various treatments, Douglas Haldeman, a psychologist who opposed is to conversion therapy and has been working with gay men recovering from those same therapies since the early ’80s, came to the same conclusion as Swilley. “The clients keep trying,” Haldeman said. “The danger is that it promotes fraudulent relationships, and their mates finally leave them.” He saw too many gay men pressuring themselves to be someone they weren’t and saw spouses trying to adapt to marriages that cheated them of emotional and sexual intimacy.
The American Psychological Association clearly stated its opposition to conversion therapy and unequivocally described homosexuality as normal. But it also offered a nuanced view of religious gay people who did not want to come out. The A.P.A. considered the kind of identity therapy proposed by Throckmorton and Yarhouse to be a viable option. No effort needed to be expended trying to change a client’s religion or sexual orientation. Therapy, in fact, was to have no particular outcome either way, other than to guide the client closer to self-acceptance, whatever the client believed that to be. The difference between sexual orientation and sexual identity was microscopically parsed. “Acceptance of same-sex sexual attractions and sexual orientation may not mean the formation of an L.G.B. sexual-orientation identity,” the report stated. “Alternate identities may develop instead.” It further stated that acting on same-sex attractions might not be a fulfilling solution for everyone.
In their solution, or more likely non-solution, the A.P.A. is guiding therapists with no true map. Each persons psychological make-up is different. They tend to want to find an easy answer when there is not one. I personally do not believe that a life in the closet is a healthy solution, because you are lying to yourself which destroys you from the inside. I also do not believe that abandoning my faith was ever a viable option. I never once considered it. I did on occasion consider finding a more moderate church, but the fact that I was raised in the Church of Christ did not make this a viable option for me and my faith in God. A true member of the Churches of Christ is not likely to go find another church that believes something that is not in the New Testament scriptures. The Churches of Christ (and the Stone/Campbell restoration movement as a whole) was founded because the Presbyterian Church of which Thomas Campbell was a member met to lay judgment on each of its members on a weekly basis in order to determine if they should be allowed to partake in the Eucharist/Communion or not. Campbell felt that God was the only judge of our faith, not man, and therefore wrote the The Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington which was a starting point for the Campbell–Stone Movement, leading to the development of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Churches of Christ and the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ.
The particular beliefs of the Churches of Christ and why I hold them so dear are the topics of my next post.