The conversion therapy business may be more about making money than setting you straight.
“But what is a bias towards fairness?” Maggie looked on beleaguered.
“Bias toward fairness means that if the entire Congressional Republican Caucus were to walk into the House and propose a resolution stating that the Earth was flat, the Times would lead with, ‘Democrats and Republicans Can’t Agree on Shape of Earth.’”
This is the message of HBO’s Newsroom created by Aaron Sorkin. Mackenzie and Will explained that there are not always two sides to every story, sometimes there are five sides or five hundred sides, and to position a one-two argument sometimes leaves the Crazy with way too much legitimacy.
Oh how art imitates reality.
The other day I heard about Dr. Oz’s now infamous episode in which he gave the ex gay cohort the best Christmas present ever: a platform. Dr. Oz argued that although people may be upset about his show presenting this conversation, it is one that has to be had in light of California’s ban on minors entering into such therapy.
Reality is not so sweet.
The media slapped this story to the front page, and Dr. Oz got the ratings spike he sought. And as a consequence, ex gay looked legitimate. Shortly after tuning into the program, a nerve struck and a tide of terrible feelings came over me.
There she was.
Julie Hamilton is an endearing lady. She speaks with the softness of that favorite grandma that lives over the river and through the woods. There is a warmth to her that sets the frame for whatever comes out of her lovely face. Her charming voice is disarming. Her tone is not without sympathy. And the angry voices of GLAAD and GLSEN, the Harvard psychologist and the audience, made you want to rescue her. She looked like a mouse cornered by a cat.
When I wrote my post “Forgive Them, Father“, the video that tormented my dad was the creation of none other than Ms. Hamilton. Her deficient father-talk that bears no resemblance of my own life, or the children of single parents, or ones of actual bad dads, one that has been routinely refuted by leading psychologists, is still a sufficient explanation in her mind. And even though the consequences of such a theory leads to torturous tales of blame and shame, her conscience still insists that she’s right.
She has to be. What else would ex gay groups do?
Bringing me to my point.
Ex gay is not a ministry. It’s an industry.
People are throwing thousands of dollars away towards years of therapy that proves to be about as successful as your local palm reader.
…Okay, fine. That was unfair… to the occult.
See, séances with dead spouses and love potion recipes don’t typically lead to addiction, depression, and suicide. Yet, that is exactly what the fruit of the ex gay industry has been. High rates of addiction, depression, and suicide.
The leading psychologist from Harvard put it as “so simplistic, and operating under an agenda.” Personally, I’d put it as an agenda operating under the guise of empathy. It’s exploitation of the emotionally broken’s desire for acceptance in a culture that calls them abnormal. For sexual minorities within the conservative Christian community, this therapy is charming and convenient. It is seductive. It is colored with compassion. It says it will strip the societal target off their back. Enticing words are used, like “freedom”, “truth”, and “healing”—the ultimate escape from the threat of hell.
Courageously, the CEO of the leading Ex Gay organization, Alan Chambers of Exodus, recently said in an interview that “99.9%” of people that walk through their doors don’t leave changed.
“But we have thousands of success stories!” Hamilton exclaimed.
It seems someone forgot to tell Chambers.
And then, when confronted with the heartbreaking stories of near suicide from those surviving conversion therapy, Hamilton seemed sincerely sympathetic … for a moment:
“Well, I am very sorry to hear that… But ya know, sadly there is a high rate of suicide within the homosexual community.”
…Because homosexuality is innately depressing, completely unrelated to society’s shaming attitude. And even though the medical community has uniformly rejected reparative therapy as unethical and harmful, some Christians still argue that medicine is no substitute for faith. The Bible speaks in only negative tones about gay behavior, so it makes sense to switch out the gay with the straight. As Dr. Hamilton says, “You can’t change the thousand year old texts.”
In a famous exhortation, Jesus warns his followers against false prophets. He explains explicitly how to discern who is of God and who is not.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:15-20, NIV)
The Message has an interesting translation of this passage:
15-20 “Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned.” (Matthew 7:15-20, MSG, bold emphasis mine)
“A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook.” Mmhm.
This is a bad apple. It is a predatory practice. It is emotional exploitation and it is spiritual abuse. And it is so antithetical to the gospel message that I start to wonder how inept our leaders of the Church truly are when it comes to faith and sexuality.
I mean, seriously, Are we still HERE?
The legitimate and valuable conversation to be had within the Christian community is what life means for LGBT Christians. That is the one that has the potential for real freedom, truth, and healing. There are good and Godly people who see things differently. Not all saints share the same side of the table. A position against same sex relationships does NOT make someone a bigot. A position in the affirmative does NOT make someone a secularist.
But the line must be drawn between good and poisoned fruit. And like lobotomies, leeches, and cocaine medicine, Ex Gay’s shelf life has expired.
Read more on Ethics & Values.
—Photo Guillaume Paumier/Flickr