By Joel P. Engardio
writer, documentary filmmaker
There’s an online group of 13,000 gays who profess their belief in Christ. The Gay Christian Network is a bit of a miracle, given how hostile some religions are to gays.
While fundamental ministers decry the “homosexual agenda” and gay activists deplore “ex-gay treatment,” the members of GCN must live the tug-of-war over their sexual identity and faith. That’s why gay Christians will benefit from a recent report by the American Psychological Association that says efforts to change someone’s sexual orientation don’t work.
This isn’t news to the many GCN members who are survivors of the programs that failed to turn them straight. But it might be comforting to a number of teens in the online network who fear being sent to a “reparative therapy” camp by their parents. A new generation of gay Christians could be spared pointless misery now that the word’s largest association of psychologists has definitively declared ex-gay therapy is quackery.
With that cleared up, why then are there 13,000 gays at GCN – some traumatized by the ex-gay movement and others afraid of being subjected to it – who still want to be gay Christians? Because they believe God has room for gays who want to worship him. The conversations at GCN, online and at in-person conventions, don’t ignore the scriptures that admonish same-sex attractions. Leviticus and Corinthians are discussed and debated. Weight is given to the fact Jesus himself never spoke directly about gays. The dogma matters to them because these gays care what the Bible says. They just want to be able to practice their faith without denying who they are.
How gay Christians navigate this divide varies. Many at GCN embrace healthy, loving and monogamous same-sex relationships as the ideal. Others wonder whether celibacy is the best course for a gay Christian. And a few wish they weren’t gay. That’s where the American Psychological Association’s report is especially helpful. Beyond demonstrating how reparative therapy is ineffective, counter-productive and harmful, the APA offers some added solace for the person of deep faith wrestling with their sexual identity. The APA makes it clear that an ethical therapist should inform gay clients that being gay is not a mental illness, gay relationships can be fulfilling and there is no treatment that will make a gay person straight.
For those who want to stay in a religion that doesn’t allow sexually active gays, the APA instructs therapists to “explore possible life paths that address the reality of their sexual orientation, reduce the stigma associated with homosexuality, respect the client’s religious beliefs, and consider possibilities for a religiously and spiritually meaningful and rewarding life.” In other words, rather than an all-or-nothing approach, therapists can work with clients to live within the rules of their faith through celibacy, find new interpretations of their existing faith or explore other faiths that accept gays more fully.
The APA’s focus on the ethical treatment of gays with strong faith is noteworthy because it provides options for Christians struggling with their sexuality. It tells them they are not sick or broken and that they do not have to abandon God because they are gay. Perhaps most important, the APA guidelines make it harder for the deeply religious parents of gay kids to find a licensed therapist willing to provide harmful reparative therapy.
For the Gay Christian Network, that’s 13,000 answered prayers.
Joel Engardio is a writer, documentary filmmaker and civil liberties advocate. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today and on NPR and PBS. Engardio directed the award-winning PBS film KNOCKING about Jehovah’s Witnesses. He currently helps the American Civil Liberties Union communicate its message and issues through online video.