Inside Ex-Gay: A Year On


It was on the 8th April 2015 that I sat down with Nathan Despott and Dean Beck at JOY FM and discussed my observations about the
difficulties faced by LGBTI Christians as they interact in an often
conservative religious world that, by and large, sees them as anomalies around the table of Christ. The programme was called Inside Ex-Gay.

Years before the interview, my path intertwined with many folks who became friends. People who were followers of Jesus and who had faced
incredible persecution based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Through these friendships and their life stories, along with
research, I began to gain a perspective of the depth of my own lack of understanding and education. As a minister, I had blindly accepted what I was told about LGBTI people. When I took a closer look, I was suddenly confronted by my own specious embedded ideology that I realised had devastated people’s lives.

The interview was a small step for me in making things right. It also
unleashed the fury and ire of some who saw my stance as threatening and heretical. The display of outrage from certain sectors of the
Christian world was most spectacular. It showed me that in some
religious settings you are only one disagreement away from exile.
However, far more beautiful and meaningful was the kindness,
encouragement, and correspondence I received from so many people, a large number of them total strangers.

It is now one year later. How time flies.

Here are some of my reflections:

1. I am learning to let go and discover the “unforced rhythm of grace“. Amidst the escalating hysteria over the interview and my own anxiety, I discovered that the grace I had preached about all those years prior was very real. I am now learning to free fall into its life-giving rhythm.

2. Brave are the hearts of those on the margins. I have personacolorful-1254432_1280lly
observed the margins, or scapegoats, of cultures and societies for some time now. In the lives and
stories of refugees, people of colour in apartheid South Africa, and LGBTI people, I have noticed something they all hold in common. They are brave. Faced with discrimination, slander, fear-mongering and persecution, people who dwell in the margins must learn to find their own identity without the luxury of wider, social approval. If you want to feel the heartbeat of brave humanity, go to the margins.

3. Fear + Ignorance + “The Bible Tells Me So” = Marginalisation. I defend freedom of speech. However, some of the nonsense peddled on social media and other forums have disastrous consequences. Fear of ‘the
other’ can make us do and say irrational things. Let us just stop for a
moment and take a look at the actions justified over centuries because “The Bible tells us so.” Read the sermons of pro-slavery preachers,
consider the culpability of the Dutch Reformed Church in the Apartheid era, think about the effect of patriarchy on women (upheld through a hierarchical view on gender), especially in developing nations. The Bible can be used to justify just about anything. Friends, I understand we are all entitled to our opinion, but when our entitled opinion threatens the lives of others, and when our belief stands in opposition to Jesus’ command to love others unconditionally, shouldn’t we consider our words, actions and theology?

4. I think part of my problem in not engaging with this issue for so long was simply that the suffering of LGBTI Christians did not affect me
directly. It was a taboo subject and therefore I did not enter any
discussion or education. But that doesn’t make it right. I understand that there’s a large portion of gracious Christ-followers grappling with
questions about all of this. My encouragement to you is that you keep searching: ask questions, research, but most importantly of all, become a genuine, all-weather, unconditional friend to LGBTI people and really listen to their stories.

5. To have a paradigm challenged and changed, one that has been held in my own faith tradition, is one of the scariest things I have done for a long time. We all desperately want to belong. The fear of becoming an outcast is one of the reasons we often don’t speak up. When our belonging is threatened, we most often prefer to privately negotiate the inner conflict of values, rather than to have our place in the tribe threatened. We dread tribal shaming. Some of the things I dreaded became a reality and yet I wouldn’t change a thing. When our belonging is based in fear, and we are unable to voice concerns or challenge a status quo that
oppresses others, then it is not true belonging. As I now look back, my major regret is not that I decided to speak out, but that it took me so long to open my eyes, heart and mind to the great diversity of God’s precious children.

6. These are my reflections on a year gone by. This is not a theological thesis (I will include some excellent resources at the end of this blog for those interested). I am not asking you whether you approve or disapprove of my life. I am not here to argue or change your mind, if you disagree. There are many places on social media that allow for vigorous theological debate and argument. This is not one of them. This is the voice of an LGBTI ally, seeking to serve those whom I have wounded with decades of indifference, posting some personal reflections.

7. Love wins and there is room at the table. I believe in a God who is
defined through love. Love is the greatest. The work of Christ is
sufficient. The table is big enough. The current sorry state of affairs is not how the story will end. God is the great iconoclast. Throughout the pages of history God continues to clear more places where prejudice and ignorance once sat. The places around the table continue to be filled with people who have been told – for centuries – that there is no room for them. But I believe there is! There is room for the great diversity of God’s children. Welcome to the table.

Recommended Resources

1. Vicky Beeching’s outstanding address at the Reformation project provides a poignant account of what it feels like to be LGBTI in the Christian world.

2. Kathy Baldock’s book, Walking the Bridgeless Canyon, is a great overall, well-researched read. I especially love the history she provides on the LGBTI movement. History is vitally important in understanding the current context.

3. David Gushee, with gracious tone, provides an ethical/theological reasoning to why he changed his mind from a conservative perspective in his book, Changing our Mind.

4. Jim Brownson (Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships) and Matthew Vine (God and the Gay Christian), both provide well-researched, theological perspectives.

5. Justin Lee (Torn) and Anthony Venn-Brown (A Life of Unlearning) provide two unique, personal stories of ‘coming out’ and being true to one’s self.

6. The Inside Ex-Gay Library provides many more excellent resources.

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