To most gay Christians, the knowledge that gay conversion therapy is still alive and well in Australia is no surprise. We have either been through it or known friends and family who have.
So when I woke up this morning to find an article in the paper exposing some of the underground workings of the ex-gay movement in Australia, I was not surprised at what was reported. The article can be found here:
For thousands of Australians though, this would have been rightly shocking. “What? Does this still exist?!” “Isn’t this only in America?” “How is this legal?!” are just a few of the comments I saw from straight friends on Facebook.
In response, most people I have spoken to have suggested conversion therapy be outlawed. After all, conversion therapy has been denounced by human rights bodies for years, as well as health organisations such as the Australian Psychological Society.
But is making it illegal going to fix the problem? As someone who has been through gay conversion therapies, including Living Waters, Christian ex-gay counselling and even exorcisms, my first impulse is to demand it be made illegal immediately. I know the pain and torment that it causes, as well as the years of healing that need to take place in order to live a normal, happy life after such spiritual abuse.
However, ex-gay groups don’t represent the main cause of my pain – although they certainly added to it – because at the root of the ex-gay movement and theology is a homophobic Church (global). That is where the root of my pain began, and it continues to ache. The Church that has opposed homosexuality for so long and which continues to do so even after seeing the damage that it has caused not only to the LGBTIQ community, but to the name of Jesus.
To me, it seems that gay people aren’t the sick ones who need healing.
Making gay conversion therapy (including all of its more subtle and hidden forms) illegal for minors is an important step that needs to happen. No matter what a parent believes, subjecting a child to something so damaging (see numerous studies and reports) is unacceptable.
I also believe that making it illegal for health professionals including General Practitioners, psychologists and psychiatrists to advocate any form of ‘ex-gay’ therapy is something that needs to happen. You can sign a petition for this here:
But to really fix the problem, we need to find a cure for a sick Church.
I recently met with a pastor of a local mainstream church in Sydney who was very concerned after the hurt caused to the LGBTIQ community last year during the vote on marriage equality. He told me he wanted his church to be a place where people of all walks of life could feel accepted.
I told him that in order to make this happen, the Church is going to have to do more than just sit back and quietly say to themselves “We welcome gay people here.” That’s a great start, but it’s not enough. Firstly, they need to deal with the homophobia that has infiltrated their theology and which permeates their interactions with people who are different to them. Not an easy task.
Even harder, instead of sitting in their pews mumbling about acceptance, they are going to have to actually go out and extend their hand of friendship to the gay community, asking forgiveness and not expecting anything in return. Moreover, if that hand gets slapped away, then the Church will have to keep extending it, knowing it may continue being slapped away because of the great amount of pain that they have caused the gay community.
My pastor friend felt the weight of what I was saying. Perhaps it wasn’t quite as simple as he had thought.
Over many, many decades, the Christian Church has slowly built a very thick wall between the gay community and Jesus. This wall was built brick by brick, by Christians who thought that they were doing God’s work. Churches who taught the wider community that homosexuality was one of the most detestable ‘perversions’ of God’s creation. Anita Bryant and her crusade against California’s gay protection laws in the 1960’s which was endorsed by Christian churches around the USA. Christian protestors that stood near pride parades and gay bars handing out tracts and yelling into megaphones of the evils of sodomy. Christian parents who disowned their gay children. Churches who stopped gay congregation members from serving. Pastors who preached on the evils of homosexuality. Ex-Gay groups. The Australian Christian Lobby and the numerous Australian Christians who displayed ignorance and homophobia during a national debate about same-sex marriage.
Brick by brick. We (the Church) built the wall.
And because the Church built it, the Church has to dismantle it.
Ex-gay therapy is a symptom of a bigger problem. We absolutely have to deal with the symptom. But, my gosh, I hope that one day we can manage to cure what actually needs healing – the Church.