I just finished watching “Pray Away”, the new documentary on Netflix detailing the disgraceful practice of conversion therapy and the impact it has on LGBTQ+ lives. As a survivor of conversion therapy myself, nothing in the film surprised me. But what did surprise me was the amount of anger the welled up within me as the false messages of “hope” and “healing” were repeated over and over again by so-called ex-gays and anti-LGBTQ+ preachers.
I’ve doing activism and ministry at the intersection of LGBTQ+ rights and evangelical Christianity for almost a decade. I’ve sat in rooms with some of the most well known homophobic preachers in America, and have always been cordial and respectful. I’ve chosen, time and time again, to “build bridges” across our disagreements, in hopes that perhaps I could change the minds of anti-LGBTQ+ religious leaders.“I am not sure that a bridge is worth being built to the other side of this conversation anymore.” -Rev. Brandan Robertson after watching #PrayAway Click To Tweet
But after watching this powerful documentary and reflecting on my own trauma at the hands of some of the very ministries highlighted in the documentary, I am not sure that a bridge is worth being built to the other side of this conversation anymore. Let me explain.
Fifty years ago, due to a lack of LGBTQ+ representation and a lack of knowledge about queer sexuality and gender identity, it was at least reasonable for someone to be homophobic out of sheer ignorance. Even twenty years ago, the same thing could be said. But over the past decade in particular, there has been so much scientific, psychological, historical, and theological work done that has focused on LGBTQ+ sexuality and gender identity, and the overwhelming (nearly unanimous) consensus across all of these disciplines that LGBTQ+ identity is “natural” and a healthy expression of human sexuality and gender.
Every major psychological association in the world has declared that LGBTQ+ identity not to be a disorder, and has condemned any attempt to change someones sexual orientation to be objectively harmful. Scholars of the ancient world have amassed tomes of evidence which shows that same-gender loving relationships were about as prevalent in the ancient world as they are today, and discovered that many societies incorporated queer people into the full life of the community without hesitation. Christian theologians have shown that there is a strong case to conclude that the Bible, when understood in its original language, culture, and context, is silent on LGBTQ+ identity and relationships.Christian theologians have shown that there is a strong case to conclude that the Bible, when understood in its original language, culture, and context, is silent on LGBTQ+ identity and relationships. @BrandanJR #PrayAway Click To Tweet
In other words, the amount of evidence affirming the health and normalcy of LGBTQ+ identities that is available to the average person is overwhelming. Religious leaders who choose to perpetuate anti-LGBTQ+ theology, psychology, and history are doing so out of willful ignorance or intentional deceit.
I am tired of hearing religious leaders and people of faith claim that they are “trying” to be LGBTQ+ inclusive, but are “constrained” by the “clear teaching of Scripture.” This is a lie. The best Biblical scholarship available today on sexuality and gender reveals just how faulty this reasoning is.
I am tired of hearing “ex-gay” leaders like my former mentor Christopher Yuan pander to evangelicals with watered down homophobia, saying “It’s not about make homosexuals into heterosexuals…it’s about holy sexuality.” Leaders like this make moderate evangelicals feel ever so slightly “woke” with clever lingo, while simply perpetuating tired lies about sexuality and gender that a simple Google search would reveal is flatly untrue.
I am tired of hearing Christians critique LGBTQ+ people for “finding our identity in our sexuality rather than in Christ”, when they themselves find their identity in their straight marriages, their political affiliation, their theological tribe, and their self-righteousness as they stand convinced that they are “right” and the poor queers are just wrong.
I am tired of all of the excuses offered in bad faith by Christian leaders who no longer believe it’s a sin to be LGBTQ+, yet refuse to step out and be honest with their congregations for a wide array of reasons that ultimately boil down to: I want to protect my popularity, my platform, and my wealth.
Jesus summed up all of the commands of Scripture in two simple statements: Love God with all of your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. This is what God desires from all of us. Yet, non-affirming Christians continually choose hate- and yes, that is the correct word- when they reject the truth about queer people, our identities, and our love, that is so abundantly available to them. They refuse to love LGBTQ+ people, and thus, refuse to love the God who created us. They actively preach messages that cause psychological harm to us, actively lobby against our rights and dignity, actively support conversion therapy “ministries” like those highlighted in “Pray Away.” When you’re actively contributing to the death and destruction of a group of people, there is no way for you to claim to be “loving”- to them or to the God who created them.
These so-called Christians are proving themselves to be anything but followers of Jesus Christ.
After watching the documentary, I searched the Restored Hope Network’s website (the U.S.’s largest conversion therapy organization) to be reminded of what I already know: that conversion therapy ministries still exist in every part of this nation, including my own back yard in Washington .D.C, and are thriving. (You can see the map of conversion therapy programs nationwide here.) As the documentary showed, these programs are destroying lives and taking lives every day. They almost destroyed mine. And as long as this kind of ministry exists- and the millions of churches around the world that preach messages that support their existence- I dont believe there is any bridge to be built. In fact, I only see bridges that must be burned.
I say that, not to be intentionally aggressive, but rather as one who desires to follow the example of Jesus. God desires that we defend the oppressed and use our voice to speak up for the voiceless. Justice doesn’t come because we cozy up with our oppressors, but because we shine the light of truth on the oppression and organize a revolution. There is no “third way” that exists between death and life, and that is indeed the choice that is set before us all when it comes to the LGBTQ+ “issue”. Will you choose to believe the overwhelming science, history, and experience of LGBTQ+ people, or will you suppress that truth to embrace a death-dealing lie? This is the question I will ask every non-affirming Christian I meet going forward, and I hope you will too.
If we’re going to end conversion therapy, we must end the prevalence of non-affirming theology. One gives birth to the other. We must do this through exposing the lies, educating the masses, and holding religious leaders accountable for the harm that they perpetuate. Boldly. Publicly. Uncomprimisingly. Because LGBTQ+ lives are on the line. Because true Love demands this of us. And because at the end of the day, the truth will set us- all of us- free.If we’re going to end conversion therapy, we must end the prevalence of non-affirming theology. @BrandanJR #PrayAway Click To Tweet
May it be.
P.S. If you haven’t watched it yet, please take some time to watch “Pray Away” on Netflix. And once you do, take action. In your church, in your city, and anywhere you have influence. Don’t let another LGBTQ+ person in your sphere get drawn into the damning lies of non-affirming theology and conversion therapy.
This appeared originally on Brandan Robertson’s blog.