Can You “Pray Away The Gay?”
Can you really pray away the gay?
This is a question that has become increasingly prevalent over the past year, particularly in the past few weeks. It seems that no matter where I turn, whether it be to homework assignments (as a religious studies major) or to casual viewings of the ABC hidden-camera program “What Would You Do?” that captures the reactions of ordinary people to controversial issues.
It has even broken into the political realm with the former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, as her husband’s counseling clinic, The Bachmann & Associates, attempts to cure many “mental health issues” through religious means, including homosexuality. Recently, as North Carolina has passed Amendment 1 and President Obama has stepped out in support of gay marriage, the issue seems to be appearing on the news daily.
Pastor Worley, a man at the center of the controversy, has been reported as saying the following in a sermon to his congregation: “I figured a way out, a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers but I couldn’t get it pass the Congress – build a great big large fence, 50 or a hundred mile long. Put all the lesbians in there, fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals. And have that fence electrified so they can’t get out. And you know what? In a few years they will die out. You know why? They can’t reproduce. If a man ever has a young’un, praise God he will be the first.”
This raises the question: Are gay clinics and solutions to what some view as the “gay problem” valid?
Exodus International, part of the ex-gay movement, boasts that it is the world’s largest ministry that caters to individuals and families who have been impacted by homosexuality, with over 35 years of experience. With a quick glance at the organizations website, one will learn that Exodus International proudly partners with CovenantEyes, a program that claims to make “Internet accountability” easy for all.
The program itself tracks what websites the user is visiting, and this information is reported to a “friend or mentor” who will help you correct your usage of the Internet. This would suggest that the program helps users to avoid homoerotic websites. The website also explains that the organization’s goal is to help Christians dealing with homosexual attractions live in a way that is compatible with Biblical teachings, eliminating same-sex relations. Ultimately, while Exodus International speaks out against same-sex attractions, it does not support bullying against the LGBTQ community and it does not approve of controversial methods such as exorcism to deal with issues of sexuality.
Courage, a Catholic group, asserts that it is, a “support group for men and women with homosexual inclinations, dedicated to attaining chastity, in accord with the magisterium’s teaching on homosexuality.” The group puts forth five ultimate goals for its members: Chastity, Dedication to the sacraments, fellowship and support in a group atmosphere, the development of supportive friendships, and living in such a way that serves as a good example to others. To obtain these end goals the group follows what it calls “The Twelve Steps of Courage”, based on the original Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. It asks its members to accept that they were once powerless in terms of their sexuality, and in turn their lives had become unmanageable. In the Catholic context, homosexuals are viewed as having “objective disorder”, meaning that no moral good can come of their sexual acts (as sex is reserved for the purpose of procreation) and the members are called to live chaste lives unless they are unable to conform to the heterosexual expectations of sexuality.
In terms of Judaism there is JONAH, Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing. This organization seeks to educate the international Jewish community about the factors that contribute to same-sex attractions, and provide support “to heal the wounds surrounding homosexuality” while giving hope to families and patients who feel they need counseling.
It encourages those who seeking counseling to stop identifying as gay, and instead embrace the term SSA, an acronym for Same-Sex attraction, which they describe as a compulsion instead of a sexual orientation. Much like Courage it draws comparison to those who abuse alcohol and drugs, even comparing some cases to eating disorders. Finally, the organization asserts that change is possible, citing the cases of formerly homosexual men who have turned a new leaf, marrying women and having children with them.
I take issue with such groups because it seeks to cast aside homosexuality as a choice rather than something one is born with. Unfortunately, even after Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” hit, this is still an opinion that some hold. As a homosexual, I can say with confidence that I never chose to be a homosexual. I can recall being attracted to men, or knowing that I was different, as far back as the fourth grade. Who would choose to be a homosexual?
It is at times a difficult life, with our basic human rights being called in to question. There is not a day that passes that an LGBTQ youth does not commit suicide, out of fear of being ostracized and from the deep depression that sets in after years of being bullied for being “different.” Although, I am incredibly proud of myself as a homosexual, and I realize the struggles I have been through have strengthened me incredibly, it is not a choice I would have made if asked at the age when I first realized my sexuality. Now I would not change who I am for anything. Finally, I would ask those who believe homosexuality is a choice, when they were given a conscious choice of their sexuality.
I also object to the way that homosexuality is so easily likened to a condition such as alcoholism or an eating disorder. This would assert that a member of the LGBTQ community is sick for celebrating who they are. It also trivializes the struggle many young gay people face with a twelve-step program, brushing aside their feeling and the deep emotional struggle they face. It also sends a negative message to the LGBTQ youth seeking comfort in their religion; it serves only to tell them that the thoughts and the feelings they are having are wrong, and it does not teach the love necessary to accept one’s self.
These programs merely ascribe to homophobia, the fear of homosexuals. They are all based around the fear of what having a homosexual in one’s family will do to that family. All of these programs also project ideas of sex-shaming. How can a love between two, consenting adults be wrong? Can you “pray away the gay”? There’s is a large difference in suppressing homosexual desires and becoming a heterosexual.
How can we tolerate religious leaders, such as Pastor Worley, promoting hate? His “plan” is thoughtless and cruel, not to mention lacking in logic. Putting all homosexuals in a secluded area will not eliminate homosexuality while the heterosexual community continues to reproduce children. I call for a new plan of action. Instead of praying away the gay, I propose we pray for the gay. Pray for the gay to find the courage to love themselves. Pray for the gay to find the strength to rise above bullying. Like Courage I have five goals:
1) Accept yourself.
2) Love yourself. This can come only after you’ve accepted your identity as a member of the LGBTQ community.
3) Tolerate the ignorance of those who oppose you.
4) Educate others. You are not sick and you are not wrong. You are human, and you love. Show this to the world.
5) Be an example and a leader in your community. Be strong for those who are struggling with their sexuality identity.
Nicholas T.B.C Artrip. 19. Gay Jew. VCU student, and Alpha Epsilon Pi brother. My life is a cabaret of religion and disco trash.
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