Elected officials can no longer finesse the abortion question. But they must also avoid the extreme of single-issue rhetoric.
When it comes to abortion’s potential for causing political division, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Before the July 3 announcement by the Supreme Court of its fractured opinion in the case of Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (see page 36, this issue), abortion was a political football that elected officials could toss about, but one they had no particular compulsion to run with.
After Webster, the scene is changed. Elected officials who make campaign promises but fail to deliver will now have their feet held to the fire. And every candidate for public office will have to be ideologically certified by one camp or the other. “Thousands of politicians have been AWOL on abortion,” says Richard Viguerie, fund raiser and king maker of the ultra-Right. “Now they’re going to be forced to take responsibility for the issue.” And separate but equal rhetoric spilled forth from the fiercely proabortion leaders: from Faye Wattleton, president of Planned Parenthood; from Molly Yard, president of the National Organization for Women; and from Kate Michelman, executive director of the National Abortion Rights Action League. Said Michelman to legislators: “Read our lips: Take our rights; lose your jobs.”
If these ideologues have their way, and there is little to stop them, they will turn forthcoming elections at both state and federal levels into contests between the approved candidates of prolife and proabortion camps. Other issues, some of them also life threatening, will have little significance politically.
Demagogues And Strange Bedfellows
It is just this kind of single-issue campaigning that serious civil servants and thoughtful citizens deplore. Prolife Democrats may suddenly find themselves without party support. And candidates who hold moderate prolife sentiments like those of President Bush may find it advantageous to mouth extreme rhetoric in order to appeal to one side of a seriously polarized public. Antiabortion candidates who do not share the rest of the Rightist agenda may find themselves in awkward partnerships, feeling postelection pressures from those who elected them to act contrary to conscience on other issues.
But, of course, not every candidate for public office dislikes this kind of polarization. It is the perfect setup for demagoguery. Those who are less than altruistic in their quest for public office (and its world of perks and privilege) find polarizing issues with a strong emotional appeal the perfect stage for manipulation.
Though we welcome any steps that will limit abortions, we urge Christians to resist the reduction of the political process to the triumphalist tone of an us-versus-them pep rally. While supporting candidates who embrace thoughtful and serious prolife commitments, Christians must also hold them accountable on the many other issues facing our country.
The key to winning on the abortion issue is not simply winning elections or court decisions. It is winning the hearts and minds of the American public. The “failure” of Prohibition was not that it did not significantly improve the quality of life in our nation. Indeed, during Prohibition both crime and vice were greatly reduced. The “failure” was in the fact that Prohibition per se never gained the full heartfelt support of the populace, for when it comes to moral reform, 51 percent does not a majority make. To change a nation’s commitments on so fundamental an issue requires not just law, but the shared vision of Christian love.
By David Neff
In response to recent turmoil in China, CHRISTIANITY TODAY turned to veteran China watcher David Adeney for comment. Adeney, who is at present minister-at-large for Overseas Missionary Fellowship, spent 12 years in mainland China and 32 years total in the Far East. Here is his guest editorial:
The news from Beijing during the past few months has galvanized into action Chinese communities worldwide. In Hong Kong, people who had been largely concerned with commerce became aware that the blood flowing in Tiananmen Square also flowed in their veins, and they too became a part of the struggle for democracy. Hong Kong churches arranged prayer vigils. In Chinese communities around the world Christians actively supported the protest.
For whom should non-Chinese Christians in America be praying and working?
First, for the ordinary people of China. In the West we are impressed by the suffering of intellectuals. But we forget that most of the 80 percent of China’s rural population has no knowledge of what happens in Beijing. They depend upon the propaganda machine for information, and they are more concerned about their standard of living than about political struggle.
Second, for the Chinese government. Christians must continue to protest against injustice and violence while asking God to raise up righteous rulers.
Third, for Chinese university students, both those in China and those studying overseas. They face a return to the oppressive methods of the fifties and sixties when students endured endless hours of political indoctrination, the writing of confessions, and constant criticism of one another. Students in Beijing have already seen their friends arrested, and they fear betrayal by those who seek to save themselves by criticizing others.
In this country, many Chinese students do not know if their fellow students and friends are alive or dead or in prison. Among the over 40,000 students from the People’s Republic who are studying in North America, a large number have not only taken part in demonstrations but have also contacted friends at home to make the truth known. But there are government informers among them, and many are afraid to go home. This is a time for American Christians to show the love of Christ. Many Chinese students have never been inside a Christian home. They need friends who will seek to give practical sympathy and help. (See the China update article in the News section of this iusse.)
Fourth, for the Chinese church. In this period of destabilization when there is a total breakdown of trust, Chinese believers may again find themselves the objects of suspicion. Leftist cadres will persecute those who take part in “illegal religious activities.” Traveling Chinese evangelists and those who distribute Christian literature from outside of China will be in danger. Already threats have been made against those who listen to foreign radio, including Christian broadcasts. Restrictions on border crossings between China and Hong Kong have been tightened, making it much more difficult to maintain fellowship with house-church Christians. But Chinese believers remind us they are much more afraid of the erosion of spiritual life through materialism than of persecution.
The picture that has appeared in our newspapers of one man standing in the road to stop a whole column of tanks reminds us of Ezekiel’s words: “I look for a man who would stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land.” God seeks men and women who will stand in the gap in the spiritual warfare. Not only praying individually, but gathering with friends for fervent informed prayer. Through prayer letters and other publications, we may keep in touch with developments in China so that the newly generated interest will continue in the form of disciplined intercession for the Chinese people and our fellow members of the body of Christ in that country.
By David Adeney.
The battle was fun while it lasted. The damsel has been (mostly) saved, and the hero’s work is (largely) done. So later this month, the Moral Majority will ride off into the sunset, waving a ten-gallon hat of accomplishments (CT, July 14, 1989, p. 58).
That the Reverend Jerry Falwell actually closed down his cash-hungry organization ($69 million spent during its decade-long life) is amazing enough. These days, one expects the demise of Christian endeavors to come from either bankruptcy or immoral behavior. So it is refreshing to see Falwell pull the plug. If Christian organizations learn anything from the experience of Moral Majority, it is this: There is nothing wrong with quitting when the job is done.
But, of course, there is more to learn from Falwell’s experience with Moral Majority. For one thing, his success in getting individual Christians involved in the political process suggests the vast middle ground of decent citizens once known as “silent” only needs someone to help them find their voices. The critics could not find fault with Falwell’s ability to lead nor with his group’s skill at informing and organizing grassroots America.
At the same time, Moral Majority’s sometime blurring of the church-state border emphasizes the fact that followers of Christ must know the difference between being the church and being just another political action committee. Falwell was at his best when he used Moral Majority as a pulpit from which to preach Judeo-Christian values. But in helping to finance the election campaigns of Presidents Reagan and Bush, he got bogged down in politics. The church is never Republican or Democrat.
At times shrill, and in some cases, just plain wrong, Falwell’s project should be remembered for more than its decision to quit. Proclaiming victory may be premature, but Moral Majority clearly has had a hand in returning important values such as family and home to the political agenda. For that, we are grateful.
By Lyn Cryderman.
After a decade of helping homosexuals leave the gay lifestyle, ex-gay ministries are still plagued by questions about their effectiveness
Over fifteen years ago I started a column on love and sex for CAMPUS LIFE, a Christian youth magazine. Among the letters I received was a steady stream from young people who felt sexually attracted to their own gender. Nobody could express more fear and despair. They wanted to be Christians yet feared they were damned. Could anything remove this curse of homosexuality?
Christians who believe the Bible condemns homosexual acts have had two options to offer such people: celibacy and a changed sexual orientation. But is the second option really possible? Many homosexuals have gone through years of wanting to change, praying for change. Some have undergone extensive therapy, and some have married, hoping they will “snap out of it.” Yet many therapists and sex researchers view change as impossible.
For years, nonetheless, small Christian groups and individual Christians have made claims about their changed orientation. These groups have tended to appear and disappear, sometimes when their leaders have retreated into a gay lifestyle. Nonetheless, “ex-gay” Christian groups have survived, and many seem to be growing.
I set out to know some of the leaders of the ex-gay movement, to probe their stories and to ask questions about their techniques. They offer hope to desperate people; is the hope realistic? I brought some skepticism to the task. The ex-gay movement has trenchant critics, and the failures of some ex-gay leaders have been widely publicized. I have been a Christian and a journalist long enough to know that Christians sometimes make claims (about healings, about conversions, about finances) that don’t pan out. In sexuality, particularly, things are not always what they seem.
Leading The Exodus
Exodus International is an umbrella organization for 50 or so ministries devoted to helping homosexuals change. Scattered across the country, they are nearly all one-person shows. Small as it is, Exodus is the primary force in ex-gay ministry. I learned that its executive board would be meeting in Mendocino, on the wild, sparsely inhabited north coast of California. I was invited to visit.
After a long, misty drive, I pulled into the Lord’s Land, a hippie colony from the sixties turned into a Christian retreat center. It looked it. But despite the variety of weirdly shaped cottages dotting the landscape, inside the largest house I found a pleasant and stimulating group of people:
• Sy Rogers, who had his first homosexual encounter when he was eight years old. After college he entered a sex-change program at Johns Hopkins. He spent one-and-a-half years taking sex hormones and learning to “pass” as a woman, in preparation for the surgery. Shortly before the operation, however, Johns Hopkins’s sex-change program was canceled. In desperation Sy cried out to God. That was ten years ago. He now has been married for seven years and is the father of a three-year-old child. In an effort to reach out to others, he has begun an ex-gay ministry in Orlando, Florida.
• Alan Medinger, who had practiced a double life for 10 years. While married and having children, he secretly cruised gay hangouts. At the time of his conversion some 15 years ago, he ended all homosexual behavior and, he says, “I fell in love with my wife in a way I had never thought possible.” Medinger says he has not been seriously tempted in 10 years.
• Frank Worthen, who as a teenager was introduced to homosexuality by his pastor. He moved to San Francisco at 19 and lived an active gay life for 25 years. A successful businessman, Worthen felt increasingly depressed by the life he was living. Then he was converted through one of his employees. The founder of Exodus, Worthen was celibate for 12 years and has now been married for 4.
• Andy Comiskey, who joined the Southern Californian gay scene as a high-school student. After four years he began a “slow but sure transition to a new life.” He has now been married for eight years and has four children.
• Bob Davies, who grew up with homosexual feelings but, becoming a Christian at age 12, never acted them out. While training to be a missionary 10 years ago he realized that he needed first to resolve his sexual identity. He contacted an Exodus ministry for help. Four years ago he was married.
• Frank Rogers, a middle-aged man whose son’s gay lifestyle led him to launch an ex-gay ministry.
• Luanna Hutchison, who, from an early age, had it fixed in her mind “that daddies wanted sons.” She says, “I was determined to be the best son my daddy could want.” In college she became involved in a lesbian relationship. Eventually she contacted an Exodus ministry, and a process of healing began.
• Starla Allen, who was raped by a family friend at the age of 13, and subsequently longed to be tough and invulnerable. In college she began a five-year sexual relationship with another woman. A friend led her to the Lord, and she began to change.
A Young Movement
The nine of us sat around a table and talked most of the day. Ex-gay groups are accused of being deeply homophobic, but I certainly did not seem to be dealing with a group of gay bashers. They did not paint lurid pictures of their past, nor of the gay community. They emphasized the loneliness, the sense of hopelessness and futility. They were not entirely fond of the way their testimonies are sometimes transmitted in the press, suggesting overnight conversions to heterosexuality. They were describing gradual change, with its roots in ordinary Christian discipleship.
I was interested in this emphasis on gradual healing, particularly since I knew that most Exodus ministries are in the charismatic stream of the church. In fact, one prominent charismatic leader had told me that homosexuality was caused by a demon; that when this demon is cast out the problem of homosexuality ends. But these ex-gay leaders all disavowed this. Evil spirits affected some people’s lives, they said, but they did not see deliverance (exorcism) as key to their ministries. They did not seem to have any exotic techniques; most of what they did sounded similar to other evangelical ministries—except for the specific problems they deal with.
Did they have any scientific studies that would corroborate their claims? They said they did not. They emphasized how young their movement is—just over ten years old—and that their members had no time, money, or expertise to do a professional study. Some studies were beginning, and they hoped these would show the realism of what they were attempting.
When I asked about a cure rate, however, I could feel the discomfort level rise. Only with prodding would they give estimates—from 50 to 90 percent. If people were truly being changed, I thought, why not talk about statistics? But then someone asked what the general “cure rate” for the church was. How many Christians really overcome the patterns they have grown up with—patterns of pride, or fear, or arrogance? Even with the highly committed, the “cure rate” would be difficult to pin down.
As we talked, it became clear that they did not think of homosexuality as a disease of the body with absolutely definable symptoms. They did not “cure” it as one would cure measles. They thought of homosexuality more as a disease of the soul. For the most part, such things can only be changed gradually, only incrementally.
The Exodus leaders all say they never chose to be homosexual; from their earliest memories they felt different. They believe that while each case is unique, homosexuality can usually be traced to a deficient relationship between a child and a father. (They rely heavily on the work of psychologist Elizabeth Moberly.) Their classic cases are those in which the father was physically absent or emotionally detached. (For women, they say, sexual abuse is often a strong factor as well.) The result can be basic gender confusion—a lack of certainty as to one’s own well-being as a member of one’s sex, and a longing to be accepted and loved by one’s own sex. This longing is legitimate, they believe, but can be eroticized at puberty and never really resolved. Gay experiences, they said, never solve this basic sense of loss.
Only once that day did I sense self-consciousness: when the subject swung to marriage. All of the men were married, and one of the women said she was in love. Yet marriage was not the unnoted, taken-for-granted reality it is in most Christian gatherings. It was not that they regarded marriage as “proof” that change was real. They admitted that homosexuals sometimes try to cure themselves through marriage, and they recognized the potential tragedy in that. Marriage was important to them, I gathered, because it was so far beyond what any of them had expected.
A Philadelphia Story
I was impressed by what I had seen and heard at the Exodus board meeting. Just the personal stories were impressive. But there was something more. This fact would strike me repeatedly as I carried on many interviews. People in ex-gay ministries seemed comfortable with themselves. They indulged in good-humored banter; they did not seem like people trying to convince themselves.
To examine ex-gay ministries more closely, however, I would need to talk at length with individuals, and I would need to talk to critics. A trip to Philadelphia took me to Harvest Ministries, which rents a spacious but time-worn second floor in a downtown building. John Freeman was the only paid employee, and he showed me around the office. There was not much to show: plenty of space and not much to fill it. Much of the work there is done through individual counseling; in addition, a weekly support group had attracted 25 to 30 men all summer. Harvest hoped to add another staff member for ministry to AIDS patients. (They have since done so, along with two part-time staff.)
Harvest is one of the few Exodus ministries that comes from a noncharismatic base. Freeman graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary, and Harvest was started under the wing of James Boice’s Tenth Presbyterian Church.
Freeman grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “My father was only partly there, and not really very much there when he was there,” he said. From his earliest memories, Freeman remembers not fitting in with other males. He had “typical” adolescent sexual experiences with other males, but “the others outgrew it. Mine wasn’t just a stage.” He continued furtively acting out his homosexuality until he was 21.
Then, while working for the postal service, Freeman met a Christian couple who “adopted” him. They invited him to attend their church. He bought a Bible. “I began to identify with Jesus. I felt he spent much of his time with people who were rejects, which I felt I was.” Freeman was accepted into a circle of the church’s men. Freeman vividly remembers an occasion when, after he had picked up trash around the building, one of the men put an arm around him and said, “You did a really good job today.”
“It was a job,” Freeman said to me with a wistful smile, “which a 7-year-old can do.” But he had never felt the approval of another man, never been part of male society. The warmth and acceptance of other men were changing his life. His desire for homosexuality and pornography began to wane.
Eventually he began to desire marriage. He felt no physical attraction to women, he said, but began picking out “safe” girls to date. After several years he met his wife. “I was physically attracted to her. It was very new to me. I was surprised.” They were married 12 years ago; they now have three children.
We drove to Freeman’s home in suburban Philadelphia. His children were soon climbing over him. His wife, Penny, looked tired and glad to have some help. She is a pretty woman with a graduate degree in counseling from Villanova.
When the children were in bed we sat and talked about their married life. Both described the evening when, shortly before they were married, John finally told Penny of his homosexual past. “I hugged her, and she looked at me and said, ‘Your heart is beating at a thousand beats a second. What’s wrong?’ When I told her she said, ‘Do you think it will ever happen again?’ I told her, ‘As much as I know myself and my walk with the Lord, I don’t think it will ever happen again.’ ”
It was his sincerity and gentleness that had attracted Penny to John. “I had a lot of confidence that he was a deep, sincere Christian.” Wanting to believe that everything would work out, they married without further discussion of John’s struggles. Their initial adjustment was easy.
We talked about a troubled period of their married life, after they had moved north so John could attend seminary. Within a year John’s father and his best friend in Chattanooga died. John became deeply depressed, and homosexual feelings resurfaced. Though he did not succumb to the temptations, John sought counseling. He found it “very healing.”
He had never intended to minister to homosexuals, but toward the end of his seminary education John sat in a class taught by urban missiologist Harvie Conn. Conn challenged his students to consider a mission to homosexuals. Freeman realized that without the warmth of his home church and without counseling, he might have been undone. Surely others were in the same situation. He wrote to everyone he knew, asking their financial support. Quitting his job, he became Harvest’s first staff member.
A Crusading Critic
From Philadelphia I took the train to Manhattan, to talk to the arch critic of the ex-gay movement, Ralph Blair. The founder of Evangelicals Concerned (EC), a group that promotes monogamous relationships between Christian homosexuals, Blair publishes a newsletter with his caustic reviews of evangelical books that discuss homosexuality, and a sarcastic diatribe against the ex-gay movement. Apparently Blair is fiercer when seated at a word processor, for I found a small, mild man, neatly dressed in a coat and tie. Blair, a psychologist, told me that he works primarily with groups of homosexual men.
Unlike many homosexuals I talked to, Blair said he had felt no great anxiety about his sexuality as an adolescent. He knew he was different, but, he said, “I just thought I was a slow developer.” He became a Christian in junior high school and started college at Bob Jones University since it was the only Christian school he had ever heard of. He eventually graduated from Ball State University.
After some time at both Dallas and Westminster seminaries, he completed his theological studies at the University of Southern California, where he did a thesis on the ethics of euthanasia. Studying situational ethics led him to rethink his position on homosexuality. He eventually concluded that the Bible was not so absolute a voice on homosexuality as he had thought. He decided that the Bible’s condemnations applied to the perversions of its day, not to a loving, committed relationship.
Then one evening, while staying up in order to attend a sunrise Easter service, he discovered for the first time in his life a gay bar. It was a room full of people that he quickly identified as being very much like himself. “It was a good feeling,” he told me. “I felt: Here is a place I belong.” He experienced no great internal conflict with his faith, he said. Any sense of guilt was swallowed up by the exhilaration of being among people who understood and accepted him.
The next fall he joined the staff of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. When IV officials realized what he was teaching, they asked him to resign. The next year he became a chaplain at Penn State. He stayed on to do a Ph.D. in psychology, studying the causes of homosexuality. Then he moved to New York, eventually to take up private therapy. In 1976 he founded EC and began building a national network. He told me that he takes flak from both sides; to much of the New York gay community his opposition to promiscuity and his dogged determination to remain evangelical are anathema.
Blair’s criticism of the ex-gay movement is absolute and unyielding. He regards their claims as sheer nonsense. He offered lists of former leaders who have dropped out. He painted a picture of a movement with a split personality—“living really promiscuous lives, which only reinforces why they should be preaching against homosexuality on Sunday.” By contrast, he said, “My clients can go years without sex, because they’re working toward an integrated, intimate relationship.”
He urged me to listen carefully to how ex-gay leaders talked about marriage. “Ex-gays don’t see marriage as necessarily including genital sex,” he said. Most of their marriages were convenient living arrangements, he thought, but would never satisfy the need for erotic intimacy.
As we talked, I began to see that Blair accepts one of the tenets of modern life: that the need for erotic intimacy is close to the core of a human being. This is his understanding of God’s word in Genesis, that it is “not good” for man to be alone. I offered my belief that the New Testament puts this in a different light, showing celibacy as a positive possibility. But it was clearly hard for him to perceive celibacy as anything but an option for a small minority of special people. He said he considers it callous and cruel for happily married people to deny others the possibility of intimate sex. “I think there is a gift of celibacy, but I don’t think we should have the chutzpah to say everybody who is homosexual has that gift.”
Blair, it seemed to me, was working from an argument that makes some sense in our modern therapeutic society, but none at all in biblical thinking: the claim that desires—particularly sexual desires—have a fundamental claim on us, and that those who cannot fulfill their desires must be unfulfilled.
But Blair obviously knew a lot about the ex-gay movement. He did not for a moment entertain the possibility of a changed sexual orientation. He portrayed an ex-gay movement that was all PR. After ten years in existence, said Blair, the movement ought to have legions of people whom it had helped. “Who are these ‘lots of people’ that have made it? Where are they?” Blair suggested that the leaders I was meeting were actually “falling” on a regular basis—if, in fact, they were truly homosexual in the first place. (Blair was using the common distinction between “real,” exclusively homosexual persons, and those who are bisexual. It is a distinction that tends to exclude the possibility of change, since desires for the opposite sex would prove anyone to be bisexual, not a “real” homosexual.) Blair seemed generally to be a charitable man, but when he talked about the ex-gay movement, he grew sarcastic and angry.
I thought of John and Penny, whose home I had left that morning. They had seemed so vulnerable, almost incapable of putting on an act. The years of marriage, the stressed but happy family—was it an act? Anything is possible, but I found that hard to believe.
Streams In The Desert
Andy Comiskey is young, slender, smart, Irish, and very much a part of the meteoric Vineyard denomination. In recent years he has become the leading ex-gay theorist in Exodus. I went to see him particularly because I wanted to ask some of Ralph Blair’s questions. We met at the Vineyard’s sleek Santa Monica office—worlds apart from John Freeman’s sparse environment.
I asked him Blair’s question: Where are their successes? Comiskey suggested that they were blending into the church, as they should. He said he would be doubtful of any program that had legions of ex-gays hanging around. And in the average evangelical church, how likely was it that ex-gays would advertise their past?
When I asked about marriage, Comiskey said candidly that it was no panacea; ex-gay people often brought special problems to marriage, the product of years of distorted living. He said that sexual desire had not been a problem in his marriage, but it was for some.
I pressed the point: Did this mean they had really changed? Comiskey said, “Heterosexual desire is usually not an either/or thing.” There are degrees of sexual attraction, which can change depending on other factors. For himself, he said, some homosexual desire continues; but when he is in affirming relationships with other men, there is no eroticism. “I don’t believe that homosexuality is fundamentally erotic,” he said. The erotic component grows out of insecurity in a person’s own maleness or femaleness. Comiskey added that there can be an addictive element to sexual behavior: what you’ve grown used to, you tend to continue. These patterns have to be broken.
Comiskey was talking about real change, not merely adjustment to an unpleasant reality. He was not, however, talking about the conversion of homosexual men into Playboy-reading, macho American males. He said that many ex-gays gain an attraction to only one person of the opposite sex; they are not necessarily attracted to the opposite sex generally. (Other ex-gay leaders questioned whether generalized sexual attraction was all that positive a phenomenon.) Speaking personally, Comiskey said he felt some attraction to other women besides his wife; but he did not know how much this would expand as the years went by, and he did not seem terribly concerned that it should.
I came away with the sense that ex-gays and their critics sometimes talk past each other, because they define homosexuality so differently. People in Ralph Blair’s camp see homosexuality almost as a third sex—an innate condition that is defined by erotic desire for one’s own gender. Comiskey, on the other hand, insists that God created only two genders. Marriage is not essential, but healthy relating to the opposite sex is. There is no “third sex”—only distortions of the original two.
To Blair, desires prove your nature. He would believe ex-gay change was real only when ex-gay men ogled women on the beach. To Comiskey, a person’s desires do not determine either one’s identity or happiness: they are symptoms that shift gradually as a person becomes more secure in his or her real identity. Just as a man’s erotic interest in Playboy does not prove him an inevitable adulterer, so a man’s erotic interest in other men does not prove him inevitably homosexual. To Comiskey, desires come and go, proving vulnerability, not destiny.
What Is Real Change?
One critic of the ex-gay movement, who asked to be anonymous because his income depended on evangelical respectability, described for me 20 years of trying to change his homosexual orientation, using every method from deliverance to electroshock therapy. Not only did his attempts fail, they left him utterly miserable. After attempting suicide five years ago he abandoned the attempt, left his wife and children, and moved in with his male lover. He has joined the Metropolitan Community Church, a gay church that he said is thoroughly evangelical in every respect except its view of homosexuality.
I described to him what I had been hearing, that ex-gays developed a desire for one particular person, but not necessarily a generalized desire for the opposite sex. He scoffed at it. “That’s what you say when you’re near the end.” True sexual desire is always general, he said.
Unlike Ralph Blair, he credited ex-gay leaders with sincerity, but felt they were sincerely deceived. “I have known 25 years of Andy Comiskeys,” he told me. “I know the thrill of a burgeoning evangelical ministry. But he’ll self-destruct. They all have, and they all will.” This man considered Andy Comiskey, and others like him in the ex-gay movement, a menace. By offering a delusion, they lead others toward despair.
He and other critics attributed the growth of ex-gay ministries to widespread fear of AIDS. But ex-gay unreality would constantly catch up with the movement, they said.
Several times, to test the critics’ assumptions of inevitable despair for ex-gay leaders, I brought up the name of Frank Worthen. Worthen left the gay life 16 years ago after spending most of his adult life in it. The critics told me he must be repressing his deepest sexual needs—and hinted darkly that he might be leading a double life already.
Worthen has lead-colored hair, slicked straight back, and glasses that are sometimes askew; he looks and talks like somebody you’d meet in a Texas cafe, instead of the successful San Francisco businessman he is. With considerable dry humor he told me the story of how he had met his wife, Anita, at a time when he was contentedly celibate. He did not seem like a man who was repressing his deepest sexual needs.
Worthen admitted candidly that many of the leaders of the early ministries had dropped out. Recalling those days, he said they had all been naive about the vulnerability of a person who, having just left a homosexual life, begins ministering to those who still tempt him, trying to meet enormous needs without adequate resources. Most of the early ex-gay ministries had no church ties or board oversight, and it was perhaps predictable that many flamed out. Exodus now has strict standards for ministries that want to affiliate, and Worthen believes that they have left the difficulties of the early years behind. Bob Davies, who coordinates many of the Exodus activities, could not remember any leaders requiring discipline or intensive counseling in the last three years.
Hope And Caution
I went doubtful; I came away with a cautious optimism. I think a significant movement is happening. Ex-gay ministries may end up teaching us all lessons of Christian discipleship in the realm of sexual desire.
The ex-gay leaders I talked to seemed as open, sincere, and vulnerable as any individuals I have interviewed. I don’t doubt that many currents swirl yet inside them, some of which they do not understand and cannot control. (I would say the same of myself.) And sexual currents are strong. Yet, overall, the ex-gay leaders I talked to left an impression of health.
They were certainly not describing a quick 180-degree reversal of their sexual desires; rather, they described a gradual reversal in their spiritual understanding of themselves as men and women in relationship to God. They said this new understanding was helping them to relearn distorted patterns of thinking and relating. They presented themselves as people in process, though they were very clear that the process was well under way.
Within this kind of understanding, it is not surprising that some ex-gays struggle and fall and struggle again, just as other Christians do when they deal with heterosexual promiscuity, or alcoholism, or greed, or anger. The degrees of healing vary. But the possibility of living an adjusted, hopeful, and fruitful life in a sin-distorted world—and the possibility of growing more joyful and consistent in that life—remain.
Two words of caution still need to be made, however: First, the ex-gay movement is young, small, and operates in unknown territory. Theological correctness does not guarantee them success. All ministry is risk, and this kind is more risky than most.
Second, the ex-gay movement comprises many tiny ministries operating in a kind of spread-out ghetto. The wider church has them in a quarantine, waiting to see whether they will slip up. Lacking much tangible or emotional support from the larger body of Christ, they are peculiarly vulnerable. The church’s quarantine could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
People with homosexual desire need the church’s concern. Many desperately want help from a church, but they are afraid to identify themselves for fear of being ostracized. Most congregations know nothing about the needs of homosexuals, and many don’t want to know.
Ex-gay ministries offer a way to respond. If the wider church were to embrace such ministries, it would see at close range the realism of what they do. If the church keeps them at arm’s length, it will never know. They will be weaker. The rest of us will be, too.
One Christian’s struggle with homesexuality and how he found healing through God’s grace
COLIN COOKColin Cook has a counseling ministry and is presently at work on a book on homosexual recovery. A father of two boys, he is a part-time Amway distributor living in Reading, Pennsylvania.
I am writing this story because I was once homosexual and now experience heterosexuality. Every turn of the path I walked is filled with signs of the gracious persistence of God.
Yet it is not easy to retrace my labyrinthine ways. To the embarrassment of my family and friends, I suffered the loss of a pastoral ministry in 1974 when my homosexuality was first exposed. Then, in 1986, because my recovery from the blinding deception and obsessiveness of homosexuality was not yet complete, I lost the homosexual healing ministry I had built over the years. I have gotten back up again, in possession of a deeper level of healing than I have ever known, and with new inner boundaries. I am back to counseling now with the sound checks and balances of supervision, church accountability, and an innovative counselor-evaluation system. So you can easily imagine that a large part of me would simply like to put the past behind me and forget it.
But I cannot, for two reasons. First, I would be selfish and disobedient to God if I kept silent for the sake of my own comfort and peace. Unless I—and others like me—confirm from personal experience that recovery and change can happen, thousands of Christians will yield to the despairing persuasion that homosexuality is an irreversible fate.
Second, I cannot recount what has happened without God’s grace becoming gloriously evident. To tell my story is to say more about God than about me. God’s manner of dealing with sinners is a constant astonishment. Every ounce of his being repudiates sin, yet, in order to save me, his stubborn love overcame his repugnance toward my sinfulness. My story is therefore a recounting of his victory—not mine—in the midst of struggle. If my story can lead many staid and “circumcised believers” to be “astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit has been poured out even on” homosexual “Gentiles” (cf. Acts 10:45, NIV), then the glory coming to God will make the shame coming to me worth the effort of putting this painful story into ink.
First Glimmers Of Freedom
I was found by Christ when I was a 15-year-old boy. I say he found me, because I was not even aware that I was lost or that it was him I was looking for. My boyhood fascination with flying saucers led me to what I thought was a public lecture on the subject in my home town in England. In fact, it was an evangelistic meeting on the Second Coming. From the mysterious, silent universe, whose dark skies I had gazed upon night after night and whose stillness seemed to echo the vacancy in my own soul, was to come the living, loving God. At the thought that Jesus was coming for me, I was filled with immense joy that remained in me, uninterrupted, for six months. I accepted Jesus as my Savior, gave my life over to him, and became a member of the church.
Before the first year of my conversion had come full circle, however, the conflict I felt over my sexual feelings was becoming marked. I went to the half-dozen school friends with whom I had mutually masturbated and asked them to forgive me. I was a Christian now, I told them. I remember the embarrassed shrugs and nods, and that was it. The bridges were burned. I was not to have another homosexual act for ten years.
But that was not it. Like any healthy youth, I was sexually in my prime. But every arousal, every longing, every fantasy was for men. Far from conversion solving the homosexual problem, it seemed to worsen it. For conversion created a necessary war that was to rage unabated in my soul for the next 15 years, until faith found a deeper source.
The Agony Of Holiness
It was at Newbold College, nestled in the “green belt,” that great circle of countryside known as the “lungs of London,” that my struggle with homosexuality took a desperate turn. I had gone there to study for the ministry. My studies brought me face to face with my deep need for holiness. Bob and Will and I were spiritual brothers at different periods in my college days. We often prayed and read our Bibles together, but I never told them of the struggle deep in my troubled, aching soul.
We wanted to be holy for our God. We wanted to be like Jesus. Will and I examined as many angles as we knew to the holy life—Andrew Murray’s absolute surrender, John Wesley’s “second blessing,” Brother Lawrence’s “practice of the presence of God.” For long periods I would spend half a night in prayer every week. Each day I would spend an hour in prayer in the morning and a half-hour in the evening. I developed the habit of fasting one day a week for about a year. Yet homosexuality still seemed like an impenetrable wall. Many times I wept before the Lord for my sins. “How long,” my journal records, “will it be till I am made clean?”
Never more vivid to me was the struggle with homosexuality than in the attempt to develop friendships. I could not feel inwardly relaxed with men or women. To most people, I suppose I appeared to be outgoing, spiritual, and assertive. I was voted student chaplain in my senior year. But emotionally, I was insulated. How could I reveal the terrifyingly real me?
Loneliness And Loathing
It was the days of ministry, ten years after my conversion, that were to see the collapse of my moral world. The motivation for wanting to be free from homosexuality was gradually, subtly shifting to a basic longing for love, a home, a family. Yet the stronger the longing, the more it appeared unreachable. I was stunned by the loneliness of the ministry as a single man, struggling to be a friend even to myself. In a new city, without the comfort of college friends and the reassuring order of dormitory life, I closed down to everything I knew to be right and good and went out one night into the darkness and, in a momentary attempt at comfort, gave my body to a stranger.
I loathed what I had done. I came back to my apartment almost nauseated. In enormous distress I poured out my soul to God in repentance. The only hope I could find in the rubble of my wickedness was that perhaps the shock of my sin might keep me from it forever.
But the repugnance faded in the memory of its brief pleasure. I sought more. Now I was to know guilt and the constant fear of exposure in a deeper way than ever before. I guarded my terrible secret during four years of ministry in England and another three in New York City, where nearly all restraints were lost. What a moral schizophrenia! Loving and serving God, then proceeding to defy all he stands for as I cruised gay streets, furtively exited X-rated movie houses, or took to the illusory cocoon of the gay bathhouse, only to return to my apartment, pounding with anxiety or overcome with depression.
The crisis of identity, of my “place” in the world and in God’s kingdom, was becoming gargantuan. Who was I? A lecherous wolf in sheep’s clothing, fleecing the flock, “beguiling unstable souls”? Or a child of God, with a besetting sin, trapped in the struggle described by Paul in Romans 7, hating what I did?
A Switch Is Flipped
I had left England in 1971 to complete an M.A. degree at Andrews University in Michigan, after which I was to return to ministry in New York City. New to the campus, I felt uncertain and lonely and far removed from the familiar climes of England. I soon heard about a class that had seminarians buzzing: Prof. Hans LaRondelle’s systematic theology course on righteousness by faith. LaRondelle, who had received his doctorate under the Reformed theologian G. C. Berkouwer in Holland, is a short, stocky man with a thick, Dutch accent and a subdued, mischievous joy.
The classroom was packed. Expectations were high. LaRondelle’s lectures were proclamations, fit for any hour of devotion with God. From the first moment, I knew I was listening to something enormously significant to me.
There can be no renovation of man’s sinful nature.… Christ is the Substitute for the human race, the Propitiation.… In Christ we are treated as righteous.… We expand with joy because Christ, our Peace, makes us certain of glorification.…
Condemned in the first Adam, we are justified in the Second Adam.… We therefore give our bodies to his obedient service, treating them as if they were resurrected in his resurrection.… We struggle and thrash against sin … but we are freed from its power by the justifying atonement of Jesus.… Christ has triumphed over the evil powers by the Cross.… We now live in the Spirit who puts to death our carnality.
As I walked back from class each day and sat at my desk in my little bachelor bedroom no bigger than a one-man prison cell, my mind began to expand far beyond the poky confines of my quarters. Thoughts sped through my brain at enormous velocity. Segments of truth heretofore disconnected, in a flash made linkages that formed a unified whole. A switch seemed to flip on in my mind from a negative to a positive mindset. Never since my conversion had I so greatly sensed the magnificence of Jesus. Little did I realize then that I was at the beginnings of a personality reconstruction.
Christ, I could now see, had broken the powers of homosexuality at the Cross. My Jesus had been too small. It was not merely a matter of my keeping Christ in my heart. I was by the throne in him. In Jesus I was identified as whole, a heterosexual man. I had been judging myself by how I felt, not by who I was in him. God created all humankind heterosexual in Adam. Homosexuality is an illusory, false state, primarily due to the Fall and the brokenness of human relationships that ensue. It is accounted dead with Christ. My sexual lust was being stimulated by fear of abandonment and condemnation (Rom. 7:5). I had been reinforcing homosexuality for years by neurotic, whining, faithless prayer that pleads for a deliverance that is already provided.
In that little room, reality that would take years to unfold through experience was telescoped into weeks of time. The prison door was open. No matter how long it took, I knew now that I could ultimately walk free.
What God showed me about the gospel of Jesus at seminary, he was to weave into my life in astonishing ways over the next 17 years. The battle was now joined, but now I saw it as a faith war, rather than a sin war. Homosexual behavior gradually decreased in frequency and intensity as the reality of grace filled my mind and began to remake and remold my identity. The Lord began to awaken heterosexual desires in me, and in 1978 he led me to Sharon, who became my wife. If God had not given me first the assurance of being reckoned with Christ, I believe my spirit would have been knocked out by the events and trials about to happen that instead became instruments of healing.
A Hurricane Passes By
Both the loss of my pastoral ministry three years after seminary and the loss in 1986 of Quest Learning Center, the homosexual healing ministry I founded, came about because of homosexual behavior. In the last instance, the behavior involved some of my counselees.
Though I had discovered the experience of heterosexual love, I was still blinded to its greater component, that of loyalty to my bride. I had rationalized certain behaviors for years, like an alcoholic trying to swap beer for the hard stuff. Some behavior, I told myself, like prolonged holding and hugging and massages without clothes was not sexual because it was not genital, even though it was arousing. I told myself it helped me and others to desensitize sexual feelings or fulfill child-parent needs long neglected. I look back in amazement today, almost three years later, that I actually believed this and fooled myself into denying that an erotic, nongenital massage was disloyal to my wife.
Exposure burst my secrecy wide open and showed me my dishonesty. God shook me awake through Christian friends and brought me to face him, myself, and others. I came to see that while there is a legitimate desensitizing and reparenting in the healing of homosexuality, mine was mixed with seduction. I was shocked at the level of denial. I was shocked at the hurt I had brought upon trusting friends and vulnerable counselees. I was almost overwhelmed by the pain this meant to my wife.
Nevertheless, the pain of these trials led us to Christ and to the healing of our marriage. It was Mother Teresa, I believe, who said, “You will never know that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you’ve got.” My reputation, mind games, and lewd distractions, were seen for the pathetic little heap they were when Jehovah the Hurricane passed by.
As my faith grabbed the truth I had learned and imposed it upon all my homosexual feeling, I came to experience viscerally that the “I” that is crucified with Christ and now lives by faith in the Son of God is not the “I” of homosexuality. Personhood and homosexuality are not the same. They are like two circles, the one (homosexuality) superimposed on the other (personhood) so that they are confused as one.
Slowly those two circles pulled apart, the homosexual circle diminishing in size over the years, its steely bonds gradually disintegrating into powder, drifting away before the gentle, invincible wind of God’s Spirit.
A Power Finally Broken
The Lord taught me never to ask for homosexual healing again, but to begin to praise him that Jesus had broken the power of homosexuality at the Cross. Often he would encourage me not to turn my eyes away from an attractive man (my principal way of counterfeiting Christ’s victory), but to reframe the significance of what I saw before me through affirming what I am in Jesus and who this man is I see before me in the great love of God. I had to learn to experience something of being a man among men before I could be a man among women. Before and throughout my marriage, God has brought several heterosexual men into my life who have loved me and shown me affection with not a whiff of homosexuality.
Gradually this focused faith in all that Christ can do led to the breakup of all the guilt, shame, and fear that had stimulated so much sexual sin. My sexual compulsions—and a crippling homosexual romanticism—finally disappeared as I learned to see my worth in Jesus. The fantasies shifted first from being a compulsion, to becoming a pleasant diversion, to becoming, finally, something I did not want, because the false need for them had gone, and I could say good-bye to them.
Sometimes the fight of faith seemed near to tearing me apart as the only “self” I had ever known was pushed aside and my true self was allowed to emerge. But a bruised reed Jesus will not break. I have come to know that God can do what he promises.
Despite my stumbling, God did not let go of me. By his grace and the love and courage of my wife, I now stand free: blissfully, gratefully free.
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