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American Evangelicals and Their Abuse of the LGBTQ+ Community

Pray the Gay Away

In the previous post, we saw how the Nazis 'dealt' with male homosexuals. They used the strategies of containment, conversion, castration, and (forced) celibacy. While I do not know of any American Evangelicals who have used castration, I would not be in the slightest surprised if such acts either have been or continue to be perpetrated in the name of Jesus. I will pass over the weird stuff Jesus says about people who have "made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:12), at least for now.

The Evangelical Community is grounded on fear and its most usual tool is abuse. Let me make myself clear. I am not saying that Evangelicals sometimes use abuse; I am saying that it is their chief tool. Let me put that in even more certain terms: Evangelicalism is fundamentally about abuse. With that in mind, I can add that Evangelicals abuse everyone. But some Evangelicals receive considerably more abuse than others.

To argue that one can either turn to Jesus or be damned is the most fundamental abuse of the Evangelical world, indeed of the Christian church in general. When Jesus talks about separating the 'sheep' from the 'goats' in Matthew 25, the only measure he uses is one of kindness. Evangelicals will argue that the Bible is the basis for this belief about damnation of all those who are not Christians. But, like all positions regarding what the Bible says, such a view is only one possible hermeneutical option. If one is importunate enough to ask 'why', the response will be that this is what a 'high view of Scripture' entails. However, the phrase 'a high view of Scripture' means simply whatever we, the Evangelical hierarchy, decree to be the case. The phrase is completely vacuous. The reality is--and always, always, always, has been--that every 'Christian' group or sect or denomination picks and chooses which scriptures it takes literally and which ones are interpreted as metaphorical or simply unimportant. There is no exception to this rule. As long as people know that this is what they are doing, then the problem is not so great. However, just as there are stupid people who think they are able to perform Mozart just as the 'great' composer wanted, so there are people who claim that they truly 'know' what these ancient religious texts obviously mean. When people start making such claims, it's best to ignore them.

Let me provide two examples. In I Corinthians 11:14, Paul appeals to 'nature' to justify women covering their heads when praying. The vast majority of Evangelicals  simply ignore this prescription, even though 'nature' is a heavy-duty sort of argument. A different example: Jesus breaks the bread at the 'last supper', saying "this is my body." But virtually no Evangelicals think that the word 'is' actually means 'is'. Instead, they say that Jesus means that the bread symbolises his body or that, when we break bread together, we should remember Jesus--somehow.

So much for arguments about what either the Hebrew or Christian Bibles say about homosexuality. At most, they don't say very much at all. But I have already established that people read sacred scriptures as they see fit. Everyone who reads them does this, including the people who say they are just interpreting them 'literally'.

Enter Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse. That might sound like a comedy team--and, in one sense, it is. Their goal in Ex-Gays? is to suggest that gays really can change their sexual orientation. Before we go any further, I need to point out that this language of sexual 'orientation' is itself relatively new. In an admission that could give ammunition to Jones and Yarhouse, let me say that I'm not convinced that the term fully captures the actual sexual reality of anyone. Jones and Yarhouse write: "This is the first culture throughout history in which a substantial number of individuals have said of themselves 'I am gay' (p. 34)." A most remarkable statement! How in the world would Jones and Yarhouse 'know' about all cultures in order to be sure this is the 'first' culture? I guess there is one sense in which that is true: if one has to use the English word 'gay' to make that statement, probably no other English-speaking culture has ever spoken in this way. But human history has gone on for many thousands of years. Who knows what people of other ages and culture have thought? I certainly don't. But let's leave that point aside.

In their book, they provide a 'case study' (what they really provide is junk science) to 'show' that homosexuals 'can' change. But here's the first ugly bit of that account of 'conversion' that needs to be stated as forcefully as possible. The people in this study were already abused by the Evangelical church into thinking that there was something wrong with them. Our culture is rippled with stories of physical sexual abuse. It used to be thought that this was simply a 'Catholic' problem. But it's not.

While attention to actual physical abuse of a sexual nature is truly important, the troubling reality is that psychological sexual abuse is much more widespread and goes very deep. Further, while arguing whether physical or psychological abuse is 'worse' is a bad use of time, the reality is that psychological sexual abuse by Evangelicals is so basic to Evangelicalism that all Evangelicals have been sexually abused in a psychological sense. There is not a single person who has escaped unscathed. Evangelicals are, we might even say by definition, riddled with worries about what one does while naked. That affects everyone, wherever they are on the Kinsey scale.

The crux of the argument of Jones and Yarhouse is that, if we can find even just one person who is able to change from gay to straight, then the whole idea that people are either gay or straight from birth falls apart. Once that falls apart, then sexual orientation change is--well--obviously possible. Since they are already committed to the idea that being LGBTQ+ is 'bad', then it's clear what needs to happen. You are probably thinking: are they really as simplistic as that? The answer is, unfortunately, yes.

One of the most disturbing aspects of American Evangelicalism is that it is almost always cloaks itself in the garb of "Christianity has always taught that." When Jones and Yarhouse 'interpret' the Bible, they speak as if all of Christianity has been of one mind. Now, let me add an important caveat. Both Jones and Yarhouse are theologically challenged. I'm not saying they're stupid; I am simply saying that they are highly ignorant. Neither has any theological education at all. One might say that they are self-taught savants, without the savant part. Oddly enough, during the time Jones was Provost at Wheaton College, he was the chief person who 'decided' whether the views of the faculty were truly 'orthodox'. All of the people who taught in the Bible and Theology department were expected to defer to his 'judgment' whether their views were truly 'ok'. The fact that they had PhDs in theology or biblical interpretation was irrelevant. Indeed, I discovered that the fact that I specialised in postmodern thought was irrelevant. What mattered was what Jones thought about Derrida or any other philosophers on whom I was actually the expert.

The people in the 'study' were people who were already convinced that they were bad people. By definition, people who have homosexual desires are bad people. The best way to stop being bad was to get rid of those desires. Key to understanding the need to change is the 'brokenness' of the human situation. All people are sinful, but homosexuality is a particularly odious sin.

But Jones and Yarhouse provide an alternative to the gay 'lifestyle' (why is it always a lifestyle? Does anyone talk about the 'heterosexual lifestyle'? That sounds like something for swingers to me :-)) They cite Homosexuals Anonymous, Courage, some independent 'ministries', and Exodus International. We all know what happened with Exodus International. It had its own 'exodus' when it got out of the exodus business. Alan Chambers, the head of the 'ministry', announced in 2012 that conversion therapy didn't work. Indeed, he said that 99.9% of such conversions were failures. Chambers apologised for the harm that he and others had caused.

But Jones and Yarhouse claim that 15% of the persons they studied 'successfully' changed from faggot to heterosexual. Mirabile dictu!



1 Comment(s):
Joshua said...
Really interesting - very much agree with this. The Evangelical culture in the US seems particularly focussed on nailing their colours to the mast for some narrow interpretations on a lot of complicated issues. I reckon another troubling issue is the emphasis on 'purity' - which ends up closely tied to 'encouraging' virginity, mainly for women. It's a real shame. I really liked the reminder that kindness is what sets apart the different groups in Matthew 25.
May 31, 2020 11:00:48
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