Christianity and Sexual Conversion
With the LGBTQ+ community becoming more and more vocal about the harm of Conversion Therapy, we look to the community that once championed it.
Author: Leandra Archibald
As of today, conversion therapy, the pseudoscientific practice of trying to change an individual's sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual, has been banned in only 5 countries, a number of states and select US cities, but despite the combined efforts and recent successes of LGBT people in power (like this Indian Prince) speaking out on behalf of adults and minors who have to face such trauma, as well as the calls made by political leaders to change these circumstances, there is still a very present, very vocal religious demographic that’s had its support conversion therapy be its most defining characteristic.
Christianity, or at least many of its denominations, has been one known for its treatment of homosexuality as not only a sin worthy of complete condemnation, but a mental condition that would require “reparative therapy” to be possibly reversed. In current times, scientists have long debunked the latter, but this is only the tip of the iceberg representing a recent shift in beliefs and ideals for both religious leaders and followers alike. In particular, many Catholics have started to be more tolerant of the LGBTQ community, and resources have noted that, in spite of Biblical teaching and interpretation, treatment has varied from completely welcoming to downright intolerant with every parish and diocese. There is a noticeable lack of a unified front when it comes to the larger umbrella of Christianity, especially when groups like the Mormons have explicitly stated their opposition to conversion therapy, while some fundamentalist Christians still maintain and advocate for the “treatment” of queer and trans people.
However, this change goes deeper than simply recognizing the fact that scientists debunked the belief that homosexuality was a mental disorder or the fact that many denominations are still split on the topic of homosexuality and their treatment of queer people. For some, understanding of the experience itself gives insight to what brings many Christians to be more open to a community they have initially seen to be against their teachings. Stories like that of former “ex-gay” leaders who later came out , or the English lesbian who spoke with the pope further prompts one to see that the conservatism perpetuated by religious teaching leaves those who are subject to it only further stigmatized and alone. “We know better now,” is a sentiment constantly echoed not only by ‘ex-gay’ ministers, but Christian LGBTQ people who have had to the endure the terror they recall these camps to be about, and the publicized toxicity of the camps themselves has brought leading figures within the industry to admit the reality that this “treatment” is ineffective at best, if not traumatizing at worst. The emergence of leaders who admitted themselves to be frauds, if not in the closet themselves.
In other cases, analysis of the past adds more nuance to the circumstances of the present. The political implications, after all, are deeply connected, if not synonymous, with many of the religious entities that organize in America and the larger world, and the “Conservative Christian Right” did, in fact, play a large part in prior perceptions of homosexuality as a mental condition. Pooling up to 600,000 dollars to spread ads about the promise of therapy in the 80s and 90s, umbrella organization Exodus International was the face of far right rhetoric and religious “ex-gay” articles that frequented Wall Street Journal Issues. Over time, though, a face was all it was. Far-right funding only propped up a view already on the decline. Even as this occurred and ex-gays began to experience first hand the lack of change to their own sexuality, other organizations still make an effort to fill the void left behind by Exodus International after it closed its doors. Voice of the Voiceless, for instance, is composed of former Exodus members who still believe in the message they initially spread, and former org Jewish Institute for Global Awareness (JIFGA)attempted to move under the guise of providing help to others, ironically often coming in the form of “diminution of their unwanted same-sex attraction.”
The withering away of the practice as well as its proponents leads us to vividly see a future in which conversion therapy is obsolete, and brings one to consider if it is possible to reconcile one’s sexual orientation with their faith. As echoed by former “ex-gay” Darlene Bogle, being gay and being Christian are not mutually exclusive, and it should be realized that one’s faith calls them to help others in spite of what they do, or whom they love. In essence, the harmful effects of conversion therapy may fail to reach future generations, but the waning support may be more reflective of a larger realization that queer people shouldn’t be harmed and traumatized in hopes of being “fixed”, but accepted into a community they were taught to be founded on God’s love and acceptance.
Leandra Archibald is a rising senior who currently resides in Mount Vernon, New York. Raised in a non-denominational Christian family, Leandra has always had an open mind to different denominations and religions and has been going to Catholic school for much of her life. Through observing other communities, she finds clarity in what it means to maintain a connection with God.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views or positions of Converge Interfaith.