When they do, it’s not because they get much help from fellow Christians.
The universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, a denomination of and for practicing homosexuals, started from scratch in 1968 and today has 150 congregations in eight countries, with some 29,000 members. In the last two years alone, about 15 new congregations joined. It’s growing fast, not only because of its attractiveness to homosexuals, but also because conventional churches find it hard to minister to gays. The difficulty stems from the fact that most Christians with homosexual problems don’t dare run the risk of announcing themselves in their local congregations for the purpose of getting help. Nearly every one of some two dozen homosexuals interviewed by CHRISTIANITY TODAY for this article laughed at the very suggestion.
Clearly, homosexuality is near the top of any evangelical Christian’s list of problems facing the country. In recent years, that concern has boiled over into condemnation, hatred, and fear. Frank Worthen, a San Francisco businessman who wrestled with flagrant homosexuality nearly all his life before turning to Christ, then pulling himself out of it seven years ago, now runs a ministry to gays and speaks widely on the subject. He said he has run across only one church that knows how to minister to members with homosexual problems. “We get a lot of refugees from the churches,” he said. In fact, he said, his ministry gets more criticism from Christians than from gay activists.
Richard Lovelace, professor at Gordon-Con well Theological Seminary, said in an interview on the PTL Club television broadcast, “Most of the repenting that needs to be done on this issue of homosexuality needs to be done by straight people, including straight Christians. By far the greater sin in our church is the sin of neglect, fear, hatred, just wanting to brush these people under the rug.”
The homosexual son of a West Coast pastor said, “Christ first said to the adulterous woman: I love you. Then he told her to change. Churches do the opposite. They say: Change, then we’ll love you.”
The fact is, many people are experiencing deliverance from homosexuality. The evidence is too great to deny it. But when they succeed, apparently they do so in spite of condemnation: because someone has first accepted them, sin and all.
A West Coast woman told her story. She and her lesbian friend were at an outdoor flea market, and she bought a bumper sticker that said, “Have a Nice Forever.” The man who sold it to her asked if she knew Jesus Christ. She said no, and the man told her about his own life, his family, and his conversion to Christ. Recalling the event, the woman said, “Finally I butted in and said, ‘Sure God loves you. Why wouldn’t he? You’re dressed nice; you drive a clean Volkswagen; you have short hair and a new baby. You’re not a thief like me. You don’t drink or skip town running from the law like me.’ That guy made me mad. I was a thief, a fence, an alcoholic, a child abuser, and a gay. He didn’t know I was a lesbian. I told him, ‘I’m gay. A homosexual. A queer! Do you know what that means?’ I got so mad I felt like hitting him, so I did. I backhanded him across the chest and he went down. He got up, put his hand on my shoulder, and said quietly, ‘Praise the Lord. What makes you think you have a monopoly on sin?’ ”
The woman said she could have handled any response but that one. He started talking to her again and she listened a long time. Finally she accepted Christ.
She left her homosexual friend and her lifestyle. She said she has been tempted many times to return, and she did fall once. But after nine years, she believes she has conquered homosexuality.
Fred (not his real name) is a young homosexual who went through Bible college, trying hard, but falling repeatedly into homosexual sin. He was particularly frustrated because he wanted to minister to gays himself, and he did, at a number of places. But each time he was forced to leave when he succumbed to the same sin he was counseling against. Finally he had enough. He went to another ministry, but not before making sure everyone there knew beforehand that he was gay. He believed that was the only way out for him. This is how he described it:
“I remember walking in, and I knew that everyone else knew that I was a raving faggot.… Let me tell you, the first meeting I went to, I never was around so many open gays in my life.… These people openly talked about their homosexuality. I was so happy … for the first time in my life I could openly talk about homosexuality without fear of rejection.” The meeting he spoke of was sponsored by a Christian ministry to gays, which counsels that it is possible, and biblically mandatory, to stop the practice of homosexuality. It also believes the first step is open admission of the problem. The others in the meeting with Fred were Christians who were struggling to overcome their homosexual lifestyles.
He said that when he came to terms with the need to change his life, he read his Bible constantly, trying to figure out whose responsibility it was for the change, his or God’s. (He had already tried and failed, as so many have, to convince himself that the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality.)
He said, “One of the keys I got (from Hebrews 3:13) was to openly confess it. Up to that time I couldn’t openly confess it. It had to be brought out, to everybody … so that I was no longer threatened by it. No longer threatened by the fear of exposure. (Only then) I could fight it. But if I’m fighting it all by myself, I’ll fail.”
Despite some serious doubts, Fred married about a year ago. Instead of hiding his problem, he was open about it, and now he finds his wife is his biggest help. He said, “I need my wife to know when I’m starting to fall away, and when she sees my eyes cruising some people, she needs to tactfully pull me back in. I need to know that she knows my problem, and will not reject me when she finds I’m slipping, but pull me back in with love.”
Acceptance and love are two words that are sounded repeatedly in interviews with homosexuals and those who deal with them. Joel Afman, who works with a ministry to gays in Dallas, said that the ability to talk about it openly with other gays is vital: “There’s such a healing, because they have been holding it in for years.”
Mansell Pattison, chairman of the psychiatry and health behavior department at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, in an article in the December issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, documented 11 cases of men who claimed not only to have resisted successfully their homosexual drives, but changed their basic homosexual orientation to the point where they have developed satisfactory sexual attraction to females. Eight of them no longer have homosexual dreams, fantasies, or physical arousal.
In other words, these eight were cured—something gay activists often claim is impossible. The changes documented by Pattison came without psychotherapy, but by what he called “religiously mediated change.” They sought help from a Christian ministry to gays. A key to their success, wrote Pattison, is that they were welcomed as homosexuals. They weren’t forced to change first. Instead, they were encouraged to submit their lives to Christ, which they did. Then they joined small church groups where, among other things, they learned what the Bible expects. Pattison believes his is the first scientific study of such change, and his article is worth quoting:
“All of our subjects remarked on the fact they soon learned how psychologically immature they were, and how poor their interpersonal relations were.… All the subjects remarked at how surprised they were to experience acceptance, nonjudgmental evaluation, and nonerotic love from both men and women … as a result they began to identify with other mature Christian men, and began to experience and practice nonerotic relationships with these Christian women …
“During this time of psychological maturation there was no demand that they stop being homosexuals (in orientation). Homosexual behavior was defined as immoral and they were expected not to engage in homosexual practice. However, their psychological condition of homosexuality was interpreted as a sign of Christian immaturity. It was expected that they would learn how to be heterosexual as they developed Christian maturity. And in fact that was the case. The subjects did not report any immediate change in their homosexual dreams, fantasies, impulses or orientations. Rather, they reported a gradual maturation into a secure and satisfying identity as a male with high self-acceptance.… They began to experience nonthreatening and satisfying interpersonal relationships with women. As a result, they reported a steady diminution in their homosexual feelings and a steady increase in their heterosexual feelings. Among those subjects who married, they reported that homosexual dreams, fantasies and impulses did not vanish. (They diminished over time.)”
Pattison is extremely cautious about drawing conclusions from his study. The ministry had 300 clients over five years, and reported only 30 cases of claimed changes. From these 30, he chose his 11 subjects. He said the study may indicate that change is easier among younger adults than older ones. The average age of his group was 27.
Nevertheless, Pattison’s findings are significant, because Evangelicals Concerned, an organization of self-styled Christian homosexuals, is adamant about the failure of true homosexuals to be able to change their sexual orientation. All Pattison’s subjects were true homosexuals. The generally accepted measure is the Kinsey scale of zero to six. Zero is no psychic arousal to the same sex, and sexual contact exclusively with the opposite sex. Six is exclusive psychic response to the same sex. Four of Pattison’s subjects went from six to zero on the scale, three went from six to one, one went from four to zero, one went from six to two, one went from five to two and one went from four to two. Gay activists claim only bisexuals can change their orientation. Bisexuality rates three on the Kinsey scale.
In an interview, Pattison cautioned lest anyone get too optimistic about the possibilities of change. He said, “I’m very worried because we’ve got a lot of Christian counselors around who are telling people, ‘Well, just pray about it and you’ll be able to suppress your desires. Act normal and you’ll be normal.’ That isn’t going to cut it in the long run. We’re going to get a lot of boomerang effects from that and I’m very worried about it.” Some homosexuals who have been told to convince themselves they’ve changed, and who may even have married to prove it, are headed for a fall, Pattison believes.
Donald Tweedie, a clinical psychologist in suburban Los Angeles, has counseled about 300 homosexuals in 25 years of practice. He is more optimistic than Pattison about reversing homosexuality, although he doesn’t believe a “cure” necessarily implies a life free from homosexual temptation. He explained that many of his patients have gone on to satisfactory married lives. He sees homosexuality much like alcoholism, an addictive practice.
Many others who have tried to determine its roots don’t picture it like that, but most agree that it’s a learned response, whether conscious or subconscious. (Those who contend it’s something a person is born with are in the decided minority among the experts.)
Tweedie warns of possible pitfalls after miracle cures claimed in the name of Christ: “When a person turns to Christ, he has a new affection and has a whole new set of motivations and a lot of his temptations or pressures seem to be gone. There is usually a phase where we lose our excitement … and at that point old temptations may come back in on us. If you have already borne witness that you’ve been miraculously healed, it’s hard for you to let people know you’re having those kinds of feelings again, and they are tempted to deny them.… Then they find themselves right back in that (homosexual) behavior and assume something about their Christianity didn’t work out.”
Barbara Johnson runs a ministry near Los Angeles for parents of homosexuals. It’s named “Spatula” for the tool needed symbolically to scrape parents off the ceiling after they’ve learned about their child’s problem. She too has found, through a series of brutal circumstances in her own life and through her counseling of others, that God doesn’t always respond on cue. She is critical of what she calls “name it and claim it” Christians who believe that to order up a cure, they need only believe hard enough. For Christmas this year, Johnson passed out small stones to those who attend her meetings, as in “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s to remind parents to accept their children’s homosexuality as sin, albeit an unusual sin, and then work from there.
Frank Worthen of Love in Action, the longest-running of the so-called ex-gay ministries, believes that overcoming homosexuality is extremely difficult. He believes most people who attempt it don’t make it. Yet he’s strongly convinced it can be done, and he offers himself as proof. He ended his homosexual lifestyle in 1973 by converting to Christ, yet his tortuous road out of it very nearly ended in suicide, so overwhelmingly severe were the emotional obstacles. He describes himself as happily celibate, although he does face the problem of keeping his psychic response to women under control, since he is not married.
He said, “I personally think [homosexuals] have an excellent chance of going on to marriage and a family. Not many of them do, however. They’re usually held back by fear, inhibitions and the like. [At Love in Action] we have seen a lot of marriages. I have seen all kinds of people come out of the gay lifestyle and develop a heterosexual response. This isn’t to say it’s easy. It’s never easy. It requires a real heavy commitment to Christ. You actually have to lose your life to save it. A lot of people don’t realize that.”
Several people who have been through the Love in Action ministry mentioned that biblical pattern. For them, the concept of dying to self has a meaning that straight people will never fathom. Another doctrine that pours rivers of warmth into the troubled heart of a homosexual who wants out is salvation by grace. That’s because many who reject the gay life repeatedly slip back into it before they succeed. If they had to work their way to heaven they would never make it. Many of those interviewed for this article testified that the only thing keeping them going was the belief that their past and future sins are already forgiven. If and when they should slip back, their salvation is not jeopordized.
On the other hand, casting significant doubt on the credibility of homosexual change is the tendency of reformed homosexuals to rush out too quickly and set up their own ministries. Many have failed. “This is a very humiliating ministry,” Worthen said. “People shouldn’t do it unless God calls them. They soon find out that … lots of people stumble sexually (providing powerful ammunition for gay activists). They build up confidence in themselves and not in Christ. They get proud and they think they have it made. Some of these ministries are founded on ego, people stepping out ahead of God, not being called to minister and yet wanting to do so.”
In addition, often these ministries are ignored by churches in terms of prayer and financial support, and this contributes to their high mortality rate. Worthen himself is convinced that each month for Love in Action will be its last, given its critical financial needs. It operates half-way houses for men and women homosexuals while they attempt to change. Some come right off the streets of San Francisco, and the majority do not make it, especially since promiscuous sex is so easily available and so close by. Worthen estimates that more than 100 have gone through the ministry, another 2,300 are ministered to by correspondence. Love in Action also has a 12-hour seminar presentation for churches.
Christian ministry to gays demands strong nerves and perseverance. Larry Rosenbaum, 34, attended Yale and the University of Chicago before graduating and fading into the California drug scene in the late sixties. He drifted from commune to commune before linking up with one that seemed to be different, in that they practiced the love and concern the others talked about. They were Christians, and Rosenbaum became one too. He began witnessing to people about the perils of the drug life, but he didn’t mention his other problem. He was gay, and had been for as long as he could remember. When he became a Christian in 1970, he renounced that as well as drugs. Gradually, he felt burdened to witness to gays in San Francisco. (Unlike many, he said he never slipped back into homosexuality after he renounced it.)
He came to the city five years ago, but he found little help. “A lot of Christians were intimidated by the hardness of the city, and it was hard to get them to come out,” he said. Finally he and a few friends hit upon the idea of staging Christian concerts, and they drew good crowds, even though the music didn’t always make the audience more open to the gospel. Gradually, Rosenbaum’s ranks of street evangelists grew to the point where he had some 200 people from 10 churches occasionally on the streets.
Last summer they went for broke. They announced plans for a mass rally during one week in August, billing it as “S.O.S. San Francisco.” They advertised widely for help, and between 300 and 500 people hit the streets each day passing out tracts and sharing the gospel. Rallies and concerts during the week drew sizable crowds. A local television station carried shots of a morning worship and of a man turning to Christ on Castro Street, in the heart of one of the gay sections.
Some 250 new believers were reported, and 20 people spent the next two weeks following up on those conversions. About 300,000 tracts and New Testaments were passed out, and 19 were baptized at Fishermen’s Wharf. Every cent of some $10,000 in expenses came in through contributions. Rosenbaum, his head still spinning, is already preparing another outreach next summer.
The important fact emerging from the CHRISTIANITY TODAY investigation is that Christians won’t get through to homosexuals until they overcome their understandable fears and learn to accept them as people and take the time to develop their trust. That step alone can have unexpected results. Barbara Johnson recalls one of her meetings at which she asked a homosexual to close in prayer. Instead, the man burst into tears, overcome at the notion that a Christian would ask a homosexual to pray at a public meeting.
It will be a while before straight Christians and homosexuals do much praying together, because antagonisms are so great. Sometimes the conflict is intensified when the issues are misrepresented, whether intentionally or not. Such was the case in Dallas in the summer of 1979.
James Robison, the fiery Southern Baptist television preacher, had just had his weekly television program cancelled because, as he explained in numerous interviews at the time, he had called homosexuality a sin on the air. The Dallas Gay Political Caucus had asked for and received response time under the Fairness Doctrine, and then the station unplugged Robison’s show. Robison organized a mass rally, and more than 10,000 turned out to hear him and others rail against the unfairness of the Fairness Doctrine, and to proclaim the right to preach the Bible on television.
The only problem was, homosexuality as sin wasn’t the issue. The gay organization wanted to respond to something quite different that Robison said on his program. On the show, Robison read the National Enquirer, a sensational tabloid that’s seldom quoted for serious purposes. Robison quoted the Los Angeles police chief as saying, “homosexuals are preying on youngsters in increasing boldness …” Robison also referred in his speech to the Chicago mass murders committed by the homosexual, John Gacy, and he said. “Can you imagine burying dozens of boys under your house with whom you’ve committed sexual immorality and tortured to death? It’s becoming commonplace in this country.”
The trouble with such sweeping accusations is that there’s not much solid evidence that homosexuals are any more likely to commit sex crimes than are heterosexuals. This is what the gay activists wanted to respond to, said Campbell Read, a Southern Methodist University professor and the man who asked for equal time. Their side got lost in the dust. He believed Robison was deliberately diverting the issue. Read and others in the Dallas homosexual community were extremely bitter about it. As a result, Robison lost credibility in the eyes of those homosexuals who might have been interested in responding to his gospel message.
A spokesman for Robison said Robison would be the first to admit there are better publications to quote from than the National Enquirer. She also said that despite Campbell Read’s objection, many homosexuals did in fact object to Robison calling homosexuality a sin on the air.
Mansell Pattison, the psychiatrist at the Medical College of Georgia, agreed that there is no persuasive evidence that homosexuals are more likely to be child molesters. In fact, he believes they are probably less so. “By and large a homosexual is looking for a mirror image of himself; he is not looking for a child,” Pattison said. Armand Nicholi, Jr., a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, said he also knew of no study suggesting increased child abuse by homosexuals. He said none of his homosexual patients have been involved in it. He added, however, that neither can one say dogmatically that homosexuals aren’t more inclined; the evidence is just inconclusive.
Anita Bryant has also unwittingly provided ammunition for homosexuals wanting an excuse to fight rather than change. Before her ministry collapsed, she sent out a fund-raising letter appealing for money to establish a counseling center. In her letter she quoted from a note from a homosexual that she said was typical of many she received. The letter said, in part:
“… I went to psychologists, one after another, and they told me I was hopeless. Then I read and heard you on television saying that there is a chance for a homosexual to change if he comes to know Christ. After listening and keeping up with your campaign, I dedicated my life to Jesus Christ. The Lord came into my heart and I gave it all to Jesus. He forgave me for my past and now, through spiritual growth and counseling, I have a spiritual, moral heterosexual life.”
Bryant didn’t quote the first part of the man’s letter, however. It said, “I believe I was a homosexual even though I didn’t really participate.” Most psychologists probably would question whether such a person really is a homosexual, since some homosexual feelings early in life are not unusual. The full letter was obtained by a homosexual activist in Chicago who uses the letter in his speeches to show that claims of Christian cures by conversion are fraudulent.
In an interview, Anita Bryant acknowledged that the letter might not have been the best one to excerpt from, but she said her organization received hundreds like it and she maintained that there are numerous cures that come through trusting in Christ. That issue has thrown a cloud over serious attempts to minister to gays.
In 1975, one of the first popular books appeared that carried testimonies of people who claimed that Christian conversion enabled them to overcome homosexual lifestyles. The book was titled The Third Sex, and was written by Kent Philpott, who organized the Love in Action ministry in San Rafael, California, which Worthen now heads. The revelations of the six troubled people in the book prompted many homosexuals to contact the ministry for help. Unfortunately, four of the six reverted to their homosexual lifestyles not long after the book was published. In 1977, the book reappeared with a new cover, which now said, “These six stories of how homosexuals were changed through Christ will help save your children.” The four subjects were flabbergasted. The book seemed to link them to the antihomosexual hysteria surrounding the fight over homosexual rights in Miami and elsewhere. They felt like pawns, and they grew bitter. They tried unsuccessfully to get Logos International, the publishing company, to withdraw it.
Dan Malachuk, the publisher, defended the book as being accurate when it was published. He also defended the cover change. “We wanted to convey that homosexuals, if they can get to the children, they will. I will never change my opinion of that.” Malachuk said he didn’t mean that homosexuals were child molesters, just that they were trying to reform society to make it easier for children to enter the homosexual lifestyle.
It’s partly because of Philpott’s book that the homosexuals in Evangelicals Concerned do all they can to discredit Love in Action and all “ex-gay” ministries.
Questionable books, emotional sermons, and stirring fund-raising efforts give some justification for Christians with homosexual problems to believe that maybe they shouldn’t change after all, that what they’re hearing from the straight Christian world isn’t accurate. This is one reason why the Metropolitan Community Church is growing so fast.
CHRISTIANITY TODAY learned, however, from those who deal with homosexuals, that change from the homosexual lifestyle is more likely if straight Christians don’t scare them off. That should be a matter of deep satisfaction to the majority of evangelicals who are being shaken by propaganda from the progay side. Tweedie, Pattison, Worthen, Johnson, and others who deal with gays in a Christian context all know firsthand about people whose lives have been transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, even though such transformation may have come after long counseling therapy. Most of these people, however, don’t want to tell about it. The last thing they want their friends and their children to know is what they used to be. But perhaps it is time for some of these people to come out of the closet, so to speak, and give an account for the hope that is in them, and the grace that has changed them.
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