Jesus attempted this same trick. He made the prohibitions on lust more strict, and yet welcomed and succored prostitutes and adulteresses.
Part of how He squared this circle was by prohibiting judgment. Spending your time imagining what those hand-holding guys might be doing is itself immoral. Acting to stigmatize and humiliate them is itself immoral. This obviously makes building a nice Christian society really hard. The tools of shame and social pressures which all societies use to maintain their boundaries suddenly become moral problems, not solutions. Abuse of power comes into focus and we start to see how the tools by which societies maintain order in fact create their own chaos: pharisaism is a state of disorder in the soul ...
-- Eve Tushnet
+ + +
What, exactly, causes homosexuality?* To say the answer to this question has been a bone of contention between the traditional and the progressive worlds (within and outside the churches) would be a massive understatement. It has been a bone of contention, snapped over as if by wolves fighting for the end of a carcass, cast about like a diviner's rod to discover secrets past and present, crusaded for like the relic of a saint.
On the one side, we have the conservatives and traditionalists, those who assert firmly that homosexuality is a product of upbringing. A distant or rejecting father, combined with a domineering or intrusive mother, results in the young boy identifying with the feminine rather than the masculine, and seeking, after puberty has transmogrified his father-wound from an affective to a sexual longing, to obtain from men in bed what his father never gave him at home. I call this theory "farther and smother."
On the other side, we have the liberals and progressives, who insisted far in advance of the evidence that homosexuality was genetic, or at least biological in nature. People were born gay -- ten percent of them, in fact! -- and it was therefore cruel to demand that they live out of accord with their very nature. On the contrary, society should treat differences in sexual orientation exactly like it treats differences in race, and for the same reason.
And which side am I on?
Nobody's, of course. Even if for no other reason, I have more invested in frustrating my readership than that.
As I've talked about a couple of times before, the reparative drive theory never satisfied me in the first place; it didn't fit the data (which resulted in some ex-gay theorists trying to force every gay person's experience to fit the theory, sometimes with comical or tragic results**), and even when it did fit the data for a particular person I didn't see how it explained anything -- I mean, by the same logic, you could ascribe male heterosexuality to a mother-wound, or assert that a child who is wisely loved by both parents will grow up with no libido at all.
But the view of the enlightened progressive wasn't much of an improvement. Though the slowly amassing evidence did and does support a biological component in the genesis of attraction, it clearly couldn't be as simple as genes -- the notorious twin studies might show that twins were disproportionately likely to share an orientation, but they did also show that orientations weren't always identical even when twins were.
And anyway, it seemed to me to be missing the point: the fact that something was biological (or at any rate un-chosen) had no bearing on whether it was a good thing; all kinds of traits, good and bad and indifferent, had been found to have partly biological causes at least some of the time. If homosexuality were wholly a question of nature, and not at all of nurture, that would still not settle the question of whether it was the sort of nature we disliked and perhaps tried to fix (like cripplingly poor eyesight), or liked and tried to enhance (like athletic talent), or merely giggled at and moved on with our lives (like a sixth toe). And considering that we don't always react well to people who are at a genetic disadvantage, as the horrifying statistics on children aborted after a Down Syndrome diagnosis suggest, I'm not at all sure it would be to the advantage of the LGBT community to prove that homosexuality was entirely biological in the first place.
Which brings up one of the fundamental problems that I find I have with ex-gay therapies (and also with progressivist theology, but that isn't the point of this series). They seem, often, to rest on an unspoken belief that we can't love people who are broken.
Of course, no Christian would ever say that.*** Not in so many words. The lie, often unrecognized in our own minds, masquerades in a thousand glittering images: as that, because true love wants what is best for the beloved, it tries to improve the beloved; or that, because true love does not want to encourage the beloved in sin, it cannot appear to approve of sin by associating with it. The phrases sound so devout, and conceal their spiritual egotism with such a seductive appearance of compassion and purity, as to deceive the very elect.
But make no mistake. It is precisely a seduction that is being attempted in these phrases; I know only too much about seduction to mistake it. The desire to give, and to the real benefit of the recipient, is not an incorruptible desire, and mixes very gently and quietly with the desire to control. It is seldom a realistic concern about scandal that keeps people from pursuing sinners into gay bars: it is more commonly a fear of getting dirt on one's own lily-white hands. For this little hand is lily-white, after all, sweet with all the perfumes of Arabia, and there is no spot in it.
I'm inclined to think that this is part and parcel of a strategy that many conservative-traditional-orthodox Christians, Catholic and Protestant, have been taking toward society for the last fifty years; a misguided strategy. Believing, truly enough, that our Lord wishes us to transfigure the culture we live in, they have attempted to effect such a transfiguration by false and artificial means -- by a pragmatically, if not doctrinally, Pelagian effort to impose good behavior from without, through laws and social pressures, in the hope that this will somehow bring about a revival of Christian spiritual power and cultural ascendancy.
King is forgotten, when another shall come:
Saint and Martyr rule from the tomb.
Think, Thomas, think of enemies dismayed,
Creeping in penance, frightened of a shade;
Think of pilgrims standing in line
Before the glittering jeweled shrine,
From generation to generation
Bending the knee in supplication,
Think of the miracles, by God's grace,
And think of your enemies, in another place.
-- T. S. Eliot, "Fourth Tempter," Murder In the Cathedral, p. 38
That isn't how it works. The only way to bring a holy society into existence is through conversion to love; and we can convert no one. The most we can do is ask God to convert our own hearts (our own sins being the only ones we can repent of). In living out that conversion, perhaps our lives will inspire our neighbors to make the same request of God, and if that happens enough, then yes, it will in fact improve society. But improving society is not the goal of conversion, and an attempted conversion for which the improvement of society is the motive force is doomed to wither, for the same reason that the marriage of man to a millionaire for her money is doomed to wither: the essential point of the operation has been missed.
Making a good society is a good thing; but natural and supernatural good must not be confused, and the natural good cannot woo or seduce the supernatural into approaching. Indeed -- as we ought to have remembered from the terrible lesson of the Pharisees and the prostitutes -- good people are typically harder to reach than bad ones.
Domenico Tintoretto, The Penitent Magdalene, 1598
I wouldn't like to tar the whole ex-gay movement, present or past, with this brush; there were charitable desires, too. They even did some real good for some people, and I don't begrudge anybody that. But I believe that the total message of orientation change (intended or not) was false and pernicious, and that it fed into, rather than counteracting, the lie that plagues the minds of so many gay Christians, and indeed so many people of every kind: that God withholds love from people who aren't good enough. And that's exactly what thousands of us took away from our experiences with ex-gay therapies and fellowships -- that we were broken, and that if we didn't get fixed, God would throw us on the trash heap. We got "God loves you, but".
Does that prove orientation change is a worthless idea? Not necessarily. There will be grave failures in any ministry; Caiaphas the High Priest was instrumental in Deicide.
But personally, I do feel that its wholesale rejection by the APA, and its repudiation from prominent former exponents, including Alan Chambers, is proof enough to be going on with that ex-gay therapies can be safely taken off our list of solutions. And then we can get on with loving the people whom God has actually set before us, instead of the ones we expected or wanted; it is more humane, for it is more divine.
*Before anybody gets their jockstrap in a twist, allow me to be perfectly clear: by "homosexuality" I mean in most of my writing, and here in particular, the phenomenon of being attracted to one's own sex. No behavior is implied, and no exclusivity or fixity of attraction is insisted on. I admit both bisexuality and sexual fluidity, though they are of limited relevance to what I'm talking about here. (This, although as far as I can tell it's the commonest use of the word, is not the definition employed in the relevant paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which has been a source of great misunderstanding.)
**An example of comical results can be found in Justin Lee's book Torn, where he speaks of an ex-gay minister trying desperately to find something to attribute Lee's homosexuality to in his happy childhood, and finally determining that his alopecia was the trauma that made him turn gay. A not-so-funny instance of this kind of attempt to force the facts to fit the theory can be found in the lives of many gay men and their families, who persuaded themselves (sometimes in the teeth of their lived experience) that the father had been cold or passive and the mother had been controlling or smothering. Stephen Long's open letter to the ex-gay community deals with such an instance.
***Unless the Christian in question were also a true Scotsman.