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RGOD2: Caught between a Rock and a hard place

Rock Church in San Diego intends to hold an all day “ex-gay” therapy program this weekend (May 5) with Joe Dallas as its keynote speaker. Details on this ex-gay movement can be found HERE.

Dallas has written several books about these issues. He runs Genesis Counseling in Orange County: “To help people in recovery with sexual addiction, homosexuality, and other sexual problems.”

Why is Rock Church, so good at reaching out to the margins and broken of our community, doing something so violently opposed to its core values of welcoming everyone and building a community of love and forgiveness?

A foundation or a missile?

When Jesus told Peter that he intended to build his new community (the church) upon a rock, he was talking about a solid foundation rather than a missile that is thrown AT someone.

For LGBT people in San Diego, the latest attempt by pastor Miles McPherson to “build an inclusive church for everyone” fails miserably to accommodate or welcome LGBT people and their families. By holding a $50 per person conference titled “Called to be Free -restoring hope for sexual healing,” Rock Church is affirming that LGBT people are not made in the image of God and have chosen a lifestyle that is evil and they can change to being straight if they want to.

Even though there is no credible science to support the claims of “ex-gay” therapy and it has been denounced by the American Psychological Association as harmful, Rock Church and their speakers appear to know better. This conference is an affront to the LGBT citizens and our families and friends in this city. It is a missile that is being hurled in our faces.

How can a church that prides itself on being so civic-minded be so insensitive? The global consequences of this “ex-gay” ministry are well-documented.

A misguided theory has deadly consequences for millions of LGBT people worldwide

“Ex-gay” therapy is a very controversial area where most Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches claim to have a “cure” for homosexuality. Many of these churches, including Skyline and Saddleback churches in Southern California, not only offer reparative counseling to families and individuals seeking deliverance from their homosexuality, but these theories and religious practices have more sinister applications when applied to new emerging churches in the global south.

In many of the 76 countries where homosexuality is illegal, “ex-gay” therapy is seen as an alternative correctional method to offer to “sexual deviants,” rather like AA is to alcoholics.

Scott Lively, David Bahati, Paul Cameron, pastor Rick Warren and Sharon Slater (Family Watch International) would all agree that “ex-gay” therapy is the humane ministry to provide to homosexuals in any country where you might go to prison for “aggravated homosexuality.”

Aggravated homosexuality is another way of describing same-sex attraction and simply acting on it. If you are an “aggravated homosexual,” according to “ex-gay” therapy, you are not working hard enough on your sexual addiction and prayer life.

This theory is not only shared by extremists like Bahati and Lively, but by people like former Archbishop George Carey of Canterbury who recently came to the defense of a British psychologist who lost her state license for practicing “ex-gay” therapy. Although Carey is willing to reconsider his position and perhaps now admit gay people might be “born that way,” there is growing evidence from the pioneer founders of the “ex-gay” movement itself that the program is basically theological and psychological “snake oil.”

Whereas some of us can merely dismiss “ex-gay” therapy as some harmless religious cult, others of us who have close associations with the Global South know that its application to punitive laws, systemic persecution, corrective lesbian rape and false information about LGBT people is extremely harmful.

Let’s just not talk about it

We are now seeing a new development in denying any space for LGBT engagement through new legislation where any discussion of homosexuality is outlawed as “promotion of homosexuality.”

You might catch “it” just by talking about it, so let’s outlaw even talking about it. There were 12 arrests in Russia this week under a new law that prohibits the “promotion of homosexuality,” so even a personal “coming out” or a published report from Human Rights Watch can be interpreted as “promotion of homosexuality.”

Fundamentalists and homophobes would rather not talk about these issues. For them, homosexuality is not an identity, merely a set of behaviors that can be cured. “Ex-gay” therapy is their only way of discussing it – as a pathological and evil choice.

Global effects of “ex-gay” therapy

The Rock Church’s support of “ex-gay” therapy and welcoming of Joe Dallas is a manifestation of this denial – a belief that millions of human beings are living in complete self-deception. Their position is certainly not a harmless alternative to being gay. It is a deliberate strategy to silence the hearts and experiences of millions of people -- and it is right here in San Diego, one of the more progressive cities in the United States where a number of gays and lesbians have been elected to political offices.

Beyond our city, this model is used to deny LGBT people services and rights in half the countries in the world. Looking through the lens of HIV (where “criminalized populations” are three times more likely to become infected than others), this strategy is just another step towards genocide without any self-reflection from religious people on what they are in fact causing. Millions of people are suffering and dying needlessly throughout the world because of religious attitudes to homosexuality that in turn requires state punishment and violence.

Taking it to the courts

The California Legislature is now considering passing a law where it would be deemed child abuse and criminal to subject a minor to any form of “change therapy.” It was heartbreaking to watch anxious parents driving their teenage children to Skyline Church several years ago for a conference on “ex-gay” therapy.

It will be interesting to hear the arguments from both sides of this controversial issue, but the religious argument cannot move beyond the protection of church/state divisions blaming this proposed law as another manifestation of the state telling Christians what to believe. I thought we had won that battle with the Catholic clergy abuse scandal where the state and the courts offered a very different solution and course of action to the one proposed by church leadership. The state has a right to protect children from abuse and to make sure any form of stigma or discrimination is confronted, repaired and compensation is made.

As a result of the proposed California legislation, we may witness a number of legal claims from victims of “ex-gay” therapy against churches like the Rock. Let the courts decide what is true and of benefit to family and community life and what is “snake oil.”

This ugly and painful process before us is just another reminder of the church’s inability to keep itself on the “straight and narrow.”

Become a foundation for the whole community and not a missile

Rock Church prides itself in being a civic-minded institution and has recently been the scene of several high-profile funerals of fallen law enforcement officers and more recently the tragic loss of sports celebrity Junior Seau.

It confounds me how pastor Miles McPherson can be so forgiving and pastoral when it comes to the acceptance of the sins and shortcomings of celebrities like Junior Seau and Carrie Prejean, but comes down so hard on a whole group of people who happen to be LGBT. Most of us are not wife abusers or soft-porn stars, but we are excluded from the embrace of Rock Church simply for being honest about ourselves and the people who matter to us.

Didn’t Jesus die for our sins too, or are we particularly heinous that universal love and forgiveness cannot go that far? I am sure Rock Church will continue to provide love and support for many people in this community, but there is an inconsistency in its view of the Gospel that undermines its own universal message. It is one thing to say to LGBT people: “You are welcome here,” and another to hold an “ex-gay” conference where the evidence of the success and effectiveness of this program cannot be verified. Their message is clear: “You are more broken than we heterosexuals are and the only way you can be fixed is to lie about who you are and whose you are.”

God loves us

As a Christian, I know God created me and loves me, and that my homosexuality is not a barrier or a privilege to becoming my full potential. I have other issues that hold me back from my potential and I need spiritual guidance and advice on how to deal with them, but it is certainly not around my core identity.

I know who I am and whose I am – I am God’s as much as Miles McPherson belongs to God. I would never invite a speaker or program to my congregation that would deliberately misinform the community about a minority within that community. I would also find it difficult, if I was ever the mayor of this city to attend any public service at the Rock (given its high profile in public demonstrations of grief and celebration) while it continues to promote its anti-gay propaganda program.

If the Rock sees itself as a place for all people of the city of San Diego, then it needs to cease from the kind of programs it will be sponsoring on Saturday and be consistent in its message of God’s love and acceptance and forgiveness of all. It is that simple. If the Rock will not, (and I do not care if the church offers free facilities to memorialize public servants and celebrities) then the City should boycott it. This city is on record to support diversity and inclusion, and has a wonderful track record of community and human rights including supporting LGBT marriages and civil unions.

The Rock needs to grow up and be a foundation to support the mutual interests of a healthy and vibrant city and stop being a missile thrown at a significant section of good people in this community. City government and law enforcement need to take the lead on holding Rock accountable. By doing so, it would also send a clear message to churches in the Global South that “ex-gay” therapy is no basis to send thousands of people to jail or refuse them health information and treatment.

As pastor McPherson presides over the conference on Saturday, listening to the speakers, may the Holy Spirit search his heart with this bottom line question: “Would you really want your child to marry a graduate of this program?”

RGOD2, written by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, looks at faith and religion from an LGBT point of view. Ogle is known around the world for his work in support of LGBT rights and HIV-prevention efforts. He is president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation. Donations to the foundation can be made by clicking HERE.