While scrolling down my Facebook feed the other week, I happened upon this conversion story featured in Christianity Today – a popular evangelical Christian magazine based in America and founded in 1956 by preacher Billy Graham who stated that he wanted to “plant the evangelical flag in the middle-of-the-road, taking the conservative theological position but a definite liberal approach to social problems”. The magazine is not extremist or ‘out-there’, and is read by many perfectly normal Christians living ordinary lives; they may or may not believe that gay sexual activity is a sin, they may or may not believe that sexual orientation is a choice, but almost all of them would not wish legal sanction upon the nonviolent, consensual activity of non-familial adults behind closed doors. This is mostly because the majority of the audience is American, or has had at least some exposure to American shows, and knows that the ultimate emasculation is having Johnny FBI go poking around your privates while you avert your eyes and say ‘thank you, sir’. This is the nation that would probably rather have a shotgun for a president than a president who wanted to get rid of shotguns. And their pansy-ass government lets them sing it from the treetops. They are free to think, believe and say literally any clever or stupid thing that they want, entirely unimpeded, for as long as they can pass for normal in the street and at work.
The Americans’ protected right to freedom of speech is a wonderful and very enviable thing. It means that their government cannot silence any one person’s version of the truth. Evil thrives in darkness, and only dissenting people and voices can cast a light on it for the masses to see. When rulers attempt to silence people who would otherwise expose their true behaviours, they score a little more time to go about their nefarious schemes, and allay public outrage for as long as possible. This is why free speech and a free press are a truly important cornerstone of any nation that would like to consider themselves ‘free’. However, before we get all crying-bald-eagle over it all, free expression also means that we all have to process and put up with a ton of crap on a daily basis that we disagree with and find downright offensive.
To an evangelical Christian, a statue of Christ immersed in urine is offensive crap. To a gay person, the nasty rhetoric of Westboro Baptist is offensive crap. To any right-thinking person, both of the above are offensive crap; but to the originators and a small group of ardent followers, they are powerful and necessary statements. Your average non-Christian doesn’t keep little plastic Jesus figures in his toilet, and your average Christian doesn’t picket funerals and make kitschy posters depicting silhouetted sodomy. Therefore, the minority mindset doesn’t travel too far into general society. However, a magazine like Christianity Today is one that is read approvingly by – as mentioned earlier – your ‘Average Joe’ evangelical.
The conversion story that piqued my interest is by a lady named Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, and details her journey from being a ‘leftist lesbian professor’ to the ‘cured’ heterosexual wife of a pastor. She refers to her previous partner, who she describes sharing a life and home with for several years as her ‘lesbian lover’. As a former women’s studies professor she will be well aware that this sort of cruel (I’ll say it, it’s needlessly mean and peculiarly eroticised, she could have just referred to her former partner by an initial if she didn’t want to use terms that ‘legitimized’ gay relationships) label for a former partner would be considered hurtful to lesbian women who read it.
“Boo hoo, lesbians; who gives a damn about crying lesbians when our kids are being taught that lesbionic relationships are legitimate and somehow on a par with holy matrimony as defined by my particular sect?”
I understand that reaction. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it. A significant proportion of Evangelical Christians believe that gay sexual activity is a sin and expressly against what they believe their God generally wants to be happening on Earth. They believe that public acceptance and legitimisation of gay relationships will foster the growth of more sin in the world. As scientific opinion and psychiatry have moved away from classifying homosexuality as a conscious deviancy and disease, gay people and their allies have fought for what they would deem equal rights under a law that can no longer criminalise their private choice on the matter. Christians who part ways with current scientific evidence and psychiatric best practice at this point still have no reason to believe that homosexuality is not a conscious deviancy and disease. They will, as the editors of Christianity Today have done, provide a platform for accounts that are written in an obviously disregarding tone towards gay people, and that contain gay-to-straight conversion accounts without the editorial caveat that no respected psychological association endorses gay-to-straight therapy, and that it is considered to be counter-productive in the vast majority of cases.
The notion of homosexuality being a ‘choice’ has fallen well out of vogue in Western countries, but a small minority cling to the rhetoric and fuel the careers of outspoken preachers who make a living off of “keeping the controversy alive”. These writers have influenced the foreign policies of nations like Uganda, whose infamous “Kill the Gays Bill” was influenced to a notable degree by evangelical Christian writers who argue – against prevailing psychological consensus – that homosexuality is a choice.
This rationale when applied to Uganda’s domestic policy resulted in a law making homosexual activity punishable by death. The UK is now receiving asylum seekers who are being persecuted in their own countries for what they do with consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes. Our Border Agency is demanding that the gay people provide evidence that they are gay, in order that they satisfy the criteria for asylum. This has resulted in gay asylum seekers discovering that the only really convincing way they can think of to demonstrate their orientation is to film themselves engaging in gay sexual acts on camera. The UK Border Agency does not demand this sort of evidence, but neither does it disregard it.
The language that is used by people who believe that homosexuality is a conscious choice is very often demeaning, unnecessarily eroticized, and offensive to its subject group. This language and the attitude of disapproval helps to soothe the fraying nerves of an ever-shrinking group of believers losing a majority hold on public opinion when it comes to recognising the rights of LGBT individuals and couples. When this attitude is taken to a population that does not enjoy the individual rights claimed by those in the West, the results have been persecution and death. Other countries have had to shoulder the financial cost of providing shelter to refugees driven out of their homes in fear of death because of the relationships they choose to engage in. There is no credible psychological evidence to suggest that sexual orientation is a choice, and indeed many Christians opt for celibacy while still accepting their orientation; and still battling with desires that they disagree with.
If not out of sympathy for the Godless Gays who may be affected by the language choices and editorial decisions of mainstream Evangelical Christian mainstays like Christianity Today, or the more robust and directly stated views of people like Scott Lively and Rick Warren – that have contributed to people in other countries being killed because their governments have been persuaded that homosexuality a choice – then what about considering the impact that claiming that homosexuality is a choice has on fellow Christians who struggle with what they know, and science agrees, is not a choice? Suicide rates are higher among LGBT teens than in their straight counterparts. Young gay Christians who believe it is sinful to engage in homosexual activity especially need their communities to at least be sensitive to the fact that they struggle with temptation, the same as any other young person, and for the most part most of them would never self-report choosing to feel that way.
If one examines the fruits of the two different beliefs – one the scientifically backed majority opinion that homosexuality is not a choice, and two the shrinking, sparsely evidenced view that homosexuality is a choice – i.e. look at the effects the conflicting beliefs have in society, we find that the second view very arguably leads to upset, offense, persecution and death, while the first has yet to be linked to the cessation of a single human life – while simultaneously not contradicting the beliefs of any orthodox Christian who believes that homosexual activity is sinful.
It may be time for the ‘it’s a choice’ brigade to surrender to science, common sense or empathy; and stop viewing gay people as deliberately perverted, predominantly sexual entities, consciously encouraging lascivious thoughts and behaviours and existing on a plane only slightly above animals because of it. I think we could all do with a breather.