Monday, December 04, 2006

Pray the Gay Away?

Local Dallas Observer columnist, blogger and evangelical Julie Lyons confronts the question "Can you Pray the Gay Away?" and answer it, unsurprisingly, yes:

I turned to Francis MacNutt, a Charismatic Catholic and a pioneer in the healing ministry, for answers that come from the realm of experience as well as doctrine. MacNutt wrote an article recently in his organization’s newsletter reflecting on the re-release of his short book, Can Homosexuality Be Healed? His answer: a resounding yes.

MacNutt told me that praying for gays is only a very small part of their ministry, but his wife had 20 gay and lesbian clients in her psychotherapy practice, in which she combined traditional methodologies with Holy Spirit-directed healing prayer. Her success rate? 100 percent, MacNutt says.
Now if you read Lyons' column you'll see that she's a very reasonable, courteous and reflective sort of evangelical (unlike say, this guy), but the fact remains that perfectly reasonable and likeable people can have completely unreasonable beliefs. And here's the problem with "praying the gay away":
In many but not all instances with gay men and women, the MacNutts have found a deficit or a breach in the relationship with the same-sex parent that occurred early in childhood, well before one’s sexual identity had fully formed. In the case of many lesbians, he says, it was denial of a mother’s love, sometimes in infancy and for reasons as simple and blameless as a lengthy illness. By “deliverance,” he means freeing an individual from the oppression of demonic spirits, such as lust.

The problem is that most psychiatrists have long since abandoned the belief that homosexuality is a disorder that is largely the result of some deficit in upbringing. This idea that bad parenting produces children who grow up to be gay dates back to Freud, and while many psychiatrists and scientists believe that there are also biological explanations for homosexuality, your average Christian opponent of homosexuality still cannot resist the temptation to delve into pseudo-science to "prove" that gays can be "cured" of homosexuality. MacNutt's approach only works if you believe that all instances of homosexuality are caused by issues relating to childhood (or some other trauma or incident.) If there is even one gay person who was born that way, and whose attraction to members of the same sex cannot be eradicated by willpower alone, his approach fails. Why? Because then the only response to gays who are born the way they are is to tell them that they were born defective, and they must spend the remainder of their lives battling and denying the way God created them, which is a harsher and less attractive message.
Of course, many conservative Christians don't have a problem with that, because they believe that we were all born spiritually defective in some sense, and must spend our lives struggling with the desires that would cause us to sin and do evil. Of course, I subscribe to a different approach to homosexuality: what two mature and consenting adults do in the privacy of their homes and bedrooms is none of my business, so long as they hurt no one else (that's my secular humantist moral relativism talking, I know.) Of course my approach leads to us straights and gays living together in peace and harmony, whereas their approach leads to legislation banning gay marriage and restricting what people do in their own bedrooms. Now to be fair, Julie Lyons is not (in this column at least) arguing for constitutional bans on gay marriage. What she's saying is that evangelicals should not be afraid to confront head-on the issue of homosexuality and tell gays that God can "heal" them of their homosexuality. Maybe she believes that should be the only way Christians confront homosexuality, and that legislation is not the answer. But the fact remains that for conservative Christians who believe that the state is correct to legislate what they see to be immoral behavior, it's not a very long jump from believing that homosexuality can be cured to rallying in the streets to ban gay marriage.

1 comment:

Nat-Wu said...

I of course scoff at the validity of any belief based on the "literal truth" argument. I don't care what the Bible says about homosexuality in the first place, and in any case more learned scholars than I dispute the validity of many translations/interpretations of the Bible anyway.

I've been trying to come up with a comprehensive theory of why homosexuality matters to so many evangelical Christians so much right now. I'm tending toward something like it having to do with their feeling of marginalization and that homosexuals are an easy target. More on that later.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say but not getting around to is that these people who talk about homosexuality as if it's simply some state of sinfulness that homosexuals are just denying. By that view, she's quite right in that you should be able to "pray the gay away". Of course, the fact that that view has no basis in reality (which she might even admit if you challenged her) makes no difference. She, and evangelicals like her, need this belief in order to be able to vilify the homosexuals that they view as an affront to their Christian supremacy (just think of all the times the Christian as outcast/victim/oppressed theme is used by major evangelical figures). Of course homosexuality has to be a sin; if it wasn't the church could hardly rally any sympathy for their "woe is me, the gays are taking over" schtick. I mean, being Mexican isn't a sin (yet), so the church as a whole doesn't have a position on illegal immigrants.

Maybe I've been too wordy. Let me put it this way; whether naive Christians like Julie Lyons think so or not, the issue is a Christian vs. Homosexual paradigm that the evangelicals have created in order to use to cast themselves as the victims of some vast anti-Christian conspiracy. This is not the only issue, but is possibly the most visible because the opponents are the most vocal.