Coming Out Ministries (COM) is an organization that is devoted to helping people find “redemption, victory, healing and freedom from homosexuality.” COM board members, Brian and Anne Savinsky, interviewed by Spectrum on January 31, produced a documentary film that primarily features the stories of four individuals who make up the Coming Out Ministries team: Ron Woolsey, Wayne Blakely, Michael Carducci and Danielle Harrison. I attended a screening of Journey Interrupted along with a follow-up Q & A session with Blakely and Carducci on December 10 at the Pasadena, California Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The stories of each person in the film begin tragically and end triumphantly. Dysfunctional and abusive homes and friendships marred the early years of each person’s life and failed to provide a stabile environment where healthy sexuality was modeled and discussed. Each person was exposed at an early age to harmful sexual experiences through other people in their lives and through access to pornography. Depression and mental illness during teenage and adult years was common. Some became addicted to alcohol and drugs. During periods of their adult lives, each engaged in compulsive sexual behaviors—prostitution, anonymous sexual encounters, excessive self-gratification and more. But each story concluded with the testimony of breaking free from dysfunctional sexual experiences, most by practicing celibacy. In Ron Woolsey’s case, he found a loving relationship with a wife, has raised children with her and continues to minister as an Adventist pastor. Each subject in the film testified that it was the power of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit who gave them freedom from “the gay lifestyle” where they can now describe themselves as God’s sons or daughter, rather than as a gay man, lesbian or bisexual. The film is well-done and would be an inspiration for anyone who hopes to break free from dysfunctional sexual behavior.
As a pastor who has had the privilege of serving and becoming friends with many individuals who identify somewhere in the LGBTQ spectrum, I greatly appreciate that this film and the Coming Out Ministries team are getting Adventists to talk about the reality of same-sex attraction in a way that encourages faith communities to show grace, love and support to LGBTQ people in their midst. This is desperately needed and long overdue.
But while I believe that each person with COM has the best of motives for how they counsel people to respond to their same-sex desires, they are, unintentionally, causing harm to the very people to whom they are trying to minister. Perpetuated in the film and the follow-up comments from Blakely and Carducci were a number of myths about human sexuality, false stereotypes about gay and lesbian experiences and a lack of differentiation between the realms of sexual attraction and gender identity. Despite the best of intentions, this film has the potential to further isolate LGBTQ youth and young adults and keep church members from knowing how to best serve those with same-sex attractions.
Here are five of the myths I heard explicitly or implicitly communicated by the film’s presenters followed by my attempt to provide corrective data.
Myth 1: All gays and lesbians are obsessed with sex.
Listening to the stories in the film, this is a natural conclusion to draw if you don’t know any LGBTQ individuals yourself or only get your information on same-sex orientation by people and ministries that are opposed to same-sex relationships.
Reality 1: The majority of gays and lesbians yearn for companionship.1
Most people with same-gender attractions want the type of relationships that people with opposite-gender attractions want. Yes, that includes sexual intimacy. But as much or more than that, they want emotional support, spiritual support, and all the other benefits that a soulmate brings into one’s life.
Myth 2: There is one gay lifestyle. This lifestyle is the experience of every person attracted to someone of the same gender and is marked by many of the following:
1. Drug and pornography addiction 2. Active sexual experimentation 3. Excessive self-gratification 4. Promiscuous and, sometimes anonymous, sexual encounters; and/or 5. A lack of desire for and an inability to maintain monogamous, same-sex relationships
Reality 2: There are as many same-sex lifestyles as there are heterosexual lifestyles.2
This means that people with same-sex attractions can have from 1-100 sexual partners in their lives, just like people with opposite-sex attractions. Gay and lesbian people can have strong or weak sex drives. Some will experiment more than others. Sexual behavior preferences, appropriate or inappropriate, vary widely and are different from orientation.
Myth 3: If families can protect children from harmful early-childhood experiences, their child are certain to grow up with typical heterosexual attractions and desires.
These harmful experiences that they believe can lead to same-sex attraction include: 1. A sexually-dysfunctional or physically/sexually-abusive home 2. Sexual molestation by a stranger, friend, family member or authority figure 3. An absent or an “effeminate”/“emasculated” father; or 4. An overbearing (read “masculine”) mother
Reality 3: People with same-sex attractions come from all types of upbringings, including from what COM presenters would affirm as ideal Adventist homes.
I have friends who grew up in multi-sibling homes where their brothers and sisters grew up with a heterosexual orientation while they had a same-sex orientation. I have other gay and lesbian friends who grew up in severely dysfunctional homes where their siblings were heterosexual. How can siblings grow up in the same home environment and have different orientations? The only explanation is that a dysfunctional home life cannot be understood to be a predictor for developing a same-sex orientation3 any more than a stabile and sexually-healthy home life can be a predictor for developing an opposite-sex orientation.
Myth 4: A person’s gender identity or expression of their gender must fit early 20th-century Western norms of what is considered masculine and feminine.
Neither the film nor the presenters recognize that gender identity is a separate human characteristic from sexual attraction. From their perspective, anyone operating outside of a western binary gender expression and opposite-sex attraction are dysfunctional. If a biological male has a strong expression of a “feminine side;” a biological female carries herself too much “like a man;” or either gender’s internal psychological identification differs from their biological presentation; these people, are in, or dangerously close to, “the gay lifestyle.”
Reality 4: Gender identity and sexual attraction are two different aspects of a person’s makeup.
Further, gender identity and sexual attraction are not binaries. Both aspects of a person’s being can be presented along different continuums of self-expression.4
Myth 5: Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, can remove your desire for same-sex intimacy. If you pray and claim the promises found in the Bible and the writings of Ellen White, God will give you the self-control necessary to gain victory over same-sex attraction.
Each person in the film states that they have been set free from their homosexuality and that God brought deliverance as they immersed themselves in prayer and the reading of inspired writings.
Reality 5: With rare exceptions that are statistically irrelevant to the same-sex-oriented population as a whole, gay and lesbian individuals never lose their innate desire for companionship and intimacy with someone of the same sex.5
In one breath, Blakely and Carducci stated that Jesus set them free from homosexuality. In the next, they stated that they are still attracted to men. Their orientation has not changed. What has changed for them is that they have, through the Holy Spirit’s work, severely curbed, or stopped completely, engaging in sexual promiscuity or excessive self-gratification facilitated by gay pornography. Their stories of breaking free from sexual addiction are wonderful. But they need to properly identify what they left behind—their behavioral addictions, rather than their same-sex orientation.
I have listened to dozens of stories from gay and lesbian friends who share their stories of trying to find victory over their same-sex attraction for years, even decades. They cried out to God in prayer every day, claimed scripture promises, met with pastors and counselors and, in some cases, tried what we now recognize as the barbaric and increasingly-illegal practices of conversion or reparative therapy.6, 7 These friends tried just as hard as those in the film and did not find freedom from their orientation.
To their credit, neither COM nor the film offers or encourages people to try conversion therapy. But the implication of their message is if you haven’t broken free from “the gay lifestyle,” you haven’t fully surrendered to the work of the Holy Spirit. This subtle message is the most dangerous one in the film. It has the potential to severely demoralize someone who believes that God requires them to break free from their same-sex attraction and has been pleading, to no avail, for God to remove this desire.
While I do know LGBTQ individuals who are engaged in some of the same dysfunctional behaviors as the COM presenters, I know many more who are living a life that, if they were heterosexual, people with COM would affirm their behaviors as healthy and normative. A couple of these friends have chosen celibacy, others are looking for a life partner (some more patiently than others), and some have pledged fidelity to a same-sex soulmate and are experiencing the full range of joys and challenges that come with marriage.
Even more than getting accurate information on sexuality in the hands of upcoming generations of Adventists, my experience on December 10 reminded me of how desperately our teens and young adults need Adventist churches and schools that will create safe and loving environments to support them as they determine how they will healthfully live out their lives within the framework of their orientation. To tell a person with a same-sex orientation to pray and read the bible by themselves and let them work it out on their own only guarantees them more loneliness and depression and greatly increases the risk of them engaging in harmful behaviors, including suicide.8 Those wrestling with identity, attraction and addiction need us to come alongside them and stick with them no matter what they’re going through and what mistakes they make along the way. Let’s not interrupt their growth by exasperating their fragile teen years with unrealistic expectations borne out of spiritual and cultural myths.
If you’re considering showing this film to a group, allow me to make three recommendations:
1. Don't show this film to teens or market it to young adults. Because of the extensive misuse of terminology; the lack of differentiation between addiction, attraction and identity; and the suggestion that the addictions suffered by the subjects in the film are normative for all LGBTQ people; confusion and further discouragement for these age groups will likely result. The stories in Journey Interrupted are important stories to hear. But whomever hosts this event must clarify that the film shows people with same-sex attractions breaking free from their sexual addictions rather than their orientations. Providing a primer on the conventional usage of terms would be helpful as well.9
2. If you show this film or invite COM’s presenters to come, consider showing two other films made by Adventist filmmakers that introduce viewers to a broader array of LGBTQ stories: Seventh-Gay Adventists and Enough Room at the Table. Adding these two films will give a more robust view of Adventist theological perspectives and showcase the diversity of struggles and triumphs of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters within the Adventist denomination.
3. Before, during and after the presentations, make sure that your faith community communicates unconditional love and support for LGBTQ people along with anyone, gay or straight, who suffers with sexual addictions. Tell them that when you look into their eyes, you see Jesus. And do everything you can to create safe spaces for them and their families. I can think of no better way to minister the love of God.
Todd Leonard is senior pastor at Glendale City Seventh-day Adventist Church in Glendale, California.
1. American Psychological Association: “Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality,“ 2008. Expand the section subtitled “What is the nature of same-sex relationships?” http://www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/orientation.aspx?item=4
2. Justin Lee: “4 Ways Christians Are Getting the Gay Debate Wrong,” July 6, 2013, Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/justin-lee/4-ways-christians-are-getting-the-gay-debate-wrong_b_3219665.html
3. Kurt Conklin, “Child Sexual Abuse I: An Overview.” February 2012, Advocates for Youth. http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/publications-a-z/410-child-sexual-abuse-i-an-overview
4. The Trevor Project. “Coming Out as You: The Spectrum.” http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/spectrum
5. Warren Throckmorton. “Alan Chambers: 99.9% have not experienced a change in their orientation,” January 9, 2012, Patheos.com. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2012/01/09/alan-chambers-99-9-have-not-experienced-a-change-in-their-orientation/
6. “Insufficient Evidence that Sexual Orientation Change Efforts Work, Says APA,” American Psychological Association, August 5, 2009.
7."’Therapies’ to change sexual orientation lack medical justification and threaten health,” Pan American Health Organization, May 17, 2012. http://www.paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=6803&Itemid=1926
8. Stephen T. Russell, PhD, and Kara Joyner, PhD: “Adolescent Sexual Orientation and Suicide Risk: Evidence From a National Study.” American Journal of Public Health, August 2001, Vol 91, No.8. http://itgl.lu/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/SB-2000.pdf
9. A helpful glossary and resource guide can be found here: http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/glossary#
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