A Different Perspective
IAP Seminar on Sexuality Did Not Promote Hatred
The Black Christian Fellowship and United Christian Fellowship offered our Independent Activities Period Seminar, “The Bible and Sex,” to the MIT community for those who were interested in how sex and sexuality are understood within the Christian framework. The seminars included panel discussions of the goodness and wonder of sex, the good reasons behind biblical limits to our sexual expression, and the hope we have for healing from sexual brokeness. It was this third seminar, entitled “You are Not Alone: Stories of Past Hurt and Healing,” which Damon W. Suden refers to in his March 9, 1999 guest column, “The Dangers of Conversion Therapy.”
In this third seminar, two panelists told deeply painful and personal stories of how rape, incest, abuse, and sexual addiction had affected them. They went on to explain how God had brought them healing and peace. The third panelist shared his long and difficult struggle with unwanted homosexual desires that extended into his childhood. He then talked about the process by which God is healing him -- in all the complexity of his being, including his sexuality. He also shared that his life now includes a happy marriage to a woman. He offered his life story to the audience to give hope to those who wished for similar healing from God.
It is this process of healing that Suden critiques in his column when he writes, “Years are spent in prayer, fasting, in isolation, and, in extreme cases, undergoing torturous procedures such as electro-shock therapy. Sham marriages, fake relationships, and inner pain are the only results.” This was not the process of healing described in the seminar. Instead, the speaker argued against denial and stressed that it was only when he stopped trying to deny his homosexual feelings and battle against them that his process of healing began. He said that we must stand honestly before God and others and that God loves us before we change anything about ourselves that he or we don’t like.
Suden also critiques our motivation for holding this seminar and inviting a speaker from Desert Streams Ministries. He links us to far right attacks on gays and lesbians, hints at religious brain-washing cults, and implies that we demonized, condemned, and attempted to force change on homosexuals. The point of this seminar was not to convince people that homosexuality was wrong. The panelist said to the gathered audience that he and his healing ministry were not about trying to convince contented homosexuals to change. Instead, the panel and this ministry were offered to those who were longing for something different and wanting freedom from homosexual desires. Why then did we invite the leadership of GaMIT? We knew that the view we were presenting was radically different from their view. We wanted to let them know that we were talking about this so we could avoid any perception that this was a behind closed doors attack on homosexuals.
At the end of the seminar, a member of the audience asked our panelist to read a letter out loud and comment on it. He did. The letter described the audience member’s struggle with unwanted homosexual feelings. After a deep personal struggle, this person came to accept and want his homosexual feelings believing that they were God’s will for him. Our panelist responded to this letter by simply saying, “What else can I say. Your story has been heard, and I love you too, brother.”
Because of the deplorable action of some Christian groups who are linked to hatred and violence against gays, it is worth saying publicly that we believe that such actions and attitudes are wrong. However, as the previous paragraph shows, these kinds of attitudes were not represented or promoted by our seminar.
Finally there is the more fundamental critique Suden is making about our approach to a person who has unwanted homosexual feelings. It is his belief that such feelings are inherent and unchangeable and so he critiques us for offering the false hope of change to that person. Instead, Suden would offer that person a different hope: that she or he could change to one day want homosexual feelings. For some people this change does come easily, but for others it is very difficult, and for others the change comes not at all. We are both offering hope. We are both offering conversion. We both have powerful stories to support us. We believe it is worth hearing all of these stories without condemning some of them as bogus and dangerous.
Karl Wirth is an MIT affiliate writing on behalf of the Black Christian Fellowship and the United Christian Fellowship.