Is being gay a sin that you can simply repent from by becoming a Christian?
Does asking Jesus into your heart make the gay go away?
That seems to be the sentiment being expressed by Republican Policy Lobbyist, Franklin Graham, who is on an anti-gay binge on his Facebook right now.
(For those unfamiliar, Franklin is the very dissimilar successor to his father, Billy Graham, who has been a life-long democrat deeply skeptical of the marriage between religion and right-wing politics.)
Graham responded to the move to ban the harmfully ineffective practice of “conversion” therapy with the following:
“Now Democrats are proposing a bill to ban conversion therapy in the United States… Homosexuality is defined by God as sin, an abomination to Him. There’s one “conversion therapy” that works for all sin, and that is asking Jesus Christ to come into our hearts. He can transform and heal our lives, making us new. The Bible tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17)”
Graham’s response, of course, brings us to another edition of What Franklin Graham Is Wrong About Today.
First, there’s the issue of gay conversion therapy. This type of therapy treats any sexual orientation other than heterosexual as a mental disorder, and aims to reverse it. Conversion therapy has been overwhelmingly denounced by the medical community for a variety of reasons, chief of which is the fact that it doesn’t work. And more than the fact that it doesn’t work is the fact that it actually makes everything worse– violating the medical community’s oath to “do no harm.”
The American Psychological Association (APA) has studied and observed the actual result of attempting conversion therapy, which can result in the following:
“Depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidality, substance abuse, stress, disappointment, self-blame, decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others, increased self-hatred, hostility and blame toward parents, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, high-risk sexual behaviors, a feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self, a loss of faith, and a sense of having wasted time and resources.”
The APA has gone on to note, “In the last four decades, ‘reparative’ therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure.”
So, gay conversion therapy? It doesn’t make you un-gay, and can make you want to kill yourself in the process of not becoming un-gay.
That brings us to Graham’s second solution: Asking Jesus into your heart.
When I see Franklin presenting the idea of saying a short prayer as a magical “conversion” from homosexuality, I am reminded of a few things:
First, I’m reminded that Franklin Graham should not be considered a theological authority on anything. He doesn’t have a background in theology or the Bible, and he didn’t go to seminary to even begin the entry-level training required of clergy and Bible teachers. He has a bachelors degree in business. If Franklin were in any other line of work he’d be found guilty of practicing without a license– his qualification is being born the son of a famous preacher, and that’s it.
Second, I am reminded that Franklin Graham should not be considered a pastoral authority on anything, because (according to his own biography) he doesn’t have any experience being a pastor. Franklin was internally groomed to take over for his father preaching at crusades, but this is not the same thing as having the crucial experience of walking alongside members of a local congregation as seeing the intersection where the theoretical becomes the real.
People like Franklin Graham who don’t know what it’s like to be a pastor tend to forget we’re talking about real people here.
Back to the asking Jesus into your heart thing in order to pray out the gay. If Franklin Graham had any legitimate experience as a pastor, if he had even one actual real-life relationship with a Christian who is part of the LGBTQ community, he’d know this:
They’ve tried that.
As someone who has served in pastoral roles to both youth and adults within an evangelical setting, my experience was that I did not meet a single LGBTQ Christian who had not already prayed, begged, and pleaded with God to change their sexuality. Attempts to “pray out the gay” had long been exhausted before people ever came to talk to me.
The sacred stories I’ve been invited into are not stories of people rebelling against God, or people who wake up one morning and decide they want to be an “abomination” as Graham calls it. The stories I’ve been invited into are far more tender and painful. They are stories marked with rejection of family, shame about who they knew themselves to be, stigmatization of all sorts, and the knowledge that they tried to pray it away– but their orientation remained the same no matter how hard they prayed.
If only it were as simple as Franklin Graham in his biblical and pastoral ignorance thinks it is, I know some real-life, painful stories that would have longed for his simple “conversion” therapy to be true.
So what’s Franklin Graham wrong about today?
He’s wrong about conversion therapy– LGBTQ conversion therapy is a medical failure with deadly side effects, and he’s wrong that simply “asking Jesus into your heart” somehow magically changes your sexual orientation.
It doesn’t, and to suggest it does is something that has horrific consequences.
As Christians in America, we must continue to refute the horrible, toxic, misinformed, and ignorant ideas of Franklin Graham– because his ideas are literally deadly.
Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com.