Analyzing a Christian Response to the “Pray Away” Documentary

Analyzing a Christian Response to the “Pray Away” Documentary August 12, 2021

I watched the Pray Away documentary on Netflix, and ever since, I’ve been wondering if any Christian organizations disproved of it. I went looking, and unfortunately, the answer is yes.

“A Lopsided Tale of Woe”

I have never been a part of any ex-gay therapy or conversion movement. Even then, I was taken aback by the criticisms I’ve read against this documentary. This article from The Gospel Coalition is written by Becket Cook, who states in a separate piece that he no longer identifies as gay, but does still feel same-sex attractions.

In the opening paragraph, the author lambasts the documentary as another “Hollywood attack on Christianity”. He refers to this collection of painful, heartbreaking testimonies as a “lopsided tale of woe”.

I’m assuming he watched the entire documentary. Thus, he certainly should’ve heard Julie Rodgers’s horrific testimony of what she experienced.

Ricky Chelette, her mentor, a man similar to the author in that he no longer identifies as gay, ultimately abused Julie’s trust in him. Case in point, he pressured her into talking about a horrific college r*pe incident she suffered. Ricky wanted her to discuss this deeply personal, traumatic experience on a stage, at a conference in front of a vast audience. He tried to use this as fuel for the supposed connection between sexual abuse and homosexuality.

For obvious reasons, she refused. In response, Ricky guilt-tripped her for not divulging that highly personal nightmare.

Oh, and she self-harmed during her time under his mentorship. This was a direct result of the self-hatred she felt because of what she was taught. We can see her scars plainly in the documentary, from where she used a scaldingly hot quarter to cut into her skin.

I’m horrified that another Christian would refer to her testimony and the other candid testimonies in Pray Away as a “lopsided tale of woe”.

The author believes that the intent of Pray Away is to attack Christianity. In a sense, I agree with him. Pray Away addressed serious issues within certain branches of Christianity, the ones that perpetuate the pain seen in this documentary. 

Traditions Without Mercy

Traditionalist or legalist Christian views on everything queer have a nasty tendency to show no mercy for LGBTQ+ individuals. By that, I mean that adherents of this branch ultimately believe that personal testimonies like those seen in Pray Away are meaningless because they don’t align with the traditionalist view of scriptures.

Here’s an example. On my web search for Christian responses to this documentary, I came across this article from Focus on the Family. This is a letter sent to the organization by the mother of a gay Christian kid. I completely regret reading this at work today because it took an immediate, intense amount of prayer for me to not start screaming.

To put it plainly, the mother completely freaked out about her son coming out to her. Her reaction was equivalent to her son confessing to being a murderer. The response from the officials at Focus on the Family wasn’t much better, either. The responder referred to her son coming out to her as a “painful, exasperating situation”.

I count myself as extremely lucky that I didn’t experience this. My mother was admittedly worried about what might happen to me when I came out to her back in 2014, but she also assured me that she’ll always stand by me. Even though she didn’t understand it entirely at the time, she was resolute in her love for me.

It’s nigh impossible for me not to get angry at this young man’s mother. She implied that she was concerned that he could corrupt his younger siblings with his testimony. His testimony that he and God had connected, as God did with me, led to a deeper understanding of the Bible scriptures that supposedly condemn homosexuality.

They treated him like a blasphemer. I will never respect that reaction. I hope and pray that he’s okay and that if his mother still retains her views, he escaped her. Because she’s toxic.

A big problem I have with Christian organizations like Focus on the Family and The Gospel Coalition constantly condemning queer individuals is that they never use that condemnation against men in power who openly sin. I especially mean former President Donald Trump.

I read an article written Dr. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, that on some level condoned the January 6 insurrection. Why am I reading a prominent Christian leader saying that there was “overwhelming evidence” of supposed “fraud” when that obnoxious claim has been destroyed over and over again?

Are you aware that former President Trump has lied about what happened on January 6th? He referred to the violence perpetrated against the Capitol Police as “hugs and kisses”. This is a horrid lie, especially when 140 officers were injured.

I’ve yet to see these Evangelical organizations finally put their foot down and cease their silence. Their silence is deafening, and all I see is hypocrisy. 

Why is it that gay Christians like that young man in the Focus on the Family article and myself are treated as threats to households while this man, this blatant liar among other things, constantly gets a free pass? These groups have no moral integrity. They continue to believe that gay people need to either be celibate, enter a straight marriage, or change themselves altogether. They are part of the ex-gay equation, and this is a system that absolutely deserves to be called out.

“I Weep With You”

Last Friday, during work, I started praying to Jesus about what I’d seen in Pray Away. I could feel Jesus weeping during that prayer, and I began to cry silently with Him. I could feel his grief of what his LGBTQ+ children continue to suffer needlessly.

The self-hatred we’ve seen in these survivors’ testimonies isn’t His will. I’ve had vivid experiences, especially in my dreams, that have made that plainly clear.

My first direct encounter with Jesus came in a dream after I spent that night freaking out to God about how filthy I felt over what I now understand as natural desires. I felt dirty and shameful, and I kept apologizing to God repeatedly before I finally fell asleep.

In my dream that night, I walked across a bridge where Jesus, Mary, and a few other sanctified individuals sat on thrones. As I approached, they stood up, and Jesus knelt to hold me close.

I’ll never forget the look on His face. He looked at me with an expression of pity, compassion, and parental concern. It was clear that He was heartbroken at the self-hatred I’d shown Him. After this religious experience, I’ve accepted that my natural desires for a partner are the same as a straight person’s.

That’s the peace we all deserve, LGBTQ+ or straight.

The Issue of Celibacy

I understand and respect the choice of other LGBTQ+ Christians to be celibate, so long as they have the gift of celibacy. I just worry that some of them are needlessly causing themselves a lifetime of loneliness. I know that loneliness, and to be honest, it almost made me suicidal when I was at college. I know that I can’t be alone for the rest of my life.

Also, I have a big problem with some gay Christians asserting that all others like them must be celibate to effectively please God. After reading that article from The Gospel Coalition, I read the author’s personal testimony. My impression is that he believes his experience is what all other LGBTQ+ Christians should follow.

He mentions that Paul in the New Testament was single and “didn’t whine about it”. That was jarring to read.

But it was also jarring to read about the hardships he’s gone through. I don’t see eye-to-eye with this author, but my heart hurts for him. And in all sincerity, I am happy for him that he’s found his happiness in Jesus.

I do believe that unless we have the capability of celibacy, we shouldn’t feel pressured into it. Not every person can handle that for a lifetime. If he and others have that capability, then heck, I applaud them!

Go in Peace

I pray that others like me allow themselves to feel the peace and hope that God intends for all of us. I can feel how heartbroken God is over what we’ve suffered at the hands of other Christians. That mercilessness, that refusal to hear us out, that’s not His will. We know what the fruits of Love are, and it sure isn’t that.

Remember this Bible verse mentioned by both God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, and how far more critical mercy is than ruthlessly chasing after a law:

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

Hosea 6:6 and Matthew 9:13

Featured Image by Connor Brennan

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