By Jeremy Marks, Jun 21 2012 7:11AM
The Courage ministry just held its final retreat last weekend (15th - 17th June) reflecting on 25 years of Courage and the journey from being an ex-gay ministry to a fully affirming one—of gay Christian people and committed same-sex partnerships. I shall say more about this wonderful event in my next blog. But here I wanted to reflect on the journey which, for me, owed much in my early days to Frank Worthen, founder of Love in Action (originally in northern California). I just discovered a new YouTube interview, in which Frank spells out his ethos—still convinced that you can change from gay to straight—based on his own personal story. It is a fascinating video that you can find
As I approach my 60th birthday, I am old enough to realise that staggering changes have taken place in the past half century. We live in a world that takes a very different world view to that of my father and men of his generation, such as Frank Worthen. In the world they grew up in, ordinary daily life was unimaginably tough. They knew what it was like to live through the Great Depression of the 1930's and then the Second World War. Life was all about survival; getting enough to eat, living through worldwide conflict through war, bombings, scarcity and great dangers. One of the secrets of survival was strict self-discipline and an attitude of being thankful for what you had; if you had enough to eat, a home to live in, and were reasonably healthy, you were fortunate indeed. Getting married was your social duty—to keep society going in a world where survival was pretty uncertain. And whilst you might aspire to having a relationship of lifelong romantic love, as everyone did, few found it (except vicariously through the movies), as the soaring divorce rate from the 1960's onwards revealed. Before then, you counted yourself fortunate indeed if you just found a companion who was reasonable to live with.
Life was simple in those days; books and films were full of stories of conflict between the goodies and the baddies, in which “good” always won! And after a century with some very real-life and truly terrible baddies around such as Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot and many others, the sense that ALL of life was a battle between good and evil was very real indeed. And the kind of God people believed in was a holy but angry God who would punish sinners by sending them to eternal fire, which seemed a fitting destiny for those 20th Century monsters and their followers—the creators of gulags and gas chambers! So society’s values, especially for Christians trying to make sense out of life, was simple—you had to beat the devil to stay out of hell and, by being good, hope to make it to heaven and a better future! People didn’t have much time or interest in considering a more nuanced view!
After WW2, life gradually got better. WW2 was the “war to end all wars” (though actually people were saying that after WW1!). Certainly the nuclear deterrent has played a big part in preventing war on such a scale since. Medical science, especially since the advent of antibiotics to fight disease, has transformed our life expectancy. Before then, if you survived your initial entry into the world, you were fortunate to live into your mid- sixties; I would expect to be in my very last few years by now, counting my days. Today, with society enjoying prosperity and life-expectancy on a scale unimaginable to our forbears, finding enough to eat is no longer our raison d'être; eating too much is the concern of our day! And world war is the subject of documentaries and remembrance days, and we have found time to discover that life is not so black and white as we thought.
It has taken an era such as ours today to have the luxury of discovering that some people truly ARE gay because we have been made that way, and we will never settle happily into a lifelong heterosexual romantic relationship. Moreover, gay people have an enormous amount to contribute to society—and bringing more babies into the world just isn’t the No 1 priority for the survival of the human race right now!
To help society and especially the Christian church, to move out of the dualistic pattern of thinking—that all gays will go to hell and only good straight people will make it to heaven, took enlightened women of their day, and men like Frank Worthen. The growing social credibility of pop-psychology in which people began to realise that we are (to some extent) what our upbringing has taught us to be, was quite revolutionary to former generations—who saw society simply in terms of good and bad people, who will be rewarded or punished.
I can easily remember those days of dualistic Christian theology which taught that if you were gay, you were simply one of those people whom God had turned his back on, therefore hell was a certainty for you—Romans 1:24 explains that. You could not truly be a Christian if you were gay; you must, by default, be a child of the devil. Frank and his generation fought hard against the tide of that kind of ignorance and bigotry, and brought to light the fact that there are many gay people IN the church—men & women who have sincerely placed their hope in Jesus Christ as Lord. But because the Franks’ of this world grew up in a day and age where you have a simple choice—you choose the side of right, or you default to the side of evil—his role was to help persuade the church and gay Christian people that God really loves you and therefore you must do what is right—which in those days had to mean not being gay. Because being gay was the hedonistic way of the world. The way you thought about yourself and the consequent way you behaved would determine your eternal future. Simple! Such theology made perfect sense to his generation.
But those of us of the next generation have needed to follow the inspired example—of the Frank Worthen’s, the St Paul’s, the Moses’ of our past—which is TO GO ON SEEKING GOD for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in OUR generation. A new world with very different challenges requires us all to seek God again and learn what the Holy Spirit has to say to the churches today.
Personally, I still cannot help but admire Frank enormously for what he did in his day. As I watch his video story and remember the enormous sacrifices he made personally, to stick his head above the parapet in churches, fight for the dignity of gay Christians, provide a home and a place to stay for homeless gay people who had been thrown out of their parents’ homes or churches, he literally saved the lives of thousands of people from despair and suicide. And living in the LiA community as I did for 4 months, helped me to shed my fears about declaring openly that I am gay and Christian. For the first time in my life I met others like me who were on the same journey. And with people like Frank’s wife Anita around (mother of a gay son), whose acerbic wit and highly original humour had me splitting my sides with laughter—every day—was the start of a very healing process for me, a journey out of my chronically internalised homophobia that originated not in the ex-gay movement, but in my fundamentalist church background (i.e. Christian life without the fun!). Who cared in those days whether Frank had REALLY changed his orientation? He gave a living example of “doing the right thing”! And with his wife giving such superb entertainment value, she surely beat the blues out of any ex-gay depression we might have felt, when the two of them were around.
Personally, I believe I owe an enormous debt to Frank, and Anita too; because even though I now believe that the ex-gay ethos is seriously misguided, and therefore that their views seem rather quaint today, I also recognise that in its day, it was the means God used to loosen and begin to break down the hateful anti-gay attitudes of the church. But in my ministry, I then had to move on, because the Holy Spirit showed my generation new things—thanks to our having a more modern world view than Frank’s generation. And in turn, we have paid a heavy price for following our convictions, as Frank did.
History teaches us that the pioneers of one generation so often become the persecutors of the next. It just seems to be human nature! So really it is worthless for us to carp and cavil about the “lies and deceit” of the old ex-gay ministry order; we can just as easily be deceived ourselves—and the next generation will soon tell us, with their youthful zeal, if they haven’t already started to do so. The question is, will we be humble enough to realise we haven’t got it all right either?
There is good reason for retirement! Old dogs like us find it harder and harder to adapt to change. The younger generation will show us the way forwards for the rest of the 21st Century. But if we are able to be humble, we still have a very useful role to play, as we get older—which is to give the younger generation an example of what it means to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance, as we did in our younger days. We can still have a vital place as elders, fathers & mothers to a younger generation. But the future in this world is theirs, not ours.
Thanks be to God,
1. Jun 22 2012 10:50AM by william Stewart
Well said Jeremy. The Spirit of God will lead us in each generation, and we should always be sensitive to not speaking against a journey which God has begun in a former generation. Right now there is a need for clear headed committed Christian people to be mentor a new generation in the midst of some prettydeep seated conflictst. Each one has a part to play
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