Phelan M. Ebenhack, Associated Press
When Julie Rodgers came out as a lesbian at age 17, her mom responded by taking her to an ex-gay ministry in Dallas. Rodgers had grown up in a nondenominational evangelical church where she assumed being gay wasn’t an option.
“With ex-gay ministries, it gave me the space to be honest about my sexuality,” said Rodgers, now 28. Yet that same honesty eventually led her away from ex-gay ministries.
Rodgers spent several years in Exodus, the now-defunct ex-gay ministry, before deciding she couldn’t become straight after trying to date men. Instead, she has chosen celibacy.
When Exodus shut down in 2013, some said it spelled the end of ex-gay ministries that encourage reparative or conversion therapy for gays to become straight. Ex-gay groups such as Restored Hope Network stepped in to the gap, but many religious leaders are now encouraging those with same-sex orientation or attraction to consider a life of celibacy.
For years, those who were gay or struggled with homosexuality felt like they had few good options: leave their faith, ignore their sexuality or try to change. But as groups like Exodus have become increasingly unpopular, Rodgers is among those who embrace a different model: celibate gay Christians, who seek to be true to both their sexuality and their faith.
Straddling one of America’s deepest cultural divides, Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart wrote in a recent piece for Slate that celibate gay Christians present a challenge to the tolerance of both their churches and the secular LGBT community. Those celibate gay Christians often find themselves trying to translate one side for the other.
But frequently, neither side really understands what it’s hearing.
“We can be easily misunderstood, to put it nicely, by both sides of the culture war,” Rodgers said. “For those who have a more affirming position, it’s as if we’re repressed, self-hated homophobes, encouraging the church to stand in its position on sexuality. And conservative Christians think that those who shift on sexuality are being rebellious.”
Moving from ex-gay
Christians’ shift away from ex-gay therapy came amid larger cultural changes, including a wider societal acceptance of homosexuality and a rapid embrace of same-sex civil marriage.
In 2009, the American Psychological Association adopted a resolution that mental health professionals should avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation. Since then, California and New Jersey have passed laws banning conversion therapy for minors, and several other states have considered similar measures.
Earlier this year, the 50,000-member American Association of Christian Counselors amended its code of ethics to eliminate the promotion of reparative therapy, and encouraged celibacy instead.
“Counselors acknowledge the client’s fundamental right to self-determination and further understand that deeply held religious values and beliefs may conflict with same-sex attraction and/or behavior, resulting in anxiety, depression, stress, and inner turmoil,” the revised code says.
A number of leaders of the ex-gay movement have renounced the very teachings they once embraced. John Paulk, who was once a poster boy for the ex-gay movement, apologized in 2013 for the reparative therapy he used to promote. Yvette Schneider, who formerly worked for groups such as the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America and Exodus, recently published a “coming out” interview with GLAAD calling for bans on reparative therapy. Last week, nine former ex-gay leaders denounced conversion therapy.
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