Lisa Ling’s “Our America” asks “Can you pray the gay away?”

 
 

Of course, not all in the ex-gay world are so magnanimous. Janet Boynes, who says she is no longer gay after 14 years as a lesbian, is head of Ex-Gay Ministry and teaches that God can change sexual orientation from gay to straight.

Boynes is the minister who famously started “Prayer Call” to counter anti-bullying campaigns after the string of LGBT suicides. Nothing like reinforcing shame to bring comfort to kids without hope.

I really wish I had an embeddable clip of her entire segment, because it’s familiar to lesbians who have tried to be straight. (Yes, I grew out my hair and tried to wear feminine clothes and tons of makeup. Again, still gay.)

Boynes’ beliefs reflect those of many in the ex-gay movement: that women become lesbians because of abuse. Her comments on Gayle King’s live show after Ling’s special are telling.

In other words, if you work hard enough, God will change your sexual orientation. I hate to tell you, Janet, but changing your clothes and your hair does not change your orientation.

The most wonderful segment of Our America was about a radically different ministry: The Naming Project, featured in the documentary Camp Out. The project is a Bible camp for young people who identify as both Christian and LGBT. Founded by a Lutheran minister, the camp provides a “safe and sacred space” for kids to explore their faith and discuss their sexuality.

Days at the camp are pretty much like any day at any other Bible camp: prayer and Bible study, singing around the campfire, sports, crafts, and so on. But the kids at the camp never have to hide who they are; the very presence of The Naming Project’s summer camp demonstrates that God loves them unconditionally.

Chelsea, the only lesbian featured in Our America, talks about how the camp helped her live openly as who she is.

That camp would have changed my life. Knowing about it can change others.

GLAAD’s Justin Ward, a gay Christian who spent a summer on staff at the camp, was disappointed in Our America. He wrote on GLAAD’s blog that as happy as he is to see exposure for The Naming Project, he wished that the context had been different than an episode called “Pray the Gay Away?” To Ward, framing the episode as a question was irresponsible.

“In a nutshell,” Ward writes, “the question posed by Tuesday night’s episode of Our America is no longer a question; it’s been answered repeatedly by experts and is no longer up for debate. Period.”

AfterElton.com’s columnist FakeName agrees with Ward, writing:

In the rather appallingly named “Pray the Gay Away?” Ling poses the question, “Can you be gay and Christian at the same time?”

Given the existence of the Metropolitan Community Church, Dignity, Integrity and a plethora of other gay and gay-friendly Christian denominations and organizations, the obvious answer is “yes” but that would make for a short program.

If only things were that simple. But in the Evangelical Christian world, all of those experts and organizations and gay-friendly denominations prove nothing, because they fall “outside” the will of God. And, as any good fundie will tell you, “God’s ways our not our ways.” Things that make sense outside of God’s will are irrelevant to devout Christians, regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.

I’m not sure Our America adequately answered its own question, but I doubt that Ling intended it to be a full exploration of the issue. It was, rather, the beginning of a dialogue. And until dialogue happens, the divide between gays and ex-gays will remain.

I’d love to see another episode of Our America that goes further. “Pray the Gay Away?” didn’t have time to explore the issue of whether being gay is biological or behavioral. When Boynes’ compared changing her skin color to changing her sexual orientation, she touched the heart of the matter. Is gay who we are or what we do? If we’re born this way, then we are as God created us – and trying to pray it away would be an affront to our creator.

If you haven’t watched the show yet, the full episode is available at the OWN website as well as the post-show live conversation with Gayle King. I know we won’t all agree, but I hope that the respectful dialogue will start here.

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