For queers coming out into fundamentalist Christian communities the attempts to cure their same-sex attraction can be more traumatic than an outright rejection.
Ex-ex-gay Darin, who asked that his last name not be used for fear of harassment by fundamentalist ex-gays, has recently founded the support group Soul Survivors to help others who have struggled with antigay religious indoctrination.
“I first came out as gay when I was about 15 or 16,” says Darin. “I had an extremely abusive and violent childhood. I wasn’t in a healthy place and I was looking for someone to rescue me.
“At the same time I discovered my sexuality, I also discovered fundamentalist Christianity. My parents found religion and their pastor told them I was going to hell. I was told, should I want to continue my relationship with God, I couldn’t be gay.”
Darin says he didn’t feel like he had any choice but to denounce his sexuality. “Here I am a very broken child — I had experienced sexual abuse, physical abuse and emotional abuse — I would do anything to save my relationship with God, who loved me unconditionally.”
His church directed him to an ex-gay ministry in Toronto called New Directions.
“In the perspective of New Directions we would see that same-sex intimacy is brokenness,” says executive director Wendy Gritter. “It is our hope that every Christian struggling with being gay and lesbian would be able to access redemptive ministry.”
The ex-gay group offers one-on-one counselling and faith-based mentoring in an attempt to keep members’ same-sex attractions at bay.
Gritter herself wound up in the ex-gay movement after a particularly painful breakup. “I had an emotionally dependent relationship with a woman. For me we were soul mates, kindred spirits. It was exclusive to the point of being obsessive. It sucked the life out of me. When it ended I discovered what my faith was. Now I’m married and have three children.”
Darin says he tried for years to embrace the ex-gay philosophy. “I allowed myself to be brainwashed by their teachings. I did not question anything they brought to me. They told me who I could hang out with, what churches I could go to. When I struggled or told leaders, ‘I’m attracted to guys,’ they constantly said it was my fault — that I wasn’t praying enough, that I wasn’t going to church enough or reading the Bible enough.”
Gritter admits that the ex-gay movement has a bad reputation. “We have really grappled with the tone and ethos of New Directions. There are times when a ministry like ours has been called manipulative…. Our perspective would never be to be coercive.”
That said, the ex-gay movement offers a choice between the straight and narrow and a life of unhappiness leading to eternal damnation.
“I was taught there is no such thing as a healthy homosexual relationship,” says Darin, who went as far as to become engaged to a woman and enroll in Bible college, only to be told he could never be ordained because of his same-sex attractions.
After spending years struggling with his sexuality, Darin finally walked away from the ex-gay movement.
“When I left, I was suicidal and in a great deal of pain. I left in shame. I was told, ‘You’ll be a paedophile or a prostitute.’ I didn’t want to be those things. I felt unloved by God for not being good enough. I didn’t know who I was because God couldn’t love me because I was gay.
“After I left, my family disowned me. I haven’t talked to them in over 10 years. My Christian friends and my church turned their backs on me. I ended up leading a very self-destructive life.”
His journey finally led him to an affirming Christian church, The Metropolitan Church Of Toronto (MCCT).
“A friend invited to me to MCCT. They preached on progressive Christianity, many paths to God. They said God loves everyone no matter what and I was hearing this for the first time.”
Now Darin wants to help other queers who’ve had similar experiences. With the help of MCCT, he founded Soul Survivors.
“We are a support group for those who have been hurt by religious teachings, institutions and leaders from restrictive or abusive religious groups including but not exclusive to ex-gay theologies and are looking for a safe place to find their own spiritual path to healing.”
Darin says he no longer has to fight to reconcile his spirituality and his sexuality.
“I have a new sense of freedom. I have an open loving relationship with God and I can explore who I am. I embrace my sexuality as a gift with God.”