By TIMOTHY HASKELL
Are you looking to leave homosexuality? Such a question greets individuals who encounter advertisements from the infamous organization Exodus International. Such a question seems to suggest that homosexuality is nothing more than a location, and it is a mutable circumstance. Indeed, Exodus has long argued that through hard work and copious prayer, an individual can be restored to a lifestyle that is “normal,” and which, here is the important part, will lead to the eternal bliss and happiness that heaven and Jesus have to offer.
Perhaps it is the fact that I am a proud gay man in my 30s, or quite possibly it is the fact that I am a logical, thoughtful and reflective person, but the dogma of Exodus International has always deeply perplexed me.
Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International, recently went on record stating that the goals of his organization are misguided. Chambers commented that: “We’ve been asking people with same-sex attractions to overcome something in a way that we don’t ask of anyone else.” This statement—though obvious to anyone with a modicum of knowledge regarding the current cultural climate—is a remarkable moment for an organization that has devoted itself to telling people from all walks of life that they can, must, and have to “change” to be in compliance with supposed biblical mandates. Chambers has said what many of us (gay and straight) have long known: Christianity, in virtually all forms but particularly in Catholicism, has a chronic compulsion to focus on ridding the world of homosexuals, and has an equally chronic blindness toward redressing other significant issues that plague our world.
I have been privy to many occasions where a well-rehearsed “man of the cloth” has espoused all the evils of homosexuality in front of an audience who seem all too ready to break into a chorus of “We’ve got trouble, right here in River City.” On the rare occasions that I do attend Mass — since the Catholic Church’s unhealthy fixation with damning homosexuality has caused me to turn my back on my church and most of its leaders (many of whom are closeted gay men) — I am always surprised that the discussion of other sins is non-existent. Those who hold prestigious positions in religious institutions, and who have direct access to influencing religious policy, have lost sight of the fact that there are a lot of unaddressed grievances that get lost in the nebulous talking points associated with the supposed sin of homosexuality.
In fact, I have often wondered why churches could not take the time to focus on a broad range of issues that need immediate rectification. Where are fervent religious organizations when there are issues associated with alcoholism and drug addiction, achievement gaps in schools because of funding issues, and how about we work on the largest group of people who need a talking to — the heterosexuals who live together, support each other in sickness and in health, and, most likely have sex together outside of wedlock. I can see the new Exodus advertisement posters now: “Are you looking to leave your sinful heterosexuality?”
Chambers has opened the proverbial “can of worms” for all religious organizations to consider. The question now: will organizations, churches, groups, and the clergy take this bait? Twenty-first century America faces a sea of both literal and figurative troubles; however, ideological fanatics continue to waste precious amounts of time and energy on a single issue.
Indeed, progress has been made. In my lifetime, I have seen this country evolve from a president who refused to utter the acronym AIDS to a president, who, from the White House, took the opportunity to explain to the American public that his opinions on gay marriage had evolved such that he was now in favor of these unions.
As a college professor, I see the numerous struggles that students often encounter when grappling with the complex issues associated with sexuality. More importantly, as the adviser to my school’s LGBT group, I hear directly from students about the challenges that continue to plague LGBT individuals. People may be weary of hearing about bullying, but this does not mean that circumstances have become any more tolerable for those who are unfairly targeted for ridicule by strangers, classroom peers, or worst of all, family members.
There will, no doubt, remain serious disagreements from the ubiquitous anti-gay cabal that exists in this country; however, in the wake of Alan Chambers’ comments, perhaps some Americans will begin to adopt the cliché “live and let live” as their new mantra. The largest “pray the gay away” organization has now openly acknowledged that “change” is impossible. A man or woman who is entirely homosexual will stay that way. Homosexuals are the people they were meant to be, and that is absolutely OK.
Timothy Haskell is an assistant professor of English at Northwestern Connecticut Community College.