Many signs have suggested that the Christian right has largely given up on pushing for ex-gay therapy. From the closing of Exodus International to the Southern Baptist Convention admonishing the harmful, ineffective treatment, it seems that those who reject homosexuality have embraced the idea of celibacy and singlehood instead.
But several news stories from the past week have suggested that many religious conservatives actually still want to see gays and lesbians wind up giving up their sexualities entirely to pursue different-sex marriages with kids.
One of the stories driving this revived ex-gay narrative has been the news that Trey Pearson, lead singer of the Christian rock band Everyday Sunday, has come out as gay. In a letter published at the end of May, Pearson acknowledged that he had spent 20 years trying not to be gay, and despite the fact he has a wife and two young children, he could not pretend any longer:
Trying not to be gay, has only led to a desire for intimacy in friendships, which pushed friends away, and it has resulted in a marriage where I couldn’t love or satisfy my wife in a way that she needed. When Lauren and I got married, I committed to loving her to the best of my ability, and I had the full intention of spending the rest of my life with her. Despite our best efforts, however, I have come to accept that there is nothing that is going to change who I am.
The Benham Brothers, who infamously lost out on having their own HGTV show because of how anti-gay they are, were the first to call out Pearson for “publicly surrendering to a sinful struggle that will lead him and many others astray.” His is a struggle of confusion, they wrote. “The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality. It’s holiness.”
Anti-LGBT columnist Michael Brown also was quick to hand Pearson an ultimatum. “The reality is that Trey has made a tragic, destructive choice,” Brown wrote. “He has found his identity in his romantic attractions and sexual desires rather than in his relationship with God, and he has decided that personal fulfillment is more important than obedience to the Savior.”
What Happens When Gay People Are Told That Homosexuality Is A Sin?In the immediate aftermath of the shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, Christian conservatives known to be anti-LGBT…thinkprogress.orgA month later, conservatives are still chattering about it. In the past week, the conservative Witherspoon Institute has run two separate posts on its blog, Public Discourse, rebuking Pearson’s decision. Janna Darnelle wrote to Pearson’s wife, Lauren, urging her to guilt Trey into staying in their marriage. “Your husband’s life can be full and beautiful, even if he chooses not to act on his same-sex attraction,” she insisted. “There is another way available to him and you.” Darnelle’s only apparent claim to fame is that her ex-husband came out as gay, and nearly 10 years later, she still seems to be fairly bitter about it.
Doug Mainwaring also chimed in Monday, insisting that gay people can happily stay in different-sex marriages — citing himself as an example. “A man who walks away from a marriage because of same-sex attraction is no different from a man who abdicates his role as husband and father for sex with other women,” he scolded. “We shouldn’t view Trey Pearson’s actions as heroically true-to-self, but as simply selfish.” Anti-gay activists frequently use “same-sex attracted” to describe being gay as a condition instead of a core aspect of identity.
Mainwaring has previously been championed by anti-LGBT groups as a “gay against gay marriage” for being someone who identifies as gay but has stayed committed to his wife and kids (despite a brief divorce). He insists that stories like his aren’t about ex-gay therapy, but simply a commitment to his religious belief that marriage is for different-sex couples only. “While we may not have a choice about our attractions, we do have a choice about our relationships. And rather than choose the now culturally acceptable and popularly celebrated same-sex relationship, we instead have chosen marriage. The real thing.”
The reactions to Pearson come at a time when religious conservatives are clamoring to renew various narratives about how gays and lesbians should try to overcome their homosexuality.
Alan Branch, a professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, similarly claims that the science on how sexuality presents itself is not conclusive. His new book, Born This Way? Homosexuality, Science, and the Scriptures, argues that “it is possible for homosexual behavior to be something in which a person once participated in the past, but no longer does so” — a change that can happen with “God’s saving and transforming grace.”
Branch’s clear goal in the book is to upend the “born this way” claims. Despite acknowledging that truly changing a person’s sexual orientation is “a daunting task and a rare occurrence,” he nevertheless is optimistic that some people might be freed entirely from same-sex “temptations” and pursue different-sex marriages. For others, it may be tough for them to change their orientation, but they can still follow Christ with “singleness and godly celibacy.”
In a less subtle attempt to resurrect the validity of sexual conversion, Tony Perkins, head of the anti-LGBT hate group the Family Research Council, is actually pushing for the Republican National Convention to endorse ex-gay therapy as a plank of its platform.
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) July 11, 2016
Perkins missed deadline to pre-file amendment, can bring it up from floor (but RNC doesn't want it) https://t.co/P3uC1kJ9XA
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) July 11, 2016
The plank would be new for the national Republican Party, but not unheard of. The Texas Republican Party endorsed “reparative therapy” in 2014 for those “who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle.” The state party included such a plank again this year.
If all that weren’t evidence enough that conservatives still reject the nature of homosexuality, an activist in Maine wants to go one step farther. Mike Heath, former head of the Christian Civic League of Maine, has formed a new group called “Equal Rights, not Special Rights,” which has the ultimate goal of repealing marriage equality and making homosexuality a crime. “There is conduct that ought to be punished,” Heath said. “And Christianity teaches — has always taught and still does teach — that sodomy is such a behavior.”
The first goal of this new group will be to repeal Maine’s nondiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation, which have been on the book for over a decade. Heath opposes any public displays of same-sex affection, and hopes the referendum will force “a behavior that belongs in the closet back into the closet.”
Whether ex-gay therapy makes it into a national party’s platform remains to be seen, but it’s clear that conservative religious sentiment toward homosexuality hasn’t evolved in the slightest.
Shortly after publication of this story, Republican National Committee subcommittee approved Perkins’ ex-gay therapy plank.