“Pray Away”: A Call To Christians

Trigger Warning: If you are of the LGBTQ+ community, Pray Away has many scenes of abuses towards LGBTQ+ people so as to expose how harmful Conversion “Therapy” is.

Netflix has a new documentary out called Pray Away, which on a topic about which I am deeply passionate: Conversion “Therapy”. For those who don’t know, this is the decades old, widely discredited, and torturous practice designed to “free” people of LGBTQ+ identities. It’s primarily, if not exclusively, done by Christian organizations in the name of Christ, and relies heavily on Christian indoctrination which manifests itself in abject spiritual abuse, as well as emotional and sometimes even physical abuse. Quite simply, it is not therapy. It’s torture.

People are often surprised to hear that such a practice even exists, but it does. And it needs to be banned. It’s difficult, if not impossible to stop an adult from choosing such a “therapy”, and there are legitimate therapists who will help one sort through sexual orientation and gender identity, but that’s not what this documentary is addressing, and that’s not what we’re talking about needing to be banned. We’re talking about the kids and vulnerable adults whose parents and guardians force them into these programs, which are so harmful that a striking percentage of those who are subjected to this torture die by suicide, and the ones that don’t are (rightly) called survivors.

And the reason I am so passionate about banning it, is that I was once a supporter of it, even to the degree of supporting one of these organizations financially. I was one of those Christians who believed that a non-cishet1 identity was one that missed the mark of God’s ideal for our lives, and therefore was a chain keeping us from the abundance of life Jesus promises in John 10:10 (spoiler alert: it doesn’t). As I grew in my Christian faith and pastoral leadership, as I read a little less of Paul and a little more of the Gospels, and as I had some lovely, beautiful, patient people in my life who guided me in thinking otherwise, I was liberated from my hateful and harmful homo/transphobic beliefs. And I mean liberated. I had no idea about the prison I was living in until I broke those chains. My faith has never been more deep and alive than since I left that garbage behind.

Because of that, I consider it part of my life’s work to do what I can to eradicate Conversion “Therapy” from this earth. And movies like Pray Away that can help, but as one person in the movie points out, “as long as there is homophobia, there will always be some version of Conversion ‘Therapy'” (my paraphrase). And, so, the battle against it has two fronts. Yes, we need to make it as difficult as possible for these organizations and their practices to exist by doing such things as city, state, and even federal bans on the practice, but that’s just one battle in the broader war against LQBTQ+ phobic beliefs that generate and energize such practices.

Pray Away does a beautiful job detailing the genesis of Conversion “Therapy”, which took off in the 70s with the formation of the organization Exodus. Ok, sorry, not sorry, but it’s here that I need to pause for a moment so we can reflect on how disgusting this appropriation of the word “exodus” is. It uses the story of the liberation of Jews in their exodus of Egypt after hundreds of years of literal slavery as a symbol of what they perceive to be a slavery that LGBTQ+ people live in, and need liberating from, making the leaders of this organization Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. Ew. Christians, we need to be more careful how we use this story (and the entire Torah and Hebrew Bible for that matter), and we need to condemn loudly and boldly such uses of it as this.

Now back to our scheduled program…

What is fascinating about Pray Away is the way in which it tells the stories of some of the founders of Exodus and other such organizations coming to grips with their own identities, embracing who they really are, and discrediting, as well as dismantling the organizations they led and and founded. Their stories are beautifully told, and it all makes the movie worth the hour and forty-one minutes. It is gut wrenching at times, but also powerful and beautiful. And what’s also interesting is that you can see the way in which it is distinctly Christian theology (albeit bad Christian theology) that is indeed the genesis of this practice.

It’s here that Pray Away led me to a second viewing. After a first viewing I had mixed feelings. It felt like a good documentary on the organization Exodus, but it didn’t enough combat the thinking, ideologies, and theology that created it. But after a second viewing I realized that it perhaps doesn’t do this because this is my job, and our job.

This harmful and hateful theology is thick throughout the documentary, and in so doing, I believe Pray Away is a call to the Christian Church. While other religions share in these theologies, none of them has manifested those theologies in such broad, sweeping, and organized ways as the Christian Church has. Beloved, this is our work. We created it, and it is our job destroy it. And before we start saying “but I never believed that”, know that I appreciate that, but this is systemic, and nearly every Christian expression has participated in it at some level and at some time.

And, so, I call upon all Christians, particularly we cishet ones, to watch Pray Away so as to see what has been created out of our traditions, and then take the next step to destroy the practice of Conversion “Therapy” as well as deconstruct the theology and hermeneutic that created it. We need to get educated on our history and theology, and we need to educated and active in our communities to right this wrong. That is, to forge a new path, which is to repent. If repentance doesn’t make a new way, it’s not repentance.

And to you LGBTQ+ beloved out there, I say thank you. Thank you for who you are, for the ways you’ve not only liberated me, but enriched my life. Thank you for your strength, for surviving, for being the you that God created you to be. Thank you for rising up, exposing the hate and harm, too often at great risk to yourself. And I am so sorry, deeply sorry, for all the harm The Church has done to you. I am also sorry for how long it’s taken for many of us to get on the front lines to guard you from this hate and harm and work with you in destroying it. But, for what it’s worth, many of us are here now. We are for you and we are with you.

So what do you say, friends: Will you join me? It’s a lovely and liberating journey.

1someone whose gender identity is the same as that which was assigned at birth and is heterosexual.

America: Home of the Afraid (Rev. 11/6/17)

Today, November 6, 2017, I sat down to write because I found myself so angry about the shooting and our culture’s response to it at 1st Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX yesterday that I had to do something. I went to my blog (which serves as more of an outlet for me than anything I actually expect people to read), and there it is: The piece I wrote after the Las Vegas shooting a month ago. I’ve already said it. No need to start over, except for one addition…

…Those of you coming at me saying “a good guy with a gun actually did stop the bad guy this time” are believing a lie. It’s a fallacy. Because, you see, the problem with that logic is that if the bad guy couldn’t get a gun in the first place, no one would be dead. So just another 26 beloved souls have been offered up on the altar of our gun addiction.

Something has to change. We have been willing to adjust our freedoms in seemingly infinite ways to make us more safe, yet we refuse to do anything when it comes to gun control. Congress, there is blood on your hands.


26e84572b77f4e866d6e9e183b59c610My heart aches. My soul weeps. My mind screams. My body is tired. Something has changed. This is not like a lot of things today where the world isn’t really that different, we’re just seeing things more because of social media and cable news. No, something has changed. We’ve heard it said over and over: Mass shootings are becoming the norm. And though there is a degree to which they have become normalized, when the images come across our screens, and we see the horror before our very eyes, we still weep. And we should.

But I’ll tell you what: I’m tired of weeping. I’m angry. I refuse to sit back and chalk this up to “the price of freedom”, as Bill O’Reilly and so many others are.  Since when are Americans quitters? I thought we were the home of the brave? But the prevailing sentiment seems to be that when mass shootings happen, we shake our heads in sorrow and then shrug our shoulders saying, “Welp. You can’t stop a madman.”

If you can’t stop a madman, then why have we been in a war on terror for 16 years? If you can’t stop a madman then why have so many women and men given life and limb to hunting them, finding them, and killing them? If we are the home of the brave, who stand tall in the idolatrous rhetoric of a “city on a hill”, then why is it so dark here now? Why are we so hopeless? Why are we quitting?

1449267674564.jpegAfter the San Bernadino shooting in 2015 the Daily News posted a headline that read, “God Isn’t Fixing This”. And they were 100% right. God isn’t fixing this. But we can. I thought America was the never-quit, always positive, beacon of hope in the world. Yet when it comes to gun violence, we’ve given up. We are, to use one of our President’s favorite words, “losers”.

You see, you cannot deny the United States is the deadliest developed nation in the world when it coms to gun violence. It’s data. It’s a fact. I’m sure there are alternative facts to the contrary out there, but let’s remember what alternative facts actually are: Lies. And so we then must look at what separates us from other nations who do not experience gun violence like we do.

According the gun lobby, I guess we’re just crazier. We just have too many madmen who cannot be stopped. Evidently there are no madmen in other parts of the world, because the gun lobby is convinced that no matter what we do, we can’t stop them, and they don’t seem to be killing en masse at the same rate in other countries as they are here. So other nations simply must not have these madmen.

61zuDrDlgiL._SX355_Or could the difference between us and other nations be that they have stricter and more meaningful gun laws? The fact that we are unwilling to even entertain this as a possibility is symptomatic of just how addicted to guns we are, and how much the gun is part of our national identity. Forget the eagle, just replace it with a AR-14. It’s who we are. And don’t come back at me with “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” rhetoric. The stats bare out that the more guns there are, the more deaths there are. Correlation, of course, does not necessarily equal causation, but to ignore the correlation is simply stupid.

So here’s what will happen: We will wait for the “facts of this case” to come out. Then the gun addicts will come up multiple arguments to show us how stricter gun laws would not have prevented this. Case closed. Meanwhile the narrative of increased mass shootings and gun deaths will continue to go untouched. “There’s just nothing we can do.” We quit. We lose. We’re losers. Madmen win. But let’s call them what they really are: The terrorists win. According to the gun lobby, the terrorists have won.

“Home of the brave”? If we were truly brave, and if we truly wanted to reduce the violence and death, we’d be willing to try just about anything to do it- especially things that seemed to have worked in other nations.

But we’re not. We don’t want to fix this. We just want to keep throwing out “thoughts and prayers” so we can blame God for it. We may be the land of the free, but in matters of gun violence, we are the home of the afraid. The time has already come for us to stop perverting the 2nd Amendment, and for us to have actual conversations and new legislation around gun control. To refuse to do so, is to quit.

Shame on us for quitting. Shame on us for being willing to lay down the lives of women and men to stop a madman in a cave across the sea, but not being willing to lay down our gun addiction to stop them here.

Why I “Stand” With Kaepernick #takeaknee

200It was about a year ago when Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem and all hell broke loose. Here we are a year later, Kaepernick doesn’t have a job, and this is still a hot issue. I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the last year. I’ve been trying to assess what it’s all about and why it matters so much, and I’ve been trying to see both sides in the process.

I get why people are deeply offended by him taking a knee. There is something to be said for taking that moment at a sports gathering to remember things that matter more, not the least of which is showing some respect to the country in which we live and which really is a great place to live. I understand that the raising of the flag and the singing of the anthem means even more to those who’ve served in our military and particularly for those who’ve fought and are fighting in our wars. And I get that it’s hard for people for whom that means so much to watch others take a knee during it, effectively sitting out.

But with all that in mind, and having really listened to those points, I’m at a point where I’m with Kap. Everything we’re talking about when it comes to the National Anthem is symbolic. It is something that represents something else that’s real. The blood, sweat, tears and lives given in fighting in our military are real- very real- but the flag is a symbol. The song is a symbol. And I love symbols. As a pastor symbols play a massive role in much of what I do. And what I’ve said about religious symbols also applies to any symbol, and that is that while they are beautiful, they are also dangerous. When our relationship with the symbol becomes more important than the human sitting (in Kap’s case literally kneeling) next to me, the symbol has begun to play too significant of a role in my life.

I believe the flag and the anthem have begun to play too significant of a role in our collective lives here in America. And what Kap did was expose it. Kap didn’t take a knee to disrespect soldiers. He took a knee because something in him said, “I just can’t stand up and give myself to a flag that has enslaved and murdered black bodies since its inception”. You see, what people of color have experienced in this country over the last few centuries is real. And though there have been many noble, good and great people who have fought for our freedom, what we white people need to start hearing and getting is that this freedom is one that people of color have (generally speaking) simply not experienced as we have.

The history on this is long, convoluted, and buried, but it’s there. Yet we’ve heard the voices of black America crying out for centuries, and in the last four years, that voice has begun to cry out again in a particular way. Every time it cries, white American largely dismisses it. We pat black America on the back and say, “oh it’s ok, honey, it’s not as bad as you think”. No, friends, it’s not as good as we think. As we dismiss the cries for black lives, we not only dismiss the content, but we also critique the form, which effectively silences the cries. No matter how it is that black America cries out for justice, we tell them that their means are wrong, so, therefore, we don’t have to listen.

When I think about Kaepernick’s protest, I think it may just be perfect: First of all, why would we expect him to stand and honor a flag that, though it has given him some huge blessings in the success he’s had in the NFL, it has systematically marginalized his race? Furthermore why would we expect him to stand and honor a flag and sing a song to that flag whose 3rd verse reads “No refuge could save the hireling and slave/ From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave/ And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave/ O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave”? The land of the free has slaves?

So Kap decided, “I can’t do it”. He was being honest about what is going on inside of him. To stand and sing would be a charade. I’ll be honest: There have been times in my not so distant past where my soul has been troubled with enough doubt and sorrow that I could not stand and sing “Amazing Grace”. It would be dishonest. But as a pastor sometimes I need to do that, just as a soldier stands and sings no matter how she/he/they may feel. As far as I know, Colin Kaepernick is not a soldier. So he took a knee.

On top of all that, he did it discreetly. Certainly, he knew the cameras would find him (you can only be so discreet on an NFL sideline), but he quietly took a knee on the sideline and did not make a show of it himself. The media made it a show. And, yes, he probably knew that would happen and is part of the reason he did it, but still, he quietly knelt and chose not to sing. Not only that, he didn’t tell anyone else they shouldn’t sing. he prevented no one from honoring America, and he simply made a personal choice consistent with his thoughts, feelings, and experience.

In these ways, it’s a nearly perfect form of nonviolent protest: personal, authentic, legal, powerful, and clear.

And he’s gotten black-balled for it. Colin Kaepernick can’t find a job, primarily because he’s not that great of a football player, but also certainly because of his protest. Teams don’t want the distraction. That is a natural consequence of his actions in 2017 America. If he were at a Tom Brady level, he’d have a job. It would be worth the distraction. But what’s also true is if he hadn’t been true to himself and simply stood and sang, he’d also have a job. He’s good enough in a quarterback-hungry league to have a job somewhere. (I, for one, would love to see him in purple and gold backing up Sam Bradford. After all, with our offensive line, we need a QB who can run.) But Kap doesn’t have a job. And he doesn’t because he called out America’s racism in a clear and powerful way.

It’s quite amazing. You can rape women, beat your kid, bet on dog fights, and incur numerous DUIs in the NFL and still have a job making millions. But you take a knee during the anthem, and you’re out. The symbol has become valued above and beyond the way we’re treating humans (and dogs). Our relationship to the symbol is out of whack, and Colin Kaepernick called it out.

He called out the god under whom America is one nation: and that god is the stars and stripes. The god we worship is the flag and the way we worship it is by singing The Star Spangled Banner. The ancietns had a golden calf. America has a red, white, and blue flag. And Colin Kaepernick gets the credit for exposing our idolatry. And let me be clear: It is exposed as idolatry not because we stand and sing, but because of how we respond to those who choose not to.

We have a nasty disgusting sin of enslavement and genocide in our nation’s history and system, and we need to get honest about it. Don’t deflect it. Don’t deny it. Start really letting in the cries of the oppressed in our midst. It’s there. I get why so many boo him, and if that’s you, you absolutely have the right to do that. I’m just asking you to really examine why you boo. And I’m sorry but I can’t stomach the “men and women gave their lives to protect our freedom” rhetoric. Embedded in that statement is the notion that every military action this nation has taken has been one to defend our freedom. We’re fools if we think that’s true.

More often than not these days, what so many women and men have died defending is western imperialism. And that is not a critique of those who have fought and died in those actions, it is a critique of the women and men who sent them there to do it. It is a critique of those at the top who exploit soldiers’ loyalty and send them off to protect national interests in the veneer of “freedom”. This is not always the case, but it is enough so that we cannot give military operations a free pass. Those soldiers need to be respected and remembered and taken care of, but not necessarily the causes for which they were forced and sent to fight.

All of that is to say, I stand (or rather kneel) with Colin Kaepernick. I hear the cries, I see the pain, and I don’t want to be party to it anymore. I have a ton yet to learn, and a lot of courage to muster to fight for equality in more than symbolic ways, but for now, when I enter that NFL stadium on Thursday, though Kap won’t be there, he should be, and so I will kneel for him. I’ll sit this one out for you, Kap. And if you ever don my beloved purple and gold, I’ll sit one out with you.