*For more from Emily Thomes, please visit her website at www.emilythomes.com
Following Anchored North’s release of my video testimony last week, Newsweek’s headline was: “Christian ‘Ex-Lesbian’ Claims she Prayed the Gay Away in Controversial Viral Video“. Huffington Post reacted with, “Viral Video Claims People Can Stop Being Gay If They Pray Hard Enough.” TeenVogue’s lie was: “This Video Falsely Claims Praying Will Turn LGBTQ People Straight“. Sensational writing has an appeal. It allows people to work an agenda into their journalism, often at the expense of the truth. The articles that circulated made claims that were not only absent from my testimony, but that actually contradict both Anchored North’s and my own beliefs about conversion. “Solutions” such as reparative therapy and ‘praying the gay away’ were claimed to be my message when I said no such thing; I never actually mentioned prayer once. The common theme in almost all of these articles was that the Bible study “made me straight,” despite the video’s subtitle: “It’s not gay to straight. It’s lost to saved.” I say all this so you understand why I am compelled to respond sooner rather than later. The truth is, I’m not writing this for Newsweek or any of the other magazines who demonstrated their inability to distinguish between my testimony and what gets social media shares. I’m writing this to clarify what they, as people who do not know God, cannot understand; namely, the difference between manmade attempts to alter behavior, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ that saves.
What is “Reparative Therapy”?
Reparative or conversion therapy refers to counseling or psychotherapy that attempts to eliminate individuals’ sexual desires for members of their own sex. The American Psychological Association states that “such efforts have serious potential to harm young people” because “they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.” In his article, “What’s Wrong with Reparative Therapy”, Heath Lambert, the Executive Director at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, states, “…we should reject it as an approach to change” because it “misunderstands the problems homosexuals confront, misunderstands the goals they should pursue, and misunderstands the need to lay hold of God’s grace in Christ through repentant faith.” It seems both believers and unbelievers are in agreement that this is a practice that should be rejected. The methods used in conversion therapy range from basic behavioral modification, psychoanalysis (“therapeutic” techniques related to the study of the unconscious mind), and even sex therapy. I cringed as I studied the subject further for the sake of this article. In my early teens growing up in one of Texas’s smallest towns, I had a season of trying really hard to suppress my feelings and pretend they weren’t there out of fear for how my family and friends would respond. I chose not to deal with my desires and it made me absolutely miserable. It was after years of remaining silent that finally, at the ripe old age of fifteen, I opened up about my feelings and embraced them as my “truest self.” In contrast to my earlier attempts, I felt liberated and was thrilled to no longer attempt to make my behavior one way externally while my heart raced towards the exact opposite. Devoid of the grace, love, and hope found in Christ, there is no reason to believe that any of these approaches would help anyone at all. In fact, it makes sense that they would only lead to severe depression and self-loathing. In my video, I stated that I looked at Scripture, believed what it said for the first time, and repented of my sins (practicing homosexuality, drunkenness, and others – see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). There was no therapy. The Bible study I attended was about the attributes of God, and not homosexuality. When I went to this study, as I mentioned in the video, I expected them to bring up my lifestyle immediately, and that I would then use that as an excuse to stop attending; but they never did. They shared with me their love for God and His work in their own lives. The Spirit and His Word took it from there.
What does it mean to “Pray the Gay Away”?
I staunchly reject the “pray the gay away” narrative, despite what the news outlets are reporting. This concept says that if you pray hard enough, or have enough faith, God will remove your desire for the same sex; essentially, you’ll be “cured” of your sin. It’s easy to see that this way of thinking is also dangerous and unhelpful, as God never talks like that regarding our sin. As a matter of fact, identifying a person by one’s sexual desires, whether sinful or godly, is an unhelpful and unbiblical way for believers to discuss these matters all together. See Rosaria Butterfield’s answer for “Is sexual orientation a concept that Christians ought to use?” Biblically, we have no reason to expect God to totally take away our want for sin upon being born again. Can He remove your sinful desires? Of course! I believe at times that He does. We ought to be pleading with Him to do so, knowing that if His will is to remove it entirely, He’ll do it. Generally, though, that is not what we see in Scripture or what we should be relying on. Although HuffPo quoted chunks of a Facebook status from my page to state that I’d equated homosexuality with murder, they conveniently left out the paragraph directly prior, because it would have ruined their entire premise. What they chose to leave out was: “Nowhere are we told to pray to stop liking our sin in order to turn from it. We are commanded to stop the sin. Period. He gives us something greater in return, but the command to repent is still a command to repent. Apply that logic to another sin…” We’re not told that He’ll remove our want for sin. Instead, we’re told to “abstain from fleshly lusts” (1 Peter 2:11) and not to “gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:6). There’s definitely a fight that Christians are to have against sinful desires. We couldn’t do so if, upon conversion, those desires were immediately eradicated. Believers who promote this view are misinformed and are harming others by making claims and promises that God has not given.
What Is the Solution?
Homosexuality is a sin. See Romans 1:18-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, etc. I’m not going to spend a lot of time here making this case. Any honest reading of the text leaves one with the conclusion that God’s design for sex and marriage is for one man and one woman, for life, and that any variation of that (homosexuality, sexual immorality in opposite sex couples, adultery, etc) are deemed sinful time and time again. They contradict His moral law and for that reason alone, they are transgressions not only against the other participant but against God Himself. God is perfect, holy, and without any kind of sin or failing. He’s all knowing, all powerful, and unchanging. The big problem with sin is that it separates us from Him because it’s so contradictory to who He is and what He esteems. Every human being is made in the image of God and because of that we all have intrinsic value and worth, but that image is distorted because of the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden. God said that everything He had made was good, but that was before sin entered the world. Scripture tells us that now, because of sin, “no one is good; no not one” (Romans 3:10). God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness create a divide between the two. This is why God sent His Son, Jesus, to reconcile us back to Himself. He lived the kind of life we’re commanded to live but have all failed to do. He then took the punishment we ought to get, the entire wrath of God, on behalf of those who would repent, turn from sin, and put their trust in Him. This is a concept that those both inside and outside of evangelicalism are guilty of distorting and the consequences are lethal. People end up hearing that either repentance is not necessary and one can stay in their sin while holding fast to Christ, or that you should attempt change yourself via these worldly and unbiblical means. If they don’t work, God has failed you or has changed His mind on sin. Neither of these approaches are biblical, and both are condemning. Jesus came to save us from sin because He hates it and because it leads to destruction. The human heart cannot change itself (Jeremiah 13:23), so attempts made at that without God are in vain.
This is biblical conversion: that we have our eyes opened to see our sin as sin and see Him as the good and worthy Creator; because of that new sight, we joyfully forsake our sin and turn to Him by grace through faith. Scripture tells us this happens to all people when they’re ‘born again’ (John 3, Ezekiel 36:26), regardless of the kind of life they lived before knowing Christ. We’re all living in unrepentant sin until that moment. We need God to intervene and create in us a desire to obey out of a right kind of ‘fear’ that comes from reverence and love for Him, not confusion or self-hate or any other reason that is not centered on Him. It isn’t always easy, but He is worthy.
What Does it Look Like?
So what does all of this mean for believers in Christ who struggle with same-sex attraction? According to what we see in scripture, it means that one must ‘walk by the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:16) and ‘make no provision for the flesh’ (Romans 13:14). Those battling desires for the same sex must, like Jesus said, “deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow” Him (Luke 9:23). The instructions given to Christians battling this sin are not different from those given to every other believer. All of us “were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). We must now obey God rather than these desires. Each of us are marked by sin, but because of Christ, have the will and ability to follow Jesus instead of our feelings. This doesn’t mean a perfect walk without trials and sin on our part, but as we grow in Him, we will have greater and greater victory over sin and will slowly, but surely, be conformed to the image of His Son who was without sin.
Does the Christian coming from this particular background have his or her own specific difficulties? You bet. We all vary in how sin and its consequences effect us once we’ve been born again, but our journey towards holiness and knowing Him deeper should look very similar to those who were saved out of other lifestyles of sin. The church should not be surprised at my conversion to Christ out of a life of sin that included practicing homosexuality. The fact that it has reacted so is indicative that we too lack faith and a rich understanding of the doctrine of sin. It’s my prayer that He uses stories like mine, His Spirit, and His word to grow His church in that understanding. In the mean time, believers must be patient with one another. A misinformed or shallow understanding of regeneration can lead to odd questions and harmful statements. We must demonstrate grace in those instances, for we’ve received far greater grace for our offenses against our Creator.
Speaking of such questions: Is the new believer bound to remain single or should they run fast towards marriage, or something in between? We, like all Christians, should seek first His kingdom. Some will marry because the Lord has given them desires and a spouse to do so. Some will remain single and focus their hearts wholly to the Lord. In either case, we are to strive for holiness. The believer who remains single is no less ‘new’ than the one who marries and has eight children. In either case, we should be aiming to glorify God in our bodies with a ‘holy sexuality,’ a term coined by Christopher Yuan in his book, “Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God.” The body of Christ, consisting of various stories and experiences and gifts is what enables us to edify and encourage one another so well. Had He desired we all be the same, we would be.
I sincerely hope my testimony will be a blessing to many and something that points others to the true gospel. The misinformation that is out there on this topic is easy to find, but the truth is a precious find. Your best source for truth in conjunction with scripture is a church that is faithful to preach the word of God. If you have any questions regarding my position, or any other topic, you can find out more at emilythomes.com or send your questions to [email protected].