Home Uncategorized “Liars go to hell!”: A Call for Conservative Evangelicals to Fess Up

“Liars go to hell!”: A Call for Conservative Evangelicals to Fess Up

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the silly song about lying sung in jest by many Christians to the tune of “Where is Thumbkin”: “Revelation… Revelation! 21:8… 21:8! Liars go to hell… Liars go to hell! Burn, burn, burn… Burn, burn, burn!” I am not certain if it started as a joke or anyone’s genuine belief, but thankfully I’ve only heard it as the former. In any case, the duty to be truthful is a serious one for Christians, and it is for this reason that I am calling for conservative evangelicals to reevaluate their rhetoric about homosexuality.

I think I often appear cynical to others. Nevertheless, I am often extremely naive, particularly when it comes to expecting people to be kind, sensible, etc. For example, today I found myself genuinely surprised when I saw “Read about her unexpected journey from being a lesbian professor to a pastor’s wife” pop up on my newsfeed, as posted by Her.meneutics. Then below it I saw an extended description from Christianity Today‘s Facebook account: “This feminist lesbian didn’t want Jesus. She didn’t ask for him. But somehow she went from gay pride parades to church pews, and her heart changed. What a testimony!”

I replied to the latter, “Way to go using “feminist” as a scare word meant to denote, ‘heathen.’ We feminist evangelicals always appreciate it!” I was frustrated by the entire post’s use of “feminist” and “lesbian” (and the article’s use of “leftist”) as code for “evil.” I was surprised Christianity Today would stoop that low, especially as they have often tried to appeal to both egalitarian and complementarian evangelicals, including some egalitarians who self-identify as feminists.

But while deplorable, fright-based headlines really are not really the big issue here.

What I’m really, really tired of is conservative evangelicals continuing to speak as if LGBT individuals, or any of us, chose our gender identity or sexual orientation and can change it on a whim—or through agonizing years of prayer and therapy, for that matter. That simply isn’t what anyone thinks besides you. It’s not what research supports. Let it go.  Fess up that this is not really how sexuality works. If this woman “changed,” she was likely bisexual to begin with. Or is in denial now. Or originally chose to be with a woman for reasons other than sexual attraction. Or something else bizarre.  But she did not magically go from being a lesbian to not. That is a lie. Quit perpetuating lies.

As difficult as saying, “Gay people should be celibate” sounds, at least it’s honest. So be honest like a few good evangelicals and honest like the Catholic Church and at least admit that gay people can’t really change and, thus, that when you ask them to refrain from acting on their sexuality, you are asking a very, very, very big thing. Maybe you still think it’s right to ask it. But stop telling yourself and others that what you’re asking isn’t so bad because gay people can become un-gay anyway if they only trust Jesus enough. They can’t, and the real-life pain caused by your condemnation of their relationships is why you either need to really believe what you’re saying about celibacy or back down entirely.

And for the rest of us: Take lying serious.  Write Christianity Today and tell them how offensive this article is to you as a Christian who loves truth.

4 Responses

  1. Brad

    Thank you for your incisive post. I found the critique of CT to be warranted. And I’m moved to use my voice address CT and call for change.

    I do have a follow-up question about one assumption in your post. In your last paragraph, you say, “. . . stop telling yourself and others that what you’re asking isn’t so bad because gay people can become un-gay anyway if they only trust Jesus enough. They can’t. . .” Of course, I agree that we should never tell anyone that what we’re asking “isn’t so bad”; that’s just crappy pastoral ministry. My question is whether you think it’s been demonstrated that change is never possible . . . or just far less common than evangelicals have claimed.

  2. Ashleigh Bailey

    Hi Brad,

    That’s a really difficult question, which I think is best answered by scientists, not random people like me. ;-)

    Here’s what the APA has to say: http://www.apa.org/about/policy/sexual-orientation.aspx

    Neuroplasticity is real—our brains can and do change. Various experiences, whether chosen or unchosen, may change how we think, feel, see ourselves, etc. But it seems that when it comes to sexual orientation, even the most intense effort to change is typically ineffective. Many “success” stories end up being baloney, and many more people are endure significant harm during their attempts to change. It is for that reason that I say they “can’t”—technically, the possibility has not been disproven, but the current evidence leaves me extremely skeptical. I don’t think there is a sound scientific basis for any responsible ministry to recommend and encourage the pursuit of sexual orientation change, regardless of their views about various sexual behaviors. To pretend change is a possibility gay people should be reaching for does them a great disservice, and I believe is immoral. Whatever one thinks the Bible says about sexuality, this position should be taken without relying on the hope of change as a crutch. Affirm homosexual relationships or call people to celibacy, but do it without sending people on a painful wild goose chase for a magical, hidden straight version of themselves they are extremely unlikely to find.

  3. Brad

    Hi Ashleigh,

    Thanks so much for being willing to respond. I appreciate your thoughtfulness in writing and your clear concern for folks both inside and outside of the church.

    To flip over a few of my cards, I’m a congregational leader in a cosmopolitan area. Our young church was founded with the hope of being able to dialogue in a meaningful way with secular, postmodern types. I love this ministry and cherish the challenge of embodying the life of Jesus in our rapidly changing context. Correspondingly, I grieve the ways in which the church has (and continues to) mishandled ministry amongst our LGTBQ brothers and sisters. And I have a deep desire for wisdom to navigate a pathway forward.

    For all of the above reasons, I am genuinely grateful for your post (and a few others which I have read) . . . and also a little bit vexed. I am in wholehearted agreement that the ways in which evangelicals have talked about the possibility of changing sexual orientation has been untruthful and damaging. We need to stop overstating the case. And we need to be honest about what we don’t really know. Having said that, I can’t help but feel like you swing to the other extreme. The APA link you referred to says, “There are no studies of adequate scientific rigor to conclude whether or not recent SOCE do or do not work to change a person’s sexual orientation.” That statement seems more agnostic about the possibility of change than your statement that “to pretend change is a possibility gay people should be reaching for does them a great disservice, and I believe is immoral.” Your original post is about the importance of truthfulness. It seems to me that what is truthful is that changing sexual orientation is neither easy nor as common as evangelicals have made it sound . . . but that it may be possible. In the longitudinal study by Yarhouse and Jones,15% of those studied experienced (what the authors called) “success: conversion.”

    My posture here is not to argue, but to learn so that I might lead well. When/if you have time, I’d be interested in your response to my thoughts.

  4. Ashleigh Bailey

    Hey Brad,

    I don’t mind your asking at all, and I don’t feel you’re being argumentative! So no worries.

    I guess I feel like if there is no evidence that something is possible, it’s wrong to encourage people to try to do it. Right now it seems some people know their sexual orientation from a very young age, while others “discover” it later (usually around puberty or soon after). But we don’t see any spontaneous changes. Which means, at the very least, changing one’s sexual orientation is something that seems to require a good deal of effort and intentionality.

    We have a bit of a challenging situation in terms of objective research in that few people who aren’t religious WANT to try to change their sexual orientation, so there is a great deal of self-selection going on in the Jones & Yarhouse study. The people participating are clearly religious and motivated by religious beliefs and probably some accompanying guilt, shame, etc. I think religious motivations are extremely powerful, and if anyone were to try to trick themselves into thinking they’d changed more than they had, religiously motivated people would be the ones to do so. This makes it hard to determine what real change has occurred… as well as making it tricky to know if change would be possible, generally, or only with a special religious subgroup.

    I haven’t read the Jones & Yarhouse study, but I’m extremely skeptical about it. It seems these two scholars from conservative Christian backgrounds are the only people concluding that sexual orientation is mutable. This seems unlikely aside from bias. And even if I weren’t so skeptical, that is only one study. Science demands repeatable experiments with the same results. Before stating for sure that even the most convincing study is right, we should wait and see what future studies conclude. There’s always the chance that the first study was a fluke.

    It’s for this reason that I think that for someone—right now, in the absence of convincing scientific evidence—to encourage a gay person to attempt orientation change is to tell them to do something akin to Amy Carmichael’s praying to God to change her eye color (if you’re familiar with that story). It’s clearly not something outside of God’s power, but we have no reason to suspect God might answer such a prayer and we know no way to do it through our own efforts. I think in this situation it’s fair to say it “can’t” be done—because we have no real reason to think that it can. If we one day discover otherwise, we will change our story. In the meantime, to encourage someone to seek change which may not even be possible is, like I said, irresponsible and immoral. As the APA statement I posted notes, programs intended to “change” sexual orientation often do a great deal of harm to individuals, which must also be a significant consideration in our advice to others.

    I’m not sure this is a clear explanation… I would certainly never tell someone, “We know without a doubt that this can’t happen,” because that’s not true. But I still think saying it “can’t” tells the truth in this situation—like it would have been honest to say that you couldn’t change your eye color before colored contacts. Does that make sense?

© Jeremiah and Ashleigh Bailey 2012