Conversion Therapy Is Also Religious Extremism

Twenty-one years ago today, the world watched, horrified, as the terrorist attack against the United States unfolded. The twin towers fell after two hijacked passenger planes struck them. The Pentagon was viciously decimated by another hijacked plane. And another plane full of brave people rose against their hijackers and forced the plane, apparently being aimed at The Capital, into the ground in Pennsylvania.

Thousands of innocents were murdered that day in a most nightmarish way. Billions were horrified in real-time. All of this was inspired by a hijacked religion that taught its adherents that somehow it was ok to spill innocent blood in the most gruesome of ways.

But there is one form of religious extremism that inculcates its devotees into harming themselves, which leads to the shedding of innocent blood and death in some cases. That act of terror, in my opinion, is the various forms of religious stigma against LGBTQ+ people. When we are called diseased, groomers, reprobates, and worthy of damnation, everyone excuses it as the free expression of religious conscience and liberty. These beliefs teach that if we embrace the truth of who we are, we have chosen darkness, not God or God’s “best.”

In many places worldwide, governments run by religion simply throw LGBTQ+ ( or people accused of it) off buildings. Here in the United States and other “western” countries, we are taught to kill ourselves as a religious metaphor that too often becomes a real consequence. We are taught to kill off a part of our innate relational approach and put on a masquerade of biblical idealism as an act of devotion to “God’s will.”

We are taught these horrible beliefs over coffee and a smile or tearful prayers for healing and deliverance. We are taught this via the various manifestations of conversion therapy or by a preacher from the pulpit trying to scare the gay out of us. We are taught this in the culture at large by Christian nationalists masquerading as “salt and light” citizens of heaven called by God to shape public policy to the point of not allowing us and our history to even be mentioned in public schools.

All of this is another clear example of systemic bigotry.

The problem is that folks who propagate this destructive theology/ideology do not see their beliefs as being anything other than loving God first and the only way to “biblically” love LGBTQ+ people. They will be horrified that I drew a parallel between those beliefs and religious extremism. As a former leader in that world, I know this to be true. I would have scoffed at this post as “overly dramatic” and an example of spiritual darkness.

Yet, Michael.

Because of these beliefs, my friend of 23 years, Michael, committed suicide. A mother and father lost their son to overdosing on drugs because he was trying to numb the pain of being unable to change. Another exgay survivor took their own life after coming out because they still couldn’t get past the cognitive dissonance that an exgay group instilled in them. Then there is a myriad of others who do incredible acts of self-harm during and after participating in exgay ministry because of the trauma and the learned helplessness those beliefs instilled deep within their being. The abuse must stop.

Pure love always wins, but evil will always persist when it disguises itself as love and the “right thing” to do. We have to call out and name evil empowered by religious stigma seeking to redefine God’s love.

At the same time, we cannot turn into the very thing we oppose by reverse stigma, unhelpful snark, or our own version of self-righteousness. Nobody ever thought I would change my views as an exgay leader, but I did. A very real tragedy, plus incredibly gracious LGBTQ+ people, helped lead me out of the stained glass closet. This is why I now vigorously oppose what I once promoted. I hope to help others do the same without having to experience an eye-opening tragedy, as I and many others have.

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