I had a friend in high school. He was the closest friend I had who wasn’t a congregant at my church, and I didn’t have many friends outside of the church. We kept in contact after high school and hung out from time to time. About a year or two after high school, he said that he wanted to get together with me—there was something he wanted to tell me. We got coffee, and he ended up coming out to me, telling me that he was gay. I was the last person on his list of people he wanted to tell in person.
I grew up in a conservative Christian culture that was staunchly opposed to homosexuality. It’s hard to say that without bringing to mind an image of a bunch of angry protestors holding up signs saying “God Hates [gays].” We weren’t hostile zealots like that; we just had a particular belief like most Christians do when it comes to this topic. My friend knew I was of the conservative Christian tribe, which is why he had saved me for last. As close as we were, he was aware that this would affect our friendship.
How gracious can you be to someone while standing firm in the belief that their orientation is a sin? That’s how I was to my recollection. I wasn’t incensed or abrasive, I even pointed out that I wasn’t the type of Christian to ever stand with the signs that said God hated him (as if that would make me look better). When asked what my beliefs were about him being gay, I made all the standard arguments there were, while being as kind and respectful as I could. And at some point, I said I believed that if he prayed and sought God fervently that the feelings of same-sex attraction he had could go away.
When I brought up the subject of prayer, he told me something I didn’t expect to hear. My friend said he had prayed. He said he had been praying for years and his feelings, which he’d been conscious of since adolescence, had yet to go away.
Many Christian communities that believe homosexuality is a sin also believe that you can just “pray the gay away.” It’s a clever expression, though grossly misinformed, because—and this is something everyone needs to know—it doesn’t work.
Since my friend came out, I have heard testimony after testimony of people in the gay community who, at one point or another, prayed to have their same-sex attractions taken away— yet it never happened. Surely if God disapproved of this attraction he would hear these prayers? Surely he would intervene? These are the questions I began to ask myself the last few years.
Conservatives have answers to these issues, and they’re quite simple. If a person has prayed to God and their same-sex attractions don’t subside, then they must not really want those feelings to leave. Makes sense, right? This effectively takes away God’s liability and categorizes the person’s inability to change their orientation as a personal failure. So not only are they still gay, but it’s also that person’s choice (overtly or covertly), and thus their fault, because they don’t actually want to change.
This viewpoint feeds into the whole, “it’s a choice,” narrative. It’s also a key part of the idea that someone can “pray the gay away.” Homosexuality is a sin, so God would never approve. Those who are gay are sinners unless they suppress or change their orientation. If they cannot change, even through rigorous prayer, it cannot be God’s fault as He is opposed to homosexuality thus would answer such a prayer unless that prayer wasn’t sincere. Therefore, those that still profess to be gay after praying to change must not have been sincere in their prayers.
I feel like I shouldn’t need to explain why this hamster wheel of an argument is harmful, and yet it took a long time for me to get there. Homosexuality had always been this ugly thing that we only spoke of in a pejorative manner. We talked about it in terms of an abominable act of perversion. We spoke about an agenda to dilute the gospel which was clearly opposed to this sort of behavior. We talked about liberal politics and the Democratic party, both of which were evil and amoral because they sympathized with the LGBTQ community and openly affirmed their rights and liberties.
Christians I know still talk about the LGBTQ community as being a perversion and part of an insidious, liberal agenda, but I will no longer be part of that conversation. The idea that homosexuality is a sin, or even a mental illness, is an outdated relic. While the Bible does mention opposition to male/male sexual activity, it does so in the same way that it mentions opposition to shellfish consumption and wearing cotton blend clothing. Paul’s statements on the subject are more of a reference to pederasty and prostitution than homosexuality. And don’t even get me started on Sodom and Gomorrah. Somehow my takeaway from that story is supposed to be that homosexuality is wrong, but yet it’s totally okay that Lot offered his daughters up for rape, the same daughters who later incestuously rape Lot … but I digress.
I lived out the greater portion of my life operating under the premise that it was a sin to be gay, but I was wrong. The harm being done to the LGBTQ community in the name of my faith is unjustified and antithetical to the work of Christ, the one I claim to follow. LGBTQ youth, in particular, have disproportionately higher rates of suicide, homelessness, mental health disorders, and substance abuse issues.
Christians should be focused on resolving these problems. Instead, Christians too often further the problems by continuing to blame sin in a manner that removes our obligation to fix the problems we helped start. We are sadly seeing the results of the sins of prejudice, discrimination, and antipathy.
I will not stand complicit in the perpetuation of hurt and pain any longer. I will not stand silent, allowing people to continue to associate my faith with homophobic dogma. So to my LGBTQ friends and family: I love you, and I affirm you, and if I ever caused any harm to you through my actions or words, I am deeply sorry. To those I may not know: Your existence is not a sin. Your love is not a sin. You are who God made you be, and He loves you with an everlasting love.
Peace, grace, and love to you all.
Photo by Dan Wilkinson.
About Alex Camire
Alex Camire is a life-long Christian who currently works in behavioral health and case management and is pursuing a Masters in Social work. He enjoys reading and writing on topics related to religion, science, law, and social justice.