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Monthly Archives: May 2013

On Memorial Day Weekend

MemorialDay2012Here is a post I wrote last year on Memorial Day. I don’t think I can say it any better as we head into this weekend, so I wanted to remind you (and me) about what living in this area has meant to me personally.

One of the benefits to living in Virginia Beach has been getting to know so many military families. We have several bases here and in the surrounding area; there are over 20 active military installations in Virginia. Here in the Tidewater area, these include the Army represented (e.g., Fort Eustis, Fort Story), the Coast Guard, and the Navy (e.g., Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base, Oceana Naval Air Station).  That brings many military folks into our daily life. Whether we are talking about our neighborhood, our church, our place of employment, and so on, we have many active and retired military here in our community.

So Memorial Day takes on a new meaning. We have lived here for over 14 years, and I’ve never lived in an area that had so many military personnel present. And it matters. Memorial Day is not just another day off of work. It is not just a day to get the pool going or to break out the grill. Rather, it is a time to reflect on the meaningful service and sacrifice of the many folks in this area. We can discuss and debate particular policies (and neighbors/coworkers/etc. do), but what cannot be debated is the level of commitment it takes to serve the country in this unique capacity.

So Thank You for your service. Today we remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service of our country.

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2013 in Off Topic

 

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Shame among Sexual Minorities

I co-authored an article on shame among sexual minorities that was just published in Counseling & Values. The lead author, Veronica Johnson, wrote her dissertation on the topic, and this article is a reflection of her literature review with a focus on implications for counseling. It was nice to see it published in a mainstream counseling journal. Here is the abstract:

Theorists, clinicians, and researchers have suggested that shame is a central concern in the lives of sexual minority individuals. Cognitive theorists believe that shame occurs when a person fails to achieve his or her standards, which are often based on social, cultural, and spiritual values. Although it is asserted that stigma causes shame among members of a sexual minority, the empirical evidence suggests that negative internal cognitions are partly responsible. By targeting negative beliefs, counselors can help sexual minorities reduce their sense of shame, particularly around issues related to sexual identity. The authors offer counseling strategies for reducing shame in sexual minority clients.

shame1What is shame? Shame refers to “an intensely painful affect resulting from an exposure of the self as flawed or inferior, and a concurrent deep belief that this deficiency will result in rejection, abandonment, or loss of esteem.” If your mom ever said, “You should be ashamed” or “Shame on you!” she was likely hoping you would feel something more like remorse. Shame is the emotion that comes “from self-condemnation along with a fear of condemnation from others.”

Shame is not guilt. People feel guilty for things they have done wrong–or when they have failed to do the good/right. Shame is feeling bad (self-condemnation, self-rejection) for who you are; it reflects the idea that you are fundamentally flawed, and that if others knew who you really are, they would reject you too.

Johnson offers a formula for shame that is based on a cognitive theory by Lewis. Here is the formula:

Step 1: A person is raised in a culture in which various standards, rules, and goals are conveyed;

Step 2: That person does not live up to these standards/rules/goals (perceived failure);

Step 3: The person then believes that not living up to these standards is the result of personal deficiencies or shortcomings (negative global attribution);

Step 4: The result is shame.

How does this connect to sexual minorities? For many years now it has been understood that sexual minorities experience shame. In response to this, I have heard conservative Christians respond, “Well, they should!” –perhaps wanting to see guilt or remorse (or a sense of personal conviction) but without much genuine empathy or appreciation for how debilitating shame really is.

What I want to explore is how shame affects sexual minorities and how the church could respond to reduce shame. Let’s do a thought exercise: Think about a teenager in the church who experiences same-sex attraction. She grows up in a faith community with specific standards, rules, and goals specific to sexuality and sexual identity. If the church is not clear about how to understand these standards, she can quickly surmise that she is wrong for even experiencing same-sex attractions, even if she did not make this choice (in other words, she found herself experiencing same-sex attraction as she went through puberty). She is then unable to live up to the standards of her faith community, if those standards are that no one is to even experience same-sex attractions or that the experience of such attractions is sin. If another expectation is that she experience a dramatic change in her feelings through prayer or involvement in ministry, that becomes another source of shame. If she prays and ask God to remove her attractions or otherwise enter into ministry to change her feelings and does not have as much success as she had hoped for, she may confirm in her mind (and to others) that she cannot live up to the standards, rules and goals of the Christian community. The result? Shame.

shame2So this is not a simple matter of helping people become more sensitized to things they are doing wrong so that they can make necessary changes. Shame is a different kind of emotional experience, and one that is frequently associated with depression, anger, blame, and withdrawal from others. If you know a sexual minority who has struggled with shame, you know that it is a very painful emotional state that is not easily overcome.

In the article we offer several suggestions for reducing shame, so let me go over these briefly. First, we point out that a counselor can help a sexual minority identify and name their experience of shame by helping them become aware of related feelings (e.g., inferiority, inadequacy), thoughts (e.g., “God hates me”), and behaviors (e.g., Withdrawing from others).

A second recommendation is to learn to manage or regulate emotions. A person learns more helpful ways of releasing negative feelings, like shame. Here’s how we put it in the article: “regulating shame includes (a) withholding natural maladaptive reactions, (b) using self-soothing techniques to mollify the feelings of shame, (c) willfully refocusing attention outward, then (d) deciding how to act.”

The next recommendation is to address unhelpful thoughts. For the person who contends with shame, the thoughts they hold are self-condemning: “Shame is aroused when an individual holds self-condemning beliefs and fears of condemnation from others, particularly when the individual believes that he or she is failing to attain” standards, rules, and goals held by the community. At this point I am not thinking of what the local church teaches about sexual behavior, but what I am thinking about (as I mentioned above) are standards, rules and goals that may be associated with even having same-sex feelings (which the person did not choose to experience) and not experiencing as much change in their feelings as they may be expected (by their community) to experience. I’ve frequently said we need to find realistic biblical hope, which resides somewhere in between cynical pessimism that says, “No one has or ever will experience any experience of change whatsoever!” and arrogant optimism that says, “Anyone who tries hard enough or has enough faith can expect a 180-degree change from gay to straight!” I will have to return sometime to realistic biblical hope, but I will say that in most churches I visit, arrogant optimism is more often the norm and frequently to the detriment of sexual minorities who are unable to meet its standards.

The final recommendation we offered has to do with healthy and healing relationships, and in the context of mental health services, this usually begins with the relationship a person has with his or her counselor. (BTW: there are other recommendations not mentioned in this article that are better suited for a Christian setting, and I may do a future post on those.) It is frequently through that relationship that a person who struggles with shame can explore that emotional state and associated, unhelpful thoughts, as well as learn that a relationship can be sustained over time–they are not going to be rejected as they are known by another.

What is obviously more complicated in a conservative Christian context is how to address shame when the community (including the sexual minority) adheres to a traditional sexual ethic. How do you help a person feel better about themselves when they have feelings that draw them to engage in behavior about which they themselves feel ambivalent? They want to–they experience strong impulses, and they also don’t want to–they hold values that proscribe such behaviors.

You can understand why the mainstream gay community would ask, “Why are you working so hard? Why not change what you believe? Others have!” In other words, one response is to change what is taught in the church about sexual ethics. If a person feels cognitive dissonance between what they believe and how they live, one way to resolve that dissonance is to change what the person believes. Significantly, many sexual minorities do not believe it is there prerogative to make these kinds of doctrinal changes; their beliefs and convictions are that the Church (globally and historically) has been correct around general principles that inform sexual ethics. So they are looking at another way to respond to the dissonance they may feel. (As an aside, psychology cannot adjudicate the theological questions that surround sexual ethics. Psychology can inform our understanding of emotional experiences like shame, as well as help us recognize some of the complexities in attempting to reduce shame. The theological issues have to be resolved within the church and by the church.)

It is in this context (of retaining conservative or traditional religious beliefs and values) that pastoral care and counseling around shame is especially difficult. All the more reason for those in church leadership to understand ways in which they may inadvertently contribute to shame by how they talk about the topics of homosexuality, sexual identity, and gay and lesbian issues. I will try to come back to this in another post, as I know that many pastors have asked for guidance here. But I wanted to at least let you know about this article and to make the recommendations available for those who find them helpful.

 

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Pray the Gay Away – Part 2

In Part I of our discussion of Pray the Gay Away by Bernadette Barton, I discussed her basic approach to researching the experiences of sexual minorities in the Bible belt. I shared that there is a lot of important information and experiences to appreciate here, particularly for those who identify as Christians. I did note, however, that her book was limited in important ways by her approach to data analysis that drew so heavily on Foucault and theories of power and domination. Let’s pick up our discussion.

gayawayIn reading Pray the Gay Away, I was reminded at times of Michelle Wolkomir’s ethnographic study that was published in book form as Be Not Deceived. It was a study of gay and ex-gay Christians. In that study, Wolkomir offered an analysis of how both groups of men had to make a maneuver that allowed themselves to remain Christians. She described how gay Christians who were part of the Metropolitan Community Church utilized a hermeneutic of inclusivity and love to facilitate a way to retain a Christian identity. In contrast, ex-gay Christians who were part of Exodus International affiliated ministries followed a hermeneutic of righteousness–denying themselves same-sex intimacy/behavior–in order to retain a Christian identity. According to Wolkomir, both groups utilized similar strategies, such as small groups, to create the necessary emotional atmospheres that fostered the kind of identity and community needed to make the transition.

In some regards, Wolkomir critiques both groups of men out of a comparable lens (drawing on elements of queer theory). But the steps she took to critique both ways of navigating being a sexual minority and a Christian offered important insights. Neither group was demonized, though she pointed out concerns that she had for both strategies and clearly held to a different worldview altogether.

This reader ended Pray the Gay Away wondering if Barton understands the faith and belief structure of Christians. She seems to understand, identify, and articulate ways in which abuses of sexual minorities can result from specific beliefs held by some Christians and encounters with those who identify as Christian. These stories are powerful and sobering. They need to be heard. But it is unclear the extent to which she understands the beliefs themselves and why they might matter in the life of a Christian or of a church – apart from an a priori commitment to a theory that asserts Christians sustain and protect existing power structures that allow a segment of the population to dominate and control others. I think that would be the result from a different way of conducting the research and analyzing the data, of engaging a region, of participating in the lived experiences of those who identify as Christians, even those who identify as fundamentalist Christians.

Most of you who read this blog know that I am a Christian. After all, this blog is about the integration of Christianity and psychology. I am not a fundamentalist Christian, however. I do know several fundamentalist Christians, some of whom (at least in certain beliefs and assumptions) can be seen in the folks Barton encounters in her book. Others would not recognize themselves in some of the exchanges.So there is likely more diversity and complexity in that region and among even this kind of Christian than is offered, and the reader gets the sense that Barton is aware of that.

Early on in the book, Barton recognizes there are difficulties in defining what she is targeting. There is fundamentalism. There is the Religious Right. There are evangelicals. There are conservative Christians. All of these terms are brought into the discussion from time to time. The problem with this is that by sampling certain experiences with fundamentalists but then muddying the water with all of these other designations, the reader is left with can be a bias against all forms of Christianity that are not explicitly gay affirmative in the way Barton envisions. That is, if a Christian does not view same-sex behavior as a morally good, natural expression of a person’s identity–a person whose very well-being is predicated on such expressions, one is the kind of Christian reflected in the stories of abuse documented here. Yet there are Christian who hold those beliefs and values (that is, a traditional Christian sexual ethic) who are not abusive to sexual minorities. Some may be fundamentalists; many others are not.

“…I now understand that a certain percentage of conservative Christians are unlikely to change their belief systems to accommodate homosexuality no matter what arguments or evidence is offered” (p. 226). Are we speaking, then, of fundamentalist Christians or conservative Christians? Is it the Religious Right? Evangelicals? Conservative Catholics? Well, it’s all of those at this point–but the case is made compelling because of the examples of abuse from some fundamentalists.

A more helpful engagement would have taken the time to reflect on this question: if there are those who adhere to a traditional Christian sexual ethic, why is that? Can the reasons be reduced to power/domination? Is that a true assertion? In other words, it is not an assertion that is argued for; it is assumed, and this leaves the reader with a truncated view of any form of Christianity that is, again, not committed to a gay affirmative position as held by the researcher. The encounters and experiences Barton identifies and (rightly) challenges are those that are abusive to sexual minorities. However, what is ultimately being challenged is not a narrow strip of fundamentalism but a broader expression of Christianity (historic and global) that reaches a different conclusion than Barton about sexual ethics. If we define as abuse any disagreement about complex issues that are tied to broader worldview considerations (such as sexual ethics), then we are not going to have as meaningful an exchange of ideas. That discussion does not occur in this book.

bartonBarton writes: “….some individual and institutions are unlikely to ever embrace homosexuality as part of God’s design…” (p. 227). The focus, then, is not, “What is a Christian sexual ethic and how can we better understand why that matters in the lives of Christians, including gay Christians (e.g., Wes Hill, Ron Belgau, Eve Tushnet). Nor is the focus on coexistence in a society with diverse view of a complex matter in which people may reach different conclusions (matters of ethics and morality). Rather, the impression I had was that any lack of movement toward Barton’s perspective is the result of a kind of fundamentalism associated with a literal reading of the Bible, belief in Creationism, and violence toward sexual minorities. It is one conclusion that can be reached from the kind of analysis Barton relies upon–an analysis of power and domination–but it is not the only analysis available, nor is it the only conclusion that can be drawn from an intimate knowledge of both the mainstream gay community and conservative Christianity.

This may seem like an aside, but let me also comment on one of the more memorable chapters. It was the one on creationism, which seemed out of place in the book, but I think I understand why it was included. I think it was meant to illustrate the kind of mindset that fuels the very abuses documented in the book. It was fascinating to read the visceral reaction of Barton’s students to the Creation Museum. (I have to say I’ve never visited it, so maybe I would also have a strong reaction.) This was probably the most difficult chapter for me to fully appreciate, and I cannot quite put my finger on the issue. It seemed that the very exposure of the students to this way of thinking (fundamentalist Christianity) was a significant threat to their well-being. (I have witnessed this with other sexual minorities who were not from the Bible belt and were actually in significant positions of influence.) I don’t think there is any one explanation for this; I suspect there could be many contributing factors. The obvious one presented in the book is the power/domination of the form of Christianity on display. I think that is definitely part of the explanation. If a person believes they are condemned in the eyes of those around them, exposure to institutions that represent that power will draw a strong, negative response.

I also wondered if the response is in any way primed when students are taught out of a worldview that frames these exchanges in power and domination rather than other explanatory frameworks. (Yes, I recognize that from the power/domination framework, I will be viewed as simply defending and justifying the power structures under scrutiny, but then there is no possible critique–the power simply shifts to those who keep others silent.) I don’t know, but if there is any possibility of moving forward as a culture, there might be something here worth exploring further. Can we be cued to interpret data as a threat in ways that actually gives that person/institution more power to do greater emotional damage to sexual minorities? Take this as me thinking out loud here. Again, I’m struggling to understand. What I do know is that we are left an important need that has not yet been met: how to talk with one another about these differences, as well as how we create better atmospheres for substantive diversity. I recall one author sharing that substantive diversity will have elements in it that are really difficult for us, sometimes so much so that we experience it as offensive. The way forward, it seems to me, is not to excuse, minimize, or defend abusive actions toward those who are in the minority; nor is it to reduce the diversity by demanding consensus on matters reflecting formed judgments about complex issues such as morality and ethics.

I will close with this: I am frequently exposed to people  who believe that by virtue of being a Christian, I am a bigot. I have seen Christians equated with Nazis (this happens in Barton’s book). I have seen Christians equated with the KKK (also in this book). These are not ways to move society toward greater mutual understanding and respect. Christians would do well to study if there are changes that can be made so as not to contribute to that emotional experience. But critics of Christianity would do well to understand a sexual ethic out of that religion (and many other world religions) rather than reduce it to caricature. We need to find ways to foster the kinds of relationships that can sustain extended discussions of genuine differences in a diverse society. I doubt that drawing on theories of oppression to “unpack the mechanisms of domination” will aid in that process, if that is the only step taken, and if all of our recommendations are derived from that without any consideration for other perspectives. I suspect such a maneuver will do the opposite, that is, it will contribute to the culture wars in ways that have real consequences, such as when religious liberties are curtailed in the name of the tolerance that is being asserted.

That is another topic altogether. It is one worthy of its own post or two. For now, let me bring this to a close by saying I genuinely appreciated reading Barton’s book. It is thought-provoking to say the least. As in any similar endeavor, it is important to identify what can be learned from these kinds of analyses. To reject these experiences out of hand would be a mistake for the church. At the same time, there is much that needs to be done to foster mutual respect and understanding, and everyone is going to need to contribute toward that end if we hope to move forward on these complex matters.

 

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Christian Counseling Ethics, 2nd Ed.

The book, Christian Counseling Ethics, has just been published in its second edition. This is a book edited by Randolph Sanders, former executive director of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS). The opening chapters (by folks like Alan Tjeltveit, Richard Butman, and Horace Lukens) orient the reader to a Christian worldview and engagement with counseling and mental health. This is a greater challenge than it sounds like, as the book is for a broad audience and so takes up psychology, counseling, marriage and family therapy, pastoral care, and lay counseling.

ChristiancounselingethicsThe book then turns to specific populations and issues, such as couples therapy, children, those with chronic conditions, navigating multiple relationships, and working with sexual minorities. I worked with Stan Jones and Jill Kays on the chapter on sexual minorities. Other contributors here included Jennifer Ripley, Ev Worthington, Steve Sandage, Jeff Berryhill, Angela Sabates, James Jennison, and Randy Sanders.

Other chapters address some unique considerations for Christians, lay counselors, and ministry settings. These include chapters on the abuse of power (John Shackelford & Randy Sanders), business ethics (Randy Sanders), pastors and lay counseling (Bill Blackburn, Siang-Yang Tan), the military (Brad Johnson), and member care (Kelly O’Donnell).

Most of the chapters are revised, expanded versions from topics addressed in the first edition. Some are new chapters. However, given the changes in the field, even those chapters that are revised or expanded are often substantive updates. I know that material on working with sexual minorities has grown significantly since the first edition came out in 1997.

Sanders also did a nice job asking everyone to be practical. The most obvious signs of this are the appendices. Various ethical codes are reproduced in the appendix, as are sample forms for release of information, demographics, and so on. But even in the various chapters, authors made a concerted effort to make the resource more practical. In our chapter on working with sexual minorities, we added a lot of suggested language that could be used when obtaining informed consent, for instance.

This book is meaningful to me personally. The chapter I coauthored for the first edition was my first publication. When I contributed to that edition, I was a grad student working for Stan Jones at Wheaton College. It was nice to be able to return to that chapter and to update it for Christians in training today.

Having taught a course in Ethical, Legal and Professional Issues in Psychology for more than a decade, I can say that I have not found another comparable book that delves into the professional ethical issues that arise for Christians and that is written from a Christian worldview. Given that 16 years had passed since the publication of the first edition, it was definitely time for a second edition, and I think the reader will not be disappointed.

 

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Pray the Gay Away – Part I

gayawayThere is a new book out titled, Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays, by Bernadette Barton. Barton is Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Morehead State University. The book is the result of a six year ethnographic study of 59 sexual minorities in the Bible belt. This alone had me quite interested in what she would learn about their experiences with conservative Christianity, as I think there is much the church could do differently in this area. At the same time, Barton  acknowledges that she may have oversampled activists in conducting her research, which may be a concern. I think studies of more mainstream (is that the right word?) sexual minorities might have “thickened the plot” a little more.

“…most of the people I interviewed attended conservative Christian churches–i.e., Baptist, Pentecostal, and Church of Christ–and grew up in families in which homosexuality was frequently denounced. Consequently, participants’ identity struggles more often took place under the shadow of a preacher’s voice thundering floridly about ‘homosexuals’ and parents proclaiming that ‘any child of mind that is gay is dead to me’ at the dinner table than in an LGBT center.”

In the Introduction Barton opens the book by recounting an exchange with a neighbor who introduced her to some of the regional flavor by referring to homosexuality as an “abomination” in the eyes of God. This after just learning that Barton was in a lesbian relationship. This sets the context for the lived experiences of those she interviewed.

Some of the most fascinating observations of the region come early on in the book and rely heavily on Foucault and what are “theories of domination and oppression” (p. 20). For example, Barton’s introduces and develops the image of the Bible Belt panopticon, which refers to the late 18th c. design of an institution in which a central office would allow for the constant observation of inmates in the surrounding (circular) structure.

panopticon“…The Bible Belt panopticon, an important element of Bible Belt Christianity, manifests through tight social networks of family, neighbors, church, and community members, and a plethora of Christian signs and symbols sprinkled throughout the region.” (p. 24)

Barton argues that the panopticon is supported by personalism, the willingness to appear to concur with others, to give the impression one agrees even when one does not. In Barton’s view of the Bible Belt, even if a person disagreed with a more conservative sexual ethic, such disagreement is likely to go unspoken, further giving the impression of regional consensus.

It is an interesting take on the experience of sexual minorities in the Bible belt, and one I think is important for people to understand. I disagree with the lens through which Barton conducts her analysis, but I do appreciate how upfront she is about it. I have a fair amount of exposure to scholars who use essentially the same lens but want me and others to believe that they are offering an objective, dispassionate analysis of a topic.

There are painful stories recounted throughout the book. Some of the most painful were experiences with family and with the local church. So while some readers may disagree with many aspects of the book, I think it is important to identify what can be understood from the data, what might help shape how Christians respond to the experiences of sexual minorities.

In discussing some of the consequences of sharing her gay identity with her mother, one woman shared: “I am cut off. I am disowned. My family wants nothing to do with me. I’m dead to them” (p. 54). Another mother broke dishes, “locked herself in the bathroom, and left [her son] to sweep up the racked plates and explain” to their Thanksgiving guests that dinner was off (p. 57). Still another parent reportedly shouted, “had you walked in here and told us you’d murdered someone we would have handled that better than we can do with this!” This is so beyond the experience of most readers, and it offers an important look into the lives of some sexual minorities.

In the church context the stories were also painful. One woman recalled: “The preacher would preach on homosexuality. He would always group us in with the so-called perverts, like child molesters and just awful people” (p. 66).

Can you imagine how it would be for a young teen – say 13 or 14 – who finds himself experiencing same-sex attraction to hear someone in leadership talk about what this teen has questions about in a way that associates it with these other concerns? I doubt most of us can imagine that. So it is important to glean lessons from these stories that will help Christians respond in better ways when they learn that their teen or young adult is either questioning their sexual identity or is disclosing or announcing a sexual identity. Christians could certainly respond in more constructive and compassionate ways.

The challenges that arise in reading books like this have to do with what to do with this information. Solutions offered are often simplistic: have parents affirm their loved one. In some ways, this is absolutely right. Affirm and love without conditions. Speak life into young people. Pour into them.

At the same time, what are parents to do with their conventionally religious beliefs and values about sexual morality? The more simple suggestions often fail to appreciate the importance of those beliefs and how they hang together with worldview considerations. If recommendations are not offered with those worldview and value considerations in view, constructive solutions will often be dismissed out of hand. Nothing changes.

I experienced this awhile ago when I was consulting with a group on how to help religious corrections officers work with sexual minorities in corrections facilities. Many people felt strongly that they should have corrections officers change their religious beliefs/values about moral issues. This is one strategy. However, I think that what happens when those beliefs/values are directly challenged is that people reject out of hand any recommendations from the source that challenged their values. Another option is to demonstrate cognitive complexity and perspective-taking, to understand the experiences of conventionally religious people, why they believe as they do, to value what you can in it, and to draw forward elements of those beliefs that will improve the atmosphere for sexual minorities in corrections. So, for example, things like valuing the worth of all people is inherent in Christian theology (the idea that people bear the image of God). Draw this forward in a way that helps a staff member respond to issues in a better, more professional manner. In any case, there is a lot I could say about that, but you get the idea.

I think it could be helpful to find language for parents who want to demonstrate love and support but who do not believe they can or should change their values as they pertain to sexual morality. In other words, are there resources that meet conventionally religious parents where they are and help them parent better in those moments (rather than materials that are more readily dismissed because the recommendations seem incompatible with their worldview)?

That question may go unanswered for now. Back to the book: there were a couple of missed opportunities in Barton’s approach to the topic, and this may be due to her overall commitment to Foucault et al. For example, early in the book she shares that she attended a large church that holds to a traditional Christian sexual ethic. In an exchange with someone there, she asks if sexual minorities would be welcomed. She is told that the would be, and the church member references another woman who had attended a small group and announced herself to be a lesbian. That same woman apparently had some kind of experience in which “Jesus worked on her heart” (the language of the church member). I thought Barton would have tracked that woman (the self-identified lesbian) down and asked to hear more about her story, where she was today, and so on. Perhaps she did and it’s just not in the book, but I thought that would have been irresistible to a researcher.

In that sense there is not the kind of balance that I was expecting to see in a research study. It is true that Barton recounts her time visiting a faith-based, ex-gay ministry conference in the Chicago suburbs, but that was less about the Bible belt and more about the ex-gay movement, which she then discusses as a part of the fabric of the region. I thought it would have been helpful to reflect more on the theological position that informs the decision by those who attend such ministries–for example, what is a traditional Christian sexual ethic? Why is does that sexual ethic matter in the lives of people who identify themselves as followers of Christ? Why is that sense of morality subscribed to by many Christians across the globe and throughout history? I think that was where I was hoping for more cognitive complexity and perspective-taking.

There is a lot more than can be said. Let’s bring this to a close by calling it Part I. I will continue a discussion of Pray Away the Gay in another post.

 

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