Erica Tan and I spoke today at the Regent University PsyD Colloquia Series. We discussed the clinical applications of the longitudinal study of attempted change in sexual orientation through religious ministries. I was struck by several things:
- There are people on both “sides” of these discussions who genuinely care about the people who are sorting out sexual and religious identity conflicts;
- When research is conducted on people’s experience in various religious ministries, it can feel threatening to some members of the gay community, who want to make sure that the people they care about are protected;
- It is good to hear directly from those people;
- It is encouraging when one person does not dismiss another person but instead listens and then shares their own experiences.
Several audience members came up afterward to express their gratitude for the way in which the material was conveyed. Many people thought it was going to be a combative meeting, with people glaring at one another from both sides. One person said he thought from what he had heard that I had three heads and was some kind of monster. One person shared that if he had met more people like some of the students in the audience, he might still be a Christian. Many people just had tears in their eyes.
What happened? A lot of different things happened. But we acknowledged the different stakeholders in these kinds of discussions, and we reviewed the data, recognizing the limitations and various interpretations. We also shared some information on the approach we take to working with sexual minorities who are navigating their sexual identity in light of their religious identity. This included sharing some of the real-life challenges past clients have shared with us. There was at least 30 minutes for questions and answers, and that gave many audience members the chance to ask questions, share their experiences, and clarify potential misunderstandings.
There is much to be gained from listening to one another and being respectful to one another. This doesn’t mean we will agree on everything, but it does keep us from talking past one another or from pushing an agenda that overlooks the people (from various communities) who have a stake in the discussion. I hope that this is the beginning of an ongoing discussion.