Original conversation stemming from my Huffington Post piece.
Dear Dr. Brown,
As a high school student I was a strong advocate for sexual purity, making a big deal out of the covenant ring I sported. I was zealous in my fight to protect sacred convictions from any form of secular contamination.
And so it is important for me to answer your first question. You ask, “…how can we ‘build relational and religious paradigms free of hate’ when you are branding our sacred convictions as hateful?”
I believe that all convictions, even those of the conservative church, are not hateful, in and of themselves. They are always essentially pure. Like the innocence of that covenant ring-sporting teenager, we just want to do the right thing.
So although I don’t label conservatives’ sacred convictions hateful, I do distinguish sacred convictions from the behaviors with which one chooses to defend those convictions.
The fear of many conservative Christian parents, with whom I work, is that unconditional love will create a crack in the container that keeps their convictions stable. Sorrowfully, unconditional love has become synonymous with moral compromise.
And this seems to connect us to question two: “…if we cannot have real fellowship with professing Christians whom we believe are practicing sin… how can we have true fellowship with you if we believe you are living in sin?”
I have spent years working with families comprised of conservative Christian parents and LGBT+ children. These families are often trapped in a cycle of relational ambivalence perpetuated by: 1) a deep desires to experience connectedness and 2) the anger created when their loved one cannot agree with their moral perspective.
Many parents choose to cut all ties with their children. The “moral compromise” of the children is too great. They indirectly answer the question, “Is there anything your child could do to make you stop loving them?” Their answer is an angry and prideful, “Yes!”
There are also conservative parents who demonstrate unconditional love- a love that supersedes their children’s actions and dogmatic statements. These parents feel comfortable in tension because they’re familiar with the process of spiritual development at work in their children’s lives.
Such parents are able to compassionately accompany their children’s journeys without feeling threatened by their relational or sexual decisions.
God does this for all of us daily. In fact, I believe unconditional love is one of the effects of spiritual maturation, not spiritual degradation. Unconditional love is the fundamental orthopraxy of Christianity, not its end.
In this way, I hope that all Christians- including you and I- will recreate unconditional love, regardless of one another’s actions or dogmas. Creating this side-by-side fellowship, or emotional intimacy, is the way we will build relational and religious paradigms free of hate.
I believe unconditional love is capable of allowing a vast diversity of opinions to coexist within its power.
I’ll tie this answer to my response to question three: “…since you identify as bisexual, what stops you from affirming your heterosexual attraction as God-given and your homosexual attraction as fleshly, whatever its cause or root?”
I do not deny my attractions for men because I do not consider them sinful, but a blessing equal to my attractions for women. My attractions are part of my flesh, but this is no different than the innocent attractions of the straight woman or man. I’ll explain.
As a psychotherapist trained at conservative seminary by conservative psychologists, proving conversion therapy’s successfulness was my life’s mission. As a result, I spent many hours studying biblical passages, reviewing psychological research, and listening to my sincere Christian clients’ experiences of human sexuality- behaviorally, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.
I have come to believe, at many instances unwillingly, that my attractions for men are an expanded way of observing God’s love expressed through humanity- another pure form of general revelation.
So, being made to love the same gender and being loved precisely because I’m attracted to the same gender are God’s expressions of unconditional love- those expressions covering the spectrum from creative design (sexual orientation) to human orthopraxy (falling in love, even same-gender romantic love).
And so we arrive at your fourth question: “…what do you say to those who are ex-gay? Do you embrace their stories and thank God for their transformation, or do you deny their stories and even call them liars or self-deceived?”
Several of my clients who initially presented for unwanted same-gender attractions have fallen in love with someone of the opposite sex. They have expressed their love through sexual intimacy, and reported that sex has been extremely gratifying. And I genuinely rejoice with them.
I would never call people who fall in love ‘liars’ or ‘self-deceived.’ In fact, I embrace their stories because the experience of love, true love, is equally pure among all- even those who have attractions for the opposite sex, same gender, and those who have experienced an augmentation in their emotional cravings.
What I mean here is that when many conservatives see a shift in the gender one dates, with whom one has sex, or with whom one falls in love, they easily call it a conversion or confuse external changes as a transformation of sexual orientation or a deliverance from homosexuality.
But what we’re actually seeing is their full, and until then latent, array of emotional desires creating changes in their external, relational world.
So while examining the fluidity of human sexuality, I think it unwise to call their new demonstrations of love a transformation. Language like this mischaracterizes one's emotional cravings, limits our understanding of sexual orientation, and may prohibit one’s ability to experience ‘God is love’ in its most authentic form.
To many, my responses will sound like the contamination to which I have previously fought against. And to many others they will peacefully reinforce self-understandings.
As I mentioned in my initial letter, I am not hoping that conservative Christians see it my way. I am not positioning my side of a debate.
I am, however, hoping that by empathizing with my perspectives conservative Christians will replace hatred- as a way to defend sacred convictions- with unconditional love. Doing so will literally save lives. Let us not forget that 49 have been buried because a learned hatred evolved into violence.
Thank you for your questions. I look forward to more discourse.