Bethel Church’s Concerning Support for LGBTQ Conversion Therapy
In case you missed it, Bethel Church in Redding, California (the church that is behind the popular worship music group, Bethel Music) has been promoting a group called CHANGED, who describes themselves as “a community of friends who once identified as LGBTQ+.”
To give you a brief understanding of what the mission of this group is and why they started, we can look at a video posted by two of their founders, Elizabeth Woning and and Ken Williams this past November. In this video, Woning said they found themselves in a legislative debate about “counseling choices” for LGBTQ people. Together, they lobbied in Washington to protect conversion therapy as a viable counseling option for those who no longer wished to be LGBTQ.
Woning and Williams lobbied in Washington despite the fact that Alan Chambers, founder Exodus International denounced the work of conversion therapy, admitting that conversion therapy was rooted in fear and false expectancy. Woning and Williams lobbied despite the fact there has never been a credible scientific report stating that sexual orientation change is even possible, yet there are countless stories from survivors of conversion therapy to let us all know just how harmful it is (just read this story about a friend of mine.)
With all of this available information, Woning, Williams, CHANGED, and Bethel Church are still advocating for ex-gay “counseling choices.”
The Power of a Narrative
The only thing that these activists have to justify themselves are shoddy theology and personal narratives. To be fair, personal narrative has always been the most powerful method of communication. Facts are not important to proponents of conversion therapy because they have compelling personal narratives. Their theological understanding of sexuality does not have to be central to their arguments because their personal and individualized experience carries more rhetorical weight than simple statistics.
Likely knowing this, Woning and Williams put together a book that started their organization, CHANGED. The stories in this book share common ex-gay narratives that suggest that people became gay after being abused and/or falling into sex addiction, or that being LGBTQ is the reason that they found themselves in lives of debauchery, finding freedom in repentance from the “LGBTQ lifestyle.”
These stories are highly effective in swaying beliefs and opinions, especially if the people receiving the stories have not completely thought through the topic being discussed. When it comes to conversion therapy, Woning and Williams’ collection of narratives are highly convincing for conservative Christian parents who want to love their children but have never had to wrestle through the intersection of faith and sexuality for themselves. And if the only LGBTQ narratives they have heard are stories of promiscuity, conversion therapy may seem like a rational alternative for lustful living.
While I can never “disagree” with anyone’s story, I have a few (hopefully obvious) contentions with these narratives, in particular, the implications they present us with. I can never argue someone’s story, but I can certainly argue the conclusions made by the stories being shared with these points:
- Sex addiction does not come from homosexuality. It is often developed through much more complicated situations that may include layers of trauma, a natural lack of control, and/or a desire to cope and control the settings around oneself.
- Abuse does not make someone LGBTQ, and if that were the case, I suspect much more than 4.5% of Americans would be LGBTQ, seeing as the number of people who are abused in any way is much higher. Even implying that sexual, physical, emotional, or any other kind of abuse makes someone queer implies that abuse leaves people as “damaged goods” and that LGBTQ people are those “damaged goods.”
- If LGBTQ people were the only ones engaging in debauchery, college fraternities and night clubs would not have the reputation they currently have today.
Of course, the unfortunate truth about my contentions is that as I have mentioned, facts are not nearly as important to anyone as feelings, regardless of how objectively they may present their arguments. The points I have mentioned are completely valid and could make up their own individual blog posts, however, these facts can easily be ignored if someone has a vested interest in conversion therapy.
This is why a group like CHANGED is so dangerous. They pass along misinformation as truth (a truth that they actually believe), swaying those who have limited exposure to LGBTQ people and mental health education, and unfortunately this misinformation causes considerable damage to LGBTQ people.
All Sexuality is Fallen
Those who advocate for “counseling choices” like conversion therapy speak about the so-called conversions as a spiritual experience in which God strips away the unholy, re-birthing LGBTQ people as redeemed and ultimately heterosexual. The implication here is that sexual redemption looks like heterosexuality and heterosexual marriage, creating the incorrect perception that all sexual orientations outside of heterosexuality are the result of a physical, mental, and spiritual disorder that must be treated and corrected. According to those perpetuating these ideas, homosexuality is inherently broken and heterosexuality is inherently holy. This is completely false.
Firstly, conversion therapy is not a valid “counseling choice” and is outright opposed by the American Psychiatric Association, reiterating that homosexuality is not a mental disorder that needs to be treated. Conversion therapy is rooted in shallow theology and deep cultural homophobia, perpetuated by those with religious and ministerial power and influence within conservative Christianity.
Additionally, the fullness of human sexuality today is not completely holy because we are living in a post-fall reality where our humanity, though beautiful and blessed, has been broken. If we describe homosexuality as a fallen orientation, we must also understand heterosexuality as we know it today to be a fallen orientation. After all, queer people are not the only ones who can live lives of debauchery and overall sexual brokenness. It does not make sense to trade one fallen orientation for another.
My detractors might assert that heterosexuality existed before the fall and therefore it is the only holy orientation, however, heterosexuality as we know it today is not the standard set by God in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve shared perfect love and community with one another and with God. We do not share that same kind of love and community today by default. We must strive towards holiness through our love God, self, creation, and others- it’s not something people simply have as a result of having the “correct” sexual orientation or gender identity.
Heterosexuality does not bring us any closer to God than homosexuality does. Each has the power to help us orient our love to God and others and the power to push us farther away.
If your first response to this is to say “well acting on homosexuality is sinful so homosexuality is wrong,” then I would challenge you by asking this: what does it look like to act on heterosexuality?
From my perspective, acting on heterosexuality often looks like rape culture, codependency, and the grossly materialistic nuclear family model that dominates American culture. If you believe that straight people can still live faithful Christian lives despite the damage heterosexuality has brought into the world, surely you can understand the concept of people living openly queer lives while also remaining faithful to Scripture.
Ministry Needs to Change
My fear is that Bethel’s support of CHANGED will signal to misinformed believers that conversion therapy actually carries some weight and credibility.
Please hear me: Bethel’s backing of CHANGED does not give credibility to conversion therapy, rather, their support of this practice actually damages the credibility of Bethel, if not making it completely obsolete.
There is never a valid reason to try and change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
We must continue to challenge our pastors, our churches, and potentially our friends and family on the usage of conversion therapy. Groups like CHANGED and their supporters like Bethel Church misinform the public about both mental health and theology, attempting to normalize the idea that people need to be “healed” from being LGBTQ. If someone is struggling with sexual sin or with their mental health, the answer is not to try and change their sexual orientation or gender identity. These things are as much a part of us as the hand we feel most comfortable writing with.
When queer youth are 5 times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth, and when 40% of transgender people attempt suicide, those in ministry need to be especially careful of which options they present to LGBTQ people. LGBTQ people do not die by suicide because they are naturally inclined to do so. We simply live in a world that makes it difficult for LGBTQ people to survive. CHANGED and their supporters, Bethel Church are doing nothing to make it easier for queer people to live.
Choose life for the LGBTQ people around you and choose not to support organizations that will not make that choice. True change begins on the individual level and must inspire a systemic difference.
Please join me in prayer for the Church, for LGBTQ youth, and challenge false ideas rooted in homophobia because they present very real dangers for real people.
UPDATE: I found some information regarding Bethel’s history of support for conversion therapy.
A published audio series, 6 Keys to Freedom From Homosexuality
All to say, the signs were all there. Let’s take this moment to learn and grow.