Why We Don’t Review Ex-Gay Books

For the past few months, we have been reviewing various resources that touch on LGBT Christian topics. So far, we have discussed:

We do our best to review a wide range of resources from diverse viewpoints. We’re always open to receiving suggestions. Occasionally, people pass us a book, we read the work, and we conclude that there’s no way we’d review the book for our readers because these books exclusively promulgate ex-gay narratives. Some readers have written to us and asked why we don’t review certain books of this type, and we think this is a good question. Our celibacy has led to many inquiries about why we use LGBTQ terminology when describing ourselves, and whether we benefit from resources that suggest such terminology only applies to sexually active people. We’ll save the “Why identify as gay?” topic for another post, but in lieu of a book review for the month of September, today we’ll address the reasoning behind our choices for resource reviews.

It can be tricky to draw lines as to when a book is loaded with ex-gay rhetoric. We saw some object to The Third Way film because people associated with the film’s production and distribution have advanced ex-gay messages in other venues. When we watched the documentary, we concluded that as a whole, it did not emphasize orientation change and encouraging formerly gay people to enter into heterosexual marriage. Nonetheless, we did conclude that aspects of the documentary would be instantly recognizable by and disturbing to former clients of ex-gay ministries because the film pulled so readily on various theories of what causes homosexuality, and some interviewees claimed that they were no longer gay.

Ex-gay narratives frequently contain many, if not all, of the following elements: theorizing various causes of homosexuality, using questionable statistics and studies employing faulty methodologies to argue for orientation change, emphasizing promiscuity and other risky behaviors as constituent parts of “the gay lifestyle,” heavily referencing 7 passages of Scripture that speak to same-sex sexual activity, asserting that God created all people with the capacity for heterosexual relationships, and suggesting that it’s possible for someone to go from gay to straight. Older books of this type sometimes promote opposite-sex marriage as a goal for gay people after “orientation change.” Newer varieties of literature that we would classify as part of the ex-gay genre writ large promote celibacy as a goal while conflating sexual orientation with sexual behavior. Mixing these elements together can create incredibly toxic messages that do considerable harm. We’ve shared more about our own experiences with Christian ministries that promote ex-gay ideologies.

We don’t review ex-gay books because we’re not interested in giving these authors more press. The arguments within these resources have been weighed, measured, and found wanting. It’s becoming obvious to more and more Christians today that orientation change efforts are almost always futile and damaging. In spaces where people still do see orientation change as a goal, the focus tends to be on behavior modification rather than eventual marriage. Because of this, it’s rare that we receive suggestions to review resources of the older 1970-2000 variety. However, we do get a lot of requests to review books of what we see as the new kind of ex-gay material. Sometimes, both readers and straight Christians who know us in person will pass along a recommendation for a resource that offers a “compassionate approach to gay people in the Church.” We’ll read/watch it and discover that the only difference between it and older ex-gay materials is a chapter about celibacy tacked onto the end. All the same messages, minus “you must prepare for an opposite-sex marriage,” are there, and the author discusses celibacy as the end result of “leaving homosexuality” for Christ. Such resources are filled with logical fallacies and other kinds of false information (e.g. “There’s no definitive evidence that sexual orientation is present from birth, so we can conclude that gayness isn’t part of God’s creation”), and they also do poorly at discussing celibacy as a way of life.

We hope to continue reviewing items from a variety of viewpoints, but one of our standards for discussing a resource here is that it clearly makes an honest attempt at grappling with the tough issues without defaulting to stereotypes about LGBTQ people. We’re not interested in reviewing the work of an author who sees celibacy as good but refuses to acknowledge that LGBTQ identity is not just about sexual activity, and limits the discussion of celibacy to “gay sex is a sin.” There are many books that argue for a traditional sexual ethic but do not rely on ex-gay messages, and we hope to review some of these in the future.

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