Today’s increase in sexual ‘freedoms’ and looseness is taking on a force of its own that even the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s never imagined. With this and the rise of the Internet, there has been a commensurate increase in the number of online ‘ministries’ that offer people help with issues like unwanted same-sex attraction (SSA). On social media, there are closed and open groups offering ‘fraternity’ with others who have SSA and others with testimonies who claim to have left that scene and wish to offer ‘hope’ to others also struggling with the same. I must be honest here in confessing that I was once a member of many such groups. I did benefit from them to a very limited extent, but since being a leader of an SSA ministry once upon a time, having read every book under God’s sun about the subject, having attended national and international conferences on SSA, having been a speaker at such conferences, having once publicly shared my testimony, and then walked away from doing all of the above, I have looked back on these online tools and want to share my concerns about them. While no doubt many of them are well-intentioned I am concerned about the role that they are playing and what are some more effective methods of helping people with SSA.
Who Are These People?
When I joined many of these groups, one thing is not always clear: what are the theological backgrounds of the people running them. Are they Catholic? Are they Protestant? Or some odd mingling of both? How firmly do they hold to the authority and the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture? Are they charismatic and have faulty views of healing? What are the theological traditions that such people hold to, and how does that build or undermine their methods and messages? A person’s theological framework will affect their methods, for good or ill.
Another question popped up: what is the personal maturity of the people involved in creating and moderating such groups? Have they gone through their own journey with healing and deliverance out of same-sex attraction? Have they sufficient counselling or pastoral qualifications to do such things? Do they even believe in those things, practice them, and recommend solid Christian resources to achieve those outcomes? I remember joining one online ‘ministry’ to help people with same-sex attraction where a mentor ran off into the gay scene, and it turned out no one had vetted him properly. The young man that he was mentoring eventually did the same. (No consequences were metered out for that and the whole thing was hushed up.)
Are They Qualified?
Many online groups have little or no screens or filters to ensure that those with SSA are really properly being ‘pastored’ to properly, and that the ministry leaders have healthy boundaries with the people they’re ‘helping’. This brings into play all manner of complex ethical and legal questions, which don’t ever get addressed. Many times you don’t even know who is on the other end of the computer (you don’t even get a name), and yet you end up divulging personal information with that stranger who may be predatory in nature. You don’t know who he/she is sharing that information with, who knows who, and how it may even be used to damage or embarrass you. If this stuff you’re sharing is so sensitive and precious, why expose it to so many unknowns? One ministry even recommended weekends away with others of the same sex with SSA, where they were reputed to have naked ‘bonding’ sessions – but attendees were sworn to secrecy like the Freemasons. That itself is enough for concern.
You need to carefully look at what help you’re getting. Get names of people and organisations. Read what books they’ve published and shop around before you settle on talking to someone. People like Joe Dallas are solid and they are open and it’s obvious what they do. Pray to God for discernment, as per James chapter 1 and don’t share with someone unless you’re absolutely certain that they’re trustworthy. Otherwise such people may be preying on your vulnerabilities and be wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Even in your desperation, be careful
Because many people with SSA are so desperate to get any help they can (like someone desperate to overcome terminal cancer), such individuals easily fall prey to quacks who may not know what they’re doing. They rush to join a Facebook group with others who have SSA and share far too much than they should because they all have SSA in common. Worse, they make risky decisions about divulging sensitive information about their past without the input of more mature, wise minds. This is stuff that they should have told a safe soul, not plastered all over the Internet. One person I know decided to make public the sexual abuse that he had suffered as a child on Facebook; he did this hoping to ‘encourage’ others with the same history. While the intention was good, he hadn’t received any input from wiser minds, who would have told him to think twice. What shocked me is how many people congratulated him for his ‘incredible act of courage and bravery’ when the whole thing was truly reckless and put him in great danger of being targeted by the Evil One.
Online groups are not therapy
Such groups can be unhealthy because they are not therapy, and therapy is usually what SSA people need – and not only for SSA but for all the other issues in their life. In lieu of therapy, the online group offers an alternative: mutual sharing. “Feeling triggered? Come and share so we can encourage you”, they say. But mutual sharing is not the answer; some sharing is downright unhelpful, because it can trigger weaker minds to go to dark places. “All things are permissible but not all things are beneficial”, said the apostle Paul. Those sharing can also be triggered, and before you know it everyone’s triggering one another. The problem here is that others in the group are not therapists and far too often the conversations in those groups become nasty, with backbiting, judgementalism, and meltdowns. The moderators of these groups cannot censure and stop every conversation, and even if they do, it often comes too late after much damage has been caused. Isn’t that the last thing that people with SSA need? Why be around people who are going to trigger you and re-abuse you in the same way as those in your family of origin (which is actually what took you to SSA in the first place)?
Too much of the victim mindset
And while many in the groups share their “struggles” what actually happens is that others encourage them to be stuck in a victim-mindset. One group that I visited had a man complaining that someone at church had spoken to him rudely, and that as a consequence he was going to knock himself out in a non-stop pornography binge. After gaining a sympathetic hearing and some general advice about ‘taking it to the Lord’ and just reading more Bible, he was still blaming the man at church. He was told to get that ‘horrible creature’ to ask forgiveness and then everything would be fine. No one ever encouraged him to go deeper and find out in his past what triggered him in the present. No one gently challenged him to take responsibility for his own actions and temptations and to work through it. He was given more license to self-pity and blame others for his predicament. I used to do that sort of thing myself a long time ago and all it does is keep people stuck in immaturity and holds them back from taking responsibility for their own choices. And that is why healing eludes so many people with SSA.
Question all the ‘testimonies’
There are also an increasing number of people sharing their testimonies of having ‘left’ homosexuality. Some of the people doing this, sadly, demonstrate a shallow understanding of Scripture and little history of having walked with the Lord solidly and into greater maturity since doing so. Most have not even begun a journey of healing and deliverance (judging by what they’ve said about themselves); still others have embraced various forms of Once-Saved-Always-Saved doctrines that deny the need for obedience after salvation. Many espouse teachings that are sympathetic to gay marriage and undermine the Word of God about marriage being only between a man and a woman. Some have only left the gay scene only a few months ago but have been dangerously encouraged to share their stories far too prematurely, and seem to just love the attention that they’re getting from having “stepped out in faith”. Just because Revelation 12 says that God’s saints will be saved by their testimony doesn’t mean that every testimony honours Christ and therefore should be shared. Some are best kept hidden, or revealed at a time when the person has matured in his/her faith. Remember that not all who are seeking are lost, and not all who have been ‘found’ are saved, even if their words say something else to the contrary. What damage this will do to the Gospel will be revealed in time to come, but its occurrence is a major cause for concern.
Only SSA? Nothing else?
The other issue with the online groups is that by focussing so much on SSA, they neglect other issues in a person’s life, like anger, pride, wounds from the past, etc. Trying to fix SSA in isolation is like trying to take way someone’s tickling cough when their body is rapidly deteriorating from pneumonia. SSA is not the total sum of a person’s life, or their sin. They need all their life examined, and what they don’t need is a Facebook group with unknown total strangers to air their dirty laundry with, but an intimate walk with God the Father and safe brothers and sisters in the Lord to do it with. They need a good Christian therapist, with whom they can dig around in their past and find healing for it. They need deliverance ministries and prayer ministries, which can help such people to close the doors and landing strips that have been opened up to Satan. They need to be shown how to look after themselves and take responsibility for their own walk, instead of passively blaming others when the going gets tough.
Understandably, none of this would happen if churches were already looking after individuals with unwanted same-sex attraction (or any other issue for that matter). Because pastors freak out at ‘unwanted’ people with unwanted problems, the same-sex attracted feel like they belong nowhere; the church won’t help them, and the world is telling them to go live in sin. So where do they go? The local church must get its act together, but the answer for SSA people is not online forums but patience and dependence on God’s Spirit to lead them to the right people.