About Change Ministries
by Inge Anderson
"Change Ministry" is term generally applied to Christian ministries directed towards helping Christian homosexuals deal with their orientation in harmony with a conservative interpretation of biblical texts which limit sexual activity to the covenantal bond of marriage. While they don't usually call themselves "change ministries," they do often promise to help persons "come out of homosexuality." And to most gays and lesbians and their families that implies a change in sexual orientation, and herein lie some major problems.
One problem is a matter of definitions. Ministries that promise such change clearly define homosexuality as a set of behaviors -- including habits of thinking. And there is no doubt that behavior, including thinking patterns, can be changed. The problem occurs when those who read of such change define homosexuality differently -- as an intrinsic part of a person's make-up that controls unpremeditated thoughts and desires, as well as behaviors. From that comes the expectation that a cure from homosexuality means a "cure" from such desires -- that all homosexual desires will just dissipate. This is a false expectation.
Those of us connected with the GLOW ministry have never met anyone that experienced that kind of change, also often defined as a change in sexual "orientation." I personally questioned some who had clearly changed, asking, "If you were to have a sexual fall, would it be with a member of the same gender or the opposite gender?" All who answered had to admit that it would be with the same gender -- even those who professed to have become completely "heterosexual." If you are reading this and dispute my claim, please write to me and give me your reasons. (You can use the link at the left, being sure to give the title of this page or the URL, so I'll get to see it.)
One person who did not answer my question was most clear in his assertion that he had undergone a complete change. He billed himself as "ex-gay" and was involved in a ministry like those I'm describing. But the prominent place he filled in several organizations has been filled by others. It does make me wonder, and it makes me think that it is better to acknowledge one's orientation to homosexuality even in the face of a satisfying sexual relationship in marriage. It should tend to make persons extra-careful to avoid situations where the underlying orientation would assert itself.
I believe that ministries which promise a complete change if the client just exercises "enough faith" are particularly dangerous. The belief that "enough faith" will result in a miraculous change of orientation has led some to despair deep enough to commit suicide, when they concluded that God did not honor their faith and thus did not love them. It is based on the false notion that God's love and His work in our behalf is somehow dependent on our making ourselves believe enough. Thus, ultimately, it teaches a type of salvation by works -- a work of "enough faith." By contrast, the Bible teaches that faith is a gift from God, and it is the means by which we form a relationship of trust with Him. It is not a spiritual coin with which we barter for heaven's blessings of faith.
I do recognize that it is possible for God to miraculously remove all homosexual desires. He could also miraculously remove all unwanted or sinful desires from our life. But He doesn't usually work that way. Why doesn't He?? It would make life so much easier for us! But that's the rub . . . *
Character is not developed in an "easy" life. Christ proved that. Hebrews tells us that even He had to learn obedience through suffering. How can we expect to escape that school? Faith grows by being exercised -- by clinging to Christ in the face of overwhelming difficulty. And those who have faced the most trying circumstances become the strongest Christians, able to minister to their brothers and sisters. Through it all, it takes faith to believe that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to bear -- whatever the temptation. So when temptation comes in like a flood, the answer lies in looking to Christ for the victory. And that looking immediately takes our focus off Christ. I'd like to illustrate with a different set of temptations.
Lester (his real name) was known as the town drunk in a small seaside town Nova Scotia. He was in his 60's, jolly and lovable -- even more so when drunk than sober. Everybody knew him, and everybody loved him -- thus assuring a constant supply of liquor. But Lester had been a Christian in his youth, as had his cousin with whom he sat over drinks in a bar one evening. His inebriated cousin would get more "religious" the drunker he got. And this evening he was very inebriated. In the midst of his religious fervor, he stopped and looked at Lester through bleary eyes, pointed his finger at him and intoned, "Lester, the Lord is lonely for you! He said, 'I am meek and lonely of heart.' He is lonely for you, I say!" Somehow that hit Lester hard, and he blubbered into his drink . . . But the conviction stayed past his drunkenness, and he showed up at the back of our church during the next worship service. Most of us had never seen him before -- not being nearly as much a 'friend of sinners' as Christ was. But my husband, who was the pastor at the time, got acquainted with Lester, who recounted to him how he was drawn to Jesus because he was "lonely" for him.
Lester gave his heart to the Lord and was baptized after a short series of studies, as he was already familiar with Bible truths. Very early, the Lord removed his craving for tobacco, and it never returned. Having worked with Stop-Smoking clinics, we knew what a mighty miracle that was! But Lester continued to struggle with his craving for drink. Though we figured he had gained the victory before baptism, that was not so. He had many battles with the demon of alcohol, and he lost many of them, unbeknownst to us. Finally, one evening, as he was sitting alone at his table (since he could no longer go to the bar and drink in public), he was about to pour himself a drink, when he had an impression as strong as though a voice had spoken to him. It told him to "choose this day" whom he would serve. He believed that if he chose the bottle instead of Christ, that would decide his eternal destiny.
He chose Christ and emptied all his bottles down the kitchen sink. But his craving still did not completely go away. It lessened gradually, as he consistently refused to give in to it, pleading with Christ for strength.
So why did Christ take away the craving for tobacco miraculously?
Perhaps it was in fulfillment of the promise that Lester would not be tempted beyond what he was able to bear. The many years of alcoholism had likely eaten away so much of his brain that the power to overcome nicotine was not there. (We know that smoking is more difficult to overcome than drinking.) But God left enough of a challenge in his life by leaving him to battle with alcohol through the right exercise of his will -- choosing to look to Christ in faith whenever he was tempted. And thus Lester grew in the Lord, becoming a beloved and faithful member of our congregation, able to strengthen the discouraged and weak and a powerful living testimony in that little Nova Scotia community.
Just today I read another true story -- the story of a young man abused by his father and feeling unloved most of his life. He abused himself more than his father could have by his life of dissipation and drugs -- drugs that destroy the brain and body. To make a long story short, he experienced a gradual conversion, and his full surrender to Christ was marked by his miraculous deliverance from his craving for both alcohol and drugs. Apparently the Lord knew that he had other battles in his life that would tax all the powers left to him.
Others who come to Christ, must battle both these unnatural cravings by His grace, and He gives them victory by giving them the power to back up their right exercise of choice.
Yes, we all "change" as we come to Christ. The closer we come to Him, the more we change -- as we are transformed into His image. We all have different areas of our lives that present a particular battle to us. Some of us have been delivered miraculously from a certain burden. Most of us have experienced miracles in slower, not easily recognizable fashion -- for isn't all changing into His image a true miracle of grace?
I have appreciated the testimonies to Christ's power to change given by persons on our lists. Most testimonies involved day-by-day miracles of change -- not the sudden sort. And Ted has reminded us several times that we need to trust His omniscient and magnificent grace -- not questioning the particular form of the cross He has asked us to bear.
Yes, change is possible -- and it is usually a constant process, the work of a life time. His grace is sufficient -- no matter which cross is ours. When we "yoke" up with Christ, the burden is indeed light, for He, the stronger One, bears most of it, leaving enough for us to develop the Christian graces that will reflect His character.
When Christ convicts us of the rightness of a course of action, He will also give the power to carry it through. Our job is to trust Him while we walk with Him. The Apostle Paul makes it clear that the changing of our "sinful nature" is a life-long process, and the final deliverance (when there are no more "carnal" desires) comes when this mortal shall put on immortality. (1 Cor 15: 50 - 54)
"Ministries" that promise a change of orientation from homosexuality to heterosexuality as the result of enough faith and prayer can be dangerous to your spiritual and physical health. They are based on a false understanding of spiritual and physical realities. Avoid them. Instead, we each can follow the practice of submitting ourselves to Christ first thing in the morning, every day. And trust Him to lead us in safe paths--even when we walk through the "valley of the shadow of death."
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
* Of course, another answer given is that He doesn't remove the desires because they are right. However there's a fallacy in reasoning that those desires that aren't miraculously removed are therefore "right." But that's another subject. [BACK]
Postscript: A web site that tells it more like it is is called People Can Change. Pay particular attention to what does not work, and then explore the rest of the site. We believe it's unfortunate that the authors of the site make no distinction between a homosexual orientation and homosexual sex, but if you'll remember that every time they mention "homosexuality" they really mean gay sex, it will be less confusing.
Also see "Change Ministries Revisited"