Changes for CHANGED
Controversy and confusion have been swirling around certain circles online over the last few weeks with the launch of a new initiative from Bethel called Changed. On its website, the movement introduces itself as ‘a community of friends who once identified as LGBTQ+. Today, we celebrate the love of Jesus and His freedom in our lives.’
The controversy over Changed has emerged because of its apparent alliance with ex-gay theology, the idea that those who are gay/experience same-sex attraction should expect and seek a change in their desires as they strive to faithfully follow Christ. This is a perspective which, while still present in the church, has become increasingly less popular in recent years, especially after the self-confessed failure and consequent closure of Exodus International, the most famous network for ex-gay ministries.
The confusion has emerged because of the peculiar way in which the leaders of Changed are expressing their position and the way that the stories they are sharing are told. It is certainly the case that some of the stories boldly declare a complete end of the experience of same-sex attraction and some of the language used (e.g. ‘Changed is possible’, ‘#oncegay’) makes it hard to believe that this isn’t ex-gay theology. But it is not clear whether the organisation believes that a change in orientation is necessary to faithfully follow Jesus or that such change should be actively expected for every same-sex attracted person who comes to faith in Jesus.
As I’ve followed the launch of Changed, read through many of their stories, and watched some of the fallout online, I have had many different thoughts and there is lots that could be said. For now, I want to share a few observations of things I think could helpfully be changed to make Changed a better resource for the church and the world. I think these principles are also useful for any of us who engage with this topic to bear in mind.
First, however, I want to say upfront that I have no doubt that the leaders of Changed and those who have contributed their stories love Jesus and want to love other people. Even if their approach can be seen as problematic and even if some of us would disagree with their position, I do think their heart is in the right place. My hope and prayer is that they will listen to and reflect upon the responses they are receiving and use them to better formulate what they are seeking to do.
The Need for Clarity
As I have mentioned, the position of Changed is very ambiguous. They talk about being those who once identified as LGBTQ+ and speak of leaving behind LGBTQ+ but nowhere make it clear exactly what this means. Do they mean that they have all experienced a change in their pattern of attractions or have some simply changed how they chose to live in light of their attractions? If they have experienced a change, has this been complete or partial?
I also can’t find anywhere which clearly states their position on what faithfulness to Jesus as someone who experiences same-sex attraction requires. Is a change in attractions necessary for a same-sex attracted follower of Jesus? While they are trying to help those who identify as LGBTQ+ this ambiguity is actually incredibly unhelpful as it leaves us unclear on what they think we should do to faithfully follow Jesus. In some of their writings, and even in a video they have produced in response to social media reactions, it feels like the ambiguity is a deliberate strategy to not push people away, but it actually renders their message useless if it can’t be properly understood. If there is a clear stance, it should be made clear.
The Need for Scripture
I don’t think I’ve yet heard or read anything from Changed which refers directly to specific scriptures. This may be a deliberate choice in a desire not to alienate their intended audience, but it adds to the problem of ambiguity. If there is a clear stance, it should be made clear, and it should make it clear where in Scripture it is rooted. If we are to bring the challenge of God’s truth on this, or any other, matter, we must do so clearly from Scripture. We want people to see that it is God who says this and therefore we uphold it; it is not based on our idea or our authority. Looking through the materials from Changed you get the impression that their perspective comes from their experiences rather than from Scripture.
The Need for Careful Distinctions
There is an unhelpful lack of distinction on Changed between experiences of gender dysphoria and same-sex attraction. While their more detailed descriptions do mention gender, they often only mention homosexuality. This is true despite the fact that many of the stories are from those who not only experienc(ed) same-sex attraction but also found themselves uncomfortable with their biological sex and wanting to identify with the opposite sex. Same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria are two different phenomena and while they can overlap this is far from always being the case. The lack of distinction is unhelpful to getting a clear understanding of their message and will also seem ignorant to non-Christian readers, further hampering chances of Changed getting a hearing among those they want to reach.
The Need for A Diversity of Stories
Linked to the above point, it is striking that many of the stories featured include discomfort with biological sex as well as same-sex attraction, and yet this would not be true in general of people who are same-sex attracted. It is also striking that a vast majority of the stories speak of abuse in early life or early exposure to pornography, often directly linking this to the later experience of same-sex attraction. Again, however, this is not true in general of those who are same-sex attracted (even though it is undeniably true of some). The experiences are therefore very much of a type and don’t represent the experience of many of us who are same-sex attracted. Most of the stories are actually about freedom from the ongoing impact of abuse, addiction, depression, loneliness, a feeling of being unloved and other difficulties more than they are about sexuality or gender identity. It is dangerous, therefore, to draw such broad conclusions about sexuality from these stories.
I think Changed is well motivated. I think that some of the stories are wonderful testimonies of God’s compassion and his power to bring healing to the impact of abuse, addiction and other painful experiences. But I think to really fulfill their aim of being a safe space for LGBTQ+ people, Changed will need to change.