Conversion and the The Wizard of Oz

OPINION

David Kernohan

Before setting off, down the yellow brick road, a couple of provisos. Firstly, I write from my perspective as a same sex attracted man. While there may be similar experiences for other members of the LGBTIQ+ community, I cannot write with any authority of the differences that may exist for other members of the community in their experiences of acceptance within churches.

Secondly, I write as a person who was born and bred in Fundamentalism. My journey through churches has included Baptist, Anglican and Catholic. While I acknowledge there are those within the LGBTIQ+ community who have found peace, acceptance and a spiritual home within churches, there are many like myself who have experienced the trauma and abuse of church structures and from individuals within those structures. My comments are directed to members of the LGBTIQ+ community, who like myself are continuing to heal from our exposure to churches.

So, with these opening provisos let’s click our heals and start down the road, for after all we all want to arrive home as quickly as possible. Home, that place of acceptance, where we are known for who we are. Home, that place of security, where we know the deep peace of acceptance. Home, that place where our uniqueness is celebrated, indeed honoured and we know we are seen.

For many of us, such a home is an illusion. We have learnt from an early age, we are not acceptable as we are, rather we learn to play roles. Like the tin man, we play roles of heterosexuality, without heart, without fluidity and aliveness. Our bodies learning the rigidity we believe we need so no-one will guess our truth. Like Lion, we wish we had the courage to roar our truths, while our words dissipate and are lost in a whimper in our throat.

Into our disappointment, our fear, mostly of ourselves, the promise of conversion comes. It never comes as conversion therapy, often for two good reasons. Firstly, most people in churches are not equipped to conduct therapy, particularly ministers and priests. Secondly, conversion in its theological definition is never about therapy, it is a radical change within a person that separating them from who they previously were.

Instead, we are sold the idea we are loved, we are accepted, we are welcome as we are. A heady message when we are feeling isolated, alone, when Grindr and Scruff are escalating our cynicism in the male species and the best welcome, we get in the day is from the barista making our morning coffee. Is it any wonder the hope of finding acceptance and love in a church environment seems so attractive? Is it any wonder the church can initially seem to be the home we are looking for?

In many churches, particularly fundamentalist churches, conversion is only the first step. Sanctification is the next step and like the fine print in a contract, most people don’t read it until it is too late. Churches will tell you; sanctification is the process whereby you become more God-like. What this means for many members of the LGBTIQ+ community is denying or hiding who we really are.

The promise of love and acceptance sours as we realise, we are accepted if we are not overt about our sexuality, we are welcomed as long as we conform to, in my case a stereotypical white heterosexuality. It is like imaging the Wizard is going to make everything good for us, the Wizard is going to make it right, only to realise the Wizard is simply an illusion.

It is the gap between what churches promise and what they actually deliver that is so damaging for members of the LGBTIQ+ community. Holding out the prospect of love and acceptance when in fact that love and acceptance is premised on the person changing who they are or ceasing to express their sexuality in a manner that is right for them.

Despite the illusion, I believe there is a home for all of us. There is that place of acceptance and security. There is a space where we can celebrate our uniqueness, but it is not found in the wizardry of conversion or the illusion of sanctification.

It would be lovely if we could click our heels and life would magically be perfect, yet neither conversion, nor clicking our heels will make perfection. This life is wonderfully imperfect, flawed, and messy. It is not conversion we need, just the courage to find space to celebrate our uniqueness.



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