Does the Church Kill ‘Gay’ People?
Part 2: The MacGuffin of Conversion Therapy
This is the second blog of our three-part series. If you haven’t already, please read part 1 here.
‘Conversion therapists’ permeate Dear Alana like mold, wounders who pose as healers and hasten the disintegration of otherwise whole ‘gay’ lives, first Alana’s, then Fung’s, who comes to his senses and embraces his ‘gay’ self.
It’s a now familiar MacGuffin, meaning a plot device that shows up recurringly and connects the dots. It lends continuity and motion to the plot (Dear Alana’s 8-segments) but lacks significance to the outcome of the story. Why is conversion therapy a MacGuffin?
Because Fung’s nemesis isn’t a type of therapy. It’s the Church and Her call for all to live chaste lives.
Chastity is the virtue most associated with sexual wholeness in the Catholic world. It means integration: reconciling one’s ache for God with his or her ache for others as to realize God’s design for our bodies. That means cultivating a Spirit-filled commitment to loving people well, with full-bodied ‘gift-giving’ reserved for creating and welcoming children (opposite-sex marriage). This means the Church celebrates all people but cannot and will never bless any sexual union other than a marital one.
Whew. Hard sell. Chastity is an equal opportunity offender, glorious to some, a stench to others. For Fung, chastity (and the Church) is a stench because it frames ‘gay’ desires as disintegrated, their expression in sexual acts as wrong.
What then do people with ‘gay’ desires do? Fung cites ‘conversion therapists’ as hurtful ‘fixers’ who held out cures for himself and Alana to take away these distressing feelings and failed miserably. I was included on this list of culprits (though I never met Alana or Fung) as well as three deceased colleagues: Elizabeth Moberly, Joseph Nicolosi, and Father John Harvey.
Fung errs in several ways here. First, ‘conversion therapy’ doesn’t exist. That is the name activists ascribe to any effort people make to diminish or change homosexual feelings. In my 43 years of ministry in this area, I have never heard anyone use that term. An accurate term is a ‘reparative’ understanding of same-sex attraction. This is based on the perspective that same-sex desires reveal unmet or distorted emotional needs more than an adult sexual destiny.
Second, no wise helper who explores this ‘reparative’ approach with a struggler promises a ‘cure.’ Simon uses ‘fix it’ language throughout his story and is always disappointed (from ‘when will my healing come?’ to awaiting in vain ‘the silver bullet’). A reparative understanding simply opens a door for strugglers to look at other ways of interpreting homosexuality by raising the question, ‘What do my passions mean?’
Third, this view helps, not hinders people seeking to resolve same-sex feelings. For Christians committed to becoming chaste (the process of living within God’s design and boundaries for sexual relating), reparative perspectives offer wisdom, compassion, and space for healing distortions in one’s sexuality.
That helps people pursue chastity. Fung has a rather good experience of exploring this ‘repair’: he describes opening to his humble father (who admits to gaps in their relationship and makes amends) and securing good non-sexual guy friends. He is less clear on Alana’s experience of counseling and support groups. What we do know is that Alana’s perfectionism escalated, and she couldn’t manage the tensions between her spirituality and sexuality.
‘Conversion therapy’ is a MacGuffin. It’s a broad, obvious culprit which doesn’t even exist in those terms. Reparative stuff probably helped Alana and Fung. What hurt them was a disintegrated approach to chastity. We’ll look next week at how we can best integrate our disintegrated parts, and how the Church helps us to do so. Join Andrew Comiskey, Marco Casanova and Katie Comiskey as they discuss this topic further. Listen now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or YouTube.