“Pray the Gay Away:” Not the Gospel

Twenty years ago, Power Rangers debuted in the United States, and I was hooked.  I was not aware at the time that many of the clips were borrowed from the Japanese version of the show, but I nonetheless loved the action and the giant robot fights.  My parents were strict about watching television when I was growing up, but they allowed me this half-hour guilty pleasure from Monday to Friday.  To this day, I still look at the original Power Rangers with nostalgia, even though I of course know how utterly goofy the show is.  I still know the song (well, it’s still quite famous), all the original characters’ names, the sound of the Dragon Dagger, and how the Megazord assembles.  To my amusement, I read that a few old Power Rangers actors may make a cameo in the new Power Rangers series, Super Mega Force, to commemorate the 20th anniversary this year.  As a masters student of philosophy… I think I might try to watch one of those episodes ;).

Curious, I looked back at the original six Power Rangers, since I stopped really caring about the show after they left and after it started to change drastically (and I, you know, grew up and realized that the show was stupid).  One of the actors is David Yost, who played the Blue Ranger, Billy.  While I stopped paying much attention to Power Rangers, I was aware that Yost continued playing Billy on Power Rangers for quite some time.  However, as I read his story, I learned that he left the show on poor terms, citing homosexual slurs against him by the production team (which they deny).  After he quit the show, he struggled with his same-sex desires and, in desperation, went to what is called by some articles as a “Pray the Gay Away” group in the hopes that this would eliminate his homosexuality.  When that did not happen in a couple of years, he had a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized for a bit.  After recovering, he accepted his homosexuality and now is proud of it.

As I read his story, I was deeply troubled, and not because he came to accept his homosexuality as normal.  I was troubled by the apparently misleading gospel he was presented by whatever group he attended, or at least, the gospel that he believed to be presented to him, and I was saddened by the effect it had on him.  I hesitate to make too many assumptions about this particular group; after all, it is difficult, if not impossible, to figure out what exact church or organization he went to, what exactly they said to him, what they believe, etc.  However, while the phrase “pray the gay away” is often a derogatory term given by critics of ministries who genuinely want to minister to gay people, I know that it is not that far off as a description of the attitudes of some Christians towards gays.  The problem with such attitudes and teachings is that it’s not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I’m the first to say that a homosexual lifestyle is a sinful lifestyle and that gay desires in themselves are a product of a sin nature.  On this blog, I’ve dismantled arguments that try to make the Bible come out positive or neutral on homosexuality, and I’ve critiqued the media’s rhetoric on the issue.  I’m also the last person who thinks truth is dictated by people’s emotions, so if any sinner, gay or straight, is offended by hearing simple biblical truth, then so be it.  Christians who acquiesce on this issue or punt on it do nobody any favors, least of all gay people who need to hear the good news.

That said, Christians who make homosexuals feel like they need to stop being gay before they are loved by God and by the church also do nobody any favors, least of all the Lord they claim to serve.  Perhaps there is good intent behind some of these teachings, but ultimately they are a form of works-righteousness.  When some Christians say, explicitly or implicitly through their actions, that Jesus will have nothing to do with gay people until they eliminate their same-sex desires, Christians communicate to them that they have to work for and earn their salvation.  When such a thing is communicated, only two outcomes are possible:  Self-righteous delusion that one has succeeded or utter despair when one realizes he cannot do it.  Yost seems to have fallen in the latter category.  How difficult would it be now to share the actual Gospel with him?

The Gospel is not about people being able to clean themselves and then coming to Jesus.  The Gospel is about sinners coming to the Son of God and submitting to him, and his sacrifice for their sin is applied to them.  This is what we call justification.  As Christians walk with Jesus, the Holy Spirit will begin to work on the sins in their lives and even reveal sins that they previously did not think were sins.  As believers walk in obedience, they are molded into the image of Christ.  This process is sanctification.  It is not immediate, rarely quick, and full of struggles and falls.  It’s a process that lasts this entire lifetime.  Some sins we may see vanish over time; others we will struggle with our whole lives.  We should get better at them, we should resist them with greater strength as we rely on the Spirit, but struggle with them we will.  While prayer is integral part of this process, it is silliness to think that any deep sin can simply be “prayed away” so easily.  Paul himself knew this struggle with the sin nature for believers (Romans 7:15).  If sin is still a reality that is dealt with by believers, it is hardly reasonable to expect non-Christians to combat their sin nature effectively, even in the guise of a prayer.  To teach people that they have to fix themselves before Jesus will accept them is enormously damaging.

I believe Christians should be firm on the Bible’s stance on homosexuality.  I also believe that Christians need to be firm on the Bible’s stance on salvation, so they should tell gay people that Christ did not come for the righteous, but for sinners (Mark 2:17), that while we were all still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8), and that our main aim is not to make homosexuals into heterosexuals.  Has that happened before and does it still happen?  Yes; God somehow brings many homosexuals into biblical marriages.  However, most, if not all, will admit that they still struggle with homosexual desires from time to time.  Many other Christians who have same-sex desires simply remain celibate throughout their lives as they walk with God, as they never feel an attraction to a member of the opposite sex but nonetheless realize that they are to submit their sexual desires to God.  This is reality.  These people love Jesus and Jesus loves them, and yet they struggle.  It sure doesn’t look like they had to “pray the gay away” to earn themselves the grace of Christ (though it’s worth mentioning that it’s a bad sign if anyone simply gives way to any sin and stops caring).  Prayer is not a magic formula to get what we want, including making certain things simply go away in a flash.  It is our time of communion with God, and while requests and confessions are part of it, the main thrust is that we are relating to our Lord and that his influence is changing us.

When we share the Gospel with unbelievers (or reiterate it to believers), we should be clear about this:  Jesus will take you as you are, but he will not leave you as you are.  That communicates that God’s grace is truly free and that people do not have to fix themselves, but it also communicates that God is holy and will lead his people out of sin and into godliness.  If this is true for everyone, we should be careful not to say something different to homosexuals.


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