Man Engraved: A response to Boy Erased

Today, the film Boy Erased is enjoying great reviews and limited release. If it’s not in a theater near you, within a few weeks you can bet it will be.

It’s the true story of a young man who went through what’s commonly called a “conversion therapy” program. He’s 19 years old, has just admitted to his Christian parents that he’s gay, and they insist he get help.

“Help”, they assume, will come through a program to which they’ll send him for weeks of daily group sessions and activities, allegedly designed to cure his homosexuality.

You can see where this is going. He eventually bolts from the program, accepts his identity as a gay man, and his parents – at least his mother, anyway – realize their error. Now, as an adult, he speaks against that damaging thing called Conversion Therapy.

I’ve read Gerrard Conley’s memoir, which the film is based on, having written a review of it for the Christian Research Journal which will be coming out next month. I’ve not yet seen Boy Erased but plan to soon. (Ironically, it stars my favorite actor Russell Crowe, and I never miss
his films.)

But since I’ve received messages asking me for my take on the movie and the story behind it, let me make a couple points for now.

Help Under Pressure is No Help at All

According to his book, Conley was pressured to attend the Love in Action program in Memphis. Although he was 19 and under no legal obligation to go, he went essentially to appease his parents, calming their fears about his sexuality and spiritual state. He was also a believer himself, confused, certainly, but not without faith. So when it came to God and gay, he had concerns of his own.

But basically, his participation was inspired not by a deep desire to get help, but rather a deep desire to keep peace, be a good kid, and make life easier for his parents.

None of which are good reasons to get counseling of any sort. For the past 31 years I’ve disappointed parents who wanted to force their kids into the Biblical counseling I do, unwilling to take someone under coercion.

Sincere Moms and Dads who find their kids are gay often think that the right person, with the right testimony, will somehow change the kid’s mind. That simply doesn’t happen. It’s akin to paying for someone’s gym membership when they themselves don’t want to work out. The only thing that gets exercised is your credit card.

Besides, there is something violating about forcing, or even pressuring, anyone to get help you feel they need, but they themselves have
no desire for.

While I unapologetically believe God never intended a person to be homosexually attracted, much less act on such attractions, I also know that everyone has God-given free will, granting them the right to decide for themselves how to express or not express their sexual feelings.

 When I was gay-identified and sexually active, nobody could have persuaded me to change my views. I had to come to a point of believing I was wrong, a point no one but God Himself can bring a person to. So it’s better for the Prodigal Son’s parents to wait for him to return, rather than to try forcing a return he has no interest in.

The Wrong Technique Doesn’t Mean the Wrong Position

You’ll see some bizarre “treatment” methods in Boy Erased. People are ordered to dress, sit, walk, and carry themselves a certain way. Behavior is regimented. Participants sit in a chair to be yelled at and shamed by the leaders. Evidently, dunking a person underwater (not as a baptism) is part of the cure as well.

Like I said, bizarre.

Also unrecognizable to any of us who do this kind of work. While we never do, nor have, referred to it as “Conversion Therapy”, I and others have for decades had the honor of consulting with and walking alongside people who are same-sex attracted, want their behavior to match their beliefs more than their desires, hope to (in many cases) preserve their marriages and (in other cases) desire to explore their potential for heterosexual response.

We don’t yell at people. We don’t hit them with Bibles. We don’t (as some people amazingly charge) offer shock treatment as a bonus. We take Biblical principles and help people apply them to all aspects of their lives, sexuality included. We talk, we listen, we advise.

The fact that strange techniques are used to enforce a position is an indictment against the techniques, not the position. The belief that homosexuality falls short of God’s will is not an abusive belief to express, nor is it a self-hating belief to embrace. The fact that a belief has been practiced wrongly by some cannot be held against all who hold, and practice, that belief.

It Seems We’ve Stood and Talked Like This Before

I’m reminded of the 1972 documentary Marjoe, a scathing mockery of Pentecostal churches and faith healing, made by a man who’d been raised Christian, rejected it, and wanted to show the world what fools the people he used to associate with really were.

So he put on his preacher shoes, held revival and healing meetings, filmed the proceedings, then took the camera backstage and filmed himself mimicking the very people he’d just “ministered” to.

It was meant to make all Charismatics look like idiots. Yet the average Charismatic has never even seen a church service in which people behaved the way they did in the film.

And, I know full well, the average person doing ministry to same-sex attracted people has never even seen a counseling session in which people behaved the way they do in Boy Erased.

That won’t stop people from believing that Conley’s sad story represents all so-called conversion therapies. Well told stories persuade, even if the point they persuade towards is inaccurate. His story may well be true – I have no reason not to believe him and it is, after all, his story, not mine.

But that’s my point. It’s not mine. Nor is it everyone else’s. Which is why it won’t stop people from believing, by the grace of God, that He created us for more than what we feel, and that His intentions for our sexuality are of more importance than what seems most natural to us.

When I became a Christian in 1971, I experienced an engraving, the sort which was prophesied through Jeremiah when God said:

“I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33)

I am sorry to hear that any boy was erased, even temporarily. I wish Conley the best. But I’ve experienced something very different than he did. God’s laws were engraved on my heart in 1971, permanent and inescapable.

I tried ignoring them, but they, in concert with the Holy Spirit, would not be erased. Instead, they became more underlined with time, finally leading me out of a way of life Conley embraces, and into a way of life I have never regretted, and never will.

So may Conley, you, and I always be free to tell, and live out, our own stories.

Comments

Paula | Nov 2, 2018

Well said, excellent! I appreciate your ability to articulate the truth of God without being offensive!

Judy | Nov 2, 2018

When God meets you, you can’t deny that He did! As the apostle Paul!

kirbo | Nov 2, 2018

Beautifully and Truthfully spoken. Having been a participant in the Love In Action program in Northern California before it was moved to Tennessee, I can attest to the fact nothing like what Conley has experienced ever happened in California. My heart breaks for Conley if that was his experience as written in his memoir. God is gentle in His correction not harsh nor abusive. He is a God Father. No matter how far we run from Him, He is always ready with open arms to pick us up again.

theresa | Nov 3, 2018

Mr. Dallas, why do you call it a true story? It seems like hatedul propaganda to me.

Joe Dallas | Nov 3, 2018

Theresa, the author of the book the film is based on did attend group sessions in a ministry program, and the former director of the program has verified this. The way he describes the program, and the way he now uses his description to discredit legitimate ministry, is indeed propaganda. But the story itself, even if it is embellished, is based on facts.

timwarner | Nov 3, 2018

I also participated in the Northern California ministry of Love in Action, for four years. 20 years later, I went on staff for LIA in Memphis, probably a few years after Gerrard Conley went through the heavily modified program ( from what it had been in California). Having read reviews and interviews about the film I am surmising that the film presents a "straw man" of how, as you point out, the propagandists want so-called conversion therapies to be understood and presented. I never saw LIA , even while participating in its residential program for those four years back in the 1990s, as a way to "change" my homosexual feelings and desires, but as a way to live In Christ with my feelings and desires, which have ever been in flux. The "straw man" is a ministry which claims to change people from "gay" to straight. I never saw LIA as being able to effect that kind of change. I am afraid that this film is yet another recasting of reality in the image of an agenda-driven industry (Hollywood film-making), hell-bent on shaping the politics of our culture. I am also betting that the film does not represent Christianity in an authentic or favorable light either.

Joe Dallas | Nov 3, 2018

Tim, it’s good hearing from you again! I strongly agree about the “straw man” principle at play here. Thanks for your insights, which are valuable and relevant. God bless.

#extransgenderpastor | Nov 5, 2018

Well said!

Cat | Nov 5, 2018

My experience is very similar to Conley’s so perhaps your experience is not universal.

What I went through was so absolutely horrendous, and traumatising, that I have C-ptsd now. 32 years later.

Please do not assume he is lying. Perhaps you experienced good men.

When I tell my story, I am accused to “propaganda” even though I rarely tell all. Portions of it are hard enough.

Think of it like Priests who sexually abuse children. Is it all Priests? No, but just because you have a good experience with a Priest, does not mean those who were abused are not telling the truth.

What an Ex-Gay Man Wants You to Know About Russell Crowe’s Latest Project | WTLM Autodesk | Nov 5, 2018

[…] This article originally appeared on JoeDalls.com. Reprinted with permission. […]

Joe Dallas | Nov 5, 2018

Cat, if your experiences were similar to those Conley reports, then I am so sorry. There's no reason to presume your story is propaganda, a presumption I won't make about you account or Conley's. My concern is that we don't presume either way. Just because someone reports a bad experience does not make it true, and if it is true, it shouldn't be assumed to represent the experience of all others. Each story needs to be taken on its own merit.

I stand behind my argument that most of us who've done this sort of work over the years have never used the techniques reported in this film, and we never will. But I know that doesn't guarantee everyone doing it over the years has done it well. Abuses happen in every field; this one's no exception. So I do not believe it was wrong of you to seek help for dealing with your sexuality in a Biblical way, and I do not believe the people you went to were wrong to offer you that help. But if they offered it in the wrong way, then that's the problem, and you have a legitimate complaint. Again, Cat, I'm sorry to hear that. By no means do I assume you're lying. I only ask that assumptions not be made either way.

randys | Nov 6, 2018

It breaks my heart to see that the “conversion therapy” portrayed in this story is claimed to be the will of God. How much farther from the will of God can you get! My experience in Love In Action, San Rafael, in the 80’s, was not one of a conversion type program. It was a year of guidance, encouragement and surrender into a life that put Christ first over all else. It wasn’t until a few years later when, all I wanted to do is serve God, that the Spirit led me into and experience of “conversion” and a life of heterosexuality. If your sole intention in seeking the will of God is for
SSA conversion then you will miss the fact that, in seeking the will of God we are led to realize that living out God’s love by laying down OUR OWN life for others is more God’s will than our own “conversion”.

Nico | Nov 6, 2018

So clearly, we’re here because there are those who refuse to admit any wrongdoing or harm has been done to so many young folk who identify as LGBTQI at the hands of a ministry hidden behind a flowery name i.e Love In Action. These same sort of folk refused to see how the church could possibly abuse thousands of children over decades. It comes down to acceptance and realisation that you’re perpetuating a belief structure that being LGBTQI is wrong and therefore requires curing or fixing. There are countless testimonies from LGBTQI folk who were put through these horrid therapies, mainly to appease family or from fear of being isolated because of their identity and how they viewed mistreatment of their kind by others. This film/memoir isn’t propaganda, it’s a relevant narrative for how many still view LGBTQI folk. The attitudes and opinions that many still have are abhorrent, when it comes to another human beings life. As you mentioned Crowe, I’d recommend The Sum Of Us, a Russel Crowe film, as he’s your favourite actor. It’s a very decent Australian film.

Stephen Black | Nov 6, 2018

Joe Dallas you did a great job at communicating the truth about this entire situation. You communicated with truth and grace, without compromise. Excellent!

Grateful to know you man of God!

Sincerely,
Stephen Black

MyNameGoesHere | Nov 6, 2018

What an outstanding, insightful article (as always) from Joe, and raw personal comments from readers.

I went through the year-long Love In Action program in 1987 and it was a very positive experience; not without its hiccups but very good overall.

At the time, I had left the mission field because I thought I was gay and I wanted to be straight, or normal. Today, thirty years later, I would no longer identify as gay or ex-gay but as a straight heterosexual Christian with SSA issues. I labored under a false identity for many years but today with a better understanding of my true identity life is much better.

Joe Dallas | Nov 6, 2018

Nico, see my response to Cat above.

Rusty Writer | Nov 6, 2018

Certainly, those who go into therapy or ex-gay ministry under pressure were not likely to change their orientation, but what the leaders of the ex-gay ministries Love in Action, Exodus International, etc. admitted publicly was that during the 4 decades of change claims no Christians experienced a change of sexual orientation via Christ, via therapy or any other means. There is no method which changes a person's sexual orientation no matter how sincerely they want that, no matter how hard they try. There are over 6 million Christians alive today who are LGBT (out of 2.1 billion Christians worldwide) and there are only a few dozen ex-gays now. Even they don't claim to be heterosexual - unless they have a financial stake in the claim. 9 of 10 gays who marry women end up divorced. It's time to deal with the fact that even if a few people claim change to heterosexual, they are merely the exceptions to the rule that sexual orientation is not changed by choice or by Christ. LGBT people will always be LGBT people, and marrying someone of the opposite sex will harm the straight spouse and cause pain to entire families.

Joe Dallas | Nov 6, 2018

Since homosexual desire is cited in scripture as one of many manifestations of lust and of fallen nature (Romans 1:26-27) and since homosexual behavior is cited as one of many sexual sins falling short of God's intentions (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13; I Corinthians 6:9-10; I Timothy 1: 10) then it stands to reason that someone repenting of this sin will experience some degree of temptation. (The same can be said of anyone repenting of any life dominating sin) The Bible promises deliverance from the power of sin (Romans 6:14) strength to resist the pull towards sin (I Corinthians 10:13) and transformation of the total person (II Corinthians 3:18) The way that transformation impacts sexual responses will vary from person to person, with some people experiencing ongoing same-sex temptations, some less frequently, and some claiming to have none, although I think it's better not to assume you've ever "arrived." Any Biblically sound ministry will operate with these principles in mind. To a serious disciple the question is never, "Can I legitimize acting on a tendency just because I never lost it?" but rather, "How can I best live in obedience?"

Carl | Nov 8, 2018

I’m Christian and used to identify as gay so you can call that ex gay if you like. And definitely don’t think I’m just one of a few dozen, in fact Iv met more than that number.

Brilliant article as always Joe

Your an inspiration and blessing

Jones Howell | Nov 8, 2018

Good essay Joe! You're right. It takes discipleship to overcome sexual brokenness, just like any other addiction. I can testify to that.

Joe Dallas | Nov 8, 2018

Thanks very much for your thoughts and testimony, Carl.

Joe Dallas | Nov 8, 2018

Thanks Jones, I can testify to that, too!

Tom Steffen | Nov 8, 2018

Joe, I just found you thanks to Nancy Pearcey's endorsement on LinkedIn. Great article balancing Truth & Love. I grew up in rural America... for me, "gay" was an archaic way to say 'joyful'. I heard the term "homosexual" right before attending Metropolitan Community Church in Seattle back in 1986. I've seen /porneo/ sexual twistedness eat the life out of dear friends who abandoned the glory of Christ for their new Cause. I'm glad you're engaging the marketplace of ideas, and helping people yield to the true lordship and redeeming love of Jesus.

Joe Dallas | Nov 9, 2018

Thanks Tom. I appreciate the encouragement. I didn't mention this in my post, but I was on staff with the Metropolitan Community Church of Long Beach for a few years back in the late 70's and early 80's. God is very merciful and faithful.

Bonnie | Nov 10, 2018

As always, I'm grateful for yet another article from you Mr Dallas. I'm a mother you speak about. I want my son back! Because of porn he has fallen away from God and began living outside of God's will. He has purposefully tried to act "gay" I know my son and his sisters know their brother who is blatantly honest with them and considers them his best friends. They had a church small group he loved and was very active in. He has cried and said he hates who he's become. (To his sister's) He's very masculine, avid outdoorsman hunts, fishes, doesn't have a clue how to color coordinate, clean and most times leaves the house a wrinkled mess. He decorates with animal mounts etc. dated beautiful women for ever and had his heart broken by the love of his life not once but 3 times fell into depression and began a porn addiction. In my son's case this has been embraced not inbred. I can hardly stand hearing the words "God can't!" He can do ALL THINGS And anyone who comes to the end of themselves SEEK HIM FIRST AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ALL THESE THINGS SHALL BE ADDED UNTO YOU. True repentance, tearful, give it ALL TO HIM repentance can be washed white as snow. Until you surrender all, BELIEVE and put on the WHOLE armor of God daily, all will not be changed. He knows your heart and what's still hiding and what your holding onto. My son will come back from the land of the enemy, it's my GOD'S declaration and he's a man of his word!

Dann Y | Nov 10, 2018

God has blessed me with the ability and privilege of being married to my beautiful wife for almost 29 years. I was abused as a child and have always been tempted by same sex attraction. I listen to who JESUS says I am and that’s what has guided me ever since I gave my life to Him 34 years ago. I used to be the director of an Exodus ministry in MI and while I heard about a few abuses “here and there,” that’s not how the ministry I lead operated. You can ask anyone who ever walked through our ministry’s doors. Some are living out their transformed lives in Christ, some believe they’re “gay Christians,” and some never claimed Christ as Savior over any area of their life. To a person, however, all the feedback I’ve ever received over the years tells me that people felt safe and loved when they walked through our doors. I know the horror stories are out there, especially in talking to ministry participants who participated in LIA, and my heart broke and still breaks for them. It simply doesn’t discredit what many very loving people such as Joe or myself ever did/have done for those who identify as LGBTQ, because we did it by offering the love of Christ not coercion or other destructive methods.

Joe Dallas | Nov 10, 2018

Bonnie, we are all certainly believing with you for your son, and for God's perfect will to be played out in his life. Thanks for sharing your story and thoughts with us.

Joe Dallas | Nov 10, 2018

Danny, it's great hearing from you, and getting your feedback on the film and the questions it raises. Thanks for that! Take good care.

Brian Bowen | Nov 12, 2018

While it is true the Bible condemns men who are married to women engaging in adulterous same sex relations with other men (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 and Romans 1:26-27), and while it is true the Bible condemns church leaders who molest boys in their congregation (1 Corinthians 6:9-10), and while it is true the Bible condemns same sex prostitution (1 Timothy 1:10), and while it is true the Bible condemns male-on-male gang rape (Genesis 19).... it is equally true that at no time does the Bible ever condemn same sex marriage.

While the traditional interpretations of Scripture assigned to these passages continue to be (unscripturally) superimposed onto LGBTQI people, too many end up committing suicide to not stop and take another look at what the Bible says (and does not say) about "homosexuality" and same sex marriage. They are no more the same thing than "heterosexuality" and opposite sex marriage.

As the Bible shows, "homosexuality" can take on many forms, including forms that don't even involve LGBTQI people in the first place!

Joe, I know you're heavily invested spiritually, emotionally and financially in the beliefs you espouse. But I urge you to reconsider if your Scriptural *interpretation* is in fact an accurate Scripture *application*, in reference to LGBTQI people.

With the Light and Love of Christ which supersedes all our limited understanding and traditional theological arguments,

Brian

Joe Dallas | Nov 12, 2018

Six verses in Scripture (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; I Corinthians 6:9-11; I Timothy 1:10) specifically condemn homosexual behavior, without regard to context. Whether done as an act of coercion or mutuality; whether done between adult and child or adult to adult; whether done as part of religious ceremony or interpersonal relating. Homosexual sex is Biblically condemned no matter how or in what context it’s done. This is consistent with the way the Bible address other sexual behaviors. It condemns adultery no matter what form it takes (between adult and child or adult and adult) as it condemns fornication, incest, and bestiality regardless of context.

The Bible does not condemn same-sex marriage because it does not recognize the existence of such a thing. But Jesus made it clear what God recognizes as marriage in Matthew 19:5-7.

Readers who are interested in getting a fuller look at the pro-gay interpretation of the Bible should view Matthew Vine’s video found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezQjNJUSraY

Vines is currently the most popular and influential speaker on the subject. I disagree with him completely, but he is very articulate and explains in logical detail his position on the Bible and homosexuality.

Readers interested in a rebuttal to Vines should read my postings on his teaching which can be found in seven parts beginning here:
https://joedallas.com/2014/05/05/assessing-god-and-the-gay-christian-part-one-of-five/

Jerry Armelli | Nov 12, 2018

Sincere, "thank you,' Joe. Keep writing brother. Your writings press back the darkness. And, help to the Body of Christ (and others) in discerning their way thru falsities.

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