Our first EF conference and we’ve been home three hours, having eaten too much and talked to a lot of people (hence tired from late nights). Was it worth it? A resounding ‘Yes!’. It was a unique experience to spend a weekend with a mixture of mainly gay and lesbian people. It wasn’t a meeting-together of a people who spoke with one voice. We acknowledged our differences within that grouping. Being gay is who we are but with the wonderful uniqueness we each have as God’s creations.
The greatest impact this weekend had for us was being able to tell our story and hear other people’s stories. Past experience has shown us that sharing each other’s life experiences helps us come to terms with and affirm who we are, not only during the conference, but gives a confidence and a sense of well-being that permeates our being. It’s a stepping-stone along this sometimes tortuous journey. For those of us who live or work in a hostile world, such times are precious:
It gives us encouragement for where, one day, we hope to be. It also reminds us of the hurt we have done to others. Again and again we heard of honesty triumphing where our fear of ‘coming out’ to husbands and children had led to confusion, resentment and darkness. Hindsight is so illuminating. We learnt many lessons which can be applied as we continue to explain our relationship to family members. Perhaps we have too low an expectation of others. Perhaps we should see God in people and allow them to respond in a positive and loving way, to give them the opportunity to ‘be their best’. And perhaps when we’re rejected, give them time and space, and continue to love with God’s love that takes the flak, forgives and loves to the ends of the earth and beyond.
The theme was ‘Coming Home Together’. Feedback from workshops brought a wealth of ideas. We haven’t arrived; we hope one day we will; we know we will in eternity. The speaker, Jeremy Marks, joins us on that journey. What courage (no pun intended) it took to make an about-turn from a position of believing that gays could be ‘healed’ to a place of affirmation. Again, there was a strong sense of an ongoing process. Jeremy was extremely honest in describing his path, with all its twists and turns. We saw vulnerability and a genuine desire to find God’s thoughts. How often do we make ourselves vulnerable? Or do we hide behind a mask, in that ‘safe’ place where we think no one can hurt us?
It felt like home. The atmosphere was warm and friendly; those who led and organised were positive and uplifting and, in the case of Sarah, noisy! Laughter helped to form new bonds. We return to our ‘normal’ lives strengthened and renewed, affirmed and encouraged. Lasting qualities with which to face challenges with God and without fear.
Irene and Gaynor
It was a shock to discover on the Friday evening that I was the longest-standing member present (not on the Saturday, I might add, and I believe we still have one or two founder members who didn’t make it this time). However, what for me made the conference a real home-coming was meeting Jeremy after so many years, during which our paths had diverged.
I first met Jeremy in the early 1980s, when a work colleague introduced him to Phil and me in the hope that he might be persuaded that he didn’t need healing from his homosexuality. He was a photographer, and a job at York Minster provided the opportunity for him to stay with us in Leeds. I must admit to having quailed at the thought of the giddy heights he was compelled to climb to in his work inside the Minster. We couldn’t help liking him, but were very conscious of the pressures on him in the very conservative-minded fellowship that he belonged to in Watford. We were therefore very disappointed but not altogether surprised when he wrote to say he was going to America for training with one of several so-called ‘ex-gay’ groups. His subsequent founding of Courage Trust is known to many of you.
Jeremy’s comments as reported in Not for Turning: An Enquiry into the Ex-Gay Movement (Tony Green, Brenda Harrison & Jeremy Innes, 1996) suggested to me that, while we still disagreed fundamentally, I could be sure that he would treat people with a personal respect that was missing from many other ‘ex-gay’ ministries. One thing that now impresses me about him is that he has been willing not only to carry through what he believed but to learn from it, and for this reason it is perhaps not surprising that his views have changed as a result of his experiences.
This alone would not have been enough to explain the complete about-turn that Jeremy described to us in some detail in his address on the Saturday morning. The change, though dramatic, was not a single about-face, but came about gradually through many years of ministry, and of his marriage to Bren, which, if misguided in retrospect, was entered into with trust and sincerity (and to which he remains committed). To turn his back on many years of work with Exodus International and its ilk must have taken tremendous courage and considerable personal risk.
Jeremy also spoke about the residential project that he set up entitled ‘Steps out of homosexuality’, and of how he came to realise that, far from ‘healing’ people of their homosexuality, it had caused emotional damage, both for those who had taken part and for those close to them. Not one single case had resulted of anyone whose sexuality had definitively changed. Jeremy had attempted to provide exactly what conservative evangelicals wanted – namely a way out of homosexuality – but experience had proved this goal to be unachievable (and, one might add, unnecessary).
Much of what Jeremy did in the past came about, he suggested, from an overemphasis on Christian duty as opposed to the response of Christian love. Like so many gay men and lesbians, he had been persuaded to follow the path of duty, seeking celibacy or change, rather than acknowledge what his heart was really telling him.
While I am saddened that for so many years Jeremy and I pursued opposing goals, I can now rejoice that we are walking on more parallel paths again, acknowledging God’s acceptance of us as we really are – for it is in this acknowledgement that the path to true healing can be found.