Lisa Ling’s “Our America” asks “Can you pray the gay away?”

In a week of good lesbian TV, I was surprised that a show that I viewed as positive was not well received by some visible members of the LGBT media, including GLAAD and our brother site, To me, Tuesday’s Our America With Lisa Ling: Pray the Gay Away? was balanced and moving.

But before I talk about the show, let me share a little about my connection with the topic.

When I was 18, I had an experience that Christians call being born again. It was a definite, life-changing moment in which my relationship with God went from theoretical to personal. Being the jump-in-with-both-feet kind of person I am, I immersed myself in Christianity. I’m not talking church on Sunday; I was one of those folks who spent hours in prayer and Bible study, the kind who can quote long passages of scripture, the kind you run into outside gay bars who will tell you that you can and must be saved to avoid eternity separated from God. A Jesus Person.

I was not pleasant to be around.

For the next 15 – 20 years, my number one goal in life was to be a godly woman (aka a “Proverbs 31 Woman”). However, one thing was preventing me from being that woman: other women. I kept falling for them. I believed my attraction to women was sin and hated myself for it. I went to all sorts of extremes to avoid, deny or change it. At one point in grad school, after I had “fallen into sin” with another woman, I visited a Christian minister who cast the demon of homosexuality out of me while a friend prayed so hard in the other room that he ripped his shirt to shreds. (Just go with me here – it’s a quite Biblical thing to do.) The minister told me to fall on my face before God and pray every day for three hours to keep the demon at bay. And I did. Pray, that is – the demon apparently didn’t read the instructions.

Cut to a few years later when I was in seminary. I lived in a big house with some other Christians, both male and female. The housemother sorted our mail by putting it in piles on the stairs, so privacy was not a part of the experience. One day, one of the guys took me aside and said, “I saw that you got a mailer from Exodus.” I blanched and mumbled something about a paper I was writing, not registering that he was on the ex-gay organization’s mailing list, too. I often think that had I responded openly and talked to him about it, I might have been able to avoid another 10 years of struggle.

I was in my 30s before I gave up. Even then, it was via a prayer: “God, I’ve done everything I can to change. I don’t know what else to do. If you want me not to be gay, change me. Otherwise, show me what this is about.”

You can guess how that prayer was answered. In short: still gay.

The point of this lengthy background is that for someone who believes that you have to choose between God and gay, the struggle never stops. What the American Psychological Association or MCC or Oprah says is irrelevant. What God says is all that matters – and a lot of LGBT folks don’t have the resources to figure out that many Christian leaders have not done their homework when it comes to what God says (in the Bible) about homosexuality.

For people like me — and for Christians who want to know more about the topic — a show like Our America is, well, a godsend. Hundreds of thousands of people believe you can pray away the gay. And they believe if you can’t, you’re just not praying hard enough.

Lisa Ling approached the topic from the perspective of a self-proclaimed non-Christian that wants to understand what the ex-gay movement is all about. She made her stance clear from the first – she is pro-gay and has a number of very close friends who are gay. When she visited the Exodus International Freedom Conference, she was open about her stance — and got some surprising information in the process.

Exodus president Alan Chambers

Alan Chambers, president of Exodus and married to a woman, told Ling that he believes homosexuality is wrong, but, after 20 years, he still struggles with it – and believes he always will. He is not convinced that his sexual orientation has changed. He even said that he believes gay people will be right beside him in heaven. That is huge.

When I sought help from Exodus, I wanted to change – and that’s what they said they could help me do. I didn’t go to their meetings or counselors, but the clear message in their literature was that God could heal me of my homosexuality. Now, the focus in on whether people will follow God – even if their sexual orientation never changes. That shift in thinking is important for both sides of the issue to hear.