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Op-Ed: Baptist Pastor Says It's Time to Ban Conversion Therapy in Kentucky

The following op-ed was submitted by Rev. Jason Crosby of Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville

On a cold, grey January morning in 2014, I walked into Crescent Hill Baptist Church. I saw the red flashing light on my office phone indicating a voicemail message. I had never met the person who called. However, his message said he wanted to meet with me as soon as possible. Something about his tone told me he was worried and concerned.

Later that afternoon we met. He was a young man in his early twenties. After exchanging pleasantries he shared his story with me. He told me has was born and raised in Eastern Kentucky. When he was not at home or school, he was at church as child. He began preaching at churches throughout Eastern Kentucky in his early teens. He moved to Louisville to attend a conservative Christian institution of higher education. He was nearing graduation and a preaching job awaited him back in the mountains.

However, in the months preceding our first meeting he realized he could no longer go on denying that he was gay.

This young man did not graduate from that institution. He did not get the job back home. He did forgo many hopes and dreams because of his sexual orientation.

As a Baptist pastor, I have heard many stories similar to his over the years from individuals whose identities and livelihoods are tethered to conservative Christian contexts where homosexuality is considered to be a sin.

Even though gay and lesbian people in conservative Christian contexts often face great personal, professional, financial, familial, and other hardships, they continue to embrace their sexual orientation because they have no choice.

Scientists have long told us that same-sex attraction is not a choice. I am no scientist, but the many people I have met who have endured pain and difficulty inflicted by religious leaders and institutions for embracing their same-sex orientation further supports widely-held scientific conclusions.

Because same-sex attraction is not a choice, conversion therapy is dangerous, destructive, and deadly. In a nutshell, conversion therapy is an effort to “get the gay away.” Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky is a grassroots organization working to shed light on the practice. On its website Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky explains, “Conversion therapists use a variety of shaming, emotionally traumatic or physically painful stimuli to make their victims associate those stimuli with their LGBTQ identities.”

The American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have all denounced the practice. According to a National Public Radio report that aired recently, “LGBTQ young people are already significantly more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. But according to researchers at San Francisco State University, rates of attempted suicide among LGBTQ youth more than double when parents try to change their sexual orientation. And those rates triple when parents and therapists and religious leaders try to do so.”

Last week Utah became the 19th state to ban conversion therapy. Utah is not a bastion of liberalism. Fifty-nine of the 75 members of the Utah State House of Representatives are Republicans. Twenty-three of the 29 members of the Utah State Senate are Republicans. Governor Gary Herbert is a Republican as well.

In 2013, Alan Chambers walked away from Exodus International. Exodus International was one of the most prominent conservative Christian conversion therapy centers in the nation at the time. Regarding his evolving perspective on same-sex orientation in 2015 in the Washington Post he wrote, “And then I repented. I changed my mind. I chose to believe the truth about God-that he is indeed a God of love and grace. I chose to be free. I chose to love without reserve, starting with myself, and then others. I chose to embrace rather than push away.”

The Bible, in addition to science and my own experience, tells me that same-sex attraction is not a choice. The Bible says little if anything about homosexuality. However, the Bible is very clear that all of us are made in the image of God – homosexual and heterosexual.

The Bible says little if anything about homosexuality, but the Bible is very clear about the importance of kindness and loving one another.

Currently, two separate bills have been proposed in the Kentucky State Senate and House of Representative (SB85 and HB199) that would ban what some refer to as “conversion therapy” in Kentucky, but what is more accurately defined as conversion torture. This proposal has bipartisan support in Frankfort. If a red state like Utah sees the harm done by the practice, then a red state like Kentucky should do the same. If former champions of the cause have come to realize the harm that conversion torture creates, then we all should denounce it.  

While I wish more Kentuckians would join me in fully welcoming and affirming same-sex orientation and relationships, all Kentucky Christians at the very least should lend their support to banning conversion torture. Christians who result to barbaric practices that inflict great pain and increase death by suicide are not acting in a Christ-like manner. In fact, they undermine the very message of love and grace they purport to advance.

Rev. Jason Crosby is co-pastor at Crescent Hill Baptist Church and a board member of the ACLU-KY

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