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Ex-gay ministries merit tolerance

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FULL-PAGE ADVERTISEMENTS hit major newspapers recently claiming that homosexuals can change their sexual identity through religious conversion.

One ad features the testimony of Anne Paulk, a self-described "wife, mother and former lesbian," who says she was able to change through a renewed commitment to God. Paulk says "Leaving homosexuality was the hardest thing I've ever had to do." But she goes on to add:"As I grew in my relationship with God, I knew He had changed me forever. Gone was the hardness. Gone was the hurt. And gone was the shrill cry inside, replaced by God's still, small voice."

The ad features a photo of some of the thousands of folks who claim they left their homosexual lives through various ex-gay ministries, including Exodus International. The advertisements are sponsored by the Christian Coalition, the Family Research Council and other groups.

And perhaps to no one's surprise, they've created quite a stir.

"The bigotry, hatred and intolerance that this ad represents is the real perversion," Tracey Canaty of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force told CNN. In fact, her organization views it as a new attack on homosexuality.

But what "bigotry, hatred and intolerance" is she talking about? It seems to me that those who say we should be tolerant of all lifestyles themselves have a responsibility to tolerate someone who simply and genuinely wishes not to be gay - whether or not gay activists think that is possible.

Now I think some conservative or Christian commentators on this issue may miss the point when they remain adamant that homosexual orientation is most often a choice in the traditional sense of the word, something easily redirected with a little prodding from society. As if so many men and women decided to be gay out of pique at a traditional culture. Whether it's somehow innate or, I think more likely, develops from personal experiences early in life, it seems to me obvious that homosexual desire is often a deep and powerful drive well ingrained by adulthood.

But that's the point. As part of our very makeup, we all would have to admit we hold some desires that vary from unhealthy to wrong. And where few impulses may be more powerful than a sexual one, the fact remains no one is forced to act on their desires. So, for instance, a married man might intensely long to sleep with women beside his wife, but few would say that that desire, or more importantly, acting on it, is acceptable.

Single people were once expected to refrain from acting on their sexual desires, even while those desires were seen as positive, until and unless they got married. Even though that certainly might be a struggle!

So it seems to me one can both recognize and sympathize with what for many homosexuals is obviously not a cynical choice but an intense and deeply felt longing. Yet at the same time we can believe the conduct is immoral.

Apparently there are thousands of homosexuals who think exactly that. These are people who say they believe that while their drive is very profound, it is also wrong, or at the very least, emotionally unhealthy, and it is something they truly desire to change. And if they cannot always change their innermost feelings, they at least want to start by changing the behavior that desire spawns.

Though there are unfortunate examples of shrill rhetoric on both sides of this debate, it's clear there are people of goodwill and compassion who genuinely and respectfully hold views like those in these advertisements, views at odds with the politically correct norm of today.

So to rephrase my original question: Why can't tolerant people tolerate such thinking?