Guest Editorial: The damage of religious abuse

Posted: June 23rd, 2017 | Guest Editorial, Opinion & News | No Comments

By the Rev. Mark Martinhauk

(Editor’s note: This ran in one of St. Paul’s newsletters in advance of the conversion therapy conference held June 15 in San Diego. We felt the reverend’s words were important for our community to hear.)

I last wrote for Integrity USA [the movement within the Episcopal Church working for full inclusion of LGBT parishioners] nearly a decade ago when I was on the board. We were coming out of a church-wide conversation about how we were going to treat LGBT people, and those of us in Integrity were both excited and curious — excited about the Church growing more fully into the love of Christ as and curious what the future of Integrity would be.

Ten years later, as a priest at St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego (a proud Parish partner of Integrity), my experience is that we still question what direction Integrity is going. Here in San Diego, we often ask whether we still need Integrity, given the rapid change and acceptance of LGBTQ people in the life of the Church.

Recently, though, I have been reminded how shortsighted we are being when we ask if Integrity still has a role. [On June 15], a Christian church in San Diego will host a national conference on conversion or reparative therapy. The “Restored Hope Network” will bring people from all over the country to offer “hope for those struggling with sexual and relational brokenness.” They claim to offer a “cure” for homosexuality.

I must admit I was shocked when I learned that this conference was happening. For one, I thought reparative therapy died a few years ago with the dissolution of Exodus International, which closed in 2013 after its president apologized, acknowledged that conversion therapy does not work, and that changing sexual orientation is not possible. My understanding is that his ex-wife and a few other remnants of Exodus formed the “Restored Hope Network.”

I was even more surprised that such a conference would be held here in San Diego, because in California and seven other states, so-called “conversion” therapy is illegal for minors, an acknowledgement of its dangers and lack of efficacy.

I have never been a victim of conversion therapy, but after seminary I spent several years working in a mental health inpatient hospital as a chaplain. I heard firsthand the awful stories of people who had their identities stripped away from them at the most tender moments of their lives. I met too many people who had attempted suicide because they had become deeply convinced by religious authorities that they were flawed and had no hope for a meaningful future.

When I was on the board of Integrity, I toured churches as a representative of Integrity. Again, I heard stories of rejection and pain caused by conversion therapy. I listened to stories of struggle with self-acceptance and acceptance by God after religious abuse.

The damage caused by religious abuse, which includes conversion or reparative therapy, is real, is tragic, and pains the heart of God. Conversion therapy simply does not work, and in fact, causes damage. LGBTQ young people who experience rejection because of their identity are more than eight times as likely to attempt suicide as those who are accepted.

What is the future of Integrity? I do not know what it will be, given that the Church now has canons on the books to welcome and affirm our unique and God-given gifts — thanks be to God! Still, it is easy to become complacent once we have gotten for ourselves what we have sought, even when we know there are parts of the Church where those canons have yet to be fully realized.

Still, for me, Integrity has never been about only you and me. It has always been about all of us; everybody; the whole human family. So I can tell you this: Integrity San Diego will be present to protest the Restored Hope Network national conference, and if you are in Southern California, I hope you will join us. Because no child of God deserves to hear that they are anything less than fully loved by their Creator, that their gifts are a treasure to be cherished, and that they are themselves a part of this wondrous creation.

We will follow that up a month later with a fabulous Pride celebration, where the Cathedral is an official stop for Pride week festivities when we will host an interfaith prayer service featuring Metropolitan Community Church founder, Troy Perry. We will also take the lead on an interfaith “Pride with Prayer, Pride with Purpose” sub-theme in the official parade delegation.

We will participate because Integrity, the Church, and all of us need to remind the whole world that LGBTQ gifts are meant to shine, and shine brightly!

We, all of us, are a part of this multi-colored rainbow body, straight and gay and gender queer and trans. All of us, with our different functions and gifts and skills, are necessary to make this Body of Christ work together in harmony for love. 
Wherever you are this Pride season, I pray that you will live it fabulously in the unceasing love of God, and mindful of the justice that seems to be more and more needful every day.

—The Rev. Jeff Martinhauk is a native Texan who joined St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in January 2016, where he is the director of congregational life. St. Paul’s is located at 2728 Sixth Ave. in Bankers Hill.

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