Have you ever watched a TV commercial or read a print advertisement that made something look deceivingly easy? I’m thinking about those weight loss companies that put out their most extreme “success” stories. You know the ones, featuring the before and after image of some average joe that lost mega pounds and now looks transformed thanks to the product or system being promoted. These oversimplified ads don’t tell the whole story.
Just what exactly went into that transformation? Does the transformation on the outside reflect what is going on inside? Is it possible that the transformation is merely an image projected to the world for its approval?
The problem is that when the rest of us average joes try this ourselves, we expect similar results and are thus set up for failure. To know the truth, one must read the fine print. Upon doing so, one will notice a disclaimer resembling something like this: Results not typical…
This is what I think of when I view social media. People are putting forth their most edited, engineered, manicured images for the world’s consumption. What is the reality behind those images? What was sacrificed in the quest for the perfect photo? Was there a genuine moment to be cherished that was missed, never to be recaptured? Or was the opportunity to engage in a genuine moment never given a chance? The price of those picture-perfect images can be relational, emotional, spiritual, or even physical, costing one their God-given life.
Social media aside, the most heartbreaking disclaimer worthy of advertisement is not an advertisement at all. It is dangerous, and it is happening inside Christian churches, often with what Christians consider good intention. A friend with such intentions recently told me of a speaker her church hosted. This speaker was a woman who had once been living a “homosexual lifestyle.” But through prayer and intentional living, chose to no longer pursue same-sex relationships. How simple. Results not typical.
While the speaker disclosed that choosing to remain single is not the path for all, still I am left with many questions. What was the church’s motivation in presenting the speaker? What were they hoping to accomplish? Would they also consider hosting an LGBTQ speaker with a different story? How may the listeners have been influenced by what they heard, and how will that message affect their relationships and beliefs? Maybe those with gay loved ones can pray the gay away; they just need to “try harder.” Or say the right words. Or point them to scripture. Or maybe, just maybe, if one is willing to sacrifice a loving, committed relationship, and their God-given soul, then they too can be “healed.”
Another similar story recently came from a woman in my Bible study group. She told of listening to a podcast in which a mother prayed for years for her son to be brought out of homosexuality. It wasn’t until he went to jail, and in reading a Bible he found in his cell, was able to turn from his “sinful ways.” How simple. Results not typical.
My friend and fellow Bible study member shared these stories I imagine to offer hope, or as an example that people could be brought out of homosexuality or choose not to act on it. But the danger lies in this: When Christians and churches parade such examples in front of their masses, they run the risk of their listeners oversimplifying the messages and interpreting them as truth. They don’t see what was sacrificed in order to achieve the transformation in question. I wonder if the woman who shared her story recognizes that her words may be met with expectation and comparison, undoing or further damaging relationships when such expectations remain unmet.
When religion and scripture are misused, it is deeply and profoundly dangerous, leaving indelible relational, emotional, psychological, and spiritual marks. Rather than being a shelter for the wounded, the church in this way inflicts the wounds. Instead of welcoming the marginalized and oppressed, the church furthers oppression and marginalization.
It should be no surprise that LGBTQ youth are almost five times more likely than their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide. Those who come from rejecting families are up to eight times more likely to attempt suicide than those coming from more affirming families. Eight times.
Imagine the results if the family, friends, and communities of LGBTQ people prayed for their own transformation. What if we prayed for our hearts to be transformed rather than our loved ones’ sexual orientation? What if we called out damaging theology when presented with an opportunity? Perhaps relationships would be restored. Community built. Safety established. Love lived out. Lives saved. What if?
The truth is that God does not need us to do his advertising for him. What God wants is for us to be in a relationship with one another, regardless of “results.” Now that’s a success story worth claiming.