Last month, it was my privilege to attend the annual conference of the Restored Hope Network (RHN) in San Diego. The Restored Hope Network is the nation’s largest umbrella organization for Christian organizations engaged in “transformational ministry” with those who suffer from unwanted same-sex attractions (SSA). (It is often seen as a successor to Exodus International, an organization that shut down in 2013 after its leadership abandoned its original message that change is possible for those with unwanted SSA.)
LGBT activists in the San Diego area organized protests against the conference (although they did not turn out anything close to the 1,000 protesters they promised). Ironically, the protests had some positive effect—at least one person struggling with unwanted SSA who attended the conference said he would never have known about it if not for the publicity about the protests.
I was struck, however, by the sharp disconnect between what the protesters assumed was actually happening in the conference and what was actually happening there. As just one example, critics of “sexual orientation change efforts” (SOCE)—which they (not its practitioners) refer to as “conversion therapy”—often charge that such programs damage participants by instilling “shame” in them. The truth is the exact opposite—participants come into SOCE with shame, and a key goal of the counselling is to overcome and remove that sense of shame.
One thing striking about this year’s conference was the increased emphasis on issues of gender identity as well as sexual orientation—a clear reflection of the growing prominence of the transgender issue just in the two years since I last attended an RHN conference. Since RHN is an explicitly Christian organization, the twin issues of homosexuality and gender dysphoria (dissatisfaction with one’s biological sex) were both addressed by several speakers in the theological context of the “image of God,” as expressed in Genesis 1:27:
And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them.
In other words, our maleness or femaleness, and the complementarity of the two, is part of the “image of God” with which each of us is created by God. Linda Seiler, who struggled with gender identity issues growing up, said this means that “gender is sacred” and that “rejecting one’s God-given sex is rebelling against the Creator.” Speaker Nate Oyloe applied the concept to marriage, saying, “Divorce is the image of God, masculine and feminine, being torn apart.” Another speaker, who formerly lived a lesbian lifestyle and is now living a life of chastity, gave a personal testimony in which she declared, “I was born with a sinful and rebellious nature, but I was reborn in the imago dei (image of God).”
The highlight of the conference for me was seeing the world premiere of a new documentary film called TranZformed: Finding Peace with Your God-Given Gender. While the movement that believes sexual orientation change is possible has been around for decades, and numerous testimonies of those who have experienced change have long been available, until now only a few people have publicly come out as “ex-transgender” (the most prominent being Walt Heyer—see his website).
TranZformed, however, features the dramatic testimonies of 15 ex-transgender individuals who “bear witness to what Jesus Christ can do for those who struggle with gender dysphoria.” The film, which is over an hour long, was very professionally produced by Pure Passion Media, a ministry dedicated to “equipping the church to redemptively minister to those who are trapped in sexual sin and brokenness” (a focus which definitely includes heterosexual sin and brokenness, such as pornography addiction). In fact, two of the testimonies included in TranZformed are available on the Pure Passion website.
However, the DVD of the entire documentary is available for order at the TranZformed website. I highly recommend it for the dramatic personal insight it gives into the transgender issue.