An evangelical Christian group is using social media to promote the scientifically discredited and flat-out lethal idea that gay, lesbian, or bisexual people can change their sexual orientation if they pray hard enough.
Anchored North, a conservative Christian charity, tells the story of a young woman named Emily Thomes in a video titled “Love is Love.” Thomes says that after studying the Bible and repenting of her sins, she was able to leave her “super wild” life as a lesbian and marry a man.
The video appears to be designed to attract the attention of young queer people or teens who are questioning their sexuality. “Love is Love” is a phrase often used to promote acceptance of LGBTQ relationships. Anchored North also used a rainbow flag in the video’s thumbnail, appropriating what has become a unifying symbol of the gay rights movement.
The first few moments of the video seem innocent enough ― with scenes of teens dancing to catchy party music and two girls laughing and holding hands while walking down a street. Thomes is presented as a relatable narrator, introducing herself as someone who fell in love with a girl when she was 15 and soon started proudly identifying as gay.
But, despite the video’s friendlier packaging, Thomes claims that queer people can change their sexual orientation if they try.
“People say to me all the time, ‘I was born this way.’ I say, OK, yeah, me too,’” she says at one point in the video. “You’re not born with right affections. That’s why Jesus had to come. You feeling a desire for sin just proves you need grace like me.”
“Even though the world would paint a totally different story about what sexuality is and isn’t, God’s word is clear and he can save and he does and he will,” she adds.
Since Anchored North’s video went live on Dec. 28, it has racked up 1.5 million views and is by far the group’s most popular Facebook video.
Anchored North is a 501(c)(3) California-based charity that churns out flashy Christian social media content. The group clams they are “next generation evangelists.” They are dedicated to reaching young people where they are ― on social media. In the past, the company has created videos about women recovering from abortion or forgiving their rapists.
The kind of “transformation” that Anchored North is promising is often linked to a practice known as gay conversion therapy. This type of counseling attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation to fit heterosexual standards, and is often motivated by religious principles.
Gay conversion therapy has been thoroughly discredited by all major mental health associations. The American Psychological Association states that efforts to change sexual orientation through therapy carry “serious potential to harm young people,” since the tactics used often “frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.” Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are also almost five times more likely to have attempted suicide than their heterosexual peers.
Thomes, an “ex-lesbian” Christian speaker, defended the video in a series of Facebook posts over the past few days. On Tuesday, she went so far as to compare queer relationships to everything from domestic violence to murder. She also suggested that queer people are destined for hell.
“Should you stop beating your wife even if you really want to continue? YES. Should you not kill someone even if you’re really wanting to go through with it? YES. Should you get clean if you have a drug problem and are destroying yourself and those who love you even if you still like getting high? YES. Should you stop cheating on your spouse even if you like the attention you’re getting from someone else? YES.”
“If you are waiting on God to make your flesh no longer what scripture says it’ll always be, you will spend eternity separated from Him,” she added.
Anchored North’s views about sexual orientation reflect the views of most white evangelical Protestants, one of the Christian groups least likely to say in polls that homosexuality should be accepted by society. Mainstream evangelicals tend to hold the belief that marriage was defined by God in the Bible and that Christian sexual ethics have changed little over the past 2,000 years.
But the tide is turning. Surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center and the Public Religion Research Institute, or PRRI, show that evangelicals are slowly growing more accepting of queer sexuality ― and that this growth is largely driven by millennials. In 2016, PRRI found that a slim majority (51 percent) of young white evangelical Protestants supported same-sex marriage.
Amelia Markham, a queer Christian activist for The Reformation Project, told HuffPost that for an increasing number of Christians, affirming queer sexuality isn’t about “following our feelings” and dismissing the authority of the Bible.
“Even conservative Bible scholars concede that good Bible interpretation requires considering the historical, physical, and cultural circumstances that the text is written under,” she wrote in an email. “It then follows that, per the tradition established under Jesus in the New Covenant, echoed quite loudly throughout the last two millennia of the church history, new information should lead Christians to new understanding.”
“We don’t jettison the text, we dig deeper and allow it to interrogate us, our prejudices, and ... all the ways that we have cut God down so that our boundaries of who is in and who is out can be maintained.”
Brandan Robertson, a queer Christian writer and pastor, told HuffPost that for him, Anchored North’s video shows the damaging effects of fear-driven and anti-queer interpretations of Christianity. While he doesn’t doubt Thomes’ story about her past, he strongly opposes the idea that God desires to turn all LGBTQ people straight.
“In the video, you see a young woman stricken by fear and confusion, stemming from non-affirming Christian doctrines, and the power that the fear had to drive her to seek to change her lifestyle,” Robertson wrote in an email. “A more robust, Christ-centered Christian theology would lead us to understand that God is all gracious, all merciful, and extends forgiveness and love to absolutely everyone.”
“God has created a vast array of human beings, not one of which is identical to another. And in our diversity ― including diversity of sexuality and gender identity ― God’s glory is revealed.”
And for young queer evangelicals, who may be among the 1.5 million people who viewed the video online, Robertson has this piece of advice:
“God is love, and in God, there is no retributive judgment ― this is the beauty of grace. So feel liberated to explore yourself, your sexuality, and refuse to buy into any narrative of fear or judgment ― it’s not of God,” he said.
“More importantly, you are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of an eternally diverse God, and in your diversity, you most perfectly reflect God’s divinity. Lean into your queerness, lean into that which makes you unique. And as you do, listen intently for the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking over you, [saying] ‘You are my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased.’”