By M. Alex Johnson Reporter
updated 7/13/2005 7:29:28 AM ET 2005-07-13T11:29:28

BELLEVUE, Wash. — “God loves you, but —”

Many of the nearly 150 people gathered in the sanctuary of Newport Presbyterian Church were already nodding in agreement before Jallen Rix could finish the thought.

“‘God loves you, but — ’” he was saying. “That is not unconditional love.”

A decade ago, Jallen Rix was a well-known singer and songwriter on the gay pop scene, touring the country behind an album that was nominated for three Gay & Lesbian American Music Awards.

He still performs, but now he is equally as well known — probably better known, in fact — as a gay Christian activist and educator exposing what he says is the damage done to gay men and lesbians by religious and psychological programs that seek to reverse their homosexuality.

Rix knows the effects firsthand. Raised in a Southern Baptist household, he attended an evangelical college and tried what is known as “conversion therapy.” It didn’t work.

For the last few years, Rix has been working on a doctorate in sexology and speaking at events like this, a one-day conference organized in suburban Seattle by Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG. Called Love Welcomes All, it was put together in direct response to a much bigger nearby conference put on two weeks earlier by Focus on the Family, the international evangelical ministry led by Dr. James Dobson, who believes homosexuality is largely a learned condition that can be treated.

Trends point toward acceptance
It is an important point, and not just for the self-image of a gay, bisexual or trans-gendered person. Underlying it is one of the most important philosophical bases of conservative Christian opposition to same-sex marriage, civil unions and the full protection of anti-discrimination laws. If homosexuality is an “illness” caught after birth, the proper response is treatment, in this view. But if it is a biological characteristic — like brown eyes or black skin or blond hair — then “society will have to deal with the reality that you are who you are,” said Jon Wartes, chairman of the PFLAG conference.

Supporters of the biological explanation for homosexuality have the weight of science on their side. All of the major medical and psychological professional organizations — from the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association on down — state that sexuality is predominantly determined by chemical, hormonal and genetic conditions in the womb. They are clear in declaring that homosexuality is not a disease or a pathology that can be changed; most go a step further and strongly question whether it is even ethical for a medical professional to help clients try to change their sexuality.

Public opinion appears to be turning their way. In a series of polls by the Gallup organization over the last three decades, the percentage of Americans who agree that homosexuality is not a choice has slowly doubled, to nearly 40 percent. More striking is that acceptance of homosexual behavior is dramatically higher among younger Americans than among their parents: A 2001 survey by Zogby International and Hamilton College found that more than 80 percent of high school seniors nationwide believed that gay men and lesbians should be “accepted by society.”

Fighting a ‘big industry’
And yet events like Love Welcomes All remain crucially important, organizers said. They may have the science, and they may even have the moral high ground, but the other side has a powerful megaphone in the well-oiled machinery of conservative Christian activism.

The ex-gay movement is a “big industry,” said Dr. Doug Haldeman, a psychology professor at the University of Washington who is president of the Association of Practicing Psychologists.

The fact that Focus on the Family was able to draw more than 1,200 people to its conference two weeks ago is troubling, said Haldeman, who co-wrote the American Psychological Association’s Guidelines for Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Clients. So-called conversion therapies are ineffective and dangerous, he said, because “sexual orientation can’t be changed.”

Focus on the Family and allied ministries, such as Exodus, Day Seven and CrossOver, preach that hatred and confrontation are wrong. A cornerstone principle of such ministries is the injunction to “love the sinner but hate the sin.”

And that is why they are wrong, Rix said, because that philosophy assumes that homosexuals can be considered separate from their homosexuality. “Sexuality is so much more than just a lifestyle,” he said. “Sexuality is a core part of who we are.”

That means that if homosexuality is a sin and that Christians should hate that sin, Rix said, it is impossible for them not to hate the “sinner” on some level.

It is, he contended, the “‘flawed’ solecism” — the idea among socially conservative Christians that “we accept you unconditionally, but you must change.”

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