Viral video claims people can stop being gay if they pray hard enough
The myth that people can somehow change their sexual preference is one that haunted American society for years, and in the 21st century, it's one that we'd all like to think has vanished. However, the idea of conversion is something that is very much present in our society, and something that looks like it's not going to disappear anytime soon.
Traditionally, gay conversion therapy, which has been thoroughly discredited by major medical and scientific associations across the world, involves brutish verbal and mental abuse, and forced medication. However, an evangelical Christian group reportedly took the practice to further lows when they released a video on social media allegedly claiming that homosexual people can change their sexual orientation if they pray hard enough.
Anchored North is a California-based charity that is dedicated to reaching out to young people on social media and that in the past has created videos about women recovering from abortion or forgiving their rapists. Their "Love is Love" video, which has so far received almost two million views, tells the story of a young woman named Emily Thomes who claims that after studying the Bible and repenting of her sins, she successfully left her "super wild" life as a lesbian and married a man.
Appearing to target young people who are questioning their sexuality, the short film begins with Thomes narrating her early life, claiming she fell in love with a woman when she was 15 years old and afterwards began proudly identifying as gay. But things take a turn when the seemingly relatable narrator recalls being invited to a Bible study group. Although initially reluctant, she claims that after listening to stories from the members, she no longer felt "okay". After pouring over religious verses, Thomes states that she realised that the "debt" she had racked up by being homosexual didn't have to be hers and that she could be "saved".
The young woman, who claims she had spent years arguing against scriptures, said: "People say to me all the time, ‘I was born this way.’ I say, 'OK, yeah, me too'. 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."
Released on December 28, 2017, the video quickly went viral and became the Anchored North's most viewed Facebook video. But its popularity certainly isn't indicative of its acceptance in society. In fact, the disturbing video has been subject to widespread criticism and disgust from the LGBTQ community and its supporters.
One woman on Facebook speculated that the controversial video could be a catalyst for young gay people bringing harm to themselves. Morven Roberts Baker wrote: "This little video is enough to push gay kids over the edge to suicide. If God changed her, why didn't the prayers of my daughter count? So so wrong. I'm willing to bet good money that she is on the bisexual spectrum, or else she is really doing an injustice being in a relationship with that young man. Let me tell anyone who is gay and watching this video that God created you just exactly as you are and 'he saw that it was good.' You are loved and precious."
Another commenter, Colleen Arney, expressed sympathy for Thomes, claiming she had clearly been scared into living a heterosexual life: "My heart breaks for this girl, being frightened into living a life she doesn’t want to live. So very sad. I hope one day she can be true to herself again."
The idea of "praying away the gay" is certainly not a new one; in fact, religious camps have reportedly been attempting to turn people straight for years. Often referring to homosexuality as "a disease", camps are said to use prayer as well as techniques such as electroshock therapy or burning or freezing their patients' hands in order to "cure" them.
Although only eight per cent of the American public is estimated to believe that gay therapy works, this has not led to it being completely outlawed. While certain states and cities have laws against it, in 2017, it was estimated that 76 per cent of the LGBTQ community, including minors, were living in states with no laws and still at risk of being introduced to the therapy at some point in their lives.
According to the American Psychological Association, “the most important fact about these ‘therapies’ is that they are based on a view of homosexuality that has been rejected by all the major mental health professions” – that it is abnormal, unnatural and a mental illness, one that can be corrected.
In the wake of the controversy, Emily Thomes, the young woman in the video, came out in defence of her comments on Facebook. In a controversial post, she wrote: "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."
Her comparison of homosexuality to other "sins" like murder, drugs and domestic violence has, unsurprisingly, created an even bigger backlash. Anchored North themselves have made a statement about the video, which emphasises the difference between gay conversion therapy and Bible study, reading: "In reality Emily experienced God’s love, and his peace in the midst of trials, and struggle with sin, and went home and realized her own sinfulness, and the clarity of scripture on homosexuality, and repented."
Brandan Robertson, a queer Christian writer and pastor, stated that for him, Anchored North’s video showed the damaging effects of fear-driven and anti-LGBTQ interpretations of Christianity. While he didn't refute Thomes’ story about her past, he strongly opposed the idea that God desires to turn all gay people straight. He said: “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. 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.”
All in all, Anchored North's video appears to be a tragic attempt to coerce gay people into reshaping their sexuality when the truth is, no matter how hard we try - or pray - we are who we are. The backlash to the footage highlights that certain members of religious communities need to concentrate all the effort they put into pressuring homosexual people into converting towards something genuinely worthwhile. The sooner they see that loving another person isn't a crime, the sooner we all can be happy.