Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Oprah's Network "Pray the Gay Away" Reinforces Myths and Stereotypes

UPDATE: I have been contacted by the Naming Project, who let me know that the staff at the camp are Lutheran ministers and lay leaders who are openly gay. I am sorry that I missed that in my observations about the piece. Please see the Comment from Ross in the Comment section for more more information about the Naming Project.

I just happened to see an ad that the Oprah Winfrey Network Lisa Ling show was titled "Pray the Gay Away?" last night.

You can see a trailer at

The first 30 minutes of the program was filming of an Exodus ("ex-gay") conference, and an un-responded to statement that the Bible is anti-gay (although Ling does point out that there are only six explicit verses.) Two pieces examined the troubled childhoods of two gay individuals reinforcing the myth that parenting makes people gay. There was a short piece on the naming project, a camp for queer Christian young people. It wasn't until 55 minutes into the program that we heard an adult man who said he was gay, Christian, and happy.

I kept waiting for them to interview religious leaders who understand that sexual and gender diversity is part of God's blessing -- with the exception of the camp counselor, there was none. I was hoping that they might mention that many denominations in America, including the UUA, the UCC, and the Union for Reform Judaism, are fully welcoming and inclusive. They did not. I wanted them to talk with some of my colleagues from the large number of denomination groups working for full inclusion -- or someone from among the thousands of gay and lesbian clergy I know. They did not.

I tweeted to my followers (@revdebra) that it is a MYTH that you can't be happy, gay, and Christian (or any other faith.) I reminded my followers that God loves them, that we are all created in God's image, and that as one of our Open Letters, endorsed by more than 2700 leaders says, "sexual difference is a blessed part of our endowment."

Oprah and Lisa, I expected better from you.


Lizard Eater said...

Yes! And there is a big range of "types" of churches that are welcoming/affirming. For "Bring Your Gay Teen to Church Day," along with UU, UCC, and Metropolitan Community, we had Reconciling Methodist, Covenant Baptist, an African-American non-denominational, Lutheran, Episcopal, Quaker ... even Assemblies of God. (And this was in HOUSTON.) Affirming churches are no longer some small quirky thing. They're everywhere. Church does not have to equal judgment and condemnation for the LGBTQ community.

Margaret Irribarra said...

THANK YOU for writing about this! I too wanted to shout to Lisa and Gayle... "there are churches who do not believe that being gay is wrong!!!!". She kept saying "the church condemns".
I want to figure out how we continue to spread the message of the UCC and other denominations that are open and affirming and know a God of diversity!


Jon said...

Unfortunately the loudest voices of Christianity - the ones that condemn GLBT persons are the ones media like to quote - it sells! While many denominations are not as public as the UCC they do have many individual congregations that are open and affirming and working to change anti GLBT policies at the denominational level. I am proud to belong to a Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) congregation in Fort Collins, Colorado that falls into this category. Yes, Oprah, I would expect better of you.

Ross said...

My name is Ross Murray, and I’m the Program Director for The Naming Project. I’d like to give further clarification. I think that some information was missed for this blog post.

The Naming Project was founded (and is still run) by Pastor Brad Froslee, Pastor Jay Wiesner and myself. Both Pastor Brad and Pastor Jay were identified as clergy within the program (“Pastor” seemed to become their first name). They are both rostered clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As both of them talked (Jay in an interview and Brad directly to the youth), you hear their story of coming out and reconciling their faith and sexuality. The assertion that there were no openly LGBTQ clergy featured or identified in the program is wrong.

As for me, I am a theologically trained lay person in candidacy to become a Diaconal Minister. Additionally, my day job is as Deputy Director of Lutherans Concerned/North America (although my day job was never stated within this program, because my work with TNP is separate, yet supported by LC/NA). The three of us take exception with the blog assertion that there were “no religious leaders who understand that sexual and gender diversity is part of God’s blessing” or that there were no people working within denominations for full inclusion. We were there, cooperating to make The Naming Project summer camp happen.

It is unfortunate that the episode chose to focus as much as it did on the ex-gay movement, and I share your frustration that this debate continues. However, I also recognize that within the 10 minutes that The Naming Project was featured, people may not have gotten a full appreciation or understanding of the credentials or the back story for The Naming Project.

If you are interested in learning more about the beginnings of The Naming Project, and seeing a much more in-depth story, I recommend you watch the documentary, Camp Out. It is available on DVD and still plays on the LOGO network. Camp Out documents the first Naming Project Summer camp we did in 2004. A lot has happened since then, and the camp has evolved (most all of the “where are they now” segments at the end are no longer accurate, including the ELCA policy on LGBT clergy, which fell in 2009). However, hopefully through that film, you can get a fuller appreciation for the theological integrity that informs The Naming Project than you will from the Our America episode.

Additionally, if you want more information on The Naming Project, I encourage you to visit our web site at You can find our current programs (mainly the camp), bios of the staff, and the history of The Naming Project, as well as resources that point you to other LGBT camps (so far, all run by Lutherans) and other denominational resources.