A California megachurch has been openly promoting conversion therapy and other homophobic content on its social media with the hashtag #OnceGay, Out magazine reports.
Bethel Church in Redding, California, asks on its website and Instagram page, “Can a person leave homosexuality behind?” The church also links to the website for Changed Movement, which is described as a “community” for people who “once identified as LGBTQ+.”
Conversion therapy—programs that teach gay people can be turned straight—have been discredited by most major psychiatric and medical associations. The practice also leads to increased anxiety, depression, and/or suicide ideation while straining relationships between LGBTQ people and their families, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Rolling Stone reported that in the last year, close to 50% of people who were exposed to conversion therapy have attempted suicide, and it’s one of the most harmful struggles for the LGBTQ community.
Content with #OnceGay on the Instagram account for Bethel Church also includes personal testimonies from people who say connecting with the church led to becoming straight.
The church has received heat on social media, especially in the last few days. Many flipped the narrative of the church’s hashtag to share stories of how they were #OnceGay and still are. Many also said their faith and sexual orientation aren’t mutually exclusive.
“STILL gay, and the happiest and closest to Christ I’ve ever been, now that I’ve shed toxic self-destructive theologies like the one you promote,” Twitter user @canklemorris wrote. “These are the faces of the body of Christ.”
What’s up @BethelRedding? Lemme tell you my #OnceGay story. I’m STILL gay, and the happiest and closest to Christ I’ve ever been, now that I’ve shed toxic self-destructive theologies like the one you promote. These are the faces of the body of Christ. pic.twitter.com/iL19RPAx6Z— Angel Morris (@canklemorris) August 22, 2019
#oncegay, 19 years of the worst purity culture had to offer and: I'm STILL gay! I spent my whole life learning that by falling in love, I was a disappointment to my family, my community, and my god. getting out and finding LGBT community is the only reason I'm alive and ok today pic.twitter.com/fo63HWvujM— tender little outlaw (@evtofficial) August 22, 2019
I internalized queerphobia from such a young age, I literally didn't admit even to myself that I was bisexual until this year. My husband and God still love me & I'm paving the way for my children to be (and be loved for) exactly who they are. #oncegay #thisiswhatoncegaylookslike pic.twitter.com/GzxOs6pAAg— Alicia Westgate (@shunthepants) August 22, 2019
I grew up afraid of myself and fiercely loving God, loving Scripture, immersed in theology. Grown now. Still love God, love Scripture, love the Church. Still gay. Just unafraid. #oncegay #thisiswhatOnceGaylookslike pic.twitter.com/W1lWU4C7FP— Becky S (@bistro715) August 23, 2019
#OnceGay. Still gay, just married to my incredible wife, ordained to serve an amazing church, and having the time of my life. #joyfullyqueer pic.twitter.com/yTsmYp6lLe— Rev. Emmy Kegler (@emmykegler) August 21, 2019
On Thursday, the church said in a Facebook post that it doesn’t aim to give the message that “all must change.” The post drew criticism from some followers of the church who thought the church was being “weak” in permitting “sin” for its followers.
Instagram says Bethel Church’s content doesn’t violate its policies.
“Under our hate speech policy, we do not allow content that attacks people based on their sexual orientation,” a spokesperson from Facebook, which owns Instagram, told the Daily Dot via email. “We allow content expressing opinion, but we draw the line at attacks and will remove such content.”
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