Guest Blogger

On George Rekers, Homophobia and Compassion

Filed By Guest Blogger | May 07, 2010 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: ex-gay, Gay Liberation, George Rekers, homophobic behavior, rent boy,, self-loathing

Editors' Note: The Reverend Jonathon Edwards is a pastor in the United Church of Christ and has been active on a local level in the glbt movement since his youth. He currently pastors a congregation in Southern California and has been active in working for marriage equality.

JEdwards.jpgBy now many people are aware of the drama unfolding in Florida around George Rekers, the co-founder with James Dobson of Family Research Council (now Focus on the Family), board member of National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), frequent "expert" in anti-gay and "ex-gay" trials and legislative settings. Retired professor and discredited neuropsychologist Rekers is a major player in the "ex-gay" movement, an indispensable leader in one of the most destructive anti-gay industries.

He is also, not surprisingly, a self-loathing, closeted gay man. Rekers was recently caught returning from a 10 day European vacation with a male escort he hired through the website Naturally, Rekers denies the conclusion most are drawing. He first claimed that he hired the 20-year-old (Rekers is 61) to help him carry his luggage post-surgery and that he didn't know the young man was a gay call boy. When the patent absurdity of this claim became obvious as media swarmed to - there is no doubt, from the name of the site nor its contents what these men are selling - he then backtracked and claimed that he routinely hires young gay men so that he can evangelize them and try to help lead them out of homosexuality. (Update: the young man has since confirmed that the arrangement between the two was sexual.)

Larry Craig. Ted Haggard. Tim Foley. Roy Ashburn. Roy Cohn. Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera.

I think we have compiled enough evidence now to draw a formal, rock solid conclusion: the more violently anti-gay one is, the more likely you are simply covering up your own homosexuality. To the point, in some cases, of being able to say for certain that the source of the opposition is their own desire to stay in the closet. Take a peek through the ranks of Congress and note the ones who froth at the mouth over gay issues. I am now certain beyond any doubt that every one of them is gay. I am no longer going to wonder. I just know.

So the question is: what do you do with people who are betraying their own kind? History has some rather painful answers to that question, none of which are off the table in my book. However, today I was watching Stephen Colbert's lampoon of Rekers and every time his picture popped onto the screen, all I could think about was the scared, wounded and scarred little 14-year-old boy trapped inside of him and how terrified he must be. And how it must feel to look back over a life - he doesn't have that much time left, being in ill-health - not only wasted, but spent actively hurting the very people who might have loved you. And I felt compassion.

That doesn't mean I don't still feel a rush of Schadenfreude. Every time this happens and the "hurters" get hurt, their "movement" loses steam. That is good, no matter how badly they get hurt. It deserves a smile. And the 61-year-old Rekers has earned the horror he feels when he looks back over the role he has played. His work has resulted in the death - at their own hands or the hands of others - of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.

But that 14-year-old...he's a victim, too. He has had his life stolen from him, completely and totally. Self-loathing has subsumed his identity. Evil forces have taken the natural, God given love he feels, turned it into fear and loathing, and used it to transform him into a weapon against his own people. That 14-year-old is sitting far back in a closet he's been trapped in for 5 decades, trembling, emotionally and spiritually emaciated, scarred from the self-inflicted wounds he has used to maintain his self-control.

And that's how homophobia works. By design it produces exactly what we see in Rekers. It wants to turn gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people into tools for our own destruction. It produces collaborators. It abuses children to that end, turning them into monsters who devour their own.

And we are all complicit. Every gay man who comes out - whether at 18 or 61 - faces the need to repent of their own homophobia, self-directed or externalized. When I came out at 18, I had to face that I had "put on an act" - dating girls, making fun of sissies, etc., etc. - in order to maintain the closet I had been in for 8 years. I chose a different path than Rekers, but...there but by the grace of God, go I.

So I face a new day feeling compassion for a man I also hate and whose demise I celebrate, wishing the same for his compatriots, seemingly a contradictory set of impulses. Except...

What compassion looks like in Rekers' and all the others' cases depends largely on their and Rekers' next steps. I can never forget that scared 14-year-old inside him in my responses to this man. If Rekers takes this crisis as an opportunity to come out and then work his ass off for the rest of his life trying to repair the damage he's done, then Rekers will not only be trying to help the rest of his people, but it will also be a sign that he is taking care of that 14-year-old inside him. And so, in that case, the gay community needs to lovingly embrace him, welcome him home as a prodigal son. Work with him so that the 14-year-old boy, with whatever time he has left, can feel some measure of the love that is possible in our community.

If, however, Rekers chooses to pull a Ted Haggard and go through "therapy" and get "cured" and goes back to his old tricks....well, I believe that God's love sometimes takes the form of a boot in the ass. Compassion in that case looks like this: the gay community needs to grab him by the hair and drag him kicking and screaming out of the closet. Force him into the light and hold him there until his eyes stop hurting and he knows what fresh air smells like. By whatever means necessary.

The latter response is as deeply compassionate as the former because that 14-year-old boy hidden deep within Rekers' psyche deserves liberation. In a sense, he is our child, held captive and tortured for five decades by evil forces who hate us and want us gone. That boy deserves our compassion, not the adult weapon formed by the boy's torture.

I am enjoying seeing the bad guys lose another battle, but the war will finally be won when even men like George Rekers, after years of actively working to hurt their own kind, learn to look at their glbt brothers and sisters and feel only love. And to look within themselves and embrace that 14 year old and say "I'm proud of you" and find their way home.

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Excellent article. Good work, Reverend! ;)

Thank you for this. It is beautiful.

I second that -- thank you! Compassion is not easy to sell here at TBP, but I think you've done a beautiful job.

Dan Massey | May 7, 2010 4:24 PM

While one may feel that this post from a UCC pastor is a valid homily about the value of forgiveness and understanding, it is pretty far off the mark in this, and many similar cases.

There is a popular trope in the "christian" community that "Jesus died for our sins" and "All our sins are forgiven by Jesus." This is based on a serious misunderstanding of universe reality that has contaminated our entire religious culture and largely invalidated it.

Rekers is a man who chose, from a very early age, to turn away from the leadings of the spirit of god in his mind, which unceasingly encouraged him to embrace and enjoy his homosexuality. He has prolonged this situation throughout a long life of continual evil-doing, culminating in this public exposure of his total personal iniquity.

Rekers has chosen, year after year, to seek the affection and support of similarly evil people, rather than to accept the love of god constantly poured into his mind, which would have shown him the way to sexual freedom and erotic joy.

There is no salvation available to such evildoers without complete and public repentance and a total reversal of life behavior and objectives. They are not destined to be recipients of the kind of divine mercy the Rev. Jonathon Edwards (is that name a coincidence?) is preaching about, which is reserved for humans like the innocent 14 year old he envisions.

Rekers is just one of a number of antichristian zombies walking the earth today. Rick Warren and Martin Ssempa are other excellent examples of the soul-dead who take the name of god in vain.

I understand and respect your view, but I completely disagree.

It's important to acknowledge that George Rekers probably grew up in a very conservative and repressive environment that would have made it extremely difficult for him to accept who he was. I'm intimately familiar with the effects that Christian religion can have, having struggled with a lot of self loathing issues as a teenager also, and Rekers is a tragic testament to the effects that religion often has on people.

But there comes a time in your life when it's up to you to decide whether you want to be and embrace who you are -- regardless of whether you reveal yourself to others -- or continue living in denial. Not only did Rekers choose to live in denial, he also chose to project his own self loathing onto other gay people. At any point of his life, he could have chosen to be honest with himself and at least stop hurting other gays, if not try to make amends. But he continued his anti-gay activism and even now continues to deny facts and events that are obvious to everyone.

Now, if he were still a scared, 14-year-old boy and doing this, it would be one thing; but he's a 61-year-old man. There is simply no excuse for his behavior, and as such, he deserves no forgiveness or compassion. If he decides to come out of the closet and apologize for what he's done, then maybe he can be forgiven, but for the time being, I feel sorrier for the scared, 14-year-old boys and girls who today are being beaten up or thrown out of their homes and committing suicide because of this man and the political movement of which he CHOSE to be a part.

Dan Massey | May 8, 2010 1:42 AM

As far as I can see, we pretty much agree. I certainly wouldn't argue over the differences.

Right now I think the challenge is how to help the 20 year old rentboy, JoVanni Roman, cope with the storm of attention and challenge being thrown at him from every direction. It looks as if Rekers is going to try legal intimidation, which must be totally resisted.

We are probably way past questions of Rekers' professional fate. Of course there are always nutcase colleges willing to endorse and teach junk science and lax accreditation agencies that allow such falsification of education. Who will grab Rekers, now that he's for sale for 10 cents on the dollar? Now that's REAL prostitution.

Right now I think the challenge is how to help the 20 year old rentboy, JoVanni Roman, cope with the storm of attention and challenge being thrown at him from every direction. It looks as if Rekers is going to try legal intimidation, which must be totally resisted.

Exactly, Dan.

Good guest post Jonathon. Be sure to send us another! :)

Great article. Thanks. "Reaction formation" is a defense mechanism often employed by self-loathing gay people. Rather than get depressed from their self-loathing, they attack in society the parts of themselves they hate the most thereby on the conscious level separating themselves from that hated part. BUT, no defense mechanism works 100% or forever...eventually these people will implode on themselves.

While Rekers is an extreme "case," I'd say most of the anti-gay rhetoric in pulpits and in legislatures is coming from men who are terrified of their own homosexual impulses. After all, we ALL have them...or at lesat most of us do. In fact, the literature suggests that only about 25% of men who have homosexual fantasies actually act on them.

Jim Toevs | May 8, 2010 1:35 PM

Thanks so much for this timely article. Love for the hurt child and compassion for the sick adult are the answer. Someone has said that the only thing worse than intolerance, is intolerance of intolerance. How quickly we become like those we hate.

Wendell Cochran | May 8, 2010 4:18 PM

Hurt little boy, my ass! Every gay man or woman over the age of fifty has carried that same wound inside since the day they looked up the word homosexual in the dictionary in their junior high school library. Your sense of compassion for hate mongers of any ilk just doesn't wash. The truth is, people like Rekers -- along with all the other organizers of anti-Gay hate groups and psudo-Christian Conservative Think Tanks, found an easy effective way to make money by appealing to the lowest common denominator of fear and loathing for the socially disadvantaged by bigots and the relegiously confused. Reker is a whores in sheep's clothing...nothing more and nothing less. Save your psychological sympathy for the homeless lost souls on the streets.

Yes, although I'd wait for this guy to come out. I'm expecting him to go the Ted Haggard/Larry Craig route and just keep on denying what's blatantly obvious to the rest of us.

I've mulled over this one for a couple of days. You raise a couple of basic issues, which I partially addressed at my own blog.

The value in something like this is that every instance makes it less possible for others who are living this kind of hypocrisy to continue to do so. I doubt that George Rekers will find solace in that, but that's the result of the choices he made.

I don't want to cast him as a victim, but it would do us good, I think, to keep in mind that those of use who manage to survive adolescence and grow into who we are are pretty strong people. But think again about how much "choice" was involved, and what kind of pressures to conform we faced. Not everyone is that strong or that independent, so I can't lay the way his life turned out at Rekers' feet, at least not completely.

He has more choices to make now. I don't know if he has it in him to make the right decisions.