Friday, October 11, 2013

Seeing red being blue

When I was a young kid, oh maybe it wasn't that long ago, but it always seems like you were younger when you're just past an old way of thinking. But I do remember looking back, even when I was in the debating club in high school, and really not understanding where people were coming from, who held different views than myself. Even earlier than that, I remember staring at the television and seeing signs as a pro-lifer,"keep your laws off my body" and wondering as a kid, don't they know that's wrong? I just couldn't understand it.
I think I get it now, it's the right of someone to make that choice at the end of the day, as hard as it may be for me to understand, why someone would make that choice. (Sigh). But I do remember thinking when I was younger, associating the word liberal more with the word libertine, to be quite honest. Now that I'm older, I think I get that it has more to do with liberty.

But you know the funny thing, I don't think of myself, speaking personally, as being liberal or conservative. I just think of myself as a Christian, a follower of Jesus, a person of faith. That's what I want on my tombstone folks, Margaret Harvey...walked by faith. I don't want any other partial or partisan or political tag attached to me, other than that I did my best to live out my faith as best I could, grit and all.

But sometimes I've reflected on conservatism and liberalism, and I think it would do us good as a society that seems to be becoming more and more polarized to remember the heart of the traditional political spheres. If liberal is about liberty and the rights of the individual, conservatism is a concern for the society as a whole and the needs of the society to remain cohesive, the best interest of the whole, the needs of the group, or at least that's how I've come to think about it in terms of social issues. I don't care for the term progressive, because it seems to suggest that if you're not on the progressive bandwagon that you're well -what's the opposite of progressive? You tell me. I prefer the traditional terms, liberal and conservative. Once again, liberal stressing the worth and dignity of the individual and conservative stressing the needs of the society, and the best interest thereof. There's a balance in there somewhere, right?

But you know, the occurrence that brought this reflection to mind, is that recently a Toronto Star reporter infiltrated a faith-based healing ministry in Toronto. The name of the organization is Living Waters. For me, this hits home as a person of faith, because I attended a Living Waters program myself not that long ago. For me, as someone from an emotionally abusive background, it was a positive emotional and spiritual healing experience. I benefited from the program, in short. The way in which this was done by the Toronto Star reporter upsets me, the deceit, the trickery, the breach of trust. This reporter lied about who he was, in short. In the articles that I read, there seemed to be little regard for the rights of people like myself, who want and actively seek out faith based healing programs, and the right of churches or faith-based organizations to carry out similar programs in accordance with their own beliefs. Nobody is forced into these programs, they are strictly voluntary.

Now I try to be fair, that's what I do, I try to be fair, and I try to look at things from different perspectives. I'm not involved in the leadership of Living Waters, I was only a program participant. For a better answer, one might want to talk to someone who would actually know their policies, but the sense I have is that generally speaking, the mistake that has sometimes been made by faith-based healing ministries is to try to change sexual orientation, which admittedly has lead to a lot of hurt for some people. If this is the complaint, to some degree at least, I understand and accept his basic general criticism. I have another blog piece that deals with that ideological divide in more depth. See:     
That's a whole discussion in and of itself, as to what "healing" looks like, but I think that in that this issue is so emotionally and politically charged, and when it becomes more about what you're supposed to say or what you're opinion is supposed to be (sigh), let's just say that I'm skeptical of this reporter's coverage of Living Waters. Personally, I don't think for a minute that same-sex attraction is as simple as people like to make it, and let's be frank, that's where the criticisms arise, from supporters of the gay community. Nobody seems all that bothered by efforts to help people recovering from divorce, abuse, etc. And yet that is the 95% of people that Living Waters attempts to help with the minimal resources that they have. Little thought seems to be given to the needs of the vast majority of those people who are suffering in aiming to discredit and defund a program that is largely run by volunteers who give generously of their personal time. Nor is there any thought to the scope of mental illness in our culture or the connection of addictions or abuse to mental health issues and the inadequacy of services that are out there for people with limited means. I've lived it, frankly, and Living Waters was one of the few times in my life that I felt like someone took the time to listen. "There's a need," is a very believable quote that I remember hearing from a living waters volunteer. Yes, there is a need, and it appears that somehow in this process this professional journalist failed to observe that need. There is a need, and these are charitable programs in local churches that are helping to meet that need. Shame on the Toronto Star and Graham Slaughter, while they're attempting with a very narrow scope and a very broad brush to discredit the work of dedicated volunteers in our urban communities!

In continuing, my experience of Living Waters is that the program tends to be largely self-directed, as in, what would you like to talk about or pray about? What would you like us to help you with? In terms of the basic program, again, I know it to be fairly general in it's approach, and individuals speak from their own experience which frankly-they are entitled to. It would be true, I expect, that at some point a participant may not be suitable for the program, but I think one must keep in mind that these are church programs. If I may be so bold, I wouldn't go to Italy and complain about how everyone keeps speaking Italian. When in Rome..expect frittatas. I reserve my right to an opinion at the end of the day, bottom line, and am taking a stand for religious freedom here, which appears from where I'm standing to be going the way of the Greco-Roman Empire. Furthermore, I don't think it's that unreasonable of an idea to think that there could be environmental influences involved with same-sex attraction for some people at least. In much the same way that we ask the nature/ nurture question with most other issues, I don't think that's an unfair question to ask or consider.

My understanding is that much of the APA's direction on this issue is activist rather than research based. I understand that there is a very legitimate concern for LGBT rights that is driving much of the discussion that surrounds these issues, I think it may take years if not decades before LGBT issues can really begin to be viewed through an objective lens. My point is quite simple and stems from the personal narratives that I have heard which are very diverse. I expect that will be the conclusion of professionals as this controversy settles down in time (that individual narratives vary considerably), as those rights issues are addressed and understandable demands for equality are met. I can hope at least, that in time there will be more room for varying opinions, both professional and personal, but until then I acknowledge the bulk of that as my personal perspective at this time. Regardless of my opinion however, what does remain a fact, is that there is a substantial community of people who have struggled with these issues but yet choose to identify with their conservative faith communities rather than with their personal struggles with same-sex attraction, and this community is largely ostracized by the mainstream popularized view.

But for me, what I want people to hear when they're reading this, is that I affirm that it should be up to the individual to sort out what they wish to sort out on their own time with respect that there will be different narratives for different people, and not force one view on a whole group of people. I just want a faith based option to be available to persons who want that option, is that too much to ask? I think there is an understanding at least with some people that I've talked to in faith-based healing ministries that this is a complex issue, but again, Living Waters could give you a better answer on that themselves. And that's what I don't understand with this reporter's actions. Christian ministries are an outreach to the community, and lying is a sin if you're a devout Christian. If he had questions, why didn't he just ask, in an open-hearted spirit of dialogue and inquiry? Who did he think he was infiltrating -CSIS -on questions of national security?

More importantly, I would like to point out that a first point of Christian theology is that we're all broken people in need of redemption. Nobody is in a position to judge anyone else. I think there is an assumption in the culture that these ministries are somehow trying to hurt the gay community when in reality I think the truth is much the opposite, that many of these controversial ministries started before these issues were mainstream in churches or in secular media. I think that says something, that as much as we've made mistakes and learned along the way, that many of the people involved in these kinds of ministries are people like myself if I may say, who have a heart for the marginalized, and a desire to reach out to people who are hurting. These were ministries from the get-go, who were attempting to reach out to a community of people who have been traditionally marginalized by the larger society and in the church. 

In nearing close, I think it's important to stress, having participated in a Living Waters program myself, is the understanding that I gained during that process of how important confidentiality is in a program like Living Waters, and that's what makes me angry. Can you imagine, and this is fiction (any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidence), but take a moment, imagine that you have a woman who was raped on one couch, a man who was sexually abused as a child on another hypothetical couch, someone who's struggled with intimacy in relationships for all of their adult life, to finally find a program where you slowly begin to open up, knowing that you were told that your privacy would be respected, to find, a considerable length of time into a program that someone of another name was actually a the math. And people like this only seem to be concerned with the brokenness of people who agree with them. Imagine that.

It upsets me. It also upsets me, getting back to my opening paragraphs, in talking about the principles of respect for the individual, the traditional principles of historic liberalism, in assessing what I've observed so much of in the media in recent years, in terms of how these controversial issues are covered.  More specifically, in terms of how GBLT issues are covered in the media. Namely, everyone seems to hand pick the stories (and this is on both sides to be fair), that fit with their own views. Trust me, you're not going to hear the stories of happily average gay families in socially conservative publications, nor are you going to hear about the person who's conservative Christian faith has positively impacted their struggle with same-sex attraction in liberal articles, posts, etc. (Sigh).

But they are both out there! I'm not asking anyone to agree with me here, if people do, gosh that would be really nice, but I'm one of the very few people I know of writing on these issues, who's actually trying to leave room for people to disagree with me. Does that make me liberal? Shocker to me if it does, but then again, I never did dogmatically identify with either political sphere. But wouldn't it be something if someone like this Toronto Star reporter, were actually to leave room for Living Waters, and the people like myself who would like to be able to say (and be heard in saying), thanks for your tax-deductable donation, it made a difference and we appreciate it! Please don't try to take our right to make decisions for ourselves, or the support of the few people who've supported us. If you don't like it, just don't go there, you know, kinda' like a strip club. Isn't that what liberals are fond of telling conservatives? Just-run along. It doesn't concern you. But I'm not going to say that. I'm going to say that it's a big enough world, for us to disagree and remain respectfully -civil                                                                                                                                          

Thanks for listening,

Margaret A.E. Harvey

Toronto Star article including statement from Living Waters:

taken from the above:

Women and men participate in a Living Waters program  to address a range of personal issues, -from sexual abuse to addiction, from anger problems to low self-esteem, from sexual identity to divorce. The vast majority of people who enroll in Living Waters want freedom from addiction and healing from abuse, about 5% of participants have unwanted same-sex attraction.  With ongoing research we have grown in our awareness that it is highly unusual for an individual to shift from being same-sex attracted to being exclusively heterosexually attracted and we discuss with our leaders and volunteers the importance of not promising this unusual kind of "change."

Living Waters Canada


  1. Margaret, thanks for an incredibly thoughtful post! You've really expressed the heart with which so many LW volunteers offer their time, and hearts, to be present to the pain and difficulties of others. Thanks for writing, and for your encouragement.

    1. Thanks so much Matt, I just appreciate what you do, as someone who's benefitted from Living Waters myself. I appreciate that L.W. volunteers took time out of their busy lives-because they so obviously had a heart for people who are struggling, which meant a lot to me, speaking personally. I hope we will soon see a day, where there's room for different opinions on this very painful subject (for a lot of people). Take care.