Mark Benjamin at Salon.com continues its series on the bizarre practice of “reparative therapy” for gays and lesbians. Today’s chapter is about an energetic pastor who “used to be a lesbian who posed as a man to marry a woman. Now she has overcome cocaine and “little hot-to-trot women” and is speaking out to save homosexual sinners.”
The Rev. J. Grace Harley is a kindly, big-boned, middle-aged black woman with gentle eyes and an obvious wig. She thanks God that she arrived safely at work. Harley is the founder of Jesus Is the Answer Ministry, one of more than 100 Christian ministries across the country that seek to turn homosexuals into heterosexuals. On her Web site, Harley describes herself as “the manifestation of Christ Jesus’ truth on homosexuality (2 Corinthians 4:2) which describes same sex attraction disorder (S.S.A.D.D).” She hosts a local cable TV show, “God’s Will and Grace,” in Washington, and meetings for Homosexuals Anonymous and Overcomers Ministries, two programs that help gays and lesbians get straight with God.
On a recent Wednesday night, Harley is sitting behind a desk in a barren community center, located across the street from the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church in Northeast Washington. She is not supposed to host the Overcomers Ministries meeting that night, but given that the regular leader is late for some reason, she will take charge. The only people in the audience are me and a young, soft-spoken African-American man, a student at a local university. He is toting a tattered Bible and a book bag. The regular leader never does show. We pray for him later.
Earlier this summer, I interviewed six gay men who had spent months or years in what is called “reparative” or “conversion” therapy, programs run mostly by Christian conservatives that allegedly help homosexuals become heterosexuals. Each of the men, trapped between their religious beliefs and sexual orientation, told me reparative therapy had only made them depressed. All of them recovered by coming out of the closet. Still, the religious right claims that efforts to change gays stem from “compassion, not bigotry,” according to the Family Research Council. I decided to see for myself. I told Harley I was gay, although I am straight and married. I used a fake name.
The good reverend tells us the best way to overcome our own homosexuality is to imagine Jesus as a gay man. “The love and the passion that you feel for another of the same sex, try to see Jesus and try to give him that same passion and love and desire,” she says. “He can handle it. He takes it, and he will rework it and give you the deepest, greatest love affair.” She whispers: “Jesus is a man. What if he were a gay man and he desired you, and he wanted your body totally for himself? Whoa! What if?”
Jesus appeared to Harley at a church service, she says, sparking her healing process. She credits her relationship with God as the bedrock of her recovery. But the end of the world is coming, she says, when we must face God. “These are end times and it is up to us to get it together,” Grace tells us, heating up like a Baptist preacher. “We are going to stand one-on-one naked before God. How is he going to judge us for the actions of our bodies, which is his dwelling place? Every time we go down into the filth, we take Jesus with us!”
Actually, if she’s talking about Jesus, the hot thirty-something Panamanian bodybuilder that works out over at Bally’s on Coral Way, I’m all for it.
This personalizing of Jesus Christ to the point of making him the object of gay lust is the sort of thing that, to me, gives religion a bad name. Many religious people have made magnificent contributions to mankind in art, science, and intellectual pursuits, and in some ways they have advanced humanity by seeking that which is higher than us and in doing so raised us up. But for every step forward, there always seems to be people like this Harley person who use it for some dark internal Freudian battle and exploit the personal demons that her victims face, none of which have anything to do with being gay except how society treats them. To quote Lawrence and Lee in Inherit the Wind, “religion is supposed to comfort people, not scare them to death!” And it really doesn’t say much for religion when you treat the purported savior of mankind into a porn star.