Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Joe Dallas (May/June 1997)

From 1991 to 2005, I had the pleasure of interviewing a fascinating array of writers, theologians, politicians, artists, and musicians for the Wittenburg Door, the original--only?--magazine of religious satire. From the preparation required to conduct them to the editing required to make them both clear and funny (the Door's two requirements, although not necessarily in that order), these interviews changed my life (mostly for the better). Although I conducted most of the interviews by phone, I was on several occasions able to hop a plane and question my subjects in person thanks to the generosity of Bob Darden and the late Mike Yaconelli, the editors who underwrote my adventures. It was a generosity made all the more special by the fact that the Door was usually deep in the red. For such acts of genuinely Christian charity (or fiscal insanity, I'm not sure which), I remain intensely grateful. Several of my interviews--R.C. Sproul, Chris Yambar--are still online in their entirety. What's posted below is one of the many that's been MIA for awhile.


Like Boy George, Greg Louganis, and Barney Frank, Joe Dallas loves homosexual men. At one point in his life, he even loved them enough to go to bed with them. Now, however, he loves them enough not to go to bed with them--which is just fine not only with his wife but also with his colleagues at Genesis Counseling, a ministry he started in the late '80s to assist the sort of person he had once been: a homosexual Christian who, despite his best efforts to the contrary, could not convince himself that his behavior vis-à-vis the non-opposite sex constituted a holy use of his mind, heart, and loins. (Genesis Counseling, incidentally, should not be confused with Exodus Counseling, another ministry engaged in similar work, and neither of them should be confused with Leviticus Counseling, which treats anal retentiveness).

Dallas had dropped hints about his past in his first two books, Desires in Conflict and Unforgiven Sins (Harvest House). But by beginning his latest book, A Strong Delusion, with a sentence that is destined to become the "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" of Christian homosexual publishing--"I remember clearly, and with inexpressible regret, the day I convinced myself it was acceptable to be gay and Christian"--he pulled back the veil on his qualifications with a flourish. Here was no armchair homophobe indulging in Monday-morning gay bashing. Here, instead, was a former member in good standing of the homosexually identified Metropolitan Community Church who, having walked the walk and done the you-know-what, could say with authority, "Been there, done that. Now, here's a better way."

Or can he? Not surprisingly, his defection from the ranks of the once-gay-always-gay locksteppers has not met with universal approval. After all, if one homosexual Christian can see that the Emperor is naked and respond with something less than desire, who's to say that maybe all homosexual Christians shouldn't--let alone can't--respond with equally diminished urgings? Dallas spoke with the Door's token homophobe Arsenio Orteza in late '96 and proved himself to be a thoughtful, articulate advocate of his unapologetically missionary positions. He also proved himself a formidable critic of the sort of do-nothingism in the face of AIDS that he believes conservative Christianity has deployed to the detriment of everyone--Christian and non-, gay and straight, HIV-positive and fit as the fiddle upon which the evangelical church plays while the gay world burns. Best of all, in keeping with a cherished Door tradition, he has never read our fine magazine. What better way to establish the unsullied integrity of his thinking?

DOOR: In the beginning of A Strong Delusion, you refer to the years you spent living a homosexual lifestyle. In light of the fact that you left that lifestyle and adapted to a heterosexual one, do other homosexuals consider you "inauthentic"?
DALLAS: I have been told that I was not a "true" homosexual, that since I was very turned on by women and had a lot of sexual experiences with women, I was not, and never was, a truly gay man.

DOOR: What do you say to that?
DALLAS: I say, "Who cares?" My argument has never been based on whether or not I was "truly gay." I've never taken the position that if you are "truly" homosexual, then you don't need to repent, or the position that if you aren't "truly" homosexual and you repent, you will never have homosexual temptations again.

DOOR: What, um, positions have you taken?
DALLAS: My argument is based on what the Bible does or does not say about homosexuality. Interestingly enough, the Bible doesn't seem to concern itself with the degree to which a person is truly homosexual. The Bible condemns the behavior whether it is committed by a man who is heterosexual--as heterosexual men in prisons often commit homosexual acts--or if the person is by orientation a homosexual. The Bible doesn't make a distinction, and I think that's because the distinction, though relevant, does not determine whether the behavior is right or wrong.

The same goes for statistics. They matter but only to a point. As I argue in my book, the statistic that says ten percent of the population is homosexual was never true, but even it were, the biblical standard on homosexuality wouldn't change.

DOOR: Are you saying that statistics have no use in debates about morality?
DALLAS: I'm saying that statistics are useful for people who think that morality ought to be determined by consensus or by commonality, but commonality and normality are two different things. What is common may not necessarily be normal, and what is common is certainly not necessarily healthy or right.

DOOR: As the head of a ministry to repentant gays, you obviously believe that, as with other sins, homosexuality can be effectively repented of, right?
DALLAS: Yes, and, based on my experience, when people repent of that behavior, the condition will either decrease or dissipate entirely. And if it doesn't, then the person who has it will have to learn to cope with it. It often depends on the person's sexual history.

DOOR: Speaking of sexual histories, yours is somewhat unusual, at least the parts of it you mention in A Strong Delusion.
DALLAS: You're probably referring to my references to being molested.

DOOR: Yes. Did you come from a troubled home?
DALLAS: No. I had a normal upbringing and a very good home, but when I was about eight or nine, I went to a local theater where men tended to hang out and watch for boys who were there alone so they could pursue them in the bathroom there.

DOOR: Why did you go to a place like that alone?
DALLAS: I had heard about it, and even though I didn't have any idea what it was really all about, it sounded intriguing to me.

DOOR: And?
DALLAS: I was sexually molested, oh, at least ten times, probably more, by different men. The first few times it happened, I was scared to death, but there was something very compelling about it, too.

DOOR: Compelling?
DALLAS: Well, it's very painful, frightening, and confusing, but somewhere in there there's a hint of being wanted and validated at a very basic level, and that was very compelling to me. I know that, in my case, that played into a lot of my greater confusion.

DOOR: Most eight-or-nine-year-olds from "very good homes" aren't permitted to attend those kinds of theaters alone.
DALLAS: This was all done on the sly and was entirely against my parents' wishes. I was allowed to go to a theater near our home, but I took a bus to the downtown theaters. In the city I was raised in, there was a lot of foot traffic and what you'd call the darker elements downtown.

DOOR: You must have been a very bold eight-or-nine-year-old.
DALLAS: I was, and I was nice, too, which is probably why I got away with a lot, but I also liked to explore and do whatever I wanted to. I tended to say, "The heck with it. If this is what I want to do, I'll find a way to do it."

DOOR: In your book you also refer to "adolescent encounters."
DALLAS: When I was about sixteen, even though I had already been seriously involved with several girls, I saw ads in an underground paper called the Free Press for an organization that was called, I believe, the G.S.F.--Gay Sexual Freedom. Now, this was 1970 or '71, and if you joined that organization, they would hook you up with other gay men, because at that time, it was rather hard to meet gay men unless you went to the bars. I was fifteen at that time, but I passed myself off for twenty-one (laughs) and took a bus down to Hollywood and signed up for that organization.

DOOR: Eventually, however, you became a Christian and even got ordained, right?
DALLAS: Yes, I was ordained in a non-denominational ministry and, from the time I was eighteen to about twenty-three, I was a part of a ministry that was a very charismatic, healing ministry, similar to the late Kathryn Kuhlman's ministry. Later, I worked as an associate pastor with a Four Square church.

DOOR: But you eventually made the plunge back into same-sex relationships.
DALLAS: Yes. I had been the associate pastor at the Four Square church for about a year when I made that plunge, and, once I'd made it, I went to the pastor and told him that I needed to resign. I didn't tell him why. I just told him that I needed to get out of the ministry for a while and get my head screwed back on straight.

DOOR: Uh, we won't touch that one. You must have been dissatisfied with what you had as an associate Four Square pastor in order to throw it all away.
DALLAS: I think, for me, a better word would be "disillusioned." I was embittered by some of the experiences I'd had with the ministry, but I was also working part time in the real world, which I hadn't been a part of since I was eighteen years old. I'd lived in a rarefied environment, and I didn't have much confidence in my ability to simply hold a job and relate to people apart from a ministerial position. I was very disappointed in myself for that and very angry at a lot of the hypocrisy and abuse that I'd seen in the ministry that I was a part of. So by the time I took the plunge, I was a very bitter man, ready to rebel.

DOOR: Was your subsequent involvement with the Metropolitan Community Church merely a result of that rebellion or a result of your really believing their pro-gay theology?
DALLAS: I knew better. Their arguments were as transparent to me then as they are now. When I first heard them, I almost laughed. But even though I didn't really believe them, I told myself I did because I wanted to believe something, and, as time went on and I kept spouting them and giving consent to them and getting more comfortable with a gay identity, the arguments made more sense to me. That's why I call the book A Strong Delusion.

DOOR: What enabled you to leave that scene when you finally decided to?
DALLAS: I got my help through a professional Christian therapist. I also got a lot of non-professional but very personal help from friends of mine at the church that I began attending. I didn't hear about organizations like Exodus Ministries, actually, until I'd founded Genesis Counseling and heard that there was a national coalition of ministries like mine.

DOOR: Tell us a little about Genesis Counseling.
DALLAS: I named it Genesis Counseling because we go back to God's original intention for human sexual expression, and we also believe in looking at the "genesis" of our problems and try to develop better alternatives to dysfunctional behavior.

DOOR: How many people work for you?
DALLAS: There are three people who work for me, and there is one person for whom I work. We have a secretary, we have a men's-group facilitator, and we have a pastoral counselor. We also have a clinical supervisor who comes in once a week to look over my case work and that of the other counselor and give us advice from his perspective on the kind of work we're doing.

DOOR: What are his qualifications?
DALLAS: He is a licensed marriage, family, and child counselor and a certified sex-addiction therapist.

DOOR: Is the pastoral counselor a pastor?
DALLAS: Yes, he is.

DOOR: Is working with homosexual men different from working with lesbians?
DALLAS: I'm leery of saying, "Men are this way, women are that way," because there are going to be exceptions to any generalization. But, in my limited experience, the men who come in for counseling tend to have more of a struggle with specific erotic temptations. They have a harder time giving up the sexual aspect of their sexuality. The women who come in for counseling, by and large, have not had trouble giving up lesbian sex. Instead, most of them have a very hard time detaching emotionally from other women, at least to the point that they're not romantically dependent on and obsessed with another woman. With the men, it has tended to be more repetitive sexual behavior. But I think that says more about the differences between men and women in general than it does about the differences between homosexuals and lesbians.

DOOR: By the way, in your book you emphasize a distinction between homosexuality and pedophilia that the experiences of your youth would seem to belie.
DALLAS: There are gay men who support pedophilia and pedophilia organizations, but there are also straight men who support pedophilia and pedophile organizations, individuals who are, by all accounts, heterosexual but who support the legitimization of child-adult sex. I think the majority of people in the gay community disapprove of child-adult sex. The overlap only happens when there are sympathies to both homosexuality and pedophilia.

DOOR: And that overlap is, in your opinion, rare?
DALLAS: Most people I know of who are supportive of pedophilia are also supportive of homosexuality, but most people I know of who are supportive of homosexuality are not supportive of pedophilia. Keep in mind that pedophilia is a sexual attraction to children. Homosexuality is a sexual attraction to one's own sex. It makes no more sense to assume that if someone is attracted to the same sex, he would be attracted to boys than it does to assume that if someone is attracted to women, he would also be attracted to little girls.

DOOR: Thank heaven for them, by the way.
DALLAS: But, having said that, I do think that there is some overlap between the political agendas of the two.

DOOR: Great. Every time someone we interview discusses politics, we lose subscribers.
DALLAS: I've never read the Door, by the way. Where do you sell it?

DOOR: Oh, you know, mostly in public restrooms, although some Christian bookstores with a death wish have been known to carry it.
DALLAS: The ones out here don't, and I don't know why.

DOOR: We do: Joe Bob Briggs.

DOOR: Never mind. You were talking about the political agendas of homosexuals and pedophiliacs.
DALLAS: I believe, as I point out in my book, that the legitimization of homosexuality in America is paving the way for the legitimization of pedophilia. I don't think most homosexuals want the one to lead to the other, but I think that's what's happening nonetheless.

DOOR: Explain the connection.
DALLAS: The changing of standards opens up a whole new debate over the new standards. With the changing of standards in the sixties--when we began to accept sex apart from marriage, outside of marriage, "swinging"--we established more heterosexual liberties, if you will. That in turn opened the debate on homosexuality: "If sex can be legitimate outside of marriage between consenting adults, who's to say that those consenting adults should not be homosexual?" Now, with the legitimization of homosexuality, we're hearing the same arguments being proposed for the legitimization of pedophilia.

DOOR: Do you see those arguments eventually winning the day?
DALLAS: God help us. I don't know, but I think those arguments have already won more people than we would ever have imagined. Remember that the legitimization of pedophilia isn't limited to the North American Man-Boy Love Association, which is a grassroots organization of pedophiles pushing for pedophiles' acceptance. There is also currently a journal of pedophilia published through the Netherlands that is supported by well-known people in the U.S., people such as Dr. John Money of John Hopkins University and the Calderwoods, who are leaders of SIECUS [Sex Information and Education Council of the U.S.], which is one of the nation's top sex-research and education organizations. In my book, you'll see other documented quotes from college professors, psychologists, or psychiatrists who now support pedophilia. So there are not only NAMBLA but also the academic elite considering whether or not to reeducate America about the legitimization of child-adult sex. So I do think it's already made more headway than anybody realizes, and I think that, given another fifteen to twenty years, it's entirely possible that we'll see the legitimization of it.

DOOR: Do you know if the number of people seeking help from Genesis Ministries and organizations like it is increasing?
DALLAS: I think the numbers are increasing, if only because for so long this type of help wasn't available. The women and men who were dissatisfied with homosexuality had virtually nowhere to go. They could either go for secular counseling, where, in most cases, they were given a pro-gay--or gay-affirmative--viewpoint, which basically discounted their belief system if they were Christians, or they could go to their churches, which affirmed their belief system but had little to offer them by way of counsel or practical help. So I think that the numbers are increasing because groups like mine are getting more visibility. People are seeing that there is an option to either doing nothing about their sexuality or to embracing homosexuality.

DOOR: Speaking of doing nothing, what is your assessment of the church's response to the AIDS epidemic?
DALLAS: I think that the church, by and large, has neglected the AIDS epidemic. In fact, I think the church missed one its greatest opportunities back around the early '80s, when AIDS first really reared its head, because then, of all times, there was vulnerability in the gay-male community. There was fear and the vulnerability of life-threatening illness, and we could've moved in there and offered ourselves as a source of comfort to these men. But we didn't. By and large, we didn't even share the gospel with them. We didn't help them with food or medical care. It was years, really, before there was much compassion from the Body of Christ for these patients.

DOOR: Why, in your opinion?
DALLAS: Some of the more well-known voices in the church at that time were saying that, in effect, God's judgment had finally fallen on the homosexual community. And that's something that I don't think the gay community is ever going to forget.

DOOR: Do you sense any positive shifts?
DALLAS: I do sense a shift to more compassion, but I think the reason for that is that more and more Christians are being discovered to have a personal struggle with homosexuality, more and more Christians are getting AIDS, and more and more Christian families are finding that they have gay loved ones or loved ones with AIDS. I just wish we hadn't been late.

DOOR: Is it too late for us?
DALLAS: I don't think so. I think there's still important work the church can do on the AIDS issue. I just wish that we responded to a problem more out of immediate compassion than out of social pressure to do something about it. In my opinion, we do the latter. If Christians weren't getting AIDS or if Christian families weren't finding they had gay loved ones, I wonder if we would be responding to the problem of AIDS or homosexuality at all. It seems that as long as it didn't directly apply to the church, we didn't care.

DOOR: Has it ever been different?
DALLAS: I don't know, but do I wish that when the Church first became aware that there were men dying of this strange disease, more Christian voices had said, "What can we do to help? We are so sorry. Let us give you the gospel. Let us visit you, bring you some food, maybe help you find medical care if necessary"--some of the other things that we would do for other people who were mixed up in some disaster. If we had done that earlier, I think we would've had a little more evidence to back up our claim that we hate the sin but love the sinner. We have plenty of evidence that we hate the sin, but I think we're a little short on evidence that we love the sinner.

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