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Conversion Therapy

No, not that kind of conversion therapy. Just to disappoint (or assuage) you at the outset. I have no desire to wade into the fraught and stormy waters of sexual identity and public policy on such a lovely summer morning. Also, just in case you were tempted to think too highly of me (an unlikely prospect, I grant), I have just ably demonstrated that I am not above the occasional click-baity headline. Sorry, again, to disappoint.

I am thinking instead about the constant call one hears these days for “more education.” The world of international football has been rife with bad behaviour lately. There’s the racist abuse that has been hurled at the three (black) members of the England national team who missed their penalties in the Euro 2020 final loss to Italy. There’s the homophobic chanting of Mexican fans that has been the subject of repeated sanctions from FIFA to little discernible effect. In both cases, there are calls for football federations, governments, etc., to “do more to educate” people about these transgressions that are proving so difficult to root out.

Beyond the world of sports fans behaving badly (which is sorta what sports fans often do, particularly when they’ve been marinating in beer for half a day or so), I’ve heard similarly solemn declarations from church colleagues who, frustrated with what they deem to be their parishioners poor COVID performance (not wearing masks, wearing masks improperly, etc.) that what is required is more and better education. Evidently, after eighteen months of a pandemic, some people still are lacking the requisite knowledge about how a mask is meant to fit over a face. Or so it seems to some, at any rate. Perhaps more education would also fix the recent spate of church burnings across Canada (close to 50, at last count, with barely a whisper of condemnation from the Canadian government). Maybe people simply don’t know that they should not be doing such things. Perhaps if someone were to patiently explain it to them.

You will no doubt have noticed a hint of sarcasm in the preceding paragraphs. While I think rather highly of education, it obviously has its limits. The answer to every social ill is clearly not “more and better education.” It is not lack of knowledge that makes football fans hurl abuse from the stands or online. Presumably they’ve occasionally encountered the idea that racism and homophobia are bad things in the media. Same goes for those torching churches. It’s doubtful that a sensitivity training seminar is the remedy. And it is probably not lack of knowledge about masks that leads to uneven COVID behaviour in churches and beyond. Those who refused to wear masks probably weren’t just waiting for the right lecture from the right authority to have their minds changed. And it’s at least theoretically possible that people actually have differing opinions on masking at this stage of the proceedings (particularly if they’ve been vaccinated). In either case, “more education” might not be the golden ticket.

The idea that all human beings need to change their behaviour is the right information is rather simplistic (at best) and betrays a woefully naïve anthropology. We are so much more than information processors. We are complex and often bewildering creatures, led around by reason, yes, but also by instinctive emotional reactions and a desperate desire for social affirmation and belonging. These last two factors alone account for far more of our beliefs and behaviour than we would like to admit. We are also influenced—and I realize how hopelessly retrograde this makes me sound—by some dark and selfish tendencies that are stubbornly resistant to change. Some used to refer to this as “sin.” Sin is the sort of thing that makes people say, “I don’t really care what you say or what the ‘right thing to do’ is, I’m still going to verbally abuse people because their skin is a different colour and because I’m irrationally angry that my country didn’t win a shiny piece of silver for kicking a ball around a field.” For example.

Sometimes, what is required is not more and better education, but conversion. Another retrograde, unfashionable, and ugly word, I know, but sometimes ugly realities require the vocabulary to match. Conversion involves information, certainly. There is an educative component to any change we make, whether it’s to a new religion or a different political party or veganism or anything else. But when it comes to the ugliest parts of our humanity, change requires a transformed moral vision and deep spiritual renewal.

Sometimes this comes via Damascus Road type experiences where God breaks down the door and everything we once believed is turned upside down. Sometimes we will simply “see the light.” These are relatively rare experiences, but they do happen. Sometimes change will come through personal stories and being confronted directly with the impact of toxic beliefs and behaviours. Sometimes we will come to a point in our lives where we are simply exhausted by our sins and realize we can’t go on like this. Sometimes—who knows? it could happen!—it might involve a trip to church. Sometimes it will be a combination of any of these things and probably a few others besides. But however it happens, it will almost certainly involve more than a wagging moral finger from someone who wishes to “educate” us.

The word “conversion,” in my estimation, covers more (and more important) territory than “education.” It gathers up all of who we are—the rational, the emotional, the social, the sinful, the spiritual—and declares that the deepest changes we require, whether as individuals or as a society, go beyond proper apprehension of the right information (which is a moving target). We are far more stubborn and glorious creatures than this. We need (and are capable of, by the grace of God) far deeper change than this.

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16 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sharon A Gravelle #

    Amen! Couldn’t have communicated that any clearer and I wholeheartedly agree. I have been pondering this very issue for awhile now and lived on this planet long enough to know that education does have limits. We all have a line we will draw in the sand and refuse to cross over. Sometimes the line can move in small increments but a complete erasure of that line is rare.

    July 22, 2021
    • Thanks kindly, Sharon.

      July 23, 2021
  2. This is you at your best. Firm in faith, explicit and insightful reasoning. God has blessed you with many gifts and you have nurtured them well.

    Take the time you take, follow the practices and routines you follow…..and be bold and forthright when you are ready to write or speak.

    The Lord is with you and He needs you. May He bless you, always.

    July 22, 2021
    • Thanks. I appreciate this.

      July 23, 2021
  3. …”a transformed moral vision and deep spiritual renewal”… indeed. The heart of the matter.

    Only possible through a sincere love relationship with Jesus Christ. There is no other path.

    July 23, 2021
  4. This is a most excellent post,Ryan, You hit the bullseye dead center.

    …”who knows? it could happen!—it might involve a trip to church” …….well, Touche.

    July 23, 2021
    • Lol. Preachers be crafty!!

      July 23, 2021
    • How are you doing, Mike?

      July 23, 2021
      • (: I’m doing well, brother, Thank you 🙂

        July 23, 2021
  5. Hi, Ryan, I’m profoundly curious to know your assessment of world events, after a year and a half of pandemic culture. Do you accept the narrative being presented? If you do, why? If not, why not?

    From day one, I have never believed that those who rule the world were or are motivated by their concerns for the health of the sick, the poor or the elderly.

    I believe both the disease and the crisis that has followed have been manufactured to acheive a “one world order” outcome. The, “great reset”, as they say…

    I don’t mean to hijack your blog ( the wicked irony of this statement doesn’t escape me 🙂 ) but I truly believe that humanity and by extension, the “church” (as Christ would understand it to be) is at a cross roads, a tipping point, a point of no return.

    If I am right, those with great voices will need to find the faith, the resolve and the courage to write and to speak.

    The time for lesser concerns may be over.

    July 30, 2021
    • I am nearly always at least somewhat suspicious of any narrative being presented in media, but not because I think in terms of grand conspiracies or plots for “one world orders.” My lack of trust in these narratives has more to do with the media context that has been created in our digital world—with dying traditional forms of media, with the reactivity and hysteria that social media requires and generates for profit, etc.

      Add to this, a basic Christian anthropology that assumes that human beings are by nature inclined to be stupid and self-serving, and a culture that is rapidly becoming lonelier, more disconnected, and hungrier for belonging and meaning and you have a perfect storm, in my view. Media will be produced to keep us tethered to our devices so that they can stay profitable. And we will obey because we are so desperate for connection, meaning, and some kind of broad narrative to give ourselves to (even if it’s something like COVID). And the result is precisely what we see: a hyper-polarized, reactive, technologically enslaved culture constantly going to war over whatever is presently serving as the proxy for our anxieties, fears, anger, etc.

      These times do indeed require faith, courage, and resolve. I think there is much to be concerned about, much to pray for and against. I am always hesitant to proclaim this or that historical moment as somehow unique in world history. This is a well-travelled road historically, it seems to me, and I’m not sure what is to be gained by such pronouncements.

      August 3, 2021
      • I agree wholly with your diagnosis regarding the media and the use of technology and the cultural, “disconnectedness” and “enslavement” they foster. Also, I am not surprised from reading you these many years, that you are adverse to, “grand conspiracies or plots”. Though I am confused by the logic of your conclusion and your dismissal of, “one world order” ambitions.

        At some point the massive profits generated by multinational tech, media and drug companies serve a bigger purpose then the personal consumption habits of those people who control them. Acquiring and controlling other assets has always been a central tenent of capitalism. When you are able, like Bill Gates is, to be the second largest contributor to the WHO, ahead of every other nation state except the U.S., your ability to control assets extends to the very mechanism through which a world health emergency is being directed. An effective coup detate perhaps, without firing a single shot.

        As the profits to these multinational groups and the banking institutions that support them continue to soar, how long before nation states, plagued with debts, exponentially exacerbated by Covid spending, are forced to capitulate to the dictates of world banking institutions and the private interests that support them?

        How long before democratic governments, acting as agents on behalf of these interests and there own personal advancement ahead of the public interest (can any serious critique of our present moment in history conclude otherwise?) perpetuate their power indefinitely?

        Across the entire, “free world” for the past year and a half governments have given themselves full dictatorial power, without mandate from their peoples, under the guise of a world health emergency. Has any meaningful political opposition emerged anywhere in our world to question, much less challenge, this new reality?

        Like you I believe this is a “well travelled road historically”. A road where the greed and ambition of the few seek to control and enslave the many.

        Just like every totalitarian movement in our human history, the supposed safety of the group and the ideology that define the group, must conquer every individual ambition or every group of individuals who would challenge the legitimacy of the group orthodoxy.

        To think that the world wide Covid response, that began everywhere as something like, “2 weeks to flatten the curve” (but is still continuing after a year and a half with no end in sight), is a coordinated effort to effect a “great reset” ultimately leading to a one world order, speaks to me more of common sense and a healthy understanding of Christian anthropology, then it does of, “grand conspiracies”.

        I don’t mean to offend you, my friend and much less to win debating points. Rather I hope to encourage you to look beyond the prejudices that the same media you know you mistrust encourages you to hold, regarding points of view that challenge the present narrative.

        Take the time to learn about what Covid is. How it is transmitted. Where it likely originated. What known treatments have already shown efficacy with regard to treatments before vaccines. What mRNA technologies are. What is known about the risks. What is unknown and cannot be known for several years….and the list goes on and on…and what I am confident you will find, like all of us who go down that rabbit hole find, is that none of the mainstream narrative makes any sense at all and is rife with contradiction, half truth and outright lies.

        To answer your question, the truth is what is at stake and what we hope to gain is a better understanding of it.

        May God have mercy on us all.

        August 3, 2021
      • I’m not offended in the slightest. As I said, I have a healthy degree of mistrust for the dominant narratives of the moment and I absolutely believe that we are living in troubling times.

        May God indeed have mercy upon us all.

        August 4, 2021
    • The exchange of viewpoints this post has generated is so interesting and enlightening for me personally. I appreciate being privy this back and forth between 2 great minds.

      August 4, 2021
  6. Elizabeth #

    Sorry not sorry. Sigh.
    I come to Ryan’s blog to read and learn not to be subjected to matters of conflict and controversy. If you didn’t mean to hijack Ryan’s post, Erahjohn – perhaps you could have just sent Ryan an email. Click on his about post and read the comments for instruction.

    July 31, 2021
    • Avoid conversations you wish no part in, Elizabeth. Smugly dismissive, “sorry not sorry, sigh” comments do not speak well of you.

      The world is in crisis and like all crisis, conflict and controversy will be neccessary if we are to learn the way and the find the courage, to live in truth.

      I value Ryan’s perspectives. I suspect you will too.

      July 31, 2021

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