WARNING! VERY PERSONAL CONTENT
My experiences in the so-called ex-gay movement, has left clear marks on my life. Even if I am not born in a religious family or environment, I have always been interested in spiritual matters. As a child I had a strong interest in religion.
PRAY THE GAY AWAY – REPENT OR GET ZAPPED!
I was born and raised in a small place in the woodlands of Northern Sweden. Early in life, probably at the age of 10, I new that I was gifted with something unique, that I did not see or hear about among the other kids that surrounded me in my childhood. I early became a strong believer in non-violence and human right’s activism, always going between and try to solve conflicts among my friends. Always striving to be a good friend. Earlier in life, when I still did not know to read, I often looked through the annuals in hardcover from a newspaper we had in my home, with articles filled with starving, wounded or dead people. There and then I decided to become a pacifist, “I will NOT do military service when I grow up!” I could not read yet, but I understood from the images, that they suffered from wars and starvation. And sure enough, I became a pacifist when I grew up.
I guess it became a big pathos in my life, I wanted to be a “helper.” Later in life, I heard about other people who have the same personality traits. Early on, I also developed a side of me I today would call an “Empath.” The first time I heard that expression, was from a young woman I met on an event downtown Stockholm. She said she almost went nuts, to always be “connected” to other people, even people she did not know. She told stories that I could recognize myself in, it was kind of well known traits for me. I too could pick up people’s feelings and emotions in a room or a train. Strange, but it developed so early in life, so I did not thought much about it, until I grew older. Empaths are neither geeks nor aliens from other planet, they do not go around hearing voices. Perhaps that made me become a paranormal researcher later in life. Wikipedia defines an Empath this way:
“Empath is a term coming into common usage to refer to a person with expanded sensitivity or clairsentience… Feeling strongly what someone else feels. Picking up emotion and pain from violent movies, violence in the news, watching a violent act. Empath psychic ability to sense the emotions of others.”
Here is an interesting article on Empathy – “Doctors can learn to be more empathetic”
[Source: NyMedicin.com, here translated with Google Translate]
Whatever, I continue my story. As a kid of perhaps 7 or 8 years of age, I came in contact with religion for real. I and the other kids in my village, often visited “Childrens hour” run by a Christian organization within the Church of Sweden (Protestant Lutheran) on Saturdays. They welcomed groups of children in the old mission house in my village. The gatherings was a mixture of a Christian Bible school and a scouting group. They used to have Bibel studies with us kids, ranging up to around age 12. I have heard that they even had a study on Sodom and Gomorrah! I do not think that was a proper subject for such young listeners! I do not remember this myself, but a childhood friend reminded me some years ago of this event. By the age of 10, I think, I became aware of another “gift” in my life; when I had a thrilling, happy sensation when I saw other boys. No further explanations needed! Coming so naturally and not forced in any way. No, I did not have an absent father or an overbearing mother. No, I was not raped by other guys. No, we did not use alcohol or drugs in my family, even though we were not religious. I had the big luck to growing up in a family where we had very good contact. My parents were always there for me and my siblings, yes, I am the youngest.
The Big turn in my spiritual search came summer of 1980, when I by pure chance ended up at an open air meeting in a big tent at a campsite one warm and sunny summer evening. The bright summer evenings in northern woodlands of Sweden can be magical! In the evening I went on a little bike ride to town. I soon noticed that it was not an ordinary meeting, they prayed loudly and several sang or prayed like in a trance with arms stretched out in the air, speaking in tongues. At the end of the meeting the person who chaired the meeting asked if anyone wanted to come forward so pastors could pray for the person. And I stepped forward. Soon I became more familiar with the religious life and I enjoyed my new friends. There and then I became a member of the local Pentecostal Church. I served voluntarily with a lot of things in the church during all the time. So, between the years 1980 to 1997, I belonged to the church. It was a very outgoing congregation with a lot of young people and everything was so exciting for me, coming from a non-religious family. I was 18 years old, unexperienced in life, (a virgin or whatever you call a guy who never had done “that”) and a searcher for spirituality.
As time went by, I soon learned that the Bible teach that homosexuality is an “abomination,” it is a sin that leads to eternal condemnation and death. And of course, I myself have had knowledge since I was 10 years old that I was gay, not a big thing, really, but I did not have words for it until I came in contact with the church. I may add that I did not reveal my deep secret for them, of course. Now and then during the years, pastors picked up this subject of homosexuality, it was primarily on youth meetings that this issue was raised. Some of the Bible verses quoted are the Crown Jewels among “anti-gay” verses:
You shall not lie down with a male, as with a woman: this is an abomination.
(Leviticus 18:22, Jewish/English Bible, JPS 1917)
And a man who lies with a male as one would with a woman both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon themselves.
(Leviticus 20:13, Jewish/English Bible, JPS 1917)
Another verse also quoted to youngster’s back then:
In what manner should a youth purify his way? To observe according to Your word.
(Psalm 119:9, Jewish/English Bible, JPS 1917)
I especially remember revival meetings for young people or when we went on summer camps in the woodlands. The camp leader, pastor or evangelist spoke to us youngsters, who were about to enter into manhood, that there are things we must remember and be aware of, things in life that are inevitable in the case of puberty, growing up, bodies that develop, arousing sexual feelings, attractiveness, and so on. I especially remember that the pastors back then, often preached about masturbation, or “petting.” I remember how the other boys, aged 12-18 years, worried and confused twisted where they sat with their legs tightly pressed together! In addition to these well known condemning verses in Leviticus, there were other popular stories often quoted, among them the story about Onan and his so called “waste of seed” whence we have the terms onanism for petting or masturbation.
8 So Judah said to Onan, “Come to your brother’s wife and perform the rite of the levirate, and raise up progeny for your brother.”
Now Onan knew that the progeny would not be his, and it came about, when he came to his brother’s wife, he wasted [his semen] on the ground, in order not to give seed to his brother.
Now what he did was evil in the eyes of the Lord, and He put him to death also.
(Genesis 38:8-10, Jewish/English Bible, JPS 1917)
I do not have to tell you that this passage was taken out of context, of course.
Another example Genesis 19:4 speaking about the city of Sodom, consumed by homosexual urges? Here is the verse from a Hebrew translation:
“When they had not yet retired, and the people of the city, the people of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, the entire populace from every end[of the city].”
(Genesis 19:4, Chabad online Torah)
Here is how a Christian translation reads it:
Before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter;
(Genesis 19:4 NASB)
Very soon I realized that the church sometimes could be incredibly fixated on sexuality, for while they emphasized the wrong and sinful in homosexuality, they left out other things in the Bible that are considered sinful and an “abomination,” such as idolatry (and it may be a lot in life), theft, lies, adultery, infidelity and selfishness.
I remained silent about my own sexuality but I began to study the Old Testament by myself, the Jewish Tanach, what the Scripture says about the “catalogue of sins.” I soon suspected that my Christian “brothers” and “sisters” were not so familiar with what the Bible says about “homosexuality” and everything else that speaks of sin and abomination.
The emphasis on the sin scale was always on homosexuality. Everytime someone preached from the Bible, it was about the condemnation of this sin, “but through the mercy of G-d and the atonement made by Jesus, the sinner can be free from homosexuality and saved for eternity.” That was the simple message from the church pulpit. Of course I felt offended and violated, but I kept a good face and kept my spirits up. Soon I had more work to do in the church.
During the first years I kept a low level, a little shy and timid, but later on I had several voluntary positions of trust; helping at funerals and weddings, served as an usher and youth leader, I was responsible for weekly local radio broadcasts and I was a facilitator for church services and prayer meetings and I had the function as a deacon (which was expressed with gratitude, many years later by one of the evangelists in the church). During my last two years as a member of the Pentecostal Church, I led Bible studies, where we read from the Old Testament. And now it’s getting interesting! I had by accident (or divine guidance?) during my time in the church become interested in Judaism and Israel. Of course, the congregation was very Israel-friendly, just like any evangelical Christian congregation. They often talked about Israel and Jews in our missionary meetings. There were talk about signs of the times that will turn out just before Jesus returns to retrieve the faithful to heaven, and Israel was and is an important sign of the times for Christians. Shortly, the Christian claim is that all Jews must gather to “Eretz Yisrael,” their homeland, before Jesus Christ the Messiah can return. But while the congregation prayed that all the Jews may return to Israel to hasten the coming of the Messiah, I prayed that I could be a part of the Jewish people!
So I had these Bible studies on Saturday evenings about Israel and the Old Testament. I explained as good as I could the Jewish history and gave examples of things mentioned in the New Testament that was quoted from the Jewish Bible. I think I found a mistranslation, a fabricated verse and a circular reasoning, as well as a verse taken out of context. I used a technique where I read the New Testament in the light of the Old Testament, opposite the common practice in Christian churches. I wanted to show the listeners that the people of the New Testament actually were Jews and celebrated Shabbat and kept the Laws. I explained the history of our Christian traditions and holidays and their Jewish counterparts. People soon began to call me “The Little Jew” in the congregation. I remember a missionary meeting we had, where we presented the Pentecostal support for missionaries and aid work in different countries. The congregation had missionaries in Africa, South America and Asia. In honor of the day, we had dressed ourselves in different costumes representing various countries where we had missionaries. Of course, someone came up with the bright idea to dress me as a Hasidic Jew! What about that?
For many years I was responsible for the administration of “IBRA Radio” in our church. We purchased an outdated shortwave transmitter with antenna and everything from Radio Sweden (SR), to be sent to Chapare in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The people in the villages there used to produce cocaine, but with the help of Sweden and other countries, the inhabitants there were able to start farming instead. The radio was used by IBRA for education and contact with people around in the jungle. “IBRA Radio AB” was founded in 1955 by mr. Lewi Pethrus, the founder of the Swedish Pentecostal movement. “IBRA Association” was membership based that attracted a lot of supporters. In the beginning they even had one hour in Swedish, but the main targets were programming to local radio stations all over the world. Today they transmit from stations FEBA and FEBC. They do not have their own transmitters.
Curiosity: IBRA’s first test broadcasting was made from Radio Luxemburg, “The wonderful 208.”
Will be continued…
© 2012 Jonathan Axelsson
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