MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
As the United Methodist Church struggles to find a compassionate response to the issues of homosexuality, same-gender marriage, and the ordination of LGBTQ persons, the church has been noticeably silent concerning Christian gay conversion therapy. While the professional psychological world has largely rejected the idea that sexual orientation can be reprogrammed, a small subgroup of conservative Christians continue to champion this possibility.
Two current films (both set in the early 1990s) tell personal stories about Christian youth experiences with conversion therapy. Boy Erased is based on the personal memoir of Garrad Conley; The Miseducation of Cameron Post is the film version of a popular YA novel by Emily M. Danforth. In both cases, the lead characters are respectful of their church background and willing participants in the programs that their parents / adoptive family send them to.
In Boy Erased Jared Eamons (Hedges) is the son of a Baptist preacher (Russell Crowe) and heads off to college with genuine confusion about his homosexual urges. He is sent off to the Love in Action treatment program (accompanied by his mother (Kidman), who stays at a nearby hotel). The program is led by Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton) – a character based on John Smid – who uses theology and peer pressure to intimidate change. The film focuses on Jared’s struggle but also caringly includes his parents’ conflicted love for their son.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is more sexually explicit but also more emotionally involving, centered in Chloë Grace Moritz’s nuanced performance as Cameron (possibly her best role to date), who is sent off to a conversion therapy camp after being seen making out with another girl on prom night. Cameron is fairly upfront about her sexual identity, but respectfully submits to the program out of her Christian convictions. She makes friends with two other residents: Jane Fonda (Lane) and Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck). The three go off into the woods to smoke pot and develop a mutual support system. The camp is run by a brother/sister team (John Gallagher Jr. and Jennifer Ehle) in somewhat of a good cop/bad cop routine and it soon becomes clear that things are not working out very well for anyone.
I am well aware of the diversity of thought around LGBTQ issues in the United Methodist Church, but I hold in high regard colleagues and friends who are at a different theological place than myself but still can engage in healing conversation. However, it is time for the church to speak loudly against the continuing and harmful practice of conversion therapy. I encourage thinking Christians to spend time with these two films. If the church persists to be silent, the world will continue to assume that this practice is our theological default. That would be a tragedy.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Three halos: An empathetic and compassionate film about sexual conversion therapy.
Three pitchforks: Occasional swearing; a scene of sexual assault; drug and alcohol use; psychological and spiritual abuse; suicide.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Four halos: An empathetic and compassionate film about sexual conversion therapy.
Four pitchforks: Occasional swearing; sexual activity including masturbation; brief nudity; drug use.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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