Pray The Gay Away

What do the following have in common?
• 1982
• Lutherans—specifically, Missouri Synod Lutherans
• Gay conversion therapy
• Comedy
• Music

The commonality for these five items is the new musical comedy, “Pray the Gay Away,” which premieres in Mount Vernon, Washington, on November 8.

Check out the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ptgashow/?ref=br_tf&epa=SEARCH_BOX.

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What do the following have in common?
• “Pray the Gay Away”
• Its author, Conrad Askland
• Yours truly

Last July, I received a Facebook message from Conrad. He had found my blog as he was doing research for his play. Because I had been a minister in the Missouri Synod, and also had been transgender, he hoped I could provide assistance in accurately portraying the Missouri Synod and its pastors. I eagerly replied and, the very next day, we enjoyed a long phone chat.

We hit it off. Conrad is a friendly dude, with a good sense of humor.

I wondered what prompted him to write a musical comedy play about gay conversion therapy and set it in the early 1980s in the Missouri Synod (LCMS)? While he did not grow up LCMS, he had experience in the Lutheran faith. He went for the early ‘80s for a number of reasons, such as its being right before AIDS became widely known and attitudes toward same sex relations had not developed to where they are today.

As for the LCMS, they provided a good church setting because the LCMS has remained where it was in the 1980s. In the LCMS, theology is akin to math facts; where 2 + 2 always equals 4, theology is factual and does not change. Thus, if a theological doctrine were true in 1982, it remains true in 2019.

Regarding gay conversion therapy, this is the practice—which has now been widely rejected, even seen as harmful for those subjected to it—by which those with same sex attraction are immersed in “right thinking.” To wit, God made males for females, and females for males, and if you just accept that, and dig it deeply enough into your mind, and pray long and hard enough, you can change your sexual orientation.

It’s also been used for those with gender dysphoria. Indeed, two pastors used it with me (while never specifying that’s what they were using, perhaps not even aware it’s what they were doing), in the months before I transitioned. “Greg, you’re a male.” “You fathered children.” “Remember your baptismal identity.” I replied that I didn’t question any of that, and chanting these things didn’t help because my problem wasn’t with how I was thinking. Since they had no other way to help me, they simply repeated their mantra.

Thus the title of Conrad’s play, taken from the well-worn joke: pray the gay away. Just pray, and seek God, and think right, and you can get rid of these feelings.

Back to Conrad. Over these months, he emailed me a number of times. He began by sending the pastor’s lines. I was able to help him polish them for accuracy. Over the months, for anything of which he was not sure he popped me the question.

Conrad scoured the LCMS in search of properly understanding what it continues to believe about same sex attraction and every associated bit of theology and practice. While I’ve not seen the play or read the entire script, I am confident he has gotten it right.

He recently contacted me, wanting to connect his cast members on a Skype call. You know I jumped on that!

We talked for an hour. They asked me loads of questions, mostly about Lutheran attitudes. We laughed at many of the LCMS’s foibles, while I also explained why Lutherans stand up for what they believe.

Among those I met were the man who plays the pastor, the woman who plays the mother of a gay son who took his life, and “Martin Luther.” Most impressive was the young man who plays the boy who is the focus of having his gay prayed away. (In the photo at the top of this page, that’s him.) After we talked for five minutes, I asked his age. “I’m fifteen.” And a very impressive fifteen he is.

Conrad didn’t set his sights unreasonably high for how his play would be received. Thus, when he learned that opening night has been sold out, he was elated. He now reports the entire three-weekend run might see the house full each for each performance.

I have only one regret about the play. I’m in Indiana and Conrad is in Washington. I am eagerly watching from here, to see the reviews come in.

Playing it for laughs and setting it a generation ago, Conrad was able to tackle a ticklish topic in a way so as to be palatable. With Conrad and cast, I hope he achieves what surely are Conrad’s twin goals: to entertain and to educate.

10 thoughts on “Pray The Gay Away

  1. Greg, I’ve been a LCMS pastor for 26 years. I know of no connection of the LCMS and gay conversion therapy. And “Pray the Gay Away” is certainly antithetical to our theology. I think that your disappointing experiences with the LCMS and her pastors colors your thinking. And, I ask,”What possible good can come out of making fun of Christians via skits and plays written by folks who are dead set against us?” Except to say, as Jesus said to all of us yesterday, All Saints Sunday, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

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    1. Hi, Tim~

      In fact, conversion therapy was used on me by two LCMS pastors. Their work with me was entirely “think correctly,” etc.

      Conversion therapy might, on paper, be antithetical to LCMS theology, but practically speaking I doubt it is entirely so – just as believing God used evolution to create the world is rejected by the LCMS, but some LCMS pastors reject the six day creation and accept teachings about evolution that contradict the Word of God.

      I believe that plenty of possible good can come from poking fun at oneself. Now, I admit, I’ve not read the entire script or seen it played out, and so I am hoping Conrad has done a responsible job. I agreed to help him, and am behind the play, because he showed me to be interested in doing a good job with this.

      Satire can be a useful tool to help people see the absurdity of things. It is my hope that this play can show that even well-meaning Christians don’t always do things correctly, and there is always room to learn and improve.

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  2. Greg, although conversion therapy might be supported by individual pastors – especially by those who feel they are out of their depth, the LCMS has carefully avoided any support of it on a synodical level. I helped advise the committee that wrote “A Plan for Ministry for Homosexuals and their Families. At the time, as a young man in the early 90s and late 80s, I was really into conversion therapy, specifically reparative therapy which was fairly new and seemed to be the “answer” I was looking for. The task force flatly refused to include conversion therapy in the the plan. As I learned in later decades, they were far wiser than I. In fact, one of the reasons I remain LCMS today is that only once, in the dozens of pastors I have talked to, has a pastor suggested that God would “change my orientation.”

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    1. Hi, Matt in Wyoming~

      Thank you very much for this.

      I admit that I await learning exactly how Conrad Askland handles the topic. He impressed me with all he told me, and how he scoured LCMS theology to ensure that he has it right, and was happy to correct things he ran by me where I saw him not on point. That’s why I have supported him, with my personal desire to educate. So, for now, I give him the benefit of the question.

      The Lord be with you!

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  3. Just to add – not that the play is wrong. It will probably reflect the experience of many specific individuals and that is important. I suspect it just won’t be accurate on a general scope of things.

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    1. Thank you for the P.S., Matt. Also, it’s key to remember the play is set in 1982. I know that, in those days, I thought same sex desire was a choice. How one views it will affect how one addresses it.

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  4. Hmm I am wondering about the setting of 1982. There are, of course, artistic reason for including anachronisms in a work of art but the number that appear in this play give the impression that this is a young author imagining life in 1982 through the lens of his present experience. Whether that serves the play well or not – I don’t know. Hopefully it will be online at some point and I can see. But……

    1) a 15 year old coming out in 1982 to his family would be almost unheard of.
    2) a LGBT youth group in 1982? Nope. And if one existed it would not include the T and Q at that time – and probably would not have joined the L and G together either. It was the AIDS crisis itself that brought those two together as Lesbian groups began to step up to assist gay men afflicted with AIDS.
    3) The rainbow flag? That had just recently been invented and had not caught on in most of the country yet. Maybe a pink triangle.

    It will be interesting to see which form of conversion therapy they use in the play. Aversion therapy was at the end of its heyday in 1982 and the reparative therapy of Nicolosi and Moberly was still in its infancy and largely unknown. The primary therapy that would most likely have been used at that time period would have been behavior modification.

    I will also be interesting to see how they handle LCMS theology at that time period. What I remember mostly about the LCMS and homosexuality in the early 80s was the silence. It just wasn’t on the LCMS radar. That, in itself, said a lot as it told me that my problem was too alien and too disgusting to be even mentioned by my church except in whispers. That meant the only information a teen in the LCMS got from christian groups came from things like Focus on the Family, the Moral Majority and Save Our Children.

    Today my primary problem with LCMS theology and homosexuality is that we try to fit everything into the Law/Gospel paradigm. So the answer to homosexuality is “God forgives you.” OK, well that’s fine. But what does that mean? How does that play out? What does that look like for a person caught in the tension of being attracted to the “wrong sex” but holding to a traditional view of male/female and marriage? These are questions the LCMS has barely even begun to tackle. In that sense I guess the theology today and the theology of 1982 are quite similar.

    It will be interesting to see if the result is worth throwing modern stuff back almost 40 years in the past. It may very well say something important to the audience of today. But what it won’t do is reflect the experience of a gay teen in 1982.

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    1. OK, I contacted them and the reply was that the anachronisms were intentional because they had a number of young people who wanted to participate and had to change the play to include a younger cast – which is a relief. One thing that was and is true is the harm done by conversion therapy methods and I hope that comes across in a way people can understand in this play. If they ever release this play online or in video please let us know because I would love to see it.

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      1. I read your first of these two posts yesterday, but didn’t have a chance to reply. I appreciate your looking into it and adding what you learned. Indeed, Matt, I appreciate how thorough and thoughtful you are. Thank you for every word you have written, and the good spirit in which you have done so.

        I could write so much about things you’ve brought up, especially the Law/Gospel paradigm of the LCMS, and everything else about these issues. Indeed, regarding transgender issues, I am in the final stages of writing a book for pastors, “Ministering to Transgender Christians,” because the LCMS, and others who practice a traditional faith, don’t know what to do with transgender issues.

        I do not believe “transgender Christian” is an oxymoron, where many Christians say it is – for example, Answers In Genesis does not allow for one being transgender and Christian. (I’ve written to them, receiving no reply.) Too many, including among LCMS folks, find “homosexual Christian” an oxymoron.

        While, on paper, I am in agreement with LCMS doctrine, in practice there is a gap. I have good friends who are in same sex relationships, including being married, who are practicing Christians. I’ll be if I am going to tell them they are not children of God, through faith in Christ. They confess Christ and shine His light in the world. I love these folks as my Christian family. There is no way I can reject them out of hand. Yet, I believe the Lord gave marriage for one man and one woman, and sexual practice is to be kept to the marriage bed. Ugh. This Christianity business is a challenge!

        Back to the anachronisms, I recall – I think in my initial conversation with Conrad, in July – bringing up a couple of the anachronisms of which you wrote. Frankly, I don’t recall how he replied, but it seems to me that his answer rested well with me.

        Absolutely, if the play becomes available I will advertise it.

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