Yesterday, I received an email from Catholic priest David Nix, who allegedly is responsible for the death by suicide of Alana Chen. In Nix’s email (screen cap below), he demanded that I remove a reference to him on the site’s listing of abusive church leaders. That’s not going to happen, and here’s why.
Before we go further, let’s take a look at what conversion therapy is. In a nutshell, conversion therapy is an effort to change someone’s sexual orientation. Condemned by virtually every health care and psychological association as profoundly damaging to those who are “treated” with it, the practice is illegal in 18 states. Further, it has been condemned by the European Parliament.
So what are the harms caused by conversion therapy? They are myriad, and according to the American Psychological Association, include depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicidal ideation, drug use, and more.
My View on Conversion Therapy
I also should share my theological concerns with conversion therapy. Specifically, I believe it to be an egregious sin, and for various reasons.
In addition to the harm that it causes, I do not believe that God makes mistakes. Sexual orientation appears to me to be just that—an orientation. Indeed, most LGBTQ+ persons, myself included, remember being aware that they were different, long before they understood how they different. In short, they had this awareness well prior to the age of accountability. Thus, to contend that sexual orientation is a sin is itself a sin, for it denies the essential goodness of God’s creation.
So Why Was Nix Allegedly Engaged in Conversion Therapy?
The question of why David Nix allegedly was engaged in conversion therapy seems to me at the heart of this tragic story. Given the risk inherent in the practice, it would seem that Nix would, at a minimum, take a profoundly cautious approach, particularly when, as here, there’s no evidence that Nix has mental health training.
Even more concerning is the claim by Alana’s family that their daughter had been told not to tell her parents. Those familiar with church mandated sexual misconduct training and prevention know that a major warning sign is when a child is told to keep something secret from her parents. Churches should have matters that are confidential; that is healthy and appropriate. But secrets are not. So why on earth would any ethical clergyperson allegedly suggest that she not tell her parents? Something surely is not right when a priest makes this suggestion, and were I Alana’s parents, this in itself would cause me profound concern.
To make matters worse, one wonders why the bishop allegedly ignored communications from Elena’s parents. A pastorally sensitive leader would, at a minimum, want parents to have the opportunity to share and explore their concerns. That’s particularly the case when it involves the wellbeing of children—surely a priority in any healthy religious organization. And when, as bishop, you’re getting communications from a parent regarding the dynamics between their child and a member of the clergy, that should be another sign of serious trouble in the offing. Silence is simply neither appropriate nor helpful.
Nix Lacks Love
As if these issues weren’t enough to cause concern, even the short communication this author received from Nix suggests a painfully incompetent pastoral response, profoundly lacking in emotional IQ. Or love for that matter. Here it is:
Leaving aside grammatical issues, Nix proffers a token nod to the notion that Alana’s death is a tragedy. He then plunges into denouncing what he claims is a lie, never recognizing that his flawed theology and handling of this situation is the real tragedy in this situation, looming even larger than the loss of a promising young person of faith. Nor does he recognize that his tone and tenor are anything but Christlike, which leads me to suspect that Alana’s mother is spot on when she says Nix has been divisive and controversial—a claim that Nix himself appears to acknowledge in his email.
Nix also fails to recognize that his reliance on Alana’s email is a non sequitor. Indeed, it does not prove that his conduct was appropriate; if it illustrates anything at all, it’s that people abused by being subjected to conversion therapy are likely to be remarkably conflicted. On the one hand, they want to please their families and authority figures in their lives. On the other hand, they lack the ability to make the very change that allegedly would accomplish that result. Nix appears unable to process this notion, and indeed his own teaching appear inconsistent with Catholic theology, which does not teach that having homosexual urges is sinful.
Breakdown of the Bishopric
In all of this, the role of the bishop diocesan appears problematic. We know that the diocese has given its blessing to David’s pursuit of life as a solitary. We know too that the diocese has denied engaging in conversion therapy. But if that’s the case, why then did the bishop not respond to Alana’s mother’s concerns long ago?
And why are we not reading about efforts by the clergy involved to get Alana mental health care? It is axiomatic that, unless they are trained as mental health professionals, clergy should not attempt to address mental health issues. With one prior suicide attempt, the challenges Alana faced were not an issue to be taken lightly.
Moreover, Nix’s ugly tone and tenor are not exactly therapeutic. Indeed, my reading of his blog, together with his email, suggests this is a priest who should not be permitted to engage in pastoral care. The bishop diocesan and other ecclesiastical authorities have some serious soul-searching to do, and simply lamenting Alana’s death is not going to cut it.
Looking to the Future
I don’t believe in a literal hell, which is perhaps a good thing, as David Nix would be a lead contender for the role of boiler room foreman during the summer months. But I suspect his conduct will catch up with him in short order. Indeed, as a former attorney, I encourage Alana’s family to consult with a lawyer about possible legal recourse against the Catholic Church and Nix. If nothing else, both may have been negligent if they failed to recommend mental health care for Alana, or if they acted to conceal her condition from her parents, thereby preventing Alana from obtaining needed medical treatment. (I am more than happy to help Alana’s family find an attorney, if they wish to explore this option.)
In the meantime, my advice is this: Nothing about David Nix reminds me of Jesus. If you read his works and concur, then it’s best to cut him and his “ministry” a wide berth. And in meantime, I’d add only that allegedly threatening someone with hell over their sexual orientation is sexual abuse. Just as molesting someone need not involve actual sexual contact, so too does weaponizing their sexual orientation count as sexual abuse.
The good news is that it looks like David will be doing the same for this author. Life is too short to deal with persons like him and his toxic/skewed brand of Christianity.