“[Homosexuals are] brute beasts…part of a vile and satanic system [that] will be utterly annihilated, and there will be a celebration in heaven.”
In the early 90s, the Christian community was coming off an abysmal display of Christian virtue. Having failed to be a support to the gay community in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, they doubled-down their rhetoric to build exclusionary communities away from the sexual deviants and lepers. Conversion therapy retained its appeal and for those today who yearn for the old days defined by intolerant fundamentalism, this technique of re-wiring the identity remains en vogue. Recently, the Williams Institute estimated that 20,000 LGBTQ youth will receive conversion therapy from a licensed professional. People like Sam Brinton who recently told his story on the pages of the New York Times:
But it didn’t stop with these hurtful talk-therapy sessions. The therapist ordered me bound to a table to have ice, heat and electricity applied to my body. I was forced to watch clips on a television of gay men holding hands, hugging and having sex. I was supposed to associate those images with the pain I was feeling to once and for all turn into a straight boy. In the end it didn’t work. I would say that it did, just to make the pain go away.
Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a film about the interaction of these forces. Summarized well by Tomris Laffly (Roger Ebert), it’s a “survival story of a young, orphaned, small-town Pennsylvanian [Chloë Grace Moretz], forcefully sent to a Christian gay conversion therapy camp, armed with nothing other than her non-negotiable sense of identity.” And survival is the appropriate word because the isolated Village-like setting ruled by parochial cult-leaders bent to convert you for your own benefit is only a second form of incarceration. The first, an area explored with too little intensity, is the second-class personal isolationism forced onto the gay community in an effort to keep them outside the camp and bound without recourse for individual expression. There was a moment of this but that moment quickly went away. An opportunity lost to build on the momentum created and to speak truth on an isolation that has rich theological connections. I’ve spent a great deal of my twenties among campus Christians. And, while they rarely reached the dizzying heights that the films most manipulative character (Jennifer Ehle) demonstrates, they embodied the one played by John Gallagher Jr. with uncanny precision.
The film’s shots at Christians are fair; at times poignant and effectual with serious depth. At other times with the triteness that comes with most writers attempts to introduce a Christian experience. And as much as the Left wants to laugh at some of these tendency — I know personally how funny some of the stuff appears — there was a scene in the field that sounded hauntingly similar to the safe space rhetoric we hear so often today from fragile campus protestors and diversity administrators.
Because the film fluctuates and manages to hit on a certain depth that needs to be explored, I agree with A.O. Scott (New York Times) that it deserves “a wide and [especially] diverse audience.” But in its failure to take chances and engage seriously with the multifaceted layers of Christianity, it is a film that fails to overcome its genre.