The Imitation Game

If you haven’t read Alan Turing: The Enigma or watched The Imitation Game, I would highly recommend it.

During WWII, the Nazis used a machine called Enigma to communicate all their plans over radio raves.  Although anyone with a basic radio system could pick up the Morris Code communications, they were impossible to decipher because they were so well encrypted.  The Americans, French and Germans all believed that Enigma was unbreakable.  The British Royal Navy developed a team with with the goal of breaking the impossible code.   There were 159,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible settings every day; the Germans changed the code every day promptly at midnight, and the Allies intercepted the first message around 6:00am.  This gave the team approximately 18 hours every day to crack the code before it was changed again and they had to start all over.  The project was top secret, with everyone involved sworn to secrecy; any sharing of the secret information was punishable by death.  As such, only a small team of expert code breakers was allowed to work on the team, which was overseen by The Commander of the British Royal Navy and an agent of MI6, a level of the British military that no one even knew existed.  With ten people checking one setting per minute, every minute, 24 hours per day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, it would have taken 20 million years to crack one day’s worth of code.  To stop an incoming attack, they would have to decipher those messages in twenty minutes, not twenty million years.

Alan Turing was one of the top mathematicians in the world at the time, and he was reluctantly allowed to be a part of the small team.  Although he was literally a brilliant genius and code breaking prodigy, he was extremely anti-social and did not work well with the team.  He designed a machine to break Enigma, but he was denied the parts and budget to build the machine.  Because he was such a genius, no one else on the team, or any of his commanding officers, could understand the concept and design of the machine; they all thought he was crazy and refused to participate in it or fund it.  Fortunately, the MI6 agent, who outranked the Commander, believed in Turing and appealed to Winston Churchill, who put Turing in charge of the whole project.

Turing built the machine, which, after some adjustments, was able to decipher every message, every day, in less than a minute.  It was a miracle- he had not done the impossible himself, but he had built a machine that could do the impossible.  After building the machine and cracking the code, the rest of the team wanted to act immediately to stop every attack they could foresee from the intercepted messages.  However, Turing was more intelligent than everyone else, and he knew that if the Allies all of a sudden demonstrated that they could foresee every attack, the Germans would figure out that Enigma had been cracked, and they would change the design, forcing them to crack it again.  The top secret group became even more top secret, using advanced calculus and statistics to predict the casualties of each attack, and to determine how many attacks could be reasonably stopped without enabling the Germans to realize that Enigma had been cracked.  Having the ability to decipher messages everyone thought were impossible to decipher enabled them to know every single thing the Germans communicated and to create the largest store of military intelligence in the world.  The MI6 agent leaked the information necessary to the rest of the military, and provided false stories about how they had gained their intelligence so that it could be leaked to all parties involved in the war and to prevent others from knowing that Enigma had been cracked.

The top secret project remained a government held secret for over 50 years, with the information only recently becoming public knowledge.  Historians estimate that Turing’s machine and advanced mathematics and statistics shortened WWII by two to four years, saving approximately 14 million lives.  Turing named his machine Christopher, after his first love he had met at an all boys high school, who taught him how to crack codes so they could pass secret love notes throughout the day. Today, we call those machines computers.  The reason you are reading this blog is due more to the pioneering work of Alan Turing than that of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or anyone else.  After Christopher led the Allies to the end of the war, the entire top secret project destroyed all records, including the machine.  Turing later went on to pioneer computer science at Cambridge University and never spoke of his role in the war.

Eventually, Turing was arrested for “Gross Indecency” under British law after it was discovered that he was a homosexual.  Although the MI6 agent who had worked with Turing during the war could have easily stopped the police investigation and overridden the charges against him, he chose not to act.  Turing was sentenced to chemical castration, which was believed to “cure” people of homosexuality.  Between 1885 and 1967, approximately 49,000 men were charged with “Gross Indecency” in Britain.  The chemical castration destroyed the most genius mind in the world at the time, and Turing was never able to work again.  Shortly after the chemical castration and loss of self, Turing committed suicide.

In 2013, Queen Elizabeth II granted Turing a posthumous royal pardon, honoring his unprecedented achievements.

I first learned about the story of Alan Turing after I had started counseling and began addressing my own sexuality, but before I came out.  The life, works, injustice and death of Alan Turing are all significant to me for many reasons.

One lesson I learned is that it really doesn’t matter how many good works one can do, when there is one ultimate sin that causes everyone to overlook them.  That’s an important life lesson for many people.

Alan’s story also taught me that one of the sharpest, brightest, most logical minds in the world knew without question that it was gay, and that its sexual orientation was unchangeable.  In addition to being a mathematical prodigy, Turing was also a leading biologist during his time.  Just as he was intelligent enough not to reveal that he had cracked enigma, he was intelligent enough not to reveal what he knew to be a natural, biological sexual orientation, because he knew that it would lead to the chemical castration he ultimately endured.

The strategy Turing used to win the war was unbelievable.  Only a true genius and prodigy could have done all that.

I am concerned that the way the LGBTQ rights movement is advancing so quickly could be detrimental to itself. It is the fastest-moving human and civil rights movement in the history of the world.  If we compare where it was to 100, 50, 20, 10, 5,  or even 2 years ago, the progress made is sharply exponential. Not too long ago, it used to be a huge deal that one state legalized same-sex domestic unions, allowing for some rights that heterosexual marriages have always allowed.  In less than fifteen years, it went from that to gay marriage being legalized in every state, with no differentiation between the rights of married gay or straight couples.  It’s no coincidence that following that ruling, the next Super Bowl was hosted in San Francisco, and that the half-time show included a strong message of LGBTQ acceptance during the most American, masculine, watched event of the year.

Most “Ex-Gay” ministries have shut down over the last few years, issuing apologies to everyone they hurt with the false hope that homosexuals can and should change their sexual orientation.  As they kept losing staff and even their president “back” to homosexuality, Exodus International revealed that “99.9%” of the people they had worked with saw no permanent change in their sexual orientation.

The Church is reeling, and its reactions aren’t pretty.  Many churches have already changed their positions to be more inclusive of LGBTQ people, and some even view, welcome, and include LGBTQ people without any distinction.  Others are lashing out, while others withdraw into further exclusivity, fearing that the growing cultural acceptance of homosexual is a sign that “The End is Near.”  It’s sad to see The Church polarize itself over this issue, even more so than it did over other civil rights movements like women in ministry, racism toward blacks, and interracial marriage.

Leading Evangelical voices like Franklin Graham, son of late evangelist Billy Graham, have a large platform from which to influence many evangelicals.  Unfortunately, they voice the sentiments of many evangelical churches. Franklin Graham was recently a guest on Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family Radio show, and the two discussed their feelings and ideas toward LGBTQ people and the LGBTQ rights movement.  Graham said:

“We have allowed the enemy to come into our churches. I was talking to some Christians and they were talking about how they invited these gay children to come into their home and to come into the church and that they were wanting to influence them.”

“And I thought to myself, they’re not going to influence those kids, those kids are going to influence those parents’ children. What happens is we think we can fight by smiling and being real nice and loving. We have to understand who the enemy is and what he wants — he wants to devour our homes. He wants to devour this nation.”

In the same interview, Dr. James Dobson, who is one of the few psychologists left in the world that still classifies homosexuality as a mental disorder, appealed to pastors who are “compassionate toward those who have attractions to same-sex individuals:”

“I would like them to think, just for a moment, about ‘LGBT,'” Dobson says. “The ‘B’ stand for bisexual! That’s orgies! Are you really going to support this?”

Seems legit.  Exactly what Jesus would say and do.  Exactly the understanding and knowledge that an “expert” should have.  The American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973, with The American Psychological Association following in 1975. Even in the 1970’s, when most of the world was still unashamedly homophobic, science, biology, and psychology agreed that it was a “healthy variation of human sexual orientation.”

When leading evangelical voices with loud voices and large platforms are saying things like this, it is clear we’re not quite there yet.

Throughout my whole process, I have struggled to find the balance between justice, practicality and logic, and of course, being like Jesus.  It’s hard for any movement to fight for justice and equality without also being confrontational.  It’s a journey.

At one point in the war, Turing’s secret project had the ability to stop an incoming attack that would have saved the life of a team member’s brother.  Turing’s logic overrode what could have been a rash decision made by the heart, because he determined that stopping that particular attack would have revealed to the Germans that they had cracked Enigma.  He was more concerned with the practicality of a long-term, logical strategy than the immediate gratification of decisions influenced by valid emotions.

When I came out and was terminated from Young Life, many parents wanted me to go to the media with the story.  The “better” the story has gotten, the more tempting that has become.  Another personal connection I have manages a world-class legal team that generously offered to represent me in a case against Young Life all the way to the Supreme Court.  They saw it as an excellent opportunity to flex their muscles and prove their legal prowess in what they assured me could have been an inevitable victory that would have had many significant repercussions for the LGBTQ movement nationally.

As tempting as all that was, I denied both offers.  Anything I do, I do all the way.  I knew once I got started on a very public legal battle against Young Life, I would not be able to stop myself until I had “won.”  I hate making generalizations, but in general, lawyers and media personalities can be really big assholes- not as people, but just in the way they do their work.  I knew that once I allowed the media to take over, I would have little to no influence over how they ran with it.  Even worse than that would have been the way the relentlessly aggressive legal team would have dealt with Young Life.  I can play hard ball when I want, which is really only when people make the mistake of thinking it’s a good idea to play hard ball with me.  No one who has ever tried has ever been satisfied with the result.  In my heart of hearts, I don’t want to harm Young Life, or any ministry, no matter what position they currently hold on this matter; I just want more for them.  Although I took advice from the legal team, I did not allow them to even interact with Young Life directly.  Overall my goal was to educate.  When I felt Young Life was denying and lying about the the truth of my termination to students and parents, it just made me want to tell the truth even louder. As frustrating as this process has been, I think holding back is in the best interest of the LGBTQ movement overall.  The day after I was terminated from Young Life, I wrote, “I’ve never been very political, but I’ve always recognized that religious institutions should have the right to place leaders who they feel agree with and support their core beliefs. Although the Church has evolved over time as history, culture and politics have shifted, it shouldn’t be forced to. Even if it is forced to, that’s not addressing the real issue, which is the hearts of people creating and enforcing policies.” I still feel that way today, and I feel that positive change will best be sustained in the long run if it’s not so quick and so forced. 

If we look at a couple other more recent examples, I’ve already mentioned in a previous blog that the Boy Scouts of America recently changed their position on allowing gay leaders.  The Girl Scouts have allowed lesbian leaders for a few years, and Boy Scouts were behind the times.  The President of the BSA said in it’s statement following the policy change, “Our oath calls upon us to do our duty to God and our country. The country is changing, and we are increasingly at odds with the legal landscape at both the state and federal levels.”  He went on to reveal that “the decision on the Boy Scout’s policy could be dictated by the courts,” and that it would be best for them to “seize control of our own future.”  To be fair, the Boy Scouts is not a religious organization, and there are additional legalities in effect when it comes to discrimination within religious organizations.

This stood out to me when I read an email from Young Life’s Regional Director in which he stated, “Obviously your request to have an attorney involved means more folks involved on our end. ”  I thought that was interesting.  Don’t they have “more folks” involved on their end when they create and enforce their policies?  Weren’t “more folks” involved in the original decision to terminate me before my meeting with the two local Young Life staff on August 30th, in which they terminated me based on that policy?  The revelation that Young Life had to get even “more folks” involved in this process is significant, because it demonstrates that their discriminatory policy is no longer sufficient.  It is more significant than most people realize that the professional legal team of an organization with over $250 million in assets and an annual revenue of roughly $250 million was not confident enough to terminate me based on their policy regarding a “homosexual lifestyle.”  The lengths to which Young Life went to terminate me without putting that policy in writing required them to harm their credibility by lying repeatedly.  Young Life refuses to publish their Faith and Conduct statement because it doesn’t want people to know about its policies and core values.  “Obviously” they must be aware that they too are “increasingly at odds with the legal landscape at both the state and federal levels.”  When an animal is backed into a corner, fearing for its life, it will do whatever it takes to protect itself.

If you’ve ever seen the movie 21 Jump Street, you might remember that it’s about two cops who go undercover to infiltrate a high school and uncover an illegal drug ring.  In an attempt to be cool, one of the characters shows up to school in a Camaro.   A group of cool kids call it a gas guzzler and in turn brag about how their older car runs on biodiesel and smells like a local Chinese restaurant.  One of the undercover cops punches a black kid for actually trying to study and says, “Turn that gay ass music off.”  The black kid responds with, “You punched me because I’m gay?”  The surrounding crowd moans in disapproval, and the kid’s friend says, “that is really insensitive.”  Times have changed in relatively short amount of time, and it is no longer cool or socially acceptable to discriminate based on sexual orientation.  For many ministries, nobody cares if they discriminate against LGBTQ people or not because unfortunately they’re already largely culturally irrelevant.  For example, the Assemblies of God will be able to hold out with its position for quite a while because they don’t reach enough people that care.  Most members are either born into it or brought in by their parents, and they love it that way.  For ministries like Young Life, which try to be as culturally relevant and cool as possible, it does matter, and it will affect them.  They are not only increasingly at odds with the legal landscape of the country but also the cultural and moral landscape as well.  But still, pushing Young Life too hard too quickly at this time could be devastating to the LGBTQ rights movement in the long run.

For an example of that, we can look at World Vision, one of the world’s largest Christian charities, which in 2014 changed its policy to allow for the hiring of married homosexual employees. When asked whether the motivation behind the change was motivated by financial, legal or political influences, World Vision’s President stated that the “very narrow policy change” was “symbolic not of compromise but [Christian] unity.”  The change came too quickly, and was unfortunately reversed three days later.  As a result of the policy change, World Vision lost too much financial support to continue operating the way it had been.  Because, of course, allowing married homosexuals to play a role in feeding starving orphans as Jesus commanded is so contradictory to God’s Word that the tithes and offerings of religious Christians could not bare to support such a thing.  What happened with World Vision proves the point that too much change too quickly is unsustainable in the long run.  Although we have come a long way, and many Christian churches, organizations and individuals are trying to do the right thing, we’re not ready quite yet.  We have to be OK with that reality for now.

I cannot control what other people in the LGBTQ movement do; I can only control what I do.  If I could speak to the movement at large, I would tell them to slow down and back off a bit.  We can’t be focused on the gratification of immediate change, because ultimately forced change does nothing for the core of the issue, which is hearts. I sincerely hope that The Church can stop polarizing and dividing itself over this issue, and that we can eventually see the unity and inclusion God has planned for us.  Sustainable change comes through education, so our focus should be more on educating new generations that are already growing up without the prejudice and bias against homosexuals that has historically been perpetuated by The Church.  I don’t mean to be rude, but the generations that would pull donations from organizations that choose to be inclusive of LGBTQ people are literally dying out, and being replaced with generations that will pull donations based exclusion of LGBTQ people instead.  Before I came out, my psychiatrist told me to wait it out and continue volunteering until Young Life changed its policy.  I refused to do so for many reasons.  First, I felt that would be lying.  There’s a difference between serving when you haven’t concluded that you’re gay and continuing to serve after you’ve made that conclusion.  I didn’t want to live a lie.  I also didn’t want to try to start dating and then be “found out” by someone else; my controlling nature urged me to take control of the situation by coming out on my own terms. Perhaps most importantly, I thought coming out would set a good example to kids and enable them to address their own sexuality or identity issues if they needed to (sexual orientation and gender identity are very separate issues, but everything seems to fall under that LGBTQ acronym). I hope that whatever difference I can make is significant and sustainable.  I’m willing to forego pressing on a large scale to make whatever difference I can make on a smaller scale.

A couple of my favorite quotes from Alan Turing are:

“Sometimes we can’t do what feels good.  We have to do what is logical.”


“Sometimes it’s the very people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”

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