The American Family Association’s video It’s Not Gay is back in the news again, now that its principal star has begun to re-emerge from a scandal that brought down his ministry.
Michael Johnston was at one time a darling of the ex-gay movement. He founded Kerusso Ministries, and built it on his testimony of contracting HIV while engaging in dangerous and promiscuous sexual activity before “walking away from homosexuality” through a spiritual transformation. He parlayed that testimony into national prominence, working with James Kennedy’s Corral Ridge Ministry in 1998 to produce a commercial in which he appears with his mother. In response to the National Coming Out day that is observed every October 11, he initiated his so-called “National Coming Out of Homosexuality Day” to coincide with the larger event. Charismatic, articulate, calm, young and good looking, Johnston was a bright star in the ex-gay constellation.
Johnston’s fortunes came crashing down in 2003 when it was learned that while he was traveling around the country decrying the “depravity” of homosexuals, he was hosting orgies, taking drugs and practicing unsafe sex without disclosing his HIV status. He immediately closed his ministry and went underground. A spokesman for the American Family Association concluded “I don’t foresee he would ever be back in a place of public ministry, especially in an outreach to homosexuals like the ministry he had.”
Before Johnston’s downfall, his story was the centerpiece for the American Family Association’s 2000 video, It’s Not Gay. In it, Johnston is joined by other anti-gay activists, including Richard Cohen (then president of PFOX), Kirmit Rainman (Focus on the Family) and David Pruden (Evergreen Ministries). The video, as is typical with most anti-gay propaganda, is loaded with unsupported statistics (Cohen exclaims at one point that “80% of homosexual men have a sexually transmitted disease!”) or statistics that are derived from unreliable and unrepresentative sources. The two “medical experts” were about as obscure as you can get: an osteopath and a urologist from Middletown, Ohio (misspelled “Middleton” in the video).
Richard Cohen, former president of PFOX and current director of something he calls the “International Healing Foundation” was one of the “experts” featured in the video. The is the same Richard Cohen who was permanently expelled from the American Counseling Association in 2003 for ethics violations, and has been denounced for espousing “touch” or “holding” therapy to “cure” homosexuality. In the video, not only did he provide the unsubstantiated claim that 80% of gay men have a sexually transmitted disease, he also cherry picked other outdated and non-representative “studies” (including the McWhirter book that the FRC used in their fraudulent brief to the Maryland Supreme Court) to claim that 95% of gay couples are not monogamous.
But the star of the show is Michael Johnston himself. It’s his face we see and voice we hear throughout the video as he describes his life as a “former homosexual.” We hear him describe all of his behavior — and his contracting AIDS — as being the consequences of homosexuality, as though homosexuality were a power outside himself. He blames his decisions to be promiscuous, to enter into poor relationships, and to engage in unsafe sexual activity — including his decision to spread his infection to others without disclosing his health status — on “the homosexual lifestyle”. He appearently does not consider his own responsibility for his choices, choices which could have included exercising self-control, and living as a faithful, honest, responsible, mature gay man. Instead, he avoids the question of his personal responsibility for making the choices he made, and blames them on homosexuality itself. And in doing so, he paints a picture that leaves the false impression that all gay men behave exactly as he did.
When the scandal first broke, Johnston sought refuge at a live-in facility with Pure Life Ministries at an undisclosed location in Kentucky. From there, he apparently disappeared, out of the limelight, and most assumed that would be the last we would hear of him. But now Wayne Besen reports that Johnston has emerged from his self-imposed isolation as a speaker for Pure Life. According to Pure Life’s website, Johnston “walked away from the gay community in 1988 after almost 11 years of involvement in homosexuality and testing positive for HIV in 1986.” But the same website says he led a double life, which leads one to question whether he really walked away or not.
So Michael Johnston said he experienced a wonderful spiritual transformation before. He even went on television to announce it. But what happened? Did it not take? What sort of spiritual transformation did Mike not undergo before that he has undergone now? He said in his 1998 commercial that he “walked away from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ.” What’s different today? Pure Life has an answer:
For the first time in his life, Mike has gained a genuine understanding of what it really means to be a follower of Jesus and God has given him a fresh vision of helping others find real freedom; this time not for the purpose of self-promotion but to glorify Christ.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s a different Jesus Christ this time from the one Johnston proclaimed before. Maybe God not really mean it the first time. At any rate, we can be assured that he’s not acting in self-promotion. Not this time. Not on a full-page of a web site featuring his photo and proclaiming his availability as a public speaker.
And in case you were wondering, his video is still for sale at the American Family Association’s website. They’ve even been stepping up their promotion of it through e-mails to the faithful offering special discounts. But nowhere on that website will you learn the real story behind the video, or of its star. While the contents of the video are fraudulent, the title is very appropriate. It’s Not Gay does not describe what it is to be gay. It’s not gay at all. Instead the video describes what happens when someone makes a series of bad choices without taking personal responsibility for his actions.
That’s not gay. That’s just pathetic.