Ex-Gay Programs Highlighted on CNN
Exodus President Alan Chambers appeared on CNN last night. I compare what he told Anderson Cooper with what he wrote in his book, God's Grace and the Homosexual Next Door.
February 7th, 2007
I’ll bet if you were to poll ordinary Americans on the street today, you would find the whole concept of “ex-gay” to be largely unknown. While we talk about ex-gay programs on this website, Exodus and other ex-gay ministries have for the most part escaped the limelight among the general public. Focus in the Family’s Mike Haley once told a Love Won Out audience that Exodus was “one of the church’s best kept secrets.” CNN Producer Jim Spellman says that until he talked with Melissa Fryrear, also from Focus on the Family, he had never met or talked to anyone who considered themselves ex-gay. But with Ted Haggard’s recent miraculous transformation from fallen boy-toy customer to “completely heterosexual” in only three weeks, people are starting to ask questions.
Last night’s edition of “Anderson Cooper 360” on CNN explored the claims of the ex-gay movement. Melissa Fryrear, a “former lesbian” who claimed to no longer have any homosexual feelings, threw cold water on the idea that change can happen as rapidly as three weeks. She told reporter Joe Johns:
“It’s not quantifiable in the sense of years. It’s… For me it was gradual change that was recognizable one year to the next year to the next year. But again, the issues were so complicated contributing to my struggle that it took a significant amount of time to work through those.”
(Note: These transcripts are my own from the DVR. CNN’s rush transcript is here.)
Salon.com’s Mark Benjamin provided what is probably the most startling quote. He talked to dozens of people who underwent ex-gay therapy and said:
“I was unable to find one single person who is not on the payroll of one of these organizations that does this therapy who said, ‘yes, after going through the therapy, in fact, I’m cured of homosexuality.'”
After Joe Johns’ report aired, Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International then appeared with Mark Shields of the Human Rights Campaign to talk with Anderson Cooper. Mark Shields said that Ted Haggard’s claim did not pass the “laugh test.” Alan Chambers, in probably the world’s first instance of an official of Exodus agreeing with a spokesman from the HRC, replied, “I don’t know Ted Haggard’s journey over the last three weeks, but like Mark, I would say that it’s something that… it doesn’t seem like something that is really the case.”
But what’s even more interesting, I think, is that when Anderson Cooper tried to press Alan Chambers on whether he himself was heterosexual and no longer experienced same-sex attractions, Alan ducked and weaved:
Anderson Cooper: So you entered counseling. Do you still have attraction to men, you know, you’re just choosing not to act on it?
Alan Chambers: My attraction greatly dimminished over the course of many years. Sixteen years into it my life isn’t even remotely the same as it once was. But I often say that I will never be as though I never was. And the truth is I’m a human being and for me to say that I could never be attracted to men again or that I couldn’t be tempted would mean that I’m not human and that’s just not the case.”
And a little later:
Anderson Cooper: Even now, you are essentially saying you are trying to control your thoughts, you try to alter your fundamental attraction.
Alan Chambers: No, I wouldn’t say that’s the case at all. No, what I have found over the course of sixteen years is that feelings aren’t everything about you and I live beyond those feelings. Today, ….
Anderson Cooper: What does that mean…
Alan Chambers: … my feelings are, my feelings are much, much different. And the truth is I didn’t leave homosexuality because it was so bad. I left it because I found something better. And today, my life is far better than it was as a gay man. And for those of us, and there are thousands of people just like me who choose to live beyond their feelings, who choose to move beyond the issue of homosexuality, we live wonderful lives, and that’s something we think should be available for everyone who wants it.
Anderson Cooper: And is that based on a belief that you cannot be Christian and gay? I mean is the wonderful life you’re talking about a religious life that you feel is not accessible to you as a openly [sic], proud, happy gay man?
Alan Chambers: Not at all. I think there are plenty of gay people out there who are Christians as well, but for me homosexuality wasn’t compatible with my faith and my faith was much more important than that.
This was a very interesting segment and there is so much to chew on here. Here are a few of my observations:
- Alan Chambers refused to confirm a change from homosexuality to heterosexuality in his own case when speaking to a national audience. This has been a slowly evolving shift in his message for quite some time. But in his book God’s Grace and the Homosexual Next Door which is targeted mainly to evangelicals, his message is a little more straightforward. On page 216, he talks about some of his gender-nonconforming traits this way: “I have always liked decorating. I love to shop. I like clothes… I can tell you what designer made what suits just by looking at them. Do these things make me gay? Apparently not because I still like those things, and I am completely heterosexual.”
- He repeated the claim that there are “thousands of people” just like him, which is an unsubstantiated statistic we’ve heard before. This time however, he now places that statistic in a category of those who “live beyond their feelings”, not as people who no longer experience same-sex attractions.
- He said he didn’t leave homosexuality, but found something better. Anderson Cooper tried to follow up on it, asking if that “something better” was a religious message, but Alan Chambers demurred. But on page 84 of his book he is much less reticent: “I didn’t leave homosexuality because it was awful. I left homosexuality because I found something better: the body of Christ. Only in the light of God’s best, though, can I truly look back and see how far off the mark homosexuality and the gay community were from the real thing.” [Emphasis his]
- Alan Chambers told Anderson Cooper, “I think there are plenty of gay people out there who are Christians as well.” But in his book, contributing author Randy Thomas talks about three degrees of homosexuality: “the militant, moderate, and repentant.” Under this classification, only the “repentant” homosexuals who have either “left homosexuality” or are in the process of leaving are truly Christians. And according to Alan Chambers, the only Christian goal for gay people is repentance and heterosexuality. Alan says on pages 217-218: “… repentance for the homosexual person and anyone else for that matter is repenting of who they are — behavior, identity, and all. This is why I believe that it is so important to clarify that just living a celibate gay life is just as sinful as living a sexually promiscuous one. The sin is in identifying with anything that is contrary to Christ, which homosexuality clearly is.”
- And returning to Ted Haggard’s claims which prompted all this, it looks like nobody believes that change to “complete heterosexuality” can happen in only three weeks. Even those who make a living as active proponents of change therapy and those who claimed to have changed themselves will not back up Haggard’s story. And this includes those who are on the payroll of Focus on the Family and those who are strongly backed by Focus.
I think the HRC’s Mark Shields summed it all up best:
You know, I wonder if Ted Haggard had been told as a child that it was OK to be gay and that he could have a rich, full life, if his life story wouldn’t have been less painful and contorted.