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Part 3: “Love Won Out”: A Whole New Dialect

Jim Burroway

March 6th, 2007

One of the first phrases that we learned in high school Spanish class was how to say that you like something. In English, it’s a simple three-part sentence: “I like ice cream.” I, the subject, does something, namely, like. And the object of my affection, called the direct object, the thing that receives the action, is the ice cream. It can’t get much simpler than that.

But in Spanish, there is no word for “like.” The word they use instead, gustar literally means “pleases”. So instead of saying “I like ice cream,” I would say, “Ice cream pleases me.” Notice how this turns everything around. In English, if I don’t like something, it’s up to me to explain myself since I am on the acting part of the verb — Why don’t you like it? But in Spanish, if something doesn’t please me, it’s not my problem. You need to look to the ice cream to understand what’s wrong with it.

I’ve often though about that example and wondered if that subtle difference — do we like something or does that something please us? — influences how I see the world around me, and in what ways that influence might be different for someone who’s a native Spanish speaker. If it’s true that language shapes how we view the world — and I join Madison Avenue and political spin doctors in believing this to be true — I thought it might be worthwhile to examine the particular language that I heard at Love Won Out.

For me, attending the Love Won Out ex-gay conference in Phoenix was very much like being an anthropologist on Mars, as Oliver Sacks once put it. I observed a culture with its own vaguely familiar language and customs. And learning its language was key to understanding the framework and worldview from which Love Won Out operated. But as is true with many cultures, it almost requires a total immersion inside the culture of Love Won Out to pick up on the nuances of those terms and customs.

There’s nothing particularly odd about this. Every group of people has its own version of “inside baseball.” And at Love Won Out, much of their dialect is built upon the common theological expressions that are a part of the Evangelical Christian movement. But what was spoken at Love Won Out went beyond the language of Evangelical Christianity. The language of Love Won Out represented a particular dialect of the larger Evangelical Christian culture.

The Study of Language

Focus on the Family and Exodus, among others, exercise an amazing degree of message discipline, and they construct their messages differently according to the particular audience they’re addressing. This is why their messages have been so effective. Mike Haley, director of gender issues at Focus on the Family’s Public Policy Division talked about this during a morning plenary session, and he gave a good example of how this lesson might be used:

You know, in the year 2004 when I was doing the research for my book, I found that we spent twenty billion dollars that year in the United States for the work of missions. And what do we do with that money? Well what we do with that money is we take individual’s lives — they are committed to a people group — we set them aside, we support them, we pray for them, we pour money into their lives. We help them get to that people group. We help them study and learn another language often so that they can reach a people for Christ. Those people will take the time out of their own lives and study the social nuances of that people group they want to reach, so that when they become a part of them, they won’t offend them. Instead what they’ll do is they will draw them to Christ.

And my challenge for us is how much money, effort, and energy are we putting in to reaching what one of my friends calls “the unwanted harvest” known as the gay and lesbian community? And there’s some things that we do within the Body of Christ that are incredibly offensive, and let me just offer you one, the use of the phrase, “Love the sinner and hate the sin.” …

And what are we saying ultimately when we use that phrase? Well what we’re saying to someone is “I love you, but I hate what you’re doing.” But you have to see it from a gay person’s perspective. They see themselves as defined by the very thing that they’re doing. So they believe that when you hate what they’re doing, you hate them to their very core. We have got to lose that phrase out of our vocabulary. It does not translate in the marketplace.

I think Mike Haley only has it about half right in explaining why the phrase is offensive, but that’s not the point. The point is really this: you probably haven’t noticed this — because the phrase “love the sinner and hate the sin” is used so often among anti-gay Christians — but it turns out that neither Focus on the Family nor Exodus use this particular phrase much anymore. They’ve moved far beyond “love the sinner and hate the sin,” both in nuance and in sophistication. The sentiment is still very much there, but it’s expressed in a very different way. They are extremely conscious of how words are received by their target audience, no matter who that audience may be. It’s just that their audience is almost never the LGBT community. If it were, you can bet their choice of language would be very different.

Focus in the Family and Exodus have expended a great deal of resources to develop the phrases and the terminology they use. In doing so, they’ve crafted an entire language, complete with its own lexicon and syntax. For example, the terms they used for describing gay people were very different from yours or mine, and Mike Haley’s problem with “love the sin, hate the sinner” provides a glimpse into that difference. Their language is specially designed to treat people and their sexuality as if they were two completely separate entities, as if sexuality were a separate thing outside of the person. As Melissa Fryrear put it in a breakout session, they constantly work to “separate the ‘who’ from the ‘do’,” or, as others have put it more crudely in Mike Haley’s example, “the sinner” from “the sin”.

And since we’re only talking about sexuality and not romantic yearnings or affairs of the heart, this separation of gays and lesbians from their sexuality appears reasonable to Love Won Out attendees. If we included romance, then we would have to introduce such notions of soulmate, the yearnings of the heart, the love of all one’s might — all of these things which involve the whole person, which poets cannot separate and compartmentalize.

But at Love Won Out, gay romance, love or relationships are treated as evidence of a pathology. Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, president of NARTH (the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality), describes gay relationships in men as an attempt to capture the masculinity of another man that is missing in oneself because his own sense of masculinity is broken. This reduces all notions of romance to “a reparative drive.” He sums it up later in a breakout session by saying, “Heterosexuality is complementary, homosexuality is compensatory.”

Since homosexuality is seen as something that “happens” to someone due to poor parenting, sexual abuse and other factors, then it’s not the child’s fault. When they boy grows up, he tries to “fill” his damaged masculinity with other men. Similar explanations are offered for lesbians. Following this lead, Alan Chambers, president of Exodus, and Melissa Fryrear of Focus on the Family both refer to gay relationships as an “illegitimate way of meeting a legitimate need.”

Another way of saying this then, is that the problem is not that I, as a gay man, like other men. The problem is that other men are pleasing to me. Using language to separate the person from his or her sexuality is one of the most important concepts in Love Won Out’s dialect.

“No Such Thing As A Homosexual”

Since the language of Love Won Out represents a distinct dialect of Evangelical Christianity, the first order of business for the day was to teach us the elements of that dialect. First up was Dr. Nicolosi. He began his talk by proclaiming that “there is no such thing as a homosexual.” Knowing this was a head-scratcher to most people there, he repeated it again: “There is no such thing as a homosexual… He is a heterosexual, but he may have a homosexual problem.”

So here’s the first lesson: the words “gay,” “lesbian,” and “homosexual” aren’t nouns; they’re adjectives. And even as an adjectives they are never used to describe a person. There are no gay teenagers, there are no homosexual men, there are no lesbian women. Instead these adjectives are always used as modifiers to something else: a problem, a struggle, an identity, or an issue that is separate from the person. This is important because it’s very different from how these terms are normally used in the broader culture. It is also very different from how these terms are used even by other anti-gay activists.

If this sounds confusing, believe me, I felt the same way during the first few hours that morning. These words and phrases sounded odd or stilted — as is true with the first words we learn in any new language. But by hearing them repeated over and over in the very particular ways they were used, they started to become second nature. By the second hour, their “oddness” started to wear off and by the time the conference was over, it was easy to forget that these words could be used any other way.

All of the speakers at Love Won Out clung to this grammar with incredible consistency, reflecting a highly evolved discipline that comes from discovering the particular phrases that have had an impact in the past, and sticking with them from then on. And if a speaker somehow slipped up and use these words “incorrectly,” he was usually very quick to correct himself — as Nicolosi did during his breakout session, “Prevention of Male Homosexuality” later that afternoon:

From our own case studies, we see three types of fathers who are the fathers of homosexual men… Again, when I say “homosexual,” I don’t mean he’s intrinsically homosexual. He’s a heterosexual with a homosexual problem…”

You see, he almost used the word “homosexual” as an adjective to describe men — a no-no in Love-Won-Outeese. Slip-ups like this happened occasionally — Mike Haley did the same thing when he used the phrase “gay person” in my earlier example — but they were rare.

So having laid this groundwork, it’s time for me to give you some real examples of how this worked. Love Won Out speakers had very specific ways to describe gays, lesbians, and anyone else who experienced sexual and/or romantic attractions for others of the same sex. (Bisexuals and transsexuals were largely left out of the discussions.) Generally speaking, these descriptions fell into four broad categories, and each category was described using adjectives to reinforce the separation of “the ‘who’ from the ‘do’.”

Those Who “Struggle With Homosexuality”

The definition for this group was rather unclear. Mostly, this expression was used to describe someone who experienced “unwanted same-sex attractions”, another phrase that made an occasional appearance. (Alan Chambers often went even further in separating the “who” from the “do” by using the phrase, “those who struggle with the issue of homosexuality,” making homosexuality itself even more abstract.) For the most part, “those who struggle with homosexuality” described anyone who believed that homosexuality was wrong, but found themselves to be sexually attracted to others of the same sex.

But the odd thing about “those who struggle with homosexuality” is that believing that homosexuality was wrong wasn’t always a requirement to be a part of this category. This mean that those who “struggle with homosexuality” sometimes included relatives of conference attendees — sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and so forth — who weren’t at the conference and most likely weren’t struggling at all — including gay friends and family members who were completely out to their family and coworkers, often in relationships, and who felt no conflict about their sexuality. Many comments were addressed to parents (“If your son or daughter is struggling with homosexuality…”) that assumed that being gay required that there be a struggle. If my mother had attended the conference, she might have understood that I was among those they were talking about when they talked about those who were “struggling with homosexuality.”

The “Gay-Identified”

But if the conference speakers were really careful, they might concede that I’m not struggling. They would instead put me into the second group where I would be described as “gay-identified.” (A woman would be “lesbian-identified.”) Again, notice the separation of the “who” from the “do.” I’m not gay, I just have a gay identity. I am, at most, gay-identified. All notions of intrinsic orientation, healthy relationships or romantic attachments were ignored, except as aspects of pathology. And if indeed there is no such thing as a homosexual, then it must also be true that there no such thing as a gay or a lesbian. Our identity is just something like a coat that we put on, a coat that can be taken off as well.

Anyone who is “struggling with homosexuality” is seen as being at a crossroads of sorts, and there are two directions he or she may go from there. One direction is to accept the “Biblical sexual ethic” and begin a “journey out of homosexuality.” Failing that, the other direction is to fall into the world of the “gay-identified” or “lesbian-identified”.

This second option, of course, is considerably more tragic since the “gay-identified” and “lesbian-identified” were generally regarded as less reachable. Because they were “gay-identified,” they were, by definition, involved in the gay community and the gay “lifestyle” — a lifestyle that was fraught with all sorts of dangers and misery: sexual addictions, drug addictions, emotional addictions, impossible relationships that never lasted. The idea that gays and lesbians could be satisfied, happy and stable was a foreign concept to Love Won Out. And just as there are tribes in the tropics that have no word for snow, Love Won Out spoke no words to describe people who didn’t fit their notions of someone who was “gay-identified.”

“On The Journey Out Of Homosexuality”

When someone who is “struggling with homosexuality” decides he or she doesn’t want to be “gay-identified”, then that person is said to have embarked on a “journey out of homosexuality.” This is where the poorly-defined concept of “change” comes in. This “change” was much talked about, but never really defined except in its most important aspect: a new identity in Christ.

Exodus sometimes provides something of a non-religious public face, although that face is never entirely a secular one. Focus on the Family, however, is unabashedly evangelical in the public stage. At Love Won Out, both groups were free to be who they really are with the like-minded audience. Everyone who spoke did so from a plainly religious perspective. Even Joseph Nicolosi, the “secular scientist” closed his plenary session on male homosexuality saying, “When we live our God-given integrity and our human dignity, there is no space for sex with a guy,” and arguing that “good psychology is compatible with good theology.” Melissa Fryrear’s personal story (known as a “testimony” in evangelical circles, and was labeled as such on Love Won Out’s published agenda) was not so much a clinical struggle to change her sexual feelings as it was an unabashedly emotional religious transformation.

And this appears to really be the only transformation that matters. As the day wore on, it became clear that Love Won Out wasn’t there just to convince us that gays and lesbians needed to become heterosexuals. The goal was actually much, much higher. Mike Haley alluded to it earlier when he described gays and lesbians as “the unwanted harvest.” In his personal testimony that morning, he attributed his “journey out of homosexuality” and, ultimately, his marriage and career to an irrevocable calling from God. Alan Chambers reinforced the religious theme by repeating that “the opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality. It’s holiness.” And throughout the day, everybody thanked the Lord, prayed with and for one another, and supported each other through Scripture and fellowship.

Love Won Out wasn’t a tent revival meeting, nor was it a day-long church service. But it was a day-long series of seminars that were firmly rooted in the theology of evangelical Christianity with Dr. Nicolosi providing scientific cover. As such, the “journey out of homosexuality” isn’t a journey from one sexual orientation to another, it’s a journey toward accepting Jesus Christ as Savior, and with that, the faith that with Christ, all things are possible from there, including inclusion in the fourth group.

Those Who “Found Freedom From Homosexuality”

Several of the speakers at Love Won Out placed described themselves as having either “left homosexuality,” “walked away from homosexuality” or having “found freedom from homosexuality” — as if they had been released from prison, as one commenter put it. (My favorite was “walked away”, as if someone had just stepped out for a coffee.) And indeed, the testimonies of those who “found freedom” followed the familiar trajectory of all great salvation stories, of having been lost but now found.

The stories began in the misery of “struggling with homosexuality”, the misery that presumably was a common experience of everyone who “struggles,” including the “gay-identified” — a misery of broken relationships, of drug and alcohol abuse, of sexual abuse and absent fathers or mothers, and a misery of an unrelenting longing for something that is clearly missing from their lives, that their “reparative” impulse was unable to fill.

But at the end of these stories comes triumph. After all, it’s theologically impossible for a story to end otherwise after having put their faith in Jesus Christ. And evidence of that triumph was often found in references to wives and children. As far as the audience was concerned, what better proof is there that they had “left homosexuality behind?” Mike Haley’s testimony closed with a wedding photo and pictures of his beautiful children. (And his children really are adorable. No wonder he’s such a proud husband and father.) Joe Dallas and Alan Chambers also spoke of their wives and families. The only speaker who “left homosexuality” but wasn’t married was Melissa Fryrear. Since she didn’t have any wedding photos or adorable children to talk about, she was reduced to describing what her ideal man would look like — “tall, red-headed, looks good in a kilt!” — while joking, “Is it hot in here?”

And while these speakers mentioned the wives and children that came along after they “found freedom”, they were just as cautious to discourage the idea that anyone should get married to either prove they were no longer gay, or to hasten their “journey out of homosexuality.” Alan Chambers and Melissa Fryrear in particular warned against that during their breakout sessions as they described the dangers this brings to the spouses of “those who struggle with homosexuality.”

And yet, every good story has to have a happy ending. And as far as Love Won Out is concerned, that happy ending comes only after accepting Jesus as Savior, and through that, finding “freedom from homosexuality” — whatever that freedom may mean.

Why “Love Won Out?”

In the end, the dialect of Love Won Out actually served not just one, but two purposes: to separate the gay and lesbian from his or her innate sexuality, and to deliver that person to Christ. Or more accurately, the goal of Love Won Out was to encourage the pastors, teachers, youth group leaders, parents, and other relatives and friends to bring the message of redemption through Christ to their gay and lesbian loved ones, since so few people who were “struggling with homosexuality” were actually there.

From a faith standpoint, this is all well and good. Christ’s Great Commission was to spread the Good News of the Gospel to all the corners of the earth. It’s hard to expect that a Christian organization would not evangelize, or that they would discourage others from doing so — especially where wayward family members are concerned.

And if an Evangelical Christian was truly struggling with his or her homosexuality, there is, all too often, a stark choice which must be made: to either embark on the long “journey out of homosexuality” and find acceptance in the Evangelical community, or to forsake that community and join the ranks of the “gay-identified.” As far as Love Won Out is concerned, there is no other way.

Life is full of choices, and each choice brings rewards and consequences. We don’t choose our sexuality — everyone at Love Won Out was in full agreement on that. But we do have a choice in how we deal with our sexuality in our daily lives. If someone concluded that the best thing for them was to join an ex-gay ministry to conform their behavior with their religious beliefs, then that is their right.

But most of those who attended Love Won Out weren’t in the position of making that decision. They were there to try to figure out how to convince their brothers, sisters, sons and daughters to make that decision. And since their loved ones didn’t appear to be interested in such a decision — most of them weren’t there after all, except for a few teenagers dragged there by their parents — I’m not sure ultimately what useful purpose Love Won Out served, except to offer some sort of hope to the families and friends of gays and lesbians.

But what kind of hope is it? Is it grounded in realistic expectations? Did they get a better perspective on the possibility of change? Did the friends and relatives leave that conference any better equipped than they were when they arrived that morning?

Given Christianity’s mission to proclaim the Truth with a capital “T,” it’s fair to ask how much of these “truths” with a small “t” we learned at Love Won Out are really true. I will explore that some more next week with the meaning of “change”.

See also:

Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word “Change” Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For “Change”

Comments

werdna
March 7th, 2007 | LINK

Jim, another great post but I can’t seem to repress my urge to mention that Oliver Sacks’ name is spelled wrong and the name of his book is “An Anthropologist on Mars,” not “from Mars.” Beyond that I think your experience was much less strange than the cases Sacks wrote about in that book, indeed, much less strange and disorienting than the experiences of many anthropologists on Earth. If the culture had “vaguely familiar language and customs” you had a much easier time than many anthros I know! Yeah, I’m picking nits, I know–my lover’s an anthropologist so I’m overly sensitive, please forgive me…

Jim Burroway
March 7th, 2007 | LINK

Don’t worry. Your corrections are always welcome!

Don Livingston
March 7th, 2007 | LINK

Excellent post, Jim

ddaz
March 7th, 2007 | LINK

Jim,

I will keep my comments short, but post one so that you know that I’ve occassionally read your “blog”.

With respect to Focus & Exodus, as a Catholic, I probably have many problems with their evangelical approach, so I wouldn’t much agree with how they apply it to any specific topic.

With building a bridge between the two sides based upon an understanding of an individuals sexuality, I don’t see how it can ever be accomplished. As a “heterosexual”, I don’t understand the whole concept of “being gay”. I cannot comprehend the what or how of the situtation. And no matter how much someone attempts to explain to me that this part of their nature, this nature is still very foreign and even objectionable to me. I think that bridge can be built based upon other common interests such as which political party is run by idiots or other common activities.

My comments on my lack of understanding could continue for hours, but since my short message is much longer than I’ve originally planned, I’ll sign off by saying “Howdy” and I hope things are going well for you.

Take Care,
ddaz
GBY

Steve Schalchlin
March 8th, 2007 | LINK

A terrific post. Well stated and completely accurate. By twisting the language, they are able to twist our life experiences, our loves and our beliefs into something ugly and repulsive. But worse, they deny us our humanity.

Karen Booth
March 9th, 2007 | LINK

Steve writes “By twisting the language, they are able to twist our life experiences, our loves and our beliefs into something ugly and repulsive.”

They aren’t “twisting” the language. They are using a different language with different definitions and meanings one apparently incongruent with yours. But your statement implies there is a commonly agreed upon language to begin with. There isn’t.

And, yes, I’m one of “them,” a leader of an Exodus member ministry.

Randi schimnosky
March 9th, 2007 | LINK

Karen, there is a commonly agreed on language, people couldn’t communicate if there wasn’t. W@hen you say gays have “changed” or have “found freedom from homosexuality” that means they are now heterosexual and you are lying. Its clear to us LGBTs that the the goal of your organization is to convince the public gays can and should change and therefore aren’t in need of equal rights. Your internal double-talk for what these words mean to you is just an excuse for what is essentially a lie.

Karen Booth
March 9th, 2007 | LINK

Randi has emailed me personally – much more caustic than his or her approach here. As I posted on another site, all Exodus member ministries do not march in lock-step, though some in the LGBT community would have everyone think so. (Wasn’t that part of the intent of Jim’s original post – to show things are a bit more nuanced than the knee-jerk reaction that’s often out there?)

My “organization” is not politically involved, so we don’t have the goal of squelching equal rights. In fact, we’re also connected to the United Methodist Church, which takes a strong stand on the rights of the LGBT community. We do, however, believe that homosexual behavior is outside the will of God – in other words, sinful. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Steve
March 10th, 2007 | LINK

Karen says: “They are using a different language with different definitions and meanings one apparently incongruent with yours. But your statement implies there is a commonly agreed upon language to begin with. There isn’t.”

—-
Which of course brings to mind “Through the Looking Glass”:

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

`The question is,’ said Alice, `whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master–that’s all.’

—-
So it’s important to keep this in mind when reading Karen’s other comments. For instance, Karen writes: “In fact, we’re also connected to the United Methodist Church, which takes a strong stand on the rights of the LGBT community.”

By “strong stand” on the rights of the LGBT community, she of course means that “In 2004, after 25 years of deep division and bitter argument verging on schism, arguments that are not yet fully resolved, the denomination reversed itself to grudgingly acknowledge ‘certain basic human rights and civil liberties’ for gay couples (note the use of the word ‘certain’ rather than ‘all’), and that they ‘ clear issue of simple justice in protecting their rightful claims where they have shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney, and other such lawful claims,’ but that homosexuality is considered incompatible with Christian teaching and the ‘Book of Discipline’ still prohibits the ordination of ‘practicing, self-avowed homosexuals,’ forbids clergy from blessing or presiding over same-sex unions, forbids the use of UMC facilities for same-sex union ceremonies and prohibits the use of Church funds for ‘gay caucuses’ or other groups that ‘promote the acceptance of homosexuality.'”

Of course, as Humpty Dumpty noted: When you make a word do that much work, you have to pay it extra.

—-
So when Karen writes: “My ‘organization’ is not politically involved,” I think we can all safely understand “not politically involved” to mean “not at liberty to call the FRC liars even when we know from reading here how badly they bear false witness against those whose research they distort and take out of context, and repeatedly use data they know to be false and misleading in ways they know to be false and misleading, and not really inclined to call FRC to account for its lies and distortions anyway, since they’re doing all the political heavy lifting on our befalf that our 501(c)3 status prevents us from doing, and it helps keep our enrollment numbers up.”

Things are so much easier when the point of writing and talking is not to comuunicate the truth but to maintain your mastery over words.

Karen Booth
March 10th, 2007 | LINK

Steve, you have excellent mastery over word twisting yourself. But why don’t we both try to refrain from ad hominem responses, eh?

When I say my organization – Transforming Congregations – is not politically involved, I mean just that. We are an official extension ministry of the United Methodist Church and a member ministry of Exodus International, among other affiliations. I don’t even know what the FRC is exactly, though I assume you may mean the Family Research Council, which I think is connected to Focus on the Family. I don’t know enough about them to repudiate them, but neither or nor TC outright support them.

You’re partly correct about the United Methodist Church. We have had a lengthy and bitter battle of humans sexual ethics. Aside from the bitterness, I think it’s one worth fighting. But I think our support of what you term “certain” civil rights for LGBT persons may have been in our Discipline before 2004. (Don’t have all my copies wiht me, so I’d have to look that up when I return home.) You’re also right that we do not include marriage or ordination in those “rights.” Many of us (myself included) don’t consider those to be civil rights, but matters of church governance.

It’s amazing to me that some of you folk hear the word “Exodus” and you seem to go bonkers. I’m really interested in what Jim has posted, but I’m not sure your attempted character assasination is worth it.

Randi schimnosky
March 10th, 2007 | LINK

Karen Booth said “Many of us (myself included) don’t consider [marriage] to be civil rights, but matters of church governance.

How arrogant of you. In your country people have the right to freedom from religion, its mighty pretentious of you to claim dominion over all and their right to marry. My personal email to Ms. Booth reflected what I wrote here and included the lines “The essence of morality is “Do whatever you want as long as you don’t interfere in anyone else’s right to do the same”. Gays in loving committed relationships aren’t hurting anyone and it is by definition immoral for you to oppose that.”.

Truth hurts, huh Karen.

Steve
March 11th, 2007 | LINK

I don’t recall making any comments on your character.

I’ll freely admit I could be wrong on the timing of which certain rights entered into your denomination’s Book of Discipline at what time. While I was consulting numbersous Internet resources from various points of view, it wasn’t always easy to figure out what had changed at which conference. But it was a fairly recent change.

When you claim to use a different language–by claiming that there is no commonly agreed on language–all your statements become suspect and call for unpacking.

For instance, I am left scratching my head when you write “You’re partly correct about the United Methodist Church. We have had a lengthy and bitter battle of humans sexual ethics. Aside from the bitterness, I think it’s one worth fighting.” By phrasing it this way you leave open the question of which side of this battle you and your organization is on now and has been on in the past 25 years. Is that evasion intentional?

While ordination is clearly entirely a matter of church governance, and the church is certainly free to decide who it will marry, these do still indicate a presumptive stance within the church that homosexual persons are in some way less than.

Yes, I think the special dialect used at the Love Won Out conference as detailed by Jim is at its heart abusive, as can be seen if used in almost any other context: “There is no such thing as a left-handed person… He is right-handed, but he may have a left-handedness problem.” If we heard of someone who “struggled with left-handedness” we would understand that the fault was not in him but in the world providing him with tools designed for those who were right-handed. We would not encourage him to begin a journey out of left-handedness but to learn how to write with his left hand, find devices built for lefties, and turn his difference into an advantage.

Reading this journal, I felt great compassion for the hurting people who attended this conference, and nager at how they were abused by the speakers, forced to look for blame in themselves and others for something where there is no wrong, and being given or reinforced in a prescription that is only sure to deepen the divide between them and their gay and lesbian children, siblings or friends.

The thing that runs through my head as I read each entry in this series on Love Won Out is the time I heard the Lehigh Valley Gay Men’s Chorus sing the cantata “Prayers for Bobby” in Tampa in 1996. And it seems like so little has changed in ten years.

Jon
March 11th, 2007 | LINK

Just wanted to say that this is an excellent article. While the message of NARTH, Exodus and the rest sadden me I’m glad you have brought to attention the fact that the people attending this conference are for the most part are the relatives of LGBT people and these people love their relatives (for the most part) even if they don’t know how to deal with these issues.

I’m glad to see someone genuinely trying to understand the people attending these conferences.

As a member of the LGBT community I feel it’s very important to combat the message propagated by the ex-gay movement but its also important to understand what drives people to these conferences. In most cases the attendees are desperate people not hateful. It just saddens me that they are being indoctrinated by the message of the ex-gay movement.

Steve
March 19th, 2007 | LINK

Karen:

Just a quick question: In one of your early posts, you claimed that your organization was not political. But just a few days ago your organization (and I believe, perhaps, you yourself) appealed to your followers and visitors to your website to letter-bomb Ebay to have them remove the “Ted Haggard Massage Table” (thus depriving a children’s AIDS charity of at least $9000). This is a political act, even if your sample letter didn’t include the threat of a boycott it would be a political act. It was not a political act when YOU contacted Ebay, but once you began organizing others to follow your example, it became a political act–and there’s really no other way of characterizing it.

Or does your organization have a different definition of the word political, too?

Steve
March 19th, 2007 | LINK

Oh, yes. This political action by your organization also shows that, like the Reverend Haggard himself in his, apparently, decades of “waywardness,” you are for more interested in maintaining the APPEARANCE of propriety than in the reality. Here, someone had found a way to transform–perhaps even redeem–this item that had been one of the instruments of Rev. Haggard’s activities that you consider “outside the will of God – in other words, sinful” by making it a vehicle to help provide food to those too sick to take care of themselves. I know I’m not as familiar with the Bible as you are, but can you point me to a passage where Christ, having to choose between offending a church leader and feeding the needy, would have put the feelings of the church leader first?

(Note: I erred in the note above by referring to the charity that was to receive the funds from the sale of Mike Smith’s “Ted Haggard Massage Table” as a children’s AIDS charity; it was Denver’s Angel Heart HIV/AIDS food service. I apologize for the error.)

Stephen Bartelt
March 26th, 2007 | LINK

My experience in being one whom they say would both be struggling and gay-identified is that as I became friends with more and more gays and lesbians I found two “truth” patterns more prevalent than others: one pattern is that LGBT people have heard only condemnation from Christianity and have in turn written off the church. Many of them internally believe the church to be wrong, but not necessarily accept that God is going to condemn them to hell as they have been told. They tend to trivialize the church as representing the protestors that line the public entryways to gay pride events. The other “truth” pattern is that many gays and lesbians have found acceptance in branches of Christianity that emphasize the love, grace, and accepting nature of God and are active, participating Christians in those churches. In other words, to use the evangelical language, they have “accepted” Christ. In their own words, however, they would say that Christ has accepted them and has placed them into warm, open, and caring Christian communities. At its best I have found the LGBT community as a whole to be more of what the New Testament describes the church to be than the church itself.

Lynn David
April 6th, 2007 | LINK

Jim…. I re-read this today following the link from your post on “A Rare Slip of the Tongue.” Reading this reminded me of how our Catholic Church creates its own reality concerning homosexuality when it confronts it. Priest are told that the individual will be feeling shame at his admission of homosexuality and that a person should be advised not to identify as gay.

I was in the confessional and telling my pastor that I had come to the conclusion that I was gay. He tried to get me to back off of that identification fully expecting me to have shame at the thought. Instead, I was almost giddy from no longer struggling against myself (not with homosexuality, but against myself). That didn’t set well with him; and I got warned about the “gay lifestyle.” To which I offered this missive, “Lifestyle? If anything my lifestyle is as a farmer.”

That confession didn’t end well… I wanted to get back and talk with him, my pastor was also my 3rd cousin; I wanted to explain why I was so happy and what I meant to do with that happiness. But work got in the way, and then a couple of weeks later my cousin died. Since then things haven’t been the same between me and the Church.

Spophia
December 6th, 2007 | LINK

Spophia…

It would be great help if I could get some clarity on the real issues…

Jason D
July 4th, 2008 | LINK

“They aren’t “twisting” the language. They are using a different language with different definitions and meanings one apparently incongruent with yours.”

Not just incongruent with ours, incongruent with common usage. When someone says “change is possible, you don’t have to be gay” it requires you to rework what both change and gay mean.
To most people gay = someone who is sexually, emotionally, and romantically attracted to members of their own sex. Therefore “change” would mean going from being 100% gay to 100% straight, that the attractions change through sheer will.
In the bizarre world of ex-gay ministry they use the uncommon belief that gay is actually an identity, like republican, or class clown, and involves a set of common behaviors or habits. To give up that indentity, and behaviors, and instead embrace a different identity and attempt to form what are believed to be stereotypical straight habits the ex-gay industry says folks have “changed” even though the attractions never, ever, do. Every scientific study, even the Jones and Yarhouse admits that every single one of the “success” stories still experiences homosexual attractions.
Your industry uses their very own definition of both “gay” and “change’ but NEVER EXPLAINS THIS NEW DEFINITION in any advertising or anything else released to the general public.

“But your statement implies there is a commonly agreed upon language to begin with. There isn’t.”
You’re not idiots, you’re banking on people having the common definitions of gay and change, and hoping that phrases like “you don’t have to be gay, change is possible” will lead them to you.
If you sincerely thought that there are “no commonly agreed upon language to begin with” you would be outlining what your specific definition is, much like the drug commercials that explain what the medication does and does NOT do up front.
It’s obvious, how many people would be motivated by “You don’t have to identify as gay, you can change the way you view yourself and restrict your actions!” Much like any snake oil salesman and used car dealer, what you’re not saying is way more important than what you are saying.

Brandy
July 14th, 2008 | LINK

I have many thoughts and feelings to communicate here. I would like to start out saying that my husband was in a same sex relationship for three years when he was in his early twenties. Yes, he did tell me before we ever even got engaged and I took some time thinking about whether or not to persue the relationship considering the risk.

At the request of a man with same sex attraction we attended a “Love Won Out” conference with him. There did not seem to be much support for those who are gay and lesbian and I think he walked out with even more confusion than he went in with. I found it a very emotional experience but also a disturbing one. There were too many absolutes stated and too much focus on why people are attracted to members of the same sex. I don’t think it’s that easy to define. Each case is as different as the person involved. I would have liked to hear more open acknowledgement of the fact that same sex attraction does not just stop and go away. Perhaps in some situations this may happen I don’t know, my own experience is limited.

I’m sure my husband loves me very much, some things cannot be faked. And he certainly doesn’t seem to have difficulty with sexual attraction or intercourse with me. However, he doesn’t like to look at advertisements of half naked men and avoids temptations of this kind. The same way a heterosexual married man might avoid the temptation of other women. Or a strict dieter will not buy cake and cookies to keep on hand in the house. In other words, although less than it used to be, he still has same sex attractions and understands that he might continue to do so his whole life. He also understands he is a mature adult who, by his own will makes certain decisions regarding his actions.

It is difficult for us because my husband’s mother is part of a religious group that advocates gay marriage and acceptance into her church. Not that I think this is a bad thing but she believes we should not be married, that my husband should “accept who he is” and settle down with a nice man. But we define who we are. My husband spent years in therapy and thankfully found many supportive priests (I have heard many horror stories) and other men with same sex attraction in the Catholic group Courage, with whom he could share his doubts and his feelings. Ultimately he felt unsatisfied and unfullfilled in a homosexual relationship but knew he desired intimacy and sensuality and a family. Every life journey is as different as every person.

Basically I have enjoyed this website because of the broad view I haven’t found on other sites on either side of the issue. And I enjoyed this article as it seems to express some of my own feelings about the conference.

Thank you for the most unbiased view I have found so far.

Jim Burroway
July 14th, 2008 | LINK

Brandy,

“But we define who we are.”

Wow. Those six words are more powerful than anything else anyone can say.

Thank you for sharing your story. We wish you and your husband well in all things.

Timothy Kincaid
July 14th, 2008 | LINK

Brandy,

thank you for sharing such an intimate part of your life.

I am happy to hear good things about Courage. I’ve long thought that their approach was more respectful of individuals than that of some of the more evangelical ex-gay groups.

I do want to bring to your attention another organization, the Straight Spouse Network, which is organized to meet the needs of mixed-orientation couples and straight spouses of gay persons. I don’t know too much about them other than that they appear to be fairly non-judgmental about the choices that couples make and seem to provide resources and community for people like yourself.

If at some point either of you feel that you don’t have anyone to talk to or need resources, they may be able to either provide assistance or guide you to who can.

I echo Jim in wishing the both of you much happiness.

Brandy
July 14th, 2008 | LINK

Jim and Timothy,

Thank you both for your kind words. I will look into the Straight Spouse Network. I am trying to open a dialogue with my husbands mother and wish to do this with love and kindness. This issue has been a difficult time for my husband’s family from the time of his telling them about his homosexuality through the time of his telling of our engagemente a space of about 18 years.

Courage is a wonderful group. Of course it may seem difficult to some as it’s main purpose it to help and encourage those with same sex attraction live chaste lives if they have no desire to or are unable to persue heterosexual marriage. This is the teaching of the Catholic church. This approach is not for all but I have met many of the local members who appear to be leading contented and even happy and fulfilled lives knowing they are living their faith to the best of their ability.

Timothy Kincaid
July 14th, 2008 | LINK

Brandy,

I want to provide you with one additional resource. There is a blogger named Pam who blogs at the site Willful Grace.

Pam was in pretty much the same place that you are at one point. She happily discussed her marriage to a man that, though same-sex attracted, had found a way to embrace his marriage to her. But while she shared her husband’s story, she never gloated or sought to hurt gay people. And she never let her devotion to God get in the way of her love of others or her compassion.

We’ve followed Pam’s story as her husband found the pressures to be too great, her separation and divorce, and now her exploring of possible new romance. While this experience has shaded her views on love, marriage, and orientation, through it all, she has been the embodyment of decency, humility, and grace.

Though her current views on sexuality may not mirror those of yourself or your husband, I would never hesitate to recommend Pam as a resource to you. She’s a truly wonderful person and she has the experience to be able to talk with you without any pressure to influence you.

Jim Burroway
August 18th, 2008 | LINK

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