Exodus’ False Choice: Death or Change

Jim Burroway

May 26th, 2008

This month’s edition of the Presbyterian newspaper The Layman features two more shining examples of ex-gays who claim to have changed. The commentaries by Maria Cardenas and Brad Grammer are actually word-for-word reprints from their testimonies found on the OneByOne web site — an organization for which they both just happen to serve on the board of directors. Grammer is also the Executive Director of Exodus-affiliated Hope & New Life Ministries. Funny, but have you noticed that virtually all the ex-gays who speak publicly have some professional connection with ex-gay ministries?

But what’s not so funny is Grammer’s and Cardenas’ promotion of one of the worst messages ever to come out of the ex-gay movement: Death or change. Grammer begins his statement by saying,

Seventeen years ago, my life came to a crossroad. In my mind, I could either commit suicide or give God one more chance to change my life and bring it meaning.”

Cardenas wrote:

It was at this point I made a deal with God. I asked Him either to end my life or change it.

Death or change. According to Cardenas and Grammer, those were the only two choices before them. Given what they claimed were the only two options — as the ex-gay movement is all too often inclined to do — they chose “change.” They also chose to use their experience as fodder for denying civil rights to those who don’t buy into their false crossroads between death and change. Grammer uses his testimony to claim:

For the Church to make a decision to bless same-sex unions or ordain practicing homosexuals is to communicate to me, and individuals like me, that the transformation in my life did not happen and that I am obviously in an unhealthy state of denial.

What Grammer fails to recognize is that if a church makes a decision to bless same-sex unions or ordain gays and lesbians, it is not an act of judgment on his life. He is free to make whatever choice he wishes to make. But what it does do is expose the false argument that there are only two choices which can be made: death or change.

But exposing this false argument is what Grammer really fears, and he’s not alone. Exodus President Alan Chambers told NPR’s Terry Gross in 2006 that he opposed same-sex marriage because he feared that if it had been an option when he was younger, he might have chosen to marry another man.

A few days ago, I facetiously posted a “Heterosexual strategy” based on what the Alliance Defense Fund claimed was a “Homosexual strategy” to win acceptance for gay people. In my parody, the Heterosexual strategy ended with recriminalization of homosexuality.

The problem with my parody however is that it’s not the least bit funny. One wonders what the ultimate goal of the ex-gay movement really looks like. If they really got their way, what would my world — and yours — look like? Is it really their goal to make our lives so miserable that the false choice between change or death actually looks plausible?

It appears so. We’ve often heard them frame the problem with homosexuality in precisely this false choice between death and change. This has been their recurring theme for quite some time. And we also know that they believe that accommodating the civil rights or the spiritual needs of gay people necessarily comes at the expense of those who would have you believe that there are only those two choices before us.

And so if they feel threatened whenever there are gains in the LGBT movement, then maybe they ought to feel threatened — at least insofar as upholding this false message is concerned. Because tragically, too many LGBT kids and adults have bought into that false choice, and some have chosen to take their own lives when they discover the “change” that they were promised was not forthcoming.

We can agree to disagree when it comes to religious doctrine or even political positions. But when it comes to suggesting that there are only two ways to deal with one’s sexuality, there can be no agreement. The message of “change or die” must itself die. Better that than another struggling LGBT kid or adult.

See also:
Alan Chambers’ Death or Change


May 26th, 2008

I find the “change or die” message cruelly ironic. I participated in ex-gay ministries for five years… and it was the *ex-gay* experience that let me to the brink of suicide. I, too, faced a “change or die” fork in the road, but the “change” I found is probably radically different from the “change” described by Grammer and Cardenas (they don’t claim orientation change, do they? In all my years with Exodus, I never met a single “ex-gay” who claimed orientation change). Rather, I found my mind changed as I discovered the truth behind many of the distortions, deceptions, and lies of the ex-gay ministries and the churches of my youth.

Today, I am three weeks away from my marriage to the man I love, whom I have dated for more than two years. My marriage is not legal in my state (Illinois), but it is recognized by my church (Quakers). Whether gay marriage is legalized or not here, I appreciate the love and support of my religious community and friends.

I am happy to know that the opinions of Alan Chambers and others in the ex-gay ministries about recriminalizing homosexuality is not representative of the majority of Americans. We are still a long way from legal gay marriage in the U.S., but I think we’re still a lot farther away from recriminalizing homosexuality.

devlin bach

May 26th, 2008

You said it all Jim. Death change or acceptance could be the new choice menu Gay christians could gleen from. There are enough gay people living abundant lives, that I think some could enter into that acceptance arena more and more.

Though some in the exgay movement would say we can agree to disagree, the acceptance option will be one they will have a hard time swallowing.

The more gay christians stand up and make the acceptance chioce with a possible statemnet, ‘regardless of biblical text, I humbly agree to disagree with you’, and get that heard, would say alot for all involved.

Thanks for your insights, as I would not have thought of this angle without it.

Timothy Kincaid

May 26th, 2008

Congratulations Joe. Both for finding freedom and finding love.

Isn’t it ironic that the ex-gay movement speaks so often of those two words, freedom and love, but it wasn’t until you left it that you found them.

Devlin Bach

May 26th, 2008

PS Those Box Turtle Bulletin T-shirts posted to the right of your article look delish!

Devlin Bach

May 26th, 2008

So true Timothy. I commend you on your courage Joe.

I believe our trump card is simply teaching by example, which is what you did Joe. Live in ones truth and the rest will follow i.e. gay marriage, cultural change, parents loving gay children regardless, bigoted ones changing their tune etc. Words seem to have a dim effect when it comes to resolution with the hard right.

Emily K

May 26th, 2008

“For the Church to make a decision to bless same-sex unions or ordain practicing homosexuals is to communicate to me, and individuals like me, that the transformation in my life did not happen and that I am obviously in an unhealthy state of denial.”

When ex-gays make this kind of statement it absolutely astounds me. It is so unbelievably childish and illogical I don’t even know if it would be worth responding to it.

An evangelical could likewise say: “to allow Jews to continue to exist is to negate the fact that Jesus is God and the fact that I converted and was transformed through him becomes untrue.” But statements like these would immediately be seen by the world (as well as a great many Christians)as a dangerous stepping stone to genocide. If churches want the existance of one or the other – and choose ex-gays over gays – what does that say?


May 26th, 2008

It sure seems that the ex-gays who are vocal about their sexuality seem pretty self-centered. This guy thinks that affirming gays invalidates his sexuality, Alan Chambers doesn’t gay marriage because it might have hurt his life, and ex-gays in general who think their own existence somehow invalidates the sexuality of all lesbians and gays. In the rest of the article Grammar says if the Church affirmed gays, he’d become an outcast. I think this reveals something about Grammar’s motivation that has nothing to do with Godly standards and everything about his own acceptance – faced with accepting his gay attractions, he’d rather kill himself and rather than have the Church accept gays he’d rather the Church accept him.

Emily K

May 26th, 2008

I’d like to add that those ex-gays whose sexual identities are so fragile that they need all other sexualities to be destroyed in order for them to feel secure have good reason to feel threatened. Our peaceful coexistence as happy, normal, adjust gays – many of whom have strong religious convictions – shows them that it is possible for them to be themselves AND be happy. They don’t have to live the daily life of “struggle,” of denial. When they find they are drawn to another person romantically, they don’t have to suppress it. They can feel free to express love. I believe it’s the existence of us happy “everyday” gays that threatens them the most. A “flaming queen” who goes clubbing and cruises bath-houses is obviously someone they would want to avoiding becoming – no-brainer. But when they see that they can fall in love with the same sex AND live an everyday life, that scares them and shakes their view of what the “gay lifestyle” is. Being ex-gay, aside from scriptural prohibitions they might believe, doesn’t seem like such a necessary choice. That scares them.


May 26th, 2008

Jim, this is a powerful article but there is a “typo” I would imagine near the end of the article where it distracts from what you intend….it says in the last paragraph, “THESE are only two ways…” and it should read “THERE are only two ways…” I hope this is corrected to make your article the great piece of journalism that it is…Thank you!

Yuki Choe

May 26th, 2008

These “choices” perpetuated by these ex-gay ministries give me the creeps. And by the expression of great discomfort Cardenas and Grammer exhibited, one must wonder “were” they really gay in the first place.

For most ex-gays I know, the “choice” indoctrination is equivalent to patronizing a young gay boy, forcing him into the closet, locking him up with barely enough room to breathe as “normal” and do not allow him to take food as any “natural” human beings do. Then when he is dying they, the “saviour” ministry would ask; so do you want to be dead or “change”.

To go against what is normal and natural for a good many gay men and lesbian women (and testifying as if every duck is a chicken and every gay is a potential ex-gay) is to be called “change” that since had been unproven? And implying the rest of them that would not “change” is in the state of denial?

I am happy they both “changed”, but I would request to them please do not present themselves as a representative of a possible “change” in me. They are born in the States and I am born in Asia. Show a change on THAT, then come and talk to me.

Steve Boese

May 26th, 2008

When Ms. Cardenas says, “It was at this point I made a deal with God. I asked Him either to end my life or change it,” she identifies a mental health crisis — despair, probable depression, thoughts of suicide — but glosses past that fact, inferring that suicide would have been a rational, reasonable response.

Die-or-change talk creates environments where the mental health of some lgbtq folks suffers. Not all lgbtq folks are heavily impacted, of course. But the most tender, scared, vulnerable gay folks tend to bear the greatest burden.

They don’t hear that Ms. Cardenas faced a mental health crisis similar to their own. They hear a false choice which resonates with their despair — better to change than die, but better to die than get mental health care, better to die than live as an openly gay person.

The case we’re not yet making effectively in lgbtq advocacy, it seems to me, is that ex-gay-affirming folks use words like Cardenas’ to deny their peers access to effective, evidence-based mental health care.

Their descriptions of mental health crises, linked to incomplete or false choices, don’t cause other people to harm themselves. But the words paint a thoughtful, reasonable, sensitive patina over the fact that they don’t want their audience to seek professional, credentialed health care which might prevent premature death.

Jim Burroway

May 26th, 2008


I’ve made the change as you’ve requested. Although I gotta admit, “These are the only two ways” is what generally comes naturally to my Appalachian ears. You can take the boy out of the hills but….

Devlin Bach

May 26th, 2008

Many in those genre think in black and white, i’ts how they are trained.

Happy Gay

May 26th, 2008

I read it somewhere and i think it is very clever :

“Choice is only that, if you are aware of all the options and know what you are choosing.”

Sometimes I wonder what is the real purpose of ex-gay movement. Are they sincerely wanting to help gay people for salvation or are they trying to comply us with their perception of righteousness?

Reading the article above really disturb me, isn’t there suppose to be more options? Are you suppose to wipe out the existency of ex- exgay?

I am happy that Brad and Maria found His grace through heterosexuality (or so they think) but the fact is …not everyone is the same.

It is more important to show people that God never close His door to people who has faith in Him than to condemn and close the door on people unless they comply with the LAW.

God bless


May 27th, 2008

An evangelical could likewise say: “to allow Jews to continue to exist is to negate the fact that Jesus is God and the fact that I converted and was transformed through him becomes untrue.” But statements like these would immediately be seen by the world (as well as a great many Christians)as a dangerous stepping stone to genocide. If churches want the existance of one or the other – and choose ex-gays over gays – what does that say?

Personally, I see this as the American Protestant flirtation with the medieval notion of Christendom. It’s a rather curious flirtation at that because on the one hand they wish to maintain the American ideals of democracy and freedom, but only seen through the lens of their brand of Christianity. Nor are they consistent even in this as most would reject stripping ‘heretics’ or atheists of their rights under the Constitution. Yet if we look back on what Christendom meant to the medievals, than matters which cause harm in the spiritual realm are all also matters of State concern. The lines between Church & State are very tenuous, if not non-existent in many cases. Under this scheme, atheism and heresy are just as bad as murder. Indeed, one could reasonably argue that they are worse since it’s not just the body that is killed but the eternal soul and society as a whole suffers from the confusion these sow by obscuring the Truth. I’ve yet to see how their dubious flirtation with this notion resolves the inconsistencies in their reasoning, let alone a full understanding on their part of how adoption of this idea would kill the “American experiment”.

Jason D

May 27th, 2008

“For the Church to make a decision to bless same-sex unions or ordain practicing homosexuals is to communicate to me, and individuals like me, that I have absolutely no self-esteem, no thoughts that are truly my own, no way of judging right or wrong without someone’s approval and no way of keeping myself out of trouble without large, broadly defined parameters.”

Basically, she is saying she cannot think for herself, so she’s been hiding behind the church her whole life. She doesn’t trust any conclusions she might come to on her own. Quite honestly she craves, NEEDS a stamp of approval on her life. She simply can’t stand on her own.

Isn’t there an anti-drug commercial out there that says something to the effect that if you let everyone else decide things for you, you lose what’s most important: you.

Jonathan Justice

May 30th, 2008

Let’s be clear in all this that for all the piles of money The Layman and The Lay Committee have wasted over the nearly 40 years they have spent harassing the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), they are not in any sense, official organs of the Presbyterian Church. At it’s zenith, it was a mission society with membership open to Presbyterians. Presently, the only members are the people on the Board of Directors. Most of the money has come from the Pew Foundation (as in Howard and Sun Oil). Rather than calling them astroturf, I’d say that they are recalcitrant and seriously funded partisans who do not even dependably get along with other Presbyterian rightists. The continuing funding allows them to publish hundreds of thousands of copies of their free newspaper and throw whatever wrenches they please at the Presbyterian Church. They imagine that they enjoy a large steaming portion of importance as they accomplish self-marginalization.

This can be compared to the More Light Presbyterians, another mission society where membership is actually open, and the history of engagement has had rather more positive results for GLBT people and our friends in the Presbyterian Church and the wider world despite the markedly smaller budget.


June 2nd, 2008

Well I think that the people who do this junk are so insecure about themselves they need to attack someone else to feel important. What is the point of an anti-gay movement? If we are happy, why do you care? And if God did not wish us to be gay, then why did He make us this way? Obviously someone needs to sit and think, because things are not “equal”. What happened to that whole every man has equal rights thing? Do we not all have the equal right to marriage?

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