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Exodus Cancels Albuquerque Ex-Gay Conference; Midland, TX, Conference Dropped from Web Site

Jim Burroway

May 4th, 2012

Exodus International took the unprecedented step of canceling a “Love Won Out” conference scheduled for Albuquerque, New Mexico on May 12. The “Love Won Out” conference (which I attended in Phoenix in 2007) is a traveling roadshow conducted four to six times a year in different cities across North America, and serves as a kind of day-long infomercial for the ex-gay movement.

In an email to those pre-registered for the conference, Exodus events director David Fountain called the cancellation “one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make.” He added, “Unfortunately, due to the low number of registrations we simply were unable to justify the substantial cost of bringing the LWO Conference to the Albuquerque area.”

Exodus had also scheduled a Love Won Out conference for Midland, Texas in November 2012, but that conference no longer shows up on Exodus’s web site either.

In its heyday, LWO was a joint project of Exodus and Focus on the Family with additional participation from the National Association of Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (NARTH) During the early years, it was not unusual for LWO conferences to attract an audience of 2,000 or more. But when I attended LWO in 2007, the conference drew over a thousand people, already down some from its heyday, but still substantial enough to be counted as a success. But since then, we’ve had reports of lower attendance figures. Memphis drew only about 600 attendees in 2008, and another one in Orlando that year drew 500. Figures in the 400-600 range now appear to be the new normal. In 2009, Focus On the Family announced its withdrawal from LWO and it became the sole property of Exodus in 2010.

Last February, Exodus brought LWO to Atlanta where, as has become typical, they drew “over 500″ according to Exodus. Metro Atlanta has a population of more than five million deep in the Bible belt, and is a convenient day’s drive from a dozen other cities in six states. Albuquerque,on the other hand has a metro population of 900,000, and is located in a rather sparsely populated state that is not quite the haven for Evangelical Christian activism as Atlanta. It’s hard to see how Albuquerque (or Midland) could draw a large crowd given their much smaller populations and very long distances from other population centers.

Last fall, there were reports that Exodus was undergoing a rebranding exercise in an effort to stave off bankruptcy. The first evidence for that exercise came in January when Exodus president Alan Chambers appeared on a surprise panel of a meeting of the Gay Christian Network and said that “99.9% of them (ex-gays) have not experienced a change in their orientation.” I wanted to attend another LWO to see how that change in direction was reflected in their conference, and with Albuquerque being a very short flight from Tucson, where I live, I had already purchased airline tickets to go. It looks like those tickets will have to go somewhere else — and they won’t be for Midland either.

The only LWO conference scheduled this year is in September near Harrisburg, PA, not far from Philadelphia. If that holds, it would be only the second LWO conference scheduled for this year. While that conference could concievably draw from a much larger population base (Philly, Baltimore/Washington, New Jersey, etc.), I would not be surprised to see that conference canceled as well. And if it is canceled, that could spell the end of “Love Won Out” altogether.

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TampaZeke
May 4th, 2012 | LINK

I had absolutely no idea that these conferences drew that many participants. I thought they pulled in upwards of one hundred people. I have to say I’m a bit shocked by those numbers and distressed that they can still pull in 400 to 600!

Who actually attends these conferences? Are they mostly unhappy gay people or mostly non-gay church people and family members who go to learn how to change gay people in their “ministries” or families?

Jim Burroway
May 4th, 2012 | LINK

The vast majority of those at the Phoenix conference I attended in 2007 were families and friends of gay people. There were actually very few gay or ex-gays there themselves. I believe that was probably representative of most conferences.

TampaZeke
May 4th, 2012 | LINK

Thank you Jim. That makes me feel a little bit better. I think.

Priya Lynn
May 4th, 2012 | LINK

Looks like love is winning out and hate is dying out. : )

StraightGrandmother
May 4th, 2012 | LINK

“It looks like those tickets will have to go somewhere else — and they won’t be for Midland either.”

SGM- LOL!

Bose in St Peter MN
May 4th, 2012 | LINK

Good for Exodus, for saving LGBT folks some money, as well… Every LWO conference is attended by observers and journalists who don’t have to make the trip now.

Presenters have traditionally opened the day acknowledging that fact, as well as reminding attendees that they reserve the option to remove any person at any time.

The thing that surprised and unsettled me when I attended LWO in suburban DC a few years back was the presence of armed off-duty cops in uniform at the check-in table and strolling the aisles of the church sanctuary during breaks.

Of all the things I thought I might see that day, loaded guns in holy space were not on the list.

Timothy Kincaid
May 4th, 2012 | LINK

This is fascinating in what it says.

As Jim noted LWO is not designed as a service or event for ex-gays; there is a sister conference called the Exodus Freedom Conference which is for the ex-gays themselves.

LWO is designed to provide families, pastors, youth directors and other non-gay evangelical Christians with facts and positions and theology and “instruction” to equip them to minister to the struggler. And so changes in LWO’s popularity speak to an interesting phenomenon, one that is very hard to otherwise gauge.

While it’s certainly not conclusive proof, a reduction in the demand for LWO, suggests a few things:

1) the population of evangelical ministers (and youth ministers, etc.) that believe that they would benefit from a seminar in ex-gay ministry is finite. And those who wish for such services may have already attended and don’t see a need for a refresher course.

2) the position that ex-gay ministries has held in the evangelical world as the christian response to same-sex attraction may be losing traction. This may no longer be the go-to answer.

And those are not mutually exclusive possibilities. But if either are true, pull out the confetti; it’s time for a party.

Sometimes outsiders think that such ministries are hucksters coming in to prey on vulnerable and gullible victims. Not so. Other than a few televangelists, evangelical christianity is self perpetuating and the preachers preach it because they believe it.

And – this is key – if they are no longer preaching it, it’s because they no longer have confidence in it. (Please don’t think that Christians change their message for PR purposes – other than a few fringe characters and the political activist posing as believers, they proudly say what they believe. If they are ashamed to say something, it isn’t because you won’t like it; rather, it’s because they don’t like it.)

Evangelical Christianity will have a response to homosexuality (and the rest of human sexuality). It used to be classifying gay people as perverts, willful sinners. Then they really began to know people who were gay who were not willful anything and then came the “struggler” and “healing” concept.

This may foretell the end of stuggler and healing.

It’s hard to guess what step is next in the process to (eventual obvious) acceptance. I suspect that it will be that God in his infinite wisdom chose to make some people gay (and will probably include some stereotypes about how gay people are creative and good church organists). I’m guessing that some portion of evangelical christianity will go the “and should stay celibate” route and others will go with “and should not have sex outside the covenant of marriage, which we now will not only allow but will insist upon.”

But in any case, I see this as an indication of change. Exodus was right. Change is possible. They just got confused about who would be doing the changing.

TomTallis
May 4th, 2012 | LINK

My heart bleeds…

AdrianT
May 4th, 2012 | LINK

. Generally I am not evangelical about my atheism. However in the case of Alan Chambers and Randy Thomas, it is necessary because of the damage their organization and conferences have done to so many. So, if they are reading, I’d love them to know that change is possible: the Road to Damascus is a two-way street. I encourage them to take a look at the Richard Dawkins website, where there is a growing number of evangelical preachers who are coming to terms with the cruel fact that there is no god, yet have to carry on preaching, because it is the only life and job they know. I have to say this because Alan has been so sure that he has had a personal link to a mind of god that is preoccupied with human sleeping arrangements, while being totally uninterested in, say, helping stop tsunamis and hurricanes and earthquakes. . Darwin has been proven right; reason always wins out in the end.

So come on Alan, snap out of this nonsense and the stories you were brought up to believe. enjoy the one and only life you’ll ever have to the full. The most likely explanation is that you were hearing the voice of your conscience. That’s all.

Paul
May 4th, 2012 | LINK

Thank goodness. Keep that stuff as far away from my city as possible.
Albuquerque already has an ex-gay quack organization convincing a few too many parents they did an awful job of raising their gay children. No need for more fuel to the fire.

Gregory Peterson
May 4th, 2012 | LINK

I read elsewhere that the conference was to be held at extreme right Pastor Steve Smothermon’s Legacy Church. Legacy Church’s legacy is one of anti-gay activism, including co-sponsoring with a couple of Catholic groups, Scott Lively, for an anti-legal pregnancy termination rally. I wonder what Smothermon’s response to the cancellation might be.

Smothermon has lobbied hard against full citizen equality in Santa Fe. He was on the Police Oversight Commission, and has carefully cultivated a very close relationship with the sheriffs department which has had held some events in his church.

Smothermon regards conservative Christians as God’s privileged nobility. http://www.tonycooke.org/free_resources/articles_others/at-your-core.html This reads like a white privilege apologetic to me, though I’m sure that he’s not a “white” supremacist. He is, however, obviously a believer in a religious, self proclaimed privileged nobility. (Come to think of it…wasn’t that a Christian Reconstructionist conceit?)

“A noble birth is not to be taken lightly. It places an individual above the common man and carries a distinction of honesty and integrity.”

If memory serves, Legacy’s academy uses the low intellectual integrity curriculum of A Beka Book and Bob Jones University Press.

Reed
May 5th, 2012 | LINK

Adrian – “IF” Alan Chambers and Randy Thomas are reading?

Why, my goodness, I should think so. Every known anti-gay in the universe comes flocking to read BTB, so please DO come share your anti-theism here instead of just writing them directly.

Speaking of delusional.

Passive agression is best shared where it can do the most effective job of communicating some point. Perhaps I should have put “effective” in upper case, but it’s early and I don’t want to start shouting before I’ve had my coffee.

Now, please go mind the bridge. Some goats are approaching.

AdrianT
May 6th, 2012 | LINK

Reed: Well, we know that some crazed fanatics like Labarbera and others do in fact monitor sites like this. (i do in fact adress opponents directly; you should be less presumptuous). The perfectly reasonable invitation, which I make above, to walk away from imagined miracles & nonsense, and to start thinking for oneself, doesn’t just apply to evolution deniers, holocaust deniers etc., of course. It applies to everyone, including you.

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