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Exodus Leader Supports Jamaica’s Anti-Gay Laws; Exodus Responds With Statement Opposing Criminalization

Jim Burroway

June 14th, 2012

Today, Exodus International released a new statement:

Criminalization of Homosexuality
Exodus International believes that every human life, regardless of sexual orientation, is of inestimable and equal worth to God and that defending this principle is foundational in offering a Christian response to any issue. As such, Exodus International has not supported and will not support any legislation that deprives others of life and dignity based on their sexual orientation or the expression of such within the confines of a consensual adult relationship. We stand with all who are defending this basic, biblical tenet and remain committed to sharing the compassion, hope and life-giving grace and truth of Jesus Christ.

Finally, we stand with the LGBT community both in spirit, and when necessary, legally and physically, when violence rears its head in Uganda, Jamaica or anywhere else in the world.

We’ve long followed the rippling aftermath of Exodus board member Don Schmierer’s disastrous participation in an anti-gay conference in Uganda. It took Exodus president Alan Chambers fifteen months to express regret over that and issue its first policy statement against criminalization. That statement is no longer available on Exodus’s web site. This new statement, which can be read more broadly, is now on a page alongside other Exodus policy statements.

The sudden reference to Jamaica may be puzzling to those who are unaware of recent events. Taken from a glass-half-full scenario, it can be seen as another positive sign that Chambers takes seriously his commitment to being more pro-active when these issues arise. It was just yesterday when Mike Airhart at Truth Wins Out revealed that another Exodus board member stepped into yet another international incident:

On May 29, Exodus board vice chairman Dennis Jernigan blogged about his work the previous week in Jamaica to defend that nation’s antigay laws and criticize President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron for their support of Jamaican LGBT human rights. We reprint Jernigan’s May 29 complete blog post below, with the key text highlighted by us.

The highlighted test from Jernigan’s blog post describes a meeting that Jernigan had with the Jamaican Observer’s editorial staff:

… this is when I first realized what I had been thrust into! In a boardroom with about 30 editorial staff members and reporters, I discovered that the Prime Minister of Jamaica was receiving pressure from our president and the prime minister of Great Britain to change the anti-sodomy laws of Jamaica … or risk losing financial support. That is when I knew why I was there. I shared my entire story and then fielded questions – for almost two hours! When asked about what I thought about President Obama’s recent remarks concerning homosexuality, I told them I love my president but I believe he is greatly deceived and risks undermining the very foundation of our nation … the family. Incidentally, the paper began publishing the interview the very next day on the first three pages … the headline being my quote concerning my belief that President Obama is deceived! I felt the grace of God in those interviews. I never felt fear at all … and feel I impacted an entire nation in the process. [Emphasis Mine]

Jamaica has an exceptionally long history of often shocking violence against LGBT people. Popular musicians often exhort audiences to kill gay people in their lyrics, and violence against gay people is often glorified in social media and on the streets. Sometimes those abuses occur in the context of trying to “cure” people of their homosexuality. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2011 report on human rights:

The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG) continued to report serious human rights abuses, including assault with deadly weapons, “corrective rape” of women accused of being lesbians, arbitrary detention, mob attacks, stabbings, harassment of gay and lesbian patients by hospital and prison staff, and targeted shootings of such persons. Police often did not investigate such incidents. During the year J-FLAG received 84 reports of sexually motivated harassment or abuse, which included 71 cases of attempted or actual assault, including at least two killings, and 21 reports of displacements. Members of the police force reportedly were the perpetrators in 12 cases. J-FLAG data showed that young people, ages 18 to 29, continued to bear the brunt of violence based on sexual orientation. This violence created a climate of fear that prompted many gay persons to emigrate, while the gross indecency laws left those who remained vulnerable to extortion from neighbors who threatened to report them to the police unless they were paid off.

…The trial of six suspects arrested for the 2005 robbery and murder of prominent gay rights advocate Lenford “Steve” Harvey, initially begun and then postponed in 2007, had not resumed by year’s end.

…Gay men were hesitant to report incidents against them because of fear for their physical well-being. Human rights NGOs and government entities agreed that brutality against such persons, primarily by private citizens, was widespread in the community.

Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law makes consensual relationships a felony, punishable by a ten-year prison sentence. There is considerable international pressure on Jamaica to repeal its sodomy law and to offer basic human rights protections against violence directed at LGBT people, but even those minimal calls remain highly controversial and deeply unpopular.

It is in this climate that Jernigan boldly stepped into. In actions which are highly reminiscent of board member Don Schmierer’s ill-fated and notorous trip to Uganda, Jernigan strongly supported Vice-president of the Jamaica Association of Evangelicals Rev. Peter Garth’s reading of Michael Swift’s 1987 satire “A Gay Revolutionary” which the more extreme anti-gay activists often mis-identify as “the gay agenda.” (The satire labels itself as a satire in the prologue, which is typically omitted when deployed by anti-gay extremists.) Jernigan’s comments only served to lend further credence to the satire’s so-called validity:

According to Garth, the gay community has been instructed to talk about gays as loudly as possible and to portray them as victims, not as aggressive challengers and to make them look good and the people opposed to them look bad. As such, Garth said the Church is trying to influence others to look at the structure which provides value for our nation.

A former member of the gay community, Rev Dennis Jernigan, said that community has all the creative, financial and intellectual power. According to Jernigan, an American citizen, the gay community gives more than the 10 per cent tithe that Christians give to the church, as they are very adamant about their agenda. “If I was still in that group and was still a part of that agenda, of course I would take that as my battle cry and I would do everything in my power to bring it to pass,” he said.

In another Jamaica Observer article which identifies Jernigan as Exodus’s vice chairman (and thus suggesting that Jernigan was speaking on the organization’s behalf), he describes himself as having fully changed his sexuality:

Jernigan said he was transformed that night.

“All of a sudden, I felt a level of freedom, a level of acceptance, a level of affirmation I had not expected. That night, God gave me a brand new identity, that is the best way I can put it to you,” Jernigan said, likening the experience to the biblical tale of Lazarus, who is described as rising from the dead through Jesus’s power.

“He told me, ‘son, that homosexuality is not what I intended for you, that’s a deception. Put that off and put on the truth,” Jernigan said.

“All of a sudden, my sexuality changed. I was intending never to be married. I said, I’ll just be celibate for the Lord, I want to be pure. But God said, ‘no, I have even greater plans for you. I will give you a wife, I will bless you with a wife’. And then because I felt so robbed of life for so much of my life, God said ‘I will give you, as many children as you want. I said okay,” Jernigan told the Monday Exchange with a chuckle, his wife laughing as she chimed in beside him, “I agreed.”

Jernigan is vice-chairman of the board of directors of Exodus International, a group that calls itself the largest ministry for homosexuals in the world and which specialises in so-called ‘gay conversion’.

The Exodus vice-chairman’s statements stand in remarkable contrast to actions and statements recently take by Exodus’s president. Last January, Chambers acknowledged, “The majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them, have not experienced a change in their orientation.” Exodus removed all Reparative Therapy books from its online bookstore and began disassociating itself from the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which is the biggest proponent of Reparative Therapy. Earlier this month, Exodus responded to a proposed California bill which would prohibit licensed therapist from providing Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (COCE) to minors with a statement which read, in part, “As an organization, we do not subscribe to therapies that make changing sexual orientation a main focus or goal.”

Dennis Jernigan speaking to reporters in Jamaica.

But obviously, the Exodus vice chairman and Exodus president are not even close to reading from the same script. Jernigan made the goal of changing sexual orientation the centerpiece of his message:

While the US has been racked by heated debate about the ‘gay conversion’ religious movement, Jernigan says his own conversion isn’t all that uncommon in his country.

“This may sound really mystical to you,” he said, “But I know hundreds of men and women in the United States who have walked out of homosexuality and now walking the true freedom. That’s the story you are not hearing, but that’s the truth.”

“That is why I am so adamant about this, freedom is possible,” he declared, his voice cracking with emotion. It is a message he is determined to impart to Jamaicans.

When the vice-chairman of Exodus International left his home in Muskogee, Oklahoma for Jamaica a few weeks ago, intending to share his music in Christian concerts and in ministry, he had no idea that homosexuality was a hot-button issue here. When he found himself in the middle of a huge debate about homosexuality and gay marriage he said he questioned why God had led him to this country at this particular time.

“I said, ‘hmmm… God, what are you up to? You’ve plunged me right in the middle of this’.

“But I want to save your nation. I don’t want to do anything other than minister to you, to tell you my story, to serve the people of Jamaica, because I don’t want to see happen here, what happened in America,” he said.

Jernigan also appeared in this video, in which he repeated the classic Reparative Therapy line of what causes homosexuality. He also placed his ex-gay message in a very political context:

YouTube Preview Image

As I said, the fact that it only took Chambers one day to respond to this latest revelation can be seen as a glass half-full. This is measurable progress and I don’t want to lose sight of that.

But the glass is also still half empty. Once again we are learning of an Exodus official traveling to a volatile country in full ignorance — and an admitted ignorance — of the fact that “homosexuality was a hot-button issue here.” Exodus may feel that they have a special expertise on helping conservative Christians resist their same-sex attractions, but they clearly have no expertise about how homosexuality itself is perceived in other cultures.

It is extremely reckless of them to parachute into countries where they have no idea what’s going on, and then leaving it up to the local LGBT community to deal with the aftermath when they jet home. They already have ample evidence of what happens when Exodus officials neglect to do their homework before traveling to volatile countries. There is just no excuse for making this same mistake yet again.

At some point, you would expect there would be consequences to making these kinds of errors. In a truly accountable organization Jernigan would hand in his resignation. But don’t count on that happening. Three years after the Uganda debacle, Don Schmierer is still serving as Exodus’s treasurer.

Comments

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StraightGrandmother
June 14th, 2012 | LINK

Thank you Alan Chambers.
At least you were quicker this time. Many thanks. ~SGM

Michael Bussee
June 14th, 2012 | LINK

Why didn’t Jernigan speak up when he had the chance in front of 30 journalists? Why didn’t he say, “Unlike Pastor Garth and his coalition, I do not support the criminalization of homosexuality — and neither does Exodus”?

Michael Bussee
June 14th, 2012 | LINK

A response from Randy Thomas (from his FB page):

“I will let Dennis speak for himself, but I know the man well enough to know that he wouldn’t support something like that. What I personally see from his statement is that his response to the topic was to share his testimony which is not the same as endorsing that policy. He wasn’t clear about that but that’s how I read the above.

I think he was trying to humanize the issue, not endorse legalized hatred. And when asked about Obama’s recent remarks (I am assuming about marriage and equality language for LGBT community), he addressed those remarks in that he feels Obama in general is decieved on the issue.

Again, a general observation not any specific policy stands. Granted, I think Dennis would serve himself well if he came out very clearly, and strongly, clarifying these statements. My observations are definitely contextualized by my bias of belief that the Dennis I know would never support criminalization.” ~ Randy Thomas

Jim Burroway
June 14th, 2012 | LINK

The only context that matters is not Randy Thomas’s or Dennis Jernigan’s, but that of the average Jamaican who hears this in their context.

mark miner
June 14th, 2012 | LINK

Wow. Thanks again, BTB, for keeping us informed and Exodus honest and accountable.
Surely this is a time for the GREATEST circumspection about marching into other countries, swaggering about with our American cultural authority, and demanding changes to conform with our sexual or religious agenda? My grandparents were missionaries, and you don’t hear THEM bawling on about Jesus. They just went over and addressed the actual needs people had, schools, hospitals, whatever.

Jernigan talks about the ecstacy of running his mouth. LOVE is when you think about how your words are going to impact, as JB says, the Jamaican on the street.

—Mark Miner

Steve
June 14th, 2012 | LINK

Jim is right. Unless someone is extremely stupid, naive or just pure evil, he had to know perfectly how a society like that will receive them.

It’s similar to the Regnerus “study”. Even assuming best intentions, he had to know how anti-gay groups would use it.

In both cases they hear only what they want to hear, selectively quote it and use it for their own purposes. To step into that and say anything that requires careful interpretation is highly irresponsible.

Timothy Kincaid
June 14th, 2012 | LINK

mark –

maybe your grandparents were Mathew 25 missionaries, not Leviticus 18 missionaries.

F Young
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

Thanks for reporting (breaking?) this important story, BTB. I haven’t seen it elsewhere.

Stephen
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

He seems to have deleted the blog entry linked to above.

StraightGrandmother
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

F Young, I may be wrong but I “think” Truth Wins Out broke the story. I would think if you are a blog owner you probably take a bit of pride if you “break” a story. Just like when we readers send in something to a blog owner we like getting the Hat Tip.

Jim Burroway
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

As I wrote in above:

It was just yesterday when Mike Airhart at Truth Wins Out revealed that another Exodus board member stepped into yet another international incident:…

Blake
June 15th, 2012 | LINK

When you think you’re only accountable to the big guy in the sky you don’t have to do the sort of homework we would expect.

It seems like Exodus has taken two steps forward, one enormous leap back.

I hate bisexual evangelicals of like Mr. Jernigan. They are so exceptionally incapable of empathy. And so terribly incapable of seeing things from outside of a binary viewpoint.

Jimmy
June 21st, 2012 | LINK

I am very familiar with Dennis Jernigan, having followed his public life for many years, and I can’t see where he did anything other than give his testimony in Jamaica and disagree with Obama’s general stance toward homosexuality. There is nothing in his public statements or blogs to even suggest that he wants homosexuals to die. I read his blog when it was first posted and NEVER got that idea. So it has come to this: disagreeing with Obama means that one wants death for homosexuals? No way!

Timothy Kincaid
June 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Jimmy,

No one thinks that Jernigan went to Jamaica with the goal of instigating murder. But instigating murder or justifying it are no less evil than pulling the trigger.

If I am in the crowd of villagers with pitchforks and torches all angrily wondering what to do about the outsider who they are afraid of, I can’t claim innocence if I “testify” that someone just like him kicked my dog and slapped my mother.

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