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Exodus 2012, Part 1: Then vs. Now, Or What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been

Jim Burroway

July 9th, 2012

With the conclusion of Exodus International’s annual Freedom Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota during the last week of June, thirty-seven Exodus Conferences have now come and gone. This is only the second conference I’ve been to, but I think it is safe to say that this conference was probably like no other in Exodus’s history. I’m glad I was there to witness it. My point of reference was the 2007 conference that I attended in Irvine, California. The differences between the two conferences weren’t quite night and day, but Exodus is undeniably a very different organization now than it was then, and the two conferences reflect those differences.

My approach to this year’s conference was a bit different from five years ago. In 2007, I went more or less undercover. Not really undercover — I registered under my own name and wore my name badge everywhere I went, but I didn’t talk about myself or reveal that I was a pro-gay blogger. This time was different. I began all substantive conversations I engaged in by introducing myself and disclosing that I was a pro-gay blogger. It turns out that most of the people I encountered never heard of me and didn’t know anything about this blog. Fortunately, my ego is far too resilient to let a thing like that bother me. (It turns out few had heard of me; when I good-naturedly accused one young woman of just being nice when she said she was a BTB regular, she pulled out her smart phone and showed me that BTB was loaded up her RSS reader.) We had some good conversations, and on a couple of occasions a few hard questions were directed my way, but nothing really at all nasty or confrontational. I was, without exception, made to feel welcome, and I really appreciate those who allowed me to get a glimpse into why they were there and what they hoped to get out of the conference.

I would however add that I did not introduce myself to workshop speakers beforehand. I didn’t want my presence to cause them to modify their remarks. I think I was mostly successful toward that end. The only person who recognized me before his workshop was Mike Goeke (Hi Mike!), but based on the content of his talk, I don’t think he changed anything just because I was there tapping out notes on my laptop.

The Backdrop
I wanted to attend this particular conference because we have been noting that Exodus International has made some very substantial changes in its messaging over the past several months. I wanted to see first-hand what those changes would look like on the inside. But before I begin discussing the conference itself, a review of that journey is in order. The first tangible sign of those changes surfaced last January, when Chambers appeared on a surprise panel at the Gay Christian Network’s annual conference in Orlando with the revelation that, “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.” This was a remarkably clear statement from a man who headed an organization with the motto, “Change Is Possible.” On prior occasions, depending on the particular audience he was speaking to, he had mentioned that he personally struggled with same-sex attractions, but this was the first time he acknowledged publicly the reality that people really don’t experience a change in their sexual orientation as a result of entering into the ex-gay movement. With this statement at GCN, he publicly acknowledged what few would only admit privately, if at all. It was a remarkably clear departure from pervious statements.

Then a few weeks later, we learned that Exodus had removed Reparative Therapy books from its online bookstore. When Warren Throckmorton inquired about the books’ removal, Chambers responded:

The reason I removed RT books from Exodus Books is because I don’t agree with using this research as a means to say that “this” is how homosexuality always develops, “this” is the primary means in which to deal with it and this is “the” outcome you can expect. Too, Exodus, as a whole, is not a scientific or psychological organization…we are a discipleship ministry and that is where I think our strength is and energy should be focused.

This, too, was an important development. Reparative Therapy and the particular developmental theories that underlie it have been an important framework for much of what Exodus promoted through the years. It was one of the primary avenues in which change was supposedly possible. Chambers’s decision to distance his organization from RT signaled a break from the National Organization for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), many of whose leaders had been prominent speakers at previous Exodus conferences. Chambers’s move against RT didn’t go unnoticed at NARTH.

Changes at Exodus didn’t end there. Under Chambers’s leadership the organization began to alter its approach to the gay community as well. Just to show you what that difference looks like, it was only a little over a year ago, May 4 to be exact, when Chambers criticized a Google Chrome ad which portrayed ordinary people using YouTube, a Google-owned service, to post videos as part of Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” anti-bullying campaign. Chambers was irked because Woody, a character from “Toy Story,” appeared for about two and a half seconds to say “You’ll be fine, partner.” But after considerable criticism for coming out against the anti-bullying campaign, he retracted that reaction — five months later — saying “I have to admit that I was wrong to question their marketing strategy without expressing my full support for what is the heart of their campaign – encouraging LGBT teens to choose life.”

This year, Exodus has been considerably more pro-active and responsive. They took the initiative last May to condemn the Family Research Council’s awarding its 2012 Watchman Award to Winston-Salem, NC pastor Ron Baity, who compared gays to murderers, said they were “worse than maggots,” and that God had “an urban renewal plan for Sodom and Gomorrah.” And when Exodus board member Dennis Jernigan traveled to Jamaica at the invitation of local anti-gay extremists fighting to preserve that nation’s criminal code defining homosexuality as a felony, Exodus reacted quickly to that controversy with an announcement that Jernigan had resigned from the board. It also reaffirmed its opposition to laws criminalizing homosexuality.

And finally, when a bill began making its way though the California legislature which would ban licensed therapists from providing Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) to minors, Exodus issued a statement which, without addressing the bill directly, re-affirmed Exodus’s position that “we do not subscribe to therapies that make changing sexual orientation a main focus or goal.” It’s not difficult to imagine that a year ago they would have probably been allied with NARTH’s effort to defeat the measure.

All of this taken together represents tremendous changes for Exodus in a remarkably short amount of time. And those changes have not been without cost or controversy within the ex-gay movement. In April, Andrew Comiskey, who heads Desert Stream Ministry, one of the more prominent member ministries in the Exodus network, wrote a letter to Chambers calling on him to “continue to uphold change as a reasonable goal for Christians with (same-sex attraction).” Citing Chambers’s comments before the Gay Christian Network, Comiskey worried that “Alan’s comments about change unwittingly played into the enemy’s hands.” Comiskey stopped short of calling for Chambers’s resignation, but he did call for a “reduced role (at best)” and suggested that Chambers should “pray more and facebook less.” By June, we would learn that eleven member ministries had left Exodus’s network, including Comiskey’s DSM and Frank Worthen’s New Hope Ministries in San Rafael, California. New Hope’s exit is particularly noteworthy because it is one of the surviving granddaddies of the ex-gay movement, having been one of the founding ministries of Exodus International back in 1976.

Exodus, Then and Now
Regular readers at BTB are likely bored with this lengthy recital, but I thought that before diving into what I observed at Exodus’s annual Freedom Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota, it was important to remind ourselves how we got to where we are today. Exodus is behaving very differently from Exodus of past years, and I can confirm that many of those differences were reflected in this year’s conference on several levels. What follows are a few thumbnail observations of the differences I saw at Exodus 2012 when compared to Exodus 2007. For example:

Reparative Therapy: In 2007, Reparative Therapists were prominently featured in conference workshops and plenary sessions. Dr. Julie Harren — she is now Julie Harren Hamilton, NARTH’s most recent past president — spoke at the Saturday morning plenary session, and Reparative Therapists Joseph Nicolosi and Janelle Hallman provided workshops. As recently as 2010, Nicolosi offered two workshops, and he was a featured plenary speaker in 2009.

But in 2012, there was not a single Reparative Therapist in the line-up, either in the plenary sessions or in any of the workshops. But while RT may be gone, its underlying theories remain operative assumptions to explain why people are gay. And for some reason, those explanations are still important at Exodus, where they were the focus of the first two workshops listed for Thursday morning. It’s probably unreasonable to expect everything about RT to be banished overnight. It has, after all, been a huge part of the ex-gay movement for decades. But it seems to me that holding onto those unproven developmental theories no longer provides the utility they once did. This deserves a more thorough discussion, and will be the focus of an upcoming post in this series.

Nevertheless, I think this particular change is the mark of growing maturity in the ex-gay movement, and it has its parallels in the history of the gay community. If you were to go to the library and look up old copies of the Mattachine Review, The Ladder or ONE magazine from the 1950s, you will find tons of articles by psychologists and other professionals telling their gay audiences that homosexuality was a psychological disturbance and that they had the means to cure it. And gays and lesbians at that time, while conflicted over those pronouncements, were willing to give those professionals their respect as “experts.” That changed in the early 1960s when pioneering gay rights activist Frank Kameny boldly stood up and declared that gay people were their own experts and it was the (mostly straight) professional community who needed to learn from them. Kameny’s uncompromising brashness is not in Exodus’s genes, but in many ways I can see Exodus International beginning to take a few steps along a familiar path within the ex-gay movement, with politically-motivated anti-gay organiations, and within the Evangelical Church.

On Change: Because Reparative Therapy is no longer supported at Exodus, the expectation that sexual orientation can be changed has also been largely eliminated. Mostly. There are still a few recalcitrant exceptions. But Alan Chambers devoted his entire opening night talk on this subject and it set the tone for the whole conference. The most notable feature of that talk — and the part that everyone was talking about afterwards — was his reading of the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from Daniel 3:16-18 who defiantly told King Nebuchadnezza that “we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” He then went on to say, “I think we’ve made a golden idol out of change.”

He said much more than that, and I will go deeper into it in the next post in this series. But suffice it to say that his opening night talk set a clear benchmark for the rest of the conference. According to several conversations I’ve had, this looks like the most positive change that Exodus has undertaken, as it now appears to me that many attendees no longer feel the pressure to prove that they’ve changed or are in the process of changing their sexual attractions. While its possible that some may feel disillusioned about what they hoped to find at Exodus, I got the sense that the larger overall feeling was one of tenuous relief. And I use the word tenuous to describe that relief because I think a different, more realistic message has sunk in, that they will almost certainly remain “same-sex attracted” for the rest of their lives. That is an undoubtedly daunting prospect. And what Exodus is now offering instead of change is the promise of just “showing up” and supporting them in their daily walk. I sensed a widespread agreement that this was a much more honest and realistic message.

Marriage vs. Celibacy: In 2007, marriage was still the golden idol for many participants at the Exodus Conference. It was evident in many of the testimonies presented during the plenary sessions, and it was assumed to be a desired outcome for many who were there — even if that outcome would be many years down the road. I remember that on arriving at that conference, a local news crew was interviewing an ex-gay attendee who — and I am not making this up — looked like a bleached-blond Rod Stewart clone. The newsperson asked him if his sexual orientation changed, upon which pseudo-Rod shrieked, “Of course! And if you don’t believe me, you can ask my wife!” (My thought was probably the same as yours: “Oh, honey!”) Alan Chambers tried to inject a note of realism on his opening night talk that night where, at one point, he challenged his audience to imagine what their lives might be like if they don’t experience a change in their sexual orientation. But compared to his talk in 2012, that was a relatively minor detour.

But what a difference five years makes. It’s hard to make celibacy an attractive option, but Exodus appears committed to elevating living a single life to an equal footing with married life. This will be a very difficult task in Evangelical culture, where churches routinely operate singles ministries for the purpose of getting members matched up. But I think this time there is a greater commitment to providing encouragement and resources for living a single, celibate life. It was the focus of one of the plenary talks by Jonathan Barry, who also presented a popular workshop on the subject. Christopher Yuan’s plenary reinforced that message, and Exodus vice president Jeff Buchanon called for more emphasis on singleness as a blessing in his workshop on discipleship. It will obviously be a hard sell, but it is at least a much more realistic one.

The Culture War: In 2007, Exodus announced that they had hired Amanda Banks, whose sole job it was to represent Exodus in lobbying against pro-gay measures on Capitol Hill. She gave a detailed talk at that conference on Exodus’s plans for anti-gay lobbying. That was only one example of Exodus’s engagement in the culture wars. Focus On the Family was represented by Mike Haley and Melissa Fryrear, while Michael Brown and Ken Hutcherson provided some rather entertaining culture-war material for the plenary sessions. The conference opened with a special video in which several prominent anti-gay political and religious leaders welcoming participants to that conference. I witnessed first hand the distress that video caused at least one conference participant. At one workshop on the culture war (yes, that was part of the workshop’s title), he angrily denounced several leaders who appeared in that video for their untruthful attacks against the gay community and asked why Exodus would feature such hateful people (his words) whose rhetoric he felt to be so personally harmful. He then broke down in tears, bringing that workshop to an abrupt end. It was a poignant reminder that those who attend these Exodus conferences really are gay people in many respects. It also illustrated how the allure of politics allowed Exodus to lose sight of those they claimed to serve.

In 2012, references to the culture wars was remarkably attenuated. Nobody from Focus On the Family was there that I noticed, nor were there any other notable culture war speakers. Culture war references weren’t completely absent; I noticed that old habits die hard among a few of the more obscure workshop presenters. But this time, I saw several instances when speakers had an opening to go into politics or cultural issues but refrained from doing so. Even among topics that one would expect to be uncontroversial within the setting of an Exodus conference, people generally just didn’t want to “go there.” In fact, I would say that there was, if anything, a general weariness over the whole thing.

Outreach to the Gay Community: This was a relatively new one. Previously, speakers would mention interacting with the gay community, but most of those mentions were more or less in passing. But now, with Exodus’s exit from politics, there were some discussions about engaging gay people directly and what that might look like. One of the best workshops I attended was by Katie Brown, who talked about why the Millennial generation was turning away from anti-gay rhetoric (and, by extension, the Evangelical Church) in droves. I thought her observations were very perceptive, and not necessarily limited to Millennials. Goeke’s talk on reaching out to the gay community was also mostly constructive.

Where they talked about reaching out to the gay community, the talk centered mostly on what to do (and, more importantly, what not to do). But what I didn’t see fleshed out was a sense of what they thought they had to offer that we didn’t already have. One answer I imagine they would supply might be Jesus, but we already have gay-affirming churches and their numbers are growing every day. Goeke pointed out that the Evangelical Church should have been the first to step up with an anti-bullying campaign, but instead offered little but resistance to even addressing the problem. I would add that the church also should have been the first to provide comprehensive help during the height of the AIDS crisis, but was instead a source of condemnation to the gay community for incurring “God’s wrath.” That is something that I don’t think can ever be forgotten.

I would also point out that because of those failures on behalf of the Evangelical church (and religous institutions as a whole), the gay community had to respond with its own version of “ministries” — community based organizations to address the many specific needs of our communities. We had to learn the hard way how to minister to ourselves in the face of unrelenting tragedy and overwhelming adversity. And so we’ve already established the kinds of ministries, if you will, that they should have established. If Exodus members are serious about reaching out, they might consider showing up at some of the many volunteer organizations that already exist in their communities and getting to know gay people on a more personal level. And then, maybe, decide whether they really have anything constructive to offer. And to allow members of the gay community to decide whether they want to buy whatever it is they’re offering.

The Big Picture
But overall, I’d have to say that the biggest difference I saw in 2012 when compared to five years ago is that Exodus 2012 was characterized by a greater humility. In 2007, the married and the “changed” were triumphant, and the strugglers were, well, still struggling. Also, speakers at that conference were the “experts” and the attendees the students. And as in many student/teacher situations, I found several instances when conference participants either snickered at what they heard or (in the case of John Smid’s workshop on masturbation) muttered “this is bullshit!” when they encountered, well, bullshit. In 2007, I was surprised more often than I thought I would be by the frequency at which conference attendees voiced disagreement among themselves over some of the things they heard.

This time, I think there was a greater appreciation for Alan Chamber’s transparency in admitting that he still has same-sex attractions and that sometimes those feelings can be pretty strong. This blurred the divide between the “experts” and the “students” on Day One, and the leaders were made much more human in the eyes of those in the seats. And compared to 2007, there were somewhat more hard questions and somewhat fewer easy answers. I think that this change is something that we haven’t had a chance to see before, and it was unquestionably a positive one in my mind.

Most of the changes that I’ve described can be scored in the positive column, for those inclined toward keeping score. What I haven’t gotten to yet is those areas where Exodus has not changed and probably will never change. Exodus is not, by any means, becoming a pro-gay organization, but they seem to be interested in becoming a less overtly anti-gay one. That will be very difficult for them, mainly because I don’t think the gay community will be willing to see them that way given their theological stance. But what I find fascinating is that some of the ways where Exodus isn’t changing may also wind up presenting a serious challenge to the Evangelical Church as a whole. That, too, will be the subject of a future post. Stay tuned. We’re just getting started.

Exodus 2012:
Part 1: Then vs. Now, Or What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been
Part 2: “We’ve Made a Golden Idol of Change” (Coming soon)
Part 3: The Long Shadow of Reparative Therapy (Coming soon)
Part 4: Sin and Salvation, and the Challenge to the Evangelical Church (Coming soon)
Part 5: Final Thoughts (Coming soon.)

UPDATE: All sorts of events intervened — personal stuff, health stuff, family stuff, work stuff, dental stuff  (percocet!) — which got in the way of completing this series. By the time I was ready to resume, Exodus had become such a moving target that much of what I wanted to talk about was no longer relevant. I do hope to touch on a number of these topics in future posts as they become more immediately relevant.

Comments

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F Young
July 9th, 2012 | LINK

“Alan’s comments about change unwittingly played into the enemy’s hands.”

It was frank of Cowinskey to call LGBs enemies, thus admitting that the ex-gay movement has been waging war on LGBs.

By the way, I don’t believe that promoting celibacy instead of sexual orientation change is much of an improvement. I think that celibacy can be just as damaging and just as unattainable (ref. Catholic priests). I wish there was more analysis of this, as opposed to the naive assumption that this is spiritually and psychologically sound or neutral.

I think that the change that we need to hear more about is how people can change or reject their religious beliefs to enable themselves to grow into human beings that are fulfilled, not stunted or damaged, by their sexual drive.

I don’t expect that from Exodus, but, seriously, there is a dire need for this type of change and one would think that people would be willing to pay for it. I would think that it could be as good and lucrative a business model as the ex-gay business.

Wes
July 9th, 2012 | LINK

Excellent article! I look forward to reading the rest of your account.

Tim Warner
July 9th, 2012 | LINK

I always saw Exodus and ex-gay ministries as a way for those who are homosexual to live as Christians. The ethos of ex-gay ministries never applied to those outside of The Christian Church.

Where my path diverged from ex-gay ministries was in seeing that there wasn’t ever any real,true change from homo-sexuality to hetero-sexuality. To have continued to promote that sort of impossibility as an attainable goal seemed like commenting on the emperor’s beautiful clothes.

So it is both a relief and yet a frustration to at long last hear the truth being told. My only Exodus conference was the 1992 San Diego conference and since then I have continued to maintain celibacy, but with a sceptical eye towards ex-gay ministry.

lee
July 9th, 2012 | LINK

The old message was “pray the gay away!”
The new message is “get a tight grip on celibacy and just white-knuckle it for the next 6o years or so.”
Oh yeah, sign me up for lots of that.

TampaZeke
July 9th, 2012 | LINK

Are we supposed to believe that Alan Chambers just recent discovered that change wasn’t possible? Are we to believe that he hasn’t known this for decades but continued to lie about it to support his “ministry” and his paycheck? I can’t believe that anyone wouldn’t realize that this “shift” is based on the cultural change and the knowledge that their message was becoming less and less marketable. This comes down to saving the Exodus business and not a moral change of heart.

Michael K
July 9th, 2012 | LINK

Just saw him on Hardball and if re framing the message is actual change, than Exodus and Alan has changed. WINK Rewording/repackaging the same message that gays need to be celibate or heterosexual is not change. Keeping up the cash flow that supports his livelihood is his goal. And the body count left behind is his/their wake is just collateral damage. It is shameful to see anyone try to excuse or encourage these harmful people. Please stop!

Michael Bussee
July 9th, 2012 | LINK

I agree with TampaZeke that the “discovery” that sexual orientation change from homosexual to heterosexual wasn’t happening is nothing new.

Call it “ex-gay”, “former homosexual”, “post-gay” or “struggling with SSA”. It’s still not heterosexuality.

It’s what Robbi Kenney — one of the Founders of Exodus urged them to do decades ago: “Know what you are offering. … You are NOT offering heterosexuality… [but] the power to come into celibacy.”

Steve
July 9th, 2012 | LINK

Nothing substantial has changed. It’s all window dressing.

They still heap endless amounts of guilt and shame on people. They still tell people that there is something wrong with them. They still claim that people’s natural feelings are a “sin”. They still force them to comply with an extremely narrow world view. And all because a bunch of primitive savages in a completely alien culture wrote down a lot of crap 2000 years ago.

How anyone can say that they still don’t psychologically abuse and hurt people is beyond me. Maybe not as much as they used to, but they don’t deserve a cookie for that.

Timothy Kincaid
July 9th, 2012 | LINK

Going forward, please provide some support for claims about what Exodus teaches, believes, wants, insists, heaps or forces.

Marc
July 9th, 2012 | LINK

Always enjoy reading your writing, Jim. And while I can certainly understand your surprise at the change in this organization, I share the other readers’ cynicism on this site that this is a two-fold transformation: public opinion is slowly changing towards acceptance of gay people (especially among the younger generation); and Chambers’ own monumental failure to tap down his “gay demons” made changing Exodus a given.

As a bartender at a gay bar, I have talk to dozens of men who struggled mightily with their gayness. Some even tried some type of reparative reprogramming, but to no avail – and often with damaging consequences. If Exodus is still on the “gay is bad” bandwagon, then even Chambers’ admittance that gays can’t change seems like a moot point. The only proper way for this organization to help gays is to simply shut down.

Neon Genesis
July 9th, 2012 | LINK

Doesn’t this “new and improved” Exodus message contradict that bible verse in 1 Corinthians 6:11? You know, the one that they bashed over our heads for decades as proof that we could change.

Richard Rush
July 9th, 2012 | LINK

It turns out that Exodus’ longstanding mantra, “Change is Possible,” was ironically prophetic.

BrianQTD
July 9th, 2012 | LINK

@Neon,
I don’t think the mistakes have been explained theologically or otherwise. I want to know WHY they believe they made those mistakes, and what this says about their certainty about the biblical message.

I suspect that the mistakes were made because Exodus and all exgay ministries were a response to the LGBT social movement and so their message was tailored to be a social and political statement in response to the LGBT movement. Does anyone remember when the Exodus website was called “Stonewall Revisited”? It was always political in some sense to me (but then again I’m from the “personal is political” school of thought).

@Lee:
Why do you have to be condescending? It looks like you believe a few “myths” yourself. Like we are good because we fear some daddy in the sky. That may be true of many fundamentalists, but not all religious people think that.

Apparently, everybody–including yourself–needs unsupportable beliefs and myths (albeit nonreligious) to make sense of the world.

BrianQTD
July 9th, 2012 | LINK

Maybe the theological explanation will come with the “Golden Idol” chapter. Can’t wait!

Lee
July 9th, 2012 | LINK

@Brian QTD,
I probably have a few unsupported beliefs, but I certainly no longer live for a thumbs-up or thumbs-down from a bronze-age god image. I concur that people can be good without a god looking over their shoulder (and they’ll be freer too, once they get over the need for his approval). These are the descendents of the good people who stopped scientific advancement in Europe for a thousand years, burned heretics and witches, stormed the middle east to take it back from the evil Muslems, wiped out most of the people of South America–destroying entire cultures–forced Jews to convert at knifepoint, found biblical support for the practice of slavery for 300 years….This list could be much longer. Now a group like Exodus is marginally less overtly hostile to our very existence: huzzah! I think religion does much more damage than good. Yes, I’m terribly condescending and judgmental: I learned it in church.

Neon Genesis
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

To me, this strikes me as desperation on the part of Exodus. They know deep down that they’re losing the culture wars so in a last ditch effort, they tweak their theology a bit and demand gays spend the rest of their lives alone and partnerless and dress it up with nice politically correct sounding language so they can be accepted as “tolerant” and eat their cake at the same time too. Who wants to bet that in another five years, Alan Chambers will follow in the footsteps of Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper and admit they were gay all along and come to accept that there’s nothing wrong with it and rebrand Exodus again as an ally for gay rights?

Timothy Kincaid
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

Lee,

Unlike many other sites, BTB does not welcome attacks on people of faith as though there are any more noble than attacks on people who are gay. (You can think of it as our version of The Golden Rule).

Feel free to criticize religious positions or, when relevant, beliefs. But the common hate speech about “sky fairy” or “invisible daddy in the sky” or any of the other terms designed to deride and demean other people will be deleted.

In exchange, no one will call you slurs for being gay. Not will they trot out a list of harms, real or imagined, that they think you are responsible for simply because you’re gay.

Yeah, I know the idea of general civility seems archaic, but we are a very different little blog. Rather than serve as a place to express hatred towards those who might disagree with us, we’d rather be somewhere they feel welcome enough to hear what we have to say.

Steve
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

Shove your religious privilege somewhere else. That kind of language is precisely attacking religion and attacking ideas. It’s not personal in any way whatsoever. The idea that any kind of attack on religion is seen as an attack on people itself is really one the biggest problems with religion today. It has made itself immune to any kind of criticism, no matter how mild and deferential.

Steve
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

And that you would even compare that two phrases to anti-gay slurs is vile and disgusting. You should be ashamed.

Jim Burroway
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

Steve (and everyone else)

i think some parameters are in order.

Belittling someone’s beliefs with terms lile “sky god” or “daddy in the sky” is NOT discussing ideas (and by the way, we discuss, not attack). Those are personal attacks, whether the person wielding that kind of language recognizes it or not. That kind of language is just as personal and hurtful as using terms like faggot or a tranny. We will not be doing that here.

Let’s keep in mind that there are a significant number of LGBT people who are also people who practice Christianity, and sometimes very conservative forms of Christianity. Christianity is not the enemy, and it will not be made one here. (So says this athiest-leaning agnostic.)

Henceforth, any further comments that goes in that direction will be moderated. (The same goes for any anti-athiest tirades as well. Yes, we get those too from time to time.)

Whether you are Christian or not, the Golden Rule applies: treat others as you want them to treat you (not as they may already treat you or have treated you in the past — we are all working to address that.)

We post a link to our Comments Policy right above the text box for a reason. Please review them if you haven’t. We are neither Fox News nor MSNBC. We are BTB.

Michael C
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

Perhaps I’m a bit naive (or less cynical), but I don’t believe the changes going on at Exodus are as nefarious as many others appear to think. Their new mantra (“it doesn’t get better”) is much less appealing than their old (“Jesus can turn you into John McClane”). I honestly believe that knowledge, experience and growth are forcing them to realize that they misunderstood “God and His plan.”

They are moving in a positive direction within the Church, but it’s just that, they are bound by a specific biblical understanding. We can bark and yell at Exodus all we want, but the real issue is still with the Church’s teachings on homosexuality. Darwin published On the Origin of Species over a hundred fifty years ago and the biblical literalists still cling to the inerrancy of the text.

Whether they’re more honest or less political or associated with this group or dissociated from that group might just be irrelevant. No matter what they do, they’re more fringe by the hour. I commend them for being at least being quiet on the fringe.

Lee
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

Tim and Jim,
With your feedback in hand I stand corrected, admonished, chastised, a little humiliated, and completely back in line. I enjoy the BTB and will continue to read it daily, but I think I’ve nothing more to offer in comments.

TampaZeke
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

“Going forward, please provide some support for claims about what Exodus teaches, believes, wants, insists, heaps or forces.”

Michael Bussee, Nuf said!

And likewise, for those defending Exodus, please provide some support for claims of change and their reasons for change that doesn’t come from someone who is being PAID to promote Exodus.

Timothy Kincaid
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

Lee,

Thank you for the gracious response. And please do contribute whenever you have a point you think needs to be expressed – we absolutely welcome all viewpoints even if we restrict the way that viewpoint can be expressed.

TampaZeke,

I think Jim’s first hand observations are support. And I promise you that Exodus is not paying him.

But yes, claims about Exodus need support whether they come from supporters or detractors.

Nathaniel
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

Hostility towards religion is understandable. Religious forces appear to have guided a great deal of history, both good and bad. And for both better and worse, individuals allow their religious opinions to guide the choices they make. I grew up in a fairly conservative household, and was unaware of gay people until high school. I remember hearing Ellen DeGeneres talk about her realization of her sexuality, and wondering if it weren’t her wanton sexual acts outside of the joys of marriage that had left her disappointed in men, rather than any innate preference for women. Had I heard from Exodus then what we are hearing now, I might have been of a different mind. I might have even come to realize and embrace my own sexuality much sooner than I eventually did. Instead a flood of misguided information led me to believe that it is perfectly normal for straight boys to be attracted to the male form. I was 25 and well on my way to recovering from the heartbreak of falling for a man I couldn’t have before I realized I was wasting my time trying to date women. I can’t help but wonder where I might have been had I been guided first by religious principles that accepted my sexuality as fact, even if those principles taught that acting on my attractions was wrong. Truth be told, I went through that stage anyway, so I would imagine that I would have been better adjusted and better prepared when I finally accepted that God made me who I was, ‘gayness’ and all, and wished for me to celebrate everything I am rather than try to fight a loosing battle against certain parts of myself.

To that end, I am encouraged by this change BTB has been reporting in the Exodus ministry. I see for them a place amongst evangelicals (particularly gay evangelical youth) who aren’t ready yet to accept that maybe their interpretation of scripture is wrong or misguided. Frankly, it doesn’t matter why they are changing. If it is to maintain their bottom line, who cares so long as people are helped. And I do see in this message the potential to help people out of the mire of self-rejection and move them towards a more all-accepting perspective. I do not believe it will be a permanent stop for very many, but rather a way-station on the way to fully embracing and celebrating their God-given sexuality. And I can imagine that for some, that way-station is very much needed, an oasis in a desert of seeming extremes.

Nathaniel
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

Also, I am all for positive images of being single. For too long, there has been the assumption that if you are single, then something is wrong with you. Granted, that ‘something wrong’ is all too often the assumption that the single person in question is gay. So maybe the image Exodus would provide isn’t that much better. However, I see nothing wrong with telling young Christians that singleness may be part of God’s plan for you (at least right now) and that isn’t a bad thing.

TampaZeke
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy, Think Progress sent someone to the conference and he came away with a VERY different, and much less complimentary, impression than Jim. Some of us are not so quick to believe the VERY recently changed words of people who have lied to us, slandered us and fought against our basic civil rights for DECADES. It doesn’t seem out of line to me that we might expect a couple of years of actions that back up their words before we start singing their praises.

Neon Genesis
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

“Belittling someone’s beliefs with terms lile “sky god” or “daddy in the sky” is NOT discussing ideas (and by the way, we discuss, not attack). Those are personal attacks, whether the person wielding that kind of language recognizes it or not. That kind of language is just as personal and hurtful as using terms like faggot or a tranny. We will not be doing that here. ”

Yet Timothy belittles Democrats all the time in his posts and gets away with it so why can’t we belittle religion?

Timothy Kincaid
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

Zeke,

I am not discounting your perspective. Think Progress’ first hand observations are also support for a less optimistic view.

Do you have a link to their report?

Timothy Kincaid
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

Neon Genesis,

Just because I’m an author here does not give you the right to post flatly false accusations against me.

At this point you need to either point us to examples of me belittling Democrats or apologize.

As I know that I don’t belittle Democrats per se (though I’m sure I’ve been less than complimentary to individuals across the political spectrum), the question is whether you have the character to apologize. Somehow I doubt it.

Neon Genesis
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

Your whole article you posted about Occupride was nothing more than belittling their protest.

Neon Genesis
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

You also made slanderous posts about supposed gay Democrats that only “vote with their dick”, whatever that means.

Timothy Kincaid
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

I wrote disparagingly about the motivations and objectives of Occupride. But not because they were Democrats – which many of them likely are not.

I never said that gay Democrats “vote with their dick”. Ever.

Now you need to apologize.

Neon Genesis
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

You specifically made a rant about gay Democrats who only voted which direction their dick pointed at. You also ranted about how horrible and evil the states who protested Arizona’s immigration laws were once because they were supposedly persecuting small business owners that happened to be gay or something.

Jim Burroway
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

As Neon Genesis has decided to ignore our Comments policy, a link to which is convieniently and prominently displayed above the comment form, I have placed him on moderation. Comments which conform to the policy, including those which include links to supporting evidence to his charges, will be approved.

Neon Genesis
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

Here’s the exact quote: http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2012/06/26/46087 “I know that there are some who think that one’s sexual orientation dictates their views on off shore drilling or capital gains tax. They demand that because I am gay, that I must ignore how politics effects every other aspect of my life.

GOProud does the opposite. They demand that because my observations direct me towards many positions that are considered conservative, that I must ignore how politics effects my orientation.

I happen to think that GOProud is nuts. But no more so than those who picked their political views based on which way their dick points.

Now I don’t think that you or Dan Savage or any of our authors or most of our readers are tick-box gay Democrats. But you have to be careful that in the comfort of cohesion in your party’s views that you don’t make presumptions about those who differ on a few of them.”

Jim Burroway
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

TampaZeke,

Think Progress sent someone to the conference and he came away with a VERY different, and much less complimentary, impression than Jim.

Think Progress is in my RSS reader so I never miss a post, and I don’t recall seeing anything suggesting they sent someone to the conference. I just now did a quick search of their web site and still cannot find it. If you can find it, please supply a link.

But as far as I know, I was the only pro-gay blogger there, and I spent all four days there not only attending sessions and workshops, but eating lunch, sharing coffee, and just sitting around talking to people who were there to get their perspective on what they thought they were hearing. A couple of people on Saturday night wanted to go out for a couple of beers (they’re not all Baptist teatottlers), but by then I was exhausted and just wanted to get back to the hotel and go to bed.

But, in short (I know — “too late!”), my goal was to actually get to know people and deal with them on a personal level, to get past the stereotypes and presumptions. If it seems like I’m withhoding judgment, then you need to go back and re-read what I wrote. And you will also need to stick around for what I have tentatively planned for Final Thoughts.

Some of us are not so quick to believe the VERY recently changed words of people who have lied to us, slandered us and fought against our basic civil rights for DECADES. It doesn’t seem out of line to me that we might expect a couple of years of actions that back up their words before we start singing their praises.

That’s fair. I do believe that this conference was historic in many ways. What I don’t know — and no one else can know right now — is whether 2012 is a pivotal year or an abberation.

There are many ways this could turn out to be temporary, not the least of which is that the dissention within Exodus over these changes could bring about its demise or Chambers’s outster. I don’t think that either of these scenarios are far-fetched right now. But if either scenario occurs, I also believe that whoever/whatever comes along to replace Chambers or Exodus (and believe me, Exodus will be replaced if it goes under) will be far, far worse than what we’ve seen from Exodus in a long time. There are a lot of serious hardliners who feel marginalized, and they’re just looking for the chance for Exodus or Chambers to fall.

Jim Burroway
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

And by the way, I didn’t mean my last couple of sentences to suggest that we should be thankful for Exodus because the alternative would be worse. I’ll leave that assessment up to each of you. My point is simply that this is worth paying attention to, and worth understanding disspationately and as accurately as possible before applying value judgments on whether these latest developments are worth “complimenting” or denouncing. If you think that by simply doing that, that I am “singing their praises,” then I think that says more about you than me.

I’m not here to sing anyone’s praises. I’m also not here to call people evil incarnate. I’ll leave that to MSNBC and Fox. They are much better at those things than I am.

Timothy Kincaid
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

Neon Genesis,

Thank you for providing the quote in its entirety.

TampaZeke
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

I appreciate what you’re doing Jim. I always have. I certainly believe that this is very much worth covering. I just don’t trust these people. I have no reason to at this point. I don’t think snake oil salesmen change their ways over night. But to be clear, I’ve NEVER called them, or any other religious or non-religious person “evil incarnate”. People may not like the term “snake oil salesman” but I don’t think many people can argue that the term is inaccurate.

And I’m sorry if you’re offended that I think your post sounded like “singing praises” but that is my opinion. Whatever you think that says about me, so be it.

I do look forward to your next installment.

TampaZeke
July 10th, 2012 | LINK

Concerning my reference to Think Progress…I read a commentary on another site, I don’t remember where now, that cited a writer at Think Progress who was responding to the conference and the new and improved positions at Exodus. They were talking about specific things that were being said at the conference and were showing how at the same conference there were conflicting statements being made. I’m still trying to figure out where I read it but from the first hand accounts that were being cited it sounded pretty clear that the person was speaking from first hand knowledge. At the time I read it I had no idea that I would need to remember details about the article or where I read it. Now I wish I had, if for no other reason than to know if my reference was accurate.

David C.
July 11th, 2012 | LINK

I think that the change that we need to hear more about is how people can change or reject their religious beliefs to enable themselves to grow into human beings that are fulfilled, not stunted or damaged, by their sexual drive. —F Young

Helping people to find a middle way might in fact be the best thing for all concerned.

Ask just about any member of the LGBT community whether or not they made a “choice” to be gay and they are almost certainly going to tell you that they didn’t choose to be “same-sex attracted” or “homosexual”. They didn’t one day wake up and say “henceforth I am going to be attracted to members of the same sex”.

It’s also very unlikely you will find the parents of gay people started out practically day one indoctrinating their children into becoming gay, creating a climate in which it would be unthinkable for them to be anything but gay.

At the risk of overusing a cliche, gay people are born gay. Asymmetrically however, people are not born “religious” nor “believing” in anything.

This is of course an area of contention between the fundamentalism of much of Christianity with its long standing perception of homosexuality, and the reality of being gay as experienced by a truly gay (or otherwise positioned near the higher valued end the Kinsey spectrum) person.

I don’t expect that from Exodus, but, seriously, there is a dire need for this type of change and one would think that people would be willing to pay for it. I would think that it could be as good and lucrative a business model as the ex-gay business. —F Young

Proposing the monetization of “defaithing” or “dechurching” of people is, at first glance, unsettling. It just sounds wrong. On the other hand, when religious practice turns dangerous or harmful, “therapy” may in fact be something worthy of consideration when belief engenders feelings of guilt, inadequacy, or worthlessness. Many people can and do seek counseling or therapy to address such feelings. Just because these conditions are induced by damage that may have been done in the name of religion doesn’t make them any less harmful.

In reality, there is a middle road, one that takes us a step closer to a more perfected personal (and interpersonal) tranquility: the acceptance of the differences between us and the emergence of societal norms that respect the need, even right, of the individual to grow up in a healthy environment, free of outmoded beliefs in old-age thinking, but also free to embrace their vision of their place in the universe. Implied in this is the need to respect the role of faith in the lives of many and how individual interpretations of legends and sacred texts can for some people be beneficial and help them to be more fulfilled and comforted.

Christianity has, over the centuries, incorporated into its traditions some very unhelpful beliefs and orthodoxy. Many of those missteps were based on the mistaken belief that because something is unknown, its operation can only be ascribed to God’s will. We now know this to be completely wrong in many cases and we have rejected superstitions, practices, and traditions that were embraced by those that peopled the stories and parables of the bible. The time has come to add condemnation of homosexuality to that list.

Blake
July 11th, 2012 | LINK

Thanks for the great coverage Jim. My concern with this new shift in Exodus’ message is how it’s going to play out at the individual & church level. Perhaps you’ll get into this in the future posts, but was there any attempt to couch the “new goals” (celibacy or mixed-orientation marriages) in specific terms so that it doesn’t get out of hand when a pastor tries to take such a message to the pulpit? Or is that not their focus?

Put another way: if Exodus is now “supporting them in their daily walk” as opposed to trying to change them are they teaching or explicitly encouraging church-leadership to do the same?

Thanks & congrats on your recent award.

Timothy Kincaid
July 11th, 2012 | LINK

Zeke,

I disagree with characterizing Exodus as snake oil salesmen. (However, I do not consider it a slur or a phrase that is intended solely to demean).

Generally a snake oil salesman is pure deception, using trickery to present and profit from a product that they know has no value. I don’t think that fits well with Exodus – even during the “change” days.

First, most of Exodus’ focus was inward. They never tried to sell most of us anything and it has never been about money to them.

And Exodus leadership and members believed in their product. They were self medicating and any testimony about healing was as much hope and faith and determination as it was, shall we say, less than factual.

We are talking perception about intention, something difficult to measure even in ones own self, and I don’t fault you for having a different perspective than mine or insist that I’m more accurate.

But, for me, another comparison comes to mind.

In 1985 my young friend Vance excitedly told me about a new treatment for AIDS which involved oxygen. He was certain that this was the answer.

It wasn’t – and I attended his funeral later that year – but he wasn’t trying to sell me anything or deceive me or trick me in any way. He was sharing with me his desperate hope.

And while we believe that Exodus was trying to cure an ill that doesn’t need curing, their efforts have always felt to me to be more desperation than deception.

Neon Genesis
July 11th, 2012 | LINK

So now Exodus is back to dodging questions and being vague: http://www.exgaywatch.com/wp/2012/07/exodus-and-alan-chambers-still-vague-on-change/

TampaZeke
July 11th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy, that’s a fair point. However I think Exodus did promote the very unhappiness, self-hate and despair for gay people that they then would step in and say was caused, not by homophobia, but by homosexuality itself and that THEY had the answer to cure the unhappiness and despair. In your example, it would be like the Oxygen therapy sales people infecting people with HIV and then telling them that their therapy was the answer. Even if they really, really believed that the therapy would work it wouldn’t excuse them promoting, through rhetoric, seminars, billboards, etc., the very thing that they are trying to cure. I’ve spoken to many, many people “struggling with unwanted same sex attraction” and it seems that a very common theme is that the hate being “other”, “outcast”, ostracized, hated, pitied, etc. and they blame all of these things, and the resulting drug/alcohol and sexual addiction on their homosexuality instead of on homophobia. Exodus very much played on that and promoted that perception. I think anyone who has been through Exodus, Love Won Out or any of the other ex-gay ministries would attest to that.

Timothy Kincaid
July 13th, 2012 | LINK

Zeke,

Okay, that has merit. While Exodus was never the original source of the message, they did contribute or insufficiently contradict. (although to be nuanced, while the conservative evangelical worldview put homosexuality itself as the culprit, exodus would have been a smidgen better and have said that it was accepting and acting on one’s same sex attraction – theologically a vast improvement but in terms of mental health not much at all).

Karen
July 13th, 2012 | LINK

I am skeptical about what is happening at Exodus–especially since a very sudden about face. Yes, there has been some positive changes. But, take a look at this article that just got published by Exodus Vice President, Jeff Buchanan three days ago: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/07/10/the-new-sexual-identity-crisis-2/

There is a section specifically about how a person should not call themselves gay because it interferes with hope for change in sexual orientation (see below). This just confirms that Chambers and company are engaging in the same old double speak that has been going on for years. While Chambers says Exodus is getting away from fixation on change, Buchanan is saying gays should “wait” and “hope” for it.

Quote:

“3) Absolute Anchor

While some who suffer receive immediate explanations from God, others are challenged to wait. In the midst of waiting, we must always have hope. An identity rooted in same-sex attractions serves as an anchor that keeps us docked in our present circumstance. We have accepted our lot in life, and experience now becomes our identity. Should a person ever develop a desire to explore a heterosexual relationship, he or she will find it difficult to overcome the label that can deter interested parties.”

Michael C
July 14th, 2012 | LINK

Thanks for finding that quote, Karen. While your focus is on the self harm of Exodus’ ministry, I am further shocked by the damage they can do to those close to their gay clients. For me, blaming parents and deceiving “sympathetic spouses” is a worse crime than shaming gay people.

“Should a person ever develop a desire to explore a heterosexual relationship, he or she will find it difficult to overcome the label [gay] that can deter interested parties.”

Buchanan is correct. Telling a potential life partner “I may never be physically attracted to you” will deter them from marrying you.

…and it should.

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