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Rival Ex-Gay Group Forms to Challenge Exodus

Jim Burroway

July 22nd, 2012

Poster for the Restoring Hope conference in Sacramento (Click to enlarge).

Michael Bussee this morning alerted me to a new group that is forming to challenge Exodus International as the dominant ex-gay organization in Evangelical Christianity. Restored Hope Network has announced via Facebook and an Eventbrite page that there will be a weekend gathering in the Sacramento, California, area for a short conference called “Restoring Hope: Healing for the Sexually and Relationally Broken” on September 21 and 22. Three announced speakers include Robert Gagnon, Frank Worthen, and Andrew Comiskey, and the entire event is being billed as the “inaugural conference” for the nascent group. The conference is taking place at Sunrise Community Church, which sponsors HIS Ministry, one of eleven ex-gay ministries which has left Exodus International over the past few months.

The Facebook page, which indicates the group was founded on May 2, lists several important name as founding members of Restored Hope:

With the election of the forming committee in early May, the work to begin this new network began. The forming committee consists of Frank Worthen, Anne Paulk, Andy and Annette Comiskey, Dr. Robert Gagnon, Joe Dallas, Stephen Black, David Kyle Foster, and Michael Newman.

These names include some of the most prominent names of the ex-gay movement, and many of them have long historic ties to Exodus:

Frank Worthen’s New Hope Ministry was one of the founding ministries of Exodus International back in 1976. Worthen also founded Love In Action, a residential ex-gay ministry which eventually became an independent organization and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where it now operates as Restoration Path.

Anne Pauk, an ex-lesbian and wife of former ex-gay spokesman John Paulk, is a prominent author and speaker in the ex-gay movement. She and John were a featured couple in a massive national publicity campaign in 1998 on behalf of the ex-gay movement, a campaign that landed them on the cover of Newsweek. John Paulk was serving as chairman of the board of Exodus International from 1995 to 2000 when he was photographed by Wayne Besen while leaving a gay bar in Washington, D.C. Despite the scandal, John Paul remained active in the ex-gay movement until 2003, when he left Focus On the Family and the couple resettled in Portland, Oregon and John started a catering business. Anne has continued to write books and lecture as an “ex-lesbian.” Truth Wins Out’s Wayne Besen has been told that the Paulks may have separated.

Andrew Comiskey has been a major player in Exodus International from its earliest days as an outgrowth of an early Southern California church movement known as the Vineyard. He once served as president at Exodus International, and his Desert Stream Ministries has been among the largest and most prominent ministries in the Exodus International network, and its popular Living Waters program is used by many ex-gay ministries throughout the world.  In April, Comiskey issued a letter to Exodus president Alan 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.”

Robert Gagnon’s association with the ex-gay movement has been somewhat less extensive, mainly focused in providing theological support. He spoke at a Wednesday morning plenary session at a 2009 Exodus annual conference in Wheaton, Illinois. He also provided two workshops at that conference, the first on homosexuality and the Bible, and the second on the church’s response to homosexuality. In late June,Gagnon wrote an exhausting 35-page response to Alan Chambers’s recent changes at Exodus, and he has emerged as one of the sharpest and loudest critics in the popular media of Chambers’s change of direction.

Joe Dallas may be the most surprising founding member of Restored Hope, although I suspected something was up when he was nowhere to be found at the Exodus conference this year in Minneapolis. (His wife, Rene Dallas, was there to provide workshops for spouses of “strugglers.”) He served as Exodus International president from 1991 to 1993. Dallas has spoken at every Exodus conference for the last five years that I’m able to track down, including during plenary sessions in 2011, 2010 and 2007. Dallas has also been a longtime speaker at the Love Won Out conferences.  Dallas’s Genesis Counseling is still listed as an Exodus member ministry.

Stephen Black is the founder of Oklahoma City-based First Stone Ministry, another of the founding ministries of Exodus International in 1976. Has also been highly active in Exodus, including providing a workshop at Exodus’s annual conferences from 2008 to 2011. Black announced that his ministry officially resigned from Exodus in April, which is at about the same time of Comisky’s letter to Chambers. Further signs of Black and Comisky joining forces arose when Black announced that Comisky would be speaking at a church outside of Oklahoma City in an event sponsored and promoted by First Stone.

David Kyle Foster operates Mastering Life Ministries, the television ministry behind Pure Passion, a television program broadcast on the internet and several Christian television channels. Foster does not describe himself as ex-gay in particular, but instead points to his struggle “with a serious bondage to pornography and other sexually addictive behaviors” as his link to the ex-gay movement.

Michael Newman, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, is founder of the Houston-based Christian Coalition for Reconciliation, “an educational, support, and discipling ministry for those struggling with homosexuality.” It is another former Exodus member ministry that withdrew from the network earlier this year.

The entire “Restoring Hope” theme of the new network is an apparent jab at Exodus International’s changes in message and focus over the last several months, beginning with Alan Chambers’s acknowledgment last January 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.” His later repudiation of the particular type of counseling intended to change sexual orientation known as Reparative Therapy led to a further break from Exodus’s past. It also led to a break between Exodus and  nearly a dozen member ministries in Exodus’s network, notably including Comiskey’s Desert Streams Ministries and Worthen’s New Hope Ministries.

Comments

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Dan
July 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Isn’t there anyone who became ex-gay after the early 1990s? There doesn’t seem to be a single new face among these leaders. And by new, I mean anyone who became ex-gay after Clinton was President.

The unavoidable truth is that if their ministries worked, there would be an ever-increasing population of ex-gays in the US and a portion of these people would become ambassadors for the movement and/or leaders of their own groups. There would be dramatic expansion as the base continued to grow. Instead there is decline and a stagnant leadership pool. This alone tells you something about the efficacy of the program.

David Roberts
July 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Joe Dallas doesn’t surprise me at all, he fits right in with that bunch. He has been merciless in his rejection of the idea that gays can be Christians and was slated to speak at a PFOX conference earlier this year.

Steve
July 22nd, 2012 | LINK

It was obvious that this would happen. It’s also not surprising that they are becoming ever more radical. There are some real whackjobs on that list.

Timothy Kincaid
July 22nd, 2012 | LINK

For years, any who dared suggest that reorientation was not a reasonable expectation was accused of destroying the hope of the strugglers. Results were secondary to hope. So the name is a logical extension of that thinking.

To me, I think it’s very fitting. Lacking the faith to question their certainties and the charity to treat others with civility, the last of the three is hope.

I have to laugh at including Gagnon. I think that is a decision they will regret.

PJB863
July 22nd, 2012 | LINK

None of this surprises me. How else are these people going to make a living?

David Roberts
July 22nd, 2012 | LINK

I have to laugh at including Gagnon. I think that is a decision they will regret.

You better believe it!  That is one weird little man that no one will be able to satisfy.  Fitting, really, considering the ex-gay movement in general set unattainable goals for others.

Michael Bussee
July 22nd, 2012 | LINK

“Restoring Hopeless Cause.”

homer
July 22nd, 2012 | LINK

There’s a lot of money to be made in this scam. A friend of a friend spent over $1,000 for an Exodus conference in Chicago and claimed he was “cured” afterward. He is basically a suicide waiting to happen.

TampaZeke
July 23rd, 2012 | LINK

Fortunately for the ex-gay industry there will ALWAYS be people who are ignorant enough, fearful enough, misguided enough, deluded enough, desperate enough, self-hating enough and/or religiously convicted/devoted enough to seek their services and pay their fees.

Reed Boyer
July 23rd, 2012 | LINK

The dinner seating assignments have been changed on the “Titanic,” but the iceberg is still out there.

Scott
July 23rd, 2012 | LINK

I wonder if they’ve recruited Dennis Jernigan yet. Based on his recent history, he’d be a good fit as well, “grieved heart” and all.

Michael Bussee
July 23rd, 2012 | LINK

UPDATE: I have just learned (from a very reliable source) that Joe Dallas has NOT left Exodus and will remain part of BOTH networks…

Randy
July 23rd, 2012 | LINK

Jim, Anne was never married to the former Pope (John Paul) :)… might want to change that li’l typo.

I just left the following on Warren’s blog, hope you don’t mind posting it here as well:

“I think if people who are truly interested in understanding the movement as a whole will see that the “paradigm” split isn’t just a two way one or two issue affair. There is a huge complex nature to this movement with many many different characters and beliefs.”

It’s always been that way and those who consider themselves “watch-dog” groups have really been lazy in not picking up on that well before now.

Jim Burroway
July 23rd, 2012 | LINK

Li’l typo fixed.

Timothy Kincaid
July 23rd, 2012 | LINK

I understand that St. Jude is their patron saint

Timothy Kincaid
July 23rd, 2012 | LINK

Randy,

Funny thing about people, they tend to be too complex for two dimensional cookie cutter labels. So yes, indeed we all need to think of each other as more fully human. And we gay folk do need to do our part.

Of course the other funny thing about people is that they LOVE two dimensional cookie cutter labels. So it’s no surprise that while exodus leadership moved away from such thinking about sexuality and faith and gay people, a rival had to arise to provide for some good ol stereotypes. Or that many gay folk insist its a ploy.

I hope, however, that in time we all will seek to understand each other more than we object to each other. But it won’t be easy on either side. There’s a lot of pain, resentment, and presumption that both sides have felt and experienced and while we’re getting there, we aren’t all yet ready to join hands and sing kumbiyah

Regan DuCasse
July 23rd, 2012 | LINK

I’ve been back and forth with some folks over at Matt Moore’s site.

Blaming Satan for the turn off ex gays can be, is more of that infuriating dodge.
I even remarked that some Christians are SO overbearing, that’s why people are turning away.

I had to say that experience is a greater teacher than faith. And some people are getting to know better about gay folks than the say so that anti gay and ex gay groups represent.

This splinter effect happening with Exodus now, is interesting to watch. Perhaps they’ll be so splintered, they’ll be dust. And very soon.

William
July 24th, 2012 | LINK

Comiskey’s comment that “Alan’s comments about change unwittingly played into the enemy’s hands” may be a pointer to the mentality behind this group: it suggests that truth is the enemy of the “ex-gay” cause. “Tell the truth and shame the devil,” my Nan always used to say.

Michael Bussee
July 24th, 2012 | LINK

Wondering how Joe Dallas can reconcile being part of Exodus and at the same time serving as one of the leaders of the new network — especially considering the fact that leaders of RHN have accused Alan Chambers of doctrinal heresy, that they are upset with him for abandoning the hope of orientation change and that they have called on Alan to step down…

johnson
July 24th, 2012 | LINK

The “Ex-Gay” industry has long been a Cash Cow for the right-wing religions. They aren’t about to give it up for one nano-second. It’s all about the Money, folks.

Jim Burroway
July 24th, 2012 | LINK

They aren’t about to give it up for one nano-second. It’s all about the Money, folks.

Anyone who believes that is seriously underestimating them. These people are true believers, and they would continue doing what they’re doing even if it doesn’t earn them a red cent. I’ve looked at financial records for Exodus and NARTH. NARTH is particularly cash poor. Exodus is in considerably better shape, but they aren’t exactly swimming in money. I’ve always been baffled by this thinking, that if it was only about money, then they would go away if the money went away. They won’t. These people have dedicated their very lives to do what they’re doing. And none of them are living in mansions.

Underestimating the intensity of our opponents is something we have been doing far, far too often. And we’ve paid at the polls time and time again because of it.

William
July 24th, 2012 | LINK

Jim is absolutely right. The “ex-gay” industry isn’t a money-spinner. It MAY be possible to make a reasonably comfortable income by running an “ex-gay” program, but no more than that, and very few, I suspect, manage even that. In fact, it’s a pity that the motive isn’t money, because if it were, they’d have given up this pernicious nonsense as a dead loss and turned to something more lucrative long ago.

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