Another Exodus Conference Is Upon Us. Let’s Review.

Jim Burroway

June 18th, 2013

If this post rambles a bit, it’s because Exodus Internatonal’s history has been rambling over the past six years. I’ve been doing a bit of comparing and contrasting of Exodus today with Exodus of yore, when I attended my first “Freedom Conference” at Concordia University in Irvine, California in 2007. I also spent part of that weekend attending the very first gathering of ex-gay survivors for a Beyond Ex-Gay conference at the University of California, Irvine, just a couple of miles down the road. At that time, Exodus was in full culture-war mode. Organizers of the second conference invited Exodus President Alan Chambers and members of the board for a private dinner for dialogue before the conference. But Exodus characterized that gathering of ex-gay survivors as a “protest”, declined to attend, and made an announcement from the main stage at the start of a plenary that if any other ministry leaders or anyone else had received an invitation, they were requested to see Alan Chambers personally. Three ministry leaders did end up meeting for dinner with two ex-gay survivor organizers and two survivors themselves. (It was a private meeting, I wasn’t privy to the details and I don’t know whether they were there with or without Chambers’s blessing.) That weekend was also notable for the fact that three former Exodus-affilated leaders had issued a formal apology to those who were harmed by their participation in ex-gay ministries.

Five years later, I attended another Exodus “Freedom Conference” in St. Paul, Minnesota. That was a tremendous year of transition for the organization, and it showed in some of the confusing unevenness of that conference. On the positive side, the expectation of changing sexual orientation was gone — mostly, although traces of it continued to linger and re-appear here and there. One plenary speaker, Ricky Chelette of Arlington, TX-based Living Hope Ministry, all but proclaimed his heterosexuality in the way he talked about his wife. Executive vice-president Jeff Buchanan’s workshops struck me as particularly hard-nosed, and I recall that one workshop speaker, Marc, Dillworth, gave a rather blistering classic culture-war talk before parents of gay kids before describing his therapeutic techniques for “winning over the prodigal son.”

But I think those examples, in retrospect, can be seen as examples the proverbial exceptions which proved the new rules. It was the way in which they seemed to stick out, somewhat defiantly, that made the contrast to the overall conference all the stronger. It was as if we needed, from time to time, an archaic reminder of the way things used to be. Or, looked at another way, it was also as though a few people either didn’t attend some key pre-conference meetings or came away disagreeing with the requests being made.

But despite those hold-outs, most were on board. The message of change was mostly gone, replaced with a commitment to either living a celibate life or, for those who might be capable, marrying and remaining faithful to an opposite sex spouse — with emphasis on the former being perhaps the more realistic “default” for most people. Change was out, faithfulness to Christ (as they understand him) was in, and we’re all just here to support one another. And there were some rather honest and self-critical examinations, both formally and informally, of the many ways that Exodus has failed in the way that approached gay Christians in particular and gay people generally.

And Randy Thomas and I even declared something of a detente over green smoothies — two things I thought I’d never experience.

And yet, there were still elements of that conference that I found confusing. Even though here were no more talks about changing sexual orientation or methods for developing attractions toward the opposite sex, and books on Reparative Therapy were banned from the Exodus bookstore, a few stubborn vestiges of the old ways remained. The first morning of the conference featured two talks on a topic that was always a mainstay of Exodus conferences: “Understanding Homosexuality & Gender Development In Males” given by Chelette, and a counterpart workshop for women by Living Hope’s D’Ann Davis. Both of those talks hewed closely to developmental theories based on Reparative Therapy, which, without delving into details, poo-poo’ed the idea that there was any sort of biological basis for homosexuality and that it was all dependent in how you were raised.

Now I can write a whole series of blog posts delving into the science of sexual orientation development. There are hints of all kinds of things going on: environmental, in a few cases perhaps, but also genetics, epigenetics (the process by which identical twins have different fingerprints, iris patterns, and even some other features that can make them much less than identical), pre-natal hormones, birth order, bilateral asymmetry in the brain — all sorts of things. The picture that appears to emerge is that there are many contributing factors, and that those factors, in combination and various permutations, can be very different for many different people. What made you gay is probably quite different from what made me gay.

But none of that complexity was present in those workshops. Instead, they insisted that it all about childhood experiences, and that nobody was born gay. To throw more confusion into the mix, “temperament” was recognized as a factor, but that, somehow, was in no way innate, except, I guess, it’s somehow always there. Whatever. Yes, that’s was confusing, but let’s pull out to the bigger question: If changing one’s sexual orientation was no longer a realistic expectation, then what did it matter whether someone was born gay or were, according to their argument, made gay by their parents? What could it possibly matter either way?

Another year has passed, and things continue to change at Exodus. Buchanan left Exodus just three months after last year’s conference, a former Exodus president formally split from the organization in favor of a much more hard-core rival, Restored Hope Network, Exodus announced its withdrawal from the Exodus Global Alliance, and this week, Alan Chambers will appear on Our America, with Lisa Ling where he will listen to several ex-gay survivors and offer an apology.

And they are gathering, once again, at Concordia University in Irvine this week for another annual conference, with this year’s theme being “True Story.” I don’t know whether this conference will mark the completion of a transition, but I strongly suspect it will. Those talks about the development of sexual orientation are gone, for the first time, I suspect, in the history of the ex-gay movement. Instead, the emphasis appears to be on establishing more realistic expectations. I’m told that one workshop , “Let’s Talk: Masculinity,” and it’s counterpart, “Let’s Talk: Femininity,” will take a much more open-ended interactive approach to discussing masculinity and femininity, rather than relying on the imposition of rigid gender roles of old.

That’s not to say that Exodus is suddenly becoming a pro-gay organization, at least not how I would define it and not according to how Exodus’s more conservative detractors now characterize it. Sexual activity outside of a one-man-one-woman marriage is still a sin, although that message is now tempered with the theological understanding that all sinners who accept Jesus and are saved will go to heaven, which might be a very important, life-saving distinction for gay Christian kids if it can sink in. That seems, to me at least, to be a big “if” in light of contemporary conservative Christian culture, but it would at least represent the limits of a best-case scenario. More realistically, however, it still risks being seen as a conditional acceptance of a kind which can still place a huge burden on gay teens and young people — and, let’s be frank, adults also. They suffer, too, even if they aren’t often seen as being so vulnerable.

So this is my way of catching up to where Exodus is today. Once again, I will be attending the Exodus conference this week in Irvine. I really wanted to go to this one because I do believe that it will be a truly historic one for many reasons, including some that I can only speculate about now but hope to go into in further detail as events unfold. I don’t know if this conference will itself be earth-shattering, or wither it’s significance will grow only in retrospect. But I do know it will be like no other, and I want to be a witness to that. Six years ago, Chambers didn’t sit down with ex-gay survivors to hear their stories, but this week we will see him listening and offering an apology. Times really are changing.

Jim Hlavac

June 18th, 2013

We are all gay for the same reason: nature decrees it — in the six extra boys born, 106 boys/100 girls. See Bruce Bagemihl, “Biological Exuberance” — it’s his 800 page, 500 specie look at gayness in animals. The reality is — Gay IS! — and everything else is mere piffle. No one has gotten near the core of it — but keep looking at what went wrong — not what went right. Gayness is not something wrong or extraneous to a specie — but something that is core to its continuing. Heterosexuals, and far too many gay guys, simply can’t get around this stumbling block. Maybe if, as Frank Kameny suggested decades ago, we look for our science — and not rely on hetero scientists we’ll do a lot better.

It’s impossible for me to believe that every hetero is hetero for one reason, and every gay guy is different for any number of other reasons. Stop being Ptolemy and circular, but go for the cutting knife of Occam.

IT

June 18th, 2013

Don’t forget some of us are gay women.

for a primer on the science, I’ve described some of the genetics issues on my blog, Gay Married Californian: http://gaymarriedcalifornian.blogspot.com/p/genetics.html

I am a professor of genetics so I do actually know what I am talking about.

:-)

John D

June 19th, 2013

Just a correction, I assume the “University of Irvine” in the first paragraph is the UCI, the University of California, Irvine. There doesn’t seem to be a “University of Irvine.”

And although both institutions have the word “University” in their names, there really seems to be a stark difference between the two.

Jim Burroway

June 19th, 2013

You’re right. I’ve corrected the post.

Norm

June 19th, 2013

It’s also probably the first time Exodus has had to compete with a rival ex-gay conference – albeit in another state. That the Restored Hope Network would schedule its own conference simultaneous as Exodus’s conference indicates that the RHN intends to undermine or overtake Exodus’s significance.

I can’t say I’m particularly sorry about the ex-gay in-fighting, but it doesn’t seem particularly Christian to me.

Randy

June 19th, 2013

I am very glad you will be here. I am looking forward to seeing you again.

John D

June 20th, 2013

Jim,

A proud Anteater thanks you.

Leave A Comment

All comments reflect the opinions of commenters only. They are not necessarily those of anyone associated with Box Turtle Bulletin. Comments are subject to our Comments Policy.

(Required)
(Required, never shared)

PLEASE NOTE: All comments are subject to our Comments Policy.

 

Latest Posts

Jubal

Another Temporary Hiatus

Today's Agenda Is Brought To You By...

Today In History, 1971: Minnesota Couple Stake Claim To First American Same-Sex Marriage

Today's Agenda Is Brought To You By...

Today In History, 1954: "Perverts Vanish" From Miami

Born On This Day, 1907: Evelyn Hooker

Born On This Day, 1925: Fr. John J. McNeill

Featured Reports

What Are Little Boys Made Of?

In this original BTB Investigation, we unveil the tragic story of Kirk Murphy, a four-year-old boy who was treated for “cross-gender disturbance” in 1970 by a young grad student by the name of George Rekers. This story is a stark reminder that there are severe and damaging consequences when therapists try to ensure that boys will be boys.

Slouching Towards Kampala: Uganda’s Deadly Embrace of Hate

When we first reported on three American anti-gay activists traveling to Kampala for a three-day conference, we had no idea that it would be the first report of a long string of events leading to a proposal to institute the death penalty for LGBT people. But that is exactly what happened. In this report, we review our collection of more than 500 posts to tell the story of one nation’s embrace of hatred toward gay people. This report will be updated continuously as events continue to unfold. Check here for the latest updates.

Paul Cameron’s World

In 2005, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that “[Paul] Cameron’s ‘science’ echoes Nazi Germany.” What the SPLC didn”t know was Cameron doesn’t just “echo” Nazi Germany. He quoted extensively from one of the Final Solution’s architects. This puts his fascination with quarantines, mandatory tattoos, and extermination being a “plausible idea” in a whole new and deeply disturbing light.

From the Inside: Focus on the Family’s “Love Won Out”

On February 10, I attended an all-day “Love Won Out” ex-gay conference in Phoenix, put on by Focus on the Family and Exodus International. In this series of reports, I talk about what I learned there: the people who go to these conferences, the things that they hear, and what this all means for them, their families and for the rest of us.

Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"

The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing The Myths

At last, the truth can now be told.

Using the same research methods employed by most anti-gay political pressure groups, we examine the statistics and the case studies that dispel many of the myths about heterosexuality. Download your copy today!

And don‘t miss our companion report, How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps.

Testing The Premise: Are Gays A Threat To Our Children?

Anti-gay activists often charge that gay men and women pose a threat to children. In this report, we explore the supposed connection between homosexuality and child sexual abuse, the conclusions reached by the most knowledgeable professionals in the field, and how anti-gay activists continue to ignore their findings. This has tremendous consequences, not just for gay men and women, but more importantly for the safety of all our children.

Straight From The Source: What the “Dutch Study” Really Says About Gay Couples

Anti-gay activists often cite the “Dutch Study” to claim that gay unions last only about 1½ years and that the these men have an average of eight additional partners per year outside of their steady relationship. In this report, we will take you step by step into the study to see whether the claims are true.

The FRC’s Briefs Are Showing

Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council submitted an Amicus Brief to the Maryland Court of Appeals as that court prepared to consider the issue of gay marriage. We examine just one small section of that brief to reveal the junk science and fraudulent claims of the Family “Research” Council.

Daniel Fetty Doesn’t Count

Daniel FettyThe FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics aren’t as complete as they ought to be, and their report for 2004 was no exception. In fact, their most recent report has quite a few glaring holes. Holes big enough for Daniel Fetty to fall through.