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Posts for October, 2007

Alan Chambers “Returns To Sodomy”?

Fred Hutchison said that Paul Cameron said that Alan Chambers said...

Jim Burroway

October 11th, 2007

It looks like Warren Throckmorton is on some pretty entertaining email lists. He reports on an email by Fred Hutchison, a columnist on the particularly virulent website Renew America, which has gained wider circulation among social conservatives. That email goes like this:

Ex-gay leader returns to sodomy

According to Paul Cameron of the Family Research Institute Alex Chambers, (sic) Director of Exodus International, the largest Evangelical organization for ex-gays declared that he is no longer ex-gay and is not sure he has ever met an ex-gay! He is now calling to Evangelicals to reconcile with practicing gays.

Don’t you just love it when someone takes Paul Cameron’s word for something?

Warren contacted Hutchison, who responded by citing last June’s LA Times story (which says no such thing) and Cameron again, saying, “I really thought Paul Cameron and the LA Times were adequate sources because I had no intention to publish.”

I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean. I also have no idea whether Cameron actually claimed that Exodus President Alan Chambers “returned to sodomy,” or if Hutchison quoted Cameron accurately. I am quite confident that Chambers hasn’t “returned to sodomy” — that much I can say. But is it too terribly wrong of me to think that this sounds like something Cameron might say?

Whenever Cameron has written about the ex-gay movement, he’s been particularly critical of Exodus. This goes at least as far back as his October 1998 newsletter, when Cameron zeroed in on what he sees as the essential problem of ex-gay ministries like Exodus — they’re too nice:

The result among ex-gay ministries has often been an attitude that those who engage in homosexuality are deserving of delicate treatment, precisely because they consider homosexuals “victims of circumstance.” In fact, the tactics of the ex-gay groups sometimes so avoid direct criticism of homosexual behavior that they almost sound like quasi-apologists for the gay movement. They frequently use the same words gays use, words like homophobia, etc. And these leaders are often reticent to call homosexuality what it is — deadly dangerous.

Boy, oh boy. I have no idea what ex-gay conferences or literature Cameron’s been exposed to, but I haven’t seen much evidence of “delicate treatment” from the ex-gay movement. But that might just be a matter of perspective. Maybe Cameron would be more approving if the ex-gay movement adopted some of the “proven techniques” developed by Nazi Germany which Cameron admires so much.

Anyway, Cameron continues:

This is one of the difficulties with the philosophy undergirding Exodus. FRI regards homosexuality not as a disease from which one must be cured, nor necessarily a bruise from an inadequate or defective childhood that must be healed, but a bad habit that must be broken no matter how it came to be acquired. Digging about in a person’s past often involves mining for face-saving excuses, and has no particular relevance to breaking adopted habits.

Since FRI regards homosexuality as merely a habit (Don’t you love how Cameron refers to himself in the institutional third person?), the solution to that habit is simple. Just stop doing it and move on:

But those in leadership positions in the ex-gay movement often appear unwilling to simply move on, get away from homosexuality, and get a life. Being involved with the Ex-ministry keeps them around homosexuality and homosexuals. Instead of “getting away and staying away,” they retain a toehold in the gay world.

Cameron’s opinion of Exodus hasn’t changed much since 1998. He returned to the subject last July, prompted by what Alan Chambers told the LA Times:

Alan Chambers directs Exodus International, widely described as the nation’s largest ex-gay ministry. But when he addresses the group’s Freedom Conference at Concordia University in Irvine this month, Chambers won’t celebrate successful ‘ex-gays.’ Truth is, he’s not sure he’s ever met one.

… [L]ately, he’s come to resent the term “ex-gay”: It’s too neat, implying a clean break with the past, when he still struggles at times with homosexual temptation. “By no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete,” Chambers said.

Those comments served as a launching pad for Cameron’s long and rambling critique of the ex-gay movement which appeared in the July 2007 issue of the FRI Report (not available online). Here, Cameron loses patience with both arms of the movement – the ministerial branch represented by Exodus, as well as the clinical branch represented by NARTH and personified by one of its founders, Dr. Charles Socarides. In fact, Cameron spends nearly three pages criticizing Socarides’ psychological approaches to homosexuality.

And in the end, Cameron remains dissatisfied that nobody seems to understand what he thinks is so clear: that homosexuality is nothing more than a “habit.” And the best way to break the habit is to stay completely away from anyone else who is prone to that same habit:

‘Common sense’ holds that if one has a bad habit – involving sex or drugs or anything else that can be intensely pleasurable – that individual has got to stop feeding it. Then they must get out and stay away from those with whom they associated while indulging their habit and any of its associated pleasures….

FRI believes that the folk involved in Exodus and NARTH are sincere, caring people. But FRI, believing in ‘common sense,’ is skeptical about any ‘curative program’ that physically puts together many of those seeking healing from a particular bad habit.

After recalling Michael Bussee’s example (He was one of the original founders of Exodus before leaving with his partner and fellow volunteer, Cary Cooper, to become one of Exodus’ strongest critics), Cameron finally returns his attention the Chambers’ remarks on the fifth page. That’s where Cameron accuses Chambers of potentially making the same “mistake” Bussee made:

These ‘healing programs’ defy common sense. Instead of running away from homosexuality and those who participate in it, ex-gay movement leaders immerse themselves — albeit with a different motivation, a motivation to help their fellow former-habitué’s. Who knows how much this ‘re-immersion’ affected Bussee’s decision making?

And when it comes to Chambers, perhaps he hasn’t met an ex-gay because those who leave the lifestyle AND distance themselves from hanging around homosexuals or former homosexuals aren’t around for him to talk to. And why should they?

Cameron concludes:

Perhaps Alan Chambers’ ‘spilling the beans’ might be the wake-up call that the Evangelical Church can hear. If the main defense of the Church against the homosexual movement boils down to ‘converting’ homosexuals away from participation in homosexuality, it is hard to see how victory can be denied the gay movement. Yet this very tactic is being vigorously pushed by Focus on the Family at its ‘Love Won Out’ conferences.

… Chambers is calling for the Church to abandon its historic stance against homosexuality and adopt instead the ‘insights’ of psychiatric theory. He is in step with Joe Dallas, an ex-gay who delivers the last address at many of the ‘Love Won Out’ conferences. In that address Dallas compares the Church’s treatment of those who practice homosexuality to the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis’s. That’s what FRI would call taking psychiatric theory seriously!! [Emphasis in the original]

Imagine the impertinence of Joe Dallas using the Nazi angle! Why, that’s Cameron’s domain!

Clearly Cameron is not Alan Chamber’s greatest fan, nor does he think much of Exodus, ex-gay ministries or secular “reparative” therapy. Throughout his career, Cameron has made it clear that he’d rather go the punishment route instead.

Cameron seems to think that Chambers’ continuing association with “homosexuals or former homosexuals” is flirting with danger. What’s more, Cameron is outraged that Chambers occasionally speaks out about “compassion” towards the gay community. Again, I have no idea if Cameron actually claimed that Chambers “returned to sodomy.” I personally doubt it myself. But given his writings on Chambers and the ex-gay movement, it would appear that Cameron sees little difference.

Dark Clouds In the Sunshine State

Jim Burroway

September 21st, 2007

Greetings from Tampa

I’m in Tampa, and it’s been nice and sunny today. But instead of heading to the beach, I’ve been spending my day in nearby Brandon attending the Family Impact Summit where the skies are considerably darker.

In case you haven’t heard, our country has been lead by principalities and powers. They are rich, they are powerful, their leaders make hundreds of thousands of dollars from their activism. “We have to stand up against an evil agenda. It is an evil agenda and it will take anyone captive that is willing, or that is standing idly by,” Alan Chambers said as he neared the conclusion of his talk.

All of that was just from Alan Chamber’s talk this morning. It was interesting to hear him before a very different audience: it wasn’t CNN, and it wasn’t in front of “strugglers” at Love Won Out or the Exodus Freedom Conference. This was in front of culture warriers, on a panel called “The Homosexual Agenda,” with fellow panelists Robert Knight (Media Research Center), Peter Sprigg (Family Research Council), and Chris Stoval (Alliance Defense Fund).

And that is just scratching the surface of what I saw at the Family Impact Summit. It’s been a long day, and I have another full day tomorrow. But stay tuned. I’ll have so much more to share once I catch my breath.

Exodus Press Release Spins Study

Jim Burroway

September 15th, 2007

Yesterday, I made the mistake of promising a detailed review of the synopsis from Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse of their new ex-gay study. Little did I know that unexpected company would be dropping in this weekend. So watch this space for my review sometime Monday.

Meanwhile, Exodus is pleased as punch about Jones’ and Yarhouse’s ex-gay study:

Alan Chambers, a former homosexual and President of Exodus International, responded to the study findings at today’s press conference, “Finally, there is now scientific evidence to prove what we as former homosexuals have known all along – that those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction can experience freedom from it.”

Alan Chambers’ sweeping generalization “that those who struggle.. can experience freedom” isn’t supported by the study. At best, a few (namely, eleven out of this sample of seventy-three) found freedom — that is, if freedom means “satisfactory, if not uncomplicated, heterosexual adjustment” as Jones and Yarhouse so carefully put it. Another seventeen decided that celibacy was good enough. Not what I’d call freedom, but hey — different strokes, right?

Update: Here’s the review I promised: A Preliminary Review of Jones and Yarhouse’s “Ex-Gay? A Longitudinal Study”

Part 5: “Love Won Out”: A Candid Explanation For “Change”

Jim Burroway

August 2nd, 2007

As I said in previous posts, most of the people who attended the “Love Won Out” ex-gay conference in Phoenix on February 10 were not gay or lesbian “strugglers” seeking change. That audience was mainly made up of concerned parents, family and friends of gays and lesbians. In fact, the whole purpose of the all-day “Love Won Out” conference was to introduce people to the world of ex-gay movement and the idea that “freedom from homosexuality is possible.”

But the very people most affected by this message — gays and lesbians themselves — were largely absent. There was just a small smattering according to one show of hands. And so most of the concerned parents, family members, and friends of gays and lesbians who made up the bulk of the audience were typically unaccompanied by the very people everyone was talking about. This meant that as these people heard speakers from Exodus, NARTH and Focus on the Family (some of whom described themselves as “former homosexuals”) talking about what it meant to be gay, but most of these audience members didn’t have their own children or loved ones with them to talk about the things they heard. So the speakers were free to characterize these loved ones’ lives without fear of contradiction.

And this, I believe, was one of the worst shortcomings of the whole experience. During breaks between sessions, I heard several parents project what they heard onto their own children — sometimes without any evidence that what they heard actually applied to their child’s experience. I personally witnessed one parent break into tears with the new-found certainty that her son must have been molested. “You heard her. That lady (Melissa Fryrear) said so,” she said between tears. I also heard other parents who had already had these conversations with their children but didn’t believe them because what they heard from the “experts” at the conference. “Well, she said nothing ever happened, but…”

And if the abject fear that one’s child might have been molested wasn’t bad enough, there were the fathers who blamed themselves for their sons’ homosexuality. My heart sunk when I heard them groan on hearing NARTH Presdient Joseph Nicolosi saying, “We advise fathers, if you don’t hug your sons, another man will.” I talked to quite a few fathers who seemed to take Nicolosi’s theory quite personally, and they were greatly burdened by it. More recently, I spoke with a father who attended a different Love Won Out conference. He referred to Nicolosi’s talk and confided, “I can only hope that someday Jesus will forgive me.”

The other main focus of the conference — when it wasn’t focused on the presumed “causes” of homosexuality — was on the meaning and nature of “change.” As speaker after speaker promised a “complete and radical change,” these parents pinned their hopes on each of these promises. And for every one of the featured speakers in the general sessions, the nature of change was simple: a very specific change in sexual attractions or orientation.

Joseph Nicolosi was the keynote speaker that morning, and he described a succession of clients who had “no more homosexual attractions” and whose homosexuality became “nonexistent.” Immediately following Nicolosi’s talk, we heard Exodus Board Chairman Mike Haley give his life story as a former homosexual, complete with pictures of his beautiful wife and children on the large multimedia screen behind him. Soon after that, we heard Focus On the Family’s Melissa Fryrear declare her infatuation with red-headed men who would look good in a kilt. (She jokingly declared, “That movie Braveheart changed my life!”) And later that afternoon, we heard Nancy Heche, actress Anne Heche’s mother, describe a special blessing that delivered her daughter from a “lesbian affair” with Ellen DeGeneres.

A Candid Exception

While I believe most of the descriptions of change were either misleading or unrealistic, there was one candid exception that I wish more of these parents could have heard. It would have given them a better idea of what their sons and daughters would be up against in pursuing “change” — especially the sort of change promised by the featured speakers.

During the first set of breakout sessions just before lunchtime, Exodus president Alan Chambers gave a talk titled, “Hope for Those Who Struggle.” As the title suggests, this workshop was targeted towards the few who were struggling with their sexuality — although undoubtedly there were a number of parents and family members there as well. But only about 75 people attended his session, a tiny fraction of the 800 attendees at the conference overall. So generally speaking, this was a relatively “safe” audience, safe enough for Alan to try to set realistic expectations for change and describe what change really means.

Alan began his talk by describing his own unrealistic expectations for “change.” When he first began to attend an Exodus-affiliated ministry at the age of eighteen, he thought that his sexual attractions would change from gay to straight in pretty short order. But after a few years in the ministry, he learned that his goals were unrealistic, and he warned his small audience that they needed to adjust their goals as well:

And I’m going to shatter your world here: heterosexuality shouldn’t be your number one goal. Whether that’s for yourself or for your kid or for your loved one or your friend or your family member. Heterosexuality shouldn’t have been my number one goal. The opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality. It’s holiness.

And I think we in the church often get that wrong. We think, okay, the best thing for this person who’s involved with homosexuality or involve with lesbianism is that they come out of that lifestyle and go into heterosexuality. If that’s all we think is necessary, we’re setting people up for a terrible fall. The opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality. It’s holiness.

Part of this statement reinforces a larger theme of the conference, that homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity. Here, he sets it as being “opposite” of holiness, which only adds to the burden of those who were there. After all, wickedness is more commonly understood as being the opposite of holiness. So casting homosexuality on the same side of the spectrum as wickedness is a terribly damaging way to characterize the lives of gays and lesbians everywhere. Besides, heterosexuality is not, in and of itself, holy either. But that went unsaid, which was pretty much on par for Love Won Out.

But most of this statement represents a dramatic departure from the rest of the conference in terms of the nature and likelihood of change. It certainly stands at the polar opposite of Dr. Nicolosi’s absolute confidence that homosexuality becomes “nonexistent” once an emotional connection is made. According to Allan, same sex attractions may not necessarily diminish no matter how hard one tries or how many prayers are said. Instead, the “change” that takes place is not a change in sexual orientation; it’s a change in faith. The “conversion” is not sexual orientation conversion, it’s a religious one.

“I Deny What Comes Naturally To Me”

More specifically, this change is actually the exchanging of one’s identity from gay to Christian, since the two identities cannot coexist in the worldview of Exodus or Focus On the Family. This emphasis on a change in identity is at the very heart of the ex-gay message. But even with this new identity as a Christian, merely forsaking the old identity of gay or homosexual doesn’t mean that one’s homosexuality will actually go away:

… Second Corinthians 5:17 says those who are in Christ are a new creation. The old is gone and the new has come. And again in the Christian community — I’m pointing my finger at myself too — we often hijack that verse to mean those who come to Christ, those who come to Jesus are perfect. Everything’s gone, the old life is gone, and the new has come and it’s all going to be wonderful from here.

And I think again, we do a disservice to people that we share that Scripture with, that we explain that Scripture to when we say that once you have a relationship with Jesus Christ that it’s all going to be better and you’re never going to struggle again. And the truth is, you’re going to dash your expectations that way. If that’s what we expect of ourselves and what we expect of other people, we’re going to be endlessly disappointed.

And this is where Alan’s talk turned very personal. He cited Matthew 16:24 (“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’”) before getting to the very heart of the matter of “change” in his own life:

…In the early days of when I started speaking and debating and doing all sorts of things related to the issue of homosexuality and took my position with Exodus, people used to say, “Oh Alan, you’re just in denial.” I used to get so mad when they’d say, “You’re just in denial. You’re just denying who you’re really are.” And I’d say, “No I’m not. I’m not in denial! I’m not in denial!”

And then I came to the place where I realized, you know what? God calls us as Christians to a life of denial. I love that today I realize that I do live a life of denial. Not denial of who I used to be, not denial of who I could be today, but I deny what comes naturally to me.

…And so every single morning — this is a ritual for me — I wake up and I say, “Dear Lord, I can’t make it today without You. I choose to deny what comes naturally to me. I choose to submit my will to the Lordship of your Son, Jesus Christ. And I choose better. I choose to follow You, I choose to allow Your Holy Spirit to walk before me, to guide me, to speak for me.”

… And if we think we can get up one day and decide we don’t have to pray about it anymore, then we’re mistaken. So expect a life of obedience. Expect a life of denial.

Only 75 people heard this message that day, which is a terrible shame. This was, I think, the most honest, honorable, and vulnerable talk I heard the entire day. It seems to me that this was the message that everyone should have heard at Love Won Out.

Two Audiences, Two Messages

But it appears that this reservoir of truth and vulnerability is rationed only to safe, like-minded listeners. How else to explain this talk talking place in a small breakout session instead of one of the main plenary sessions?

If everyone had heard that talk, they would have understood without question what “change” was all about. So why was this talk reserved for a small, safe audience of “those who struggle”? Were they afraid that parents would become disillusioned on hearing what the reasonable expectations for change should be? Did Love Won Out organizers not want the larger audience to know that their sons and daughters faced a lifetime of struggle? Were they afraid of shattering those parents’ dreams of weddings and grandchildren?

One thing’s for certain. If most of the Love Won Out audience wasn’t safe enough for Alan’s message, then the general public certainly isn’t. Four months before the Phoenix conference, Alan Chambers appeared on NPR’s “Fresh Air” and told Terry Gross:

I have talked with and met people who say that they have walked completely away and will never struggle with that again or have never struggled with that again. I believe it’s …. there’s everyone on the continuum. I often like to use the phrase that I will never be as though I never was. I can’t forget where I used to be and I can’t deny the fact that I’m still human and that I could be tempted in every way.

But today where I live my life, and I believe this is true of those who would say they have successfully left homosexuality, homosexuality isn’t something that controls them anymore. Where at one point in our lives, in my life, I could not resist homosexuality. I could not resist the urge. I could not get those thoughts out of my mind. I was exclusively attracted to members of the same sex and acted out on that on a regular basis. Today I have what I would describe as a Garden of Eden relationship with my wife and that she is the object of my desire. She is who I am attracted to…

Then, just a few days before this Love Won Out conference took place, Alan Chambers appeared on CNN where he denied trying to control his thoughts, while at the same time repeating the oblique phrase, “I will never be as though I never was.”

But just a week before the 2007 Exodus Freedom Conference, in Irvine, California, it appears that Alan decided to test the waters by giving the larger world an explanation more consistent with what he had been telling his much smaller Love Won Out audience. The Los Angeles Times reported:

With years of therapy, Chambers says, he has mostly conquered his own attraction to men; he’s a husband and a father, and he identifies as straight. But lately, he’s come to resent the term “ex-gay”: It’s too neat, implying a clean break with the past, when he still struggles at times with homosexual temptation. “By no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete,” Chambers said.

And yet this small concession — which focused mainly on what sort of language to use for describing “change” — appeared to be too much. After mounting pressure from fellow anti-gay activists, Alan issued a partial retraction through an American Family Association web site:

“['Ex-gay' is ] something that comes across as confusing,” he says. “And while I understand why people have used it over the years — it’s easy to use in a soundbite — to say that someone is primarily described by the behavior that they used to be involved in I think is a disservice to the people who have found freedom from homosexuality.”

And that includes himself, says Chambers. “[R]eally, more accurate labels for me would be, ‘I’m a man. I’m a Christian. I’m a husband. I’m a father. I’m a son.’” Chambers says he is considering whether to ask the newspaper to issue a clarification of his remarks.

Exodus and Focus On the Family appear to provide two distinct faces when they talk about change. There is the public face, the one that is given to the general population through billboards, radio commercials and web sites which promise that “change is possible.” A radio commercial promoting the Exodus conference in Irvine promised a “sudden, radical, complete change.” At Love Won Out, parents, friends and family members heard specific, clinical language in which homosexuality becomes “nonexistent.” And whenever Exodus and Focus On the Family speakers appear before the cameras and microphones of major media outlets, they are very careful to leave the definition of change to the assumptions of the audience: a change in sexual orientation, even if they rarely say it explicitly.

But in a small workshop targeted specifically to “those who struggle,” we get to see a far more private message about “change.” And Alan repeated and expanded on this message during the opening night of the Exodus Freedom conference in June. There, before another “safe” audience of more than eight hundred people (unlike at Love Won Out, the overwhelming majority of this audience was “strugglers”), Alan repeated and expanded upon the remarks he made during that tiny breakout session at Love Won Out. And here, he challenged his audience to think about how they might respond if their orientations didn’t change:

And the truth is, what if circumstances never change? I think you have to ask yourself that question. What if your circumstances never change, like my friend that I said her feelings haven’t changed much in twenty years? What if your feelings don’t change? What if your circumstances don’t change? What if it’s still difficult in a year as it is today? Are you going to stand on the promises of God? Are you going to choose to fight? Or are you going to give in?

Michael Bussee was one of the original founders of Exodus before leaving the organization and later becoming one of its sharpest critics. He described one current ex-gay Exodus leader as saying they were just “Christians with homosexual tendencies who would rather not have those tendencies.” Alan appears to be inching towards that candid assessment.

But I have to wonder if he can maintain this message for larger audiences while still holding out hope for a “complete, radical change.” And I have to wonder if he can sustain that message when Exodus’ political lobbying on Capital Hill depends on the assertion that if “real change” is possible, gays and lesbians don’t need equal rights. It seems that too much is at stake to allow too many doubts to creep in on what change really means.

We already saw the howls of protest when Alan made his comparatively innocuous remarks to the Los Angeles Times. While we can hope that the two-audiences, two-messages may fall by the wayside, only time will tell whether abandoning that approach will be compatible with the broader cultural and political goals of Exodus and Focus On the Family.

See also:

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

Exodus to Ex-Gay Survivors: I’m Just Not That Into You

Jim Burroway

June 22nd, 2007

We reported earlier that Peterson Toscano and Christine Bakke, cofounders of Beyond Ex-Gay, invited Exodus leaders to a small private dinner to talk about some of the experiences of those who are no longer ex-gay. Since it’s a private dinner, Exodus officials may respond privately — I don’t know — but their public stance doesn’t bode well.

Exodus issued a press release saying they “welcome dialogue on homosexuality” at their national conference June 26 to July 1 in Irvine, California. But it seems that this dialogue will only be on their terms and at their venue.

Chambers responded to the news that local groups are planning to protest the Exodus event by holding a conference of its own, “Dialogue on this issue only benefits the community and the culture at large. It is a topic worth discussing and I am happy to share my experience as a part of a much-needed exchange of thoughts on this issue.”

Exodus bills the Ex-Gay Survivor’s Conference as a “protest” and indicates that the only “dialoguing” that will take place will be within the confines of the Exodus conference. Exodus offers people like Rev. Ken Hutcherson for this “dialogue”. Hutcherson claimed last spring to speak under a “special commission” from the White House when he traveled to Latvia to stoke anti-gay sentiments there. (The White House denied this connection.)

Exodus’s “dialogue” will also feature Joseph Nicolosi (“We advise fathers, if you don’t hug your sons another man will.”), Nancy Heche (mother of actress Anne Heche, who is still bisexual despite her mother’s account of successfully “blessing” her) and Melissa Fryrear (“I never met one woman who had not been sexually violated”).

Exodus does a lot of talking and not much listening. It’s a shame, because there really are a lot of things to talk about. Exodus recently has claimed a 30% success rate, without any proof to back it up. But even if we accepted that figure, that means 70% fail. These ex-gay survivors know the pain that comes from that failure. They have a lot of important things to say, and the least Exodus could do is acknowledge them with civility instead of dismissing their stories as “protest.”

See also:

Randy Thomas Projects His Experiences Onto All Of Us

Alan Chambers On “Change”

Jim Burroway

June 18th, 2007

Alan Chambers appeared ever so briefly today on CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. The discussion was concerning whether homosexuality was inborn and whether gays can change. Chambers’s appearance was exceptionally brief, and several observers are now trying to read the tea leaves based on two very terse snippets.

One of those snippets dealt ever so briefly with “change,” and there’s a great deal of excitement over this statement in which, according to CNN reporter Mary Snow, he “speaks out against the term ‘exgay’.”:

For one for someone to simply think that going from straight to gay is like flipping a light switch, that’s something that we want to correct at every turn.

This follows this morning’s Los Angeles Times report, in which Chambers elaborates a little more:

With years of therapy, Chambers says, he has mostly conquered his own attraction to men; he’s a husband and a father, and he identifies as straight. But lately, he’s come to resent the term “ex-gay”: It’s too neat, implying a clean break with the past, when he still struggles at times with homosexual temptation. “By no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete,” Chambers said.

His personal denunciation of the term “ex-gay” — his organization has yet to follow suit — is just one example of shifting ground in the polarizing debate on homosexuality.

This is very much in line with what he told an audience at Love Won Out in Phoenix last February. Alan Chambers gave a workshop, attended by about seventy-five people out of the 700 total attendance, in which he cautioned about setting realistic expectations for change. He also talked about his own struggles, and he candidly discussed the fact that even though he is happily married, his struggles continue.

I think the message he gave to that audience was brave, candid, realistic and honorable, and stood in sharp contrast to the absolute assurances offered by other speakers at the conference.

Unfortunately, as the LA Times observed, his own organization doesn’t always appear to be on board with this message either. In the days leading up to the annual Exodus Freedom Conference in Irvine, California, Exodus ran a radio spot on local Christian radio stations touting “a sudden, radical, complete change. Through Christ freedom is possible for those who struggle with same gender attractions.”

Is this confusing? I would think so, as did David Roberts at Ex-Gay Watch. After Roberts noted the issues raised by the radio spot, Alan Chambers responded with an update to the Exodus web site, putting “change” in a different context:

Exodus International exists to mobilize the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality. As such, we are calling upon the evangelical church to undergo a sudden, radical and complete change in the way it has dealt with the issue of homosexuality in the past.

Chambers also released a statement to Ex-Gay Watch, saying:

Having grown up in church I understand and fluently speak Christianese. The culture at large doesn’t always understand the way we speak. This is something that we are aware of at Exodus and are making a more concerted effort to change.

..Messaging is important as is honesty. Our intention with this ad was simply to call the church to sudden, radical and complete change regarding how we have traditionally dealt with the issue of homosexuality.

As an outside observer, it looks to me as though Alan is trying to walk a delicate balance between what he knows to be true about “change” and the expectations of his more hard line associates. At least that’s what I see in the tea leaves. Sometimes I think I see some very good instincts, but then I see where he’s not even close to being consistent in following them. But I am encouraged whenever I see a step in the right direction. And he’ll have several opportunities to exercise his better instincts in the weeks to come.

Let’s take for this for example. If he’s really serious about calling on the church “to undergo a sudden, radical and complete change in the way it has dealt with the issue of homosexuality,” I hope that he plans on having a heart-to-heart chat with Rev. Ken Hutcherson. Hutcherson, remember, has been working with holocaust revisionist Scott Lively to stir up anti-gay passions in Latvia. He will also be a featured speaker at the upcoming Exodus conference. It seems to me that in changing the way the church deals with homosexuality, this would be one good place to start.

And in the political sphere, I hope he rethinks his strategy and avoids these blatently false arguments against the proposed hate crimes legislation. If he’s going to oppose this legislation, there are honorable ways to do it. But I hope he reads the actual text first before committing an act of False Witness.

Part 3: “Love Won Out”: A Whole New Dialect

Jim Burroway

March 6th, 2007

One of the first phrases that we learned in high school Spanish class was how to say that you like something. In English, it’s a simple three-part sentence: “I like ice cream.” I, the subject, does something, namely, like. And the object of my affection, called the direct object, the thing that receives the action, is the ice cream. It can’t get much simpler than that.

But in Spanish, there is no word for “like.” The word they use instead, gustar literally means “pleases”. So instead of saying “I like ice cream,” I would say, “Ice cream pleases me.” Notice how this turns everything around. In English, if I don’t like something, it’s up to me to explain myself since I am on the acting part of the verb — Why don’t you like it? But in Spanish, if something doesn’t please me, it’s not my problem. You need to look to the ice cream to understand what’s wrong with it.

I’ve often though about that example and wondered if that subtle difference — do we like something or does that something please us? — influences how I see the world around me, and in what ways that influence might be different for someone who’s a native Spanish speaker. If it’s true that language shapes how we view the world — and I join Madison Avenue and political spin doctors in believing this to be true — I thought it might be worthwhile to examine the particular language that I heard at Love Won Out.

For me, attending the Love Won Out ex-gay conference in Phoenix was very much like being an anthropologist on Mars, as Oliver Sacks once put it. I observed a culture with its own vaguely familiar language and customs. And learning its language was key to understanding the framework and worldview from which Love Won Out operated. But as is true with many cultures, it almost requires a total immersion inside the culture of Love Won Out to pick up on the nuances of those terms and customs.

There’s nothing particularly odd about this. Every group of people has its own version of “inside baseball.” And at Love Won Out, much of their dialect is built upon the common theological expressions that are a part of the Evangelical Christian movement. But what was spoken at Love Won Out went beyond the language of Evangelical Christianity. The language of Love Won Out represented a particular dialect of the larger Evangelical Christian culture.

The Study of Language

Focus on the Family and Exodus, among others, exercise an amazing degree of message discipline, and they construct their messages differently according to the particular audience they’re addressing. This is why their messages have been so effective. Mike Haley, director of gender issues at Focus on the Family’s Public Policy Division talked about this during a morning plenary session, and he gave a good example of how this lesson might be used:

You know, in the year 2004 when I was doing the research for my book, I found that we spent twenty billion dollars that year in the United States for the work of missions. And what do we do with that money? Well what we do with that money is we take individual’s lives — they are committed to a people group — we set them aside, we support them, we pray for them, we pour money into their lives. We help them get to that people group. We help them study and learn another language often so that they can reach a people for Christ. Those people will take the time out of their own lives and study the social nuances of that people group they want to reach, so that when they become a part of them, they won’t offend them. Instead what they’ll do is they will draw them to Christ.

And my challenge for us is how much money, effort, and energy are we putting in to reaching what one of my friends calls “the unwanted harvest” known as the gay and lesbian community? And there’s some things that we do within the Body of Christ that are incredibly offensive, and let me just offer you one, the use of the phrase, “Love the sinner and hate the sin.” …

And what are we saying ultimately when we use that phrase? Well what we’re saying to someone is “I love you, but I hate what you’re doing.” But you have to see it from a gay person’s perspective. They see themselves as defined by the very thing that they’re doing. So they believe that when you hate what they’re doing, you hate them to their very core. We have got to lose that phrase out of our vocabulary. It does not translate in the marketplace.

I think Mike Haley only has it about half right in explaining why the phrase is offensive, but that’s not the point. The point is really this: you probably haven’t noticed this — because the phrase “love the sinner and hate the sin” is used so often among anti-gay Christians — but it turns out that neither Focus on the Family nor Exodus use this particular phrase much anymore. They’ve moved far beyond “love the sinner and hate the sin,” both in nuance and in sophistication. The sentiment is still very much there, but it’s expressed in a very different way. They are extremely conscious of how words are received by their target audience, no matter who that audience may be. It’s just that their audience is almost never the LGBT community. If it were, you can bet their choice of language would be very different.

Focus in the Family and Exodus have expended a great deal of resources to develop the phrases and the terminology they use. In doing so, they’ve crafted an entire language, complete with its own lexicon and syntax. For example, the terms they used for describing gay people were very different from yours or mine, and Mike Haley’s problem with “love the sin, hate the sinner” provides a glimpse into that difference. Their language is specially designed to treat people and their sexuality as if they were two completely separate entities, as if sexuality were a separate thing outside of the person. As Melissa Fryrear put it in a breakout session, they constantly work to “separate the ‘who’ from the ‘do’,” or, as others have put it more crudely in Mike Haley’s example, “the sinner” from “the sin”.

And since we’re only talking about sexuality and not romantic yearnings or affairs of the heart, this separation of gays and lesbians from their sexuality appears reasonable to Love Won Out attendees. If we included romance, then we would have to introduce such notions of soulmate, the yearnings of the heart, the love of all one’s might — all of these things which involve the whole person, which poets cannot separate and compartmentalize.

But at Love Won Out, gay romance, love or relationships are treated as evidence of a pathology. Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, president of NARTH (the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality), describes gay relationships in men as an attempt to capture the masculinity of another man that is missing in oneself because his own sense of masculinity is broken. This reduces all notions of romance to “a reparative drive.” He sums it up later in a breakout session by saying, “Heterosexuality is complementary, homosexuality is compensatory.”

Since homosexuality is seen as something that “happens” to someone due to poor parenting, sexual abuse and other factors, then it’s not the child’s fault. When they boy grows up, he tries to “fill” his damaged masculinity with other men. Similar explanations are offered for lesbians. Following this lead, Alan Chambers, president of Exodus, and Melissa Fryrear of Focus on the Family both refer to gay relationships as an “illegitimate way of meeting a legitimate need.”

Another way of saying this then, is that the problem is not that I, as a gay man, like other men. The problem is that other men are pleasing to me. Using language to separate the person from his or her sexuality is one of the most important concepts in Love Won Out’s dialect.

“No Such Thing As A Homosexual”

Since the language of Love Won Out represents a distinct dialect of Evangelical Christianity, the first order of business for the day was to teach us the elements of that dialect. First up was Dr. Nicolosi. He began his talk by proclaiming that “there is no such thing as a homosexual.” Knowing this was a head-scratcher to most people there, he repeated it again: “There is no such thing as a homosexual… He is a heterosexual, but he may have a homosexual problem.”

So here’s the first lesson: the words “gay,” “lesbian,” and “homosexual” aren’t nouns; they’re adjectives. And even as an adjectives they are never used to describe a person. There are no gay teenagers, there are no homosexual men, there are no lesbian women. Instead these adjectives are always used as modifiers to something else: a problem, a struggle, an identity, or an issue that is separate from the person. This is important because it’s very different from how these terms are normally used in the broader culture. It is also very different from how these terms are used even by other anti-gay activists.

If this sounds confusing, believe me, I felt the same way during the first few hours that morning. These words and phrases sounded odd or stilted — as is true with the first words we learn in any new language. But by hearing them repeated over and over in the very particular ways they were used, they started to become second nature. By the second hour, their “oddness” started to wear off and by the time the conference was over, it was easy to forget that these words could be used any other way.

All of the speakers at Love Won Out clung to this grammar with incredible consistency, reflecting a highly evolved discipline that comes from discovering the particular phrases that have had an impact in the past, and sticking with them from then on. And if a speaker somehow slipped up and use these words “incorrectly,” he was usually very quick to correct himself — as Nicolosi did during his breakout session, “Prevention of Male Homosexuality” later that afternoon:

From our own case studies, we see three types of fathers who are the fathers of homosexual men… Again, when I say “homosexual,” I don’t mean he’s intrinsically homosexual. He’s a heterosexual with a homosexual problem…”

You see, he almost used the word “homosexual” as an adjective to describe men — a no-no in Love-Won-Outeese. Slip-ups like this happened occasionally — Mike Haley did the same thing when he used the phrase “gay person” in my earlier example — but they were rare.

So having laid this groundwork, it’s time for me to give you some real examples of how this worked. Love Won Out speakers had very specific ways to describe gays, lesbians, and anyone else who experienced sexual and/or romantic attractions for others of the same sex. (Bisexuals and transsexuals were largely left out of the discussions.) Generally speaking, these descriptions fell into four broad categories, and each category was described using adjectives to reinforce the separation of “the ‘who’ from the ‘do’.”

Those Who “Struggle With Homosexuality”

The definition for this group was rather unclear. Mostly, this expression was used to describe someone who experienced “unwanted same-sex attractions”, another phrase that made an occasional appearance. (Alan Chambers often went even further in separating the “who” from the “do” by using the phrase, “those who struggle with the issue of homosexuality,” making homosexuality itself even more abstract.) For the most part, “those who struggle with homosexuality” described anyone who believed that homosexuality was wrong, but found themselves to be sexually attracted to others of the same sex.

But the odd thing about “those who struggle with homosexuality” is that believing that homosexuality was wrong wasn’t always a requirement to be a part of this category. This mean that those who “struggle with homosexuality” sometimes included relatives of conference attendees — sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and so forth — who weren’t at the conference and most likely weren’t struggling at all — including gay friends and family members who were completely out to their family and coworkers, often in relationships, and who felt no conflict about their sexuality. Many comments were addressed to parents (“If your son or daughter is struggling with homosexuality…”) that assumed that being gay required that there be a struggle. If my mother had attended the conference, she might have understood that I was among those they were talking about when they talked about those who were “struggling with homosexuality.”

The “Gay-Identified”

But if the conference speakers were really careful, they might concede that I’m not struggling. They would instead put me into the second group where I would be described as “gay-identified.” (A woman would be “lesbian-identified.”) Again, notice the separation of the “who” from the “do.” I’m not gay, I just have a gay identity. I am, at most, gay-identified. All notions of intrinsic orientation, healthy relationships or romantic attachments were ignored, except as aspects of pathology. And if indeed there is no such thing as a homosexual, then it must also be true that there no such thing as a gay or a lesbian. Our identity is just something like a coat that we put on, a coat that can be taken off as well.

Anyone who is “struggling with homosexuality” is seen as being at a crossroads of sorts, and there are two directions he or she may go from there. One direction is to accept the “Biblical sexual ethic” and begin a “journey out of homosexuality.” Failing that, the other direction is to fall into the world of the “gay-identified” or “lesbian-identified”.

This second option, of course, is considerably more tragic since the “gay-identified” and “lesbian-identified” were generally regarded as less reachable. Because they were “gay-identified,” they were, by definition, involved in the gay community and the gay “lifestyle” — a lifestyle that was fraught with all sorts of dangers and misery: sexual addictions, drug addictions, emotional addictions, impossible relationships that never lasted. The idea that gays and lesbians could be satisfied, happy and stable was a foreign concept to Love Won Out. And just as there are tribes in the tropics that have no word for snow, Love Won Out spoke no words to describe people who didn’t fit their notions of someone who was “gay-identified.”

“On The Journey Out Of Homosexuality”

When someone who is “struggling with homosexuality” decides he or she doesn’t want to be “gay-identified”, then that person is said to have embarked on a “journey out of homosexuality.” This is where the poorly-defined concept of “change” comes in. This “change” was much talked about, but never really defined except in its most important aspect: a new identity in Christ.

Exodus sometimes provides something of a non-religious public face, although that face is never entirely a secular one. Focus on the Family, however, is unabashedly evangelical in the public stage. At Love Won Out, both groups were free to be who they really are with the like-minded audience. Everyone who spoke did so from a plainly religious perspective. Even Joseph Nicolosi, the “secular scientist” closed his plenary session on male homosexuality saying, “When we live our God-given integrity and our human dignity, there is no space for sex with a guy,” and arguing that “good psychology is compatible with good theology.” Melissa Fryrear’s personal story (known as a “testimony” in evangelical circles, and was labeled as such on Love Won Out’s published agenda) was not so much a clinical struggle to change her sexual feelings as it was an unabashedly emotional religious transformation.

And this appears to really be the only transformation that matters. As the day wore on, it became clear that Love Won Out wasn’t there just to convince us that gays and lesbians needed to become heterosexuals. The goal was actually much, much higher. Mike Haley alluded to it earlier when he described gays and lesbians as “the unwanted harvest.” In his personal testimony that morning, he attributed his “journey out of homosexuality” and, ultimately, his marriage and career to an irrevocable calling from God. Alan Chambers reinforced the religious theme by repeating that “the opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality. It’s holiness.” And throughout the day, everybody thanked the Lord, prayed with and for one another, and supported each other through Scripture and fellowship.

Love Won Out wasn’t a tent revival meeting, nor was it a day-long church service. But it was a day-long series of seminars that were firmly rooted in the theology of evangelical Christianity with Dr. Nicolosi providing scientific cover. As such, the “journey out of homosexuality” isn’t a journey from one sexual orientation to another, it’s a journey toward accepting Jesus Christ as Savior, and with that, the faith that with Christ, all things are possible from there, including inclusion in the fourth group.

Those Who “Found Freedom From Homosexuality”

Several of the speakers at Love Won Out placed described themselves as having either “left homosexuality,” “walked away from homosexuality” or having “found freedom from homosexuality” — as if they had been released from prison, as one commenter put it. (My favorite was “walked away”, as if someone had just stepped out for a coffee.) And indeed, the testimonies of those who “found freedom” followed the familiar trajectory of all great salvation stories, of having been lost but now found.

The stories began in the misery of “struggling with homosexuality”, the misery that presumably was a common experience of everyone who “struggles,” including the “gay-identified” — a misery of broken relationships, of drug and alcohol abuse, of sexual abuse and absent fathers or mothers, and a misery of an unrelenting longing for something that is clearly missing from their lives, that their “reparative” impulse was unable to fill.

But at the end of these stories comes triumph. After all, it’s theologically impossible for a story to end otherwise after having put their faith in Jesus Christ. And evidence of that triumph was often found in references to wives and children. As far as the audience was concerned, what better proof is there that they had “left homosexuality behind?” Mike Haley’s testimony closed with a wedding photo and pictures of his beautiful children. (And his children really are adorable. No wonder he’s such a proud husband and father.) Joe Dallas and Alan Chambers also spoke of their wives and families. The only speaker who “left homosexuality” but wasn’t married was Melissa Fryrear. Since she didn’t have any wedding photos or adorable children to talk about, she was reduced to describing what her ideal man would look like — “tall, red-headed, looks good in a kilt!” — while joking, “Is it hot in here?”

And while these speakers mentioned the wives and children that came along after they “found freedom”, they were just as cautious to discourage the idea that anyone should get married to either prove they were no longer gay, or to hasten their “journey out of homosexuality.” Alan Chambers and Melissa Fryrear in particular warned against that during their breakout sessions as they described the dangers this brings to the spouses of “those who struggle with homosexuality.”

And yet, every good story has to have a happy ending. And as far as Love Won Out is concerned, that happy ending comes only after accepting Jesus as Savior, and through that, finding “freedom from homosexuality” — whatever that freedom may mean.

Why “Love Won Out?”

In the end, the dialect of Love Won Out actually served not just one, but two purposes: to separate the gay and lesbian from his or her innate sexuality, and to deliver that person to Christ. Or more accurately, the goal of Love Won Out was to encourage the pastors, teachers, youth group leaders, parents, and other relatives and friends to bring the message of redemption through Christ to their gay and lesbian loved ones, since so few people who were “struggling with homosexuality” were actually there.

From a faith standpoint, this is all well and good. Christ’s Great Commission was to spread the Good News of the Gospel to all the corners of the earth. It’s hard to expect that a Christian organization would not evangelize, or that they would discourage others from doing so — especially where wayward family members are concerned.

And if an Evangelical Christian was truly struggling with his or her homosexuality, there is, all too often, a stark choice which must be made: to either embark on the long “journey out of homosexuality” and find acceptance in the Evangelical community, or to forsake that community and join the ranks of the “gay-identified.” As far as Love Won Out is concerned, there is no other way.

Life is full of choices, and each choice brings rewards and consequences. We don’t choose our sexuality — everyone at Love Won Out was in full agreement on that. But we do have a choice in how we deal with our sexuality in our daily lives. If someone concluded that the best thing for them was to join an ex-gay ministry to conform their behavior with their religious beliefs, then that is their right.

But most of those who attended Love Won Out weren’t in the position of making that decision. They were there to try to figure out how to convince their brothers, sisters, sons and daughters to make that decision. And since their loved ones didn’t appear to be interested in such a decision — most of them weren’t there after all, except for a few teenagers dragged there by their parents — I’m not sure ultimately what useful purpose Love Won Out served, except to offer some sort of hope to the families and friends of gays and lesbians.

But what kind of hope is it? Is it grounded in realistic expectations? Did they get a better perspective on the possibility of change? Did the friends and relatives leave that conference any better equipped than they were when they arrived that morning?

Given Christianity’s mission to proclaim the Truth with a capital “T,” it’s fair to ask how much of these “truths” with a small “t” we learned at Love Won Out are really true. I will explore that some more next week with the meaning of “change”.

See also:

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”

Ex-Gay Programs Highlighted on CNN

Exodus President Alan Chambers appeared on CNN last night. I compare what he told Anderson Cooper with what he wrote in his book, God's Grace and the Homosexual Next Door.

Jim Burroway

February 7th, 2007

I’ll bet if you were to poll ordinary Americans on the street today, you would find the whole concept of “ex-gay” to be largely unknown. While we talk about ex-gay programs on this website, Exodus and other ex-gay ministries have for the most part escaped the limelight among the general public. Focus in the Family’s Mike Haley once told a Love Won Out audience that Exodus was “one of the church’s best kept secrets.” CNN Producer Jim Spellman says that until he talked with Melissa Fryrear, also from Focus on the Family, he had never met or talked to anyone who considered themselves ex-gay. But with Ted Haggard’s recent miraculous transformation from fallen boy-toy customer to “completely heterosexual” in only three weeks, people are starting to ask questions.

Last night’s edition of “Anderson Cooper 360″ on CNN explored the claims of the ex-gay movement. Melissa Fryrear, a “former lesbian” who claimed to no longer have any homosexual feelings, threw cold water on the idea that change can happen as rapidly as three weeks. She told reporter Joe Johns:

“It’s not quantifiable in the sense of years. It’s… For me it was gradual change that was recognizable one year to the next year to the next year. But again, the issues were so complicated contributing to my struggle that it took a significant amount of time to work through those.”

(Note: These transcripts are my own from the DVR. CNN’s rush transcript is here.)

Salon.com’s Mark Benjamin provided what is probably the most startling quote. He talked to dozens of people who underwent ex-gay therapy and said:

“I was unable to find one single person who is not on the payroll of one of these organizations that does this therapy who said, ‘yes, after going through the therapy, in fact, I’m cured of homosexuality.’”

After Joe Johns’ report aired, Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International then appeared with Mark Shields of the Human Rights Campaign to talk with Anderson Cooper. Mark Shields said that Ted Haggard’s claim did not pass the “laugh test.” Alan Chambers, in probably the world’s first instance of an official of Exodus agreeing with a spokesman from the HRC, replied, “I don’t know Ted Haggard’s journey over the last three weeks, but like Mark, I would say that it’s something that… it doesn’t seem like something that is really the case.”

But what’s even more interesting, I think, is that when Anderson Cooper tried to press Alan Chambers on whether he himself was heterosexual and no longer experienced same-sex attractions, Alan ducked and weaved:

Anderson Cooper: So you entered counseling. Do you still have attraction to men, you know, you’re just choosing not to act on it?

Alan Chambers: My attraction greatly dimminished over the course of many years. Sixteen years into it my life isn’t even remotely the same as it once was. But I often say that I will never be as though I never was. And the truth is I’m a human being and for me to say that I could never be attracted to men again or that I couldn’t be tempted would mean that I’m not human and that’s just not the case.”

And a little later:

Anderson Cooper: Even now, you are essentially saying you are trying to control your thoughts, you try to alter your fundamental attraction.

Alan Chambers: No, I wouldn’t say that’s the case at all. No, what I have found over the course of sixteen years is that feelings aren’t everything about you and I live beyond those feelings. Today, ….

Anderson Cooper: What does that mean…

Alan Chambers: … my feelings are, my feelings are much, much different. And the truth is I didn’t leave homosexuality because it was so bad. I left it because I found something better. And today, my life is far better than it was as a gay man. And for those of us, and there are thousands of people just like me who choose to live beyond their feelings, who choose to move beyond the issue of homosexuality, we live wonderful lives, and that’s something we think should be available for everyone who wants it.

Anderson Cooper: And is that based on a belief that you cannot be Christian and gay? I mean is the wonderful life you’re talking about a religious life that you feel is not accessible to you as a openly [sic], proud, happy gay man?

Alan Chambers: Not at all. I think there are plenty of gay people out there who are Christians as well, but for me homosexuality wasn’t compatible with my faith and my faith was much more important than that.

This was a very interesting segment and there is so much to chew on here. Here are a few of my observations:

  • Alan Chambers refused to confirm a change from homosexuality to heterosexuality in his own case when speaking to a national audience. This has been a slowly evolving shift in his message for quite some time. But in his book God’s Grace and the Homosexual Next Door which is targeted mainly to evangelicals, his message is a little more straightforward. On page 216, he talks about some of his gender-nonconforming traits this way: “I have always liked decorating. I love to shop. I like clothes… I can tell you what designer made what suits just by looking at them. Do these things make me gay? Apparently not because I still like those things, and I am completely heterosexual.”
  • He repeated the claim that there are “thousands of people” just like him, which is an unsubstantiated statistic we’ve heard before. This time however, he now places that statistic in a category of those who “live beyond their feelings”, not as people who no longer experience same-sex attractions.
  • He said he didn’t leave homosexuality, but found something better. Anderson Cooper tried to follow up on it, asking if that “something better” was a religious message, but Alan Chambers demurred. But on page 84 of his book he is much less reticent: “I didn’t leave homosexuality because it was awful. I left homosexuality because I found something better: the body of Christ. Only in the light of God’s best, though, can I truly look back and see how far off the mark homosexuality and the gay community were from the real thing.” [Emphasis his]
  • Alan Chambers told Anderson Cooper, “I think there are plenty of gay people out there who are Christians as well.” But in his book, contributing author Randy Thomas talks about three degrees of homosexuality: “the militant, moderate, and repentant.” Under this classification, only the “repentant” homosexuals who have either “left homosexuality” or are in the process of leaving are truly Christians. And according to Alan Chambers, the only Christian goal for gay people is repentance and heterosexuality. Alan says on pages 217-218: “… repentance for the homosexual person and anyone else for that matter is repenting of who they are — behavior, identity, and all. This is why I believe that it is so important to clarify that just living a celibate gay life is just as sinful as living a sexually promiscuous one. The sin is in identifying with anything that is contrary to Christ, which homosexuality clearly is.”
  • And returning to Ted Haggard’s claims which prompted all this, it looks like nobody believes that change to “complete heterosexuality” can happen in only three weeks. Even those who make a living as active proponents of change therapy and those who claimed to have changed themselves will not back up Haggard’s story. And this includes those who are on the payroll of Focus on the Family and those who are strongly backed by Focus.

I think the HRC’s Mark Shields summed it all up best:

You know, I wonder if Ted Haggard had been told as a child that it was OK to be gay and that he could have a rich, full life, if his life story wouldn’t have been less painful and contorted.

Exodus, Meet The First Amendment

Exodus needs a lesson in basic high-school level Civics.

Jim Burroway

January 16th, 2007

Update: Mark, from Slapped Upsite The Head, left a comment to correct my feeble understanding of the intricacies of Canadian law. Meanwhile, Tor Billgren updates me via E-mail on the origin of Sweden’s hate speech law. Corrections and additions are noted below.

Many anti-gay organizations oppose extending hate crime laws to cover sexual orientation, claiming that to do so will take away their religious freedoms. Exodus added their voices to the chorus just yesterday by issuing this press release:

Today, as the nation celebrates Religious Freedom Day, Exodus International, the world’s largest ministry to those desiring freedom from unwanted homosexuality, joins pro-family groups around the nation in urging Congress to stop a hate crimes bill that would penalize those with faith-based beliefs about homosexuality.

Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, said, “Today, we celebrate a sacred right to freely practice our individual religious beliefs, and at the same time, Congress is debating legislation that could eventually destroy these freedoms. Hate crimes legislation does not prosecute illegal actions that harm others, it prosecutes beliefs about homosexuality that for many Americans, is consistent with their faith.”

This is utter nonsense. Nothing in the hate crime legislation prosecutes beliefs of any sort. Anyone can believe whatever they want to about sexual orientation, and anyone can say anything they want to about their beliefs.

Alan Chambers is displaying an abysmal ignorance about one of the most basic tenants of our constitution. While we already have hate crime legislation in place for categories of gender, race and religion, none of it even remotely affects speech or beliefs. And the reason is simple: our First Amendment protects our right to say pretty much anything we want, no matter how ugly, hateful, or factually wrong we may be.

That’s right. The Nazis are free to march in predominantly Jewish Skokie, IL (with the ACLU’s help, I might add) because of the First Amendment, and the Klan is free to spew hatred against racial minorities in Cleveland. You can advocate genocide, you can defend Al-Qaida, and you hurl any racist epithet you want. It won’t help your comedy career much, but you can’t be fined or jailed for it. As long as you’re not shouting fire! in a crowded theater or threatening to kill the president, you can say pretty much anything you want.

The courts and legislators at every level have been exceptionally diligent in protecting everyone’s right to say anything, no matter how stupid, hateful, or disgusting that speech may be judged by others. Hate crime legislation in the U.S. simply cannot criminalize speech. Our constitution forbids it right there, in our cherished First Amendment, something that Alan Chambers really ought to read sometime:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

He also ought to remember that he lives in Florida, not Canada, Australia, Sweden, or Britain:

Canada, Australia, Sweden and other European nations have used hate crimes law to punish, even imprison preachers for speaking out against protected persons. Preachers have been fined or jailed in Canada and Sweden for quoting passages from the Bible about homosexuality. In England, a Christian was thrown in jail for passing out pamphlets with Bible verses condemning homosexual activity. In Philadelphia, eleven Christians were jailed for sharing a message from the Bible to a crowd of people attending a public pro-gay event.

Canada, Australia, Sweden and other European nations don’t have anything like our First Amendment. We’re quite exceptional in our absolute insistence on our infettered freedoms to say whatever we want. What happens elsewhere does not automatically happen here, nor can it. Our courts and constitution simply won’t allow it. If our laws can’t stop the Nazis and the Klan from marching, they won’t stop Exodus from denigrating gays and lesbians. Or exaggerating and lying about what has happened elsewhere.

Canada’s Bill C-250 criminalizes certain types of hate speech towards persons of any sexual orientation: homosexuals, bisexuals, or bisexuals. In other words, it protects everyone equally. But there is a clause, known in Canadian law as a “not withstanding” clause, which specifically exempts religiously motivated speech. In other words, religious freedom always trumps hate speech in Canada according to this particular law.

Sweden has a similar law that protects people from “unfavorable speech,” and like the Canadian law, it protects everyone equally: homosexuals, bisexuals, and heterosexuals. Swedish journalist Tor Billgren, who writes the blog Antigayretorik, was angered by Chambers’ press release. Defending his beloved Sweden, he e-mailed me to say that while they have hate speech laws there, no preacher has been fined or jailed for quoting the Bible:

Pastor Åke Green was sentenced to 1 month inprisonment by the district court, but was aquitted by the court of appeal and the supreme court. He wasn’t jailed. There’s another case as well: Leif Liljeström, a christian (not a preacher) who owned a discussion forum on the web. He was sentenced to 1 month for things another person wrote on the forum (according to the swedish law the owner of the forum is responsible). However, this wasn’t quotes from the Bible, but extreme hate speach. This case will be dealt with by the supreme court. He hasn’t been jailed.

(Update) Sweden’s hate speech law goes back to 1948, when it was origionally written in response to the Holocaust. Laws like these limiting hate speech are quite common in many European countries. But that’s because their constitutions allow such laws to exist. Ours doesn’t.

Britain is a separate case altogether. The U.K. has no written constitution, nor does it have anything like our Bill of Rights. If I remember, that was one of the sore points between us more than two hundred years ago. While we may think of Britain as a free country, there is, in fact, no constitutional protections of free speech whatsoever. Consequently, Britain has a long history of banning all sorts of speech. As recently as 1988, Margaret Thatcher’s government banned the broadcast of all appearances and interviews of members of Sinn Fein and the IRA. (According to the BBC, “instead of hearing Gerry Adams, viewers and listeners would hear an actor’s voice reading a transcript of the Sinn Fein leader’s words.”). You just try to get that past our Constitution here.

And as proof further that our First Amendment protects everyone, each of the eleven Christians from Repent America who were jailed in Philadelphia “for sharing a message from the Bible” — messages that were lovingly shouted through bullhorns — saw all of their charges dropped. Why? It’s simple. As it was with the Klan and the neo-Nazi’s, their actions were protected by the First Amendment.

To defend our freedoms, sometimes some pretty disagreeable people wind up paying a price. That is unfortunate, but as we all know, freedoms aren’t free. Freedom of speech is only meaningful when that speech is offensive, and Repent America, Fred Phelps, the Klan and Nazi’s have all advanced the cause of free speech for the rest of us by being thoroughly offensive and disgusting. I guess we have to give them that. Exodus can thank them as well.

The hate crime laws that Congress in considering doesn’t address speech for one simple reason: It can’t. For Exodus to claim otherwise shows an abysmal ignorance of the law — or dishonesty. It’s one of the other. Take your pick.

Doing Violence to Domestic Violence Statistics

Jim Burroway

August 29th, 2006

Focus on the Family released another whopper today. Alan Chambers, president of the “ex-gay” group Exodus, claimed that gays and lesbians are far more likely to be raped or assaulted by their partners than heterosexuals:

“It’s something that we knew would come to light more as the issue of gay unions began to be on the radar screen of the American public.”

In fact, according to the National Violence against Women Survey, 39- percent of homosexuals report being raped, physically assaulted or stalked by their partners. Chambers says many gays grew up in a home where they were abused and that transfers into their relationships later in life.

Well, it’s true, sort of. Thirty-nine percent of women with a history of same-sex partnership report being raped, assaulted, or stalked by their partners. For men with a history of same-sex partnership, the figure is “only” 23%. For couples with a history of opposite-sex partnership, the figures are 21.7% for women, and 7.4% for men.

But the real question is who is doing the raping, assaulting, and stalking?

Getting to that answer is simple. But before I begin, I’d like for you to download the report for yourself directly from the government website so you don’t have to take my word for it. Go right ahead (PDF: 62 pages/1,475 KB).

Now, go to page 29 and look at Exhibit 8 at the bottom of the page. You will see that these figures I mentioned are all right there. It doesn’t look good for our side, does it?

But like I said, the real question is who is doing the raping, assaulting and stalking? For that answer, all you have to do is go to the very next page. In exhibit 9, you will see that —

Among women with a history of same-sex partnership:

  • 30.4% were raped, assaulted or stalked by their husband/male partner
  • 11.4% were raped, assaulted or stalked by their wife/female partner.

And among men with a history of same-sex partnership:

  • 10.8% were raped, assaulted, or stalked by their wife/female partner.
  • 15.4% were raped, assaulted, or stalked by their husband/male partner.

So here is what it all means. Many women with a history of same-sex partnership also have a history of opposite-sex partnership. Because of that, they are far more likely to report being raped, assaulted or stalked because it is the men in their lives who are doing the raping, assaulting or stalking. Not the women. Same-sex cohabiting women were nearly three times more likely to report being victimized by a male partner than a female partner.

And here is where the statistic gets really interesting: 20.5% of women in opposite sex relationships were raped, assaulted or stalked by their husband or male partner. That compares to 15.4% of men who were raped, assaulted, or stalked by their male partners. In other words, gay men are safer around their same-sex partners than straight women are around their husbands or opposite-sex partner.

But Alan Chambers blindly clings to his off-kilter interpretation and offers this gem of an explanation:

Chambers blames the violence on an extreme sense of unhappiness that often leads to addictive behaviors.

If that’s the case, then it looks like the straight men need to get over their unhappiness so the rest of us can live in peace.

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