Exodus Board Member Resigns
June 15th, 2012
In a remarkable show of accountability, Exodus International has announced that board vice chairman Dennis Jernigan has resigned his position at Exodus following a controversial visit to Jamaica in May.
Jamaica, which has a very long and violent history towards its LGBT population, is under international pressure, including from the Obama Administration, to rescind its anti-gay law which provides up to ten years imprisonment for consensual same-sex relationships. Jernigan denounced the pressure from the Obama administration in remarks to a Jamaican newspaper.
Jernigan also spoke with reporters alongside local anti-gay activist Peter Garth, who read out portions of a 1987 satire by Michael Swift, titled “A Gay Revolutionary,” which the more extreme anti-gay activists often mis-identify as “the gay agenda.” The satire begins, “We shall sodomize your sons, emblems of your feeble masculinity, of your shallow dreams and vulgar lies….” (The satire labels itself as a satire in the prologue, which is typically omitted when deployed by anti-gay extremists.) Following that partial reading, Jernigan, who identifies as ex-gay, said, “If I was still in that group and was still a part of that agenda, of course I would take that as my battle cry and I would do everything in my power to bring it to pass.”
In a statement released by Exodus International, the group’s president Alan Chambers said:
“Dennis shared his belief that President Obama is deceived about homosexual behavior and the biblical morality of it. Dennis assured me he is not for the criminalization of homosexuality, and he will release his own statement on this matter. However, Jernigan offered this immediate response”:
“I believe my heart and intent were misconstrued and therefore, may have harmed Exodus’ mission of ministering to those struggling with same-sex attraction (SSA). To that end, as of this moment, I step down as Vice Chairman of Exodus.”
The statement notes that “Exodus board member, Don Schmierer, experienced a similar collision with the media on a trip to Uganda in 2009.” The statement also reiterates Exodus’s new policy statement which places the organization on record as opposing the criminalization of homosexuality. It continues:
It is our resolution that unfortunate incidents like this do not happen again in the future,” said Chambers. “As president of Exodus International I take full responsibility for any board member, staff member or ministry affiliate’s ignorance of global issues, especially as they travel. I will make it a priority to keep all who are professionally affiliated with Exodus apprised of the nations where legislative initiatives or laws clearly violate our policy opposing criminalization of homosexuality. We will also craft a policy for our ministry that prohibits our involvement with groups and nations that violate our policies.”
You can read the full statement below.
This positive development stands in remarkable contrast to Exodus’s handling of board member Don Schmierer’s disastrous participation in a 2009 anti-gay conference in Uganda. Fifteen months later, Exodus president Alan Chambers apologized for its connection to that conference and for Exodus’s slow response to the criticism. He also announced the organization’s first policy statement against criminalization.
On a personal note: When I wrote about this yesterday, I finished with this: “In a truly accountable organization Jernigan would hand in his resignation. But don’t count on that happening.” With this announcement coupled with forthcoming policies to head off future international incidences, this marks yet another notable change at Exodus.
Exodus Leader Supports Jamaica’s Anti-Gay Laws; Exodus Responds With Statement Opposing Criminalization
June 14th, 2012
Today, Exodus International released a new statement:
Criminalization of Homosexuality
Exodus International believes that every human life, regardless of sexual orientation, is of inestimable and equal worth to God and that defending this principle is foundational in offering a Christian response to any issue. As such, Exodus International has not supported and will not support any legislation that deprives others of life and dignity based on their sexual orientation or the expression of such within the confines of a consensual adult relationship. We stand with all who are defending this basic, biblical tenet and remain committed to sharing the compassion, hope and life-giving grace and truth of Jesus Christ.
Finally, we stand with the LGBT community both in spirit, and when necessary, legally and physically, when violence rears its head in Uganda, Jamaica or anywhere else in the world.
We’ve long followed the rippling aftermath of Exodus board member Don Schmierer’s disastrous participation in an anti-gay conference in Uganda. It took Exodus president Alan Chambers fifteen months to express regret over that and issue its first policy statement against criminalization. That statement is no longer available on Exodus’s web site. This new statement, which can be read more broadly, is now on a page alongside other Exodus policy statements.
The sudden reference to Jamaica may be puzzling to those who are unaware of recent events. Taken from a glass-half-full scenario, it can be seen as another positive sign that Chambers takes seriously his commitment to being more pro-active when these issues arise. It was just yesterday when Mike Airhart at Truth Wins Out revealed that another Exodus board member stepped into yet another international incident:
On May 29, Exodus board vice chairman Dennis Jernigan blogged about his work the previous week in Jamaica to defend that nation’s antigay laws and criticize President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron for their support of Jamaican LGBT human rights. We reprint Jernigan’s May 29 complete blog post below, with the key text highlighted by us.
The highlighted test from Jernigan’s blog post describes a meeting that Jernigan had with the Jamaican Observer’s editorial staff:
… this is when I first realized what I had been thrust into! In a boardroom with about 30 editorial staff members and reporters, I discovered that the Prime Minister of Jamaica was receiving pressure from our president and the prime minister of Great Britain to change the anti-sodomy laws of Jamaica … or risk losing financial support. That is when I knew why I was there. I shared my entire story and then fielded questions – for almost two hours! When asked about what I thought about President Obama’s recent remarks concerning homosexuality, I told them I love my president but I believe he is greatly deceived and risks undermining the very foundation of our nation … the family. Incidentally, the paper began publishing the interview the very next day on the first three pages … the headline being my quote concerning my belief that President Obama is deceived! I felt the grace of God in those interviews. I never felt fear at all … and feel I impacted an entire nation in the process. [Emphasis Mine]
Jamaica has an exceptionally long history of often shocking violence against LGBT people. Popular musicians often exhort audiences to kill gay people in their lyrics, and violence against gay people is often glorified in social media and on the streets. Sometimes those abuses occur in the context of trying to “cure” people of their homosexuality. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2011 report on human rights:
The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG) continued to report serious human rights abuses, including assault with deadly weapons, “corrective rape” of women accused of being lesbians, arbitrary detention, mob attacks, stabbings, harassment of gay and lesbian patients by hospital and prison staff, and targeted shootings of such persons. Police often did not investigate such incidents. During the year J-FLAG received 84 reports of sexually motivated harassment or abuse, which included 71 cases of attempted or actual assault, including at least two killings, and 21 reports of displacements. Members of the police force reportedly were the perpetrators in 12 cases. J-FLAG data showed that young people, ages 18 to 29, continued to bear the brunt of violence based on sexual orientation. This violence created a climate of fear that prompted many gay persons to emigrate, while the gross indecency laws left those who remained vulnerable to extortion from neighbors who threatened to report them to the police unless they were paid off.
…The trial of six suspects arrested for the 2005 robbery and murder of prominent gay rights advocate Lenford “Steve” Harvey, initially begun and then postponed in 2007, had not resumed by year’s end.
…Gay men were hesitant to report incidents against them because of fear for their physical well-being. Human rights NGOs and government entities agreed that brutality against such persons, primarily by private citizens, was widespread in the community.
Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law makes consensual relationships a felony, punishable by a ten-year prison sentence. There is considerable international pressure on Jamaica to repeal its sodomy law and to offer basic human rights protections against violence directed at LGBT people, but even those minimal calls remain highly controversial and deeply unpopular.
It is in this climate that Jernigan boldly stepped into. In actions which are highly reminiscent of board member Don Schmierer’s ill-fated and notorous trip to Uganda, Jernigan strongly supported Vice-president of the Jamaica Association of Evangelicals Rev. Peter Garth’s reading of Michael Swift’s 1987 satire “A Gay Revolutionary” which the more extreme anti-gay activists often mis-identify as “the gay agenda.” (The satire labels itself as a satire in the prologue, which is typically omitted when deployed by anti-gay extremists.) Jernigan’s comments only served to lend further credence to the satire’s so-called validity:
According to Garth, the gay community has been instructed to talk about gays as loudly as possible and to portray them as victims, not as aggressive challengers and to make them look good and the people opposed to them look bad. As such, Garth said the Church is trying to influence others to look at the structure which provides value for our nation.
A former member of the gay community, Rev Dennis Jernigan, said that community has all the creative, financial and intellectual power. According to Jernigan, an American citizen, the gay community gives more than the 10 per cent tithe that Christians give to the church, as they are very adamant about their agenda. “If I was still in that group and was still a part of that agenda, of course I would take that as my battle cry and I would do everything in my power to bring it to pass,” he said.
In another Jamaica Observer article which identifies Jernigan as Exodus’s vice chairman (and thus suggesting that Jernigan was speaking on the organization’s behalf), he describes himself as having fully changed his sexuality:
Jernigan said he was transformed that night.
“All of a sudden, I felt a level of freedom, a level of acceptance, a level of affirmation I had not expected. That night, God gave me a brand new identity, that is the best way I can put it to you,” Jernigan said, likening the experience to the biblical tale of Lazarus, who is described as rising from the dead through Jesus’s power.
“He told me, ‘son, that homosexuality is not what I intended for you, that’s a deception. Put that off and put on the truth,” Jernigan said.
“All of a sudden, my sexuality changed. I was intending never to be married. I said, I’ll just be celibate for the Lord, I want to be pure. But God said, ‘no, I have even greater plans for you. I will give you a wife, I will bless you with a wife’. And then because I felt so robbed of life for so much of my life, God said ‘I will give you, as many children as you want. I said okay,” Jernigan told the Monday Exchange with a chuckle, his wife laughing as she chimed in beside him, “I agreed.”
Jernigan is vice-chairman of the board of directors of Exodus International, a group that calls itself the largest ministry for homosexuals in the world and which specialises in so-called ‘gay conversion’.
The Exodus vice-chairman’s statements stand in remarkable contrast to actions and statements recently take by Exodus’s president. Last January, Chambers acknowledged, “The majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them, have not experienced a change in their orientation.” Exodus removed all Reparative Therapy books from its online bookstore and began disassociating itself from the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which is the biggest proponent of Reparative Therapy. Earlier this month, Exodus responded to a proposed California bill which would prohibit licensed therapist from providing Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (COCE) to minors with a statement which read, in part, “As an organization, we do not subscribe to therapies that make changing sexual orientation a main focus or goal.”
But obviously, the Exodus vice chairman and Exodus president are not even close to reading from the same script. Jernigan made the goal of changing sexual orientation the centerpiece of his message:
While the US has been racked by heated debate about the ‘gay conversion’ religious movement, Jernigan says his own conversion isn’t all that uncommon in his country.
“This may sound really mystical to you,” he said, “But I know hundreds of men and women in the United States who have walked out of homosexuality and now walking the true freedom. That’s the story you are not hearing, but that’s the truth.”
“That is why I am so adamant about this, freedom is possible,” he declared, his voice cracking with emotion. It is a message he is determined to impart to Jamaicans.
When the vice-chairman of Exodus International left his home in Muskogee, Oklahoma for Jamaica a few weeks ago, intending to share his music in Christian concerts and in ministry, he had no idea that homosexuality was a hot-button issue here. When he found himself in the middle of a huge debate about homosexuality and gay marriage he said he questioned why God had led him to this country at this particular time.
“I said, ‘hmmm… God, what are you up to? You’ve plunged me right in the middle of this’.
“But I want to save your nation. I don’t want to do anything other than minister to you, to tell you my story, to serve the people of Jamaica, because I don’t want to see happen here, what happened in America,” he said.
Jernigan also appeared in this video, in which he repeated the classic Reparative Therapy line of what causes homosexuality. He also placed his ex-gay message in a very political context:
As I said, the fact that it only took Chambers one day to respond to this latest revelation can be seen as a glass half-full. This is measurable progress and I don’t want to lose sight of that.
But the glass is also still half empty. Once again we are learning of an Exodus official traveling to a volatile country in full ignorance — and an admitted ignorance — of the fact that “homosexuality was a hot-button issue here.” Exodus may feel that they have a special expertise on helping conservative Christians resist their same-sex attractions, but they clearly have no expertise about how homosexuality itself is perceived in other cultures.
It is extremely reckless of them to parachute into countries where they have no idea what’s going on, and then leaving it up to the local LGBT community to deal with the aftermath when they jet home. They already have ample evidence of what happens when Exodus officials neglect to do their homework before traveling to volatile countries. There is just no excuse for making this same mistake yet again.
At some point, you would expect there would be consequences to making these kinds of errors. In a truly accountable organization Jernigan would hand in his resignation. But don’t count on that happening. Three years after the Uganda debacle, Don Schmierer is still serving as Exodus’s treasurer.