Box Turtle Bulletin

Box Turtle BulletinNews, analysis and fact-checking of anti-gay rhetoric
“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
This article can be found at:
Latest Posts

Posts for July, 2012

Rival Ex-Gay Group Forms to Challenge Exodus

Jim Burroway

July 22nd, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Comiskey has been a major player in Exodus International from its earliest days as an outgrowth of an early Southern California church movement known as the Vineyard. He once served as president at Exodus International, and his Desert Stream Ministries has been among the largest and most prominent ministries in the Exodus International network, and its popular Living Waters program is used by many ex-gay ministries throughout the world.  In April, Comiskey issued a letter to Exodus president Alan Chambers calling on him  to “continue to uphold change as a reasonable goal for Christians with (same-sex attraction).” Citing Chambers’s comments before the Gay Christian Network, Comiskey worried that “Alan’s comments about change unwittingly played into the enemy’s hands.”

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

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

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

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

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

The entire “Restoring Hope” theme of the new network is an apparent jab at Exodus International’s changes in message and focus over the last several months, beginning with Alan Chambers’s acknowledgment last January that, “the majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them, have not experienced a change in their orientation.” His later repudiation of the particular type of counseling intended to change sexual orientation known as Reparative Therapy led to a further break from Exodus’s past. It also led to a break between Exodus and  nearly a dozen member ministries in Exodus’s network, notably including Comiskey’s Desert Streams Ministries and Worthen’s New Hope Ministries.

Andrew Comiskey To Speak at Catholic Ex-Gay Conference

Jim Burroway

July 19th, 2012

As I mentioned in today’s Daily Agenda, the Catholic ex-gay organization Courage will be holding its annual conference on the campus of Mount St. Mary’s College and Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD. Most of the speakers lined up for the conference are relatively unknown outside of the Catholic/Courage world, but one names stands out: Andrew Comiskey, Executive Director of Desert Stream Ministries, who recently pulled out of the Exodus umbrella. As I noted before, Comiskey appears to be leaning much more toward Catholic theology, which made his theological dispute with Exodus president Alan Chambers rather interesting, to say the least.

Comiskey also split with Exodus over the latter organization’s decision to distance itself from Reparative Therapy, which remains an important component in DSM. While Courage has typically shied away from encouraging members to seek sexual orientation change as a goal, it has nevertheless promoted the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), including a direct link to “NARTH testimonies” under Courage’s “Member Testimonies” web page.

Comiskey will give two talks at the Courage conference. On Friday, he will deliver the evening plenary talk, “Naked Surrender: Coming Home to Our True Sexuality”, and on Saturday he will give a workshop on “Restoring Relational Integrity through the Broken Body of Christ.”

It’s probably not unprecedented for a non-Catholic to give a talk at a Courage Conference, but it’s also hard to image Comiskey being given a platform for either of these two talks unless they are fully in line with Catholic teachings. If it turns out that Comiskey is increasingly finding a home in the Catholic world, it remains to be seen what kinds of strains Comiskey’s theological outlook may induce within Desert Stream’s far-flung ministries or with potential tie-ups with other ex-gay ministries which have recently left Exodus, all of which have deep historic roots in Protestant Evangelicalism.

Update: I had missed this, but as William commented below, Comiskey announced in January that he converted to Catholicism the prior Easter. He should fit in well. In 2010, Comiskey posted an admission on his blog that a staffer at DSM had sexually abused at least one teenager under their care. But instead of publicly apologizing for the appalling transgression or expressing anguish over the teen’s abuse, he lamented his trauma from having been interrogated by police and worrying about liability insurers. And he expressed gratitude that “God spared us” from the humiliation of the story appearing in the newspapers. He’s only been a Catholic for a little over a year, but already he’s qualified to be a Bishop.

Exodus Loses 11 Ministries Following Recent Changes

Jim Burroway

June 14th, 2012

As we’ve been tracking changes taking place with Exodus International’s messaging and change in focus over the past several months, many of us have been wondering if some of those changes might result in an exodus from Exodus. Eleven ministries out of perhaps 250 isn’t exactly a rush for the doors, but the year is also only half over since Exodus president Alan Chambers tried out his new talk last January and began distancing Exodus from NARTH.

Two of the ministries to leave the Exodus fold are particularly noteworthy. Frank Worthen’s New Hope Ministries in San Rafael, California, is the surviving granddaddy of ex-gay ministries. It was founded in the early 1970s. Also in the mid-1970s, Worthen’s New Hope created a residential program called, Love In Action, which eventually became an independent ex-gay ministry. (Love In Action recently changed its name to Restoration Path, and remains in the Exodus network.) But most notably, Worthen was one of the co-founders of Exodus International itself in 1986 1976.

Also departing from the Exodus umbrella is Andrew Comiskey’s Desert Stream Ministries, currently located in Grandview, Missouri, with several branch ministries around the world. Comiskey wrote an open letter to Chambers in April criticizing Exodus for distancing itself from the particular type of ex-gay therapy known as Reparative Therapy.

Ex-Gay Watch’s David Roberts wrote of another ministry that is going its own way: “And perhaps most amazing of all, Exchange Ministries, located in the same city as Exodus [Orlando], was the ministry where Chambers got his start.”

Update: David Robers clarifies with this comment: “Actually, if comparing apples to apples, it’s a little more dramatic.  The current total in the Member Ministries listing— the actual ex-gay ministries to which Exodus would refer people for counselling, etc — is at 70 now.” Made a note of it. Believe me, after this week we want to make sure we’re comparing apples to apples.

Dissention Rises Within Exodus International

Jim Burroway

April 20th, 2012

Last January, Exodus International president Alan Chambers appeared on  a surprise panel at the Gay Christian Network’s annual conference in Orlando, and made the surprising admission that “The majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them, have not experienced a change in their orientation.” At about that same time, it was noticed that Exodus International had removed several books on Reparative Therapy from their online bookstore.

[NOTE: Contrary to popular misconceptions, Reparative Therapy is not a generic term for sexual orientation change therapy. It is a term describing one particular form of therapy promoted by Joseph Nicolosi, co-founder of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). Reparative Therapy derives its name on Nicolosi’s theory of the so-called “reparative drive.” Please see this for a  more complete description.]

It quickly became apparent however that the rest of Exodus may not be fully behind Chambers’s overtures. Mike Goeke, an Exodus International board member and former vice-president, published an op-ed just two days later describing homosexuality as being different — and in its way, worse — than “any sin,” a position that is in marked contrast to Chambers’s discussion of homosexuality from a theological standpoint. Now Andrew Comiskey, who heads Desert Streams Ministries, opened the debate on the clinical front by issuing a letter expressing his “concern over Exodus distancing itself from reparative therapy” and calls for changes at Exodus over Chambers’s recent comments and actions.

The letter was posted briefly at Andrew Comiskey’s web site, but it was later removed. A copy has been uploaded at Ex-Gay Watch (PDF: 180KB/7 pages). In the letter, Comiskey takes issue with Alan Chambers’s statements indicating that Exodus would de-emphasize the possibility of sexual orientation change as part of its ministry. Saying that Desert Streams Ministry (DSM) employs “the most commonly employed ‘healing’ format in (Exodus International’s) network,” he adds:

Regarding sexual orientation change, we at DSM will continue to uphold change as a reasonable goal for Christians with SSA who are earnestly seeking Him and who are willing to do the hard work of resolving their gender disintegration through Christ and His healing community. (We realize that not all will graduate into a state of readiness for marriage. However, that should not preclude anyone from seeking full sexual restoration.)

Alan’s comments about change unwittingly played into the enemy’s hands. To question sexual orientation change on the basis of residual struggles is weak theology and psychology. Very few who have overcome destructive, life-dominating issues live without a trace of the problem. To then describe that ‘trace’ as a reason to tone down the idea of change makes no sense to us.

As for Exodus’s drawing back from promoting Reparative Therapy in particular:

We at DSM are only indebted to the good of reparative therapy and its underpinnings in developmental psychology. How else would we understand how we become disintegrated in our gender identities, as well as gain objective markers en route to wholeness?

We cannot afford to distance ourselves from the whole healing community, which must involve solid reparative therapists. They can do what we cannot in our ministries, and vice-versa. We need them! …We would like to know how Exodus plans on representing and integrating solid clinical insight on the Board and in its offerings.

Comiskey’s disagreement with Chambers is twofold. First is the disagreement over Reparative Therapy and the prospects for change in sexual orientation. The second disagreement however is theological, and Comiskey devotes several paragraphs over those theological points. Exodus International, like Chambers, has always been Evangelical in its underpinnings. And so has Comiskey, having come from the Vineyard movement which was the genesis of the dominant Christian-based ex-gay movement in the 1970s. But lately, Comiskey appears to be leaning much more toward Catholic theology, which would mean that if Chambers is making a departure from a clinical standpoint, Comiskey is making a similarly pronounced one from a theological point of view. Nevertheless, Comiskey charges that Chambers’s particular theological positions — some of which are perfectly at home in just about any Baptist setting, for example — places Exodus in danger of “cater(ing) to the culture.”

Comiskey closes with four “recommendations,” with the third recommendation just barely stopping short of calling for Chambers’s ejection from Exodus:

1 That a distinction be made between Alan’s calling and job description, and the needs of the member ministries. Alan is not equipped to handle all that he is currently trying to do. We perceive him as neither a theologian nor a healer but as an inspirer and evangelist, a bridge-builder in need of refinement. He is being chastened for making unfortunate comments. God bless him; haven’t we all? We trust that those he trusts will help him to stay low and clarify the way forward for his renewed season of service.

2. In order for DSM to remain a member ministry, we need to see a higher caliber of commitment to theological and clinical excellence from Exodus. Consider the courage of those with SSA who are seeking genuine integration. They deserve the best! The stakes are high—we are all experiencing the fall-out from a few misplaced, well-intentioned words. We must all do our part, and could draw upon expert friends of Exodus, e.g. Nicolosi and Gagnon, and Exodus elders like the Worthens and Joe Dallas.

3. The process of distinguishing Alan’s role and that of the member ministries must be done slowly and carefully, with Alan playing a reduced role (at best) in the process. We would suggest team leadership here, and sensitive protocol between these newly distinguished expressions of Exodus.

4. Pray more and facebook less. We could all repent of a little wounded self importance. Those overcoming same-sex attraction are inclined to narcissism and its wounds. We all need to get low and give this work back to Jesus. We at DSM hesitate to follow any one person’s lead. Jesus will make such things clear as we wait together.

Ex-Gay Watch’s David Roberts, who first reported on plans for a re-branding effort at Exodus International last November, saw Comiskey’s letter as “the first public shot in the coming insurrection at Exodus” among Exodus member ministries who are “hard line ‘change is possible’ and reparative therapy proponents.” Warren Throckmorton, similarly, wondered aloud whether the letter marks a “schism” at Exodus. Undoubtedly it sparked some interesting conversations behind the scenes, to say the least. Comiskey has since removed the letter from his web site. He has offered no explanation for its removal.

French Protest American Ex-Gay Program in Tolouse

Jim Burroway

November 9th, 2011

Organizers of Rainbow Toulouse had hoped that maybe a hundred people at the most might to show up in front of a small Evangelical church to protest a planned ex-gay seminar. Instead, they were pleasantly surprised to see between 200 and 300 protesters turning out. Michel Megnin, secretary of Rainbow Toulouse, called the showing “the most important LGBT gathering in Toulouse aside from Gay Pride.” Protesters denounced the ministry, saying “we are not sick.” Another sardonically noted the price of an ex-gay seminar that was scheduled for last weekend and said,  “At €330 (US$400), I am too poor to become straight.”

The scheduled seminar, scheduled for last weekend, is affiliated with Andrew Comiskey’s Living Waters program in the U.S.  Comiskey, a former president of Exodus International, has been aggressively expanding his Desert Stream Ministries and its Living Waters program in Canada and Europe. Former ex-gay leader Vonnie Pits issued an apology for her role in a Living Waters-based program she set up in New South Wales, Australia. Last year, Comiskey posted an admission on his blog that a staffer at DSM had sexually abused at least one teenager under their care. But instead of publicly apologizing for the appalling transgression or expressing anguish over the teen’s abuse, he talked about his own anguish over having been interrogated by police and liability insurers, and he thanked his god that “God spared us” from the humiliation of their story appearing in the newspapers. In 2005, DSM moved to Kansas City where Comiskey announcedhe was partnering with Dominionist theologian Mike Bickle (organizer of Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s crusade in Houston) and the International House of Prayer. DSM  reportedly uses “extreme methods that involve forms of exorcism (deliverance/healing prayer) and rely on teachings that believe that people become gay through demonic influences and the sins of ancestors.”  

You can see a video testimony of an ex-gay survivor of Living Waters here.