Nicolosi Recommended Using Gay Porn As Therapy at 2010 Exodus Conference
July 24th, 2012
Last winter, Exodus International began the process of erasins all references to NARTH and Reparative from its web site with the removal of RT books from its online book store. In June, Exodus issued a formal statement saying, “As an organization, we do not subscribe to therapies that make changing sexual orientation a main focus or goal.” Since then, Exodus president Alan Chambers has explained that he was moving Exodus away from RT because, as he briefly explained during the opening night plenary sessions, “I feel like so often in that line of work or in that field of work, we have said, this is what causes homosexuality, this is how you deal with it, and this is what your outcome will be if you do everything right. And I don’t think that’s fair.”
This is his main objection to RT, but it’s not the only one. During a Q&A session at the 2012 conference in St. Paul, Chambers disclosed, briefly, that Nicolosi, who had been a regular speaker at previous Exodus conferences, wanted to present a workshop in which he would discuss the use of pornographic materials to lessen same-sex attraction through a controversial therapy known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). As Chambers explained, recommending the use of porn was a line that Exodus, an explicitly Evangelical Christian organization, would not cross. Exodus refused to accept Nicolosi’s workshop proposal for 2010. Warren Throckmorton obtained a copy of that proposal:
Gay Pornography as a Therapeutic Tool
Reparative Therapists have recently developed a therapeutic technique utilizing gay pornographic images to expose deeper emotional needs beneath mere sexual arousal. While many clients have been told that their homosexuality is a defense against emotional needs, this technique offers “experiential knowing” resulting from personal experience. The result is a diminishment of pornographic appeal and movement toward resolving deeper conflicts.
For men and leaders.
Despite Exodus refusal of that proposed workshop, Nicolosi conducted two other workshops at the 2010 conference, “Preceding Scenario to Homosexual Enactment,” and “Identifying your Shame Based Self Statement.” Throckmorton obtained audio from one of those workshops (he doesn’t say which one), in which Nicolosi, despite Exodus’s ban, recommends using gay porn as part of EMDR therapy:
Chambers briefly mentioned this during a recent interview on MSNBC’s Hardball, but the guest host failed to pick up and follow through on it. Nicolosi had written a letter to Chambers (it’s now posted on Facebook) denying that he recommended using porn, but this audio supports Chambers’s version of events. Nicolosi did not appear at the 2011 or 2012 conference, and I noticed that his books were not available at the conference bookstore in 2012.
Rival Ex-Gay Group Forms to Challenge Exodus
July 22nd, 2012
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.
Charisma Republishes 2004 Culture War Article by Alan Chambers
July 20th, 2012
Five years ago when Exodus International was on the front lines of the culture war, I travelled to the Family Impact Summit in Tampa Florida where I heard, among many other things, Exodus president Alan Chambers give a talk on the homosexual agenda, which he described as an “evil agenda.” The talk, as I recall, was a classic one, one that many others gave in other venues, claiming that Marshall Kirk’s and Erastes Pill’s 1987 article “The Overhauling of Straight America” was a blueprint for gays taking over America, more or less. It was a talk which, if I recall, is very similar to this article which appeared on Charisma Magazine’s web site earlier this morning.
Similar, I say, but not identical. While the Charismapiece does not include the “evil agenda” phrase, it is nevertheless more incendiary than what I remember from that conference. But more to the point, its tone and message runs completely counter to anything we’ve seen from Exodus over the past few years and more specifically in the past eight months. With one minor exception from a relatively unkown workshop speaker, I heard very little of what would be characterized as anything close to being “culture war” rhetoric at the Exodus conference in St. Paul, and none of that came from Chambers. I’m trying to find out what the story is behind this piece suddenly being prominently featured on the front page of Charisma website. I’ll let you know what I find out as soon as I hear anything definitive.
Update: This piece was originally published by Charisma magazine in October, 2004. It’s unclear why it is showing up on Charisma’s website with today’s date and featured prominently on the front page. I’m still looking into it. I’ve updated the headline to this post accordingly (it used to read “Charisma Publishes Culture War Article by Alan Chambers”)
Update: David Roberts at Ex-Gay Watch also notices that the article first appeared in Charisma in 2004. I share his suspicion:
I do wonder why Charisma has republished it today, however. Is someone at the conservative Christian publication trying to sabotage him by bringing up his past words?
Update: BTB commentertristram notices:
If the article was originally published in 2004, it has been edited or updated by someone. It states “Six states, plus Washington, D.C., have legalized same-sex marriage . . . . ” That was certainly not the case in 2004.
That rules out any sort of technical glitch at Charisma.
Update: I just got off the phone with a nice lady at Charisma who didn’t want to give her name. She did say that they had gotten a couple of calls about the article and were “looking into it.” She also appeared to be aware that the 2004 article had been updated to include the status of marriage equality in “six states, plus Washington, D.C.” since 2004. She only said they were “looking into that also.”
Update:Alan Chambers has responded: I am on the beach, literally, with my family enjoying the dog days of summer. I have no idea why Charisma decided to reach so deep, edit and republish an 8 year old article that I am embarrassed that I ever wrote. Our PR team has asked them to remove the article and not to repost it. When I am back in town I will contact them, as well.
Update:And it’s down, with narry an explanation as to what happened. It seems to me that what happened at Charismawas very deliberate. If they had simply re-published, unaltered, an eight year old commentary, they might have been able to explain it away by citing some kind of a technical glitch or errlr. Not that such an explanation would be believable, but it would have an air of deniability about it. But as we know, that 2004 article was updated with information that wasn’t true in 2004 — that six states and Washington, D.C. now provide marriage equality. Which means that this article’s revision and appearance was deliberate. There is simply no other way to read this. Charisma owes everyone, but especially its readers and Alan Chambers an explanation. A very detailed, thorough, and unequivocal explanation. Something very sinister and underhanded happened at Charisma. That we know. What we don’t know is what Charisma will do to address it.
Exodus 2012, Part 1: Then vs. Now, Or What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been
July 9th, 2012
With the conclusion of Exodus International’s annual Freedom Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota during the last week of June, thirty-seven Exodus Conferences have now come and gone. This is only the second conference I’ve been to, but I think it is safe to say that this conference was probably like no other in Exodus’s history. I’m glad I was there to witness it. My point of reference was the 2007 conference that I attended in Irvine, California. The differences between the two conferences weren’t quite night and day, but Exodus is undeniably a very different organization now than it was then, and the two conferences reflect those differences.
My approach to this year’s conference was a bit different from five years ago. In 2007, I went more or less undercover. Not really undercover — I registered under my own name and wore my name badge everywhere I went, but I didn’t talk about myself or reveal that I was a pro-gay blogger. This time was different. I began all substantive conversations I engaged in by introducing myself and disclosing that I was a pro-gay blogger. It turns out that most of the people I encountered never heard of me and didn’t know anything about this blog. Fortunately, my ego is far too resilient to let a thing like that bother me. (It turns out few had heard of me; when I good-naturedly accused one young woman of just being nice when she said she was a BTB regular, she pulled out her smart phone and showed me that BTB was loaded up her RSS reader.) We had some good conversations, and on a couple of occasions a few hard questions were directed my way, but nothing really at all nasty or confrontational. I was, without exception, made to feel welcome, and I really appreciate those who allowed me to get a glimpse into why they were there and what they hoped to get out of the conference.
I would however add that I did not introduce myself to workshop speakers beforehand. I didn’t want my presence to cause them to modify their remarks. I think I was mostly successful toward that end. The only person who recognized me before his workshop was Mike Goeke (Hi Mike!), but based on the content of his talk, I don’t think he changed anything just because I was there tapping out notes on my laptop.
I wanted to attend this particular conference because we have been noting that Exodus International has made some very substantial changes in its messaging over the past several months. I wanted to see first-hand what those changes would look like on the inside. But before I begin discussing the conference itself, a review of that journey is in order. The first tangible sign of those changes surfaced last January, when Chambers appeared on a surprise panel at the Gay Christian Network’s annual conference in Orlando with the revelation 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.” This was a remarkably clear statement from a man who headed an organization with the motto, “Change Is Possible.” On prior occasions, depending on the particular audience he was speaking to, he had mentioned that he personally struggled with same-sex attractions, but this was the first time he acknowledged publicly the reality that people really don’t experience a change in their sexual orientation as a result of entering into the ex-gay movement. With this statement at GCN, he publicly acknowledged what few would only admit privately, if at all. It was a remarkably clear departure from pervious statements.
The reason I removed RT books from Exodus Books is because I don’t agree with using this research as a means to say that “this” is how homosexuality always develops, “this” is the primary means in which to deal with it and this is “the” outcome you can expect. Too, Exodus, as a whole, is not a scientific or psychological organization…we are a discipleship ministry and that is where I think our strength is and energy should be focused.
This, too, was an important development. Reparative Therapy and the particular developmental theories that underlie it have been an important framework for much of what Exodus promoted through the years. It was one of the primary avenues in which change was supposedly possible. Chambers’s decision to distance his organization from RT signaled a break from the National Organization for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), many of whose leaders had been prominent speakers at previous Exodus conferences. Chambers’s move against RT didn’t go unnoticed at NARTH.
Changes at Exodus didn’t end there. Under Chambers’s leadership the organization began to alter its approach to the gay community as well. Just to show you what that difference looks like, it was only a little over a year ago, May 4 to be exact, when Chambers criticized a Google Chrome ad which portrayed ordinary people using YouTube, a Google-owned service, to post videos as part of Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” anti-bullying campaign. Chambers was irked because Woody, a character from “Toy Story,” appeared for about two and a half seconds to say “You’ll be fine, partner.” But after considerable criticism for coming out against the anti-bullying campaign, he retracted that reaction — five months later — saying “I have to admit that I was wrong to question their marketing strategy without expressing my full support for what is the heart of their campaign – encouraging LGBT teens to choose life.”
This year, Exodus has been considerably more pro-active and responsive. They took the initiative last May to condemn the Family Research Council’s awarding its 2012 Watchman Award to Winston-Salem, NC pastor Ron Baity, who compared gays to murderers, said they were “worse than maggots,” and that God had “an urban renewal plan for Sodom and Gomorrah.” And when Exodus board member Dennis Jernigan traveled to Jamaica at the invitation of local anti-gay extremists fighting to preserve that nation’s criminal code defining homosexuality as a felony, Exodus reacted quickly to that controversy with an announcement that Jernigan had resigned from the board. It also reaffirmed its opposition to laws criminalizing homosexuality.
And finally, when a bill began making its way though the California legislature which would ban licensed therapists from providing Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) to minors, Exodus issued a statement which, without addressing the bill directly, re-affirmed Exodus’s position that “we do not subscribe to therapies that make changing sexual orientation a main focus or goal.” It’s not difficult to imagine that a year ago they would have probably been allied with NARTH’s effort to defeat the measure.
All of this taken together represents tremendous changes for Exodus in a remarkably short amount of time. And those changes have not been without cost or controversy within the ex-gay movement. In April, Andrew Comiskey, who heads Desert Stream Ministry, one of the more prominent member ministries in the Exodus network, wrote a letter to 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.” Comiskey stopped short of calling for Chambers’s resignation, but he did call for a “reduced role (at best)” and suggested that Chambers should “pray more and facebook less.” By June, we would learn that eleven member ministries had left Exodus’s network, including Comiskey’s DSM and Frank Worthen’s New Hope Ministries in San Rafael, California. New Hope’s exit is particularly noteworthy because it is one of the surviving granddaddies of the ex-gay movement, having been one of the founding ministries of Exodus International back in 1976.
Exodus, Then and Now
Regular readers at BTB are likely bored with this lengthy recital, but I thought that before diving into what I observed at Exodus’s annual Freedom Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota, it was important to remind ourselves how we got to where we are today. Exodus is behaving very differently from Exodus of past years, and I can confirm that many of those differences were reflected in this year’s conference on several levels. What follows are a few thumbnail observations of the differences I saw at Exodus 2012 when compared to Exodus 2007. For example:
Reparative Therapy: In 2007, Reparative Therapists were prominently featured in conference workshops and plenary sessions. Dr. Julie Harren — she is now Julie Harren Hamilton, NARTH’s most recent past president — spoke at the Saturday morning plenary session, and Reparative Therapists Joseph Nicolosi and Janelle Hallman provided workshops. As recently as 2010, Nicolosi offered two workshops, and he was a featured plenary speaker in 2009.
But in 2012, there was not a single Reparative Therapist in the line-up, either in the plenary sessions or in any of the workshops. But while RT may be gone, its underlying theories remain operative assumptions to explain why people are gay. And for some reason, those explanations are still important at Exodus, where they were the focus of the first two workshops listed for Thursday morning. It’s probably unreasonable to expect everything about RT to be banished overnight. It has, after all, been a huge part of the ex-gay movement for decades. But it seems to me that holding onto those unproven developmental theories no longer provides the utility they once did. This deserves a more thorough discussion, and will be the focus of an upcoming post in this series.
Nevertheless, I think this particular change is the mark of growing maturity in the ex-gay movement, and it has its parallels in the history of the gay community. If you were to go to the library and look up old copies of the Mattachine Review, The Ladder or ONE magazine from the 1950s, you will find tons of articles by psychologists and other professionals telling their gay audiences that homosexuality was a psychological disturbance and that they had the means to cure it. And gays and lesbians at that time, while conflicted over those pronouncements, were willing to give those professionals their respect as “experts.” That changed in the early 1960s when pioneering gay rights activist Frank Kameny boldly stood up and declared that gay people were their own experts and it was the (mostly straight) professional community who needed to learn from them. Kameny’s uncompromising brashness is not in Exodus’s genes, but in many ways I can see Exodus International beginning to take a few steps along a familiar path within the ex-gay movement, with politically-motivated anti-gay organiations, and within the Evangelical Church.
On Change: Because Reparative Therapy is no longer supported at Exodus, the expectation that sexual orientation can be changed has also been largely eliminated. Mostly. There are still a few recalcitrant exceptions. But Alan Chambers devoted his entire opening night talk on this subject and it set the tone for the whole conference. The most notable feature of that talk — and the part that everyone was talking about afterwards — was his reading of the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from Daniel 3:16-18 who defiantly told King Nebuchadnezza that “we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” He then went on to say, “I think we’ve made a golden idol out of change.”
He said much more than that, and I will go deeper into it in the next post in this series. But suffice it to say that his opening night talk set a clear benchmark for the rest of the conference. According to several conversations I’ve had, this looks like the most positive change that Exodus has undertaken, as it now appears to me that many attendees no longer feel the pressure to prove that they’ve changed or are in the process of changing their sexual attractions. While its possible that some may feel disillusioned about what they hoped to find at Exodus, I got the sense that the larger overall feeling was one of tenuous relief. And I use the word tenuous to describe that relief because I think a different, more realistic message has sunk in, that they will almost certainly remain “same-sex attracted” for the rest of their lives. That is an undoubtedly daunting prospect. And what Exodus is now offering instead of change is the promise of just “showing up” and supporting them in their daily walk. I sensed a widespread agreement that this was a much more honest and realistic message.
Marriage vs. Celibacy: In 2007, marriage was still the golden idol for many participants at the Exodus Conference. It was evident in many of the testimonies presented during the plenary sessions, and it was assumed to be a desired outcome for many who were there — even if that outcome would be many years down the road. I remember that on arriving at that conference, a local news crew was interviewing an ex-gay attendee who — and I am not making this up — looked like a bleached-blond Rod Stewart clone. The newsperson asked him if his sexual orientation changed, upon which pseudo-Rod shrieked, “Of course! And if you don’t believe me, you can ask my wife!” (My thought was probably the same as yours: “Oh, honey!”) Alan Chambers tried to inject a note of realism on his opening night talk that night where, at one point, he challenged his audience to imagine what their lives might be like if they don’t experience a change in their sexual orientation. But compared to his talk in 2012, that was a relatively minor detour.
But what a difference five years makes. It’s hard to make celibacy an attractive option, but Exodus appears committed to elevating living a single life to an equal footing with married life. This will be a very difficult task in Evangelical culture, where churches routinely operate singles ministries for the purpose of getting members matched up. But I think this time there is a greater commitment to providing encouragement and resources for living a single, celibate life. It was the focus of one of the plenary talks by Jonathan Barry, who also presented a popular workshop on the subject. Christopher Yuan’s plenary reinforced that message, and Exodus vice president Jeff Buchanon called for more emphasis on singleness as a blessing in his workshop on discipleship. It will obviously be a hard sell, but it is at least a much more realistic one.
The Culture War: In 2007, Exodus announced that they had hired Amanda Banks, whose sole job it was to represent Exodus in lobbying against pro-gay measures on Capitol Hill. She gave a detailed talk at that conference on Exodus’s plans for anti-gay lobbying. That was only one example of Exodus’s engagement in the culture wars. Focus On the Family was represented by Mike Haley and Melissa Fryrear, while Michael Brown and Ken Hutcherson provided some rather entertaining culture-war material for the plenary sessions. The conference opened with a special video in which several prominent anti-gay political and religious leaders welcoming participants to that conference. I witnessed first hand the distress that video caused at least one conference participant. At one workshop on the culture war (yes, that was part of the workshop’s title), he angrily denounced several leaders who appeared in that video for their untruthful attacks against the gay community and asked why Exodus would feature such hateful people (his words) whose rhetoric he felt to be so personally harmful. He then broke down in tears, bringing that workshop to an abrupt end. It was a poignant reminder that those who attend these Exodus conferences really are gay people in many respects. It also illustrated how the allure of politics allowed Exodus to lose sight of those they claimed to serve.
In 2012, references to the culture wars was remarkably attenuated. Nobody from Focus On the Family was there that I noticed, nor were there any other notable culture war speakers. Culture war references weren’t completely absent; I noticed that old habits die hard among a few of the more obscure workshop presenters. But this time, I saw several instances when speakers had an opening to go into politics or cultural issues but refrained from doing so. Even among topics that one would expect to be uncontroversial within the setting of an Exodus conference, people generally just didn’t want to “go there.” In fact, I would say that there was, if anything, a general weariness over the whole thing.
Outreach to the Gay Community: This was a relatively new one. Previously, speakers would mention interacting with the gay community, but most of those mentions were more or less in passing. But now, with Exodus’s exit from politics, there were some discussions about engaging gay people directly and what that might look like. One of the best workshops I attended was by Katie Brown, who talked about why the Millennial generation was turning away from anti-gay rhetoric (and, by extension, the Evangelical Church) in droves. I thought her observations were very perceptive, and not necessarily limited to Millennials. Goeke’s talk on reaching out to the gay community was also mostly constructive.
Where they talked about reaching out to the gay community, the talk centered mostly on what to do (and, more importantly, what not to do). But what I didn’t see fleshed out was a sense of what they thought they had to offer that we didn’t already have. One answer I imagine they would supply might be Jesus, but we already have gay-affirming churches and their numbers are growing every day. Goeke pointed out that the Evangelical Church should have been the first to step up with an anti-bullying campaign, but instead offered little but resistance to even addressing the problem. I would add that the church also should have been the first to provide comprehensive help during the height of the AIDS crisis, but was instead a source of condemnation to the gay community for incurring “God’s wrath.” That is something that I don’t think can ever be forgotten.
I would also point out that because of those failures on behalf of the Evangelical church (and religous institutions as a whole), the gay community had to respond with its own version of “ministries” — community based organizations to address the many specific needs of our communities. We had to learn the hard way how to minister to ourselves in the face of unrelenting tragedy and overwhelming adversity. And so we’ve already established the kinds of ministries, if you will, that they should have established. If Exodus members are serious about reaching out, they might consider showing up at some of the many volunteer organizations that already exist in their communities and getting to know gay people on a more personal level. And then, maybe, decide whether they really have anything constructive to offer. And to allow members of the gay community to decide whether they want to buy whatever it is they’re offering.
The Big Picture
But overall, I’d have to say that the biggest difference I saw in 2012 when compared to five years ago is that Exodus 2012 was characterized by a greater humility. In 2007, the married and the “changed” were triumphant, and the strugglers were, well, still struggling. Also, speakers at that conference were the “experts” and the attendees the students. And as in many student/teacher situations, I found several instances when conference participants either snickered at what they heard or (in the case of John Smid’s workshop on masturbation) muttered “this is bullshit!” when they encountered, well, bullshit. In 2007, I was surprised more often than I thought I would be by the frequency at which conference attendees voiced disagreement among themselves over some of the things they heard.
This time, I think there was a greater appreciation for Alan Chamber’s transparency in admitting that he still has same-sex attractions and that sometimes those feelings can be pretty strong. This blurred the divide between the “experts” and the “students” on Day One, and the leaders were made much more human in the eyes of those in the seats. And compared to 2007, there were somewhat more hard questions and somewhat fewer easy answers. I think that this change is something that we haven’t had a chance to see before, and it was unquestionably a positive one in my mind.
Most of the changes that I’ve described can be scored in the positive column, for those inclined toward keeping score. What I haven’t gotten to yet is those areas where Exodus has not changed and probably will never change. Exodus is not, by any means, becoming a pro-gay organization, but they seem to be interested in becoming a less overtly anti-gay one. That will be very difficult for them, mainly because I don’t think the gay community will be willing to see them that way given their theological stance. But what I find fascinating is that some of the ways where Exodus isn’t changing may also wind up presenting a serious challenge to the Evangelical Church as a whole. That, too, will be the subject of a future post. Stay tuned. We’re just getting started.
Part 1: Then vs. Now, Or What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been
Part 2: “We’ve Made a Golden Idol of Change” (Coming soon)
Part 3: The Long Shadow of Reparative Therapy (Coming soon)
Part 4: Sin and Salvation, and the Challenge to the Evangelical Church (Coming soon)
Part 5: Final Thoughts (Coming soon.)
UPDATE: All sorts of events intervened — personal stuff, health stuff, family stuff, work stuff, dental stuff (percocet!) — which got in the way of completing this series. By the time I was ready to resume, Exodus had become such a moving target that much of what I wanted to talk about was no longer relevant. I do hope to touch on a number of these topics in future posts as they become more immediately relevant.
NY Times and NPR on Exodus International’s Change in Direction
July 7th, 2012
The New York Times describes the ex-gay movement as being convulsed by Exodus International president Alan Chambers turning away from Reparative Therapy and other forms of Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE). You can see some of those “convulsions” from NARTH’s David Pickup, who claims that “my homosexual feelings began to dissipate and attractions for women grew” as a result of Reparative Therapy. PFOX’s Greg Quinlan plays armchair psychologist and says, “I think Mr. Chambers is tired of his own personal struggles, so he’s making excuses for them by making sweeping generalizations about others.”
And from a theological standpoint, Robert Gagnon has come forward to denounce Chambers’s move. And you can always tell when Gagnon gets upset that others don’t recognize the sheer genius of his theological insights. (Right Timothy?) He countered Chambers’s move with a 35-page response (PDF: 729KB/35 pages!). I’ll let you read it. Chambers himself hasn’t responded, but in the broken-clock-is-still-right-twice-a-day category, I’ll suggest you look at how Exodus former VP Randy Thomas reacts. I’ve had plenty of disagreements with Thomas on a number of things, but I’ve always enjoyed his wit. He’s in fine form today.
Gagnon’s irritation with Exodus is not insignificant. It was only a year ago when Gagnon gave a Wednesday morning plenary talk at the Exodus conference in Ridgecrest, North Carolina, followed by two workshops. It was his first time spelling at Exodus, and I’m guessing it will probably be his last.
NPR’s All Things Considered also featured a story in Exodus International yesterday. You can find audio and a write-up here. In this interview, Chambers talks about another of the many reasons for his change in emphasis: “I believe we’ve been hypocritical. I believe that we have looked at the issue of same-sex attraction differently than we look at anything else.” He expanded on this theme during his opening night plenary talk at the Exodus Conference, and it became an interesting topic for an informal Q&A the next day, which I will talk more about next week.
My very short take-away from my own first-hand experience at the conference is this: There really are significant changes afoot at Exodus. And having looked around and engaged in some rather significant conversations in St. Paul, I have come to the conclusion that change is possible at Exodus. But it has been neither instantaneous nor complete. And if it does come about, it will only be after a very long struggle.
What Questions Do You Have About Exodus?
June 29th, 2012
As you may have noticed, my blogging activities this week have been very light. That’s because I’ve been spending my time among new friends at Exodus International’s annual Freedom Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota. So far, nobody has locked me into a broom closet or thrown holy water on me so, you know, so far so good.
At BTB, we’ve been tracking signs of some pretty interesting changes at Exodus over the past several months, and so I decided to attend this year’s confernece to see for myself what those changes might look like on the ground. What I can say right now is that indeed there are significant, encouraging shifts in Exodus’s focus toward a much more realistic message. The word “change” isn’t banished entirely, but the expectation that changing one’s sexual orientation can change – and that emphasis is important — is now discouraged. That’s not to say that Exodus is suddenly becoming a pro-gay organization. They’re not — far from it. But they are becoming much more transparent about what being gay means while dealing with it in their understanding of Biblical principles. I will go into that much more deeply next week when I have a chance to go through all of my notes and get everything put together.
So now that I’m here, I’m interested in learning what you think I should cover. What burning questions do you have about Exodus, about this particular conference, or about the kinds of people who come here? What do you think really happens when people from around the country get together to talk about themselves and their struggles? What stereotypes do you have that I can confirm or refute? What questions do you think I should be asking? Feel free to drop me a line, either in comments or via Twitter at @jfburroway.
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.
Exodus Loses 11 Ministries Following Recent Changes
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.
Exodus and “Self-Determination”
June 6th, 2012
In response to yesterday’s post about Exodus International’s statement on Reparative Therapy in response to California’s proposed curbs on Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) by licensed professionals, Exodus president Alan Chambers sent me a message clarifying a point about the line referring to “an individual’s right to self determination”:
To clarify the “right to self determination”, we took that from the APA not NARTH.
The line about “an individual’s right to self-determine” is from Principle E (under General Principles) of the American Psychological Association’s Code of Ethics. This inclusion in the APA’s code of ethics hearkens back to past history when it was much more common for patients to be coerced or forced into various forms of psychological treatment against their will. The code now calls for special safeguards “to protect the rights and welfare of persons or communities whose vulnerabilities impair autonomous decision making.” The code goes on:
Psychologists are aware of and respect cultural, individual and role differences, including those based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language and socioeconomic status and consider these factors when working with members of such groups. Psychologists try to eliminate the effect on their work of biases based on those factors, and they do not knowingly participate in or condone activities of others based upon such prejudices.
NARTH, of course, ignores that portion of the Code of Ethics which places this right in critical context when discussing the rights of self-determination. NARTH uses the statement to justify ex-gay therapy. But as I noted in yesterday’s post, Exodus departs from NARTH by juxtaposing the language from the APA’s code of ethics with the statement, “As an organization, we do not subscribe to therapies that make changing sexual orientation a main focus or goal.” While it’s not clear that Exodus embraces the fullness of Principle E, this does appear to place Exodus on a line that is at least somewhat closer to the APA’s position than NARTH’s.
Exodus Issues Non-Committal Response To California Ex-Gay Bill
June 5th, 2012
In response to questions from the media about California’s proposed SB 1172, which would regulate the practice of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) among licensed professionals and bar providing such therapies to minors, Exodus International has issued the following position statement:
Exodus International supports an individual’s right to self-determine as they address their personal struggles related to faith, sexuality and sexual expression. As an organization, we do not subscribe to therapies that make changing sexual orientation a main focus or goal. Our ministry’s objective is to equip the Church to become the primary place where people of faith seek support, refuge and discipleship as they make the decision to live according to Christian principles.
We believe in a “gospel-centric” view, meaning that all people, regardless of individual life struggles, can experience freedom over the power of sin through a daily relationship with Jesus Christ, a commitment to scripture, and by being a part of a vibrant, transparent and relational community of believers found in the local church. Exodus is partnered with more than 260 churches and support-based ministries who serve individuals and families experiencing a conflict between their faith and sexuality. [Emphasis in the original.]
The closest Exodus comes to opposing the bill is in mimicking the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality’s formulation that Exodus “supports an individual’s right to self-determine” — a coded phrase which places the onus on determining the appropriateness of SOCE on the patient rather than the licensed therapists who should know better. Those who haven’t been closely following NARTH may not see that connection. But even for those of us who do, it appears that Exodus is happy to break that connection in the second sentence, where they distance themselves from “therapies that make changing sexual orientation a main focus or goal.” So if Exodus intends to oppose S.B. 1172, this statement is a strange way to go about it.
[Update: Exodus president Alan Chambers has clarified that the language about "an individual’s right to self-determine" was taken from the APA, not NARTH. For more information on what that means, read this update.]
Exodus appears to have taken the position of not taking a position on S.B. 1172. This, I think, again breaks new ground for a couple of reasons. First, Exodus provides a fairly extensive list online of professional counselors who, if I’m not mistaken, probably do provide therapies in which changing sexual orientation as “a main focus or goal.” I recognize two names immediately: Phillip Sutton, who on this outdated page is listed as NARTH’s “President-elect” (NARTH’s actual president following the tenure of Julie Hamilton is Christopher Rosik), is one that I’m sure hasn’t abandoned the idea of change for change’s sake. Another counselor, Robert Brennan of San Francisco presented a workshop for parents of gay kids at the Exodus Freedom Conference in 2007. Maybe his views have changed since then, but when I attended that workshop, he was very reassuring to those parents about the likelihood for change in sexual orientation.
It seems that this is still a contradiction that Exodus has not fully worked out, but Exodus may not see it that way because it’s not a big contradiction to begin with. Exodus’s listing of licensed therapists is only twenty-four names long, less than ten percent of their “260 churches and support-based ministries. And they’ve already removed books on reparative therapy (a particular form of a broad array of ex-gay therapies), which is NARTH’s mainstay. Those facts, combined with this statement, suggests that Exodus don’t appear to be much interested in preserving their counselors’ career paths in the ex-gay movement. Increasingly, they are looking more and more like a vestigial organ, like an appendix or the tailbone that’s still a part of the body but which no longer serves a purpose. This statement also appears to portend a wider rift between NARTH and Exodus.
But the second significance of this statement, as I see it, is this: as I noted before, California’s S.B. 1172, applies only to licensed therapists, not religious ministries. And so when asked to comment on S.B. 1172, Exodus sidesteps the question altogether and shifts the focus toward churches and ministries, not licensed therapists and counselors — and not even its own licensed therapists and counselors. It wasn’t that long ago when Exodus relished jumping into a large number of public policy issues. But now, when asked to weigh in on public policy which relates to their own home turf, Exodus demurs. In reading between the lines ,they are effectively say that they don’t care one way or another about s.B. 1172 because it doesn’t affect them. They posit that people don’t exercise their “right of self-determination” on matters of religious beliefs and practices in in the offices of licensed therapists and counselors, but in churches and associated ministries. Which, I think, is as it should be. If someone wants to live according to their religious principles, then it is at church (or the synagogue or mosque) where those discussions should take place, not at a doctor’s office. After all, I don’t think very many psychologists provide intensive therapies to help flagging Orthodox Jewish patients keep a kosher home.
Exodus Condemns Family “Research” Council For Honoring Anti-Gay Pastor
May 29th, 2012
Exodus International, the world’s largest Christian ministry helping individuals and families struggling with same sex attraction, denounced the Family Research Council’s choice of pastor Ron Baity to receive its highest pro-family honor, the 2012 Watchman Award.
Baityis on record saying, “gays act worse than maggots,” will make society “more filthy,” and God had an “urban renewal plan for Sodom and Gomorrah.” Baity also compares gay and lesbian people to murderers and says gay marriage is America’s “death warrant.” Baity is founding pastor of Winston-Salem’s Berean Baptist Church and head of the pro-marriage organization, Return America.
“It’s time conservative Christians who claim biblical principles such as loving their enemies and neighbors, and considering the welfare of others first, to speak swiftly and strongly against this type of action,” says Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International.
“For too long we’ve stayed silent and allowed our brothers and sisters to tip that hat toward hate. It’s a terrible witness for Christ, and clear hypocrisy to a watching world.”
Exodus hasn’t had a very close relationship with the Family “Research” Council for quite a while. Exodus has traveled more in Focus On the Family’s circle than FRC’s, and their association with FOTF has been curtailed somewhat after Exodus took over the Love Won Out travelling roadshow conference in 2009. Last fall, there were reports that Exodus would undergo a rebranding exercise in an effort to stave off bankruptcy. The first evidence for that exercise came in January when Exodus president Alan Chambers appeared on a surprise panel of a meeting of the Gay Christian Network and said that “99.9% of them (ex-gays) have not experienced a change in their orientation.”
That provoked a mild rebuke from NARTH. Meanwhile, Exodus removed books on Reparative Therapy,(*) NARTH’s signature form of therapy, from Exodus’s online bookstore. It now appears that Exodus has removed references to NARTH altogether from its web site.
I don’t think we can deny that changes are taking place at Exodus. What’s unclear is how deep those changes go, particularly to member ministries and churches. It’s also unclear how deep these changes are held within Exodus’s leadership. Last February, Exodus board member Mike Goeke wrote an op-ed for the Baptist Press describing why he thought homosexuality was in a special category that made it different from all the other “sins.”
That’s why I had hoped to attend another Love Won Out conference to see what, if any, changes had been made in its messaging. The last time I attended one was in 2007, and I was prepared to go to Albuquerque to attend one that had been scheduled for May. Unfortunately, it was cancelled due to a lack of interest. I had also wanted to try to attend the Exodus Freedom Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota at the end of June, but finances won’t permit it.
So I’m in the same boat as the rest of you, trying to read the tea leaves from afar. And as is the case with tea-leaf reading, the result likely says more about the reader than any message contained in the leaves: Exodus is either making all the changes we’ve hoped they were making, or they are frantically trying to say or do anything to stay alive. I happen to believe the truth actually lies elsewhere — not in the tea leaves, but simply by watching and noting each development as it unfolds. To be sure, Exodus is not becoming a pro-gay or gay-affirming organizaiton. But I think today’s statement condeming the FRC’s honoree does break new ground, if for no other reason than for the fact that Exodus International has strongly criticized a very powerful and influential anti-gay organization. I’m not willing to read anything more into this statement than that. But I’m also not willing to read anything less.
[(*) NOTE: Reparative Therapy is a very specific term which describes just one particular type of therapy out of a large array of therapies aimed at changing sexual orientation. Reparative Therapy derives its name from the theory that gay men become gay because they suffered a “masculine deficit” due to the failure to form a healthy bond with their fathers. That “masculine deficit” sets up a “reparative drive” in the son, wich is defined as the son’s impulse to “repair” that masculine deficit by seeking out relationships with other men. Reparative Therapy depends on this particular theory of male homosexuality, and it is quite rigid on that point. Many ex-gay therapists are not Reparative Therapists, and some are quite emphatic on that point.
This is why we here at BTB do not use the phrase “reparative therapy” as a generic term for sexual orientation change therapies because that usage is incorrect. We only use this term when we are talking about this particular form of therapy intended to address the so-called “reparative drive."]
The new Exodus message
May 25th, 2012
Over the past several of years we have seen Exodus International change from an organization that sought to turn gay people straight and who provided political cover for anti-gay activism into an organization that, well, let’s let them put in in their own words:
In the midst of the chaos and tired culture war mentality, Exodus International continues to serve a fast growing population of the Church that is ready to end the war and reach out in compassion to people who come to them for answers.
“Exodus is here to provide support to individuals with SSA who want to be faithful in their pursuit of living out a biblical sexual ethic,” said Chambers. “We encourage parents who desire to be faithful to their values to also love their gay or lesbian child unconditionally despite having differing worldviews. Finally we are here to help churches looking for ways to reach out to people in their congregations or across the divide to people in their communities.”
For some readers, that will still not be satisfactory; some will see the new language as repackaging for public consumption; some will worry about exactly what “reaching out to people” entails; and I suppose there may be a few who think that anything short of full endorsement should be silenced.
But I continue to be encouraged at the direction that Exodus has taken and while I may not agree with their interpretation of what a biblical sexual ethic may be, this position is one that I can live with.
Exodus Cancels Albuquerque Ex-Gay Conference; Midland, TX, Conference Dropped from Web Site
May 4th, 2012
Exodus International took the unprecedented step of canceling a “Love Won Out” conference scheduled for Albuquerque, New Mexico on May 12. The “Love Won Out” conference (which I attended in Phoenix in 2007) is a traveling roadshow conducted four to six times a year in different cities across North America, and serves as a kind of day-long infomercial for the ex-gay movement.
In an email to those pre-registered for the conference, Exodus events director David Fountain called the cancellation “one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make.” He added, “Unfortunately, due to the low number of registrations we simply were unable to justify the substantial cost of bringing the LWO Conference to the Albuquerque area.”
In its heyday, LWO was a joint project of Exodus and Focus on the Family with additional participation from the National Association of Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (NARTH) During the early years, it was not unusual for LWO conferences to attract an audience of 2,000 or more. But when I attended LWO in 2007, the conference drew over a thousand people, already down some from its heyday, but still substantial enough to be counted as a success. But since then, we’ve had reports of lower attendance figures. Memphis drew only about 600 attendees in 2008, and another one in Orlando that year drew 500. Figures in the 400-600 range now appear to be the new normal. In 2009, Focus On the Family announced its withdrawal from LWO and it became the sole property of Exodus in 2010.
Last February, Exodus brought LWO to Atlanta where, as has become typical, they drew “over 500″ according to Exodus. Metro Atlanta has a population of more than five million deep in the Bible belt, and is a convenient day’s drive from a dozen other cities in six states. Albuquerque,on the other hand has a metro population of 900,000, and is located in a rather sparsely populated state that is not quite the haven for Evangelical Christian activism as Atlanta. It’s hard to see how Albuquerque (or Midland) could draw a large crowd given their much smaller populations and very long distances from other population centers.
Last fall, there were reports that Exodus was undergoing a rebranding exercise in an effort to stave off bankruptcy. The first evidence for that exercise came in January when Exodus president Alan Chambers appeared on a surprise panel of a meeting of the Gay Christian Network and said that “99.9% of them (ex-gays) have not experienced a change in their orientation.” I wanted to attend another LWO to see how that change in direction was reflected in their conference, and with Albuquerque being a very short flight from Tucson, where I live, I had already purchased airline tickets to go. It looks like those tickets will have to go somewhere else — and they won’t be for Midland either.
The only LWO conference scheduled this year is in September near Harrisburg, PA, not far from Philadelphia. If that holds, it would be only the second LWO conference scheduled for this year. While that conference could concievably draw from a much larger population base (Philly, Baltimore/Washington, New Jersey, etc.), I would not be surprised to see that conference canceled as well. And if it is canceled, that could spell the end of “Love Won Out” altogether.
Dissention Rises Within Exodus International
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.
Exodus chooses their own change
March 19th, 2012
Henry Ford once quipped that “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.” And behind that bit of snark is an important idea: life always gives you choices, but sometimes the choice is limited to how you choose to respond to inevitable circumstances. You can always change things, but sometimes the change is limited to changing your own perspective.
And after many years of prayer, effort, and contemplation, Exodus International, the umbrella organization for ex-gay ministries seems to have reached that realization. When in January at a panel presentation to the Gay Christian Network it’s president, Alan Chambers, said that 99.9% of ex-gays don’t change their orientation, it was to the first half or that reality that he was speaking.
But there is always room for change. And when it came time for each of us to recognize our orientation, we all went through change. And for young Christian youth growing up in a conservative family and church, change is necessary for survival. Without reconciling your sexuality and your faith, you will never be at peace.
Most of those reading chose to question the things we had been taught. We found a path that allows for relationships and sexual expression without seeing such as eternally damning. But the change one chooses is individual and there is no “correct” response. Some choose to apply to themselves and their lives the same conservative sexual code that they would apply to single heterosexuals. And that is their right.
And within that context, “change” becomes simply that: movement from one state of being to another. The effort to achieve goals and objectives measured not by how gay or straight one is, but by whether one lives according to their chosen life plan.
In February, Alan wrote a commentary in which he discusses change and what it means to him. At that time we were going through an almost daily shift in marriage law expectations across the states and our coverage of those stories would have drowned out this issue. And as we have for many years challenged Exodus to explain “change”, I want to give Alan’s explanation an opportunity to be heard.
I have SSA but that reality is only relevant to me personally and those with whom I am in deep relationship. I choose to be faithful to my relationship with Christ and the truth that my Heavenly Father’s creative intent for human sexual expression was for one man and one woman in the bonds of heterosexual marriage. For me, anything else falls short and is to be resisted. Because I experience some level of SSA I monitor what stimuli I receive. The same is true of my relationship with other things that have consumed me in the past from food to materialism.
When it comes to orientation, attractions, desires, feelings or whatever word you choose to use, I think very little about them. They are what they are. I know them. I understand them. I know how to live with them. I also know a lot of the things that cause them to manifest. SSA isn’t a greater struggle or more concerning to me than other things in my life. Again, they just are. I guess that is why I have no problem talking about them, admitting them and feeling really great about myself even though I have them. They do not define me.
Leslie isn’t threatened by my SSA, either. She knows how I feel about my relationship with Christ first and how I feel about her followed by our kids and so on. She isn’t a surrogate for sexual acting out. She is my treasure and the object of my deepest human longings.
Have I experienced change in my life? To be sure. And to be clear, the change is primarily a matter of seeking to live out what I value most. It is centered on who I am in Christ and flows outward in a way that is specific to me and doesn’t contradict what the Bible teaches. The same was true for me as a single, celibate Christian man.
Did NARTH Just Diss Exodus?
January 28th, 2012
On Thursday, I thought there might be a split of sorts emerging between Exodus and NARTH when Exodus removed their books on Reparative Therapy from the Exodus bookstore as it seeks to change its focus towards the more religious, ministerial aspects of the ex-gay movement. Recently, Exodus president Alan Chambers said that “99.9%” of people he has known in the ex-gay movement did not experience a change in their sexual orientation, but rather changed their identity and behavior. Now NARTH, which sees itself as a “scientific” organization, has continued to cling to the promise of change in sexual orientation itself. Perhaps in response to the statements coming Chambers, NARTH’s board of directors yesterday issued a statement from their board of directors on “sexual orientation change,” which includes this shot at their erstwhile religious allies:
Finally, it also needs to be observed that reports on the potential for sexual orientation change may be unduly pessimistic based on the confounding factor of type of intervention. Most of the recent research on homosexual sexual orientation change has focused on religiously mediated outcomes which may differ significantly from outcomes derived through professional psychological care. It is not unreasonable to anticipate that the probability of change would be greater with informed psychotherapeutic care, although definitive answers to this question await further research. NARTH remains highly interested in conducting such research, pursuant only to the acquisition of sufficient funding.
Exodus International Drops “Reparative Therapy” Books
January 26th, 2012
As further evidence of a possible shift of Exodus International’s focus, Warren Throckmorton pointed the removal of books on reparative therapy from Exodus’s bookstore. When Throckmorton asked Exodus International president Alan Chambers for comment, he responded:
The reason I removed RT books from Exodus Books is because I don’t agree with using this research as a means to say that “this” is how homosexuality always develops, “this” is the primary means in which to deal with it and this is “the” outcome you can expect. Too, Exodus, as a whole, is not a scientific or psychological organization…we are a discipleship ministry and that is where I think our strength is and energy should be focused.
This comes two weeks after Chambers told an audience of gay Christians 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 or have gotten to a place where they could say that they could never be tempted or are not tempted in some way or experience some level of same-sex attraction.”
Before we jump to conclusions here, it is important to step back and unpack this a bit to understand what is happening. When most people think of the phrase “reparative therapy,” it is generally assumed that what is being “repaired” is a person’s sexual orientation. But clinically, that’s not what is meant by “reparative therapy”. Reparative Therapy is a very specific term which describes just one particular type of therapy out of a large array of therapies aimed at changing sexual orientation. Reparative Therapy in particular derives its name from the theoretical underpinnings of this particular form of therapy, which is based on the assumption that gay men become gay because they suffered a “masculine deficit” due to the failure to form a healthy bond with their fathers. That “masculine deficit” sets up a “reparative drive” in the son. That “reparative drive” is defined as the son’s impulse to “repair” that masculine deficit by his seeking out relationships with other men. As Joseph Nicolosi suscinctly sums it up: “We advise fathers, if you don’t hug your sons, some other man will.” Reparative Therapy, therefore, is aimed at addressing that “reparative drive” by ostensibly increasing the client’s self-perception as a male and reframing the boundaries of his relationships with other men.
Reparative Therapy, strictly speaking depends on one single theory of male homosexuality, and it is quite rigid on that point. This is why we here at BTB do not use the phrase “reparative therapy” as a generic term for sexual orientation change therapies. We use the term only when we are talking about this particular form of therapy intended to address the theorized “reparative drive.”
While Reparative Therapy does not describe just any form of sexual orientation change therapy, it is a central focus, almost to the point of being the exclusive focus, of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), an organization which was co-founded by Nicolosi. He is not only known as “the father of Reparative Therapy,” but he literally wrote the book on it (see Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality: A New Clinical Approach). Although Reparative Theory doesn’t represent NARTH’s official position on sexual orientation development (officially, NARTH has none), it is nevertheless the predominant assumption behind much of NARTH’s literature and web site, and it is also fervently embraced by much of NARTH’s membership.
In contrast, Exodus’s official statement regarding Reparative Therapy reads:
Reparative Therapy is a specialized counseling approach that focuses on resolving relational deficits and/or trauma believed to be a contributing factor in the development of same-sex attraction. Exodus International believes that Reparative Therapy can be a beneficial tool. Exodus International is not a clinical facility but does affiliate, within the Exodus Professional Counselor Network, with licensed therapists. A minority of these professionals may ascribe to some aspects of Reparative Therapy.
Reparative Therapy has been beneficial to some within our network therefore Exodus does provide limited referrals to a select and small group of independent and licensed Christian professionals who offer this resource.
By removing Reparative Therapy books from Exodus’s bookstore, Chambers has now signaled something of a dissatisfaction with RT’s underlying assumption that the reparative drive is the only explanation for sexual orientation development. This is not a new position for Chambers. In fact, it’s not even new for him to consider the possibility that biology can play a part. When I attended the annual Exodus conference in Irvine in June 2007, I heard him challenge his audience to consider the possibility that there may be a biological basis for homosexuality. I don’t have the exact quote with me, but I do recall that he then went on to challenge his audience to remain committed to living according to what he considered to be “God’s best” for them (i.e. a life of celibacy or sexual monogamy with another person of the opposite sex in marriage) regardless of whatever sort of biological errors (my words, not his) may have occurred.
This, of course, is anathema at NARTH. But seen in the overall context of the past half-decade at least, Chambers’s recent moves do not represent a dramatic departure for Exodus. Exodus was always more ministry than psychology, and it appears that Chambers is moving to sharpen the organization’s focus toward the former and away from the latter. But those moves may signal a growing split between Exodus and NARTH (which bills itself as a “scientific” organization), both in approach and tone. That change hasn’t gone unnoticed at NARTH. As evidence, Throckmorton points to an article by David Pickup, who frequently presents at NARTH’s convention and who runs NARTH’s private Facebook page. Pickup blasts Exodus for deemphasizing Reparative Therapy:
In my experience, Exodus has, quite unintentionally for the last 20 years, failed to understand and effectively deal with the actual root causes of homosexuality and what leads to authentic change. I laud their willingness to admit their naiveté’, but I do not see anything so far that indicates they now truly understand the psychological, developmentally-based causes of homosexuality or what produces real change.
…If Chambers and Exodus do want to truly understand the nature of homosexuality, then they should be open to understanding the psychological underpinnings of these issues and start to recommending qualified therapists who are experts at facilitating significant change. If not, then Exodus will fall into deeper controversy than they are in already. They will be reduced to the myopic ministry of simply helping people to deal with their homosexuality through behavioral changes, which, by the way, reflects the American Psychological Association’s belief about Reparative Therapy: that real change is not possible and people may be helped only in the sense of conforming their behavior to reflect their religious beliefs. In short, Exodus will eventually lose even more effectiveness and begin to flounder.
For an idea of how Pickup addressed his reparative drive, check out this video.
So what does all of this mean? It’s hard to tell at this point. Exodus may not sell books on Reparative Therapy, yet a number of reparative therapists are a part of the Exodus referral network. Chambers may acknowledged that “99.9%” of people don’t change their sexual orientation, but the Exodus website says otherwise, and even dangles out there the carrot of marriage:
Exodus affirms reorientation of same sex attraction is possible. This is a process, which begins with motivation to, and self-determination to change based upon a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We facilitate resources for this process through our member ministries, other established networks and the Church. The key outcome of this is measured by a growing capacity to turn away from temptations, a reconciling of ones identity with Jesus Christ, being transformed into His image. This enables growth towards Godly heterosexuality. Exodus recognizes that a lifelong and healthy marriage as well as a Godly single life are good indicators of this transformation. [Emphasis mine]
But it does look like there have been some nips and tucks in other areas which may reflect Exodus’s increasing autonomy from Focus and NARTH. For example, in 2007 I attended Love Won Out, Exodus’s traveling infomercial for ex-gay ministries, which featured a detailed exposition of Reparative Theory as the only significant explanation for male homosexuality. The lecture was delivered by Nicolosi, who spent about an hour making the case first thing in the morning. When Nicolosi left LWO a year later, his place on the schedule was taken by former Exodus president Joe Dallas, who delivered Nicolosi’s talk on Reparative Therapy with only a few minor changes here and there. That was when LWO was a joint venture between Exodus and Focus On the Family. Beginning in 2010, Focus bowed out and LWO became an exclusively Exodus project. Since then, the published agenda for LWO has changed drastically. I can only assume that the changes reflect a change in Exodus’s emphasis, but I can’t be certain from this vantage point. I guess this means I’ll have to book a flight and attend another conference to get caught up to date.
Exodus Board Member: Homosexuality IS Different
With a commentary
January 13th, 2012
I don’t think Timothy is alone in detecting a change at Exodus, nor do I think he’s off in the weeds. There are plenty of encouraging signs for those who are willing to acknowledge them. I’m cautiously optimistic myself about the potential for Exodus president Alan Chambers’s personal evolution. But while I acknowledge that he has made some positive changes at Exodus over the years, I find myself considerably less sanguine about Exodus’s potential as an organization for the kind of change that would be meaningful to gay people — a people that even now Chambers identifies as those who are “impacted by homosexuality.” The reason is that for years, I think we’ve seen plenty of evidence for a conflict between where Chambers would like to take Exodus and where the ministries which make up Exodus are willing to go. And if Alan takes Exodus too far from its base — the people who pay the bills and keep the lights on — then those lights would go off. I do not believe those lights will go off without a fight.
I can find few items which better exemplify the entrenchment that would take place should Alan try to change Exodus’ position too far than a recent op-ed written by Mike Goeke. He was Exodus’s vice president under Alan Chambers until 2006 and he remains on the Exodus Board of Directors. He also heads the Midland, Texas-based Cross Power Ministries, one of many Exodus member organizations which provide Exodus with their bread and butter. In an op-ed published by the Baptist Press on Wednesday, Goeke reiterates the oft-repeated Exodus position that “homosexual behavior is no different than any sin” before going on to explain why homosexuality is different from “any sin.”
…It is different, however, in that no other sin (or, better said, an identity based primarily on sinful behavior) has impacted, or is likely to impact, culture in the dramatic way that homosexuality has done and will do.
Homosexuality is the only sinful behavior that has a cultural identity and movement surrounding it. What other sin is encouraged to be celebrated? What other sin has a “pride” movement attached to it? What other sin are people so quick to identify their lives by and to adopt as the defining characteristic of their lives? There are not greed pride parades, or people proclaiming on magazine covers “Yes, I’m a gossip.” There are not gluttony neighborhoods or bars where liars openly gather. Men and women don’t proudly self-identify as promiscuous. There are many people who are pro-choice and many who admit to having an abortion, but there are few who celebrate the fact that they had abortions. In fact, if you exclude random individuals like Charlie Sheen, few people would want their sin attached to their name and fewer would proudly boast in their sinful activity.
Homosexuality is also the only sinful behavior that has a growing, accepted theology built around it. Sure, there are fringe “religious” movements for odd things, but within the realm of Christianity there is no other revisionist theological movement based on identity primarily defined by sinful behavior. Denominations are crumbling and fracturing over how to deal with the issue of homosexuality and how to integrate people openly identified as gay or openly practicing homosexual behavior.
To Goeke, homosexuality’s threat is two-fold: it’s a threat to society and culture, and its a threat to the church. I needn’t remind you that to most Evangelicals’ minds, that’s the sum total of what makes up a civilization. And Goeke takes pains to point out that he sees no other “sin” which poses that kind of a threat. I can’t say that he speaks for most Evangelicals on that particular point (others may point to abortion, the media or the Obama administration, for example), but I do think it’s likely that he speaks for substantial numbers of Evangelicals who make up the Exodus church and member ministry networks.
In contrast, Chambers penned an op-ed for Evangelism.net in which he asks some serious questions about how to approach a hypothetical gay couple with children who join a (presumably) Evangelical church:
The question I ask myself a lot these days is, “What would Jesus do?” followed by, “What would He have me do?” They are not always one in the same. The fact is we are not Jesus. We have no power to heal or change anyone. We can point to His life and ministry through the Bible and our own experiences, but we aren’t Him. We are His representatives. Sometimes I think we are actually guilty of trying to be Him, or at least the Holy Spirit. It isn’t our job to bring conviction or judge. We fail to trust the Holy Spirit to do His job well when we attempt to usurp that role. So, in the context of a situation like the one in my dream, what are we to do?
…What if the best thing for a gay couple with children isn’t to immediately end their relationship and split their family and confuse their kids?
A very provocative question. I haven’t seen Chambers ask that question before, and it’s one that Goeke, and most churches and ministries that Exodus has cultivated over the years are not prepared to answer. If they have an answer, it would be, as Goeke puts it, to “hold firm to truth as we navigate the waters of culture.”
If Exodus is merely trying to re-brand themselves, you can see how that effort is doomed to failure. As GM demonstrated in the 1990s, it’ll take more than a shiny chrome grill up front and new wood trim on the dashboard to convince people that there’s something significantly different under the hood. But if Alan is really trying to effect change at Exodus (and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for now), you need look no further than to his fellow board member to see the outlines of the looming conflict. The wildcard is whether Chambers has the stomach and wherewithal for that fight. John Smid found that he had to leave his ex-gay ministry Love In Action before he could undergo his metamorphosis. Meanwhile Love In Action, which remains an Exodus member ministry, marches on without him.
A changed Exodus
January 13th, 2012
In February 2009 we noticed that a conference was planned in Kampala, Uganda, which would address “the homosexual agenda.” Further, we noted that three Americans were planned presenters, Holocaust revisionist Scott Lively, ex-gay “counselor” Caleb Brundidge, and Don Schmeirer, a board member of Exodus International, the ‘ex-gay’ umbrella organization.
Knowing that Uganda’s culture is particularly vehement in its opposition to homosexuality, and aware of recent pogroms against gay people that had occurred, we tried to convince Exodus’ leadership to back away from anything that could stir up the population. And considering that this event was featuring Scott Lively, we knew that it had the potential to be explosive.
Unfortunately, our efforts were not successful – Exodus ignored our pleas – and our worst fears were realized. The conference led to contact with the legislature, a proposed bill that would impose death on various categories of gay people, a newspaper campaign that called for execution, and eventually the murder of a prominent Ugandan gay activist.
But it also led to public awareness of American conservative evangelical involvement in foreign governments, heightened European criticism of human rights abuses in Africa, and eventually declarations by the White House and State Department that the way in which a nation treated its gay citizens would impact their relationship with the United States.
And it led to a number of religious leaders and organizations reevaluating the message that they were spreading. A number of alliances with some of the more homophobic African preachers were severed by a number of conservative American churches and individuals in influence took action to explain that their theological objection to engaging in specific acts did not equate to an invitation to abuse gay people. And quite a bit of rhetoric softened.
And in the process, Exodus did some soul searching. And has become, in my opinion, a very different organization.
And so this month when I approached Alan Chambers, President of Exodus, about an ad that had run in a newspaper in Trinidad and Tobago which seemed to speak for Exodus, he was quick to respond and to seek to distance the organization from both the implied message of the ad and from its intentions.
In short, Exodus stepped up and took responsibility not only for its name but for any confusion over its message. And, in the process, Alan took pains to explain the organization in terms that speak not about cultural dominance, nor about expectations of reorientation miracles, but in language of personal discipleship.
While I believe we share the same biblical worldview with regard to sexual expression, I do not believe we share the same philosophy on how to do public outreach or an identical message for those impacted by homosexuality. The mission and ministry of Exodus International is one focused on discipleship for those pursuing Christ amidst their same-sex attractions, support and encouragement for families impacted by same-sex attraction, restoration of marriages impacted by same-sex attraction and equipping the church to serve as an authentic community to all of the above as well as to those with whom they may disagree. We are not an organization that focuses on medical issues and we are increasingly careful with helping those we serve understand what change truly means in the context of living a human life where God gives us the ability to overcome amidst ongoing struggle.
I am encouraged that Alan clearly establishes that his organization is for those who are “amidst their same-sex attractions” and does not imply that they are seeking to become heterosexual. This is language that I believe is significantly different in both tone and implication than what we have seen in years past.
No doubt many in our community will be troubled by Exodus’ continued use of language such as “change” or “overcome” or “struggle”. But this is language that is a part of the Christian lexicon and has meaning within that context. Change is a theme within Scripture and is going to remain a theme in Christian ministries. We can choose to object or we can choose to understand, but it’s not going away.
Change, within Christianity is a change of heart, a change of priorities, and change of purpose. It does not mean a change in orientation, a change in politics, or a change in personality.
I do not agree with Alan’s biblical worldview with regard to sexual expression and he does not agree with my understanding of Leviticus and Romans in context of time, place, audience, and language selection. But we needn’t agree about theology. We need only to seek to understand and respect each other.
And in Exodus’s biblical worldview, sex outside of heterosexual marriage is offensive to God. Some of us will see this as inherently offensive. Some will think it discriminatory and bigoted. But if it helps any, the message that Exodus gives to its same-sex attracted participants is the same that it would give to any heterosexual that found him or herself unable to marry. Yes, for heterosexuals there is always the hope of a spouse, but- if we are very honest – we have to acknowledge that there are heterosexuals that are even less likely to ever be in a heterosexual marriage than I am. I sat next to one at lunch yesterday.
Yes, I agree that a message that seems to equate ones orientation with sinfulness can be a message that has a toxic effect on persons who have experienced a life of condemnation and rejection. It can reinforce feelings of desperation and worthlessness. And, in the past, Exodus has contributed to that toxicity.
But I believe that this is a different Exodus International than the Exodus that has appeared at political events or which has run ads suggesting that orientation “change is possible” or parading and promoting married members. I have seen a decrease in both that behavior and that attitude. Exodus no longer treats gay Christians as though they are Satan’s tools of deception nor does it lend its name to dominionists who exploit them for political gain.
I see change in Exodus. A change of heart, a change of priorities and a change of purpose. And I can understand and respect the Exodus that I believe they are striving to become.
The reality is that there will be – for quite some time – young people who grow up in families and communities which share Alan’s biblical worldview. And the reality is that they are not going to just joyously throw their faith out the window on their way to a Pride Parade. And as much as we may wish it to be so, they aren’t going to find themselves comfortable at the Hollywood United Methodist Church.
I believe that there is a place and purpose for an organization that can give these people a place and support. Maybe they will in time come to see God differently from Alan and move on. Maybe they will remain in a place of discipleship to a conservative Christian sexual ethic and find within Exodus a fellowship and brotherhood of support. Maybe they will reject theistic belief systems altogether.
But until they come to that decision, Exodus can serve to let them know that they are not intrinsically evil or an abomination. And while I do not think that the organization is completely healthy – yet – I do have hopes for a new and improved Exodus, one that offers ministry and care to those in need.