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Posts for September, 2012

Exodus Board Member resigns over Alan Chambers acknowledging the possibility of gay Christians

Timothy Kincaid

September 10th, 2012

Exodus International, the organization for individuals with unwanted same-sex attraction and who seek to live according to a conservative Christian sexual ethic, is going through a period of upheaval. For the past year, Exodus President Alan Chambers has challenged many of the organization’s presumptions and assertions and has made some public statements that have upset long time members and affiliates.

Although these shifted opinions have been evolving over time, the organization has been, until recently, able to keep a united front. But this was, I believe, mostly a public image that did not reflect reality.

For many years Exodus has existed as an organization whose members and leaders made statements of faith and testimonies that were out of sync with their own personal experiences. But the policy of “standing on faith” received a shock when an Exodus Board Member took their “Jesus can heal you” message into the political climate of Uganda and helped trigger a bill that called for the execution of some gays and lesbians and played a role in the murder of a gay activist.

Adding to that shock was the publication of a study of Exodus by Wheaton Provost Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse, head of Regent University’s mental health department. Jones and Yarhouse set out to prove that prayer and devotion could lead to a change in orientation, but their results were far from supportive. Ultimately they came to realize that none of their participants ever became what Yarhouse refered to as “a typical hetero male”.

This led, I believe, to some real soul searching. And there appeared to be three responses.

Some like John Smid dropped out of the movement and went on to live their lives with greater wisdom and greater acceptance. Some joined Alan on his journey of discovery and were part of the decision to disassociate from The Day of Truth, to disavow reparative therapy and drop reorientation expectations, and to change focus to becoming a support group for same-sex attracted Christians. And some doubled-down on their anti-gay positions, left Exodus, and formed the Restored Hope Network, a sort of pre-epiphany Exodus but meaner and more strident.

And there are, I suspect, a good many who just ducked their heads and focused on their local ministry and will wait to see where the chips end up.

The changes led by Alan were not the sort that matter to secular gays. Alan and Exodus, along with their detractors, still agree on quite a bit. Homosexual behavior is sinful. Same-sex attracted people should strive to live a holy life. God can and does empower people to overcome their desires and temptations and live in accordance with His will.

In fact, the areas of disagreement are narrow and distinct and a bit difficult to understand if one does not have familiarity with evangelical Christian teaching. They go to the heart of the two Christian themes (grace and obedience) are demonstrated in how each answers the following two closely related questions (and really, the order in which they are answered):

  • Can a person identify as gay and still be a Christian?
  • Does a person who experiences same-sex attraction have a moral obligation to strive to become heterosexual?

Although the first of these sounds like a “no true Scotsman” logical fallacy, the question really is more about whether a person can live in a state of grace in a life pleasing to God and yet identify with sinfulness.

Some believe (as Exodus once did) that while the Bible only prohibit homosexual behaviors, homosexuality itself is “sinful”. And if one identifies as gay, this means that one endorses, promotes, condones, and celebrates sin. And surely if one celebrates a sin as grievous and heinous as homosexual behaviors, one cannot know the heart of Christ or be a child of God.

Which leads to the obvious answer to the second question: yes, you must seek to distance yourself from sinfulness. To please God you must denounce what he calls sin and to pursue that which he calls holy. And, besides, to many of these people, heterosexual sex is a mystical and holy act (when between spouses) which pleases God. God wants for each of his children to become one with their opposite sex spouse and as this is (as obviously demonstrated by nature, God’s naturally given desire, and Scripture) God’s Plan for each of our lives, to refuse to move in that direction is an affront to the Almighty and an attack on Him and His people.

Alan, however, found a mirror and looked in it. And then he looked around him at the people who were trying mightily to please God. And he discovered that if it was God’s Plan for each same-sex attracted person to become the heterosexual that God wanted them to be, He had a funny way of showing it. Cuz no one was turning straight.

And Alan started saying so.

That didn’t sit at all well with those who think that to admit that reorientation doesn’t work is to deny God’s power and to quench the hope that strugglers have. It turns people away from God’s will and could lead to the destruction of their soul.

This is a very big deal, in Christian terms. When declarations of faith run headlong into objectively observable reality, sparks fly. And fly they did.

As penned by Christendom’s resident hot-headed hater, the statements of belief for the Reformed Hope Network insist:

Jesus Christ provides hope for transformation to broken sexual sinners. Jesus coupled a heightened ethical demand with a loving outreach to violators to lead them to repentance (Luke 7:36-50; John 4:4-30; 8:1-12). The grace of God offered in Jesus Christ is not merely a pardon for one’s sins but also an empowerment by the Spirit of Christ to a new life lived for God (Rom 6:14; 7:5-6; 8:12-14; Gal 2:19-20; 5:18; 2 Pet 1:2-4). For some, this transformation may take shape as a significant reduction of unwanted sexual desires. For others, it may mean the grace to live in obedience in spite of ongoing urges to do what God forbids. Either way, Paul gives believers assurance that those who “walk in the Spirit will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal 5:16-17, 24-25). “These things some of you were” (1 Cor 6:11).

But the real anger, the real fury, is saved for how Alan answers the other question.

Working in the other direction, Alan realized that reorientation wasn’t happening. And so logically, it can’t be what God is expecting. Therefore, what is he to make of those who don’t shoot for reorientation?

And when Alan actually met some of them, it was eye opening. They weren’t “trying to make up excuses for their sin” or “shaking their fists at God”. Some of them had a deep faith, a genuine devotion, and a life that reflected Christ. If Jesus said that we could detect those who followed him by their love, and if the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness, well some of these people who identified as gay Christians seemed to be closer to the right path than some who revile them.

This led Alan to realize that if there are people who identify as gay but who also show a true righteous love and possess the fruits of the Spirit, then ipso facto there really must be gay Christians. He met some. And as for what they do about the Biblical prohibitions on sexuality, well that wasn’t Alan’s job to decide (and it didn’t hurt that some of them were living celibately).

And all hell broke loose.

The never measured Dr. Robert Gagnon trotted this out:

Far from Alan’s beliefs rising above the fray of competing theological versions, they are mired in an extreme, cult-like variation of “once saved, always saved” view. For Alan there are no immoral behaviors of any magnitude, number, or frequency that can call into question the veracity of someone’s claim to be a Christian, let alone justify a warning about possible loss of salvation. He has declared that “while behavior matters,” the lifestyles that we choose—including unrepentant, lifelong homosexual practice—“don’t interrupt someone’s relationship with Christ.” Christians don’t even need to confess their ongoing sins to God any longer. Indeed, to do so would be a big waste of time because we have already been forgiven by Jesus for every sin that we will ever commit.

While that isn’t too far from my own theology (having been set free from the Law of Sin and Consequences, I don’t have much use for lamenting my divergence from its minutia), as a description of Alan’s views, it’s simplistic at best.

Those familiar with Scripture might enjoy trotting down Gagnon’s road a while, just for the laugh. Truly, this man lifts verses out of their setting to give them a meaning that is often the very opposite of what message was trying to be conveyed by their authors (an accusation he, ironically, flings at Chambers).

But the point of contention is the “real” interpretation of the doctrine of eternal security.

To Alan, eternal security is a bit like this: If one accepts Christ as savior and has a relationship with Christ, he doesn’t lose the security of his salvation due to behaviors that might fall outside God’s will. God’s love is unconditional. If that person has a relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit will convict of that sin or error and draw the person back into line with God’s plan for their life.

To Gagnon, eternal security is this: God’s love most definitely does have conditions – lots of them – and if a person is a homosexual, that proves that he NEVER EVER had a real relationship with Christ. End of story, burn in hell.

Not exactly compatible theology. So, in a 35 page rant, Gagnon declared that Alan should be ousted from leadership (Oddly, Dr. Gagnon has never explained just why it is that he’s completely obsessed with homosexuality or why he speaks for ex-gay ministries…).

The response to Dr. Gagnon was penned by John Warren, the Treasurer of Exodus, who very sweetly and in a gentle way chides Gagnon for the attack:

Clearly Dr. Gagnon’s position on eternal security in Christ differs sharply from the views of Alan, Clark, and many others of us who believe that we are kept by the same grace of God that saves us. This doctrinal difference is important, but it shouldn’t be a deal breaker or a reason to separate. The propagation of heresy is a reason to separate, and neither Alan nor Dr. Gagnon is guilty of espousing heretical positions of essential matters of the Christian faith. Dr. Gagnon is right to hate sin as God does. He is right to warn that the habitual, unrepentant practice of egregious sin is indicative of an unregenerate soul. But he is wrong in his accusation that Alan Chambers and Clark Whitten treat sin lightly or even excuse it because of their recent references to the beauty of God’s grace. For some reason he has decided to attempt to publicly call out these two men because he feels that they are soft on sin and its impact. I know these men personally, I have read Clark Whitten’s books, and I have listened carefully to Alan Chamber’s talks. I can assure Dr. Gagnon and anyone who shares his concerns that these men have a biblical view of sin and repentance, and they have each invested many years teaching a hurting world to turn from their sin in humble trust of Jesus Christ our Lord for salvation.

Gagnon, as he does with those whom he argues theology rather than scholarship, slapped back with a ad hominem attack piece on Alan, a Paulite defense of his works-based interpretation of security, and his usual Gagnonism.

But today we hear news that is a bit surprising. John Warren, Alan’s defender, has resigned over comments Alan made on Janet Mefferd’s radio show. As we discussed yesterday, Mefferd was insisting that a gay Christian is an absolute impossibility (and with tone and attitude that possessed no reflection of Christ whatsoever). (Christian Post)

It was just three weeks ago when John Warren, who stepped down Thursday as treasurer of the Exodus International Board of Directors, defended Chambers for his biblical view of sin and repentance. But he became troubled after a radio interview where Chambers was asked tough questions about his views on salvation and repentance.

“I believe that Alan Chambers is a good man with good intentions. It is his messaging that concerned me recently and prompted me to resign,” Warren told The Christian Post in an email Saturday. “Specifically, his interview this week on Janet Mefferd’s show concerned me deeply.”

Change is difficult. Challenges to long-held theological beliefs are especially difficult. Seeing your enemy in the Culture Was as a brother in Christ can be impossible for some. And when you have believed in the inherent evil of those who identify as gay for such a long time, even someone as amiable as Warren can find it shocking when they finally realize that you really do mean what you say, when you say that you’re leaving the salvation of others up to God.

Anti-gays: theological disagreement about homosexuality bars you from Heaven

Timothy Kincaid

September 7th, 2012

I have long understood that the issue for those who are so infuriated about homosexuality is not really what one is doing with one’s body parts. Their primary contention is not who one boinks, but whether one feels guilty about it. If you come on bended knee to repent of last night’s orgy with four men and a pit bull, God is gracious and loving and quick to forgive. And though he may admonish you, the anti-gay will forgive you too (and pat himself on the back for doing so).

But if you say that you believe that God honors and respects your loving relationship with your legally married spouse to whom you have been faithful for decades, well then you are “shaking your fist at God”.

But now they’ve taken it a step further.

Now it seems that one need not ever have had sex at all with anyone, anywhere, in order to be the enemy of Christ. Simply believing that God could honor a same-sex relationship is indication of perversion and a reprobate mind. And proving that point is an exchange between Janet Mefferd, a conservative Christian radio host, and Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International.

Mefferd had called for Chambers’ resignation after he said that one could be gay and be Christian. Chambers had met with the Gay Christian Network and had some of his assumptions challenged. Consequently, although Alan believes homosexuality to be sinful, he was leaving it up to the Holy Spirit, not the holier than thou, to convict of sin and inspire one to live a more holy life.

But Alan’s “leave that between you and God” attitude wasn’t flying with Mefferd. (Christian Post)

Mefferd: If you believe that you have to turn from your sin and turn to Christ … how can you simultaneously hold that somebody who is an unrepentant homosexual can go to heaven?

Chambers: I don’t think you know Justin Lee (founder of the Gay Christian Network). Justin is someone who identifies as gay.

Mefferd: But has he repented of his homosexuality?

Chambers: He is not involved in homosexual relationships. He is a celibate man.

Mefferd: But has he repented of his homosexuality?

Chambers: It depends on what you mean by repenting of homosexuality. He’s not involved in homosexuality.

Mefferd: OK. But he is not repentant about homosexuality being a sin? In other words, by your definition of repentance, he has not agreed with God on what God says about homosexuality.

Chambers: Right … What I think the crux of the issue is … I can’t tell someone that they do know Christ or that they don’t know Christ. What I believe about Justin, having had numerous conversations with him is that he knows Jesus, is that he has a relationship with Jesus Christ. I don’t know what people do with Scripture on issues related to homosexuality or anything else where so clearly they are living differently than Scripture teaches. I can’t say to Justin, you don’t know Jesus.

Mefferd: Why not?

Chambers: Because I don’t know that he doesn’t know Jesus.

Mefferd: You could talk to him; you could probe what he believes. The fact that he is living … a celibate life is immaterial because if he says homosexuality is not sinful and something to be repented of and instead something to be celebrated so much so that he found something called the Gay Christian Network, that would indicate that he does not agree with God about homosexuality being sinful.

In other words, if Justin Lee disagrees with Mefferd’s take on scripture, then he doesn’t know Jesus. But therein lies a problem (other than the obvious one that Janet Mefferd isn’t God).

A good many Christians disagree with Mefferd. Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and even some Baptists, Mormons and Catholics. A good many Christians have taken a look at Scripture and searched the oldest texts and considered culture and context and came up with a different conclusion.

Some support committed relationships, and some may only believe in celibacy, but they all find that homosexuality itself – the condition of being same-sex attracted and acknowledging that fact – is not sinful. Some of these people otherwise agree entirely with Mefferd’s theology and are as orthodox in belief as she could ask for. Which raises an interesting question.

When others Christians disagree with Mefferd over the meaning of Scriptural passages that may relate to homosexuality, is that clear indication that they too do not know Jesus?

Or is that an observation that is reserved for those who are gay?

Jeff Buchanan Out as Exodus V.P.; Randy Thomas Returns

Jim Burroway

September 5th, 2012

Exodus International has just announced some staff changes:

Yesterday marked Jeff and Angela Buchanan’s last day on the Exodus International staff. Jeff served for the last 4 years and Angela the last 2 years. During their time here, Angela served as Director of Communications and Jeff served as Senior Director of Church equipping until taking on responsibilities as Executive Vice President in August 2011. Their contributions to Exodus were substantial and they will be missed. They will be relocating to Pennsylvania to join the staff of a local church.

Jeff Buchanan’s departure, frankly, doesn’t surprise me. During last June’s Exodus International Conference, the workshops that Buchanan held were considerably more dogmatic and “old Exodus” than I had expected, given the change in tone of the conference overall. Buchanan became Exodus’s vice president last year following the departure of Randy Thomas from that job. And speaking of Thomas:

I also want to officially announce that Randy Thomas is rejoining the Exodus staff full-time starting today. Randy served from June 2002 to August 2011 before taking a year off to pursue his consulting business and artwork. … Returning in the role of Executive Vice President, Randy brings a renewed excitement and fresh perspective to the Exodus team.

During Thomas’s earlier tenure as Exodus vice president, he often played the role of attack dog, apologist, and culture warrior. It may be tempting to view Thomas’s return as vice president as a sign of Exodus’s possible retrenchment, but Thomas’s personal blog over the past year has evolved in parallel with Exodus International’s changes, both in message and tone. And given the direction that Exodus appears to be headed, Thomas now looks like the better fit for the number two spot than Buchanan.

 

Restored Hope Ex-Gay Network Will Not Oppose Criminalization Of Homosexuality

Jim Burroway

August 9th, 2012

Restored Hope Network is the new ex-gay outfit that has arisen to challenge Exodus International as a rival network of ex-gay ministries. Restored Hope came about as a result of two specific disagreements that several ex-gay ministries have with Exodus, mainly around theological issues (specifically, whether one-saved, always saved really means what it says it means) and around Exodus’s repudiation of Reparative Therapy.

Exodus has made other changes as well, changes which have not received much direct criticism from Restored Hope, but which appear to nevertheless further delineate a sharp difference between the two groups. For example, Exodus International has an official policy statement opposing criminalization of homosexuality, and it has backed that statement up with the resignation of a board member following a trip abroad which lent support to gruops which support Jamaica’s law which treats same-sex relations as a felony.

But in a Facebook posting earlier today, an unnamed spokesperson for Restored Hope Network has announced that they will not oppose the criminalization of homosexual acts:

Click to enlarge

I have a question for the group; Exodus International opposes criminalization of homosexual acts – does RHN oppose them, also? I have perused the doctrine. I thank you for your time.

Restored Hope Network I don’t believe we will have a stance on this topic. We are concerned for those involved in sexual sin to hear the good news of freedom from slavery to sin (Romans chapters 6-8), thus our goal is to help those who are interested in leaving such behind in obedience to the good news of Jesus Christ.

But for those who are not interested, we can rot in jail for all they care.

Another Ministry Leaves Exodus

Jim Burroway

August 2nd, 2012

Via David Roberts at Ex-Gay Watch comes word that another ministry has left the Exodus International network. Portland Fellowship, an Oregon-based ministry which had been known for its comparatively moderate image, announced (PDF: 94KB/2 pages) that it has “removed its affiliation with Exodus until changes in leadership take place and the mission is restored.”

Like many of the other ministries which have also left the Exodus network over the past several months, Portland Fellowship Executive Director Jason Thompson cites two distinct disagreements with Exodus:

The problem for many Exodus ministries, including Portland Fellowship, is the two-fold message; 1) there is no eternal reason to seek repentance for the self-identified and practicing ‘Gay Christian’; and 2) that change simply isn’t a goal or a strong reality for the majority. So what is the point of Exodus? At the recent annual Exodus conference, Alan opens the conference by answering the question with, “the answer that came to mind was the thing I was looking for was I didn’t want to be alone anymore.”

This significant shift in the historical work of Exodus, along with several other statements, theological disagreements (specifically regarding the issue of sanctification), and problems in leadership resulted in most of the strongest, longest-lasting Exodus Member ministries breaking their affiliation with Exodus International, and begin working to create a new network. [Emphasis in the original]

With that last sentence Thompson justifies his actions, partly, by citing other longstanding Exodus ministries which broke with Exodus to joing the Restored Hope Network, which announced a  weekend conference in September in Sacramento, California. While Thompson doesn’t indicate whether he will join Restored Hope, this statement points to that direction. Portland Fellowship had been an Exodus member ministry since 1988.

Nicolosi Recommended Using Gay Porn As Therapy at 2010 Exodus Conference

Jim Burroway

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:

YouTube Preview Image

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

Jim Burroway

July 22nd, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charisma Republishes 2004 Culture War Article by Alan Chambers

Jim Burroway

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

Jim Burroway

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.

The Backdrop
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.

Then a few weeks later, we learned that Exodus had removed Reparative Therapy books from its online bookstore. When Warren Throckmorton inquired about the books’ removal, Chambers 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, 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.

Exodus 2012:
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

Jim Burroway

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?

Jim Burroway

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

Jim Burroway

June 15th, 2012

Dennis Jernigan speaking to reporters in Jamaica.

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.

Click here to read Exodus’s full statement.

Exodus Leader Supports Jamaica’s Anti-Gay Laws; Exodus Responds With Statement Opposing Criminalization

Jim Burroway

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.”

Dennis Jernigan speaking to reporters in Jamaica.

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:

YouTube Preview Image

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

Jim Burroway

June 14th, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Exodus and “Self-Determination”

Jim Burroway

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.

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