Box Turtle Bulletin

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Posts for January, 2012

Ex-Gay Leader: “99.9% Have Not Experienced A Change In Their Orientation”

Jim Burroway

January 9th, 2012

Exodus International President Alan Chambers appeared on a surprise panel Friday night at the Gay Christian Network’s annual conference on Orlando with former ex-gay leader Jeremy Marks, Exodus critic and ex-gay bridge-builder Wendy Gritter, and former Love In Action executive director John Smid. The panel was announced with little notice on Friday, catching many ex-gay survivors at the conference off-guard. GCN has posted audio of that panel discussion (Part 1part 2). In the opening minutes of part 2, Chambers addresses the criticism that Exodus and other ex-gay ministries promise change in sexual orientation:

I think it’s a fair criticism from the past. If there are member ministries today that are promising something that I’m not aware that they’re promising, I’d want to know some specifics. I hear a lot of generalities, but I value specifics. And that’s something that does concern me because the fact of the matter is, and I feel like I’ve been very upfront and clear, both in the media, at conferences, anytime I have the opportunity to write about it, about the fact that I believe the slogan “Change is Possible,” for those of us who are Christians we do understand that when you come into a relationship with Christ all sorts of things are possible.

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. I think there is a gender issue there, there are some women who have challenged me and said that my orientation or my attractions have changed completely. Those have been few and far between. The vast majority of people that I know do still experience some level of same-sex attraction.

And so that’s something, I think, I can’t be any clearer about that. …I hope that we’re coming to a place where we are a much more honest group of people, that when we talk about “Change is Possible,” we are very, very clear about what change means in our lives.

Last November, there were reports that Chambers was considering a modification of their message. At that time, I noted that Exodus has flirted with the idea of retooling its message before. The main message from Exodus has centered on changing from homosexuality to heterosexuality (however loosely defined that change may be). But there has been an underlying theme “the opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality, it’s holiness,” which leaves open the idea that becoming straight isn’t the goal. Chambers has been giving variations on that theme since at least 2007. He surprised supporters and critics alike in 2009 when he told the Los Angeles Times, “By no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete.”

It’s unclear whether this is a further tweaking of that theme or if it represents a marked change in message for the organization. So far, it looks more like a clarification similar to others that he has made when pressed about what change means. The only difference this time is his admission that “99.9%” don’t change. It will be interesting to see is if Chambers repeats his past pattern of clarifying his remarks in ways that bring them closer to more orthodox ex-gay messages. After all, If it does represent a marked change in message for Exodus International, it remains to be seen how this change would go down among the mostly-Evangelical churches which provide the bulk of financial support for Exodus International.

A concurrent story to Chambers’s appearance at GCN is the controversy that surrounded the surprise panel at the conference. A very large number of GCN members are ex-gay survivors, and many of them felt blindsided by the conference. According to some of them who took to Facebook and Twitter to vent their anger, many of them first found out about the panel not form GCN but from a post earlier that day at Ex-Gay Watch. No ex-gay survivors were part of the panel discussion to provide counterpoint to Chambers’s presence, a move which strikes this writer as reminiscent of examples in history where conferences and panels discussed the issues surrounding homosexuality as a mental illness without the participation of a single gay person.

GCN Executive Director Justin Lee spent the first fifteen minutes of the panel discussion addressing the controversy, incorrectly identifying XGW as among those who called him “naive” for hosting the panel discussion. He described the panel as an optional event, and urged those who didn’t feel comfortable remaining in the room to excuse themselves and attend an alternative event for ex-gay survivors. Insiders and social media commenters, some of whom say they are undergoing counseling for PTSD and other disorders as a result of having been part of an ex-gay ministry, complain that the alternative event was hastily organized by survivors themselves at the last minute after GCN failed to organize an alternative to the panel. Lee addressed the controversy this way:

I believe in seeing people’s humanity. I believe even in the midst of strong disagreement in saying you are my brother, you are my sister in Christ. I want to understand you. I want to understand where you’re coming from no matter how much I disagree with you because you’re a human being and God loves you. And I want to love you too even though I disagree with you. That’s important to me. That’s part of what I do.

…One part of me is I want to look at the world from Alan’s perspective and I want to say Alan I respect you as my brother, I respect what you’re trying to do what you think is right even though I disagree with you, and I love you because God loves you, and have this “kumbaya” moment. And there’s another part of me that’s like I’m really, really angry about a lot of things that have happened in Exodus and other ex-gay ministries.

Ex-Gay Group Warns: Change Or Die

Jim Burroway

December 6th, 2011

Phillip Lee, of Bakersfield's His Way Out Ministries

It has been reported recently that Exodus International president Alan Chambers is trying to save his organization from financial ruin by rebranding itself with some sort of a softer, kinder image. An Exodus member ministry in Bakersfield, California, however appears to have taken the opposite tack. Pastor Phillip Lee, executive director of His Way Out Ministries at Chester Avenue Community Church penned an op-ed in Sunday’s Bakersfield Californian that looks like it came straight out of 1985. The upshot is this: everyone has a choice to either become straight or die of AIDS:

While AIDS is not solely a homosexual disease, the disease was confined almost exclusively to homosexuals in the beginning years of the epidemic in the United States. I personally witnessed this horrific tragedy unfold while living in San Francisco, having several personal friends die of AIDS at the beginning stages of what is now a pandemic. Tragically, the reality and threat of AIDS has not stopped men from engaging in unprotected sex and the continued risk-taking by many does not appear to result from a lack of awareness.

There is, therefore, little to no evidence that homosexual practice can be anything other than a severe threat to the sanctity of life. That said, all efforts should and must continue to better understand and find a cure for AIDS and AIDS-related diseases. However, if the sexual behavior that is fundamental to most homosexual practice constitutes the primary means of transmitting such disease, then it only makes sense for society to do all it can to decrease such behavior, which ultimately protects the sanctity of life.

I guess gay and bisexual women are off the hook. But what Lee fails to understand is that AIDS is the result of unprotected sex — whether that sex is gay or straight. It is not the product of being gay. If it were, AIDS wouldn’t be a predominantly heterosexual disease worldwide. But there’s no sense in grounding an ex-gay message in reality when the entire ex-gay movement is predicated on training people to ignore their own reality and embark on an lifelong struggle to try to achieve what does not come naturally to them. Stigmatizing people with AIDS is no small thing for people who have still have to deal with routine ignorance, but as far as Exodus-affiliated His Way Out Ministries is concerned, that stigma is just another tool in its toolbox.

This tactic is beyond merely deplorable. It is an outrageous throwback to the hysteria of twenty years ago. If Chambers really wants to rebrand his organization’s image, he really has his work cut out for him among his own affiliates.

An Open Letter to Alan Chambers

Timothy Kincaid

December 3rd, 2011

Dear Alan,

Box Turtle Bulletin and Exodus have not always seen eye to eye on a number of issues. But that is not, as might be assumed, because homosexuals are afraid to hear the truth that change is possible. Nor is it because homosexual militant activists hate God and the church.

Rather, BTB has objected to specific messages, failure to own Exodus’ mistakes, and participation in efforts to deny or remove rights granted civilly. And to be honest, we didn’t much like the mean things that Exodus said about our community. (But I do want to take the opportunity to thank you for pulling Exodus out of the political arena.)

Word has reached us that Exodus International will be revisiting its purpose and positions in an effort to retool the organization into a viable and financially stable organization. As you consider changes, I’d like to propose a few recommendations.

Stop spinning about results. It isn’t fair to our community nor to your own.

It may be true that there is some tiny number of people who have changed their fundamental sexual attractions from persons of the same sex to persons of the opposite sex. But they are certainly rare, and one cannot base responsible policy on the achievements of the very few.

Surely you would not go about the country telling people about Mount Everest and the success that Sir Edmund Hillary had in conquering the mountain and encourage them to fly right off to Nepal and start climbing. That would be cruel and irresponsible and result in disappointment, wounded bodies and disillusioned spirits.

Yet Exodus has for many years testified of the reported success of some people who have struggled with unwanted same-sex attraction in terms that suggested that this could also be reality for those listening. It has been a cruel and irresponsible behavior and has resulted in disappointment, wounded souls and disillusioned spirits. It needs to stop.

Accept the discoveries, terms and language of our culture in discussing homosexuality.

Most people have come to an understanding that each of us have a sexual orientation, a direction towards which our attractions point. Furthermore, an increasing number of churches – including conservative evangelical churches – are reaching the conclusion that ones sexual orientation is not, in and of itself sinful or wrong or flawed or even intrinsically disordered.

It’s time for Exodus to join the rest of the world. Continuing to paint a homosexual orientation as though it were a moral failure (as “the opposite of holiness”) only places Exodus in the position of using language in such a way that it appears to either be delusional, dishonest, or theologically absurd.

Stop trashing my community.

At some point, when all one sees or says about a group of people is their negative attributes, when one feels pity for someone for no reason other than that they are part of that group, eventually it becomes clear to everyone else that you’re operating out of malice and prejudice.

It would be ridiculous and offensive to tearfully lament a poor soul “trapped in an Asian American lifestyle.” And you would feel petty for doing so.

It is no less offensive or illogical to talk about being “trapped in a homosexual lifestyle”. There isn’t such a thing. And using language such as “trapped” implies that one can “change” into a heterosexual lifestyle. It shames and demeans a person for what they are. It’s “sissy boy” and “look at that pansy” and “why are you so girly” all over again, just repackaged as “Christian concern”.

The gay community and Exodus need not be at war. We all know heterosexuals who have decided on celibacy until they marry and even though that prospect seems fleeting with each passing year we do not insist that they change their beliefs. We know those whose spouse may not be sexually compatible but who stay together and committed due to love for each other. Thats endearing.

And, contrary to the regular anti-gay meme, generally gay people have no problem with those who choose not to engage in sex – there are more than a few we know and love for whom this is a reality whether or not they want it to be.

Just don’t imply that the gay man ogling the hot guy is in any way more sinful than the straight man obling the hot gal. It isn’t Scriptural and it isn’t right.

Own the damage youve caused

While I appreciate that you no longer advocate for political mistreatment of gay people (thank you), that isn’t enough. Harm was done. And, more importantly, harm continues.

Invariably, whenever a politician or preacher calls for policies that harm the lives of gay people they justify it by saying that people can change. Sometimes they use Exodus by name.

To let this happen without objection is to endorse their positions. If you change nothing else, you have a moral obligation to clarify that that Expdus does not make the claims that these politicians and preachers use as their basis for discrimination and abuse.

Let go of insistence that homosexuality is in some way chosen.

When Exodus repeatedly denies the evidence in favor of the biological origins of homosexuality, it places your organization further in enmity to the mind. It build a dichotomy in which objective study, scientific research, and thoughtful analysis are pitted against unsubstantiated dogma and “faith”.

It is unnecessary and even blasphemous to insist that faith – real faith – needs to denounces the senses God gave us and to ignore what is evident. And, ultimately, it isn’t a battle that Exodus can win.

Currently, the best research we have suggests that for at least some gay men (there is less study about women), genetics contributes to their eventual orientation. Further, other factors may be biological in origin (though not genetic) or possibly other environmental factors possibly including experiences (though there is no evidence to support this). Most likely the path to each one’s orientation is unique to the individual.

Equally false – and equally offensive – is declaring that rape or early sexualization are responsible for “turning someone gay”. That one not only is absent of any evidence, it is clearly an attempt to give homosexuality a sheen of horror.

Regardless of the set of contributors, most have an orientation that is set – and often predictable – long before they are capable on conceptualizing morality or sexuality.

Let go of “change” as an expected result, a desired result, a hinted result, or even a possible result.

Exodus has strugglers. They struggle and struggle and struggle on decade after decade.

But very very few have any success in materially changing their orientation. They may change the language they use or what behavioral expectations they place upon themselves, but as the Jones and Yarhouse study showed, there just aren’t many (if any) gay men becoming straight men.

Alan, you know this. I do not doubt at all that you love your wife. I do not doubt at all that your sex life is meaningful and that your emotional connection is rewarding. I believe that you are content in your marriage and that it provides everything that you hoped – except for one thing. You remain a homosexually oriented man married to a woman.

And I have no problem with that.

But for God’s sake – and the sake of your participants – just stop struggling already. There is nothing anymore pleasing to God about trying to change one’s orientation than in trying to change any other attribute God gave you.

And furthermore, the fact that Exodus isn’t turning any strugglers straight doesn’t mean that Exodus has no purpose.

Exodus members should just accept their orientation and get on with finding out what to do about it.

So, in closing, I’d advise you to give Exodus a purpose that is theologically consistent, demonstrably possible, and which celebrates the Exodus member without trashing others. And just as important during this current problem, find a reason that potential donors are not going to have their children mock at dinner time.

Perhaps restructure Exodus into a Christian ministry that supports homosexually oriented Christian individuals to live according to their code of sexual ethics. I’m not suggesting that you change what you believe about the moral acceptability of same-sex behavior (though it wouldn’t hurt to be open to revelation). But if your faith says “no sex ever with anyone ever” to same-sex attracted people, then a reasonable and responsible role for Exodus might be to say “and here we are to help you with some tools that make this possible.”

Not every Christian kid is going to hear the message of “we can’t change you” and decide that they want to pursue eternal celibacy. But that’s a choice each must make before God, and seeking to influence that choice through false hope and empty implied promises is not an admirable goal for anyone.

But if you have real achievable goals for Conservative Christians who share your code of sexual ethics, then that – and not all the foolishness – may appeal to donors.

I hope you take this advice as sincerely meant and in the best of intentions.

Timothy Kincaid

Exodus International Ponders New Message To Save Itself from Bankruptcy

Jim Burroway

November 30th, 2011

That’s according to Ex-Gay Watch’s David Roberts, who learned of a “secret conference” held in New York in November to explore ways to keep Exodus International from going under. Exodus is saddled with enormous debt due to the purchase of their office building in 2007 at the peak of the real estate bubble, and like most non-profits, they are experiencing a sharp downturn in donations. According to Roberts, anonymous sources told him that the emphasis at this conference was on exploring ways to make Exodus more “donor accessible” — in other words, upgrades to Exodus’s fundraising programs and mechanisms. But discussions on possible turn-around plans weren’t limit to just money:

Chamber’s apparently wishes to “re-brand” Exodus into something more palatable to those with funds to give, and the general public alike.  According to our sources, Chambers said that “everything is on the table.”  That everything apparently includes the possibility of his resignation.  It was also clear from the meeting that this is their last resort, their “Hail Mary” so to speak — they’ve tried everything else.  Indeed, it seems certain that Chambers would have made pleas to anyone he knew with money before taking this drastic action.  And we’ve all seen the odd inconsistencies apparent in their public face.  Exodus is an organization fumbling for a solution.

Chambers mentioned how struck he was by the response to John Smid’s recent change in direction, particularly his apology.  He seems to think that doing something similar might be one way that Exodus could gain some positive attention.  Don’t forget, everything is on the table.  We have confirmed that Smid has been in contact with Chambers recently, and has plans for more discussions in the future. It has been our understanding that there is no love lost on Smid by Chambers, so any future corroboration would likely have a more practical basis.

Exodus has flirted with the idea of retooling its message before. The main message that Exodus promotes is that changing from homosexuality to heterosexuality (however loosely defined) is possible. But more recently, an underlying theme has emerged among those who are more embedded in the ex-gay movement that “the opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality, it’s holiness.” Chambers has been giving variations on that theme since at least 2007. He surprised supporters and critics alike in 2009 when he told the Los Angeles Times, “By no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete.”

And yet this is a long way from the direction that John Smid has taken since stepping down as Executive Director of the Memphis-based residential ex-gay program Love In Action. Smid now says that he “never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual,”, and he also now says that same-sex relationships can be “a faithful gay relationship that is truly, in their experience,  a great blessing to their relationship with Christ.” He has also offered a generalized apology (although some former clients are skeptical that the apology alone is sufficient), all of which points to a dramatic transformation for him. It’s doubtful that Exodus would be able to pull off a similarly dramatic change and still keep its relationships with the network of Evangelical churches that it has built over the past several years.

Another possibility, instead, may be a stunt that was recently attempted by Richard Cohen’s International Healing Foundation. They recently underwent a rebranding of their own, which included a very see-through thin “apology” and a new (and expensive) program they called “Coming Out Loved.” Cohen claimed his new initiative would be “the catalyst of true tolerance, real diversity, and equality for all,” and that “IHF staff will assist anyone who is conflicted about their sexuality and other challenging issues that arise for many in the gay community.” But a quick review of their web site— still at “changeispossible.org” — shows that he is still peddling his own ex-gay messages, including his 2007 book Gay Children, Straight Parents which describes his twelve-step program, complete with hugging, to turn gay children straight. Any attempt by Exodus International to try to pull off that kind of a stunt will be seen through quite quickly.

Exodus will conduct its annual leadership conference in January. Roberts expects that if any changes will be announced, it will happen then, and adds:

“In the coming months when you hear of changes from Exodus, or some event that seems heartfelt and spontaneous, or whatever this re-branding may eventually consist of, remember what got the ball rolling — money.”

Chik-Fil-A’s Anti-Gay Contributions

Jim Burroway

November 1st, 2011

Chick-Fil-A’s charitable arm, the WinShape Foundation, has received $7.8 million in funding from Chick-FilA, Inc. WinShape, which was founded by Chick-Fil-A’s founder and chairman S. Truett Cathy, turned around and gave more than $1.7 million to several anti-gay groups in 2009, including the Marriage and Family Legacy Fund ($994,199), Fellowship Of Christian Athletes ($480,000), National Christian Foundation ($240,000), Focus On The Family ($12,500) Eagle Forum ($5,000), Exodus International ($1,000), and Family “Research” Council ($1,000). Equality Matters has the details. Remember that the next time you’re hankering to “Eat Mor Chikin.”

The Daily Agenda for Friday, October 28

Jim Burroway

October 28th, 2011

TODAY’S AGENDA (OURS):
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM): Perth, Australia. Leaders of the 53 Commonwealth nations will begin their biennial meeting today, as human rights advocates call on Commonwealth members to scrap their colonial-era anti-gay laws. Forty-one Commonwealth nations, including Uganda, Zimbabwe and Ghana, currently have laws which provide criminal penalties for homosexuality. Those laws, advocates warn, hamper AIDS prevention efforts and deprive millions of citizens around the world of economic, political and social equality. Former Botswana President Festus Mogae has joined the call for worldwide decriminalization, and Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai broke with President Robert Mugabe in what the BBC described as a “U-turn” and declared that gay rights, “to me, it’s a human right.” Tzvamgirai has been weathering blistering condemnations from Mugabe’s allies since then. Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma also backs the proposals. Meanwhile, Uganda has begun efforts to revive its proposal to kill gay people.

AIDS Walks This Weekend: Washington, D.C.

Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Shanghai, China.

Also This Weekend: Diversity Weekend, Eureka Springs, AR; Hellfest 2011 Rugby Tournament, Dallas, TX; Out In Africa Film Festival, Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa; and Glasgay!, Glasgow, UK.

TODAY’S AGENDA (THEIRS):
Exodus International North Central Regional Conference: Green Lake, WI. Unlike prior conferences, Exodus hasn’t published a list of speakers for this three-day conference that begins today at the Green Lake Conference Center. They do however highlight Christopher Yuan as a guest speaker. Yuan tells the tale of being a gay man with a drug problem who was arrested for possessing”9.1 tons” and served a six year prison. A sad life, but what do any of those destructive decisions have to do with being gay? Well, I’m sure he has an explanation and will tell anyone who forks over from $110 (Saturday only, no meals) to $210 (Standard three-day registration, single adult, including meals and lodging). It begins today at 7:00 p.m. and continues through Sunday morning.

Georgia Awake!: Augusta, GA. The Liberty Counsel is continuing its series of “Awake!” conferences with a meeting this evening at Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez, GA, because, of course, “There’s a war waging:”

Christianity is under attack in our schools, workplaces, and governments. Silence is a decision to stand with the enemy. Inaction is a deathblow to the God-honoring principles our country was created to allow each citizen to enjoy.

Speaking at tonight’s conference will be Liberty Counsel head Mat Staver (who teaches his law students to ignore the law in favor of “God’s Law”), and fake “historian” David Barton. It all begins this evening at 7:00 p.m.

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?

Ex-Gay Leader Reconsiders Criticism of “It Gets Better” Commercial

Jim Burroway

October 12th, 2011

Back last May — so long ago that I imagine many of you have forgotten about it — Exodus International president Alan Chambers reacted to a Google Chrome ad featuring Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign. The ad portrayed ordinary people using YouTube, a Google-owned service, to post videos encouraging young people to just hang in there for just a short while longer, a message that had been inspired by a wave of suicides of LGBT youth.  Google’s fast-paced ad showed tiny snippets of celebrities who contributed to the project. One of them was the character Woody from “Toy Story,” who says simply “You’ll be fine, partner.” His cameo made up all of two and a half seconds of a ninety second commercial. That was enough to send Chambers to his keyboard:

“Children all over the world, including my two children are fans of ‘Toy Story’ and to see a character like that endorsing something that at this point children have no need to know about, it’s disappointing,” he told The Christian Post.

Chambers, who overcame homosexuality and is now a father of two, suspects that if the commercial airs while he and his children are watching a show and “if they happen to see that and ask questions and if they get the full understanding of what the commercial is actually about, we will have to have the conversation. It’s not something I plan to talk to my kids, 5 and 6, about.”

As I wrote at that time:

The conversation Chambers could be having with his children is how to handle themselves if they find themselves being taunted and bullying in school. That’s what the commercial was about. If Chambers really isn’t prepared to have that conversation, then he is really falling down as a father.

But of course, that’s not what Chambers is worried about. It’s the message that, even for gay teens who feel very much alone, it will, at some point, get better. Chambers protests, ““For organizations like Exodus International, which has thousands of men and women like me who have lived a gay life, it obviously didn’t get better living a gay life for them.” Perhaps he’d be happier with an “It Gets Worse” campaign instead. After all, that is at the core of their message

Five months later, Chambers has reconsidered his earlier opposition to that ad. In a blog post at Exodus International’s web site, Chambers writes:

A few months ago I went on record criticizing the “It Gets Better” campaign that has gone viral with an anti-bullying message for LGBT teens.  My criticism was over the use of “Woody,” the fictional star from the box office smash Toy Story trilogy.  I reacted because I hate when iconic children’s heroes are used to further what I perceive to be adult causes.  With further reflection and thought, though, 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.

…When it comes to kids killing themselves, I can’t justify criticizing a campaign that, at its deepest core, is most about saving the lives of LGBT kids.  I care MORE about a kid choosing life than whether or not he or she embraces a gay identity. Life comes first. Living out our biblical convictions means fighting for the lives of young people at all cost.  Can any of us actually say we’d rather our teens, neighbors, friends or complete strangers kill themselves than be gay?  I certainly can’t.  Regardless of where someone falls on the debate over sexuality, I hope we can all agree to move the issue of bullying and suicide, especially where kids are concerned, to a non-polarized, non-politicized and non-divisive issue. [Emphasis in the original]

Chmabers’s commentary is well thought out, at least until the penultimate paragraph, where Chambers tacks on his message to kids being bullied. That paragraph goes on to reinforce the core Exodus message that being gay is a choice that God doesn’t approve of:

By the way, for kids being bullied, it does get better.  No matter what you decide to do in life, don’t allow others to cause you to question whether life is worth living. The truth is that God gave us the freedom to choose the life that we want to live and death is the end of that choice. What I discovered as an older teenager was that those few years when I was bullied didn’t accurately reflect who I was.  The names that were hurled at me were careless and ones that God would never say. We serve a great God who created us for more than we often settle for, but He never belittles us for the decisions we make, even if those decisions don’t line up with His best for us. [Emphasis in the original.]

Given the hopeless messages that many gay kids already receive from their churches that God isn’t terribly happy with them as they are, I’m not sure how constructive Chambers’s approach will be by delivering the same message. Yet a very astute kid could read that same carefully constructed passage and come to an alternative reading: that if they can hold out just a little bit longer, they may discover that what Chambers would have them settle for isn’t necessarily what God would have them settle for. Here’s hoping that they do.

The Daily Agenda for Friday, October 7

Jim Burroway

October 7th, 2011

TODAY’S AGENDA (OURS):
Campus Pride College Fair and Prep Day: Boston, MA. Campus Pride’s College Fair is an opportunity for LGBT students and their families to discuss educational opportunities with participating LGBT-affirming colleges and universities. The fair features expert advice about LGBT-friendly colleges, scholarship resources and even effective tips for campus visits. The Northwest Region College Fair takes place today at Boston’s City Hall, from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. More information can be found here. Future College Fairs will take place in Los Angeles (Oct 15) and New York (Nov 4).

AIDS Walks This Weekend: Columbus, OH; Indianapolis, IN and Kent/Sussex, DE.

Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Atlanta, GA; Orlando, FL; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Tucson, AZ.

Also This Weekend: Iris Prize Film Festival, Cardiff, UK.

TODAY’S AGENDA (THEIRS):
Values Voter Summit: Washington, D.C. The Family “Research” Council, one of only a handful of organizations tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center for being an anti-gay hate group, kicks off its annual Values Voter Summit in the nation’s capital this morning with a breakfast talk by Mat Staver, Chairman of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty Unversity’s Law School. Members of Staver’s Liberty Counsel and law school staff have been implicated in the Isabella Miller-Jenkins kidnapping case, while teachers have instructed law students to ignore “man’s law” in favor of “God’s law.” And so as you might expect, the Summit just goes straight downhill from there. Other speakers include House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and GOP Presidential candidate Sen. Rick Santorum. And all of that is before lunch, when voting begins for the Summit’s straw poll. Afternoon speakers include GOP presidential candidates Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, plus Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO). The evening plenary session features another GOP presidential candidate, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), as well as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. The craziness just goes on and on and on through Sunday morning.

Exodus International Florida Regional Conference. Leesburg, FL. Exodus International will conduct a two-day conference with the theme “Chosen for Freedom,” beginning today and continuing through Saturday. The conference’s featured speakers include Exodus International president Alan Chambers, former Exodus president Joe Dallas, and former Exodus vice president Randy Thomas. Also speaking is Dr. Julie Hamilton, a former president of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) and whose book, Handbook of Therapy for Unwanted Homosexual Attractions, includes a final chapter by discredited ex-gay activist George Rekers. As we reported in our original investigation of Rekers’s “treatment” of four-year-old Kirk Murphy, Rekers claimed that he had successfully turned the “effeminate pre-homosexual” boy into a straight man. He built his entire career on that supposedly groundbreaking success story. Except there were a couple of problems: Kirk grew up to be gay, and he ultimately committed suicide over the lifelong conflicts he struggled with as a result of that therapy. Yet in Hamilton’s book, Rekers boasted that Kirk “had a normal male identity,” six years after Kirk took his life. Hamilton’s book with Rekers’s boast is still on sale at NARTH’s web site, and I have no doubt that it will also be available at the conference, which takes place today and tomorrow at the First Baptist Church in Leesburg, FL.

Minnesota Anti-Marriage Strategy and Briefing Session: Bloomington, MN. The Minnesota Faith and Freedom Coalition, supporters of the latest proposed constitutional amendment to make same-sex marriage even more illegaler in the Gopher state, will hold a Strategy and Briefing Session at the Doubletree Inn in Bloomington, MN this morning from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Invited speakers include GOP presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and former Christian Coalition honcho Ralph Reed.

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?

Willow Creek Threads the Needle Between Ex-Gay Movement And Pro-Gay Acceptance

Jim Burroway

July 22nd, 2011

Last month, David Roberts at Ex-Gay Watched happened to notice that the influential Chicago-area megachurch Willow Creek was no longer listed on Exodus International’s affiliate listing as they had been in the past. Roberts obtained a response from a Willow Creek spokesperson confirming that “After a recent review of our affiliations we determined that, moving into the future, we no longer intend to be affiliated with Exodus International.”

Willow Creek is a very large interdenominational Evangelical church with satellite campuses across the country, and has been called the “most influential church in America.” Christianity Today picked up on the story and spoke with the same Willow Creek spokesperson, Scott Vaudrey, who said that Willow Creek’s decision was not intended as a social or political statement, but resulted from “a season of reviewing and clarifying some of our affiliations with outside organizations.”

Exodus International president Alan Chambers answered Vaudrey’s innocuous framing of their decision with his own combative interpretation of Willow Creek’s decision:

“The choice to end our partnership is definitely something that shines a light on a disappointing trend within parts of the Christian community,” he said, “which is that there are Christians who believe like one another who aren’t willing to stand with one another, simply because they’re afraid of the backlash people will direct their way if they are seen with somebody who might not be politically correct.”

Chambers said he sympathizes with Christian organizations that deal with social, political, and financial backlash, but added, “Biblical truth is unpopular, and when you’re supporting unpopular truth, you are unpopular too; which means, some days, getting upwards of 10,000 phone calls and emails, and it can be overwhelming.”

He later added:

“I really do think decisions like this, ultimately, highlight a reticence in the church to stand up for biblical truth, and they’re coming at a time when we’re going to have to stand up for what we believe. I think there’s a way to stand up. We have to find that way.”

Willow Creek however denies that their theological position on homosexuality has changed. Christianity Today’s article cites Susan DeLay, Willow Creek’s director of media relations, in saying that the church hasn’t not “become less welcoming to people with same-sex attractions or more averse to big problems.” It should be noted that “less welcoming to people with same-sex attractions” is not the same as “less welcoming to gay people.” The former phrasing refers to those who would be part of an ex-gay ministry, rather than openly gay individuals or families headed by gay couples. DeLay goes on:

“It’s quite the contrary,” she said. “Willow Creek has a whole host of ministries for people dealing with these issues, and we would never intend for them to feel sidelined. All we’ve changed is how we’ve gone about inviting them into the church, which is the primary issue here.”

It remains unclear how Willow Creek would respond if a group of LGBT parishioners wanted to form a study group or start a PFLAG sponsorship. DeLay’s referencing those who are “dealing with these isssues,” does not suggest that an acceptable way of dealing would be to embrace one’s God-given gifts.

What actually appears to be happening is that Willow Creek may be trying to “thread the needle.” On the one hand, they want to be clear that they are still an ex-gay-welcoming church and they aren’t about to define themselves as a gay-welcoming church. But they don’t want the to erect obvious barriers to gay people walking through its doors. Mark Yarhouse, whose own studies have demonstrated the ineffectiveness of ex-gay ministries in changing sexual orientation, believes that churches like Willow Creek are beginning to notice that Exodus International and the ex-gay movement has become a significant and growing barrier:

Churches are realizing that while there is a small contingent of the gay community responding to language like ‘freedom from homosexuality’ or ‘freedom is possible,’ the vast majority strongly disagree. They’re angry and they believe it’s impossible to change, and to hear this is so offensive that they will have nothing to do with Christians. So I think churches, in response to that vast majority who say, ‘We’re not interested,’ have decided to look at other approaches in an attempt to connect with the gay community on at least some level. That doesn’t mean that churches disagree with the language of ‘freedom from homosexuality’ doctrinally; they’ve just found that it doesn’t work on a social level.”

Major Ex-Gay Conference Headed to St. Paul in 2012

Jim Burroway

July 15th, 2011

Exodus International, the nation’s largest ex-gay umbrella group, has announced that they will hold their annual conference in St. Paul next year:

Plans are underway already for the 37th Annual Exodus Freedom Conference being held June 27-30 in the Twin Cities of Minnesota at Northwestern College.  Please consider giving now towards our scholarship fund so that we can make sure everyone who wants to be there can be there.  And, please consider being there yourself. It is a transforming experience!

They will be holding their conference in the Bachmann’s home turf. Now that will be interesting.

Update: Others are reporting that this is the same ex-gay conference in which, in 2004, Michele Bachmann gave her welcoming remarks. That’s not accurate. Bachmann gave her opening remarks at a Love Won Out conference, which is a one-day roadshow put on about six times each year marketing ex-gay therapy to gay people and — much more often, according to the typical attendance — to their parents.

On the other hand, the so-called “Freedom” conference is Exodus’s annual five-day conference, and is their signature flagship event. It is not a marketing event. It is the real deal, where ex-gay people from all over the country — and even around the world — come together for five days of conferences, worskshops, lectures, and worship. Think of it this way: where LWO is the infomercial, the Freedom Conference is the actual Clapper. What Bachmann spoke at was the theater poster; this is the second act. The third act, too often, ends badly.

Exodus President opposes “It Gets Better” campaign

Jim Burroway and I both independently responded to Alan Chambers' criticism of the Google Chrome It Gets Better ad. While we share the same view, our commentaries come from slightly different perspectives and are both presented here.

Timothy Kincaid

May 5th, 2011

What kind of person would oppose a campaign to combat suicide among gay kids? At what point does one become to opposed to “the homosexual agenda” that they object to telling a kid that the despair they are feeling at that moment will pass, that the oppression they are experiencing will end, that it gets better?

Sadly, there are those with whom we share the planet who are so invested in Culture War and in “us v. them” mentality that they lose sight altogether of the humanity of those with whom they disagree.

This occurs on both sides.

When gay people cannot see religious people in any terms other than “haters” or “Nazis” or when conservatives see gay people only as hedonistic and “enemies of the family”, it justifies any mistreatment that they wish to dole out. Those who differ are no longer people to be persuaded but are instead dehumanized creatures which are deserving of misery, pain, and death. One need no longer keep the instinct to do evil at bay, but can unleash all of one’s inner demons of insecurity and anger and contempt and hatred and care nothing about the consequences. They deserve it.

But usually kids are off limits. Even when throwing intolerance and hate at the “intolerant haters” on the other side, few would go so far as to seek to harm children.

So it shocked me that Alan Chambers, the president of the ex-gay umbrella group Exodus International, would condemn the It Gets Better ad aired by Google Chrome on Tuesday’s episode of GLEE. This program’s goal is clear: discourage suicide, give a message of hope, tell kids to stay alive until it gets better.

But Chambers opposes this campaign, and especially Disney’s lending of Woody to give a message of support (Christian Post):

“Children all over the world, including my two children are fans of ‘Toy Story’ and to see a character like that endorsing something that at this point children have no need to know about, it’s disappointing,” he told The Christian Post.

Chambers, who overcame homosexuality and is now a father of two, suspects that if the commercial airs while he and his children are watching a show and “if they happen to see that and ask questions and if they get the full understanding of what the commercial is actually about, we will have to have the conversation. It’s not something I plan to talk to my kids, 5 and 6, about.”

But it isn’t just Woody’s image that has upset Alan. He disagrees with Woody’s message.

Alan Chambers doesn’t want gay kids to know that it gets better. He doesn’t want them to be aware that Anne Hathaway and President Obama and, yes, Woody all think that they are fine just as they are. He wants them to believe that if they accept themselves and love themselves as gay people then it doesn’t get better; it gets worse.

For organizations like Exodus International, which has thousands of men and women like me who have lived a gay life, it obviously didn’t get better living a gay life for them.

Alan’s message to bullied teens is this: the bullies are right. You are broken and unless you follow the dictates of my beliefs then you will be miserable “living a gay life”. The only way for it to get better is to join Exodus and live a life of struggle and celibacy and eternal hoping for the miraculous.

I was hopeful when Exodus dropped the “Day of Truth”, their school based program for condemning gay students. Alan recognized that this program encouraged and endorsed bullying and – at that time – resolved not to contribute to the problem.

I’m saddened that his resolve seems to have disappeared.

Alan Chambers Prefers “It Gets Worse” Campaign

Jim Burroway

May 5th, 2011

Sometimes you have to wonder what they’re thinking.

On Tuesday, Google premiered their “It Gets Better” ad, with its message of encouragement for teens who endure endless taunting and bullying over their perceived sexuality. Spurred on by a wave of suicides last autumn, Dan Savage launched the “It Gets Better” campaign in which people all over the world have uploaded videos encouraging young people to just hang in there for just a short while longer. If they can somehow find the strength to do that, then things will almost certainly get better.

Google’s ad shows small snippets of celebrities who have contributed to the project. One of them was the character Woody from “Toy Story,” who says simply “You’ll be fine, partner.” His cameo made up all of two and a half seconds of a ninety second commercial. That was enough to send Exodus International President Alan Chambers into a tizzy:

“Children all over the world, including my two children are fans of ‘Toy Story’ and to see a character like that endorsing something that at this point children have no need to know about, it’s disappointing,” he told The Christian Post.

Chambers, who overcame homosexuality and is now a father of two, suspects that if the commercial airs while he and his children are watching a show and “if they happen to see that and ask questions and if they get the full understanding of what the commercial is actually about, we will have to have the conversation. It’s not something I plan to talk to my kids, 5 and 6, about.”

The conversation Chambers could be having with his children is how to handle themselves if they find themselves being taunted and bullying in school. That’s what the commercial was about. If Chambers really isn’t prepared to have that conversation, then he is really falling down as a father.

But of course, that’s not what Chambers is worried about. It’s the message that, even for gay teens who feel very much alone, it will, at some point, get better. Chambers protests, ““For organizations like Exodus International, which has thousands of men and women like me who have lived a gay life, it obviously didn’t get better living a gay life for them.” Perhaps he’d be happier with an “It Gets Worse” campaign instead. After all, that is at the core of their message:

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“Love In Action” Ex-Gay Documentary Premieres Next Month

Jim Burroway

May 3rd, 2011

In June 2005, sixteen-year-old Zach Stark announced on his MySpace blog that his parents were sending him away to an ex-gay youth program after he came out to them. He also posted the program’s rules that he would be forced to live under while locked away in the “therapy” program. The rules were shocking: no contact with the outside world, no diaries or journals, shirts must be worn at all times (including while sleeping), no computer access, no television or radio, no reading materials except those provided by the staff. Thanks to Zach’s blog posts before entering Memphis-based Love In Action, the Exodus-afiliated program became the focus of worldwide controversy and daily protests. “Love In Action” was investigated by the state of Tennessee for child abuse and for operating a separate unliscenced drug and alcohol treatment program. Love In Action eventually settled with the state and shut down their youth program.

Memphis-based documentary filmmaker Morgan Fox began working on a documentary about Love In Action, beginning with Zach’s forced commitment into the program. In 2008, a trailer was released in which Fox caught up with Zach who described his ordeal. But deadlines came and went, and the long-awaited documentary was never released.

Until now. The premiere of This Is What Love in Action Looks Like will take place next month at Frameline 35, the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival which will be held from June 16 to 26. The documentary features interviews with Zach, then-LIA director John Smid, other former ex-gay leaders and former LIA clients. Some of those former clients spoke out at a 2008 ex-gay survivors meet-up held in Memphis that was hosted by former LIA client Peterson Toscano. (I spoke with one LIA survivor here.)

The documentary’s showtime is not yet available. Here is the film’s trailer:

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Exodus VP Stepping Down

Jim Burroway

April 12th, 2011

Exodus International vice president Randy Thomas is stepping down from his position, according to a blog post by the group’s president Alan Chambers. Thomas isn’t going far however. He will take on a part-time position as Exodus’s Director of Digital Media and Development — basically, running the online and social media platforms for Exodus. According to the announcement, this gives Thomas an opportunity to allows his “pastoral, artistic and creative gifts …to grow and develop to their full potential.”

The announcement doesn’t indicate when the change becomes effective.

Apple Bites Back

Jim Burroway

March 22nd, 2011

The app…

is gone…

Apple hasn’t made an official announcement, but searching through Apple’s App store for Exodus’s app comes up empty.

Everyone with an iPhone and iPad is still perfectly capable of accessing Exodus’s web site via Safari, so Exodus’s ability to convey their message to everyone with a mobile devices remains intact. And just as every other merchant is free to decide what merchandise they think is appropriate to convey on their premises, Apple is free to determine what apps they wish to make available in their app store. That’s freedom.

Repressing What Comes Naturally? There’s An App For That

Jim Burroway

March 9th, 2011

 Exodus International is on quite a media blitz this week. First came the announcement that they’ve released their very own iPhone App. Let’s just say that the reaction to that announcement is mixed, having garnered a two-star rating on the iTunes page. The app’s functionality is rather limited,  amounting to a website-cum-app experience with links to their facebook page and twitter stream. “Exgaysurvivordan” (whoever that is) writes, “This app is little more than a glorified (yet still clunky) web browser to navigate around Exodus’ walled-garden of predictable anti-gay content.”

Exodus also showed up on Oprah’s OWN Network’s In America with Lisa Ling last night. I didn’t get to watch the program, but Ling appeared on The View to discuss the program.

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It’s typical to portray gay people as drug-fueled sex addicts as exemplified by their poster boy “Christian.” But really, what does this have to do with homosexuality? Ling does seem to see through a key element of the ex-gay message though: Nobody really changes, despite the empty promise that “change is possible.” Exodus International president Alan Chambers says so in moments of candor, and so does the American Psychiatric Association.

Exodus Co-Founder: “The initial excitement of starting an exgay program”

A multi-part video interview series with Michael Bussee, co-founder of Exodus International turned critic.

Daniel Gonzales

February 9th, 2011

One of my favorite ex-gay topics to talk about is how people fool themselves into believing that their sexual orientation and attractions are actually changing (I spoke about my own experience here).  In ex-gay speak it’s often called the “honeymoon period.”

In today’s video Exodus International co-founder Michael Bussee talks about his own honeymoon period and how he wasn’t simply experiencing it as participant but ministry leader.  Michael explains how he mistook that initial excitement for actual change.  For Michael and many ex-gays he lead, such an intense focus on spirituality begins to take precedence over one’s own sexuality and he explains how he mistook that diminished libido for change and not simply repression (his word).  And as with many ex-gays, meeting other struggling gay Christians for the first time is the first step in their greater coming out process.

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[full transcript after the jump]

Read the rest of this entry »

Exodus Co-Founder: “It was a terrible mistake for Exodus to get involved in politics”

A multi-part video interview series with Michael Bussee, co-founder of Exodus International turned critic.

Daniel Gonzales

February 7th, 2011

Exodus turns 35 this year and Focus On The Family has a brief but glowing article that totally glosses over all the tragedies Exodus, it’s leaders, and followers have experienced during that time.

In today’s video Exodus International co-founder Michael Bussee explains how Exodus has changed over time — in his view Exodus’ foray into anti-gay political activism has been it’s biggest mistake.

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[full transcript after the jump]

Read the rest of this entry »

Exodus President Responds to David Kato’s Murder

Jim Burroway

January 27th, 2011

Exodus International President Alan Chambers responded to yesterday’s brutal murder of Ugandan LGBT advocate David Kato. In a post to the Exodus Blog this evening, Chambers wrote:

The leadership of Exodus international and its member ministries are grieved over the tragic murder of Ugandan gay activist David Kato and we send our sincerest condolences to his family & friends.

Many know that we have responded to the horrible and truly homophobic public policy being promoted in Uganda.  Public policy that would harshly punish, imprison and possibly execute those who have same-sex attractions and/or identify as gay.  Exodus International, in agreement with many other Christian and gay organizations, have pleaded with the government to show compassion, afford dignity and respect for those who identify as gay.  We are absolutely opposed to the criminalization of homosexuality in any nation.

Exodus International calls on President & Mrs. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni to lead their government into an era of treating all of their neighbors as they would like to be treated.  It is abominable that a nation with Christian leadership would endorse or allow anyone to be brutally murdered.  In the words of Jesus Himself, those who are without sin cast the first stone.

Exodus International condemns the murder of David Kato and calls for justice to be fairly applied, not covered up, when the murderers are caught.

Exodus International board member Don Schmierer was one of three American Evangelicals who had conducted an anti-gay conference in Kampala in March 2009. That conference, proudly nicknamed the “nuclear bomb” by Holocaust revisionist Scott Lively, marked the start of a massive deterioration in the climate for LGBT people in Uganda which ultimately culminated in the introduction of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in that nation’s Parliament the following October. Despite numerous calls for Exodus to denounce the conference and its aftermath, the ex-gay organization continued to defend Schmierer’s participation. Worse, Schmierer’s only public response was to cast himself as the victim, again and again, rather than acknowledging the perilous situation he helped to set up.

One month after the introduction of the draconian anti-gay legislation, Exodus posted a public letter to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. That letter contained a plea to “consider the influence this law will have” on ex-gay organizations operating in Uganda. There was however little  mention of the influence this law would have on gay people themselves.

Finally in March 2010, more than a year after that fateful conference, the Exodus International board of directors got it right. That’s when they issued their statement condemning the anti-gay bill. “Exodus International has not and will not support any legislation that deprives others of life and dignity including, but not limited to, Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009.” While the statement was a strong denunciation of the bill, it appeared to stop just short of condemning criminalization of homosexuality generally. Later that summer, Alan Chambers followed that statement with another personal note on the Exodus blog expressing his regret for not taking seriously the warnings that several people (including BTB’s Timothy Kincaid) sent him privately in advance of the conference. He also detailed several other failures in how he and Exodus handled the fallout. Chamber’s statement then culminated in the announcement of a landmark policy statement placing Exodus on record, for the first time in its history, as opposing the criminalization of homosexuality “as conducted by consensual adults in private.”

Chambers’s statement today builds on last year’s moves. Now, if only Schmierer were capable of displaying one tenth as much courage.

Don Schmierer Responds to David Kato’s Murder

Jim Burroway

January 27th, 2011

Exodus International Board Member Don Schmierer

Exodus International board member Don Schmierer responds to the brutal  murder of Ugandan LGBT advocate David Kato in his typical style, by reminding everyone who the real victim is:

On Thursday, Don Schmierer, one of the American evangelicals who visited in Uganda in 2009, said Mr. Kato’s death was “horrible.”

“Naturally, I don’t want anyone killed but I don’t feel I had anything to do with that,” said Mr. Schmierer, who added that in Uganda he had focused on parenting skills. He also said that he had been a target of threats himself, recently receiving more than 600 hate mails related to his visit.

“I spoke to help people,” he said, “and I’m getting bludgeoned from one end to the other.”

Kato died from hammer blows to the skull, but Schmierer’s the one getting “bludgeoned,” as he reminded us before here, here and here. Make a note of it.

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