Joe Dallas Splits from Exodus International
May 6th, 2013
Long time ex-gay therapist Joe Dallas has announced via Facebook that his Genesis Biblical Solutions (previously Genesis Counseling Center) is no longer affiliated with Exodus International:
SPECIAL MINISTRY ANNOUNCEMENT
After prayerful consideration the Genesis Biblical Solutions Board of Directors has decided to withdraw from the network of Exodus International because of differences in ministry approach and priority. We honor the work of Exodus International, regard Alan Chambers and the Exodus Board with respect and love, and wish all Exodus ministries the best as they continue their important work.
Dallas’s departure from Exodus is a significant milestone in the general re-alignment that has been taking place in the ex-gay movement over the past year. Dallas is a longtime activist within the Exodus alliance, having served as president of the organization from 1991 to 1993. Dallas was a regular featured speaker at the Love Won Out traveling roadshow conferences which were jointly put on by Exodus and Focus On the Family beginning in 1998. He was also a regular speaker at Exodus International’s annual conferences, including as a plenary speaker in 2007, 2010, and 2011. But for last year’s conference in St. Paul, Minnesota, his name was conspicuously absent from the program (although his wife, Renee, was there to present at workshops for spouses of ex-gay “strugglers”).
The general re-alignment in the ex-gay movement was prompted by Exodus president Alan Chambers’s acknowledgment in January 2012 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.” Later that month, Chambers withdrew his organization’s support for the particular from of conversion therapy known as “reparative therapy.” In May, an Exodus board member traveled to Jamaica — where homosexuality is a felony punishable with ten years’ imprisonment — to speak in support of its anti-gay laws. Chambers swiftly responded with a statement opposing criminalization of homosexuality, and that board member quickly resigned. Chambers condemned the Family Research Council for honoring a pastor who called gays “worse than maggots” and that God had an “urban renewal plan for Sodom and Gomorrah,” and declined to oppose a California law that bans sexual orientation change efforts for minors.
All of this together has resulted an a general exodus of several member ministries from Exodus, with many of them joining with the much more hard-core Restored Hope Network. But since last summer, it was unclear which way Dallas would go. The month following last year’s Exodus conference, Dallas’s name appeared on a list of founding members of the RHN, while also maintaining his affiliation with Exodus International. But his ongoing relationship with Exodus appears to have been a difficult one. As Exodus has continued to evolve its message away from being an overtly hostile one for LGBT people, Dallas, as recently as last month, described gay relationships as “bring(ing) the judgment of God” and argued that marriage equality would lead to polygamy.
Joe Dallas: Same-Sex Marriage Will Bring Polygamy and “the Judgement of God”
April 6th, 2013
Joe Dallas, who heads the Exodus International-affiliated Genesis Counseling in Tustin, California, appeared on The Steve Deace Show on Tuesday, where the topic was the growing acceptance of LGBT people in general and same-sex marriage in particular. Dallas blamed the Internet and its easy access to porn for the rise of “sexual immorality” in the culture. “Where you have high accessibility, you will have more consumer use,” Dallas told Deace (Second hour, 23:16):
Dallas: And that has not only in and of itself been a problem to have it and using porn, but it’s also a gateway to a number of other behaviors because through the Internet, people begin exploring options like hiring a prostitute or consider going to a massage parlor or hooking up anonymously with someone. And because all of that is so accessible now, we absolutely have a higher percentage of people who become literally dependent on these very hyper-stimulating experiences whether its the viewing of pornography or going to a strip club or hiring a prostitute. And that dependency absolutely disrupts many of their lives.
Of course, I certainly don’t think that everyone who is homosexual is sexually addicted and when we’re speaking about same-sex marriage I certainly don’t believe that because someone is attracted to the same sex that means they use pornography or engage in these types of behaviors. Those are really two different issues. But they both do get to the heart of on what we base as a nation our system of sexual ethics, and it seems that that base is shifting.
Beyond porn, Dallas also blamed the media — television, openly gay celebrities, etc — for increasing broader acceptance of LGBT people, and he argued that the increased visibility of LGBT people has meant that more people are “succumbing” to homosexuality. And when that increased visibility is combined with a forty-year movement, “a movement which has built for decades without as much public awareness as we have now, now that momentum has reached a critical mass.” At this point, Deace asked, “where does this end”? (31:11):
Deace: Joe, I wrote a piece for USA Today over the weekend asking, why not polygamy then? Why not polyamory? Why not everything? Why just draw the line here. We’ve got stories at CNN about six year old boys demanding that they’re actually girls and they are transgendered, they get to use the girls’ bathroom, and so we change all of social policy at a public school for a six year old. And where does this end ultimately? What happens to the individuals here that are struggling with their sexuality when we allow public policy to essentially say, “do whatever you want.” What ultimately will be the price they will pay?
Dallas: The individuals will be given a green light to express their desires as they see fit. Some will claim to find deep fulfillment in that, some will form relationships that they report as being very healthy and satisfying, others will find that their lives take directions that they didn’t expect and they’ll be deeply disappointed.
There’s really two ways I look at this: one is theologically and one is socially. Socially I think it will be one more step down the ladder towards a much lower standard of human behavior. Theologically, I think it will be a green light to engage in behaviors that bring the judgment of God. So either one looks pretty dismal to me.
I think that ultimately, this is just as you said: It’s not going to end just at homosexuality. I can’t think of too many logical arguments you can make polygamy if you are in favor of revising our norms to include homosexuality. And in fact, as you know Steve, I believe they call it the polyamorous movement is riding the coat tails of the push for same-sex marriage. And no doubt, if we legitimize same-sex marriage, we will see the legitimization of polygamy as well.
Alan Chambers began changing Exodus International’s direction more than a year ago by acknowledging 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.” He repudiated the particular from of conversion therapy known as “reparative therapy,” he swiftly responded with a statement opposing criminalization soon after a board member spoke in Jamaica in support of its anti-gay laws (that board member quickly resigned), he condemned the Family Research Council for honoring a pastor who called gays “worse than maggots” and that God had an “urban renewal plan for Sodom and Gomorrah,” and declined to oppose a California law that bans sexual orientation change efforts for minors. More generally, Exodus has refused to take political positions on hot-button topics, with Chambers recently posting videos saying that Exodus no longer has an official position on same-sex marriage, and encouraging students to cooperate with rather than confront gay-straight alliances in the schools.
Those changes within Exodus has prompted other prominent ex-gay leaders to publicly denounce Exodus’ change in direction, and a number of ministries have left the organization. Many of those ministries have joined up to form a rival organization called the Restored Hope Network. Dallas was a founding member of RHN and was a no-show at Exodus International’s annual conference in St. Paul, MN in 2012 (his wife was there to present a couple of workshops), but he retained his ties to Exodus in an attempt to be a member in good standing with both groups. But with this week’s statements on Deace’s radio program, I don’t see how Dallas’s continued association with Exodus is tenable.
Rival Ex-Gay Group Forms to Challenge Exodus
July 22nd, 2012
Michael Bussee this morning alerted me to a new group that is forming to challenge Exodus International as the dominant ex-gay organization in Evangelical Christianity. Restored Hope Network has announced via Facebook and an Eventbrite page that there will be a weekend gathering in the Sacramento, California, area for a short conference called “Restoring Hope: Healing for the Sexually and Relationally Broken” on September 21 and 22. Three announced speakers include Robert Gagnon, Frank Worthen, and Andrew Comiskey, and the entire event is being billed as the “inaugural conference” for the nascent group. The conference is taking place at Sunrise Community Church, which sponsors HIS Ministry, one of eleven ex-gay ministries which has left Exodus International over the past few months.
The Facebook page, which indicates the group was founded on May 2, lists several important name as founding members of Restored Hope:
With the election of the forming committee in early May, the work to begin this new network began. The forming committee consists of Frank Worthen, Anne Paulk, Andy and Annette Comiskey, Dr. Robert Gagnon, Joe Dallas, Stephen Black, David Kyle Foster, and Michael Newman.
These names include some of the most prominent names of the ex-gay movement, and many of them have long historic ties to Exodus:
Frank Worthen’s New Hope Ministry was one of the founding ministries of Exodus International back in 1976. Worthen also founded Love In Action, a residential ex-gay ministry which eventually became an independent organization and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where it now operates as Restoration Path.
Anne Pauk, an ex-lesbian and wife of former ex-gay spokesman John Paulk, is a prominent author and speaker in the ex-gay movement. She and John were a featured couple in a massive national publicity campaign in 1998 on behalf of the ex-gay movement, a campaign that landed them on the cover of Newsweek. John Paulk was serving as chairman of the board of Exodus International from 1995 to 2000 when he was photographed by Wayne Besen while leaving a gay bar in Washington, D.C. Despite the scandal, John Paul remained active in the ex-gay movement until 2003, when he left Focus On the Family and the couple resettled in Portland, Oregon and John started a catering business. Anne has continued to write books and lecture as an “ex-lesbian.” Truth Wins Out’s Wayne Besen has been told that the Paulks may have separated.
Andrew Comiskey has been a major player in Exodus International from its earliest days as an outgrowth of an early Southern California church movement known as the Vineyard. He once served as president at Exodus International, and his Desert Stream Ministries has been among the largest and most prominent ministries in the Exodus International network, and its popular Living Waters program is used by many ex-gay ministries throughout the world. In April, Comiskey issued a letter to Exodus president Alan Chambers calling on him to “continue to uphold change as a reasonable goal for Christians with (same-sex attraction).” Citing Chambers’s comments before the Gay Christian Network, Comiskey worried that “Alan’s comments about change unwittingly played into the enemy’s hands.”
Robert Gagnon’s association with the ex-gay movement has been somewhat less extensive, mainly focused in providing theological support. He spoke at a Wednesday morning plenary session at a 2009 Exodus annual conference in Wheaton, Illinois. He also provided two workshops at that conference, the first on homosexuality and the Bible, and the second on the church’s response to homosexuality. In late June,Gagnon wrote an exhausting 35-page response to Alan Chambers’s recent changes at Exodus, and he has emerged as one of the sharpest and loudest critics in the popular media of Chambers’s change of direction.
Joe Dallas may be the most surprising founding member of Restored Hope, although I suspected something was up when he was nowhere to be found at the Exodus conference this year in Minneapolis. (His wife, Rene Dallas, was there to provide workshops for spouses of “strugglers.”) He served as Exodus International president from 1991 to 1993. Dallas has spoken at every Exodus conference for the last five years that I’m able to track down, including during plenary sessions in 2011, 2010 and 2007. Dallas has also been a longtime speaker at the Love Won Out conferences. Dallas’s Genesis Counseling is still listed as an Exodus member ministry.
Stephen Black is the founder of Oklahoma City-based First Stone Ministry, another of the founding ministries of Exodus International in 1976. Has also been highly active in Exodus, including providing a workshop at Exodus’s annual conferences from 2008 to 2011. Black announced that his ministry officially resigned from Exodus in April, which is at about the same time of Comisky’s letter to Chambers. Further signs of Black and Comisky joining forces arose when Black announced that Comisky would be speaking at a church outside of Oklahoma City in an event sponsored and promoted by First Stone.
David Kyle Foster operates Mastering Life Ministries, the television ministry behind Pure Passion, a television program broadcast on the internet and several Christian television channels. Foster does not describe himself as ex-gay in particular, but instead points to his struggle “with a serious bondage to pornography and other sexually addictive behaviors” as his link to the ex-gay movement.
Michael Newman, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, is founder of the Houston-based Christian Coalition for Reconciliation, “an educational, support, and discipling ministry for those struggling with homosexuality.” It is another former Exodus member ministry that withdrew from the network earlier this year.
The entire “Restoring Hope” theme of the new network is an apparent jab at Exodus International’s changes in message and focus over the last several months, beginning with Alan Chambers’s acknowledgment last January that, “the majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them, have not experienced a change in their orientation.” His later repudiation of the particular type of counseling intended to change sexual orientation known as Reparative Therapy led to a further break from Exodus’s past. It also led to a break between Exodus and nearly a dozen member ministries in Exodus’s network, notably including Comiskey’s Desert Streams Ministries and Worthen’s New Hope Ministries.
The Daily Agenda for Friday, October 7
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).
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?
Ex-Gays Celebrating Misery And Tragedy In Lives Of Gay People Is Hardly New
May 19th, 2010
Earlier today Ex-Gay Watch posted on a statement made by Exodus president Alan Chambers on his Facebook fan page:
Heard from a couple this morning who have been praying for their daughter and her partner to come to Christ for 22 years. Both accepted Jesus, broke off their relationship and are pursuing a life in Christ. God is faithful and answers prayers. Be encouraged no matter your circumstances!
Unfortunately celebrating misery and tragedy in the lives of gay and lesbian people is nothing new for leaders in the ex-gay movement. A while back I found, but didn’t post about, a passage from Mike Haley’s 2004 book “101 Frequently Asked Questions About Homosexuality.” Appearing on pages 46 & 47:
Mike Haley starts off his response with explaining how gay people often feel elated at coming out so let’s jump to the end of his response where he issues actual advise:
The key for your son in the weeks and months to come is for him to realize it’s not too late to turn back. This is where the church and loved ones like you come in. If he hears that change is possible, that he was not “made” this way, and that he is loved within godly boudaries even if his lifestyle choices don’t change immediately, there is hope that when the feeling of relief wears off and the emptiness sets in, he will try to live his life in line with God’s will.
In the meantime, I advise you to pray that he becomes as miserable as possible, as soon as possible, and that God will protect him through it. [emphasis added]
As I said before, I discovered that passage years ago when I first read the book and in all that time have been unable to formulate a response to something so wicked and ugly. However with Ex-Gay Watch bringing light to Alan’s celebration I realized this sadly is not a unique case and that attention needed to be brought to it.
I should add the first page of Haley’s book is filled with endorsements by Alan Chambers, Jeff Konrad, Joe Dallas, and Dr. Joseph Nicolosi. I’m curious if they too wish for misery and tragedy to fall upon the lives of gay and lesbian people.
Part 3: “Love Won Out”: A Whole New Dialect
March 6th, 2007
One of the first phrases that we learned in high school Spanish class was how to say that you like something. In English, it’s a simple three-part sentence: “I like ice cream.” I, the subject, does something, namely, like. And the object of my affection, called the direct object, the thing that receives the action, is the ice cream. It can’t get much simpler than that.
But in Spanish, there is no word for “like.” The word they use instead, gustar literally means “pleases”. So instead of saying “I like ice cream,” I would say, “Ice cream pleases me.” Notice how this turns everything around. In English, if I don’t like something, it’s up to me to explain myself since I am on the acting part of the verb — Why don’t you like it? But in Spanish, if something doesn’t please me, it’s not my problem. You need to look to the ice cream to understand what’s wrong with it.
I’ve often though about that example and wondered if that subtle difference — do we like something or does that something please us? — influences how I see the world around me, and in what ways that influence might be different for someone who’s a native Spanish speaker. If it’s true that language shapes how we view the world — and I join Madison Avenue and political spin doctors in believing this to be true — I thought it might be worthwhile to examine the particular language that I heard at Love Won Out.
For me, attending the Love Won Out ex-gay conference in Phoenix was very much like being an anthropologist on Mars, as Oliver Sacks once put it. I observed a culture with its own vaguely familiar language and customs. And learning its language was key to understanding the framework and worldview from which Love Won Out operated. But as is true with many cultures, it almost requires a total immersion inside the culture of Love Won Out to pick up on the nuances of those terms and customs.
There’s nothing particularly odd about this. Every group of people has its own version of “inside baseball.” And at Love Won Out, much of their dialect is built upon the common theological expressions that are a part of the Evangelical Christian movement. But what was spoken at Love Won Out went beyond the language of Evangelical Christianity. The language of Love Won Out represented a particular dialect of the larger Evangelical Christian culture.
The Study of Language
Focus on the Family and Exodus, among others, exercise an amazing degree of message discipline, and they construct their messages differently according to the particular audience they’re addressing. This is why their messages have been so effective. Mike Haley, director of gender issues at Focus on the Family’s Public Policy Division talked about this during a morning plenary session, and he gave a good example of how this lesson might be used:
You know, in the year 2004 when I was doing the research for my book, I found that we spent twenty billion dollars that year in the United States for the work of missions. And what do we do with that money? Well what we do with that money is we take individual’s lives — they are committed to a people group — we set them aside, we support them, we pray for them, we pour money into their lives. We help them get to that people group. We help them study and learn another language often so that they can reach a people for Christ. Those people will take the time out of their own lives and study the social nuances of that people group they want to reach, so that when they become a part of them, they won’t offend them. Instead what they’ll do is they will draw them to Christ.
And my challenge for us is how much money, effort, and energy are we putting in to reaching what one of my friends calls “the unwanted harvest” known as the gay and lesbian community? And there’s some things that we do within the Body of Christ that are incredibly offensive, and let me just offer you one, the use of the phrase, “Love the sinner and hate the sin.” …
And what are we saying ultimately when we use that phrase? Well what we’re saying to someone is “I love you, but I hate what you’re doing.” But you have to see it from a gay person’s perspective. They see themselves as defined by the very thing that they’re doing. So they believe that when you hate what they’re doing, you hate them to their very core. We have got to lose that phrase out of our vocabulary. It does not translate in the marketplace.
I think Mike Haley only has it about half right in explaining why the phrase is offensive, but that’s not the point. The point is really this: you probably haven’t noticed this — because the phrase “love the sinner and hate the sin” is used so often among anti-gay Christians — but it turns out that neither Focus on the Family nor Exodus use this particular phrase much anymore. They’ve moved far beyond “love the sinner and hate the sin,” both in nuance and in sophistication. The sentiment is still very much there, but it’s expressed in a very different way. They are extremely conscious of how words are received by their target audience, no matter who that audience may be. It’s just that their audience is almost never the LGBT community. If it were, you can bet their choice of language would be very different.
Focus in the Family and Exodus have expended a great deal of resources to develop the phrases and the terminology they use. In doing so, they’ve crafted an entire language, complete with its own lexicon and syntax. For example, the terms they used for describing gay people were very different from yours or mine, and Mike Haley’s problem with “love the sin, hate the sinner” provides a glimpse into that difference. Their language is specially designed to treat people and their sexuality as if they were two completely separate entities, as if sexuality were a separate thing outside of the person. As Melissa Fryrear put it in a breakout session, they constantly work to “separate the ‘who’ from the ‘do’,” or, as others have put it more crudely in Mike Haley’s example, “the sinner” from “the sin”.
And since we’re only talking about sexuality and not romantic yearnings or affairs of the heart, this separation of gays and lesbians from their sexuality appears reasonable to Love Won Out attendees. If we included romance, then we would have to introduce such notions of soulmate, the yearnings of the heart, the love of all one’s might — all of these things which involve the whole person, which poets cannot separate and compartmentalize.
But at Love Won Out, gay romance, love or relationships are treated as evidence of a pathology. Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, president of NARTH (the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality), describes gay relationships in men as an attempt to capture the masculinity of another man that is missing in oneself because his own sense of masculinity is broken. This reduces all notions of romance to “a reparative drive.” He sums it up later in a breakout session by saying, “Heterosexuality is complementary, homosexuality is compensatory.”
Since homosexuality is seen as something that “happens” to someone due to poor parenting, sexual abuse and other factors, then it’s not the child’s fault. When they boy grows up, he tries to “fill” his damaged masculinity with other men. Similar explanations are offered for lesbians. Following this lead, Alan Chambers, president of Exodus, and Melissa Fryrear of Focus on the Family both refer to gay relationships as an “illegitimate way of meeting a legitimate need.”
Another way of saying this then, is that the problem is not that I, as a gay man, like other men. The problem is that other men are pleasing to me. Using language to separate the person from his or her sexuality is one of the most important concepts in Love Won Out’s dialect.
“No Such Thing As A Homosexual”
Since the language of Love Won Out represents a distinct dialect of Evangelical Christianity, the first order of business for the day was to teach us the elements of that dialect. First up was Dr. Nicolosi. He began his talk by proclaiming that “there is no such thing as a homosexual.” Knowing this was a head-scratcher to most people there, he repeated it again: “There is no such thing as a homosexual… He is a heterosexual, but he may have a homosexual problem.”
So here’s the first lesson: the words “gay,” “lesbian,” and “homosexual” aren’t nouns; they’re adjectives. And even as an adjectives they are never used to describe a person. There are no gay teenagers, there are no homosexual men, there are no lesbian women. Instead these adjectives are always used as modifiers to something else: a problem, a struggle, an identity, or an issue that is separate from the person. This is important because it’s very different from how these terms are normally used in the broader culture. It is also very different from how these terms are used even by other anti-gay activists.
If this sounds confusing, believe me, I felt the same way during the first few hours that morning. These words and phrases sounded odd or stilted — as is true with the first words we learn in any new language. But by hearing them repeated over and over in the very particular ways they were used, they started to become second nature. By the second hour, their “oddness” started to wear off and by the time the conference was over, it was easy to forget that these words could be used any other way.
All of the speakers at Love Won Out clung to this grammar with incredible consistency, reflecting a highly evolved discipline that comes from discovering the particular phrases that have had an impact in the past, and sticking with them from then on. And if a speaker somehow slipped up and use these words “incorrectly,” he was usually very quick to correct himself — as Nicolosi did during his breakout session, “Prevention of Male Homosexuality” later that afternoon:
From our own case studies, we see three types of fathers who are the fathers of homosexual men… Again, when I say “homosexual,” I don’t mean he’s intrinsically homosexual. He’s a heterosexual with a homosexual problem…”
You see, he almost used the word “homosexual” as an adjective to describe men — a no-no in Love-Won-Outeese. Slip-ups like this happened occasionally — Mike Haley did the same thing when he used the phrase “gay person” in my earlier example — but they were rare.
So having laid this groundwork, it’s time for me to give you some real examples of how this worked. Love Won Out speakers had very specific ways to describe gays, lesbians, and anyone else who experienced sexual and/or romantic attractions for others of the same sex. (Bisexuals and transsexuals were largely left out of the discussions.) Generally speaking, these descriptions fell into four broad categories, and each category was described using adjectives to reinforce the separation of “the ‘who’ from the ‘do’.”
Those Who “Struggle With Homosexuality”
The definition for this group was rather unclear. Mostly, this expression was used to describe someone who experienced “unwanted same-sex attractions”, another phrase that made an occasional appearance. (Alan Chambers often went even further in separating the “who” from the “do” by using the phrase, “those who struggle with the issue of homosexuality,” making homosexuality itself even more abstract.) For the most part, “those who struggle with homosexuality” described anyone who believed that homosexuality was wrong, but found themselves to be sexually attracted to others of the same sex.
But the odd thing about “those who struggle with homosexuality” is that believing that homosexuality was wrong wasn’t always a requirement to be a part of this category. This mean that those who “struggle with homosexuality” sometimes included relatives of conference attendees — sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and so forth — who weren’t at the conference and most likely weren’t struggling at all — including gay friends and family members who were completely out to their family and coworkers, often in relationships, and who felt no conflict about their sexuality. Many comments were addressed to parents (“If your son or daughter is struggling with homosexuality…”) that assumed that being gay required that there be a struggle. If my mother had attended the conference, she might have understood that I was among those they were talking about when they talked about those who were “struggling with homosexuality.”
But if the conference speakers were really careful, they might concede that I’m not struggling. They would instead put me into the second group where I would be described as “gay-identified.” (A woman would be “lesbian-identified.”) Again, notice the separation of the “who” from the “do.” I’m not gay, I just have a gay identity. I am, at most, gay-identified. All notions of intrinsic orientation, healthy relationships or romantic attachments were ignored, except as aspects of pathology. And if indeed there is no such thing as a homosexual, then it must also be true that there no such thing as a gay or a lesbian. Our identity is just something like a coat that we put on, a coat that can be taken off as well.
Anyone who is “struggling with homosexuality” is seen as being at a crossroads of sorts, and there are two directions he or she may go from there. One direction is to accept the “Biblical sexual ethic” and begin a “journey out of homosexuality.” Failing that, the other direction is to fall into the world of the “gay-identified” or “lesbian-identified”.
This second option, of course, is considerably more tragic since the “gay-identified” and “lesbian-identified” were generally regarded as less reachable. Because they were “gay-identified,” they were, by definition, involved in the gay community and the gay “lifestyle” — a lifestyle that was fraught with all sorts of dangers and misery: sexual addictions, drug addictions, emotional addictions, impossible relationships that never lasted. The idea that gays and lesbians could be satisfied, happy and stable was a foreign concept to Love Won Out. And just as there are tribes in the tropics that have no word for snow, Love Won Out spoke no words to describe people who didn’t fit their notions of someone who was “gay-identified.”
“On The Journey Out Of Homosexuality”
When someone who is “struggling with homosexuality” decides he or she doesn’t want to be “gay-identified”, then that person is said to have embarked on a “journey out of homosexuality.” This is where the poorly-defined concept of “change” comes in. This “change” was much talked about, but never really defined except in its most important aspect: a new identity in Christ.
Exodus sometimes provides something of a non-religious public face, although that face is never entirely a secular one. Focus on the Family, however, is unabashedly evangelical in the public stage. At Love Won Out, both groups were free to be who they really are with the like-minded audience. Everyone who spoke did so from a plainly religious perspective. Even Joseph Nicolosi, the “secular scientist” closed his plenary session on male homosexuality saying, “When we live our God-given integrity and our human dignity, there is no space for sex with a guy,” and arguing that “good psychology is compatible with good theology.” Melissa Fryrear’s personal story (known as a “testimony” in evangelical circles, and was labeled as such on Love Won Out’s published agenda) was not so much a clinical struggle to change her sexual feelings as it was an unabashedly emotional religious transformation.
And this appears to really be the only transformation that matters. As the day wore on, it became clear that Love Won Out wasn’t there just to convince us that gays and lesbians needed to become heterosexuals. The goal was actually much, much higher. Mike Haley alluded to it earlier when he described gays and lesbians as “the unwanted harvest.” In his personal testimony that morning, he attributed his “journey out of homosexuality” and, ultimately, his marriage and career to an irrevocable calling from God. Alan Chambers reinforced the religious theme by repeating that “the opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality. It’s holiness.” And throughout the day, everybody thanked the Lord, prayed with and for one another, and supported each other through Scripture and fellowship.
Love Won Out wasn’t a tent revival meeting, nor was it a day-long church service. But it was a day-long series of seminars that were firmly rooted in the theology of evangelical Christianity with Dr. Nicolosi providing scientific cover. As such, the “journey out of homosexuality” isn’t a journey from one sexual orientation to another, it’s a journey toward accepting Jesus Christ as Savior, and with that, the faith that with Christ, all things are possible from there, including inclusion in the fourth group.
Those Who “Found Freedom From Homosexuality”
Several of the speakers at Love Won Out placed described themselves as having either “left homosexuality,” “walked away from homosexuality” or having “found freedom from homosexuality” — as if they had been released from prison, as one commenter put it. (My favorite was “walked away”, as if someone had just stepped out for a coffee.) And indeed, the testimonies of those who “found freedom” followed the familiar trajectory of all great salvation stories, of having been lost but now found.
The stories began in the misery of “struggling with homosexuality”, the misery that presumably was a common experience of everyone who “struggles,” including the “gay-identified” — a misery of broken relationships, of drug and alcohol abuse, of sexual abuse and absent fathers or mothers, and a misery of an unrelenting longing for something that is clearly missing from their lives, that their “reparative” impulse was unable to fill.
But at the end of these stories comes triumph. After all, it’s theologically impossible for a story to end otherwise after having put their faith in Jesus Christ. And evidence of that triumph was often found in references to wives and children. As far as the audience was concerned, what better proof is there that they had “left homosexuality behind?” Mike Haley’s testimony closed with a wedding photo and pictures of his beautiful children. (And his children really are adorable. No wonder he’s such a proud husband and father.) Joe Dallas and Alan Chambers also spoke of their wives and families. The only speaker who “left homosexuality” but wasn’t married was Melissa Fryrear. Since she didn’t have any wedding photos or adorable children to talk about, she was reduced to describing what her ideal man would look like — “tall, red-headed, looks good in a kilt!” — while joking, “Is it hot in here?”
And while these speakers mentioned the wives and children that came along after they “found freedom”, they were just as cautious to discourage the idea that anyone should get married to either prove they were no longer gay, or to hasten their “journey out of homosexuality.” Alan Chambers and Melissa Fryrear in particular warned against that during their breakout sessions as they described the dangers this brings to the spouses of “those who struggle with homosexuality.”
And yet, every good story has to have a happy ending. And as far as Love Won Out is concerned, that happy ending comes only after accepting Jesus as Savior, and through that, finding “freedom from homosexuality” — whatever that freedom may mean.
Why “Love Won Out?”
In the end, the dialect of Love Won Out actually served not just one, but two purposes: to separate the gay and lesbian from his or her innate sexuality, and to deliver that person to Christ. Or more accurately, the goal of Love Won Out was to encourage the pastors, teachers, youth group leaders, parents, and other relatives and friends to bring the message of redemption through Christ to their gay and lesbian loved ones, since so few people who were “struggling with homosexuality” were actually there.
From a faith standpoint, this is all well and good. Christ’s Great Commission was to spread the Good News of the Gospel to all the corners of the earth. It’s hard to expect that a Christian organization would not evangelize, or that they would discourage others from doing so — especially where wayward family members are concerned.
And if an Evangelical Christian was truly struggling with his or her homosexuality, there is, all too often, a stark choice which must be made: to either embark on the long “journey out of homosexuality” and find acceptance in the Evangelical community, or to forsake that community and join the ranks of the “gay-identified.” As far as Love Won Out is concerned, there is no other way.
Life is full of choices, and each choice brings rewards and consequences. We don’t choose our sexuality — everyone at Love Won Out was in full agreement on that. But we do have a choice in how we deal with our sexuality in our daily lives. If someone concluded that the best thing for them was to join an ex-gay ministry to conform their behavior with their religious beliefs, then that is their right.
But most of those who attended Love Won Out weren’t in the position of making that decision. They were there to try to figure out how to convince their brothers, sisters, sons and daughters to make that decision. And since their loved ones didn’t appear to be interested in such a decision — most of them weren’t there after all, except for a few teenagers dragged there by their parents — I’m not sure ultimately what useful purpose Love Won Out served, except to offer some sort of hope to the families and friends of gays and lesbians.
But what kind of hope is it? Is it grounded in realistic expectations? Did they get a better perspective on the possibility of change? Did the friends and relatives leave that conference any better equipped than they were when they arrived that morning?
Given Christianity’s mission to proclaim the Truth with a capital “T,” it’s fair to ask how much of these “truths” with a small “t” we learned at Love Won Out are really true. I will explore that some more next week with the meaning of “change”.
Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word “Change” Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For “Change”