Student Senate Says No To Funding Mike Haley’s Speech
March 1st, 2008
Haley has a testimony about how he was once a gay prostitute but now he’s a husband and a father. And though that endears him to some, those who know and like gay folk are less likely to want to listen to his gay-cure tale.
The student senate at Hastings College, a private liberal arts school in Nebraska affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA), is one such group. The Campus Crusade sought to bring Haley on campus to speak and asked the senate for funding. The association emailed the student body and from the responses determined that about 70% did not want their student fees spent for that purpose. So the student group is denying funding.
Campus Crusade will now ask local churches to sponsor Mike Haley’s speech.
Part 4: “Love Won Out”: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word “Change” Changes
April 12th, 2007
In the weeks leading up to the February 10 Love Won Out conference in Phoenix, Focus on the Family and Exodus put up a billboard off of I-17 that proclaimed, “Change is possible. Discover how.” Meanwhile, Love Won Out’s web site promoted the conference, saying, “Focus on the Family is promoting the truth that change is possible for those who experience same-sex attractions.” Then, three weeks before the conference, Melissa Fryrear, Director of Focus on the Family’s Gender Issues Department was quoted in a press release, “We want to let people know that change is possible for those who are unsatisfied living as gay or lesbian.” Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, told an NPR reporter on the day of the conference that homosexuality “is a condition that people have found freedom from, they have changed.”
Earlier I described how most of those who spoke at Love Won Out used a very carefully crafted language to impart a particularly narrow view of homosexuality. It is a view that separates one’s sexuality from one’s sense of self, which is very different from how most people experience their sexuality whether they are gay or straight. Instead, for gays and lesbians only, their sexuality is treated as an exception, as something foreign or as an external “issue” that they “struggle with”.
But as precise as everyone was in how they defined homosexuality, they were startlingly imprecise when it came to defining “change.” Just when you thought you understood that “change” meant one thing (a change in one’s sexual attractions), you were suddenly presented with another concept of change (a change in identity only), or maybe it meant something else (a change in behavior only).
As I said before, there were remarkable few gay people attending Love Won Out. Most of those who were there were relatives or friends of gays and lesbians, and many of these relatives were parents. And in my conversations with them, it was clear that they saw their loved one’s homosexuality as a terrible tragedy, as something awful that happened. Some were quite desperate in their hope to see their loved ones changed.
During the lunchtime hour, Love Won Out set aside a room where parents and loved ones could gather together in fellowship. There, they shared their experiences, consoled each other, and spoke words of encouragement and hope, and they held hands and prayed together that their loved ones would experience “freedom from homosexuality.
The hope for change was paramount in the minds of these parents. As it was, many of them had a very strained relationship with their children. For some, their relationships were at or near the breaking point. And so it seemed to me that Love Won Out had a special responsibility to do two things to meet the needs of these parents. The first thing they needed to do was to provide practical advice on how to maintain their relationship with their loved ones. Love Won Out did that much better than I thought they would, although there are certainly areas I found wanting. I’ll talk more about that in another post.
But the second responsibility that Love Won Out had toward these parents and relatives was to set realistic expectations for what change was all about and how likely that change would be. And here is where I think they failed in that responsibility. And they failed for two reasons: 1) They didn’t provide a coherent definition of change, and 2) without a coherent definition, they couldn’t provide a realistic basis for an expectation for change.
What Is Change?
For a conference to advertise itself as proclaiming that “change is possible,” then one reasonable assumption might be that this “change” would refer to a change in one’s sexual attractions or orientation. This was certainly the base assumption that was rigorously reinforced throughout the first part of the day.
Dr. Joseph Nicolosi was the lead-off speaker, and as far as he was concerned this sort of change was the only thing that mattered. In both of his talks that day, he consistently drove home the point that changing one’s sexual orientation — as defined by one’s sexual attractions — was possible for anyone as long as they followed through with his program. And in some of his examples, that change was complete and unambiguous. Just as his talk was getting underway, he described one client this way:
He just told me in our last session, he said to me, “I have no more homosexual attraction.” There’s a lot of talk about how it diminishes but that it never goes away. Just today, in my last session with him, he said, “I have no more homosexual attractions.”
And how does this change occur? According to Nicolosi, when a gay man’s sense of masculinity is restored, when he no longer looks to other men for the parts of his masculinity that is missing in himself, then his same-sex attraction “disappears”:
The healing of homosexuality is “I want a man to see me as a man,” and to have that experience repeatedly until it becomes internalized. And when it becomes internalized there’s no more mystique and there’s no more eroticization.
Sometimes this disappearance of same-sex attraction was very dramatic according to Nicolosi’s descriptions. During a breakout session later that afternoon, he claimed that a teen client’s sexual attractions experienced a virtually instantaneous change. This change reportedly occurred when the boy and his father made an emotional breakthrough during a therapy session. With this connection between the father and the son, the son’s homosexuality became “nonexistent.” And what was Nicolosi’s evidence for this change? He asked the son to do an impromptu experiment:
I said, “Let’s try an experiment. Right now,” I said to him, “try to have a homosexual fantasy.” And only a fourteen-year-old boy would do this because, you know, your mother and father are there, you think he’d say no? So he does it. This is what he does … Now, this is what I said to him. “Try to have a homosexual fantasy” and this is what he does. … [silence] … He can’t generate it. He can’t generate. And that’s the whole therapy. If you make emotional connection, the homosexuality is nonexistent.
That’s right. Dr Nicolosi’s “evidence” was the failure of his teenage client to enact a command performance to conjure a sexual fantasy — in a doctor’s office with his parents present, parents whom the boy would probably like to please since he’s getting along with them so well at the moment.
Exodus board chairman Mike Haley’s testimony immediately followed Nicolosi’s talk that morning, where he reinforced Nicolosi’s message about a change in sexual orientation. While he didn’t directly address his own sexual attractions to the Love Won Out audience, he left little doubt that it had changed when he ended his testimony with pictures of his wedding and his two beautiful children. Alan Chambers also talked about his wife and kids, as did Joe Dallas (founder of Genesis Counseling and former Exodus board chairman) and John Smid (executive director of Love In Action and Exodus board vice-chairman).
While the other speakers could hint at the extent of their change by referring to their wives and children, Melissa Fryrear, who is single, had to be much more direct if she was to remove all doubt. She humorously described all of the things she had to learn in order to become a heterosexual woman (clothes, make-up, panty hose, etc.), and she even went so far as to describe her ideal man — “tall, red-headed, looks good in a kilt!” — as a photo of her sitting beside a Ronald McDonald mannequin bounced comically onto the multimedia screen behind her. Yet through all the laughter, her message was unmistakable: she was thoroughly heterosexual.
By the time Melissa Fryrear’s talks concluded at 11:00 that morning, there had been only one type of change discussed in all of those morning sessions: the change of sexual attractions from same-sex to opposite-sex attractions. And each speaker up to that point was absolutely unambiguous on that point as the audience heard one success story after another. All that was needed was a re-connection with the father (for gay men, according to Nicolosi) or with the mother (one of many theories according to Fryrear), and a deep commitment to Christ (according to Haley and Fryrear).
A Magic Blessing
But the strangest example of change was given by Dr. Nancy Heche during one of the general sessions that everyone attended soon after lunch. Dr. Heche is the mother of Anne Heche who, you may remember, was the partner of comedian Ellen DeGeneres from 1997 to 2001.
Dr. Heche used her testimony to talk about her own change of heart, from what she describes as her “hard heartedness” after having endured the humiliation of her husband’s death from AIDS and her daughter’s “public lesbian affair.” She described her anger at the “gay community” and for gay people in general during that period. But over time, through reading scriptures and much prayer, she said she was able to set aside her anger as God changed her “hard heartedness” to a soft heart. But her talk, which might have been a very good talk on how to come to terms with life’s difficulties, instead ended up becoming something of a formula for changing her daughter’s sexuality, at least in the minds of some of the parents.
Dr. Heche described how she learned about blessing from reading her Bible while flying on a small plane to Nantucket. She read Acts 3:26, which says, “When God raised up his servant [Jesus], he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” She then described a blessing as asking “God to interfere, … to take action in one’s life to bring them in the desired relationship with Himself, so that they are truly blessed and fully satisfied.” She took that to mean that when Jesus blessed her, He turned her from her ways to His ways. And she also took that to mean that she could also bless others, and in blessing others, she could be a part of God’s plan in doing the same:
Now that I’ve been blessed, and turned from my way to God’s way. I could be part of God’s plan to bless her [Anne] and maybe turn her from her way to God’s way. I could bless her now.
So in that little plane with my Bible on my lap, I confessed my hard heart. And I blessed her, and I blessed her friends. And as God would have it, that was the weekend she ended her lesbian affair.
Sometimes I hesitate to tell this part of the story because it sounds like “ooga-booga!” Like, poof! I sent up a magic blessing and they broke up. Well, there’s no “ooga-booga.” And the real magic or mystery that was revealed in that little plane was the work that God did in my heart.
Now I need to acknowledge two things here. First, I must acknowledge that she did not literally claim credit for her daughter’s relationship breaking up. In fact, she explicitly denied it. I also must acknowledge that Nancy titled her talk “It’s All About Me,” to reinforce the idea that as a parent, she needed to change herself and overcome her own anger rather than focus on changing her daughter.
But it is also true that even though she said “sometimes I hesitate to tell this part of the story,” she nevertheless goes ahead and tells it every single time she speaks at Love Won Out. It’s even on the DVD of Love Won Out testimonies that Focus on the Family sells on their web site and at the temporary book store they set up that day. She’s been a part of Love Won Out since June of 2005, and as far as I know, she has never omitted this detail from her testimony.
She really doesn’t seem to hesitate at all. And the fact is, her testimony would be just as valuable to those parents and family members without throwing in the hope that if you change your heart and bless your child, your child will change. But since “change” is the very central theme of the entire conference, it magnifies the significance of Dr. Heche’s inclusion of Anne’s “change” to everyone in the auditorium. And even though she explicitly denies this direct connection, what other conclusions would the audience draw? That Anne just “happened” to have left Ellen on the very same day her mother blessed her?
Remember, this isn’t an audience that is given to believing in coincidences. It’s an audience that is predisposed to believing in miracles. And this is exactly the kind of anectdote that many audience members will likely cling to in desperate hope for many days or even years.
That is very unfortunate, because Anne Heche’s side of the story is decidedly different:
This Nonsense about my mother praying for me is really making me angry. My mother never approved of my relationship with Ellen. Her hatred for our relationship is one of the many things that ultimately led to my breaking off all communication with her. (My mother, that is, not Ellen.)”
… The fact that my mother is using my name to promote this movement makes me even sicker…. I do not believe that homosexuality is something that should be brainwashed out of someone. I do not believe that homosexuality should be anything but celebrated if that is the thing that makes an individual feel good about their life. I believe, as I have always said, that people should love who they want to love.”
As far as I can tell, Anne is still estranged from her mother despite all her mother’s blessings. And because many of those parents in that audience were also experiencing different levels of estrangement from their children, friends and relatives. holding out hope for such miraculous conversions doesn’t bode well for them when their gay or lesbian loved one dismisses the possibility. And to consider that these estranged parents are listening to advice from a mother who is still estranged from her daughter, that also doesn’t bode well for those families’ futures. Messages like these are only more likely to more firmly entrench these family members in their ongoing estrangement.
After Dr. Heche linked her self-described change of heart to her daughter’s ending “her lesbian affair,” she encouraged the audience to participate in the same two-step formula with a closing prayer:
So I close by saying now it’s all about you. I invite you into the heart of God. You and I are not going to wipe out homosexuality, but we can wipe out hate and fear and anger and confusion. We have the ultimate winning strategy. Love trumps everything. So will you hold out your hands to receive a blessing?
I ask God to bless you, to interfere in your lives, to bring you into the right relationship with Himself so that you are truly blessed and fully satisfied regardless of your circumstances. I ask God to release His power in your lives to change your character and your destiny.
And now, reach out your hands to give a blessing to your loved ones.
Father, we ask You to bless our loved ones. We ask you to interfere in their lives, to take action in their lives, to bring them into the right relationship with Yourself. We ask You to bless them, to release Your power in their lives to change their character and destiny. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
What Other Kind Of Change Is There?
During the afternoon as people attended various breakout sessions, some cracks started to appear in the presumption of change. But those cracks were only evident to those who happened to attend the right workshop. And with different speakers running different workshops simultaneously, it was often the luck of the draw as to which explanation for change one would hear.
For example, when Melissa Fryrear held her question and answer session on lesbianism at 3:45 in the afternoon, someone in the audience was still confused about “change” and asked for clarification. As he did so, it was obvious that he had been paying attention — notice how he framed his question using Love Won Out’s dialect. But learning that dialect didn’t’ bring him any closer to understanding change. Melissa tried to clear it up as she read the question off of an index card:
“Do people still struggle on this journey?” And I appreciate the honesty of that question. And we try to be genuine about our own stories. I think it’s important to mention that it looks different for every person, and that if we consider that continuum again, that individuals have fallen in every place and in every place in between.
I know some people that God — and it’s their testimony — that God did an instantaneous work, and they never have had a homosexual thought or temptation or idea again in their lives, and moved on to heterosexual… heterosexuality, and that identity — marriage, children — and it was an instantaneous moment for them.
The majority of the people with whom I’ve talked, it’s been a journey and a process, that we didn’t get involved overnight, often don’t get out overnight. And so it does look different for different people. Many have moved on to marriage and families, and I know some individuals that, much of the contributing factors have been resolved, and opposite sex attraction hasn’t fully blossomed, if you will, in their lives. It may never, or may come further down the road. But their commitment is to the Biblical sexual ethic, and that they want to live chaste and celibate lives.
It’s clear here that she’s still describing the “struggle” in terms of sexual attractions, but now the certainty of “change” is starting to crack. It doesn’t always occur. In fact, it often doesn’t. And it’s important to note that her acknowledgment wasn’t exactly a grudging one. During two of her workshops where she addressed change, she was reasonably candid that this change in sexual attractions wasn’t necessarily in the cards for everyone.
And yet, she remains ambiguous about both the nature and the likelihood of change. Here, she also reinforces Nancy Heche’s possibility of a miraculous “instantaneous work” — she said she knew these people herself. Again, I wonder how many in that audience clung to that part of her answer in hope that a miraculous change may come to their son or daughter as well.
But whatever unrealistic expectations Fryrear may have reinforced among some, she did also include an acknowledgement that change in sexual attractions doesn’t always happen. She also mixed her notion of a change sexual orientation with a change in a commitment to behavior. In Fryrear’s talk, it was much more evident that the more important change was a change in faith and a commitment to what she described as a “Biblical sexual ethic.” And under this understanding of change, it didn’t matter so much of a person’s sexual attractions changed much. The more important question was whether that person’s behavior changed in response to a religious conversion
So whoever posed that question to Fryrear was very lucky to have heard at least that much of an answer. Imagine if he had instead attended Nicolosi’s “Prevention of Male Homosexuality,” which was being held at exactly the same time as Fryrear’s Q&A. His understanding of change would certainly have been very different because Nicolosi only talked about one kind of change: a change in sexual attractions. And to hear Nicolosi describe it, likelihood of change seemed rather high and had very little to do with faith. It was all about clinical therapeutic outcomes, not a commitment to Christ.
And as I said, he was very self-assured about the prospects for change. He described only two cases of failure in his workshop. The first case was because the young man “did not continue” with therapy. The second case was because the father didn’t follow through with Nicolosi’s instructions. Not only are father’s responsible for their son’s homosexuality according to the theory Nicolosi espoused first thing that morning, but this particular father was also blamed for the son’s failure to be cured. But aside from those two cases, examples of change abounded, lending further encouragement for those family members in his audience.
One Candid Exception
While I believe most of the descriptions of change were neither clear nor realistic, there was one candid exception that I wish more parents could have heard. During the first set of breakout sessions just before lunchtime, Alan Chambers gave an excellent talk entitled, “Hope for Those Who Struggle.” As far as I was able to hear, he was the only one who set out to establish realistic expectations for change, and he was the only one to thoroughly and accurately describe what change really means. But only about 75 people attended his session, and that is very unfortunate. It should have been one of the general sessions for all 700 attendees to hear. Instead, only a tiny fraction of the overall conference heard what he had to say.
I was going to include his talk in this post, but it is already running quite long. And besides, I believe his talk was so important that it deserves a separate post. Just as he gave his talk to a small group of people, it was almost like attending a completely different conference. It shouldn’t have been that way. Because what he had to say was far more candid and useful — and far more realistic — than any magic blessing or hopes for an instantaneous work that anyone else had to offer.
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”
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”
June 15th, 2006
This article appeared on the National Review’s web site today. Eve Tushnet reports on the June 10th “Love Won Out” conference, a gathering of evangelical ex-gay ministries, held in Washington D.C. These ministries are an important part of social conservatives’ ongoing efforts to oppose gay rights in the public square, especially in the areas of same-sex marriage, adoption, and anti-discrimination measures.
By framing homosexuality as a behavioral “choice” that can be changed with patience, persistence and prayer, these ministries seek to redefine the public’s understanding of homosexuality as an unchosen orientation. If homosexuality is chosen (goes the thinking) then there is no need to protect gay rights based on this chosen behavior. Many in the ex-gay movement even take this argument to its most extreme conclusion — that there’s no such thing as being gay.
So these “ex-gay” groups play an important role for social conservatives. However, Eve Tushnet observes:
What they (the ex-gay ministries) aren’t is what many conservative evangelicals seem to want them to be: the ultimate answer to the gay-rights movement. The groups’ problems are deeply embedded in their self-understanding.
What’s the problem? These ministries publicly proclaim that “change is possible” without the inconvenience of explaining what “change” means. It is assumed that through various therapeutic practices, a change in sexual orientation will take place. But when pressed, many ex-gay practitioners will admit that this isn’t realistic. According to Mike Haley of Focus on the Family:
“We don’t want people to believe that change means you have to be married and have to have kids,” he said, and then added, “The opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality, the opposite of homosexuality is holiness. We’re not trying to create people from homosexual to heterosexual.”
This message however is largely missing from the conference, and it’s also conspicuously absent from the slick brochures and billboards put up by Exodus International and other ex-gay ministries. The public face that these ministries provide is that they are offering therapeutic services for those who wish to change their sexual orientation. But on closer inspection, it becomes very clear that these ministries really aren’t offering a cure, but conversion. The same-sex sexual attractions remain. It is up to the individual to “resist temptation,” and when he or she fails (and most of them do), it becomes both a failure in faith and a failure in character. This sense of failing can be devastating, leading some to suicide and others to refusing to have anything more to do with Christianity.
Rita Price of the Columbus Dispatch reported similar findings among members of an ex-gay group in Ohio. One group member, speaking on the difficulty of trying to “change” commented that “This is my being. This is who I am. It’s like telling a black person to stop being black.”
So what does “change” mean? Is it a change in sexual attraction, or just a change in behavior? Ms. Price notes that for some participants, a change in behavior is enough. But for most, the internal schizm that must occur for sustainanble behavioral change is simply too much to handle.