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Posts for January, 2014

Mormon Ex-gay Ministries Merge

Jim Burroway

January 3rd, 2014

The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting this morning that Evergreen International, the predominant Mormon ex-gay group founded in 1989, has merged with North Star International, a newer LDS-affiliated group:

Combining the two groups, organizers say, will create “the largest single faith-based ministry organization for Latter-day Saints who experience same-sex attraction or gender-identity incongruence and will also provide increased access to resources for church leaders, parents, family and friends.”

The scale and scope of the challenges facing this community “can sometimes be overwhelming,” North Star board chairman Jeff Bennion writes in a news release, “which is why I am thrilled that so many of the strong and experienced associates of Evergreen will be standing even more unitedly with us.”

Part of the “overwhelming” scale and scope of the challenges is undoubtedly the growing acceptance of LGBT people in society overall, including within the LDS church’s membership. Church officials have acknowledged that many congregations have experienced deep divisions in the wake of the church’s heavy involvement in California’s Prop 8 campaign. The church has taken several steps to try to soften its public image since the divisive 2008 campaign. In recent weeks, Utah has become the seventeenth state to offer marriage equality for same sex couples following a ruling by a federal district judge striking down the state’s ban on same sex marriage as unconstitutional.

The Tribune reports that Evergreen President David Pruden will not be joining North Star, but will remain in his role as Executive Director of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which is ostensibly the “secular” arm of the ex-gay movement. Evergreen board chair Preston Dahlgren will become a member of North Star’s board.

This move is the latest in a larger re-alignment within the ex-gay movement. Nearly two years ago, Exodus International president Alan Chambers after Chambers acknowledged that “99.9%” of ex-gay ministry members “have not experienced a change in their orientation,” disavowed the particular form of sexual orientation change therapy known as Reparative Therapy, and acknowledged that gay Christians can enter heaven. Exodus, a predominantly Evangelical-based organization, was the largest ex-gay organization in the U.S. at the time of Chambers’s statements. Over the next year and a half, Exodus struggled to find a new direction within the ex-gay movement before finally announcing its closure at its final conference last June. A newer organization, Restored Hope Network, comprised of more hard core elements of the former Exodus network, has formed in an attempt to claim Exodus’ role in the ex-gay movement.

In contrast to Restored Hope Network, North Star International appears to be taking a softer approach to the question of whether change in sexual orientation is possible:

As to the question of changing or diminishing sexual orientation, North Star takes no position, says the group’s newly named president, Ty Mansfield.

“If someone had a positive experience with reparative therapy or change, we are OK with them sharing that,” says Mansfield, a marriage and family therapist in Provo. “If they had a negative experience, they can share that, too.”

…This approach “is more consistent with national positions by the American Psychological Association that change is not possible and reparative therapy is not effective,” says Richard Ferre, an adjunct psychiatry professor at the University of Utah. “The group is still trying to provide a support for Mormon gays to maintain their connections with their religion.”

The Evergreen International web site is “being rebuilt” and provides visitors with a link to SameSexAttraction.org. North Star International, which was founded in 2006, has a lengthy announcement on its web site.