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Posts for September, 2012

Restored Hope Network’s Leadership Named

Jim Burroway

September 24th, 2012

Restored Hope Network, the breakaway collection of ex-gay ministries from Exodus International, appears to have solidified at least part of his leadership. In a Facebook post, Robert Gagnon announced that he had been elected to the nascent group’s board of directors. In a follow-up comment, Gagnon provided additional details on the new group’s leadership:

Andy Comiskey is president (chair of the Board); also on the board: Anne Paulk, David Kyle Foster, Stephen Black, Ron Smith, Jason Thompson.

I’ve posted this information before, but here’s a rundown again on the named players:

Andrew Comiskey has been a major player in Exodus International from its earliest days when it started as an outgrowth of an early Southern California church movement known as the Vineyard. The Vinyard itself has roots in the late 1960s’ Jesus Movement which stood at the intersection of early contemporary Evangelical Christianity and the hippie subculture. Comiskey 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 netwo. 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.

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.”

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.

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.

Ron Smith is now the director of New Hope Ministry and a member of San Rafael’s Church of the Open Door, another product of the Jesus Movement from the late 1960s. This church has a very longstanding history with the ex-gay movement going all the way back to its earliest days in the early 1970s. Frank Worthen founded New Hope as an outgrowth of the church’s “outreach” to gay people. Worthen’s 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. Since Wothen’s retirement from New Hope, Smith has assumed the duties as the ministry’s director. You can find Smith’s YouTube testimony here.

Jason Thompson heads Portland Fellowship, a former Exodus International ministry which had, for a while, a reputation for avoiding at least the appearance of some of the worst excesses of the ex-gay movement. Portland Fellowship had been an Exodus Member ministry since 1988 until last month, when Thompson announced that he was pulling his ministry out of the Exodus network and aligning it with the much more hard-line Restored Hope.

Another Ministry Leaves Exodus

Jim Burroway

August 2nd, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

After Exodus

Jim Burroway

July 27th, 2006

The Advocate has a heartbreaking story by David Luc Nguyen, a former ex-gay (an “ex- ex-gay,” you might say) who emerged from a very difficult attempt to go straight. He was forced by his parents to undergo counseling after he came out to them. When he finally dropped out of Portland Fellowship, an Exodus affiliate where he underwent counseling, his parents kicked him out.

Many of the damaging aspects ex-gay ministries comes from the fact that they are not certified competent counselors:

But even they admit they’re not really counselors. Before writing this, I contacted Ron Shaw, who works with Metanoia Ministries, an Exodus group in the Pacific Northwest. A disclaimer at the bottom of Shaw’s e-mails states: “Ron Shaw is NOT a state-licensed counselor. All advice given is based on spiritual principles contained in the Bible.” …

The advice Shaw gives sounds a lot like science. One of the more dangerous aspects of “reparative therapy” is that it often uses pseudoscientific language, says Matthew Brooks, a mental health professional in Seattle. “This can make it appealing to young people,” Brooks says. “This therapy is based on religious and political prejudices. It robs people of the chance to strive for happy productive lives, friendships, and families as healthy gay men and lesbians.”

Not only do these ministries rob people of the chance to strive for happy and productive lives, their persistent message is that it is impossible to be gay and happy. Virtually all of the ex-gay testimonials speak of sexual addictions, prostitution, violence, drugs and alcohol, and promiscuity. All of these are blamed on homosexuality itself, and not on the poor life choices that these individuals made. Blaming it on homosexuality allows them to dodge the hard questions about their own responsibility for their poor choices in behavior.

Fortunately — and perhaps miraculously — David has come out the other side to offer a very poignant look inside the ex-gay experience and what it does to many of those who go through it.

Still, Exodus is with me. I know this may sound crazy, but somewhere deep inside I felt like God was going to punish me if I wrote this piece and spoke out against the church. Fortunately, I’m a lot like my parents. I’m stubborn and determined.

You can read David’s story here.