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Posts for June, 2013

Ex-Gay Leader Sentenced For Criminal Sexual Assault of Male Clients

Jim Burroway

June 19th, 2013

Longtime pastor Ryan Jay Muehlhauser of Cambridge, Minnesota was charged last November with eight counts of felony, fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct in  case involving two adult males who came to him for counseling aimed at changing their sexual orientation:

Muehlhauser pleaded guilty to two of those counts Feb. 28. Under the plea agreement, Muehlhauser will serve 160 days in Isanti County Jail, remain on supervised probation for 10 years and register as a predatory offender. The other six counts were dismissed. Under state sentencing guidelines, a prison sentence can’t be ordered for fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct.

…Muehlhauser previously admitted in court that he engaged in sexual contact with two adult males. He admitted the sexual contact with one of the victims took place throughout October 2012 inside the prayer cabin located on the church property while he was providing spiritual advice in his role as pastor. He admitted to placing his hands on the victim’s genital area and suggesting the victim fondle himself.

He also admitted the sexual contact with the second victim occurred from March 1, 2012 through Nov. 4, 2012. He admitted to feeling the victim’s genital area and calling the sexual encounters “blessings.” He said he committed these acts for his own sexual gratification.

Both victims remain unnamed. One victim said that he met Muehlhauser at an event sponsored by Outpost Ministries, one of the ex-gay ministries that have joined the Restored Hope Network. Outpost director Nate Oyloe will be speaking at RHN’s convention this weekend. Oyloe also heads the Twin Cities House of Prayer, which has links to Mike Bicke’s Kansas City-based International House of Prayer, a movement which counts Lou Engle as among its most prominent adherents.

Andrew Comiskey Doesn’t Believe In Apologies

Jim Burroway

June 19th, 2013

Exodus International’s annual “Freedom Conference” begins tonight at Concordia University in Irvine, California. The rival, hard-core Restored Hope Network network will begin what it bills as its second annual conference  at Cherokee Hills Baptist Church in Oklahoma City on Friday, with leadership meetings taking place today and tomorrow. Oklahoma City is home to Stephen Black’s First Stone ministries, which had been one of the founding ministries of Exodus International in 1976, and is also one of the founding ministries of RHN after leaving Exodus over disagreements with Exodus moving away from the “change” model.

Andrew Comiskey, who fired the first salvo against Exodus’ change in direction and is now RHN’s board chairman, is still furious, over a lot of things really — Kinky Boots getting a bunch of Tony Awards, the lesbian-themed film La Vie d’Adele getting top honors at Cannes (he calls it “a lesbian porn film”), and Exodus president Alan Chambers’s upcoming apology to former ex-gay ministry members who were harmed by their experience:

Yet the most disturbing deception for me was not played out on a 36-foot screen or on a Broadway stage or even in the fracturing of the Boy Scouts. It occurred in a church basement in Los Angeles, where Exodus head Alan Chambers gathered with a group of ‘ex-ex-gays’ to apologize to them for hurting them. With doubtless good intention that has now exposed itself as the deception that it is, Alan has sought to placate them for the last couple years.

I am troubled by Christians who now claim that God made them gay and cry victim at anyone who believes otherwise. Doubtless some have been treated heavy-handedly by churches or promised quick cures by homely, uninformed ministries. But instead of submitting their wounds to God and trustworthy healers, these ones allow bitterness to transform them into the most virulent proponents of gay identity and practice. And in Jesus’ Name and Authority! The wounded become deceived then deceivers.

These ones do not want friendship with Alan or Exodus; they want the demise of any ministry that claims transformation of persons with unwanted same-sex attraction. The sneak preview of Lisa Ling’s taping of the whole ridiculous affair demonstrated this beyond a doubt. One ex-ex-gay blasted Alan: “Exodus needs to be shut down—not tweaked, not improved, but shut down!” His demonized plea is becoming true as Exodus staggers along the untenable path of seeking to reconcile good with evil.

It’s important to remember that Comiskey, despite professing himself as a Christian, doesn’t believe in apologies. Several years ago, when Comiskey learned that a staffer at his Desert Stream Ministries had sexually abused at least one teenager under their “care,” Comiskey’s reaction was to complain about how horrible the entire affair was — to him. He griped about the police investigations and tangles with his liability insurance providers, but thanked his God that not a word of the sad affair leaked to the press. Comiskey has since converted to Catholicism, which knows a thing or two about sweeping sexual abuse scandals under the rug and dismissing its victims.

Joe Dallas Splits from Exodus International

Jim Burroway

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.

Minnesota Pastor/Ex-Gay Leader Charged with Sexual Misconduct

Jim Burroway

November 9th, 2012

Last Sunday night, police arrested Ryan Jay Muehlhauser, pastor of Lakeside Christina Church in Cambridge, Minnesota about 45 miles north of Minneapolis/St. Paul, and charged him with eight felony counts of criminal misconduct over allegations that he sexually assaulted two men at least eight times while counseling them to change their sexual orientation. KSDK television describes the allegations:

Victim ABC said in counseling sessions Muehlhauser “blessed” him by cupping his genitals outside of his clothing several times and that Muehlhauser asked the victim to arouse himself in front of him and called it, the victim said, “spiritual strength.”

The victim also reported that Muehlhauser would have him strip naked for more “spiritual guidance” and have him masturbate while Muehlhauser prayed over him.

According to Isanti County News, Muehlhauser appeared before a judge on Tuesday, where he was released on $50,000 bail with restrictions on his movements and conduct. The paper reported that the specific charges relate to incidents which took place on several days in 2012. One victim said that he had met Muehlhauser through another victim at Muehlhauser’s home in March, where he was conducting a retreat with six young men from the Minneapolis-based ex-gay organization Outpost Ministries:

At this time, the victim noticed that Muehlhauser was extremely physical with both him and the other victim. He said Muehlhauser would constantly put his hand on his shoulder, thigh and give hugs to the victims.

On at least one occasion, Muehlhauser said he didn’t want people to see them because they wouldn’t understand. Muehlhauser also said he would “lose everything” if anyone found out what they were doing together.

The victim said he went along with the acts because Muehlhauser was his minister and spiritual advisor.

Both victims are unnamed. The other victim who came forward said that he met Muehlhouser two years ago at an event held by Outpost Ministries. According to their web site, “Outpost Ministries exists to help the sexually and relationally broken find healing and restoration through relationship with Jesus Christ.” Outpost claims membership in the Restored Hope Network, which formed earlier this year when ex-gay ministries began defecting from Exodus International over changes in Exodus’s messaging. Outpost says it left Exodus due to “due to theological differences, specifically regarding salvation and sanctification,” a statement that appears to refer to Alan Chamber’s recent comments that he believes that gay people who are saved, are saved no matter what, and that God places no greater burden on gay people than he does on any other “sinners.”

Not only does Outpost claim membership in Restored Hope Network, but Restored Hope also returns the favor. In a September 7 post on Restored Hope’s Facebook page, they wrote:

Another invaluable ministry available in Minneapolis is Outpost Ministries, headed up by Nate Oyloe. Outpost is one of the long standing ministries in the US in assisting individuals, families and churches in dealing with issues of sexual and relational brokenness. They also have a thriving prayer ministry and youth ministry. To find out more click the picture or link below.

www.outpostministries.org

This arrest is the first public scandal involving a ministry associated with Restored Hope.

Restored Hope’s Andrew Comiskey Addresses Exodus Split

Jim Burroway

October 1st, 2012

The Sacramento News & Review’s Kel Munger went to the inaugural conference of the Restored Hope ex-gay network in Sacramento on September 21-22. The Restored Hope Network is made up mostly of several ex-gay ministries that have broken away from Exodus International over Exodus president Alan Chambers’s statements acknowledging that “99.9%” of ex-gay ministry members “have not experienced a change in their orientation,” disavowing the particular form of sexual orientation change therapy known as Reparative Therapy, and recognizing that gay Christians may enter heaven.

You can read Munger’s report here, and an interview with Truth Wins Out’s Wayne Besen here. More interesting, I think, is her interview with Andrew Comiskey, who is the president of Restored Hope. He is also the director of Desert Stream Ministries, which had been one of largest ministries of the Exodus International. Comiskey, who had also served as Exodus president, was the first to publicly break with Exodus last spring over its change in direction, stating that “Alan’s comments about change unwittingly played into the enemy’s hands.” But in Comiskey’s talk with Munger, the “enemy” talk was dropped in favor of a somewhat lighter, more “reasonable” tone. On Restored Hope versus Exodus International, Comiskey said:

The unique aspect of Exodus is that it was founded on the hope that individuals who were Christian and who were motivated and who had good pastoral support could actually affect significant change in their sexual identity. So the term “change is possible” was a term that Exodus coined and that we all believed in and took heart in—and again, that being an increasingly counter-cultural point of view, we particularly needed each other to be on the same page.

The leader of Exodus, like a lot of us, having been under fire for a number of years, capitulated a bit, and basically has removed the “change” portion of the hope for people seeking Jesus Christ in light of their same-sex attractions. So having removed this dimension of change, the hope of change, was something that for many of us, including myself, runs contrary to our understanding of what Jesus Christ can effect in people’s lives, and it is a major reason and motivating factor for our gathering and seeking the Lord together.

So basically, Exodus stopped representing why we had bought in as a network in the first place. So it didn’t fundamentally change any of our individual ministries and their focus, but it did necessitate that we establish a new network around which we could find the solidarity to support each other in the belief that change is possible.

…This is not to denigrate Exodus in any way. It’s simply to say that Exodus as a network ceased to represent what we were about.

Munger also brought up California’s S.B. 1172, which would prohibit licensed therapists from providing Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) to minors. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law last Saturday, but at the time this interview took place it was still awaiting the governor’s signature. The bill only covers licensed professionals, which means that unlicensed counselors and ministries are unaffected by the bill. The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which bills itself as the professional, secular, and irreligious wing of the ex-gay movement, denounced the bill as “a not so subtle attack on religious liberty,” despite the fact that the new law only covers licensed professionals, which means that unlicensed counselors and ministries remain unaffected. Exodus, on the other hand, declined to oppose the bill. Comiskey appears to have staked out middle position, supporting SOCE, but declining to oppose the bill:

I’m aware, through my own study and so on, that there are different approaches psychologically to understanding and treating homosexuality. So I’m not inclined to either high-five or discount however this bill is understanding reparative therapy. I think the question of age is a factor; I think the question of motivation is a factor. I think psychotherapy is a soft social science, and so to approach it from the standpoint that everything objectively has to be in this hard-drive understanding of the impact of the “talking cure”—that is, the seeking of an advocate to achieve certain goals based on one’s conscience and ethical beliefs—I think to slam that or to illegalize on the basis that there is no hard evidence would actually call into question many forms of interventions for different kinds of psychological disorder.

So what I’m saying is I think there are good therapists who work with people based upon that person’s point of view, and I think that in a free society, there should be a freedom for a person to find a clinical advocate to pursue his or her ethical goals. If there is coercion, if there is manipulation, or if there is control—of course, it’s diabolical, regardless of your faith.

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.

Focus On the Family Promotes Breakaway Ex-Gay Group

Jim Burroway

September 24th, 2012

Jeff Johnston, Focus on the Family’s “social policy analyst,” penned a post last Friday on FOTF’s CitizenLink endorsing the Restored Hope Network, which is made up of a collection of breakaway ministries from Exodus International following the latter’s shift in messaging and tone over the past year. Johnston doesn’t mention Exodus in his post, instead commending the new network for its “solid ministries and men and women who have years of ministry experience.” He then launched into some of a bulleted meditation — a sort of a PowerPoint theology — on what he calls “sexual brokenness”:

Sexually and relationally broken – just think about it for a minute:

  • Because of Adam’s sin, our whole self is impacted by sin – including our identity, our sexuality and our ability to connect and maintain healthy relationships
  • After they sinned, Adam and Eve feel ashamed, hide from God and begin blaming others; their eldest boy kills his brother; relational brokenness – inside families and between us and God
  • Our culture is saturated with broken sexuality, and we’re exposed to it and impacted by it from childhood on; sexual brokenness runs deep in our world; it’s so much a part of our background that we don’t always notice
  • Satan roams the earth like a lion, using sexual and relational brokenness to destroy individuals, families, churches, groups, businesses…. [Emphasis added, ellipses in the original]

I’ll let that last comment stand, along with this Facebook post from Robert Gagnon, who spoke at Restored Hope’s innauguran conference in Sacramento last weekend:

There were only 7 quiet protestors. Not much of a showing. San Francisco was having a “leather” event that no doubt was a more attractive event for those with a “gay” identity! Moral of the story: schedule the meeting during homosexual debauchery events.

Johnston and Gagnon seem to go very well together.

Restored Hope Ex-Gay Network Will Not Oppose Criminalization Of Homosexuality

Jim Burroway

August 9th, 2012

Restored Hope Network is the new ex-gay outfit that has arisen to challenge Exodus International as a rival network of ex-gay ministries. Restored Hope came about as a result of two specific disagreements that several ex-gay ministries have with Exodus, mainly around theological issues (specifically, whether one-saved, always saved really means what it says it means) and around Exodus’s repudiation of Reparative Therapy.

Exodus has made other changes as well, changes which have not received much direct criticism from Restored Hope, but which appear to nevertheless further delineate a sharp difference between the two groups. For example, Exodus International has an official policy statement opposing criminalization of homosexuality, and it has backed that statement up with the resignation of a board member following a trip abroad which lent support to gruops which support Jamaica’s law which treats same-sex relations as a felony.

But in a Facebook posting earlier today, an unnamed spokesperson for Restored Hope Network has announced that they will not oppose the criminalization of homosexual acts:

Click to enlarge

I have a question for the group; Exodus International opposes criminalization of homosexual acts – does RHN oppose them, also? I have perused the doctrine. I thank you for your time.

Restored Hope Network I don’t believe we will have a stance on this topic. We are concerned for those involved in sexual sin to hear the good news of freedom from slavery to sin (Romans chapters 6-8), thus our goal is to help those who are interested in leaving such behind in obedience to the good news of Jesus Christ.

But for those who are not interested, we can rot in jail for all they care.

Exodus’ dissenters latch onto Gagnon’s sad theology

A Commentary

Timothy Kincaid

August 2nd, 2012

The Restored Hope Network is a collection of ex-gay ministries that broke from Exodus International over it’s less strident, more truthful new approach. The new theology at Exodus is not only contrary to their past path, it’s unacceptable to some of the largest and oldest member ministries.

The Problem

The primary points of contention that the defectors have are:

  • it is inconceivable that a person can simultaneously acknowledge that one is gay and also be a follower of Christ; and
  • same-sex attracted people can be healed of their same-sex attraction and become opposite-sex attracted in precisely the same way that heterosexuals are.

I phrase these differently than they might because I want to illustrate their distinction from Exodus.

For example, a member of New Hope Network would likely say that God can work miracles; Exodus would agree. RHN might claim that immediate overnight change was never the goal; Exodus would agree. RHN might say that small changes are evident and that temptation can reduce over time; Exodus would agree. RHN could insist that a change in attitude can impact a person’s life and that an identity which is focused on Christ rather than on sexual attraction makes one a new creature and old things are passed away; Exodus would shout hallelujah and not detract from a single word.

But the real distinction is in what RHN will not put in words. Behind discussions of “hope” and “restoration” and “holiness” is one difference: Exodus no longer holds to any expectation that it’s members will become straight. And New Hope Network refuses to give up what they call the “hope” that they will.

And, to be very blunt, RHN knows full well that they aren’t becoming straight. That doesn’t take a seven year study by evangelical university professors; just a mirror. But that’s beside the point.

What RHN refuses to give up is the theological assumption that they must. In other words, while reality illustrates that no RHN members are now heterosexual, they believe that Scripture requires that they be so. And while failure to live up to Scripture is a given in Christian circles (and is, indeed, the notion behind “Grace”), failure to try is sinful.

But Exodus has not only given up trying to be straight, they have stated that there is no Biblical demand that they do so. They no longer see the mere act of existing as a same-sex attracted person to be contrary to God’s Will – provided that one live according to Scriptural demands about sexual expression. To RHN, that is heresy.

The Defectors and their Hero

Interestingly, the break is not necessarily along factional lines or even degree of animosity towards “the homosexual agenda”. These are not necessarily the ministries that have been the most hostile to gay people in the past.

For example, at the beginnings of the Uganda situation, I corresponded with Jason Thompson and he was willing (briefly and in a limited way) to try and intervene. He also clearly expressed that he had no interest in any anti-gay political efforts and seemed (at the time) to be supportive of change in Exodus. But, as he is the latest to leave Exodus, it’s clear that the change he sought was not in theology.

But, for me, the post perplexing of this shift is whom the defectors have latched onto as their voice on matters of faith: Robert Gagnon.

Those who read here regularly know that Gagnon is a man with an inflated ego (perhaps the single most arrogant person I’ve ever encountered), a fiery temper, a unquenchable thirst for demeaning others, and some beliefs that cause a sane person to scratch their head. He is so convinced of his conclusions that he is sloppy, inconsistent, and downright comical about getting there. He is the sort of Christian who finds Christ inconvenient and would prefer that it be Paul’s message that is paramount (except when Paul gets too soft on sinners at which point he simply creates a new meaning for the texts).

But despite his history of temper tantrums, name calling, and behavior that is anything but Christlike, it is to Rob Gagnon to whom the Restored Hope Network has turned. Actually, it is to Gagnon that they have given control.

The Board of Directors of this group consists of Stephen Black, Andrew and Annette Comiskey, Joe Dallas, David Kyle Foster, Michael Newman, Anne Paulk, Frank Worthen, and Dr. Robert Gagnon. The Board, in the future, will be elected by the members. Aaaaannnd, to be a member you must be unanimously voted in by the Board. Every year. That’s after you turn in a comprehensive application proving that you support the teachings of Gagnon, um, er, the Network.

Rather an exclusive group. Just like their theology.

A Sad Theology

I don’t pretend to be a theologian. I neither speak nor read Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, or any of the early languages in which doctrine was debated.

But I’m not absolutely devoid of any basic understanding of Christian teaching and I am capable of reading comparative translations enough to know when a claim is diametrically opposed to both the language and the spirit of Scripture. And, frankly, with Gagnon it really isn’t all that difficult. The absurdity of his positions never occur to him, and the Restored Hope theology is no exception.

Take for example, this opening declaration in the organization’s Statement of Basic Beliefs:

Salvation is a gift that cannot be merited by human deeds (Gal 2:21; Rom 3:24-25; 5:15-16; 6:23; Eph 2:8-9) but naturally and progressively produces obedience as a fruit of the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit (Matt 7:16-27; John 15:1-8; Gal 5:22-23). When believers succumb to sin, the kindness of God calls them to confession of sin and repentance (Luke 15:20; 17:3-4; Rom 2:4; 2 Cor 12:21; 1 John 1:8-10; Rev 2:5, 16).

The bracketing statements, while clearly representing the “God’s Gunna Get Ya” approach to the faith, are fairly standard positions of Christianity. But it’s that middle part that is something which is foreign to me. And I was raised with a whole heap of “God’s Gunna Get Ya”.

Taken as a whole, this reads like, “yeah, yeah, I know the Scripture says you can’t work your way to heaven, but if you are actually on your way to heaven then it will be evident in your strict obedience to the Law.” That’s not the new part. Where Gagnon leaps is in assigning to “obedience [to the Law]” the role of being a fruit of the Spirit.

But the “fruits of the Spirit” – the physical attributes that can be seen in the life of a person who is living in harmony with the Spirit of God – are already listed. And the list doesn’t include “obedience”. In fact, they are pretty much the opposite of “obeying a list of rules”. Galations 5 says:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

What the author of this section is saying – and saying without ambiguity – is that obeying the Law is not the point. You are free from the Law if you follow one commandment: love your neighbor as yourself. Not free to abuse each other, but free from a set of rules and laws because “love each other” handles every situation, even the ones not in the rulebook.

If you live according to your own selfishness (the flesh), you will exhibit hatred, manipulation (“witchcraft”), jealousy, rage, excesses, and an out of control life. But if you are living by the Spirit and loving your neighbor you will exhibit these fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (I dare say that if Christianity exhibited those seven attributes with regularity, few would have anything bad to say about the faith).

If you read that list again, you’ll notice that “obedience” isn’t there. One doesn’t live decently towards each other because the Law said to. Rather one lives decently towards each other because if you love then you don’t need the Law. It’s completed, it’s fulfilled, it’s superseded by love.

This is a beautiful passage for those who believe in love as the sole commandment. But anti-gays who ignore themes and leap at words are also fond of Galations. Lookie, it says that those who exhibit “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery” will not inherit the kingdom of God. And since they know (cuz they know, ya know?) that this means Teh HomoSEXshulls (see, it has the word “sex”, see? see?), they dance with glee that you, you degenerate, are gunna burn! And they can’t wait!

But if we approach the Scripture to see how it applies in our own life – not in how to use it as a tool against others – and we recognize that this phrase is presented as counter to “loving your neighbor”, then it ceases to be controversial or a weapon. We can all agree that sexuality that is abusive and manipulative and debauches ourselves and others is inappropriate and wrong. Whether using Christian morality or an atheist’s ethical code to “do no harm”, that’s not in debate. If we see the theme (love) and don’t focus on a few select words, it’s impossible to see this passage as a call to obey Levitical codes of social conduct.

There’s more – much more. His reference to John 15 is an example of exactly the same thing: if you follow Christ, others will know it because of your love, all distorted by Gagnon to mean “obey the rules in Leviticus”. But I don’t really need to take it on.

What Gagnon Contributes

This is enough to give a flavor of what Gagnon contributes to the organization: a basic underlying belief that actions and behaviors matter more than attitudes or how we treat each other. And nothing could be clearer than a deliberate misunderstanding of one of the strongest endorsements for a faith that rejects the codebook and the rigidity of Leviticus for a life of love and compassion for others. Gagnon erases the freedom found in the fulfillment of the Law into one law: “love each other”, and sees in its place a call to obedience to the minutia and dictates of a rulebook.

Perhaps, after all, it’s not that surprising that this is the theology that the ex-Exodans have adopted. If we all are free to seek morality and holiness in our lives in accordance with something so vague as “loving others”, that’s frightening. If, like Exodus, you find a sexual ethic that disallows same-sex behavior in your own life but you ever allow that others may find a different call, then how do you know you’re right?

And what if you’re wrong? What if you let someone believe that they can marry someone of the same sex and you don’t tell them that Gods Gunna Get Them? It’s not love to let them go to hell, you know. Love means convicting them of their sin and denouncing their heresy and condemning them of perversion and refusing to appease their desires to be treated like everyone else. (Ooop, scratch that last part, it’s too close to “love your neighbor as yourself” so I’m not going to think about this now. La la la la la, I have my fingers in my ears. And besides, IF I was an evil vile homosexual like you – which I’m not because I’m a struggler not a sinner – I’d WANT someone to take away my children and fire me from my job and throw me in jail and disrespect my marriage. And I’ll just keep telling myself that over and over, even though it is absurdly and obviously false.)

And what, even worse, if you begin to question just how loving your own faith is? OH NO!!! You might be so tempted to put love as more important than the details of Leviticus that YOU sin! And don’t know it! And then YOU burn forever because you loved too much!!

What a sad burdened theology. The freedom that the author of the letter to Galatians spoke about is the furthest from their faith. Freedom has too much responsibility: don’t tell me to love people, tell me what to do. In detail.

It’s a sad, bound up, restricted theology that treats its adherents as children, too immature to know how to behave in love so you have to give them rules.

It’s a religion for bureaucrats. Give me a rulebook. That way I don’t have to think, I don’t have to adapt, I don’t have to respond to circumstances but can just hide behind a rule.

And most of all, I don’t have to care.

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.

Rival Ex-Gay Group Forms to Challenge Exodus

Jim Burroway

July 22nd, 2012

Poster for the Restoring Hope conference in Sacramento (Click to enlarge).

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.