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Box Turtle BulletinNews, analysis and fact-checking of anti-gay rhetoric
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Posts for January, 2012

Ex-Gay Leader: “99.9% Have Not Experienced A Change In Their Orientation”

Jim Burroway

January 9th, 2012

Exodus International President Alan Chambers appeared on a surprise panel Friday night at the Gay Christian Network’s annual conference on Orlando with former ex-gay leader Jeremy Marks, Exodus critic and ex-gay bridge-builder Wendy Gritter, and former Love In Action executive director John Smid. The panel was announced with little notice on Friday, catching many ex-gay survivors at the conference off-guard. GCN has posted audio of that panel discussion (Part 1part 2). In the opening minutes of part 2, Chambers addresses the criticism that Exodus and other ex-gay ministries promise change in sexual orientation:

I think it’s a fair criticism from the past. If there are member ministries today that are promising something that I’m not aware that they’re promising, I’d want to know some specifics. I hear a lot of generalities, but I value specifics. And that’s something that does concern me because the fact of the matter is, and I feel like I’ve been very upfront and clear, both in the media, at conferences, anytime I have the opportunity to write about it, about the fact that I believe the slogan “Change is Possible,” for those of us who are Christians we do understand that when you come into a relationship with Christ all sorts of things are possible.

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 or have gotten to a place where they could say that they could never be tempted or are not tempted in some way or experience some level of same-sex attraction. I think there is a gender issue there, there are some women who have challenged me and said that my orientation or my attractions have changed completely. Those have been few and far between. The vast majority of people that I know do still experience some level of same-sex attraction.

And so that’s something, I think, I can’t be any clearer about that. …I hope that we’re coming to a place where we are a much more honest group of people, that when we talk about “Change is Possible,” we are very, very clear about what change means in our lives.

Last November, there were reports that Chambers was considering a modification of their message. At that time, I noted that Exodus has flirted with the idea of retooling its message before. The main message from Exodus has centered on changing from homosexuality to heterosexuality (however loosely defined that change may be). But there has been an underlying theme “the opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality, it’s holiness,” which leaves open the idea that becoming straight isn’t the goal. Chambers has been giving variations on that theme since at least 2007. He surprised supporters and critics alike in 2009 when he told the Los Angeles Times, “By no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete.”

It’s unclear whether this is a further tweaking of that theme or if it represents a marked change in message for the organization. So far, it looks more like a clarification similar to others that he has made when pressed about what change means. The only difference this time is his admission that “99.9%” don’t change. It will be interesting to see is if Chambers repeats his past pattern of clarifying his remarks in ways that bring them closer to more orthodox ex-gay messages. After all, If it does represent a marked change in message for Exodus International, it remains to be seen how this change would go down among the mostly-Evangelical churches which provide the bulk of financial support for Exodus International.

A concurrent story to Chambers’s appearance at GCN is the controversy that surrounded the surprise panel at the conference. A very large number of GCN members are ex-gay survivors, and many of them felt blindsided by the conference. According to some of them who took to Facebook and Twitter to vent their anger, many of them first found out about the panel not form GCN but from a post earlier that day at Ex-Gay Watch. No ex-gay survivors were part of the panel discussion to provide counterpoint to Chambers’s presence, a move which strikes this writer as reminiscent of examples in history where conferences and panels discussed the issues surrounding homosexuality as a mental illness without the participation of a single gay person.

GCN Executive Director Justin Lee spent the first fifteen minutes of the panel discussion addressing the controversy, incorrectly identifying XGW as among those who called him “naive” for hosting the panel discussion. He described the panel as an optional event, and urged those who didn’t feel comfortable remaining in the room to excuse themselves and attend an alternative event for ex-gay survivors. Insiders and social media commenters, some of whom say they are undergoing counseling for PTSD and other disorders as a result of having been part of an ex-gay ministry, complain that the alternative event was hastily organized by survivors themselves at the last minute after GCN failed to organize an alternative to the panel. Lee addressed the controversy this way:

I believe in seeing people’s humanity. I believe even in the midst of strong disagreement in saying you are my brother, you are my sister in Christ. I want to understand you. I want to understand where you’re coming from no matter how much I disagree with you because you’re a human being and God loves you. And I want to love you too even though I disagree with you. That’s important to me. That’s part of what I do.

…One part of me is I want to look at the world from Alan’s perspective and I want to say Alan I respect you as my brother, I respect what you’re trying to do what you think is right even though I disagree with you, and I love you because God loves you, and have this “kumbaya” moment. And there’s another part of me that’s like I’m really, really angry about a lot of things that have happened in Exodus and other ex-gay ministries.

The Synchroblog – A Conversation toward Building Bridges

This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect that of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Timothy Kincaid

June 24th, 2009

Wendy Gritter of New Directions is seeking to increase communication and decrease hostility between the Christian community and the gay community. While I do not see these as necessarily exclusive communities, it is unquestionable that conservative Christians and gay people are to some extent at war with each other.

Towards the goal of healing, Wendy came up with the concept of a synchroblog, a time in which everyone would focus on their perspectives about such communication. She chose today, the Wednesday of Pride Week, for this effort. So today, a couple dozen bloggers with various Christian or gay perspectives will be participating in this joint conversation and Wendy invited me to join them.

My perspective:

I was born into a very religious, very conservative Christian family. Where other familes argued sports or politics, my family debated points of faith. And as a consequence, I am not unfamiliar with the mindset of conservative Christians, both the positives and the pitfalls. And consider myself a Christian, though many of the positions I was taught have yielded to different perspectives.

In college, I became involved in Republican partisan politics. Some of the individuals I met at that time have later become players in the battle over equality, on both sides of the issue. I know the dialect spoken by those on the right.

Based on my history, unlike some in the gay community, I do not necessarily look at conservatives and/or Christians and automatically assume that they have nefarious intentions or are motivated by hatred and superstition. Nor do I assume that because we disagree that therefore they are deluded and stubborn and blinded by strict adherence to an archaic text.

My participation:

I was first invited to join the blogosphere as a participant at Ex-Gay Watch. And for a while this was a good match. My interest in politics and religion and how both interacted with the gay community fit with the goals of that site.

But a restructuring at XGW brought their focus a little narrower and deeper. So at the invitation of Jim Burroway I began to blog here at Box Turtle Bulletin. However, as most readers know, I still have a strong interest in the current struggle within Christendom to resolve issues surrounding homosexuality and the place, if any, of gay people within the body of believers.

My perception:

In this process I’ve come to believe that much of the battle between conservative Christianity and the gay community is due to ignorance. We don’t know each other, we don’t trust each other, and we assume the worst about each other.

Recently I traded stinging denunciations with a writer at an organization included in the SPLA’s list of hate groups. I accused the writer of callousness and deceit and she returned the favor. But, oddly enough, this opened a dialogue between us, one which led to a later retraction of a particularly odious claim at the website of that organization.

I should not have been surprised. It was hardly the first time that I found that if I tried a personal approach, many anti-gay activists are receptive to at least listening to what you have to say.

I think that most of those who generate or disseminate anti-gay beliefs and accusations do so out of ignorance. Most do not wish to be telling deliberate lies and genuinely care whether their words are truthful.

And most conservative Christians do not hate gay people, or at least do not think that they do. The culture of Christianity is strongly influenced by Christ’s commandments to love; and most Christians believe that they do love, even if such love is sometimes experienced in ways that others find horrifying or hateful.

One of the biggest pitfall of conservative Christianity is an arrogant and patronizing superiority. Being a religion based on faith – and at times rock-solid certainty – conservative Christians are inclined to believe that they know God’s Will for their life. And far too often, that extends to knowing God’s Will for your life as well – a Will that can be forced upon you for your own good if you aren’t humble enough to submit to it on your own.

One of the biggest problem for the gay community is victimhood. Being a persecuted people, too often we see any disagreement as an attack on our dignity and our personhood. And if others are not inclined to treat us decently, we are quick to use whatever measure is available to force them to do so.

My proposals:

As we go forward,

  • We need to know each other. We need to open communication wherever possible and ask about intentions and beliefs and attitudes before we assume the worst about each other.
  • We need to believe each other. Should the gay community tell Christians that we aren’t trying to shut down their churches, they need to consider that our motivations may not be directed towards them at all. If Christians tell us that they don’t hate us, we should consider that hate may not be driving their actions, positions, or beliefs.
  • We need to tolerate each other. It is not acceptable for either of us to demand that the other must change. Christians cannot insist that gays cease to be gay or that public policy punish those who do not. Likewise, gays cannot insist that conservative Christians change their theology and embrace a change in sexual ethic or that they be otherwise punished by tax law.
  • We need to call off the culture war. We are not enemies. We are not mutually exclusive communities. Most gay people consider themselves Christian and most Christians know and love a gay person. This culture war benefits only those who profit from the continued conflict. Let’s stop acting in the best interest of culture war barons and in the interests of our people.
  • We need to denounce the haters and the liars. It reflects poorly on each of us when the reactionary and the extreme get to speak for us.

    Christians need to stand up and say that the Traditional Values Coalition and Peter LaBarbera and Scott Lively are instruments of hatred and have no voice in Christianity. While I wish to credit Dr. Throckmorton for having the integrity to speak against Lively and some others, far too often Christians are forgiving of the excesses of their own. It is time for Christian denominations to publicly disassociate themselves from hatemongers and to commit to expressions of love – real love, not the kind that is loaded with contempt, self-righteousness, and demonization.

    And when deceivers like Maggie Gallagher run campaigns of lies, it is the moral obligation of people of faith to denounce those lies and those who are making them. This has not happened in any significant way. Too often Christians have chosen to put the intent of an anti-gay political campaign ahead of an obligation to honesty and objective truth. If Christians really want to build a bridge to the gay community, they need to not only avoid lies themselves but refute the lies of others within their camp.

    And while I believe that the gay community has done a better job of rejecting the liars and haters, we too have a ways to go. While mean spirited bloggers such as Perez Hilton do receive public condemnation from parts of the community, they still have far too many who are willing to listen to their self-centered viciousness.

    And one of the things that our community needs to do – one of the hardest, actually – is to stop mocking Christians. It doesn’t matter if the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have contributed to charities or if we understand how and why they came to be; they are offensive to Christians in the same way that prancing lisping mockery is offensive to us. And while there is a place for those within a faith to protest the teachings of their mother church, it is wrong for gays outside of a faith to desecrate a church or interrupt a service. These are things which needlessly hurt and offend others and which make it difficult for them to accept us as anything other than a threat.

  • We need to commit to civility. Even if we cannot agree on theology, perspective, principle, or policy, we can agree to debate and discuss with civility. This has been, I believe, a real challenge for most of us. But it is a challenge to which we can rise.

Let’s hope that this attempt at communication, this synchroblog, will shed light and open doors and lead to a reconciliation between communities. And I thank Wendy for the hard work in bringing it about.

Please go to the New Directions site to link to others who are participating in this event.

Ex-Exodus Minister Condemns Uganda Conference

Timothy Kincaid

March 12th, 2009

New Direction is a ministry in Canada for those individuals who struggle with sexual and gender identity issues. Until last year they were an affiliate of Exodus International, but chose to disassociate due to a difference in view about the purpose and direction of ex-gay ministries. New Direction strongly believes in staying out of politics and is more interested in engaging gay people than in winning battles at the ballot box.

However, the situation in Uganda is beyond the typical rhetoric or political positioning. And it has compelled Wendy Gritter, the leader of New Directions, to respond regarding what God’s calling for His people:

It is not just to advocate for the criminalization of gay people. Currently, gay people in Uganda face the possibility of life in prison. This ought not to be! And those who name the name of Jesus need to speak up and say so.

It is not just to coerce gay people into therapy. Disputes about the harm of reparative therapy aside, forced therapy ought not to be. And those who know the invitational character of Jesus need to speak up and say so.

It is not just to stir up fear and hatred of gay people. Blaming gay people for the genocide in Rwanda cannot be tolerated. Equating homosexuality with pedophilia when the research clearly refutes such a notion is inexcusable. It must be challenged for what it is – inciting hatred and potential violence towards gay people in an already volatile context such as Uganda. Such hatred is completely inconsistent with God’s call to shalom. And those who follow Jesus need to speak up and say so.

Wendy invites other Christians to join her in countering the behavior engaged in by the Uganda conference participants.

I invite others to join me in calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality throughout the world. I invite others to join me in standing for justice for our gay neighbours – in Uganda and throughout the world. And I invite others to do all they can, through relationship and in word & deed, to overcome the incitement of hatred with love.

I hope that those who seek to be followers of Christ will pay careful attention to Wendy’s words.

Click here to see BTB’s complete coverage of recent anti-gay developments in Uganda.

Alan Chambers: Exodus “Backing Out of Policy Issues”

Jim Burroway

March 5th, 2008

Last summer, we reported on Exodus International’s political lobbying activities, specifically the hiring of Amanda Banks as Exodus’ Director of Governmental Affairs. Ms. Banks spoke at the Exodus Freedom conference in Irvine about the many irons they had in the fire to try to make life more difficult for gays and lesbians who chose not to follow the ex-gay path.

There have been some rumblings that some Exodus-affiliated ministry leaders were dissatisfied with this latest move. Some felt that this political involvement was a unwelcome distraction to Exodus’ core mission as a ministry. And more to the point, a few worried that by maintaining such a public anti-gay posture, Exodus might actually interfere with a few of their member ministries’ efforts to engage in non-confrontational and non-judgmental outreach efforts.

Believe it or not, there are a few such ministries — perhaps a precious few, but they exist nonetheless — who really want to try to work in a less confrontational and judgmental manner. In fact, according to Exodus co-founder Michael Bussee, this was a key part of Exodus’ original vision.

More recently, Wendy Gritter, Executive Director of Toronto-based New Directions, gave a keynote address (MP3: 28.9MB/1:03:07) at an Exodus leadership conference in January. She urged her audience to put an end to its political lobbying, to stop emphasizing “change,” and to show genuine respect for those who are comfortable with their sexual orientation. She also joined several former ex-gay leaders with an apology of her own posted at Ex-Gay Watch:

I want to begin by saying I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the pain that some of those who follow this site have experienced from leaders like me and ministries like the one I lead. I’m sorry that some of you connected with this site who identify as Christian have had your faith questioned and judged. I’m sorry there is a felt need for a site like XGW. I’m sorry that it feels like legitimate concerns have not been listened to. I am sorry for the arrogance that can come across from leaders like me.

And now Exodus International president Alan Chambers talked with Ex-Gay Watch’s Dave Roberts and said that he has backtracked from his original decision to take Exodus in a more explicitly political direction. Last August, at about the same time we were reporting on Amanda Banks’ new job with Exodus, Alan “decided to back out of policy issues and our Director of Government Affairs took a position with another organization.”

But to the question of whether these changes were permanent, Alan replied:

One area that we found to be incredibly beneficial was simply sharing our stories with lawmakers. If and when there are opportunities to do that we will.

As for lobbying, promoting policies, etc., I don’t see us being involved in the near or distant future. Will we ever feel the need to get involved? Maybe — as a ministry we care about religious freedom and we are always watching to see how changes in policy might negatively impact our freedom.

They’ve used the “religious freedom” meme as an oft-repeated objection to hate crimes legislation — even though the proposed legislation only addresses violent crime and not speech, religion, or any other Constitutionally protected right.

It’s hard to know what all this means in the long run. But Beyond Ex-Gay co-founder Peterson Toscano is encouraged by some of this:

This is good news indeed and comes after much work on the part of folks both within and outside of Exodus to help the leadership to consider backing away from getting tangled in debates about LGBT rights.

Back in July during the Ex-Gay Survivor Initiative sponsored by Soulforce, ex-gay survivors shared their stories around the country with a recurring theme about harm, but also with a call to ex-gay leaders and church leaders to consider pastoral care and people’s lives before politics.

It’s not just former ex-gays who feel this way. While I was attending the Exodus conference in California last June, I ran into a few “strugglers” there who also disagreed with Exodus’ political activities. A few of them voiced to me some rather sharp of anti-gay statements made by prominent religious leaders, some of whom taped video welcome messages which were played at the start of the conference. There were a few names and faces which flashed on the screen which prompted scattered pangs of anguish and hisses among a very few members of the audience. And particular disgust was registered at those who were known for having used HIV/AIDS as a cudgel against the gay community in the past.

These changes at Exodus are long overdue and will be welcome by many both inside and outside the movement — assuming these changes are lasting and substantial. Whether that happens, only time will tell. I suppose we all will be putting together our own personal litmus tests over the next few months. Here’s mine: maybe this will mark the end of Alan’s appearances like his recent showing at the Family Impact Summit. That would be welcome news indeed.