Ex-gay ministries and the "cures" that don't work
very day that our newspapers carried news of the confirmation of Gene Robinson
as the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire – the first openly gay person living
in a relationship with a same-sex partner to be elected to such a position in
the Anglican communion – another piece of news came whizzing through the
internet. This one won’t be carried by our media, for it concerns something
that the average Singaporean is not yet conscious of, and that is, the question
of ex-gay ministries.
The news was of another poster boy of the US ex-gay ministries being caught out having sex with other men. The scoop by the gay newspaper, the Washington Blade, detailed how Michael Johnston had been meeting other men online under the assumed name of "Sean". The newspaper verified this through interviews with at least two of Johnston's sexual partners. Furthermore, Johnston was HIV-positive, a fact that he did not reveal to his sexual contacts till much later, which was extremely irresponsible of him.
Michael Johnston had starred in a television commercial in 1998, promoting the programs of the ex-gay ministries, which included reparative therapy. In his ad, he said he had "'walked away from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ." He also praised his mother, who appeared in the ad too, for telling him "the truth that set me free."
He founded his own ex-gay organization, called Kerusso Ministries, and was the main driving force behind an annual "Coming out of homosexuality day."
The Washington Blade reported, with its scoop, that the phone number and website of Kerusso Ministries were no longer operational, and the annual event would now be in doubt.
The ex-gay ministries confirmed that Johnston had been exposed by the press, saying that he had suffered a "moral fall".
He wasn't the first of the ex-gay poster boys to "fall". In September 2000, another star of the ex-gay TV ad, John Paulk, was photographed in a gay bar called Mr P’s, located in Washington DC's Dupont Circle, a well-known gay district. Paulk first tried to explain that he was there only to use the bathroom, even though witnesses confirmed that he had been in the bar chatting up men for 40 minutes.Paulk’s fall was big news in 2000, because he was at the time, chairman of Exodus International, the umbrella organization that grouped the various ex-gay ministries. He and his ex-lesbian wife, Anne Paulk, had even been featured on the cover of Newsweek magazine as icons of the success of the ex-gay movement.
In April 2001, an evangelical Christian group in the UK that likewise sought to "heal" homosexual persons, Courage Trust, collapsed when its leader renounced its mission. Jeremy Marks declared homosexual orientation to be "God-given."
"I have come to the conclusion that we have been quite wrong to dismiss all same sex love (other than platonic) as sinful," he later wrote.
Mark’s renunciation recalled the fact that 20 years earlier, the 2 founders of the American ex-gay movement fell away from it too. Gary Cooper and Michael Bussee organized the 1976 conference of ex-gays out of which Exodus International was formed. But the two of them soon fell in love with each other and left Exodus in 1979. They lived together as a couple and would later be frequent guests on talk shows.
"The desires never go away," Bussee said. "The confrontations begin and the guilt gets worse and worse." Some people who went through the Exodus program had breakdowns or committed suicide, he pointed out.
"After dealing with hundreds of people," Bussee concluded, he and his partner hadn't "met one who went from gay to straight. Even if you manage to alter someone's sexual behavior, you cannot change their true sexual orientation."
"If you got them away from the Christian limelight," he said, "and asked them, 'Honestly now, are you saying that you are no longer homosexual and you are now heterosexually oriented?'... not one person said, 'Yes, I am actually now heterosexual.' "
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Other than they’re so prone to scandal and retraction, what are ex-gay ministries?
They are peculiarly American things. They spring from the evangelistic rightwing of American churches, particularly its protestant stream. They treat the bible as inerrant, which is to say that they interpret the bible without historical context, and use insist on adhering to the literal meanings of the modern words contained in the English translations. They lack perspective; they have no time for intellectual reflection. But their PR is very good. They don’t come across as gay-bashers. They sincerely (and I’d say very misguidedly) believe they are there to help homosexual persons turn their backs on sin.
Their methods are almost cult-like. Extreme peer-pressure is applied. Rigid regimens are prescribed, e.g. the 12-step program and so forth. Enormous amounts of guilt are first instilled to motivate the person to change. Some ex-gay ministries are associated with psychiatric treatments involving electro-shock "therapy"
But the fact remains, sexual orientation can’t be changed. So when the person is loaded up with guilt and still finds that he can’t change, he takes to blaming himself (and ex-gay ministries make it a point to blame the person for not having tried hard enough, rather than blame their own misguided goals and programs for failure), and it’s no surprise some participants end up committing suicide.
You can see more details about ex-gay ministries at this location: Mission Impossible: Why reparative therapy and ex-gay ministries fail (1999)
In brief, the key points are:
And there are countless examples of backsliding among even the leaders of these ex-gay movements, as discussed above.
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A booklet was published in July 2000 by the Human Rights Campaign giving the first-hand stories of 14 people who have been inside the ex-gay programs, seen the horror of it all and lived to tell. Excerpts cam be seen in the yellow box above.
If you have Acrobat Reader, you can read their true stories here:
These are very powerful stories. The resounding message is this:There is nothing wrong about homosexuality. There is nothing that needs to be changed, nor can be changed, about one’s sexual orientation. The problem really is a deadly cocktail of external factors: societal stigma, hostility, hatred and isolation. Once a gay person has found the self-confidence to deal with these issues on his own terms, he tends to be better-adjusted and happier.
By repeating the mantra that homosexuality is sin and incompatible with worth, by focusing on the futile attempts to change the subjects rather than societal attitudes, ex-gay ministries abet and reinforce difficulties for gay people. Contrary to their propaganda, they don’t make life better for us; they make things worse.
One day we will see them for what they are: hate-mongers, peddlers of snake-oil and, not forgetting those who still cruise online or in the bars while claiming possession of the secret cure, supreme hypocrites.
© Yawning Bread