Wow, I feel like I woke up into an alternate reality–a mind bending Inception-like film. Nothing new for me. I am an ex-gay survivor. I spent 17 years in what is known as the Ex-Gay Movement. As a gay teen I falsely believed I would be more valuable to God, the Church, my family, and my country if I were heterosexual–or at least “less gay.”
So I signed up for string of Exodus programs starting in New York City where I attended support groups nearly every Saturday night for three years. (Exodus International is the group who had an Iphone App that Apple removed after a successful petition pointed out that the app was objectionable and violated Apple’s policies.)
At the NYC ex-gay program they tried to cast out gay demons and insisted, “If any man be in Christ Jesus he is a NEW creation! The old is gone. Behold, all things are made new.” Ultimately I spent over $30,000 on three continents pursuing an elusive cure. The treatments differed from program to program, but the message remained the same. In so many words they taught—“Gays (lesbians and the rest) are immoral. You are broken and need to be fixed. You are sick and need to be healed. We will help you.”
What a surprise when yesterday I read the following statement from one of Exodus’ spokespeople:
“In no way shape or form is our message about trying to cure or do we try to promote that type of methodology or message,” Jeff Buchanan, Exodus International’s Senior Director of Church Equipping & Student Ministries, told The Christian Post.
So I turned to a sexpert, Dr. Jallen Rix, co-facilitator of Beyond Ex-Gay and author of the book Ex-Gay No Way: Survival and Recovery from Religious Abuse. Jallen, was I caught in the Matrix all those years? Is Jeff Buchanan saying that thousands of ex-gay survivors were dupped into believing something Exodus didn’t actually offer?
Jallen shared with me the words of Sean, a fellow survivor interviewed for Jallen’s book,
Living in an isolated area of the country, I relied heavily on the integrity of my group’s literature to help me decide whether or not to join their ministry. I read their promises of “freedom” and “change” with great hope and decided to move to California to join them. Once there I endured months of painful struggle to deny my sexual orientation with no favorable results, and even more disappointing was the fact that no one, no matter how long they had been there, could look me in the eye and say they had really changed. Only then did I realize that the Ex-gay promises were false. Their literature creates an illusion of freedom that does not exist, and they know it.
“Cured,” “healed,” “changed,” “heterosexually challenged,” — There’s no end to the lingo ex-gay leadership coins to infer that homosexuals are damaged goods. They’ll find another term as long as heterosexuality remains supreme. All the while, the leadership ignores the harm it causes in their attempts to enforce their views.
Now perhaps Exodus has a communication problem. I know that some of the folks in the organization struggle over words. For instance, they don’t always know what to call themselves—ex-gay, former homosexuals, post-gay, straightish?
Alan Chambers, the head of Exodus since 2001 particularly struggles to get his point across. In the following clip he wrestles with Montel Williams over the words freedom and liberate. He also insists he doesn’t urge youth into ex-gay treatment (yet his number one goal this year is to reach out to middle school and high school programs)
Only after 15 years of attending a variety of Exodus-member programs, I finally heard one of their leaders admit that actual change in orientation was not a realistic goal. During my first week at the Love in Action ex-gay residential program in Memphis, TN (what would become a two year stint) the director informed us that we would never be heterosexual. Wait! What about the big fat slogan on their website and brochures–Freedom from Homosexuality through Jesus Christ? Turns out it’s just PR. They have a public message and then a private reality.
Still the staff at Love in Action (LIA) insisted that I was malformed, misshappen, sinful, addicted, unwell and desperately needed to be healed; they had the cure. If I endured their therapeutic program, walked through their steps, spilled my guts, allowed myself to be humiliated, than just like the heterosexually-married former ex-gays who led the program, I too could experience “change.”
And I did. Sadly not the change they promised. In fact, I wished I had been warned that as a result of demonizing my desires and going to war against my sexuality and personality with the weapons that they supplied, I would change into a confused, depressed, self-hating, and suicidal mess. The “cure” was awful. During my time in LIA one client attempted suicide and another, during a psychotic break, was stuffed into a strait jacket and carried out by the police.
If you read Exodus’ literature, attend their conferences, follow their links to organizations they endorse, and buy the books they sell, you will hear over and over again that “there is hope for the homosexual. Change is possible” and similar messages worded in clever, misleading ways. And when they say Change, they don’t mean two 10’s for a 20. They target gays and lesbians weighed down with the burden of a family that rejects or may reject them, a church that says “come as you are—except queer,” and a legal system that consistently values heterosexuals over anyone else. Ripe for the picking Exodus offers hope, a way out—a cure.
I have no idea which Exodus International Jeff Buchanan works for. Perhaps he should review the About Us section of the Exodus site.
Christ offers a healing alternative to those with homosexual tendencies. Exodus upholds redemption for the homosexual person as the process whereby sin’s power is broken, and the individual is freed to know and experience their true identity, as discovered in Christ and His Church. That process includes the freedom to grow into heterosexuality.
Being an ex-gay survivor myself and personally speaking with over 1,500 fellow survivors, I can say that Buchanan is correct on one point—Exodus has no cure to offer. Instead they issue a curse for those who submit or are forced to submit to their teachings. They offer harm—psychological, emotional, and spiritual damage. They tamper with their clients’ relationships, careers, personal development, and finances. They make a mess of our lives in Jesus’ name.
So what exactly does Exodus do? They now publicly admit that no one changes from gay to straight. They claim they don’t offer a cure. They say they don’t therapize. What services do they provide? Basically they will undermine your sense of self as they reinforce the notion that you are not good enough as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer person. They will demonize your desires, and will not even be satisfied if you choose to be celibate yet insist on honestly calling yourself lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. To add insult to injury they have fought to deny happy homosexuals and transgender people legal rights and protections. They malign LGBTQ people, our relationships, our desires, our dreams, and then they export this message to Uganda, South Africa, Croatia, Singapore, Costa Rica and beyond.
It took me nearly 20 years to understand that Exodus’ vague promise, “Change is Possible” was false and to discover and embrace that Authenticy and Integrity are possible and well worth pursuing.
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