Thursday, June 20, 2013

The End of Ex-Gay Ministry

There are celebrations in Munchkinland right now. Ding, dong, the witch is dead.

Exodus International, the world's largest and most prestigious "ex-gay ministry" and proponent of "reparative therapy" has announced they are shutting down. Their president is publicly apologizing to the LGBT community.

This gay man says, Apology accepted. If you finally want to engage in real Christian ministry, I will consider it a privilege to serve by your side.

I personally don't believe Exodus International (or any of the other "ex-gay" groups -- the Mormon analog being Evergreen International) were "evil." Exodus was not the Wicked Witch of the East, and Evergreen is not the Wicked Witch of the West.

The reparative therapy movement was part of a process of trying to figure things out. It came out of a genuine belief that homosexuality was wrong and that it was amenable to change. The Exodus International web site is still using the word "change," but now they are applying it to their own attitudes.

Exodus and other similar ministries were and are the source of much pain. Many lives were damaged by what they did. Some people committed suicide -- damage that can't be fixed. By their own admission.

But many of those who participated in these ministries were gay men and lesbians who themselves believed they were broken in their sexual orientation and needed to be fixed. Those who eventually turned away broken-hearted had learned from experience that reparative therapy was wrong. I never tried reparative therapy, but my process of figuring out what it meant to be gay was similar. I made similar mistakes until I finally figured it out.

It took many years of such experiences for the organization, collectively, to figure it out. The end of Exodus is proof that collectively and organizationally we do learn. We do, eventually, repent of our mistakes.

It is further proof to me that the Holy Spirit is in process with all of us. It is capable of teaching us, if we are willing to learn. There's a lot in me that still needs to change, and I pray for the wisdom to know what that is and to work on it.

But today, I take a moment to breathe a sigh of relief and give thanks.

Hallelujah! Literally, praise God.


Martin said...

John, your pure hearted-forgiveness is going to be a breath of fresh air today. I suspect that there will be a whole lot of different responses to this stunning story. Thanks for getting this out at the beginning of my day. Now if we can just apply this to Ken Mehlman, we might be able to do some extra good.

James Weller said...

Wow! It took a lot of courage for Exodus International to make that declaration. I like your assessment, that the apology is accepted. What is done is done, and all any of us can do is learn from the past and move on. I, too, never tried reparative therapy, though I considered it. The first time was at BYU, but the Evergreen ad/testimonial meant to recruit me dissuaded me: the testimonial told of how an inability to play sports led to a rejection by peers which in turn led me to sexualize them in an attempt to reach out for their acceptance. In the end I knew that my situation was not like this, though the explanation seemed to hit hard at some of my insecurities. Later a priesthood leader suggested I try Evergreen, but I said "I do not see how pounding on a stack of pillows with a golf club while crying out ''Momma, why did you do this to me?' is going to help (an actual approach used by some folks at the time)." I accept that we are as we are, that God loves us and will guide us, He guides us, and one thing is certain: no one has yet ascertained His full will for all of us, but over time that will seems to get clearer, step by step.

J G-W said...

Martin, James, thanks.

Gratitude and forgiveness feel right to me right now... I would rather see Alan Chambers as a new friend than an ex-enemy, and see how much more common ground we can find.

Anonymous said...

In a ways it's hard to believe.

Thanks so much for posting this. I was in Evergreen way back and still feel messed up a bit in the head.


J G-W said...

Ron - I've heard a handful of positive stories about reparative therapy and ministries that promote/support it. So I know it was not a bad experience for everybody. Quite a few have reported that trying reparative therapy helped them by definitively setting their mind at rest that it did not work!

But I have heard many, many stories that I can only describe as horror stories. Terrible abuses. I heard a guy (who had been involved in an "ex-gay" ministry of a fundamentalist church) who described being physically punched, kicked and beaten as part of an "exorcism" ritual, to "exorcise the demon of homosexuality." I knew a guy who subjected himself to over 40 sessions of electroshock therapy, resulting in long term psychological damage and trauma... Horrible things were done in the name of cures.

Those more extreme experiences seem to be pretty rare. More common is the anguish people describe of having their expectations being raised, being reassured that they can overcome this, only to experience extreme shame when they couldn't.

I knew a guy at BYU who went through repeated sessions of "reparative therapy." Each time he would "relapse" into homosexuality, and each time his self esteem would sink lower and lower. At one point he became suicidal.

I'm grateful that Exodus has made a public statement that will make it less and less likely that people will continue to suffer that kind of psychological torment.

J G-W said...

James - It is odd as I think about my own history of reparative therapy avoidance.

When I came out to my parents, that was their very first suggestion... They said, "Maybe with some counseling you can overcome this," etc.

At that point I had heard enough about reparative therapy to know I wanted nothing to do with it, and I was pretty adamant that I had no need for it and would not participate in it. I urged my parents to read more before pressing me to do that, and to their credit they did, and they quickly dropped the subject.

Still... I sometimes felt guilty about NOT having tried reparative therapy. It was almost as if I felt like maybe there was something wrong with me for not having tried EVERY option available.

I think in the end, some of the spiritual experiences I had helped reassure me that I was in the right path, and that reparative therapy was not something I needed to try.

Matthew said...

i so admire your forgiving attitude here, john. thank you for brightening my day!