Apologies, Reflections and Advice

So much ex-gay news on the blogs, TV and print media this week in large part because of the conferences taking place this week in Irvine where people with ex-gay experiences get to meet up and share their experiences. The Ex-Gay Survivor Conference begins tomorrow and Exodus’ Freedom Conference is already in full swing.

Yesterday bXg along with Soulforce organized a press conference at the LA LGBT Community center where three former Exodus leaders publicly apologized for their roles in ex-gay ministry.

Jeremy Marks, former head of Exodus Europe stated,

Perhaps I should take this opportunity first to say how sorry I am, and to ask forgiveness from all my fellow Gay, Lesbian Bisexual and Trans-gendered people who might be listening to this—for my part in colluding with the religious right in the Western world. Though at the time we did not see it this way, our collusion involved setting up and maintaining an oppressive anti-gay, and I must also say equally anti-Christian view of homosexuality, that profoundly dishonors Jesus Christ and has betrayed the Gospel.

He then went on to outline more of his own journey of moving past ex-gay ministry into his current role at Courage UK, an LGBT-affirming Christian group in the UK.

Michael Busse, one of the original founders of Exodus shared some of the realities he witnessed during his time at Exodus recounting the good and the bad.

I need to say that some had a positive, life-changing experience attending our Bible studies and support groups. They experienced God’s love and the welcoming fellowship of others who knew the struggle. There were some real “changes”—but not one of the hundreds of people we counseled became straight.

Instead, many of our clients began to fall apart – sinking deeper into patterns of guilt, anxiety and self-loathing. Why weren’t they “changing”? The answers from church leaders made the pain even worse: “You might not be a real Christian.” “You don’t have enough faith.” “You aren’t praying and reading the Bible enough.” “Maybe you have a demon.” The message always seemed to be: “You’re not enough. You’re not trying hard enough. You don’t have enough faith.”

Darlene Bogle gave a moving apology that got a number of people in the audience crying during the press conference. CNN showed some of the footage on the Paula Zahn Show last night.

My heart was in the right place, but my message was not. I apologize to those individuals and families who believed my message that change was necessary to be acceptable to God. In recent years I have seen the resulting damage from rejection, shame, and conditional love. I apologize for my part in presenting a God of conditional love, and ask forgiveness for the message of broken truth I spoke on behalf of Exodus.

Christin Bakke, one of the ex-gay survivors present at the press conference shares some of her feelings over at her blog.

What I didn’t count on was the emotion I felt when I reached out to accept the letter. Sometimes these kind of symbolic gestures can feel staged, but it made an emotional impact on me and I felt myself tearing up as we shook hands and hugged Darlene, Michael and Jeremy. It was moving and healing to hear an apology for the harm and damaging messages that I received.

Eric over at Two World Collision also attended the press conference and blogs about it here. The LA Times covered the story in today’s paper which you can read here.

Cybersocket is not a magazine that I imagined would write about the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference or the issues surrounding it (they mostly write about gay porn!) but they published a long and well researched article about the conference. It includes lots of quotes from many of the people involved and digs deeper than most other articles I read.

Jim Farmer, the author of the piece asked me what advice I would give someone who is considering going into the ex-gay movement.

“If someone tells me they want to be straight or try an ex-gay program, I encourage them to take time and really think about the reasons why they want to do this,” he says. “On the surface they may point to a few Bible verses and talk about the conflict between their faith and sexuality, but often if they take the time they will unearth other strong motivating factors that influence them. I ask them to consider the benefits to being perceived as straight. Does the world they live in receive them more enthusiastically? Is their job more secure? Does their family feel more comfortable? Do doors open for them to serve in their church? This may all be true but it indicates that the motivation to change is primarily to please others on the outside and not coming from a genuine inward desire to change. The weight of the world pressures many of us to straighten ourselves up and live a ‘normal’ life, but at what cost and who really benefits in the end?”

Finally, Daniel Gonzales, who also attended the press conference (and took me to Laguna Beach’s Boom Boom Room last night) shot some video of the three former ex-gay leaders and posted it over at Box Turtle Bulletin. He asked them about change, and if when they were ex-gay, did they believe they had changed.

Michael Bussee
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQn8Pmilob4]

Daniel also shot video of me answering the same question which you can view here.

Today we have a big planning day as we finalize the preparations for the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference. The key to our conference is that it will be an interactive event where participant will not simply sit in lectures and hear from experts. Instead we will facilitate multiple activities designed to help participants unpack the ex-gay experience.

So how am I feeling in all of this? (I mean this is a blog so a certain amount of navel gazing is required). Not sure, still stressed as there is so much to do (and I am off to Friends General Conference on Sunday morning for a week leading a workshop for some cool high schoolers). I feel sad at how defensive Alan Chambers has sounded in press reports. I know that it may come as a blow for former leaders to publicly apologize for the damage they feel they caused as a result of the ex-gay ministry they practiced and that our conference here in Irvine the same week as Exodus’ may seem like an affront and even harassment. But this is not our intention.

While in Love in Action we were regularly encouraged to monitor our feelings, particularly when we felt defensive. I have found the practice helpful through the years. By asking the questions, “What is behind this feeling? Why do I feel defensive? Is there something for me to look at here?” I was able to unearth issues that I needed to address, areas of my life and actions that were not in order.

I feel sad that some people feel attacked because we say that ex-gay experiences caused more harm than good. Not only did they not work, they are not necessary for us. Even Exodus itself says that at least 70% of the people that go through their doors cannot succeed in meeting the standards set before them. (and this is without any formal research so may be a conservative estimate). I feel sad because Exodus as an organization has aggressively attack lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans by speaking out against marriage equality and hate crime legislation. Don’t they see they are attacking us, seeking to deny us rights and speaking untruths about us.

If someone feels they cannot embrace their same-sex attractions and wish to live a celibate life or even a straight lifestyle, they have every right to do so. Some of us who are gay also are celibate as we wait for a life partner. Some people are bisexual and can successfully negotiate a heterosexual marriage. But for most of us this was not possible and in fact the pursuit of such a life nearly destroyed us.

This post has 3 Comments

  1. Joe G. on June 28, 2007 at 7:32 pm Reply

    This is excellent stuff, P. I loved that we get to hear the very same ex-gay ex-leaders discuss their stories on the very same blog post. Thanks, Daniel!

    Hmm, I guess I understand your sadness at A. Chambers’ response. OTH, it isn’t surprising. What you and others are doing is offering powerful, contrary evidence to the claims of groups such as Exodus. No one likes to be challenged that way – but, it’s very important and useful evidence that needs to be seen and heard. So, I say, let them be upset.

    Good work! Have a lovely conference. I’d say I’d pray for you and the conference, but I don’t believe it’s possible to be Christian and gay. Sorry. {ahem}

  2. Jimbo on June 29, 2007 at 10:17 am Reply

    It was good to hear those heartfelt apologies.

    Considering they have worked for something (an ex-gay ministry) that has completely failed in its original aims, the easiest thing to do would be to disappear into the background. They have had the courage to be open about the misguided nature of their former ministries, and it speaks volumes.

    The succinct press release seems to have been taken up widely. I think this will be the crucial time for the wholesale re-evaluation of ex-gay ministries and therapies by those churches that have previously supported them.

    Wishing all of you at the conference a really fruitful time.

  3. Liz Opp on November 15, 2007 at 7:58 pm Reply

    November 15, 2007.

    I just watched the video from the bXg conference… and then went to the website and read the full statements from these former leaders of ex-gay ministries.

    What a journey it’s all been, Peterson! And to know that it is still being written, not only in the U.S. but also in Europe, Sweden, and elsewhere.

    You have been a model for me, not only about being faithful to what we’ve been Given, but also about being loving as we say difficult things in our desire to be Obedient.

    Blessings,
    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

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