Exodus sets the record straight–We don’t provide an ex-gay cure!

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.)

Rejected Exodus Iphone AppAt 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.

Jallen adds,

“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)

 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsYsusY1ALQ&w=480&h=390]

 

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.Peterson with his partner, Glen Retief

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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This post has 30 Comments

  1. Nick on March 23, 2011 at 10:45 am Reply

    It took you 20 years to realize that this Exodus cult was a hoax? Wow, it would have only taken me a week, or maybe less once I heard what their doctrine was all about. This term “ex-gay” makes me laugh out loud! That would be like saying ex-elephant, or ex-lion. You can’t change that to which you were born into. The genes are all there from birth. Man, woman, bird, animal, fish, whatever. It is ludicrous to suggest that you can simply “choose” to be gay. That is patently absurd to put it mildly. Can a black person choose to be white? Can a white person choose to be asian? Can a lion choose to be friendly? Can we choose to have brown eyes instead of blue, or black hair instead of red? (well, maybe with some coloring!) But seriously, these people who aspouse to change a person’s sexual desires is just blowing smoke against a wall. It is a total and stupid waste of time. These so called Christians had better pull out their Bibles again and realize that homosexuality is not discussed once in the New Testament. It is discussed in the Old Testament (the Jewish Torah) as laws passed down by God to the ancient Jews of that day. They were not meant for modern society or non-Jews. If everything in the Bible that was quoted as an abomination were to be as evil as homosexuality, no one on earth will be going to heaven. Period! As a gay man, I try to be an ambassador of goodwill to all people, and not be judgemental or hateful just because they are not like me. I think Jesus had the same message. Too bad the Christians don’t get it.

    • p2son on March 23, 2011 at 11:12 am Reply

      Hey, Nick, as someone trying to be an “ambassador of goodwill to all people, and not be judgmental…” I have a strong reaction to the opening of your comment above.

      It took you 20 years to realize that this Exodus cult was a hoax? Wow, it would have only taken me a week, or maybe less once I heard what their doctrine was all about.

      I realize that you may be partly speaking in jest, but I find the statement invalidating and insulting both to my intelligence and the complex journey I took. It is because of these kind of flippant, thoughtless reactions that many LGBT folks who spent time trying to “change” often never mention it to others in the community.

      I also find the statement ingenuous, particularly when one considers the many queer folks who never went ex-gay yet spent tremendous energy closeted, hiding, trying to “pass” as gender-normative, straight folks. These attempts of masking one’s queerness I consider “passive ex-gay experiences.”

      The effects of homophobia in a straight supremacist society pressure lots of people to turn themselves inside out. As former ex-gay I know I took extreme efforts to do so. It was futile, harmful, and foolish. I don’t need a fellow queer guy then poking fun and acting like it is really all that uncommon. Lots of us were duped into trying to be someone we were not before accepting reality and living authentically.

    • GreenEyedLilo on March 23, 2011 at 4:34 pm Reply

      You may be holding on to a myth or earnestly working hard at something that has the potential to destroy you right now. We don’t know. And you don’t know what ex-gays and survivors of ex-gay “therapies” went through and what motivated them to try, either.

    • Mackenzie on March 24, 2011 at 9:45 pm Reply

      It sort of makes sense if you define “homosexuality” the way they do: by behaviour. They don’t care who you’re *attracted* to. As far as they’re concerned, that is inconsequential. They figure, if you stare at dudes but sleep with chicks, and you’re a dude… that counts as straight. If you look but don’t touch dudes, then you’re not gay because you don’t touch. To them it’s *all about* the touching.

      Peterson gave a reason for finding your ” I try to be an ambassador of goodwill to all people, and not be judgemental or hateful just because they are not like me” statement disingenuous. I have another: your last sentence. “Too bad the Christians don’t get it.” Not all Christians “don’t get it.” Peterson’s a Christian. Where I worship is probably about 1/4-1/2 Christian. They get it. There’s a gay marriage happening under the care of the Meeting on Saturday.

      • Nick on March 25, 2011 at 8:17 am Reply

        Mackenzie,

        When you lambast someone elses reply, please include the name of the person you are addressing. It would make it much easier to respond to you.
        So you know Peterson personally I take it? You KNOW that he is a Christian? I didn”t know that being a Christian was a badge that you wore around your neck to impress people. My post was about someone who spent years and years denying what he was all along and spending thousands of dollars in the process. I find that ridiculous. I never even heard of Exodus until I saw the Gayle King show. Those guys that started this were genious. They found a way to make alot of money on the backs of lost souls. Almost had a V8 moment and thought, why didn’t I think of that??! I truely feel sorry for all of those people that threw their money away. But that’s the American way. And now you all are spewing your hatred of this organization because you were “taken” to the proverbial cleaners.
        Being Christian is a thought process, an acting process. Jesus said “Come to me as you are”. That means that you come to Him straight, gay, oriental, indian, Jew, Hindu or Muslim, it doesn’t matter. It sounds as though some of you have this narrow notion (as the Christian Church does) that if you aren’t straight, you are damned to eternal hellfire. True Christians know that this isn’t the case. Jesus came with a simple message- Love thy neighbor as thyself. When you can finally grasp that concept, you will find that everything else falls into place. No need to go around trying to change what God gave you in birth. You need to love yourself before you can love others in the way that Jesus loves us.

        • p2son on March 25, 2011 at 12:02 pm Reply

          I’m going to pop in here Nick. How I wish I had been exposed to more progressive ways of looking at faith, Jesus, and the Bible when I plunged into my Biblically Induced Coma back in the 1980s. That and I felt the suffocating weight of homophobia, heterosexism, HIV/AIDS/GRID crisis. Shame and fear are toxins that block critical thinking. I tell my story as a warning to others, so that they have informed consent. Perhaps what I did was ridiculous. It sure was fruitless and very damaging. I had compelling reasons that influenced a young, sheltered mind. Sounds like you were much more fortunate. Not everyone is.

      • p2son on March 25, 2011 at 12:05 pm Reply

        Mackenzie, I am so happy now that I found a sane place to practice my faith, and my faith has developed and matured as a result. In the past I was so violent to myself and others. Self-loathing will cause one to do self-destructive acts.

        The sad thing is that churches who oppose love between two men or two women seek to deny intimacy, companionship, family and not just sex. They don’t think through just how cruel such a life can be–to be denied even the hope of intimacy. Painful.

  2. Jallen Rix on March 23, 2011 at 11:21 am Reply

    Keep it a goin’ Peterson! The more Exodus is caught in their lies and mis-information, the more ex-gay survivors will be heard. The harm must stop! We will not be assimilated!

  3. Nick on March 23, 2011 at 11:48 am Reply

    P2son,

    Sorry you were turned inside out as you put it and living a lie for so long. Many if not most gay people live that way just out of necessity throughout their lives. It wasn’ t the “straight supremacists” who are the problem. It is the established Church, the ones who brainwashed you and everyone else into thinking that gay was “evil in the eyes of God”, and and abomination. You have fallen victim to their belief structure, and thought you could be “cured”. I commend you for trying to be straight, probably an honest effort on your part, praying every day that your gayness would go away. I did that as well, but knew at about age 14, this wasn’t in the cards. It is one thing to know you are gay and live with that, and another to know you are gay and then try to deny it, in every way, shape and form. Wow, what a lot of wasted energy and money this has cost. Glad you saw the light finally and were able to accept your gayness.

  4. Jim Decke on March 23, 2011 at 1:16 pm Reply

    Hi Pete,

    Interesting read. I want to commend you on how you chose to write this article. I am tired of misleading, sensationalized news. It seems that almost everyone feels the need to attack those who disagree with them instead of simply communicating their point of view.

    Love in Action was horrible; I wish there was a way to erase it for both of us. However, I did make some lasting friendships and am grateful for them–you included 🙂

    Jim

  5. Jerry L Harvey on March 23, 2011 at 1:57 pm Reply

    Thank you for this wonderful article. I feel blessed that I am not ashamed of being gay. However, growing up in the south I know what shame, fear and anxiety there is related to sexuality.
    I support you, those like you and those to come who have fought the fight. Its much easier for the current generation but still a struggle none the less.
    Thank God for LGBT people. If not for them the world would be a very dull place to be.

  6. Faith Angelic on March 23, 2011 at 4:08 pm Reply

    Thank you for exposing the lies of the exodus program. This has so many sings of a destructive cult. Yet those of us who have spent any time in a destructive cult like this, We continually reexamine our intent with what we are being taught. WE know something is off, but we assume it must be us. There is this consent carrot at the end of a stick that is imposable to reach. They keep you so involved with the lightest literature to read or activity to do saying how good this is for you so you wont be lead astray by any distraction of temptation. but what is really going on is that you are left with no time for independent or critical thinking possibility’s. This hole you are broken, You need us, can be used any where to get followers. I get it. Thanks for being your gift. For being who God created you to be.

  7. michael e on March 23, 2011 at 4:14 pm Reply

    Great article, Peterson!

    I was not involved in Exodus, but I tried for 27 years to be ex-gay, and finally sank into clinical depression. It took a divorce and the upheaval of my life to help me understand that I was gay, that this was not going to change, and that it was unwise of me to deny that (thus cutting myself off from an important natural source of emotional energy and wholeness).

    The churches, for years, for centuries, bought into an anti-sexual worldview: and people like us were burned at the stake or hung for a long time: and then marginalized and labeled as unworthy servants.

    I’m so thankful God has raised you up in this hour to be a witness to the truth, with the love and honesty and experiences you have been granted.

    Thank you for being you!

    • GreenEyedLilo on March 23, 2011 at 4:40 pm Reply

      Thank you for saying it’s an “anti-sexual” worldview, not just an anti-gay one. Women of all sexual orientations have also suffered from the teachings of conservative churches. (Even the fact that they’ll encourage straight women to marry questionably recovered “ex-gay” men demonstrates their contempt for female sexual pleasure.)

      • Jane on March 24, 2011 at 7:20 pm Reply

        I appreciate the comment about Exodus and how they treat women. In my experience, I was one of about three women who sought help in the local Exodus manifestation. There were at the time few if any resources for us. We were told that we simply needed to embrace our position of needing men to.guide us and we would be fine. Exodus’ approach is about why it is not okay to be a woman or for a man to be effeminate in any way. Their scope is narrow. It has taken me years to become myself and to resist the thought of placing myself second. I wonder how much linger it will take me to fully undo the damage that was done.

        Peterson and Jallen thank you so much for your strong voices and for being there for the rest of us as we work to live into ourselves.

  8. GreenEyedLilo on March 23, 2011 at 4:38 pm Reply

    It strikes me how hard Chambers is working to reach high school and middle school kids. He clearly wants to get them before they go out into the world and see what the real lives of real LGBT people can be like. The Exodus organization’s increasing political activism also demonstrates just how desperate they are to keep themselves alive.

    I’ll be shocked if this organization exists in 10 years’ time. But they’ll go out kicking, screaming, and damaging more lives in the process.

  9. Sabrina on March 23, 2011 at 5:58 pm Reply

    “I also find the statement ingenuous, particularly when one considers the many queer folks who never went ex-gay yet spent tremendous energy closeted, hiding, trying to “pass” as gender-normative, straight folks. These attempts of masking one’s queerness I consider “passive ex-gay experiences.”

    That’s something I never really thought about or made the connection with – This statement just gave me a proverbial slap to the head. Thanks, Peterson! 😀

    Seriously, it never clicked to me that pretending to be a gender normative straight male all those years was a form of damaging myself, and instead of an Exodus doing it, it was me doing it.

    -Sabrina

    • p2son on March 23, 2011 at 6:10 pm Reply

      Ah, Sabrina, so good to see you, even if it is to slap you upside the head (proverbially that is) 🙂

      Hope all is well in your world.

  10. Beth on March 23, 2011 at 7:25 pm Reply

    Great essay. While never in an ex-gay program, I grew up in fundamentalist Christianity and had my spiritual growth/life completely messed up. I’m still recovering! I identify with what you say because I heard the same messages of being broken and there being something wrong with my identity.
    Thank you! Keep on speaking out.

  11. Anthony Venn-Brown on March 23, 2011 at 11:58 pm Reply

    Great piece Peterson

    the more Exodus are challenged about the validity of their message and the methods used to make ‘change’ happen….the more confusing their message becomes and morphs into new hybrids…..as demonstrated by Jeff Buchanan’s recent comments.

    Summarised by the three C’s

    Contradictory, conflicting, confusing

    Love your work.

  12. Jim Decke on March 24, 2011 at 4:08 pm Reply

    Hello Everyone,

    I wonder if any of you could share some information on homosexuality and the Bible. I have done quite a bit of study myself but only from the ex-gay perspective. I am a conservative Christian and I struggle with being a gay man. Though I have experienced change and growth in my sexuality, it is still something that I wrestle with.

    My experience has been that there are a lot of people willing to give their opinions on what the Bible says about homosexuality but very few who have done any deep studying for themselves. From what I have read in the Bible, it appears that homosexuality is a sin. For those of you who are gay Christians, could you help me understand how you came to be at peace with being gay and a Christian?

    Thanks in advance,

    Jim

    • Darlene Bogle on March 24, 2011 at 7:08 pm Reply

      Jim:
      Mel White has a booklet available from Soulforce —it’s free. “What the Bible really says about homosexuality”

      A short version is that there is no Greek or Hebrew word that is accurately translated
      “Homosexual”. More importantly, when you study the texts in both the old and new testements…it is Culture and Context that needs to be addressed!

      Romans/Corinthians are addressing Idol worship, and temple prostitutes…
      There are many excellent resources available from the guys with PhD after their names.
      It took me a few years to research this for myself.

  13. Darlene Bogle on March 24, 2011 at 7:03 pm Reply

    I sit here on this rainy storming day..chuckling to myself. As a former leader of exodus…the only thought that has popped into my head that I can share…is this…
    They might as well set the record straight…because we were never able to make anyone we ministered too…straight!

    I can’t beleive how they are back peddling on this…well, yes I can really.
    As always, I enjoy your posts Peterson.
    Keep speaking truth…I will…
    and together we can all “set the record straight!”

  14. AL Genaro on March 25, 2011 at 12:35 am Reply

    Peterson,

    Thank you.

    So much, thank you.

    You are a rockstar!

    Be well,

    AL

  15. Stasa on March 25, 2011 at 12:38 am Reply

    You are a brave, wonderful, truth-telling, beautiful gay man, and I love you.

  16. Jim Decke on March 25, 2011 at 10:49 pm Reply

    Thank you Darlene. I will read it.

  17. Christine on March 26, 2011 at 1:52 pm Reply

    Thank you, Peterson, for speaking truth to these issues, as one who knows these ex-gay programs from the inside.

    I was stunned by the insensitivity of Nick’s comment as well. Please Nick, I hope you’ll develop more compassion for those who had very different experiences than you.

    I have people in my life I love very much whose abusive religious upbringing was installed by fear and terror – they still have a hard time fully accepting themselves as lesbians or gay men. This is not my own experience, and only though learning about the experiences of these people over time have I fully come to understand how deeply this trauma has affected them. I have far more compassion for a huge segment of the LGBTQ community who also had similar experiences.

    Jallen Rix’s book, _Ex-Gay No Way: Survival from Religious Abuse_ is a very helpful book for those who may not understand what so many of our our LGBTQ siblings go through – I found it very readable and helpful – and I am even more compassionate toward those whose experiences were so traumatizing as as result.

    I am also thankful there are courageous people like Darlene Bogle and Michael Bussee, who after having served in leadership positions for Exodus, decided to speak the truth about not having changed their sexual orientation, and who have used their lives to speak against the harms perpetrated by people in ex-gay organizations and therapists. I am hopeful that that more leaders of these ministries will begin to be honest, will choose to stop bearing false witness against us (and themselves), and that they will be received by LGBTQ people with forgiveness and love.

    The harms that are perpetrated not only affect those who seek out ex-gay ministries, but, those who are coerced or even forced to participate in ex-gay therapy.

    The political harm some ex-gay organizations and leaders have sought to perpetrate against ALL LGTBQ people include opposing hate crime legislation, marriage equality, parental rights, and the right to not have our private, consenting adult sexual relationships criminalized. Oh, yes, I know Exodus now says they don’t think it’s right to criminalize our sexual relationships. I’m glad for that – change is possible, after all. I wish that had been their message prior to the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision. It wasn’t. Frankly, I think the only reason they changed their minds about this is because of Box Turtle Bulletin and Truth Wins Out calling Exodus on the mess they helped to create in Uganda by allowing Exodus Board member Don Schmierer to participate in that anti-gay conference.

    What a mess all of that continues to be today.

  18. Drew on March 31, 2011 at 4:34 am Reply

    Someone told me that this site has a lot of good information, though I didn’t find the website very user friendly, but they do have a book you can buy.

    http://www.gaychristian101.com

    Has anyone read the gay christian 101 book and can comment on it?

    Drew VanDyche
    aka Drucifer

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