Who is Silencing the Ex-Gays?

Today is National Coming Out Day. Some “ex-gays” feel so silenced and marginalized by the “gay community” that they have used this week to push their film, I Too Exist. But who is really silencing these “ex-gays”? Perhaps it is their own bedfellows–the conservative religious right.

A week ago Sunday I traveled by car from Southampton to London with Jeremy Marks, former Exodus International board member, former director of Exodus Europe and the founder of the once “ex-gay” now gay-affirming British group Courage. He shared insights about Exodus’ pioneering work.

In the early 1970’s most Christian churches in the US wanted nothing to do with same-gender loving people. With the sexual revolution in full swing, some Christians with same-sex attractions felt overwhelmed with the rising wave of promiscuity in the world–both hetero and homo.

Out of genuine compassion and the need to create a middle space, Exodus formed and did what no one had seriously done before, minister to homosexuals. Many found refuge and relief among their own, people of faith with same-sex attractions in the midst of a decidedly homophobic society and what felt like an anti-Christian “gay community”

At first Exodus had virtually no church support–they survived on the fringes of faith communities creating their own. They worked at trying to figure out why they were different from mainstream America and how they could change abd become fully accepted members in church ad society.

Jeremy explained that it was a time of searching and discovery. He believes that had they continued to think and pray through the issues, many Exodus leaders and members would have come to the place where they could fully embrace both their sexuality and faith together. They would eventually conclude that individual change from homosexuality was not possible, rather society needed to change.

But some things happened that derailed the honest searching and self-discovery.

In 1977, former Miss Oklahoma turned Orange Juice hawker, Anita Bryant, spoke out against proposed anti-discrimination laws that would protect gay men and lesbian women in Florida’s Dade County.

The next year Christian writer and speaker, Tim Lahaye published a book entitled Unhappy Gays.

In 1979 Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority and declared war on homosexuals.

In 1980 former psychology instructor, Paul Cameron, began manufacture and disseminate bogus stats aimed at painting gays as serial killers, pedophiles and walking epidemics.

Then in the early 1980’s came AIDS, “nature’s revenge on gays” ( according to Pat Buchanan’s infamous words in 1983.)

Politicians quickly learned that trashing gays got votes. Antigay conservative religious leaders like James Dobson figured out that when they slandered and scapgoated gays, the money tumbled in from Americans terrified by the gay agenda to destroy their children.

About this time the courtship between the political/religious conservative leaders and Exodus began. What better way to expose the dangers of the “gay lifestyle” than to produce examples of repentant homosexuals who through their testimonies confirmed the slander churned out by preachers and politicians.

Exodus, in need of legitimacy from the church, welcomed the advances of the Religious Right, but initially with suspicion. In the past many individuals in Exodus had been burned by these groups. The antigay message did not sit well with some Exodus leaders who still struggled with same-sex attractions.

Quickly though, with the acceptance and tacit support of the mainstream conservative church, Exodus became a tool of the Right, so much so that by 1998, fundamentalist groups under the Coral Ridge Ministries banner, “Truth in Love” exploited the testimonies of Exodus “ex-gays” in a million dollar ad campaign that included full page ads in major US newspapers.

“Ex-gays” became the media darlings of the moment perched on high as examples for the rest of us. That was until the fall of John Paulk two years later.

Jeremy went on to explain that Exodus, in collusion with the hetero church became silenced except when porclaiming the party line that change is possible through Jesus Christ. No longer could they honestly explore the issues surrounding same-sex attractions, its origins and place in the world.

No one could be completely honest about their struggles and the fact that for the vast majority in Exodus, same-sex desires did not go away. Change was not possible, just behavior modification or bisexuality (an unmentionable).

Today funded in part by large organizations like Focus on the Family and used for political purposes by both the church and elected officials, Exodus is frozen in time, unable to analyze and revise its message, grow or change for fear that they will be dropped like a backslidding hot potato. “Ex-gay” leaders cannot honestly share their struggles for fear that they will lose the positions they fought so hard to earn within an antigay church that still distrusts the “ex-gay” movement.

Who has marginalized the “Ex-gay” movement? Who silences “ex-gays”? The pro-gay liberal press and the armies of gay activists with our sinister agenda?

Or is it the Religious Right, a political machine that profits off the lives of gays and lesbians who can only be welcome at the table as long as they behave?

Sources: Conversation with Jeremy Marks, October 2, 2005 and Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report, Spring 2005 The Thirty Years War, A Timeline of the Anti-Gay Movement by Bob Moser.

(This October, hear about the “ex-gay” struggle in Tom Murray’s documentary, Fish Can’t Fly)

This post has 13 Comments

  1. Willie Hewes on October 12, 2005 at 8:54 am Reply

    That explains so much, and at the same time, it’s such a sad story… Exodus as a slave to the Right, who need homosexuality to be a curable disease, otherwise people might realise how cruel they are. How do we turn it around?

  2. Christine on October 12, 2005 at 3:17 pm Reply

    I know that there are ex-gay groups within Exodus that only continue to be affiliated because of referrals they receive. Some of these groups are upset with the direction Exodus has gone (especially since Alan Chambers took over). I wish there was some way to get them to be able to have an influence…or to have a “mass exodus.”

    This is really fantastic (and fascinating!), Peterson. Thanks for posting this. Lots to think about, and definitely puts a different spin on things.

  3. Bob Painter on October 12, 2005 at 7:05 pm Reply

    Peterson, as we discussed via the telephone, what I hear you saying is that Exodus–in order to gain credibility and financial backing–forfeited its integrity and its soul.

    As I have listened to John Smid at LiA over the years that I’ve known him, his message has changed dramatically. When I first entered the program in 1997, the theme was that homosexuality could be exchanged for heterosexuality–with enough disciplin and faith.

    Then as I made my way through the program for two years, the message became skewed: we were told that we would always have same-sex attractions but that we could choose to lead heterosexual lives.

    (Many clients would tell me in private that, had they known that their sexuality would not change, they would never have entered the program.)

    I think the church needs to a new “Exodus”–a ministry to homosexuals focused on integrity to Christ without the need to be dishonest about their sexuality. With the renewed thrust based on grace rather than works, perhaps the new organization could be called Caananland…because who wants to roam the dessert for the rest of his life? I want to arrive and thrive…

  4. Brady on October 12, 2005 at 10:29 pm Reply

    Great synopsis, Peterson.

  5. Jimbo on October 12, 2005 at 10:39 pm Reply

    Very insightful. Thanks Peterson.

    Bearing in mind the political pressures on Exodus I’m glad that they appear to be having less direct influence on their UK counterparts.

  6. Scott on October 12, 2005 at 10:40 pm Reply

    I wish I could find the letter online because I remember reading it.

    Randy Thomas, when he was at Living Hope, wrote a letter that blasted groups like Focus on the Family for using ex-gays for political purposes.

    Now that he’s part of the inner circle he has no problem campaigning against gay families.

    Essentially punishing them for not following his path.

  7. Christine on October 12, 2005 at 11:29 pm Reply

    Scott, I think you’re thinking of Randy’s letter “Response to Coral Ridge” which could be found on the internet back in 1998. A small excerpt of it can still be found here but (from what I’ve heard) he had it removed from the Bridges-Across site.

  8. grantdale on October 14, 2005 at 4:38 am Reply

    Thanks to web archiving, the letter by the old Randy is still available online.

    This was, of course, well before Randy joined the paid staff at Exodus…

  9. Peterson Toscano on October 14, 2005 at 1:09 pm Reply

    RisingUp, thanks for alerting us to Randy Thomas’ letter and thanks grantale for the link. Fascinating.

    Some quotes:

    “…I do not believe there is an American-wide gay conspiracy that is played up in by Coral Ridge and some other conservative Christian organizations to generate fear.”

    “The American Church is guilty of generating her own fear. We must overcome this if we truly want to effect change. Until then, two things will continue to happen. Gays will die due to violence, and the gospel won’t be heard in the gay community.”

  10. Christine on October 15, 2005 at 12:34 am Reply

    Yes, I will say what many others have said (especially those of us who knew, or knew of Randy in those years–98/99). He’s completely changed. Maybe his orientation hasn’t changed, but in most other ways, I sure see evidence of “complete change”–and not in the direction of honestly and authenticity.

    I find it interesting what he says at the bottom of his Bridges-Across page: “Mel, Falwell, SoulForce, Exodus Movement, Michael Johnston, Focus, FRC … not me. Yes I will keep up with it and pipe in a penny’s worth of thought but let me love people. Let me write about them and I will be operating in my destiny.”

    It makes me sad to see his “change”. It’s almost hard to believe this is one of the Exodus poster boys now.

    Grantdale, thanks for the link to the cache of the letter.

  11. E on October 23, 2005 at 5:14 am Reply

    Yes, I will say what many others have said (especially those of us who knew, or knew of Randy in those years–98/99). He’s completely changed.

    Well, at least we now know what Exodus means when it says “change is possible”… 🙂

  12. Jay Wilson on June 10, 2007 at 2:27 pm Reply

    Exodus ministries around the world are characterized by compassion and love for the individuals involved. To characterize them any other way is to lie. There are always going to be individuals within every movement that stray from the original intent of that movement. (Not that many have in this movement-It’s actually pretty amazing) That is true today and it has been true for 2000 years of Christian History. If you are a believer than we must follow the words of Jesus and “so if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

  13. Anonymous on August 7, 2008 at 7:25 pm Reply

    Wow! As a young lesbian – I remember those days and the history of bashing gays. I will never forget – and I am very slow to forgive on this issue.

    Now being ex gay – I am still as angry. and yep, the conservative right has silenced people. for years and years I never spoke to anyone about changing – I could hardly stand “those” people and I was accepted by gays.

    Still, much has not changed today – 2008

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