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