This has been sitting in my outbox for days now. I’d hoped to write a longer item; instead, I will start this entry now, and extensively refine it later. Comments are welcome; they will help me refine the information.

Both Exodus’ media blog and Ted Olsen at Christianity Today point me to this Leadership Journal article by ex-gay therapist Mario Bergner. It’s worth reading for its message that some people like Bergner (obviously) find themselves more able to make responsible choices in behavior and ethics when they change their social identification or affiliation from one grouping to another.

Unfortunately, Bergner is uncharitable in his depiction of the alternatives. He neglects to acknowledge that many people benefit from changes in the opposite direction. He presumes to speak from a higher moral ground than gay people who adjust well to their sexual attractions and behave responsibly. And he presumes to decide who, or does not, qualify as Christian.

The Christianity Today article offers practical advice to Christians whose faith tenets require animosity and prejudgment against gay people. But it could do more to tell us about Bergner, who is a complicated and sometimes inconsistent individual.

Here are some factoids (which require refinement).

Exodus’ web site mentioned Bergner a couple years ago, noting he had worked with Leanne Payne for 16 years, and was a former actor and voice teacher.

Leanne Payne praises Bergner’s book, Setting Love In Order:

Leanne Payne says about Mario’s book, "There is not a book that better describes (and from the standpoint of one who has suffered intense confusion) what it means to come out of denial about what in fact one’s real problems are nor about how one’s defenses against evil and deprivation contribute to broken sexuality…"

According to a promotion for the book:

Even though they have distanced themselves from the male world, these boys crave the maleness they see lacking in themselves, says "Setting Love in Order," a 1995 book by the Rev. Mario Bergner, former homosexual activist who is now an Episcopal priest and founder of Redeemed Lives Ministries in Chicago.

"When a man fails to receive [fatherly love] during childhood, a deficit is written into his story line of gender identification," he writes.

"He may try to fill that deficit by a clinging, dependent attachment to another male. Or he may try to fill it through an expression of [erotic love], resulting in a homosexual neurosis."

Bergner and Payne’s views on the origins of sexual attraction do not seem to be widely respected by mainstream psychiatry or psychology, but the views do have a cluster of rather militant supporters within the ex-gay movement.

Bergner’s personal testimony in Christianity Today, and his clinical claims in "Setting Love in Order," contrast sharply with observations of Bergner’s spiritual practices, offered by Michael W. Cuneo in his book, American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty. Cuneo’s book recounts the history of exorcism in the United States.

Cuneo mentions Bergner in a three-page section. Amazon lists links to excerpts mentioning Bergner:

Here is an image of page 224, which introduces Bergner as he begins a spiritual ceremony that bears resemblances to exorcism. The account continues on page 225.

Cuneo describes Bergner in the book’s endnotes as a "gracious and compassionate man" — consistent with the article in Christianity Today.

But Bergner is not always gracious toward people whom he disagrees with. He stereotypes and insults the observations and religious authenticity of mainstream evangelicals — Richard Foster, Phillip Yancey, Tony Campolo and Lewis Smedes — who honestly acknowledge that sexual orientation is not very changeable. While the whole linked page by Bergner criticizes evangelicals, this quote in particular suggests a tendency to cast anyone who might disagree with him into an opposing warrior camp of infidels:

I typed in Lewis Smedes’ name on the search engine Google. I wanted to see if there were any direct quotations by him to confirm whether he is indeed in the same camp with Richard Foster. He is. In a June 14, 2000, article in the Presbyterian publication, The Layman ONLINE, Smedes is quoted as saying, "I have long believed that God embraces in his grace those Christian homosexuals who love the Savior, who without their choice are homosexual, and who are not capable of celibacy, but are trying, in committed love, to live the best life available to them." Smedes’ grace, like Yancey’s, doesn’t sound very amazing to me. It sounds like cheap grace; grace that costs very little. Certainly not the grace that cost Jesus his life. Certainly not the grace that requires costly discipleship.

And in an interview, Bergner:

  • Misstates success rates while accusing the experts of lying: "The big lie on campuses today is that homosexuality is unchangeable. Secular studies show that 65% of all attempts at changing homosexuality are successful. (See Satinover’s book)."
  • Favors culture war: "I would discourage Christians from partnering with those who call themselves ‘Gay Christians’ or with liberal Christians who are really simply modern-day Gnostics. We must simply refuse to join hands with those who are preaching another Gospel."

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