XGW reader Norm notes that John Paulk is no longer listed on the staff of Portland Fellowship. And the Fellowship’s founder, Phil Hobizal, remains on a leave of absence due to “an unhealthy emotionally entangled relationship” mentioned in the Fellowship’s April 2003 newsletter.

These issues are overlooked in a new feature article by the Portland, Ore., weekly Willamette Week Online.

Update: John Paulk notes below that he is attending graduate school full-time. Thanks for the update, John; good luck in your studies.

The article’s coverage of ministry assistant Drew Berryessa and executive director Jason Thompson is fair and insightful. But it only goes so far.

Berryessa states that he is free of “lust” for other men. Fair enough. But then Berryessa redefines the word “gay” in order to claim that “he was never really ‘gay.’ In fact, he explains, nobody is gay.”

“I don’t believe homosexuality is natural,” he says. “I believe that I had an unhealthy need for male intimacy that formed during my childhood, and that was how it was being met.”

Berryessa seems to overgeneralize somewhat, from his own experience to that of other same-sex-attracted men. And if ex-gay men don’t succeed at change, Berryessa is said to believe, then they just don’t want it badly enough. Berryessa’s demands upon ministry participants appear to be unrealistic.

The article oddly asserts (emphasis mine), “But the Fellowship’s view that gayness is a matter of choice undercuts the very argument in support of gay marriage: that gayness is immutable, like race, and homosexuals therefore deserve every right heterosexuals have.” But there are many arguments in favor of gay marriage, not just one. And the article offers no examples linking the immutability strawman to the arguments of gay-marriage proponents.

Fortunately, Portland Fellowship executive director is at least somewhat tolerant of gay people.

“I’d never argue with someone who believes they were born gay and is happy with it,” says Thompson, who has been with the ministry almost since its founding in 1988. “I say, ‘Great, have a nice gay life.'”

But the article does not ask Thompson whether he favors or opposes antigay discrimination in housing, employment, government services, or political or religious office.

Thompson and Berryessa confirm that the ex-gay movement tends to attract fatherless men and sexual-abuse victims, but they seem to assume the men in their care are representative of gays in general. Have they forgotten Fellowship founder Phil Hobizal’s statement to Baptist Press in 1997 that sexual orientation cannot be traced to just a couple of root factors such as an absent father or sexual abuse?

When asked about success rates, Thompson seems to temper Berryessa’s assertion that complete change is possible.

Thompson doesn’t like to talk about success rates, because he says making somebody completely un-gay isn’t the point of Portland Fellowship.

On page three of the article, a psychologist, a sex therapist, and a former ex-gay are finally given an opportunity to question some of the Fellowship’s claims.

Critics are not the only ones blunting Berryessa’s optimism. From a video of ex-gay Sy Rogers, in a video shown at a Portland Fellowship meeting:

“God’s goal is not to make you into a heterosexual,” he exhorts. “You will struggle until the grave.”

Berryessa and Thompson are honest up to a point: Both acknowledge they experience little sexual attraction toward women other than their wives.

Asexuality will be unappealing to some readers, but it sounds honest to me. That honesty, and an emphasis on ministry (not politics), set the Portland Fellowship apart from some of its more famous brother/sister ex-gay organizations.

Addendum: As Norm Birthmark notes below, the Fellowship owes its clients quality treatment. Quality of service cannot be ensured by an organization unless it tracks success and failure rates and changes ineffective or harmful approaches.

Nevertheless, I appreciate Berryessa and Thompson’s eventual honesty about the limited degree of change achieved. At some point, I would like to hear more from them about their views on sexual attraction as it relates to traditional marriage: How important is eroticism, in a marriage? Can marriages do well without significant sexual attraction? (After all, arranged marriages were not dependent on it.)

I also would enjoy any elaboration of their views on the origin(s) of sexual orientation in different people, the extent to which gay-affirming people should be included or excluded in the Church, the extent to which they work to stop bullying in public or private schools, and the extent to which they oppose support or oppose antigay discrimination.

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