Eve Tushnet makes an interesting observation in her recent article in the National Review:

During the entire nine hours of the conference, none of the speakers I heard discussed how to live chastely while experiencing same-sex attractions. The focus was entirely on the goal of switching sexual orientations.

Mike Haley, the director of gender issues for Focus on the Family and probably the speaker at the conference with whom I disagreed least, told me afterward that one small-group session had discussed chastity. “We don’t want people to believe that change means you have to be married and have to have kids,” he said, and then added, “The opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality, the opposite of homosexuality is holiness. We’re not trying to create people from homosexual to heterosexual.” These statements don’t line up with what I heard at the conference; but it’s much easier to be nuanced in one-on-one conversations than in lectures to big audiences.

When I spoke to Martin Hallett of True Freedom Trust recently, he expressed exactly the same concern. He severed the organization’s ties to Exodus precisely because of the rhetoric, which he said was “setting people up for disillusionment”. Martin seems to distrust promises of a change of orientation, and tends to promote celibacy as the main option for gay Christians. Tushnet’s sentiments echo quite strikingly something Martin said, which was that most ex-gays he spoke to directly in the States shared his views about celibacy – but the views they privately expressed did not match up with the tone of Exodus’s rhetoric in public.

The same week I spoke to Martin, I also spoke to a charismatic pastor whose ex-gay ministry was based on the LIFE ministry of Ron and Joanne Highley, and promoted a 100-percent reversal of sexual orientation. I was taken aback by the boldness of his claims in our first telephone conversation. The following day, after he had read a draft of what I had written about him, he was, frankly, livid at the way I had represented him. The conversation went something like this:

“You make the church sound like a marriage machine!”
“Well, I’ve got to be honest – that was the impression you gave.”
“And when you quote me as saying homosexuality is a disorder…”
“Well, you did say it was a disorder.”
“Yeah, but what I meant was, it’s more like a disordering of desires. And when you quote me saying we’ll tolerate gays as long as they’re seeking counselling to change, well, that word, ‘tolerate’, it makes me sound bigoted…”
“It’s the word you used and yeah, I did think at the time, Hmm, that sounds kind of, um, intolerant.”

I went away from our first conversation with the impression there were gays turning straight and getting married left, right and centre. In our second conversation, there was a lot more uhmming and ahhing, and I think I came away with a more nuanced view of what was really happening. My feeling was that I had caught the pastor offguard on my first phone call. He brashly made a few claims (and when I say brashly, don’t picture some hotshot, slick, suited megachurch pastor here – in every other respect, we’re talking a very down-to-earth kind of guy) without really thinking about the impression he was putting across.

I’m not saying the guy was being deliberately deceptive – far from it. In my days as a charismatic I found it was quite common for people to exaggerate what God was “doing”. “I prayed before I went to bed, and when I woke up this morning, my headache felt quite a bit better,” could easily become “The Lord miraculously delivered me from a migraine,” when later related during testimony time. No deliberate deception involved, just a culture that too easily couches its stories in exaggerated and misleading terms.

It will be better for all of us when the ex-gay movement loses its culture of exaggerated claims and starts to match its public image with the private reality.

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