Exchange, the ex-gay ministry of an Assemblies of God Church in Winter Park, FL which seats about 5,000, was profiled in New Man Magazine, a Christian publication for men. The reporter visited one of Exchange’s weekly Monday night meetings and observed the leader John Wallcott and the 15 or so attendees.
Although a love-letter to ex-gay efforts, this article provides insight into the functioning and methods of Exodus ministries and has both similarities and sharp contrasts to the propaganda and claims of the national organization and its leaders. In particular, I noticed:
Language – the reporter was astute enough to notice that ex-gay ministries use language in a manner other than does both the gay community and the church as a whole. This redefinition of words is one aspect of the ex-gay movement that I find most troubling as it serves both to create false impressions among participants and to deceive for the purpose of achieving political gain.
Just as those who are openly gay have a vocabulary all their own, the vocabulary at groups such as Exchange is specific to those in the ex-gay community. Instead of “gay,” the wording is more specific to those who have come out of the gay lifestyle: they talk of “gay tendencies” or the struggle with “same-sex attraction.”
Occasionally there is talk about a Christian with gay tendencies who “acts out” or “falls,” which, more bluntly, means they had sexual intercourse with another man.
Identity – it seems that there is an increasing emphasis on the part of Exodus on self-labeling and identity. Alan Chambers has said more than once that a gay identity is sinful and much of Exodus’ rhetoric contrasts being gay with identity as a Christian. In the article, Randy Thomas, the communications director at Exodus International said, “When people can find their identity in God and not homosexuality, all their relationships shift, producing fruit–including healthy heterosexual relationships.” However, the ministry itself did not – as best could be determined from the article – emphasize the sinfulness of identity.
Gay Lifestyle – As seems consistent throughout all ex-gay ministries and in all levels, there was quite a bit of emphasis put on “the gay lifestyle”.
“We all have a choice,” Westcott tells the men who attend Exchange. “With Christ’s help we can make the right personal choices. We have to choose life in Christ over a gay lifestyle.”
“I was very fortunate to have great relationships right after I became a Christian,” Westcott says. “It is because of those relationships that I walked away from the gay lifestyle as quickly as I did.”
This language seems to lack a meaning, at least in the context of Exchange. Westcott, himself, left a seven year committed relationship to become ex-gay. Yet Westcott describes this as a “gay lifestyle”.
Cafeteria “Causes” – Exodus is insistent upon the causes of homosexuality, though there is little to nothing to support their proclamations other than blind belief. And these are taught at Exchange as factual.
“There are many root causes [for homosexuality],” Westcott says. “But some of the common denominators are: A breakdown in a same-sex parent relationship, not relating to other male peers, an early exposure to sexuality and sexual abuse.”
And if someone clearly does not fit the model, it is all explained away by bad fathering. Rick, an Exchange participant, is a prime example
Rick says he never decided logically as a teenager to become a homosexual. Instead, he felt attracted to the same sex when he was only in elementary school.
“In my mind, it was something like a crush,” he says.
He grew up in a Christian home and accepted Christ as a boy–about the same time he first started feeling an attraction to other men. His parents never abused him physically. No one sexually abused him. But he never connected with his father and instead went to his mother with questions and needs.
He takes issue with those who say that being gay is all about genetics. He insists he wasn’t “born gay,” but because of a faulty relationship with his father, his sexual identity was thrown off-kilter at a young age.
“More than anything, I think it was a longing to be loved and accepted by another guy,” he says.
Role Models – Every ex-gay ministry I’ve come across places great importance on personal testimonies. Often these testimonies will be out-dated failures (such as Michael Johnston), will leave out relevant information (such as Alan Chamber’s extremely delayed marriage consummation), or ignore the obvious questions. The article follows the latter pattern.
“I just celebrated 12 years of coming out of the lifestyle on July 23,” says Randy Thomas of Exodus International. “And Exodus has been around for 30 years. For him to say that is to deny an entire group of people.”
New Man fails to notice that Randy had spent 12 years without a romantic relationship of any sort and has only recently begun dating.
A Lack of Tangible Success – Although Alan Chambers claims hundreds of thousands who “walk away from homosexuality”, this article provides a more realistic story.
At an Exchange meeting, Westcott asks some of the men how their weeks have been. Some refuse to answer, others say, “Fine,” and stare at the floor.
“Fine?” Westcott asks. “Fine is the Christian ‘F’ word. How are we really doing?”
After some of the guys confess that they haven’t stayed accountable that week, he reminds them why they meet in the first place.
Politics – While a political (and often partisan) agenda seems to be the primary function of Exodus International, it seems missing from story about the local ministry.
This article demonstrates that Exodus and its member affiliates are very different entities. And Exodus does not fare well by the comparison.
I do not share Exchange’s beliefs about homosexuality, sin, or God’s judgment of same-sex relationships. But I do feel compassion for the men in this article. Clearly they are at war with themselves. And I really don’t know what the answer is for them.
Many will never be able to accept their orientation, yet feel compelled to act out sexually in anonymous encounters. And while behaving in a way that they find unacceptable and lacking the contacts, network, and information available from gay-supportive sources, they may engage in behaviors that are unsafe or destructive. I truly don’t know whether these sort of weekly meetings enable a cycle of destructive thinking or if they provide the only source for self-control that some participants need.
Others may be able in time to pass through this process into one of self acceptance. And many former ex-gays have said that ex-gay ministries helped resolve issues they had with compulsive or destructive behaviors or helped them finding a closer relationship with God.
Ultimately it is up to each participant to find their own path to peace. But I believe Exodus does a great disservice to the men in the room on Monday nights at Calvary Assembly of God when they spend their resources on politics and on perpetuating myths about a “lifestyle” or the “evils” of “homosexual activists”. This article shows such suffering and it is beyond me how Exodus can look away and spend its significant resources on lobbying legislators and making anti-gay statements to Christian news media.