True to its image as a more moderate voice in the evangelical community, Christianity Today has attempted to take a more nuanced approach in its coverage of Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse’s recently released ex-gay study. Although it ultimately fails in its attempt to provide truly balanced coverage, Christianity Today (CT) does nonetheless offer a less strident approach to the topic than most Christian media outlets in its article, An Older, Wiser Ex-Gay Movement.
The article, written by CT senior writer Tim Stafford, starts out promisingly enough:
Transformed ex-gay leaders are the best argument for their movement. Likewise, those who’ve left the ex-gay movement in despair and disgust are the best counterargument. The debate continued this June, when Exodus International held its 32nd annual conference in Irvine, California, featuring dozens of speakers and seminar leaders who have quit homosexuality. Down the road outside the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, a news conference featured three former Exodus leaders saying “ex-gay” is a delusion.
Unfortunately that’s the last readers will hear (aside from a brief reference to Exodus co-founder Michael Bussee) about former ex-gays, their experiences, what they actually have to say about the ex-gay movement or whether following the example of Christ might include caring about those who get left by the wayside. A companion article (The Best Research Yet) does mention in passing that one quarter of the survey participants dropped out of their programs over the course of the three-year study, but apparently those 25 “failures” are worth little more than a footnote.
(Stanton Jones has recently addressed questions regarding the 25 participants who dropped out of the survey, but Jones and Yarhouse appear to be the only ones in evangelical circles who care about them.)
Stafford does acknowledge some of the study’s shortcomings – small sample size, inclusion of only highly motivated participants, the limited degree of change experienced by those in the “Success: Conversion” category – but critics of the study are summarily dismissed due to their “firm ideological commitments” even as supporters are characterized by their sincerity and godliness. Those looking for an in-depth review of the study are left to search for it outside of the evangelical press.
Stafford’s main article, which includes a brief history of the ex-gay movement, offers the following summary of Exodus in 2007:
No hype. Limited faith in techniques. No gay bashing. No detectable triumphalism, religious or political. Just serious discipleship.
Readers are therefore left with the impression that Exodus is focused entirely on ministry to Christian strugglers, with no other focus or agenda. No mention is made in either article about Exodus’ heavy (and growing) involvement in the political arena, or how that shift toward political activism corresponded with Focus on the Family’s sudden decision to embrace ex-gay ministry in the late ‘90s. (Regarding FotF’s change of heart, Alan Medinger is quoted as saying, “I still don’t know why.” No further inquiries are made.)
Informed only by these two articles, readers will be prone to unquestioningly accept Jones and Yarhouse’s claim that their only goal through their study is:
respect for “the autonomy of individuals who, because of their personal values, religious or not, desire to seek change of their sexual orientation as well as those who desire to affirm and consolidate their sexual orientation.”
Those familiar with the way that ex-gay testimonies get trotted out and used as political weapons whenever any issue of gay rights makes it into the public eye will view such a claim with well-earned skepticism. Whether or not Jones and Yarhouse are sincerely interested in nothing more than this stated goal, past experience leaves us with little reason to doubt that this study will be wielded like a club by political crusaders for years to come.
The many Christians who rely on Christianity Today to tell them the whole story are likely to come away with the impression that there’s no reason to seriously consider anything that anyone who doesn’t fully agree with Exodus on the issue of homosexuality might have to say. While Stafford’s articles highlight the growth that has taken place in the way evangelicals approach this issue, they also show just how far short evangelical activists still fall when it comes to the objectivity they claim for their positions, and how far the evangelical church has to go in learning how to respect those with differing opinions.