The October 23, 2008 Denver Post featured an article about Focus on the Family’s Love Won Out roadshow, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this weekend in Colorado Springs. The article itself is well-balanced, featuring counterpoints from ex-gay survivors Peterson Toscano and Christine Bakke alongside the usual talking points from LWO spokespersons. Unfortunately little is done to directly examine LWO’s claims, which can seem more impressive on first glance than they really are.
According to the article, “Focus says more than 50,000 gay people and family members have attended 52 conferences around the country in the past decade.” Casual readers might assume from that statement that gays and lesbians constitute a significant percentage of those participants, when in fact the vast majority of LWO attendees are heterosexual, as Box Turtle Bulletin’s Jim Burroway learned when he attended the Phoenix conference in 2007.
Melissa Fryrear was more candid about LWO’s target audience: “We’re ministering to Christian families. They are devastated when a loved one is living homosexually. They can’t condone what falls outside biblical truth.” As always, “living homosexually” (like its rhetorical sibling “the gay lifestyle”) is left undefined, and “biblical truth” as defined by Focus on the Family is assumed to be something so clearly delineated in the Bible that no disagreement is possible.
Perhaps the most interesting statement in the article comes from Focus on the Family’s founder, James Dobson: “Dobson said there are more than 800 known former gay and lesbian individuals who have found ‘wholeness in their newfound heterosexuality.’” While Dobson gives no indication of where this number came from, it does seem to be considerably more realistic than the “tens of thousands” or “hundreds of thousands” (or even “millions”) of successful ex-gays that Exodus spokespersons often claim exist.
Even 800 may be a bit high, given the difficulty that Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse had in rounding up 100 participants for their ex-gay survey, and given the low success rate reported within this highly motivated group.
In any case 800 is hardly an impressive number, considering that the ex-gay movement has been around for more than three decades with over a hundred ministries (and an unknown number of private counselors) currently available to help those seeking to become straight. And Dobson’s statement further confirms what many Exodus and LWO spokespersons have begun denying in recent years, that heterosexuality is indeed the goal of most ex-gay programs.
Left unspoken, even by Dobson, is whether those 800 have become fully heterosexual, or whether their newfound change is “ambiguous, complicated, conflicted, and incomplete.” But then, being up front about such details would hardly help LWO’s sales pitch; the switch is best held in reserve until after the bait has been taken.