Revoice and Again I Say Revoice

Revoice is a new organization composed of people who seek “to encourage, support, and empower gay, lesbian, and other same-sex attracted Christians so they can experience the life-giving character of the historic, Christian sexual ethic.” The group encourages same-sex attracted people to be open about their orientation in traditional church but to remain celibate.

Despite the emphasis on celibacy, they are open about their experiences and they reject efforts to change orientation. They also openly describe themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

Revoice has scheduled a conference in late July that has generated some controversy, especially among those restless reformed folk who brought us the Nashville Statement.

A quick critic of the conference has emerged in Owen Strachan. In a post at the Center for Public Theology, Strachan begins with a case study of a divorced couple who parted ways over the husband’s homosexuality. He suggests that Revoice will teach things that lead to such divorces. Strachan then offers his own answers which he claims lead to hope.

The Rest of Many Stories

Strachan tells us that a person dealing with same-sex attraction is “not a special case.” He adds that the “key to victory in this area” is “understanding this, and rejecting the now-common spirit of victimhood.” Strachan assures the reader that Jesus is bigger than “any attraction, any lust, any unbiblical identity. ”

Without contesting his theological rhetoric at this point, I think it is only fair to offer some contrasting vignettes to his story. In fact, I suspect Revoice has emerged because the approach that Strachan advocates hasn’t worked very well. This is the practical problem for those who criticize Revoice. Despite the theological precision, there is a long history of damage which  cannot be denied.

Ex-Gay History

I have been researching and counseling same-sex attracted evangelicals since 1998. Initially, I defended reorientation therapy and ex-gay ministries. Yet, after much clinical experience and a reevaluation of the evidence, I changed my views. Here are just a few vignettes and points which should make Rev. Strachan reconsider his confident critique of Revoice. The men below once advocated an approach to victory over what they once considered sin which is very much like what Strachan wrote about in his critique of Revoice.

Michael Bussee

One of the founders of Exodus International, Michael Bussee and his eventual lover Gary Cooper left Exodus when they admitted to each other that they hadn’t changed orientation. They had been advised by their Christian ministry to believe God was giving them victory over their temptations but the victory never came.

John Paulk

The founder of Focus on the Family’s Love Won Out program, John Paulk was described by Christianity Today as the “poster boy” for the ex-gay movement. He was photographed in a gay bar while leading the movement and then after he left FOTF in 2003, he later divorced his wife Anne in 2013 and came out again as gay.

John Smid

John Smid was the director of Love in Action in Memphis TN, one of the flagship ministries of Exodus International. LIA was very much geared toward avoiding temptation, the appearance of evil, mortification of the flesh and generally following the kind of advice articulated by Strachen. However, sometime after Exodus closed down in 2013, Smid and his wife divorced and he later married a man.

Randy Thomas

Randy Thomas was for many years a leader in Exodus International and was Vice-President at the time it closed. Exodus rejected identity labels like gay or lesbian. While with Exodua, Thomas spoke to groups and exhorted them to victory over the flesh with slogans like “the opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality but holiness.” Five years after the closing of Exodus, Randy is out as bisexual and in a same-sex relationship.

I could go on. There are many such stories. I also know people who manage to adhere to their traditional views. Some go along with Strachan’s views whereas more lean toward Revoice’s approach.

Get Real

Like so many from the Exodus International era, Strachan throws out theological language which sounds hopeful in theory but doesn’t work out so well in practice when applied to LGBT people.  Comparing sexual orientation to greed or anger just shows how little one understands about the subject and the real people involved.

Strachan has every right to advocate for his theological understanding of sexual orientation. However, my objection is the rhetoric which promises victory, without defining what that means. When I read that Jesus is “bigger” than something, I think He is going to conquer it or take it away. When I read victory, I think actual winning.

Strachan then promises that his way is better than Revoice’s way. Reality and experience say otherwise. This is a real problem which he doesn’t confront. Maybe he doesn’t know enough GLBT people to know it is a problem. But it is definitely is a problem because in actual practice, real people infrequently get the results promised by the rhetoric used in the article.

Instead of criticizing his brothers and sisters, perhaps Strachan should work on making his own message a little clearer. Tell his readers that people rarely change and that there are just as many failures as he defines them using his method as use the others he dislikes. That would at least be more honest.

People who want to remain traditional in their actions have a hard enough time without being severely criticized by those who are, in many ways, ideologically similar. Indeed, it might be that exclusionary attitude that makes progressives look attractive.

New Sexual Reorientation Study Off to a Shaky Start; Michael Bailey's Brain Scan Offer is Still Good

After the closing of Exodus International, the wind went out of the sexual reorientation sails. In June of last year, former ex-gay organization Exodus International leader Alan Chambers said the movement was “gasping for air.”
However, a quiet breeze may be blowing still as demonstrated by a study being conducted by one of the luminaries of reparative therapy, Joseph Nicolosi and relative newcomer Carolyn Pela.  Nicolosi and Pela summarized their preliminary findings at a meeting of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies a year ago. Nicolosi described the study on his website:

Dr. Pela described the study as being longitudinal with a within-group repeated-measures design.  Their dependent variable was psychotherapy as conducted at Dr. Nicolosi’s Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic.  The independent variables were (1) well-being as operationalized by the Outcome Questionnaire 45 (OQ-45.2), a highly respected measure of psychotherapy process and outcome, and (2) separately assessed dimensions of sexual orientation, namely, thoughts, desires, behavior, and identity.  Data collected to date involved 102 male psychotherapy clients who presented with ambivalence, discomfort, or distress regarding their SSA.  Eighty-one participants had been involved in the study long enough to have well-being assessed and data on change were available from 56 participants at the time of the CAPS presentation.

I am pretty sure the dependent and independent variables are reversed in his description. The independent variable is what is manipulated in an experiment and the dependent variable is a measure of results (see this brief explanation). That problem aside, what did they find?

Findings from preliminary data collected over a 12 month period indicated statistically significant reductions in distress and improvements in well-being, significant movement toward heterosexual identity, and significant increases in heterosexual thoughts and desires with accompanying significant decreases in homosexual thoughts and desires.  Effect sizes for these changes were generally in the moderate range, which suggests they are robust and not likely to be statistical artifacts.  The findings did not discover significant change in heterosexual or homosexual kissing or sexual activity.  These findings appear to have been the result of very low base rates in these behaviors among study participants leading to floor effects and a subsequent lack of change, as it is not possible to change a behavior in which participants are not engaging.

To summarize, the participants were thinking straighter but not doing anything about it.
To me, this result is understandable. If one is in treatment with the stated goal to think more about heterosexual outcomes, then there would be strong motivation to produce those experiences when asked. However, the test for any actual change will be when therapy is over and the regular rehearsal of such ideas isn’t happening. The difference between process changes (how a client feels during therapy) and outcome changes (what remains after therapy is over) is often great. Reorientation therapy studies are filled with people who said they had changed during the study but then felt differently months or years later. Thus, follow up must be a key component of any therapy study.
It should be pointed out that this study isn’t a true experiment since there is no control group. There isn’t a way to test for the effect of the passing of time. Spontaneous fluidity has been reported and it isn’t clear without a control group that psychotherapy is responsible for any change that is reported (or to what degree the therapy is responsible). Without a long term follow up and a control group, this study won’t provide much more information than we already have.
Finally, if Nicoloso and Pela truly want a potent and believable pre and post measurement, they should take Northwestern University professor Michael Bailey’s offer to conduct brain scans of the participants. Some years ago, Bailey informed Nicolosi that he could bring his patients to the lab to test their automatic responses to erotic cues. Nicolosi never took him up on the offer. I recently asked Bailey if the offer was still good. He answered in the affirmative. Pre (or even mid) treatment scans compared with post-treatment scans would help to offset the lack of a control group.
 

Southern Baptist Seminary Leaders Reject Reparative Therapy

Let me just say that I opposed reparative therapy before it was cool to oppose it.
Yesterday, Al Mohler and others articulated their position against reparative therapy, also known as sexual orientation change efforts.
Atlantic has an article on Alan Chambers’ new book and chronicles the demise of the ex-gay movement from Alan’s point of view.
Essentially, Mohler and colleagues believe changing orientation is not the Christian goal. Rather, avoidance of same-sex sexual relations is the objective in the narrow sense, and more broadly, pursuit of a spiritual life is what Christians should seek. Some same-sex attracted people are bisexual and others sometimes fall in love cross-orientation to form a mixed orientation marriage.
Although it is dated, I have a page on reparative therapy which demonstrates my approach to the issues in the professional sense.

The Voice of the Voiceless (sic) Campaign: Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right

Subtitle: Conservatives Against Crazy Therapies #savethepillows (see video below).
Right wing website The College Fix misses the point in an article published last Friday (6/20).
The assumption on the part of Chris Doyle and author Claire Healey seems to be that incorrect information provided by college counseling or resource centers should lead to the addition of more incorrect information at those same centers. In other words, since LGBT centers say some things that might be inaccurate or can’t be proven, ex-gay supporters should be allowed to do the same thing.
This is not “right-minded” but rather wrong-headed.
Doyle can’t offer any evidence for his claims, and as his campaign shows, his group is hardly voiceless.
Conservatives should not react in a knee jerk fashion against what seems like viewpoint discrimination to simply offer what seems to be the opposite position (e.g., gay groups say gays can’t change, conservative groups then should support the notion that gays can change). What seems like the opposite position of the position you don’t like is not of necessity the correct one. In this case, it is true that research has not found a consensus around the causes of homosexuality. However, that does not mean that Doyle’s version of weak fathering and overbearing mothering is correct. In fact, that model doesn’t have support in research. There are many good empirical reasons to question that model for most gays.  Doyle’s therapy approach is based on that causal model which, in addition to the absence of any empirical support, opens it up to skepticism.
Two wrongs don’t create a “right-minded” stance and is a loser as a conservative position.
Chris Doyle’s mentor Richard Cohen in action:
[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtGouVqsmsg[/youtube]
Sorry, can’t imagine a college promoting this anti-science brand of ex-gay therapy but that is what Doyle’s IHF is known for.

From Change to Congruence: Evergreen International to Merge with North Star International

Box Turtle Bulletin points out today that Latter Day Saint ex-gay group Evergreen International is merging with North Star International, a group less focused on change of orientation and more geared to living in alignment with LDS teaching. This is a significant development in that North Star has not supported reparative therapy or efforts to change orientation. The merger will not change that approach, according to a statement on the North Star website:

Recognizing the uniqueness of individual circumstance, North Star reaffirms that, with the incorporation of the Evergreen organization, it will continue to take no official position on the origin or mutability of homosexual attractions or gender identity incongruence.

The English language Evergreen website is being “rebuilt” will eventually forward to the North Star site.*  The website now has a link to SameSexAttraction.org. SameSexAttraction.org is managed by Larry Richman’s Century Publishing company. Richman is the go to person for Latter Day Saint social media and web presence and was once chair of Evergreen’s board.
Apparently Evergreen International Director David Pruden will not make the switch but will remain at the helm of NARTH. I reached out to Pruden for comment but he did not return my email.
From my vantage point, it appears that the change paradigm has suffered another blow with this merger. Over the past decade, evangelical outreach to GLBT people has moved from trying to get gays to change to offering support to evangelical gays in their efforts to live in alignment with traditional teaching, what I have called the congruence paradigm. With this merger, it appears that LDS ministries are moving in the same direction.
*North Star president Ty Mansfield informed me that the Evergreen and SSAVoice websites will be owned by North Star and and will forward to their site.

Top Ten Posts in 2013

Here are the ten most visited pages on the blog for 2013. Two posts were written prior to 2013 but continue to be quite popular. I designate them in the list below by the year of publication.
1. On The Allegations of Plagiarism Against Mark Driscoll
2. Janet Mefferd Removes Evidence Relating to Charges of Plagiarism Against Mark Driscoll; Apologizes to Audience
3. Ingrid Schlueter Resigns from Janet Mefferd Show Over Mark Driscoll Plagiarism Controversy
4.  John Piper Calls Out Famous Guys (Like Mark Driscoll) on Ghostwriting
5. Was the National Rifle Association Started to Drive Out the KKK?
6. A Major Study of Child Abuse and Homosexuality Revisited (2009)
7. Mars Hill Church Alters Statement of Mark Driscoll Plagiarism Controversy
8. Narth Loses Tax Exempt Status
9. Mars Hill Sermon Series Battle Plan Reveals Source Behind Mark Driscoll’s Book on Peter
10. The Trail of Tears Remembered (2011)
Clearly, posts about the controversy surrounding Mark Driscoll and allegations of plagiarism and ghostwriting were popular. With Driscoll’s apology the attention left the issue, even though he did not address several other instances in other books. To some degree, he was probably also aided by Christmas break and the Duck Dynasty hullabaloo. I was surprised that the most popular post about David Barton was about his claim that the National Rifle Association was started to counter the KKK. There are so many other claims that are even more outrageous. As far as I can determine, donations to NARTH are still not deductible. The two posts from past years have consistently shown up on the top ten lists since they were published.
The move to Patheos has been smooth thanks to the great folks there and I want to thank readers for making the switch and welcome all the new readers here.

Headlines from Parallel Ex-Gay Universes

Two headlines from my email inbox:
Ex-Gay Movement, Alive, Strong, & Moving Forward!
Organizers Cancel ‘Ex-Gay Pride Month’ Citing Vague ‘Security Threats’
The first comes from the Illinois Family Institute and Linda Jernigan who puts on a brave front and offers her book for sale. The second comes from The Advocate and describes the cancellation of ex-gay pride month (or now “ex-gay half-month”).
From one point of view, things look rosy; from another, things are comically bad.
Just a word on the cancellation of the “ex-gay pride month:” For the cancellation to have any credibility, the organizers need to reveal the nature of the security concerns. I have a hard time believing Voice for the Voiceless would be voiceless about real concerns.
 

PATH Member PFOX Files Amicus Brief in the Prop 8 Case

Citing the “change is possible” mantra, PFOX has filed an amicus brief in the Prop 8 case arguing against marriage rights for gays. This is not surprising but I have some observations about their strategy.
In this brief, PFOX continues its odd logic of considering ex-gays to be a protected class while at the same time hoping to remove/prevent protected class status for gays. On page 4, the brief asserts:

Government authorities and other organizations recognize ex-gays as a group which undermines the assertion that sexual orientation is immutable.

The brief continues to cite dubious cases where PFOX claims that ex-gays are recognized as a protected class.
I have never understood why PFOX thinks this strategy helps them. Even if PFOX is correct about their interpretation of those cases, all of the organizations involved also recognize gays as a class. Furthermore, if ex-gays can be recognized as a protected class while they have a changeable sexual orientation, then the issue of mutability of sexual orientation is irrelevant. Taken to logical conclusion, this argument supports equal protection under the law for gays. Since ex-gays already have the right to marry, why shouldn’t gays?
Then, on page 6, PFOX unveils the list of sexual reorientation groups and includes Richard Cohen’s testimony. This makes it clear that the reparative therapists who say they just want to be able to work with unwanted SSA have taken their stand that they are about more than just a therapeutic approach.

Top Ten Posts in 2012

The ten 2012 posts with the most views are listed here.  These posts were all posted since the last top ten list in 2011. Some posts prior to 2012 received more views. However, here I am listing just those posts written from 12/28/11 to today.

The post with the most views in 2012 was written in 2011: The Trail of Tears Remembered. In fact that post about Trail of Tears is by far the most popular post of all time on my blog.

1.  Alan Chambers: 99.9% have not experienced a change in their orientation

2.  Monumental Question: Did Signers of the Declaration and Constitution Finance a Bible for Every American Family?

3.  Ron Paul touts endorsement of pastor who defends death penalty for gays, delinquent children & adultery

4.  My Response to David Barton

5.  Note to Kirk Cameron: If you don’t want a fight, then don’t start one

6.  Barton, Birther featured in Kirk Cameron’s new Monumental movie

7.  Kirk Cameron’s Monumental Revision of Thomas Jefferson

8.  Founders’ Bible Rewrites Exodus 18 to Fit Christian Nation Narrative

9.  Rick and Kay Warren condemn the denial of link between HIV and AIDS as promoted by the AFA’s Bryan Fischer

10. David Barton’s whitewash of Thomas Jefferson as a slave owner

Thanks for reading. Also thanks for the regular group of commenters who show up and support my fact checking efforts.

Desert Stream Ministries Outlines Differences with Exodus

In an email this morning, Andy Comiskey delineates the differences between Desert Stream Ministries and Exodus.  They are:

A different view of the consequences of sexual sin. Whereas Exodus believes that practicing ‘gay’ Christians may well inherit the Kingdom of heaven, we beg to differ. We believe that Christ followers must reckon with homosexual behavior as a serious betrayal of their humanity and spirituality, and repent of it in order to be assured of salvation.

A different expectation of change for same-sex strugglers. Though we agree with Exodus’ desire to more accurately define ‘change’ for those with SSA, Exodus now appears tentative and unclear as to the degree to which the same-sex attracted will experience change at all in their sexuality. We believe that Jesus brings change to every Christian with SSA who seeks Him whole-heartedly. He cannot help it. Jesus is our Creator and Redeemer who made us to represent Him in our gender and sexual selves. He places such a high premium upon sexual integrity that He acts incisively to redeem our sexual disintegration. Jesus frees every repentant heart to resume the journey toward wholeness.

A different theological anthropology. Desert Stream Ministries anchors our understanding of the ‘new creation’ in the truth that we are created in God’s image as male and female. That means that every same-sex struggler who follows Jesus is reconciled to his/her capacity to be a good offering to the opposite gender. We recognize that each soul differs in how they will live out that calling. Yet differing levels of progression in mature heterosexual relating don’t change one’s capability in Christ to resume that journey. Exodus advocates the noble goal of holiness, yet offers insufficient clarity as to what sexual wholeness means for those with SSA.

A different reliance upon reparative psychology. Exodus recently broke ties with ‘reparative therapy’, a broad school of thought developed by theorists and therapists who view same-sex attraction as a symptom of the breakdown in whole gender development. While Desert Stream Ministries is founded on theological, not psychological values, we rely upon reparative insights to understand what is blocked or missing in our souls. These keys help guide our pursuit of Jesus and His community to secure what we need in order to proceed onto wholeness.

A different reliance upon moral effort in becoming whole. Exodus appears to hold a comparatively passive understanding of sanctification; we believe that hard moral effort, inspired by grace, is essential in progressing into maturity. Our morality becomes beautiful as we engage actively in the spiritual and psychological disciplines that enable us to become mature Christians.

A different approach to ‘gay’ Christians. Exodus seems intent on building bridges with practicing ‘gay’ Christians. We believe that God wants only the best for all people, including practicing homosexuals. In His love, we fight for their repentance. However, we disagree with making peace with Christians who advocate homosexual practice; to us, these are false teachers who are guilty of leading others into darkness, an offense worse than Christians caught in sin who know it.

Many people outside of the evangelical world may see little distinction between Exodus and Restored Hope. However, as Comiskey’s note makes clear, the differences are large within this world.