Chasing the Devil and International Healing Foundation

John Sterback seems like a really nice man. Mr. Sterback is featured prominently in Chasing the Devil: Inside the Ex-gay Movement. He is affiliated with Richard Cohen’s International Healing Foundation in ways that are somewhat vague. He apparently is training to be a certified sexual reorientation coach via IHF. At the end of this clip Mr. Sterback say he does not believe Mr. Cohen or anyone to be “completely healed.”
Along with commentary from Mr. Sterback, this documentary features interviews with IHF Director, Richard Cohen. Cohen begins the video with a cooperative spirit but ends with him walking off camera.

Chasing the Devil: Inside the Ex-gay Movement… by Psychvideos
More information about the documentary can be found at the Coquizen Entertainment. While some of this will be quite uncomfortable for some viewers, the interviews are very informative for anyone interested in the ex-gay movement. Although the video is not done as an ex-gay apologetic piece, it does reveal the frequently heard conflict between homosexuality and religion. Particularly, in the cases of Jonah (Arthur Goldberg is interviewed extensively as well), and David Matheson (Journey into Manhood), religious conflict is a major driver of the desire and even the reality to move away from a gay identification. The video does not make light of this struggle and allows the people involved to speak.
In the case of the interview above, Mr. Cohen was asked about his expulsion from the American Counseling Association, bioenergetics and various IHF practices. These topics were clearly uncomfortable for Mr. Cohen.

Year in review: Top ten stories of 2008

As in year’s past, I have enjoyed reviewing the posts from the year and coming up with the top ten stories.

1. Cancelation of the American Psychiatric Association symposium – Amidst threat of protests, the APA pressed to halt a scheduled symposium dedicated to sexual identity therapy and religious affiliation. Whipped up by a factually inaccurate article in the Gay City News, gay activists persuaded the APA leadership to pressure symposium organizers to pull the program. Gay City News later ran a correction.

2. The other APA, the American Psychological Association, released a task force report on abortion and mental health consequences. Basing their conclusions on only one study, the APA surprised no one by claiming abortion had no more adverse impact on mental health than carrying a child to delivery. I revealed here that the APA had secretly formed this task force after a series of research reports in late 2005 found links between abortion and adverse mental health consequences for some women. New research confirms that concern is warranted.

3. Golden Rule Pledge – In the wake of Sally Kern saying homosexuality was a greater threat to the nation than terrorism, I initiated the Golden Rule Pledge which took place surrounding the Day of Silence and the Day of Truth. Many conservative groups were calling for Christian students to stay home. This did not strike me as an effective faith-centered response. The Golden Rule Pledge generated some controversy as well as approval by a small group of evangelicals (e.g., Bob Stith) and gay leaders (e.g., Eliza Byard). Some students taking part in the various events were positively impacted by their experience.

4. Exodus considers new direction for ministry – At a leadership training workshop early in 2008, Wendy Gritter proposed a new paradigm for sexual identity ministry. Her presentation was provocative in the sense that it generated much discussion and consideration, especially among readers here. It remains to be seen if Exodus will continue to move away from a change/reparative therapy focus to a fidelity/congruence ministry focus.

5. New research clarifies sexual orienatation causal factors – A twin study and a study of brain symmetry, both from Sweden and a large U.S. study shed some light on causal factors in sexual orientation.

6. Letter to the American Counseling Association requesting clarification of its policies concerning counseling same-sex attracted evangelicals. Co-signed by over 600 counselors (many of whom were referred by the American Association of Christian Counselors), I wrote a letter to the ACA requesting clarification regarding how counselors should work with evangelicals who do not wish to affirm homosexual behavior. The current policy is confusing and gives no guidance in such cases. Then President Brian Canfield replied affirming the clients self-determination in such cases. He referred the matter back to the ACA ethics committee. To date, that committee has not responded.

7. Paul Cameron’s work resurfaces and then is refuted – Insure.com resurrected Paul Cameron’s work in an article on their website about gay lifespans. The article was later altered to reflect more on HIV/AIDS than on homosexual orientation. Later this year, Morten Frisch produced a study which directly addressed Cameron’s methods.

8. Mankind Project unravels – This year I posted often regarding the Mankind Project and New Warriors Training Adventure. Recently, I reported that MKP is in some financial and organizational disarray.

9. Debunking of false claims about Sarah Palin’s record on support for social programs – I had lots of fun tracking down several false claims made about Sarah Palin during the election. Her opponents willfully distorted her real record to paint her as a hypocrite. I learned much more about Alaska’s state budget than I ever wanted to know but found that most claims of program cuts were actually raises in funding which not quite as much as the agencies requested. However, overall funding for such programs increased.

10. During the stretch run of the election, I became quite interested in various aspects of the race. As noted above, I spent some time examining claims surround Sarah Palin’s record. I also did a series on President-elect Obama’s record on housing, including an interview with one of Barack Obama’s former constituents.

I know, I know, number 10 is an understatement. (Exhibit A)

Happy New Year!

Top ten posts by number of comments and page views – 2008

Time to wrap up 2008 with a review of the stories told and topics covered. I also will give the top ten posts based on page views.
By far the election was the broad topic which generated the most page views. Aside from the Berg vs. Obama thread, readers prefer to comment on the sexual identity related posts. As in past years, I will pick out my top ten themes in a later post.
Top ten by number of comments (fluctuation should be minimal since most of these threads are quiet now)
1. Berg vs Obama: Response to Supreme Court due December 1 (796)
2. New study casts doubt on older brother hypothesis and reparative drive theory (460)
3. Gay City News prints letter clarifying sexual identity therapy (282)
4. New Direction for Exodus? (277)
5. Day of the Golden Rule? (264)
6. Sally Kern: What should she do? (248)
7. Study examines brain differences related to sexual orientation (239)
8. Multiple factors involved in sexual orientation, part 2 (221)
9. Sexual orientation theorizing: Is change possible? (219)
10. 60 Minutes Science of Sexual Orientation: An update from the mother of twins (217)
Top ten by page views are:
1. Berg vs Obama: Response to Supreme Court due December 1
2. Hey Florida, is this ok with you?
3. Ohio plumber Joe Wurzelbacher talks about his dialogue with Obama and spreading the wealth
4. Berg vs. Obama: Update and current status
5. Michelle Obama likes upscale clothes too
6. Donofrio vs. Wells: NJ Obama citizenship case slated for SCOTUS conference
7. What Might Have Been – The Man Who Could Have Reversed Roe v. Wade, Part two
8. Some light on Sarah Palin’s church affiliation
9. Did Barack Obama vote to withhold treatment to infants surviving abortion?
10. Day of Silence and Golden Rule Pledge on Appalachian State University
The top post has been viewed over 15,000 times with the other posts gradually decreasing from there. These numbers are constantly changing.

Now Obama is a bigot?

We are most likely at an impasse of sorts in the culture. The Rick Warren prayer is the kind of event which brings into bold relief the issues which divide. We have discussed on this blog before whether or not the gay-evangelical divide is a zero-sum situation — for one side to prevail, the other side must be defeated. John Cloud at Time magazine gives me evidence to think the divide continues to be wide. About Barack Obama, he writes:

Obama has proved himself repeatedly to be a very tolerant, very rational-sounding sort of bigot. He is far too careful and measured a man to say anything about body parts fitting together or marriage being reserved for the nonpedophilic, but all the same, he opposes equality for gay people when it comes to the basic recognition of their relationships.

John Cloud here redefines bigot. Bigot means someone who is intolerant of others opinions and actions. Seemingly unaware of the contradiction, Cloud calls Obama a “very tolerant sort of bigot.”
I am thinking out loud here, but I wonder if the impasse comes down to beliefs and how these are properly lived out in a democracy. I don’t think it is about “being” gay/straight or being wired to experience opposite- or same-sex attraction. I say this because one may experience same-sex attraction and find that experience something unacceptable for reasons of morality, or for more pragmatic reasons. One may not value some impulses which rightly or wrongly are believed to lead to undesireable consequences. Thus, the divide may be more about ideology than ontology.
If I am right about the basic difference being ideological, then how do we regard people who disagree with us on matters of belief? Do we call them bigots? Do we say you disagree with me so you hate me and all that I am? Let’s leave “do” and go to “should.” Should conservatives say to liberals, you are bigots because you disagree with my beliefs? I do not think so. When John Cloud (who in my contacts with him seems quite tolerant of those who he apparently considers bigots) calls Barack Obama a bigot, does he not invite the same treatment? John you are a tolerant sort of bigot, I might say, when you come to an Exodus conference and converse cordially with the ex-gays.
In the newspeak, bigot means someone who disagrees with me. I doubt this will be good.

International Healing Foundation releases infomercial; ready to heal the world

Richard Cohen’s International Healing Foundation has released an infomercial describing their services and claims. Roll the tape…

In the video, he features his three part program designed to help people go straight, help their kids go straight, and help their clients go straight. He thinks pretty highly of these resources as is apparent in his Fall, 2008 newsletter:

WE HAVE THE ANSWERS
I am proud to announce that I have completed 21 years in public service and ministry. God called me in June 1987 to reach out and help those with unwanted SSA and their loved ones, and to spread the truth throughout the world that no one is born this way, no one chooses to have SSA, and that change is possible. I have been faithful and even more so, successful in helping thousands change their orientation and parents reconcile with their SSA loved ones. Furthermore, I have trained and educated thousands of professionals, equipping them with a systematic approach to helping SSA strugglers and their families. The International Healing Foundation (IHF) is the first organization in the world to create three landmark proven successful protocols:
Coming Out Straight–book and CD/MP3 series
Gay Children, Straight Parents–book and CD/MP3 series
Counselor Training Program–manual and CD/MP3 series
These are our three Olympic Gold Medals to help heal the world! I spent a lifetime preparing and training for this moment. I fought my way out of homosexuality. Against all odds I came out straight! That was indeed a miracle of God.

And you can have this miracle too if you sign up for the three Gold Medals. The world could use a little healing but I am skeptical it will come through IHF.
Richard has big plans for 2009. In his newsletter, he details them. Here is perhaps the most ambitious:

Loving Gays the Right Way: Exposing the Homosexual Myth is the title of a new book that I will write next year. Please read more about this in the 2009 Goals and Projects section. Together we can make a difference, saving one life at a time. Thank you for all your support this year and please contribute generously and/or purchase multiple copies of our books and CD series to donate to public and church libraries. For a contribution of $40 or more, we’ll send you a complimentary copy of the school DVD upon its completion.

He also wants to produce a video for schools which he mentions in the last line.

Over the past year I have shared about our ambitious project to create a film for use in public schools. This year we have already filmed two powerful stories of change—one youngman and his parents from the Midwest, and another from the East Coast. We will film a young woman either by the end of this year, or the beginning of 2009. Each of thesemen and woman came out of homosexuality! Their stories are powerful and will speak directly to our young people in public schools that they do have a choice—either to live a gay life, or to seek change and come out straight. We will promote true tolerance, real diversity, and equality for all!

Richard appears to have a love-hate relationship with the media. He seems to love being involved in it but it has not always been friendly to him. In the latter category is his appearance on the recent documentary, Chasing the Devil. In it he walks off camera twice when asked difficult questions about asking clients to raise money for IHF and his practice of bioenergetics. In a future post, I will review that video.

PFOX says, "Me too!"

New readers of my blog might wonder why politics isn’t in the tag line of my blog. Prior to the last couple of months, I focused on the issues of life, sexuality and mental health. And I will continue to do that, although I have taken a bit of a detour into the political. At heart, as a personal blog, this forum reflects my interests and preoccupations which right now is the presidential race and related issues. I plan a post or two on the non-political this week along with my series on Obama’s housing record.
I think I will start now…
I am late to this party but Parents and Friends of Ex-gays and Gays (PFOX) recently sued the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights asking for special protection for ex-gays. From the news release:

WASHINGTON, Oct. 14 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX) is suing the Washington DC Office of Human Rights for failing to protect former homosexuals under its sexual orientation anti-discrimination law. “The ex-gay community is the most bullied and maligned group in America, yet they are not protected by sexual orientation non-discrimination laws,” said Regina Griggs, PFOX executive director.
The DC Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on “sexual preference,” “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “gender expression.” The Office of Human Rights maintains that homosexuals, bisexuals, transgenders, and cross-dressers qualify for protection under this Act, but ex-gays do not. PFOX’s lawsuit asks the DC Superior Court to direct the Office to include former homosexuals under the sexual orientation law. “Shouldn’t ex-gays enjoy the same legal protections that gays enjoy?” asked Griggs.

The action appears to me to be primarily about publicity using Obama as the hook (read the whole news release – can’t get away from it). As the news release notes, Washington DC prohibits discrimination based on “sexual preference” and “sexual orientation.” So ex-gays, even if not considered a special suspect class, would be covered because of their sexual preference. If someone really was dismissed from a job after disclosing ex-gay beliefs, the statute might also be applied due to belief/religious discrimination.
Having been involved with this group in years past, I can tell you that, in my opinion, this is an effort to use the language of civil rights to gain publicity.

Exodus makes new policy statement regarding holding therapy and IHF

Recently, questions have been raised on various blogs about connections between Exodus International and Richard Cohen. Initially,Exgaywatch noted that a statement regarding distance from Mr. Cohen’s methods had been removed from their website and that Janelle Hallman, on the Exodus Speaker’s Bureau, recommends the International Healing Foundation on her website. Then XGW received a statement from Hilde Wiemann, saying that Mr. Cohen and the leadership of Exodus had met and made peace.
In response to my inquiry, today, Alan Chambers, Executive Director of Exodus, alerted me that a revised policy statement has been posted on the organization’s website. It reads:

Holding/Touch Therapy
Exodus International is opposed to the therapeutic practice commonly referred to as “holding/touch therapy” as a healing exercise for those with same-sex attraction distress. Accordingly, Exodus does not endorse the work of Richard Cohen, the methods utilized by the International Healing Foundation or any other individual or organization that is known to use that method.

The former statement is here and was made in light of television appearances of Mr. Cohen demonstrating his work.
Via this broader statement, the policy regarding holding/touch therapy could probably be applied to such groups as Journey into Manhood and the Mankind Project, where various processes involve paternalistic holding/cuddling of clients.

Mankind Project – Calling all spirits

I have started a page devoted to the Mankind Project on the blog. The initial topic is the practice of calling in spirits which opens weekly the Integration Groups (I-Groups). This practice is an aspect of creating sacred ritual space for the various processes (Guts Work, etc.) that take place in these meetings. Like many pagan and earth spirituality rituals, the I-Groups begin with casting a circle of sacred ritual space. Then an invocation is given to call in the spirits of the directions (Calling in the 7 Directions – east, west, north, south, up, down and within) and any other spirits that may be important (grandfathers, etc.).
I suspect for some of the initiates, this is regarded as a formality with no thought that any real spirits are being or even could be summoned. However, in reading stories and accounts written by MKP writers and leaders, it seems to me that some of them take this more literally. In any event, given that Christian ex-gay groups continue to recommend MKP and NWTA, and given that MKP are secretive about these practices, I want to provide this information for people in order to make an informed decision about participation. A work in progress, I will add to the page as I get new information.

Abeo: Ex-gay in the UK?

The Irish Iris Robinson controversy appears to have quieted down somewhat. I noted last week that Northern Ireland’s “first lady” entered controversial waters by declaring homosexuality an abomination, with subsequent embellishments. Mrs. Robinson further recommended therapy for gays to change via a psychiatrist, Paul Miller, who advises Mrs. Robinson on health matters.

As noted in my initial post on this topic, I wrote to Paul Miller to ask him if he endorsed the bioenergetics techniques of Richard Cohen. This was a relevant question since Dr. Miller organized a training led by Mr. Cohen in November, 2007. Dr. Miller did not directly answer that question but instead referred me to the website of his organization – Abeo. What is Abeo?

ABEO is an umbrella organization, set up by Dr Paul Miller, of like-minded mental health professionals who want people to be all that they can be; so that they may experience deeper joy in their lives. Our tag-line, ‘joy through change’ captures the heart of this vision.

What does ABEO mean?
ABEO in Latin means, ‘to pass away’ or ‘to come to an end’, but in Nigerian it means ‘my arrival brings joy’. By taking this name we want to show that our mission is to show that all of us experience pain of different sorts, however, when faced with issues that bring pain into our lives we can be empowered to overcome them and experience joy through finding healthy adaptations to meet our core needs.

There is much emphasis on this site about meeting core needs, especially masculinity. There are pages on manhood and gender identity which look familiar to anyone conversant in reparative drive perspectives on same-sex attraction. On the Gender Identity page, links are provided to Jonah, NARTH, Mankind Project, New Warriors Training Adventure, Internation Healing Foundation (Richard Cohen), and People Can Change.
The approach to therapy is called “gender affirming therapy” and is designed to address same-sex attraction through enhanced masculinity.

Abeo says:

Where a person experiences unwanted SSA we can provide expertise and therapy to help the person meet their core unmet needs in a way that allows them to resolve their SSA and so move towards a fuller expression of masculinity and a heterosexual expression of that gender identity.

Abeo also offers training to mental health professionals, which presumably included the Cohen visit to Northern Ireland. About the training, Abeo says:

ABEO also provides training to those professionals working in the area of unwanted SSA. Through links with NARTH, JONAH, the International Healing Foundation and a number of international experts we are seeking to spread evidence based skills that will help professionals working in this area.

Given the aspiration of teaching “evidence based skills,” the links provided are puzzling. Where is the evidence that the kinds of masculinity-building interventions promoted by these organizations “resolve” SSA toward a “heterosexual expression?” As we have noted, MKP in the US has been through all of that with many manly gay warriors happy to dispute these claims.

Another aspect of this story that is interesting to me is that I expected this site to be more Christian-based given Iris Robinson’s strong words of a referral. MKP and NWTA certainly do not point their participants to Christianity as a means of manly identity. The UK Scouting Association issued an advisory warning scouting groups not to rent camps to the MKP. In the US, the ex-gay organizations can be divided into those who seem to be faith-based and those that are based in the men’s movement. If that division is real in the UK, it seems clear from a review of Abeo that the men’s movement ex-gay wing got a major plug from the first lady.

Interview with Chasing the Devil Producer Bill Hussung; premiere on Saturday

A new documentary regarding the ex-gay world is premiering this weekend at a Birmingham, AL film festival. Chasing the Devil: Inside the Ex-gay Movement will be shown on Saturday, March 29, 2008 at 11:30am at the WorkPlay Theatre in Birmingham. 

The film bills itself in this way:

CHASING THE DEVIL: INSIDE THE EX-GAY MOVEMENT is a feature documentary film presenting an unflinching look at the personal journeys of four people who claim to have changed their sexual orientation from gay to straight. Their stories mark the first time documentary filmmakers have been allowed inside the “ex-gay” movement and provide an empathetic and, at times, devastating portrait of those who claim homosexuality is an illness that can be healed.

Although I am not sure this film is the first time filmmakers have been allowed inside the “movement,” the advanced buzz caught my eye several months ago and I have been following the development of the video since. Several familiar faces are in the movie, including Richard Cohen, who adds magnets to his magic act. You can watch the trailer here:

What follows is an email interview with Producer/Director Bill Hussung:

Throckmorton: What prompted you to take up the topic of the ex-gay movement?

Hussung: Our initial interest in the issue was sparked by the publication of the Spitzer study. We knew Dr. Spitzer by reputation, and while his study has been roundly criticized by the larger psychiatric community, it caught our attention, and we started researching ex-gay groups and reparative therapists to see if there might be a film in their stories. We’ve always been fans of documentaries about subcultures, so the ex-gay community quickly caught our interest. To be perfectly frank, there was another element at play, the first dozen ex-gay groups we contacted were so hostile to our requests for interviews that we just had to keep pushing and try to understand their point of view. Documentaries are supposed to take viewers places they’ve never been before, and this one really fit the bill.

Throckmorton: What was the biggest surprise to you in your interviewing?

Hussung: There are some real surprises in the film and we don’t want to give them away before people see the documentary. With that said, we were surprised by how many of the ex-gays we spoke to seemed to have experienced some form of abuse as children. What that means, if anything, is open to debate and we explore it in the film. We were also surprised that the distinction between the Christian ex-gay ministries and the supposedly secular reparative therapists crumbled a bit as we delved into the subject matter. The Christian ex-gay groups all seemed to offer some form of therapy, and the reparative therapists were all driven by deeply held religious convictions. 

Throckmorton: What in the film do you think will be surprising to critics of the ex-gay movement?

Hussung: Critics will probably be surprised by how open the ex-gays in are film are about what constitutes “success.” With some exceptions, we didn’t interview people who claim to be 100% “cured” of their homosexuality, we met people who talked about lifelong struggles. They don’t seem to be spewing propaganda about 100% change when their own stories involve a fair amount of struggle and failure and they still identity as ex-gay.

Throckmorton: What do you anticipate the reaction to the film will be from those within ex-gay circles?

Hussung: We have no idea. Our obligation was to follow the facts wherever they took us, and we feel as if we’ve done that.

Throckmorton: I am curious about the title of the video – Chasing the devil — it seems like many ex-gays would say they are avoiding the devil. What was behind this choice of title?

Hussung: The title comes from what we heard over and over again at LIFE Ministry in New York City. LIFE believes very strongly in the power of testimony to drive the devil out of homosexuals and they talk about chasing the devil out of people’s rectums and throats. LIFE Ministry doesn’t talk about running away from the devil, the folks there talk about chasing the devil out of their lives.

Throckmorton: That’s curious because I do not think most people would see Life Ministries as representative of the ex-gay world as a whole.

Hussung: They are the only folks we encountered who framed the issue this way, but they are a center piece of the film, so the title made sense.

Throckmorton: What promotion and distribution do you see in the future?

Hussung: We’re going to do select screenings around the country at film festivals and see what the best options are for breaking up the TV rights, dvd rights, and theatrical possibilities. We expect people will be able to see the film before too long.

Thanks for your thoughts on this new project.