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.

Exodus International: Open forum

This week Exodus International is holding the annual conference at Ridgecrest, NC.
From time to time on various posts Exodus history comes up. I have been privileged to have numerous Exodus participants past and present comment here over the years, but the comments often go hither and yon.
So I am creating the post for that conversation to continue. I am going to talk to my weboverlord, Paul to see if we can get a link to it in the right column so we can find it easily. So spread the word, if you have ever been involved with Exodus International, feel free to comment here, good or bad. Feel free to cut and paste comments from other threads. I do not intend for this to become a praise or bashing session, rather a forum of sorts to discuss history and impressions, aspirations, positives, areas for improvement, etc. If you really like Exodus, I hope you might glean something from those who do not, read and learn if you will. And if you don’t like it, I hope you will recognize that some others have found much meaning and blessing in the relationships they have formed via Exodus.

Exodus International turns full focus on ministry, away from public policy

I welcome this announcement – Exodus President Alan Chambers disclosed on ExgayWatch this evening that Exodus let their Director of Government Affairs go in August, 2007 and is going to concentrate on ministry.  His personal blog contains additional personal reflections on a recent thread at XGW authored by Wendy Gritter, Director of New Direction ministry.  Early in February, I was pleased to highlight Wendy’s keynote address at the Exodus Leadership Conference where she called for a change of focus at Exodus.

I believe additional shifts called for by Mrs. Gritter would be helpful, including steps to make resources more scientifically accurate. For now, I wholeheartedly commend the leadership of Exodus for these moves.

New Direction for Exodus?

The title is a bit of a word play in that I call attention to a keynote address (caution: large mp3 file) by Wendy Gritter at the 2008 Exodus Leadership Conference. Introduced by Exodus President, Alan Chambers, Mrs. Gritter is leader of the New Direction ministries in Canada. The mission of New Direction is “creating a safe place for same-gender-attracted people to journey towards wholeness in Christ.” The focus of New Direction appears to be much more focused on Christian ministry to same-sex attracted people as opposed to mediating change of sexual orientation.

The address is about an hour long and should be heard completely to get the message but I pulled out a couple of quotes to portray the tone:

What would it mean to stop seeing the gay affirming church as our enemy?

…when we look at those who now have their stories on the Beyond Ex-gay website…we also ought not to be patronizing?   There can be this subtle sense that ‘you just didn’t try hard enough….but see we did.’ How can we engage relationally with those who have come to different theological understanding than we have?

I think we need to relinquish a defensive posture that would focus on what we are against instead of what we are for.

What the culture sees is that you guys are about reorientation.

We shoot ourselves in the foot when we put second things first.

There is much more and you can get a sense of the direction from the Power Point as well. The general tone is that Exodus would be wise to avoid political entanglements that prevent optimal Christian ministry. Ministry should be the main (sole?) focus. In addition, she takes on the messaging of Exodus that change is possible and causation is not inherent. She believes those issues should be secondary to actual Christian formation and living. With reorientation as the focus, Christian ministry can take a backseat. In other words, Exodus should not be a “poster child for straightness” as the main message.

There is much to unpack here so let’s talk…

Southern Poverty Law Center article on ex-gay movement: Were the facts straight?

The Intelligence Report, a publication of the Southern Poverty Law Center has two articles regarding sexual identity issues in the Winter, 2007 issue. The first one, Straight Like Me, by Casey Sanchez reads like an expose’ of the ex-gay movement as a political ploy of the Christian right designed to undermine gay rights. He covers much ground familiar to readers of this blog. For instance the picture leading the article is a screen capture of Richard Cohen holding his client, Rob, on CNN with Deborah Feyerick watching. Sanchez also interviews Peterson Toscano and highlights the increasingly vocal ex-ex-gay movement. 

On several points, I share Sanchez’s observations of some elements of the ex-gay world. He notes the “bewildering array of techniques and philosophies” used to change sexual orientation and writes critically of holding therapies and reparative theories. He included New Warriors knock-off, Journey into Manhood as an example of an emerging method of reorientation and noted JIM’s connection to Richard Cohen in method and tone. Mr. Sanchez, however, needed to do some fact checking to tighten up this piece. I should note that I have spoken with Mr. Sanchez about my analysis here and while receptive to listening, did not offer to retract or change anything. However, there are inaccuracies in this piece that compromise the integrity of the article. For instance, Mr. Sanchez wrote:

Focus on the Family, the largest and wealthiest Christian Right organization in the country, now hires Smid to appear several times a year on an ex-gay lecture circuit called Love Won Out, where he speaks on masturbation and “healing homosexuality.”

This is false. Mr. Smid attends some Love Won Out events as an exhibitor but does not speak on any topic as one of the line-up of speakers.

Regarding the recent study from Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse, Sanchez wrote,

To back up their claims that homosexuality is purely a deviant lifestyle choice, ex-gay leaders frequently cite the Thomas Project, a four-year study of ex-gay programs, paid for by Exodus, that recruited subjects exclusively from Exodus ministries. It was conducted by Mark Yarhouse, a psychology professor at Pat Robertson’s Regents University, and Stanton Jones, provost of Wheaton College, an evangelical institution in Illinois. Both are members of NARTH. The study was conducted entirely via 45-minute telephone interviews conducted annually over the course of four years. Results were published this September.

First, the study was about whether change was impossible and whether attempting to change was harmful. The study had nothing to do with proving homosexual was either deviant or a choice. Second, the initial interview was 2.5-3 hours in person at Time 1, and about 90 minutes on follow up. Third, neither man is a member of NARTH.

Then in a section that needed no embellishment, Mr. Sanchez again casts some of his stones in the wrong direction.

One of the most controversial ex-gay therapy techniques is “healing touch,” which involves men striving to become ex-gay cradling and rocking other men in their arms. Last January, Richard Cohen, a licensed psychotherapist who claims to be personally ex-gay, demonstrated healing touch on CNN’s “Paula Zahn Now” and Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” Cohen also demonstrated “bioenergetics,” which involves beating on chairs with tennis rackets and screaming, “Mom, Mom, why did you do this to me?” When Cohen appeared on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” one month later seated next to George Foreman, he demonstrated healing touch therapy by putting his arms around the former heavyweight boxing champion and explaining, “You comfort him and love him like he’s your own boy.”

But enthusiasts and ideologues of the ex-gay movement haven’t given up hope that science will confirm their view.

After his disastrous TV appearances, both Exodus and NARTH scrubbed any mention of Cohen from their websites and released statements publicly disavowing healing touch therapy. Yet both organizations continue to promote healing touch through a program called Journey Into Manhood, whose leaders are featured at Exodus conferences and highlighted on NARTH’s website. Journey Into Manhood is a nominally secular program founded by Catholic, Jewish and Mormon counselors. The counselors operate weekend outdoors retreats throughout the country that require men to bond with one another through wilderness adventures and holding each other in “non-sexual healing touch.”

In fact, Exodus does not recommend JIM and does not allow them to exhibit at Exodus conferences. I have a comment below from JIM to that effect. When I spoke to Mr. Sanchez, he noted that JIM representatives were at the Exodus conference passing out cards with their information. However, this is a far cry from being “featured.” I attended an Exodus conference and presented the Sexual Identity Therapy Framework. However, I would not claim that Exodus endorses or promotes the SIT Framework. On point, Exodus has been quite clear in their opposition to “touch therapy.”

In addition, I thought some of the reporting was off concerning JIM so I asked the JIM office to react to the SPLC article. Here is the reply from Rich Wyler:

About the Southern Poverty Law Center article: Thank you for sending it. This is the first I’ve seen it. It is filled with misinformation and inaccuracies.

1. Journey Into Manhood does not incorporate nudity or partial nudity.

2. I don’t know what the “10 week Journey Into Manhood curriculum” is that the article is referring to. It sounds like they are probably confusing us with another organization’s program.

3. We don’t do memory recovery work.

4. I don’t know who this Alex Liberato is – perhaps it’s a pseudonym – but in the article he admits that he didn’t go through the Journey Into Manhood weekend, so he is not a source of information on us at all.

5. Journey Into Manhood is not featured at Exodus conferences. We applied for a booth but were turned down because we are not a “Christ-centered” organization.

6. Our teaching on “healing touch” is that any such holding must be completely voluntary on the part of all participants, should be done in groups of three or more, with healing “father-son” or “brother-to-brother” intent, fully clothed, in non-sexual positions, and never in pairs of “strugglers” alone.

There are more mistakes in these two paragraphs, but that’s enough to show you how riddled with errors they are.

Rich told me via phone that the no one from SPLC had contacted him about the JIM organization.

To me, the article could have pointed out the extremes without attempting to reach for connections that aren’t there. Despite the rare acknowledgement that not all ex-gay ministries are the same, I believe the intent was to create a sense that ex-gay ministries are primarily politically motivated devices. This is a debatable point. But it seems to me that whatever the truth is about any given ex-gay ministry, there is a clear tension between ministry and policy aims. To me, it seems difficult at best to promote political aims, along with a focus on ministry and do both well. Social conservatives believe in the validity of a socially conservative political stance on sexual ethics as well as the need to offer the love of God, but the question is how should these ends be sought? In Christian ministry, offering Jesus trumps other considerations; in politics, winning seems paramount; further, in therapy, following client well being and values seems the leading indicator. I am surely open to suggestions on how to pull off an integration of those three aims that does not degrade any of them.

Back to the subject matter of the errors in reporting; in my opinion, ex-gay ministries that promote the narrow view that all or nearly all homosexuality is solely a gender-problem open themselves up for reporting such as produced by the SPLC. Given that ministry rule-books, holding, hugging, regression techniques and sports programs appear to be in the service of enhancing some sense of masculinity, it seems understandable that observers and critics will assume a seamless relationship between the theories of homosexuality and more extreme techniques to address the theorized deficits. I believe that ministries who do not condone or use the more extreme or boundary-compromising techniques need to draw sharp and public lines of distinction between themselves and those approaches with which they disagree.

I also wrote Rich Wyler of JIM in order to compare and contrast JIM with New Warriors. More on that in a future post.