Hardly a first step
So, Exodus International, the oldest of the so-called ex-gay/reparative therapy ministries announced last night that they are closing down. A few hours before the announcement, which they made at a conference full of their members, the current president of the organization, Alan Chambers, issued an apology to the gay/lesbian/bi/trans community.
Other religious conservatives are angry, calling them sell-outs and worse.
A lot of other people at the other end of the political spectrum seem to be very surprised that most of us gay people aren’t jumping up and down with joy, accepting the apology, and saying that all is forgiven because someone has said they’re sorry. They are disappointed that we don’t seem to understand that saying you’re sorry is only the first step in the type of redemption and forgiveness model that the people who work for Exodus International have been raised in.
I agree that an apology is only the first step—and it is an important step—in the process of making amends. Except, in order to be that first step, the apology has to be for the actual wrong that you have committed. This apology is not that in the slightest.
The bulk of the apology is about incidental things. He apologizes that some (many) of the counsellors used the so-called therapy as a way to gratify their own sexual desires. He apologizes because some people “found a message rather than mission”—which may qualify as the most convoluted way to say, “if people were offended” ever. He apologizes for neglecting to mention in his own personal story that the so-called cure has never actually made his own attraction to members of the same sex go away. He apologizes for “failing to acknowledge the pain some people experienced.”
It goes on and on. But he never apologizes for the actual wrong: he never apologizes for lying, living the lie, or pressuring other people to live the same lie. In fact, he explicitly says that he is not apologizing for his “deeply held biblical beliefs.” And that’s the heart of the problem. They may be deeply held beliefs, but they aren’t biblical. Don’t go quoting that tired verse from Leviticus at me unless you’re prepared for a long lecture about declensions in Hebrew, and unless you’ve been willing to stone someone to death for the abomination of wearing clothes made of more than one kind of fabric, okay?
In their long announcement at the conference of their decision to close down, one of the board members said, “We’re not negating the ways God used Exodus to positively affect thousands of people…”
Except that nothing positive has ever been accomplished by this group. Nothing. Guilting, coercing, and bullying people into denying their feelings, luring them in with the false hope (and they’ve known it was a false hope for well more than a decade or two) of a “cure,” then handing them instead a lifetime without love, affection, or intimacy are not positive things. Bullying people until they commit suicide is not a positive thing. Encouraging parents to kick their gay children who don’t change after going through the torture they call therapy out on the street is not a positive thing.
I admit that I am not impartial. While I have never been through any of these therapies, I have had friends and relatives who did give them a try. Most of them survived. One wound up killing himself outright. Another essentially drank himself to death over the course of a few years. One cousin who went through ex-gay therapy has lived his entire life since alone, never dating anyone. He’s dependent on antidepressants and some other drug he once called his “temptation dampener.” I have no idea what the second drug actually is, because among the bewildering array of rules and restrictions he has continued to live under for years is a prohibition against talking unsupervised with anyone who is openly gay or who was supportive of him when he was “in the lifestyle.”
Other relatives have refused to accept me for who I am, and/or refused to welcome my husband (either Ray when he was still alive, or now more than a decade and a half after Ray’s death, Michael), precisely because that one cousin has “been able to change.”
The god they claim to believe in promised not just life, but life abundant. Living alone, constantly afraid of talking to the wrong person, afraid that a little emotional intimacy might lead to forbidden acts, only getting through the day with the help of drugs to kill the libido, and other drugs to kill the very natural depression that comes from living alone, afraid of any intimacy, and a drug-neutralized libido is not abundant life.
The truth is that Exodus and their ilk have lost the fight on a society-wide level. All of these anti-gay organizations have seen their donor pools shrink dramatically in the last few years. Support is dropping off even among many traditional conservative religious circles. Support is practically non-existent among teen and early-twenties aged evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. Surveys indicate that a major factor in many young adults leaving the churches in which they were raised is all the anti-gay rhetoric. The writing is on the wall. These guys aren’t shutting down because they’ve had a change of heart. They are shutting down in hopes of re-grouping and finding a new way to attract donors and supporters.
And to top it all off, their deflecting, delusional, and self-serving announcement about why they are closing ended by quoting a bible verse that used to be my favorite, John 16:33. They quoted a different translation than my preferred one. I’m going to stick with mine: “In the world you will face tribulation, but be of good cheer! For I have overcome the world.”
That may be what has angered me most about their non-apology. They have not faced tribulation, they are the tribulation others have faced. They have institutionalized bigotry, and turned it into a process which does not spread love and joy and forgiveness, but rather grinds people down with shame, fear, and lies. They are the very thing that their lord came to overcome, not the other way around.
If they ever realize that, if they ever apologize for being so very, very wrong, I might be willing to consider it their first step in a process by which they may eventually earn forgiveness.
But so far, they aren’t even looking in the right direction.