Sunday, September 23, 2012

Love Won Out in Mechanicsburg, PA, Part I

Information table for Free! ministry
at Love Won Out Conference 

(To read part II, click here.)

On Saturday, September 22nd, Exodus International hosted a Love Won Out conference at the West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, PA. Love Won Out is a regular Exodus symposium held at various locations across the country, offering a decidedly Christian-right, homophobic view of homosexuality. The conference is geared not only toward persons with "unwanted same sex attraction", but to friends, family members, and community members who know LGBTQ persons. Originally hosted by Focus on the Family, the event was transitioned to Exodus' control in late 2009.

I had the opportunity to observe Love Won Out in Mechanicsburg and listen to talks by Alan Chambers, Joe Dallas, Christopher Yuan, Julie Rodgers, and Dan Keefer. The lobby of the West Shore Evangelical Free Church featured information tables for various "sexual brokenness" ministries such as Free!, Genesis Counseling, and Day Seven Ministries. On the tables were pamphlets such as "When Passions are Confused: Understanding Homosexuality" and "Providing Light for Those in Sexual Darkness." An Exodus book table sold titles such as The Complete Christian Guide to Understanding Homosexuality, Desires in Conflict, Out of Egypt, and more.

The conference schedule featured workshops with titles such as "Hope for People with Same-Sex Attractions," "Homosexuality: Nature Versus Nurture," and "When Homosexuality Hits Home." As I flipped through the conference brochure, I found familiar Exodus language exalting heterosexuality as "God's creative intent" for the human race and decrying homosexuality as one of many flaws of a "fallen humanity." While the brochure did not promise to make LGBTQ persons straight, it offered "healing" through Christ, which can allegedly undermine sin's power and offer freedom -- including "the freedom to grow into heterosexuality."

In the main worship hall, several hundred people had gathered to take in the conference. Alan Chambers warned the audience that they might encounter pro-LGBTQ protesters or infiltrators, but that they should not be angry with them or fight with them. If protesters came inside, they would find a message of love, Chambers insisted, adding that Love Won Out is not in opposition to them.

I think they would disagree! I thought to myself.

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Sign reads: "She's your student, and she's
wondering if she's bisexual. Her friends
are trying it. Her teachers encourage it.
The media glamourizes it. Society
justifies it. And everyone is  talking
about it. ARE YOU?"

After the benediction, Joe Dallas gave a talk entitled "Understanding Homosexuality." He described homosexuality in terms of orientation (same-sex desires that are not chosen), behavior (the decision whether or not to act on those desires), and identity (the decision to publicly identify as gay, suggesting comfort with and a positive opinion of homosexuality). Dallas told listeners that there is no such thing as a typical homosexual, observing that gays can be promiscuous, monogamous, or sexually inactive with a variety of political stances and beliefs. Stereotypes about homosexuals are not helpful, he argued.

Dallas said that while people on both sides of the issue might agree with the above statements, tensions erupts over whether homosexuality is considered right or wrong, normal or abnormal, a stance determined by one's worldview. A Biblical worldview, Dallas claimed, holds up the Bible as divinely inspired and authoritative, believes that God has an intent for creation (including sexuality), and hold that humanity has a fallen nature. He contrasted this Biblical worldview with a caricature of the worldview supposedly implicit in evolution: the individual determines right or wrong and is morally accountable to no one. God's intended for sexuality to be expressed in monogamous, permanent marriage, he insisted, arguing that anything else (including homosexuality) is sin. However, Dallas admonished Christians who fixate on the sin of homosexuality to the exclusion of other sins condemned in scripture.

To the charge that God created or intended people to be gay, Dallas argued that humans are not as God created them to be due to their fallen, sinful nature. Only the pre-fall Adam and Eve were created as God truly intended them to be. Old age, death, and an antagonistic natural environment also came after the fall, but were not part of God's original intention for the world. "Unnatural" sexual desires such as homosexuality are the result of this corrupted human nature, and because all are born fallen, they must be born again in Christ.

Dallas discussed the nature-versus-nurture argument surrounding homosexuality. Regarding the idea that homosexuality is genetic or biological in origin, Dallas argued that something is not natural or moral just because it is inborn. Regarding the idea that homosexuality is the result of developmental factors, he suggested that early trauma or family dynamics could create a longing for emotional closeness with members of the same sex that becomes sexualized. He described witnessing domestic violence and sexual abuse as examples, reminding listeners that not all homosexuals have been sexually abused and most would never abuse a child. However, developmental factors do not account for all people with same-sex attraction, as many gays were raised by loving, healthy parents, he observed. In short, same-sex attraction does not necessarily imply prior family dysfunction, so it is not a one-size-fits-all explanation for homosexuality.

Public schools, the entertainment industry, and high-profile gays and lesbians have led many people to consider homosexuality normal, so people are choosing to act on same-sex attraction, Dallas claimed. While God loves his children, Dallas argued that being loved by God and living in accordance with God's teachings are not the same thing.
"Being loved by God and living within God's will are two very separate things. Being loved by God is not necessarily to be approved by God. And the fact that one's behavior doesn't make one a monster doesn't legitimize one's behavior. No, homosexuality doesn't make a person a freak, but that alone doesn't legitimize homosexuality."
What immediately struck me was how Dallas had adapted his rhetoric to fit with more savvy times. More and more people recognize that LGBTQ persons can have loving families and peaceful lives, making the old trauma-begets-homosexuality argument stale. Dallas did not completely reject this argument, claiming that traumas allegedly drive some people to seek closeness with the same-sex, but he also acknowledged that it did not apply to all gays. Also, as arguments for innate sexual orientation gain legitimacy, Dallas had to acknowledge them while simultaneously condemning homosexuality as unnatural. Finally, more and more people recognize that the LGBTQ community is not homogeneous, and that stereotypes about promiscuous gays are not accurate. Thus, Dallas also acknowledged that LGBTQ persons cannot be lumped into stereotypes. Despite these adaptations, Dallas' talk still branded homosexuality as something sinful and ungodly that must be rejected.

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Next, Leon and Angela Yuan spoke about their journey with their son, Christopher Yuan. (Christopher Yuan's testimony at the Exodus International equipping event is described here.) The two told the audience about their immigration to the U.S., the disintegration of their marriage, their journey to Christianity and reconciliation with each other, and their struggles with their son. Leon acknowledged that many audience members have gay or lesbian children, urging parents to show their LGBTQ children both compassion and truth -- not one at the expense of the other. As they concluded their talk, Christopher played "It Is Well Within My Soul" on a piano-keyboard.

After Leon and Angela Yuan spoke, the audience listened to two more personal testimonies. Julie Rodgers, a high school mentor coordinator for Mercy Street Ministries, and Christopher Yuan, an instructor at Moody Bible Institute and author of Out of a Far Country, gave testimonies very similar to those at the Exodus International equipping event. To my surprise, Christopher Yuan devoted part of his talk to the harms of stereotypical gender roles. He discouraged parents from imposing rigid, stereotypical gender roles on their children, giving examples of Biblical figures who did not conform to stereotypical American machismo. It's perfectly fine for boys to enjoy music and art, and for girls to enjoy sports, he insisted. He also urged parents not to lament past mistakes, reminding them that even perfect parents can have rebellious children. Whether parents raise their children well or poorly, their offspring will still struggle with "the flesh," he said. Again, his words may have reflected realities that his audience know. More and more people are rejecting rigid gender norms, and more understand that family dysfunction does not determine sexual orientation, even as they still reject homosexuality. Yuan's words may have simply reflected the growing realizations of his audience.

Even though Leon and Angela Yuan's calls for parents to love their LGBTQ children were warm, and even though Christopher Yuan's rejection of stereotypes was refreshing, their message was still anti-gay. Homosexuality was discussed in the same breath as prodigal behavior, and was ultimately something that Christopher and Julie Rodgers had to reject. While neither the Yuans nor Rodgers claimed that homosexuality could be "cured," they nevertheless cast homosexuality as a sinful behavior.

Stay tuned for part II. For more information on Love Won Out, click here.

For commentary on prior Love Won Out conferences, visit the following links.

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force: A Report from "Love Won Out: Addressing, Understanding, and Preventing Homosexuality"

Raging Pride: What a Horrific Conference with a Horrific Message

Outfront Minnesota: Love Won Out?

Truth Wins Out: Love Won Out


  1. Thanks again to my favorite reporter at large. Love how Dallas tries to frame his argument as "progressive." (Most gays would never abuse a child...) Also how he distinguishes between God's love and approval.

    1. Donna -- Thanks. The evolution of Exodus' rhetoric is fascinating.

  2. I swear, these people are obsessive. They spend all their time thinking about sex. It's not healthy. lol

    1. Sherry -- I do wonder what would lead people like this to devote their lives and careers to denouncing homosexuality. No, it's not healthy.

  3. It is fascinating to see the rhetoric evolve and even soften a little. Though the overall message is not good, the changing rhetoric gives me hope. I think it is indicative of things to come.

    I wonder if the likes of Christopher Yuan are ever bothered by the fact that their God never steps up to the plate so he can be held accountable for creating them with same sex attraction? It's stunning what God is permitted to get away with.

    1. Cognitive Dissenter -- The adapting rhetoric definitely suggests that Exodus can adapt ... to a point. They realize that a new generation needs new messages, even as they cling to a homophobic stance.

      About God creating people gay, I kept hearing the argument that homosexuality is a result of humanity's fallen nature, not God's intent. WTF? If God didn't want people to be gay, he could have just prevented them from being born that way. Their arguments don't make much sense.


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