Sunday, June 28, 2015

Restored Hope Network Holds 2015 Conference in Lancaster, PA

I planned to observe the Restored Hope Network conference for Republic of Gilead, until the weather report called for torrential rain and possible flooding. Rather than drive to Lancaster in potentially unsafe conditions, I stayed home. I wish I could have infiltrated!  -- Ahab

Restored Hope Network, a coalition of so-called "ex-gay" groups, held its annual conference at Door Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on June 26th and 27th. Restored Hope Network promotes conversion therapy, which can purportedly change a person's sexual orientation or sexual identity to a cisgender, heterosexual identity. The organization has risen to prominence in the ex-gay movement in the years following Exodus International's closure.

The history of Anne Paulk, executive director of Restored Hope Network, is an ironic one. In 2013, her husband John Paulk, former chairman of the ex-gay organization Exodus International, publicly admitted that he was not "ex-gay" and apologized for the harm caused by conversion therapy. Anne Paulk released a statement admitting that she and John were divorcing, adding that her heart was "grieved by John’s words and moral choices".

The conference comes at a time when the ex-gay movement has lost credibility in public consciousness. The closure of Exodus International, White House condemnation of conversion therapy, the apologies of several former "ex-gay" activists, and public rejection of the ex-gay movement by former adherents have dealt the movement repeated black eyes. Ontario, Oregon, California, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia have passed laws banning conversion therapy for minors. Friday's New Jersey court ruling that JONAH's conversion therapy claims violated the state's Consumer Fraud Act also sullied the movement's reputation.

Medical professions and researchers doubt the efficacy of conversion therapy and warn that it can produce negative outcomes. A 2009 report by the American Psychological Association concluded that efforts to change people's sexual orientation are not only unlikely to be successful, but involve risks of harm as well. The Pan American Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and other health groups have criticized conversion therapy, while research has shown that sexual orientation change efforts are highly dubious. Defenders of conversion therapy such as NARTH have been accused of promoting dangerous junk science, misrepresenting other professionals' research, and fueling homophobia.

Given conversion therapy's reputation, an ex-gay conference was bound to create controversy.

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Speaking on behalf of Restored Hope Network, Garry Ingraham told Pennlive that the organization simply wants to help people who have unwanted sexual feelings. "We are simply making ourselves available for people who have unwanted same-sex attractions, issues with gender dysphoria and want support in living a life that is congruent with their personal values and faith," he said.

LGBTQ rights advocates have condemned the conference, arguing that conversion therapy is inherently homophobic. Louie Marven, executive director of the LGBT Center of Central Pennsylvania, argued that conversion therapy harms LGBTQ people. "This conference will not bring hope to anyone. The message that LGBTQ people should change our sexual orientation or gender identity is inherently not hopeful. This is a message that hurts LGBTQ people and our families," Marven wrote in a Lancaster Online editorial.

Pennsylvania political leaders also criticized conversion therapy as the conference approached. Kait Gillis, Pennsylvania Department of Human Services press secretary, told Lancaster Online that Govenor Tom Wolf's administration does not endorse conversion therapy and will work toward a ban of the practice in Pennsylvania.

Executive director Anne Paulk was unhappy with the way that some media outlets have portrayed conversion therapy. In a June 26th Facebook message, she expressed her outrage that the "secular media" and the "gay activist community" have described the ex-gay movement in negative terms.
"... Several articles that have quoted us accurately, despite the surrounding gay arguments against the validity of our point of view that use "expert opinion" to discount and minimize the reasons that people seek to change their lives, behavior and identity. Pastor Garry Ingraham did a great job representing our network. I find it interesting that others will take issue that he was accurately quoted, and then quote Alan Chambers who disbanded Exodus tragically and apologized for hurt feelings of those who remain involved in homosexual relationships and feel that change is unnecessary or impossible for them. But there remain those of us who both have left gay relationships, behaviors, identities and also have had various degrees of resolution of related feelings. Christianity would label errant or unwanted feelings to be temptations, not sin. Sin is taking action upon what God condemns in scripture.

Much of the secular media strongly present those who oppose the idea of transformation--even when it is both desired and experienced. The gay activist community has trained them to discount the freedom of choice for a person to pursue a course of care that they both want and thrive in because it cannot be allowed to stand in their minds ...

How dare we change and thrive?? This can simply not be allowed by some and they are so offended that they choose to malign and lie about methodology--claiming irrelevant aversion therapy that has nothing to do with our ministries. They imply the motive is to control others, when the truth is that we are simply walking alongside and sharing the hope we ourselves have received. "

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The Restored Hope Network conference itinerary suggested that LGBTQ status was an undesirable state, rather than a natural expression of sexuality and gender identity. Several workshops championed Christianity as an alleged key to sexual morality, framing LGBTQ status as something to be overcome through faith rather than embraced. "Who I Am", led by Denise Shick, discussed the supposed "identity crises" encountered by people who are "confused about their God-given gender", an apparent jab at transgender and gender-nonconforming persons. "Open to Life: How Jesus Transforms Persons with Same Sex Attraction" offered tools and strategies that Christians can use to "unlock hearts bound up by same-sex attraction".

The policing of sexuality was also a recurring topic at the conference. A workshop entitled "Gay Christian?" claimed that gay believers who choose to live celibate lives are engaging in "a major compromise" and making room for "embracing a disordered identity". On a different note, "Chastity as Life and Freedom in the Holy Spirit", led by Christopher West, framed chastity as a form of freedom. The implication, it seems, is that same-sex intimacy is incompatible with Christian chastity.
"Chastity is not merely a "no" to illicit sexual behavior. Chastity, more than anything, is a "yes" to the freedom for which Christ has set us free -- the freedom to love as he loves!"
Several workshops encouraged anti-LGBTQ interpretations of scripture. "Homotextuality: How Pro-Gay Advocates Misuse the Bible" condemns the "fallacy" that one can be both gay and Christian, arguing against "revisionist" interpretations of scripture. "Does the Bible No Longer Oppose Homosexual Practice?" deconstructs theological writings that support "homosexual unions". Pastor Phil Courson's workshop, "Did God Really Say..." Affirming the Inerrancy of Scripture" endorsed an inerrant interpretation of the Bible.

Predictably, the Restored Hope Network conference encouraged attendees to spread ex-gay thinking throughout their faith communities. A workshop entitled "Creating a Church Culture of Transformation" urged churches to become "a safe place of transformation for persons with ssa [same-sex attraction]". A class entitled "How to Start a Ministry" taught listeners how to create ministries devoted to ex-gay teachings. In an era when ex-gay organizations are shutting down and losing credibility, it's understandable why Restored Hope Network would want its supporters to expand the movement.

In short, workshops caricatured LGBTQ status as a state of confusion and disorder that is incompatible with the Bible. In the eyes of presenters, anything other than a heterosexual, cisgender identity is wrong and must be resisted. Despite all of Restored Hope Network's talk of "transformation" and "thriving", the ex-gay movement is fundamentally about repression of natural feelings. Where is the spiritual nourishment in this?

Conversion therapy, at its core, is about pressuring LGBTQ people to feel ashamed of their inclinations and to conform. Pitting people's sexuality against their spirituality can only bring sorrow, not spiritual growth.

To read additional news, visit the following links.

Pennlive: Church group seeks to 'repair' gays and lesbians

Pennlive: Church group leader, who says he changed from gay to straight, believes court ruling will lead to destruction of the family


  1. Replies
    1. Shaw -- Marcus Bachmann will never live that down.

  2. I would be very interested to know about how many people--other than the "ex gay" ministers themselves--actually attended this event. Were the workshops full?

    1. Anonymous -- I have no idea. I wasn't able to attend because of the bad weather. I'd love to know how many people were in attendance too.

  3. Excellent analysis.

    On a side note, I swear your blog is eating some of my comments … unless the heat is making me hallucinate.

    1. Agi Tater -- I haven't found any of your comments in the spam queue, fortunately. This was the only comment from you that was sitting in the moderation queue this morning. What's happening with your comments?

    2. On occasion lately I'll post a comment, I get the message that it's awaiting moderation, and it never shows up.

      Either that or I need better drugs. ; )

    3. Agi Tater -- I'm sorry you've been having trouble commenting.

  4. Good piece. Your beginning quote about the rain makes it sound like you supported the conference and the tweet, however. Just sayin.

    1. Anonymous -- Gawd, no. I do not support conversion therapy quackery or the so-called ex-gay movement. I wanted to observe the conference so that I could blog on its content, but I couldn't because of the bad weather.

  5. Great post. I hold out hope that Friday's ruling, as well as the turning tide of opinion, will further marginalize this sort of thinking.

    1. Donna -- It can't happen soon enough. I'll include this link in my next "News Tidbits" post. Thanks!


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