Sunday, September 30, 2012

America for Jesus Rally -- Friday Night

(To read about the America for Jesus solemn assembly on Saturday, click here)

The America for Jesus rally took place on September 28-29 on Independence Mall in Philadelphia, PA. The event, chaired by Bishop Anne Gimenez of Rock Church International in Virginia Beach, Virginia, was scheduled 40 days in advance of the U.S. presidential election. Promotional materials (such as the above video) lament America's supposed moral failings, which must be healed through faith in Jesus.

According to a press release at Christian News Wire, the rally was organized by One Nation Under God, a coalition of Christian ministries that sponsored various Washington for Jesus events in the 1980s and 1990s. The events' executive board features prominent voices from the New Apostolic Reformation, including Lou Engle (TheCall and International House of Prayer), Cindy Jacobs (Generals International), Ron Luce (Teen Mania Ministries), and others.

According to Christian News Wire, America for Jesus national coordinator John Blanchard said that the event would be patriotic, not political, and would not be divided along partisan lines. However, speeches at the event were brimming with political rhetoric on abortion, homosexuality, Israel, and Christian influences on government. Even before the rally, America for Jesus prayer materials were infused with Seven Mountains theology. For example, this prayer encounter guide on the supremacy of scripture illustrate how Seven Mountains theology informed the event. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch. More here.)
"The Word of God teaches us God’s divine purposes and loving principles to govern all areas of our lives. His divine instructions are for our good, and when obeyed, the blessings of God are promised and are released. This is true for individuals, families, cities, states, regions, and nations!

The Bible provides guiding principles for all spheres of society: government, family, church, science and technology, economics and business, education, media and communications, and arts and entertainment. Every book of the Bible gives us instruction and principles on how to establish God’s kingdom purposes on earth."
I had every intention of infiltrating the America for Jesus rally this weekend, since I live within driving distance of Philadelphia. However, a knee injury prevented me from attending the event. Fortunately, GOD TV provided a live feed of the event online, so I could still observe from afar and blog on the gathering.

The evening of Friday, September 28th was devoted to the Awakening Youth Rally on Independence Mall. It took me about thirty minutes to access GOD TV's live feed of the event on Friday night, but I finally got through around 9 p.m. My first images of the event were of the Philadelphia Mass Choir singing upbeat gospel songs. As the cameras panned over the crowd, several members of the audience were waving American flags. After their performance, master of ceremonies John Gray celebrated the racial unity in the audience, saying "Isn't it great to see that we are all connected?" He called listeners his "blood relatives" because they'd been saved by the same blood of Christ. "We understand the power of scripture. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord," he told the audience.

Dr. Carlos Campo of Regent University took the stage next, telling the crowd that "opinion-makers" said that people wouldn't attend the rally because we now live in a "post-Christian society," but that they were wrong. Campo spoke of ancient Romans who would put unwanted children in clay pots and leave them by the side of the road to die, adding that those children's cries were heard by Christians who took them in. Today, this generation does the same thing. Whether Campo was referring to abortion or simply to converting lost souls to Christianity, I didn't know.

Campo lamented that many colleges and universities have allegedly become "bastions of secularism" where young people are supposedly being stripped of their faith. However, he claimed that this generation of young Christians will enter college with devotion to their faith, demanding "truth" in every classroom and of every professor.

After Campo spoke, John Gray reminded the crowd that they must honor the nation of Israel, the "root" that Jesus came from. He introduced Robert Stearns of Eagle's Wings, who called young Christians the "chosen generation" and a "generation of destiny." Stearns insisted that "forces of darkness have come against this generation like they've come against no generation prior." Even though the "enemy" has come against their lives and tried to silence them, Stearns assured them that they were there tonight to "let God arise and his enemies be scattered."

Stearns asserted that Christian youth are called on by defend the defenseless and speak out for truth and justice. He told them that sixty years prior, the church of Europe was mostly silent as the Nazis slaughtered six million Jews in concentration camps. Now, they will declare that the Jewish people will never stand alone again, and that Christians will stand loyal to Israel. He instructed the audience to leave the rally with the understanding that they were "watchmen on the walls" who must stand for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the covenant people, the Jews. Stearns instructed the crowd to face the east, extend their hands toward Jerusalem, and on the third bellow of his shofar, to become the shofar and shout to God on behalf of Jerusalem. As Bishop Anne Gimenez held the microphone, Stearns blew into the shofar three times, with the crowd joyfully crying out on the third blow.

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After a musical performance by School of Worship, Ron Luce of Teen Mania Ministries spoke at length on stage. Luce complained that a lot of things are "painted with the stripe of Christianity" without being true Christianity. He also complained that many people in the church do not understand the Bible and its big picture, comparing them to people who show up at a movie halfway through and struggle to understand the storyline. He likened creation to a story unfolding from the beginning of time, and he narrated the Genesis creation story as lavish computer animation sequences appeared on screen. The audience was treated to vivid displays of planets, stars, oceans, mountains, and animals as Luce told the story of "God the master artist" creating the universe.

God created the human species to love him, Luce said, adding that such love must be freely given and cannot be forced. Love was the central force in the Adam and Eve story, Luce observed, particularly when God told the first couple to be fruitful and multiply. "A God who thinks of sex, now that's a good god," Luce quipped. Even though God created humans to live in love, creation was compromised when Adam and Eve fell after eating the forbidden fruit. Images appeared on-screen of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and the events leading up to the crucifixion, with ominous music and cries of "CRUCIFY HIM!" in the background.

"We start in one garden and end in another," Luce said, the implication being that Adam and Eve's fall necessitated Jesus' crucifixion for the salvation of humanity. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, sin and darkness entered their hearts, thereby separating them from their creator, he claimed. Every war, every starving child, every act of abuse and abandonment started in the Garden of Eden when the fall occurred, Luce told the audience.

Luce grieved over the multitude of people who are "dead" on the inside and who try to distract themselves from their inner deadness with entertainment, drink, and others forms of self-medication. We are "born dead" because of the effects of sin from the Garden of Eden, and thus we must be born again to truly live, he argued.

Luce described Jesus' influence as a "rescue mission" to rescue those who don't know they need to be rescued, or don't want to be rescued because they are infatuated with the sin that is spiritually killing them. When Jesus insisted that he was the only way to God, it was really his way of saying that he was the only one coming to rescue humans, Luce deduced. The only possible response to Jesus' "rescue mission" and resurrection is to love him with all of one's mind, heart, and soul, Luce concluded.

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I stepped away from the live feed for about thirty minutes, and when I returned, a white-haired man (whose name I did not catch) was speaking warmly about "40 Days to Save America," shouting, "We want God's law to take precedence over man's law!" I returned just in time to hear Lou Engle of TheCall and the International House of Prayer give a talk to the gathering.

Engle reminisced about TheCall Washington D.C. twelve years ago, where 400,000 people (he claimed) fasted and prayed to God. At the time, his son Jesse announced his intention to become a Nazirite, and Engle claimed to have heard the voice of God that night telling him that America had not yet seen her Nazirites. (For background on Lou Engle's Nazirites, see his 2009 book Nazirite DNA.) Engle rejoiced that he was seeing a movement that could change America as another generation took up the Nazirite vow to return the U.S. to God. What if a generation could break the "spell of Jezebel" in a nation under the dominion of "dark spirits", he asked.

Engle had the audience kneel in prayer, shouting, "You didn't come for a festival! You came for a fast!" Engle prayed to God to speak to the young people and raise up a "Daniel anointing" or a "John the Baptist." He urged the audience to fast, to abstain from TV and websites, and to pray to God to put fire in their hearts for 40 days. The GOD TV cameras panned over an audience of kneeling people with arms outstretched, some swaying, others fist-pumping toward the sky. As intense rock music poured over the scene, a worship vocalist hypnotically droned "mark my heart with fire, mark my heart with fire" over and over. "Before heaven tonight, we sign our lives, our sacred honor, for the sake of America! Have mercy! Send a great awakening!" Engle cried.

Anne Gimenez spoke after Engle, estimating that 10,000 people were in attendance that night. She stressed that such gatherings need to take place more often across the country, where young people express their love for God and assert that "we will serve no foreign gods." She expressed her delight and gratitude that GOD TV was broadcasting the event live across the globe.

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The Awakening Youth Rally, the first stage of the America for Jesus event, reminded me of other New Apostolic Reformation youth rallies such as TheCall and OneThing. The rally delivered a heady message to the youth in attendance, urging them to change the country with their faith and overcome dark, supernatural forces. The Awakening rally, with its intoxicating emotional highs, music, videos, and calls for racial unity, was well-designed to appeal to a young audience.

However, despite Blanchard's claim that the event would not be political, the Awakening rally clearly contained political themes, such as support for Israel and distrust of secularism. The youth rally would pale in comparison to the America for Jesus Solemn Assembly on Saturday, which was overflowing with right-wing messages about abortion, homosexuality, Israel, and church-state separation issues. As is often the case with Religious Right event, the spiritual is tightly entwined with the political.

For more information on the America for Jesus rally, click here and here

Friday, September 28, 2012

Love Won Out in Mechanicsburg, PA, Part II

Sign reads: "What if I think I'm gay? Was I
born this way? Can I be gay and Christian?
Is change possible?  Does God still love me?
What does the Bible say? The world has
answers for him. DO YOU?"

(To read part I, click here)
On September 22nd, I observed a Love Won Out conference hosted by Exodus International at the West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, PA. After the morning's testimonials, I attended a breakout session hosted by Dan Keefer entitled "Homosexuality in a Post-Christian Culture." Keefer, executive director of Day Seven Ministries, offered listeners a paradigm for practicing ethics in a non-Christian culture.

Keefer shared an anecdote about Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, describing a group of five pro-LGBTQ supporters he saw while waiting in line at his local Chick-fil-A. The five people were peaceful, sporting a rainbow flag to show their support for LGBTQ rights. As Keefer waited to order, he saw a car with bumper magnets that read "Jesus saves" and "Be sure your sins will find you out." When the LGBTQ supporters saw the magnets, Keefer walked over and talked to them, expressing his disapproval of the magnets' message. He assured them that not all Christians are like that, and they shook hands. Keefer shared the story to show listeners why he doesn't like to see scripture used to "club" people.

I found this anecdote revealing. It suggested to the audience that disapproving of homosexuality and patronizing Chick-fil-A were not homophobic; rather, those sporting angry magnets on their cars were the real homophobes. In effect, it depicts homophobia as something over there, something other people perpetrate, rather than a trait of Exodus itself.

Keefer contrasted Biblical ethics with Greek thought, cultural relativism, utilitarianism, and situational ethics in an attempt to demonstrate why Biblical ethics were superior. In my opinion, he did this by presenting oversimplified caricatures of the the above ethical systems and a monolithic picture of Christian ethics, which in reality are extremely diverse. According to Keefer, Christian ethics understand that philosophy and morals are only helpful when the Bible is used as a "foundation" and "filter" for moral principles. In such a belief system, God is the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong, and love (as defined by God) undergirds morality. Thus, moral decisions are made on the basis of the Bible, prayer, and conscience.

>Christians, he argued, are called to engage the surrounding culture with love, civility, honesty, justice, and integrity. He defined justice as God's defense of the poor and oppressed, integrity as lack of hypocrisy and moral purity, and civility as respectful treatment of others that acknowledges their value as people.

LGBTQ supporters might argue that those virtues are lacking from anti-gay voices! I thought.

Keefer observed that pro-LGBTQ people often point out the moral hypocrisy of Christians, telling listeners that they need to ask whether or not they've fixated on homosexuality while neglecting other moral issues. He listed several principles from Turning Controversy into Church Ministry by William P. Campbell, including avoiding extremes, embracing the whole of scripture, presenting a message of both grace and truth, and realizing that no one is unreachable with God. To my annoyance, he repeated a line that I'd heard many times from Exodus speakers: the goal isn't to go from homosexuality to heterosexuality, but from homosexuality to holiness.

In the afternoon, I attended another breakout session by Joe Dallas entitled "The Gay Gospel," in which Dallas attempted to deconstruct queer theology. Dallas told listeners about his early attempts to reconcile his Christianity and homosexuality, including his time with the affirming Metropolitan Community Church in the late 1970s. The MCC’s gay-affirming interpretation of the Bible appealed to him because it brought an end to his inner struggle, he said. Unfortunately, after six years with the MCC, he decided that he’d been deluding himself and quickly repented of his homosexuality.

Dallas described pro-gay theology as an interpretation of scripture that “revises” Biblical passages on same-sex sexual activity. He spoke of pro-gay theology alongside “pro-gay ideology” which tries to convince people that homosexuality is a normal phenomenon. The former argues that homosexuality is ordained by God, while the latter relies on psychology, philosophy, and other fields, he claimed. Dallas told the audience that pro-gay theology affirms many of the basic tenets of Christianity (the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus Christ, etc.), but claims that Biblical passages on homosexuality have been mistranslated or misinterpreted. He accused pro-gay theology of indulging in eisogesis (imposing meaning on scripture) rather than proper exegesis (drawing meaning from scripture).

Dallas reviewed several key Biblical passages used to condemn homosexuality, such as Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. He emphasized that Biblical law is good and that Jesus came to fulfill the law rather than destroy it. To the common criticism that it is hypocritical to embrace the anti-gay parts of the Old Testament while ignoring other passages on food, clothing, etc., Dallas offered several weak replies. First, he claimed that the New Testament teaches that aspects of Old Testament law, such as animal sacrifice, are no longer necessary, but that the New Testament confirms some of the moral rules laid down in the Old Testament, such as the ban on homosexuality. Additionally, he argued that some commandments are permanent and transcend the law, such as the command to love God and neighbor. Dallas also rejected the claim that Biblical passages on homosexuality are referring to pagan religious rites (see here for an example) rather than consensual same-sex sexual activity as we know it. The term used to condemn homosexuality in the Old Testament -- toevah, translated as "abomination" -- is also used in scripture to refer to ceremonial impurities and wrong things, Dallas claimed, adding that there is no indication that such things could be permitted in different circumstances.

Dallas also discussed passages in the New Testament such as Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:9-11, arguing that they too referred to homosexuality. Nothing in the Old or New Testaments offers guidance to same-sex couples or praises same-sex unions, he observed, so if God approved of same-sex couples, why would he be so negligent on the issue in the Bible? To boot, scripture consistently condemns homosexuality while praising heterosexual unions, he insisted, making its position clear.

At the end of his talk, Dallas concluded that people embrace pro-gay theology because it tells them what they want to hear about homosexuality and because it reflects the nature of the times we live in. He expressed annoyance with people who defend themselves by saying, "I'm not a theologian," which is not an excuse for Biblical ignorance, he claimed.

Joe Dallas' criticism of queer theology had several major flaws. First, he held up the Bible as an inerrant, divinely inspired book, rather than a collection of documents shaped by the assumptions of their authors that should be interpreted with nuance. Second, in his rush to justify Biblical homophobia, he neglected the full content of some of those passages, such as Leviticus 20:13 which demands capital punishment for male-on-male sex acts. Does it make sense to quote such passages as authoritative while ignoring their violent implications? Finally, would these arguments make sense to Christians who see love and justice, rather than wrath as the foundation of their faith?

In conclusion, the Love Won Out conference in Mechanicsburg tried to promote a softer form of homophobia, but its messages were still deeply troubling. Conference speakers framed homosexuality and faith as mutually exclusive, rejecting LGBTQ-affirming interpretations of Christianity. The conference simultaneously rejected stale stereotypes about LGBTQ persons while featuring testimonials in which homosexuality and dysfunction were spoken of in the same breath. A subtle Christians-versus-the-world message pervaded the conference, depicting mainstream society as misguided on LGBTQ issues. In short, Love Won Out showed me that while Exodus International's message has evolved in small ways, its core homophobia remains.

Religious Right Frowns on Emergency Contraception in NYC Schools

Another effort to make emergency contraception available has come under fire from the Religious Right. NBC News reports that the New York Health Department launched a program called Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Healthcare (CATCH) in January 2011. CATCH allows a school nurse or doctor to provide emergency contraception pills, birth control pills, and pregnancy testing to female students at 13 public high schools. The schools were selected because of their location in areas with high teenage pregnancy rates or limited access to contraceptives. Emergency contraception has been available to students at most New York schools with school-based health centers, but CATCH makes it available in schools without such centers.

The New York Times reports that parents of high school students received a form to opt out of reproductive services under the CATCH program, which only 1-2% of parents returned. However, the New York Times states that Greg Pfundstein, executive director of the Chiaroscuro Foundation, questions whether parents gave fully informed consent. Of course, given the Chiaroscuro Foundation's opinions on contraception, this disapproval of CATCH is not surprising. The foundation's website has this to say.
"Over the past several decades, the widespread availability of low cost artificial contraception and abortion have given people in the developed world the ability to disentangle sex and procreation. This power to separate sex from life has led to a generalized devaluation of human life, the legal justification of the killing of the innocent unborn, the moral equivalence of all sexual acts, and the gradual death of some Western cultures through low fertility rates."
Other right-wing voices have criticized the CATCH program. For example, NBC News quotes National Abstinence Education Association president Valerie Huber claimed that the service allegedly "normalizes teen sex", fails to prevent STDs, and neglects abstinence.

In a blog post at the Archdiocese of New York website, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio accused the CATCH program of usurping the role of parents as educators of children. They insisted that abstinence, rather than increased access to contraception, will prevent unintended pregnancy and disease transmission.

One News Now reports that Jason McGuire of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms was alarmed over the "spiritual concerns" and "emotional concerns" of the matter. McGuire claimed that the program sends a message that "safe sex" is okay. He suspected that many New York parents did not receive an opt-out notice.

Finally, the NYC Parents' Choice Coalition, an organization that opposes New York City's current comprehensive sex education in favor of abstinence-only sex education, posted an open letter to Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Walcott condemning the CATCH pilot program. The letter accuses the New York Department of Education of using "deceptive means" to disconnect parents from "potentially life-altering health care decisions" involving their children. Signatories warn that increased access to emergency contraception will supposedly change teens' sexual behavior and put them at greater risk for unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. The letter advocates for an affirmative opt-in option for parents instead of the current opt-out option. Signatories include New York state senator Reuben Dias, Edward Mechmann of the Archdiocese of New York, and several members of the Chiaroscuro Foundation. 

By increasing access to emergency contraception, New York City schools have given young women another tool for preventing unwanted pregnancy. Unfortunately, this access to emergency contraception has also drawn the ire of right-wing voices, meaning that reproductive rights supporters in New York may have a struggle ahead of them.

Commentary Tidbits

Think Progress: Illinois Court Permits Religious Pharmacists To Refuse To Dispense Emergency Contraception

The Guardian: How evangelicals are making children their missionaries in public schools

Right Wing Watch: Anti-Choice Activists to Engage in Civil Disobedience Over Contraception Mandate This Weekend

Alternet: 3 Big Lies in Religious-Right 'Voter Guide' Hitting 13 Million Cell Phones

The New Civil Rights Movement: Catholic Bishop: Vote For A Democrat And You’ll Probably Go To Hell

Religion Dispatches: Forget Debates and Dialogue about LGBT Justice, the Religious Right isn’t Listening -- An interview with Mel White

The Independent: Homophobia in the Church: Why I would break the law in support of LGBT people

Think Progress: Catholic Ex-Gays Reach Out with Priest Rap

Freak Out Nation: Republicans use of God distracts from their demoralizing agenda

Addicting Info: Standard Right Wing Propaganda: Christians Are Persecuted By Liberals

News Tidbits

The Wichita Eagle: Foundation buys former Tiller clinic to provide abortion services

Washington Post: With rise of conservative evangelicals, frocks, low hemlines capture market share in Brazil

BBC News: Mexican New Jerusalem sect children return to school

Pink News: Vatican diplomat: Anti-gay opponents are being ‘vilified’ for their views

Pink News: UK: Christian anti-gay activist acquitted over Tesco leaflets

The Religious Right Around the Globe: Russia's Milonov Says Pray the Gay Away

The erroneous and dangerous belief that homosexuality can be "cured" just gained another proponent. RT reports that during an interview with Russian radio show Ekho Moskvy, Russian political leader Vitaly Milonov claimed that homosexuality could be cured through spiritual repentance. Milonov, an Orthodox Christian, called homosexuality an "illness" and a "bad habit" that could allegedly be cured with fasting and prayer. People can rid themselves of homosexuality just as they rid themselves of kleptomania or fornication, he asserted.

Now where have we heard that before? I thought.

Vitaly Milonov, deputy of the United Russia party and the Legislative Assembly lawmaking committee chair, has a long history of promoting homophobia in Russia. In November 2011, he introduced a controversial bill that forbid "promotion" of homosexuality to minors, which was signed into law by St. Petersburg governor Georgy Poltavchenko this year. The law has been loudly condemned by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, AllOut, and Ravnopravie. News reports indicate that LGBTQ rights activists have been fined and arrested under the law for activities as innocent as rallying or picketing with pro-LGBTQ signs.

Milonov's anti-gay rhetoric is well-known and harsh. In a March 2012 article from the St. Petersburg Times, Milonov criticized LGBTQ equality measures as "temporary trends", in contrast to "European tendencies" that reflect "the traditional spirit of Europe." He lamented the fact that "the state decided to make equal the natural, divine union of man and woman, and any other forms of sexual pleasures in the form of homosexuals, people with cut-off sexual parts or altered bodies ..." He also bluntly condemned LGBTQ pride parades as "demonstrations of the sin of Sodom."

At times, Milonov's accusations against LGBTQ persons have gotten him into hot water. According to Gay Star News, Russian gay rights activist Nikolai Alekseev filed a defamation lawsuit against Vitaly Milonov earlier this year after Milonov accused him of accepting overseas funds for gay rights campaigns.

Milonov's animosity toward LGBTQ issues and sexuality have led him to lash out at foreign entertainers. Several weeks ago, reported that Milonov wanted to ban minors less than 18 years of age from attending Lady Gaga's concert in St. Petersburg. According to Gazeta, he also warned organizers of a Madonna concert in St. Petersburg that the show should be "as decent as possible," adding that Madonna should not take off her pants. He reportedly threatened Madonna with penalties for engaging in "gay propaganda among minors." Milonov has also lashed out at MTV and the German heavy metal band Rammstein, according to RT.

In short, Milonov's claims that homosexuals can "pray away the gay" are just the latest controversy in his long history of anti-LGBTQ activism. It's easy to see why a homophobe such as Milonov claims that homosexuality can be cured. First, if homosexuality is seen as a pathology rather than a legitimate sexual orientation, it's easier to deny LGBTQ persons equal rights. Second, if homosexuality can supposedly be overcome through choice, why grant equal rights to people who "choose" to remain that way? Milonov's claims bring to mind the claims of U.S. homophobes who claim that homosexuality can be cured or transcended through faith -- and they likely perform the same political purpose.

Monday, September 24, 2012

News Tidbits

Huffington Post: Joel Osteen Says Being Straight Is 'Not A Choice,' But Maintains Being Gay Is A Sin

Bikyamasr: After Australia, Hindus ask Vatican for White Paper on global child sex abuse

Pink News: Pope: Same-sex marriage threatens the future of human nature and society

On Top Magazine: Bishop Peter Sartain Claims Gay Marriage Would Harm Society 'Beyond Repair'

BBC News: Ex-gay survivor's tales of exorcism in middle England

New York Times: An Evangelical Is Back From Exile, Lifting Romney

The Advocate: Chick-fil-A President Assures Mike Huckabee: Nothing Has Changed

Washington Blade: Black pastor against same-sex marriage admits NOM connection

Commentary Tidbits

God Discussion: Christian conservatives to gather at 'Restoring America Conference'

News One: Five ‘God Soldiers’ Who Fell From Grace

Friendly Atheist: Cheerleaders at Texas High School Angry Because They Can’t Hold Up Biblical Run-Through Signs at Football Games

Salon: Bill Nye warns: Creation views threaten US science

The Daily Beast: Mormons Want to Excommunicate Romney Critic

Think Progress: Focus On The Family Endorses Ex-Gay Splinter Group For ‘Sexual Brokenness’

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

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Exodus International Equipping Event, Part III

(To read an introduction to Exodus International, click here. To read part I, click here. To read part II, click here.)

After lunch, the Exodus International equipping event resumed with fictional scenarios. Each table was given a slip of paper with an LGBTQ-related scenario written on it, and groups talked about how they would respond to each scenario. My table received the following scenario: a couple reveals that their son came out as gay after being away at college for a year. The son had been a member of the church's youth group. How do you reach out to the son?

The five other people at my table batted around ideas. One man stressed that the son will need another identity to replace the gay identity they want to take away, or else he'll resist. One woman reminded the group that religious faith is a choice and may not happen right away; thus, the parents need to be treated with love if their son doesn't embrace Christianity right away. Another woman added that they should respect the boundaries of the son. They can talk with and pray for the young man's parents, but they should not talk about homosexuality with the son until he comes to them. Everyone agreed that the parents should be counseled to love their son unconditionally, regardless of his homosexuality, which gave me a small dose of relief.

When the various tables shared their scenario responses, one table discussed the scenario of a lesbian couple who wanted to be members of their church. The table agreed that while no one should be turned away from Christ, the couple must be made aware that God doesn't condone their sinful behavior. They stressed the difference between being welcome in a church and being a church member, adding that a life of purposeful sinful mistakes is not Christlike.

Chambers, Yuan, and Rodgers listened from the front of the room. Rodgers claimed that homosexuals cannot wrap their heads around the notion of "love the sinner, hate the sin." However, she urged listeners to use different language than that, reminding them that such language could be misinterpreted by gays as a personal rejection of them as people. Yuan chimed in, insisting that homosexual behavior rather than the homosexual persons is sinful, adding that, "There's lots of room for sinners in our churches." Chambers said that homosexuality is not the only issue troubling churches, admonishing listeners to hate the sin in their own lives too.

The last module of the day was a question-and-answer session with Chambers, Yuan, and Rodgers. Yuan criticized the hermeneutics of gay-affirming Christianity, accusing it of promoting a regressive view of sexuality. He made the inaccurate, ahistorical claim that pre-Christian and pre-Jewish cultures accepted homosexuality, ignoring the fact that ancient cultures had very diverse views on sexuality.
"When we find people who are gay-affirming, we kind of find an inverted hermeneutics where we find experience almost trumps--it's not that scripture interprets our experience, it's our experience that interprets scripture, because seldom do I hear from people who have moved from a traditional view of sexuality to, they call it progressive, but I don't like to use progressive, because it's almost regressive. I mean, before Judeo-Christian values, all cultures embraced homosexuality. So, their revisionist view of sexuality that we find people say, 'Well, I used to believe that homosexuality is a sin, but then my best friend is gay and they love Jesus, so how could this be a sin?' So we find where experience trumps the authority of scripture. It's not sola scriptura anymore, it's sola me."
When an audience member asked him how he would respond to someone who said "I was born this way," Yuan claimed that such a person needs to be born again.
"Even though you believe that you're born gay, I know the Bible says that you must be born again ... It doesn't matter if you think you're born gay or if you're born an alcoholic ... Just come to Jesus."
Chambers disagreed with the idea that genetics dictate sexuality, insisting that all people are born fallen but that fact need not prevent people from serving Christ. Again, he framed homosexuality and Christianity as mutually exclusive categories.
"We're born genetically, physically, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, sociologically, anthropologically ... We're fallen. We're born fallen. I think it's too simple to say there's a gay gene. Genetics were never meant to be tyrannical. Just because I have a genetic predisposition to something doesn't mean that I am forced to believe as my genetics say I should behave. I have a number of friends who are doctors and one of them said just last wee, 'we're a hundred percent genetic and a hundred percent spiritual, and it's all of it.' ... Who cares? Does it matter? Does it matter whether we were born genetically predisposed to same-sex attraction or not? It doesn't because that hasn't hindered out ability to choose Christ and to serve him faithfully."
The final session of the day featured Alan Chambers' closing remarks. Much of Chambers' talk focused on how Christians can evangelize effectively and avoid pitfalls that have fueled hostility from LGBTQ persons. Chambers called the LGBTQ rights movement "angry and bitter," but blamed hostility from the Christian community in part for that anger.
"We haven't always done it right in the church when it comes to how we have reacted or responded to the issue of homosexuality, how we have treated people, the jokes we've told, the attitudes we've had, the types of things we've created and systems we've created in our churches that are only there to address that one particular issue, so we have a long way to go. And I think we have an angry and bitter gay rights movement today. The angry and bitter gay rights movement that irritates us so often, but I think we have that angry and bitter gay rights movement today because of how we have reacted in the church, what we've done, how we've reacted to them and how we've treated them, and I think we have to do better."
He lamented the "missed opportunity" that presented itself during the Chick-fil-A debacle, insisting that Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day sent the wrong message to observers. The problem, as Chambers saw it, was that the controversy conveyed Christian disdain for LGBTQ people instead of support for opposite-sex marriage and freedom of speech.
"We as a Christian community missed an opportunity because the message didn't get out loud and clear that we're in support of marriage or that we're in support of free speech.  So many of my gay and lesbian friends and non-Christian friends heard on Support Chick-fil-A day, they heard, 'we're against you.' They saw us lined up in droves, lines a mile long, to show not necessarily what we're for but what we're against."
Chambers urged the faith community to cultivate welcoming communities, lest LGBTQ people find refuge in "counterfeit communities" such as gay hangouts.
"Create within your community an atmosphere of openness, an atmosphere of transparency. The reason people go to counterfeit communities like happy hour every afternoon from four to six at their favorite bar is because they can be whoever they want to be in that context. Nobody in the bar is going to beat them over the head or look at them cross-eyed because of what they did, and if they do look at them cross-eyed, the reason the person's not going to feel uncomfortable that they were looked at the way they were looked at because that's their community. These people are in relationship with them. I long for the day when our churches are better than my favorite gay bar was, when our churches are better than the counterfeit communities where people are spending the bulk of their lives."
Chambers words, while well-meaning, struck me as misguided. Does Chambers really believe that anti-gay Christians can woo LGBTQ persons while simultaneously condemning their sexual orientation as sinful? Does he really believe that groups such as Exodus can earn gay people's trust while simultaneously condemning their love, sexuality, and relationships? While such tactics may work with LGBTQ persons who have been convinced that their sexual orientation is pathological, most LGBTQ persons will reject Exodus International's message.

In conclusion, the Exodus International equipping event in Mechanicsburg was a revealing look into the rhetoric of fundamentalist Christian homophobia. While it has publicly rejected the promise of guaranteed sexual orientation change, it still promotes a vague idea of "transformation" through Christ without firmly defining what that means. Exodus International condemns homosexuality as sinful, frames it as incompatible with robust Christian faith, and couches such homophobia in language about "love" and "openness." While its call to "love" LGBTQ persons is softer and gentler than the vicious hate that some fundamentalists spew, it's also more insidious, since Exodus International is still homophobic. I expect to hear similar rhetoric when I observe Exodus International's "Love Won Out" conference in Mechanicsburg later this month.

Quotes from the 2012 Democratic National Convention

The 2012 Democratic National Convention took place in Charlotte, NC on September 4-6, shortly after the Republican National Convention concluded in Tampa, FL. The DNC was noteworthy not only for its strong LGBTQ presence, but for the presence of women who have fought for reproductive justice. Among the many speakers at the DNC were reproductive rights advocate Sandra Fluke, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, and NARAL president Nancy Keenan. Unfortunately, Cardinal Timothy Dolan's prayer, with its subtle disapproval of abortion and same-sex marriage, came as an unpleasant surprise to a convention that supported both.

Sandra Fluke, who testified on contraceptive coverage before the House Steering and Policy Committee earlier this year (see here and here) made a bold speech about reproductive justice at the convention.
"During this campaign, we've heard about two profoundly different futures that could await women in this country, and how one of those futures looks like an offensive, obsolete relic of our past. Warnings of that future are not distractions. They are not imagined. That future could become real. In that America, your new president could be a man who stands by when a public figure tries to silence a private citizen with hateful slurs. A man who won't stand up to those slurs or to any of the extreme bigoted voices in his own party. It would be an America in which you have a new vice-president who co-sponsored a bill that would allow pregnant women to die preventable deaths in our emergency rooms. An America in which states humiliate women by forcing us to endure invasive ultrasounds that we don't want and our doctors say that we don't need. An America in which access to birth control is controlled by people who will never use it. An America in which politicians redefine rape and victims are victimized all over again, in which someone decides which domestic violence victim deserves access to services and which don't."
Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards spoke to an enthusiastic audience at the convention, slamming Republican leaders who have fought against women's reproductive rights.
"Two years ago when Paul Ryan and John Boehner and Todd Akin and the  Tea Party took over the House of Representatives, they promised us they were going to create jobs and jumpstart the economy, but instead, on day one, they came after women's health and they haven't let up since. Right? So first, end cancer screenings and well-women visits for five million women. They voted top end funding for birth control with Planned Parenthood, and for good measure, they even tried to redefine rape. [Crowd boos] And now, Mitt Romney is campaigning to get rid of Planned Parenthood and overturn Roe v. Wade, and we won't let him."
NARAL Pro-Choice America president Nancy Keenan praised the Democratic party for its stance on reproductive rights. Amusingly, she also threw in a jab at Todd Akin for his ill-thought comments on rape.
"I am proud to say that the Democratic party believes that women have the right to choose a safe, legal abortion with dignity and with privacy. We believe in family planning because it helps to prevent unintended pregnancy. We believe that a woman considering an abortion should not be forced to have an ultrasound against her will. We believe that rape is rape. We believe that a woman should make health care decisions with her family, her doctor, and her God, and we believe that there is no room for politicians, especially those politicians who don't know how women's bodies work."
Inviting several prominent reproductive rights supporters was a savvy move by the Democratic National Convention. At a time when Republicans have alienated many progressive and moderate women by undermining abortion access and contraceptive coverage, the Democratic party now appears far more appealing. By inviting Fluke, Richards, Keenan, and others to speak, the DNC may have been reaching out to female voters who feel distressed by the right-wing war on women.

In stark contrast, Cardinal Timothy Dolan startled listeners when he delivered a closing prayer that waxed poetic about the unborn and allegedly God-given institutions.
"Thus do we praise you for the gift of life. Grant us the courage to defend it. Life without which no other rights are secure. We ask your benediction on those waiting to be born, that they may be welcomed and protected ... Show us anew that happiness is found only in respecting the laws of nature and of nature's God. Empower us with your grace so that we might resist the temptation to replace the moral law with idols of our own making, or to remake those institutions you've given us for the nurturing of life and community."
In a commentary at Raw Story, David Edwards speculates that Dolan's comments may have been a jab at the Democratic platform's stance on same-sex marriage. At the New Civil Rights Movement, David Badash was stunned at Dolan's gauche prayer, which flew in the face of the DNC's pro-choice, pro-LGBTQ messages.
"Democrats had just spent the better part of a week approving language supporting same-sex marriage equality in their platform, along with supporting a woman’s right to choose, but Dolan saw fit to be not only a bad guest, but a forced guest in what was home to a celebration of women, the LGBT community, and minorities the likes of which America has never before seen on a national stage."
Writing at Truth Wins Out, Wayne Besen launched a scathing attack on Dolan's prayer, accusing him of ignoring depravity within his own church.
"Instead of praying to end the depravity in his own church, resulting in billions of dollars in settlements, Dolan took his opportunity at the Democratic and Republican conventions to bash our healthy, happy families and promote a bogus storyline of Catholics losing religious liberty."
I have a feeling that we'll hear reproductive rights advocates praise the Democrats as the election season progresses. Cardinal Dolan, on the other hand . . .

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Social Work Class Labels Homosexuality "Deviant"

A social work class at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio is drawing angry attention from alumni. According to NPR, the university is offering a course on deviant behavior that lumps homosexuality and prostitution together with murder, rape, mental illness, and drug abuse. The Psychology, Mental Health and Human Services Department page of the Franciscan University of Steubenville website describes SWK 314: Deviant Behavior as such.
"DEVIANT BEHAVIOR focuses on the sociological theories of deviant behavior such as strain theory, differential association theory, labeling theory, and phenomenological theory. The behaviors that are primarily examined are murder, rape, robbery, prostitution, homosexuality, mental illness, and drug use. The course focuses on structural conditions in society that potentially play a role in influencing deviant behavior."
NPR reports that a Franciscan University gay and lesbian alumni group is outraged at the course and has asked the university to revise the course description. In a statement shared at WTOV 9, Gay Alumni and Allies of Catholic Universities laments that "[o]utdated prejudices appear to be given more weight than scientific truth" at the school.
"To classify the normal day-to-day life of gay and lesbian citizens as being on par with that of murderers, rapists, and prostitutes is offensive, untrue, and an example of religious ideology being allowed to trump the scientifically demonstrated truth of the matter ... Further concern must be raised that such classifications feed cultural biases and promote hatred for lesbian and gay individuals and runs counter to official Roman Catholic teaching on this matter."
Gay Alumni and Allies of Catholic Universities encouraged Franciscan University to revise its course descriptions and audit its curriculum for unsubstantiated claims. It urged the university to "stop contributing the culture of hate and ignorance" that LGBTQ persons endure.

After the group shared their press release, they received an e-mail from the general counsel of Franciscan University warning them to cease and desist from using the university's name, reports Think Progress. The group responded by taking "university" out of its name.

Inside Higher Ed reports that the university's vice president for academic affairs, Daniel R. Kempton, released a statement insisting that the school opposes promoting values contrary to Catholic teaching. Academic freedom applies to SWK 314: Deviant Behavior, he argued, claiming that the position that homosexuality is deviant is a legitimate position for the class.

Fortunately, complains have not gone unnoticed. According to NPR, the director of the office of accreditation at the Council on Social Work education said that labeling homosexuality as deviant behavior "raises a flag." A spokesperson for Franciscan University stated that the university is currently reviewing the course description.

I am aware that the social work definition of deviancy differs from the definition used in common parlance. Still, framing homosexuality as deviant alongside illegal and violent behaviors such as murder and rape ignores current science on sexuality and sends a dangerous message. I hope the university makes a sincere effort to reevaluate the content of SWK 314: Deviant Behavior.

As a side note, I'm also concerned about the course labeling prostitution as deviant and grouping it together with violent acts such as murder and rape. Will the course acknowledge that some prostituted persons do not enter prostitution willingly (i.e., sex trafficking, child sexual exploitation)? Will it acknowledge that factors such as poverty can drive people into prostitution? Does it make sense to label prostitution as a deviant behavior when the above factors are in play? I'm surprised that more attention hasn't been devoted to this in the blogosphere, but I hope the university takes these issues into consideration as well.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Good As You: Catholic College Equates Gays with Murderers

Daily Kos: Catholic University in Ohio Has Anti-Gay Pseudo-Science Course, Threatens LGBT Alumni Who Exposed It

Digital Cuttlefish: You Know, Deviants–Like Rapists, Murderers ... Gays ...

News Tidbits

Reuters: U.S. groups helped fund Dutch anti-Islam politician Wilders

Metro News: Parents ask for warning when homosexuality, birth control are taught

Edge Boston: "Ex-Gay" Ban Awaits Brown Signature

Huffington Post: Kirk Cameron Blames Anti-Gay Controversy On Liberal Press

The Age: Australia: Anglican archbishop backs Christian lobby's gay views

Commentary Tidbits

SPLC Hatewatch: SPLC Urges Public Figures Not to Attend Values Voter Summit

Talk to Action: Mormonism & Schism on the Christian Right

God Discussion: Religious right activists to pray to 'save America' from ungodly mess of secular humanism

Washington Post: Conservative Christian leaders focus on Romney’s policies, not faith

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Musical Interlude: "Opium" by Dead Can Dance

I've loved Dead Can Dance since college, and I've been enchanted with their new album, Anastasis. I had the pleasure of seeing Dead Can Dance in concert last month at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. Hearing "The Host of Seraphim" live took my breath away, and hearing "Opium" for the first time stirred something deep in my heart. Enjoy.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Exodus International Equipping Event: Part II

(To read an introduction to Exodus International, click here. To read part I, click here. To Read Part III, click here.)

After Jeff Buchanan's talk, the Exodus International equipping event featured testimonies from two Christian speakers: 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.

Julie Rodgers was raised in a conservative Christian family, admitting that her parents homeschooled her to "shield" her from the outside world. Rodgers described a childhood filled with unhappiness, in which she was plagued with self-doubt and she and her brother were expected to meet her mother's emotional needs. This, combined with sexual abuse she endured from her brother's friends, resulted in feelings of loneliness, worthlessness, and vulnerability. In response, she sought to be tough rather than stereotypically feminine, having come to believe that being a girl was to be weak.

During her high school years, Rodgers was mentored by an encouraging female principal, who one day asked Rodgers if she had accepted her lesbianism. The principal, who attended an LGBTQ-affirming church, introduced Rodgers to queer theology and helped overturn her belief that homosexuality was a disgusting sin. Rodgers quoted Proverbs 27:7 -- "to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet" -- to describe her hunger for attention and encouragement at the time. She also quoted Proverbs 14:12 -- "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end leads to death" -- to describe her lesbian identity during this period.

Around age sixteen or seventeen, Rodgers came out to her mother, who became emotionally upset. Afterwards, Rodger's mother put her in touch with a Baptist minister who preached to her about "God's design" for sexuality, insisting that homosexuality is outside of that design. Although Rodgers was initially hostile, she missed Jesus and kept talking to her minister. Rodgers said that she couldn't be part of a gay Christian church anymore because it allegedly wasn't preaching the accurate Gospel or making Jesus paramount.

Some time later, Rodgers was sexually assaulted by a different pastor, leaving her heartbroken and angry at a God who had betrayed her. After a bout of self-injury, drug abuse, and drinking, she opened her Bible for the first time in years and found Deuteronomy 30:19, a passage that urged her to "choose life." As she watched the sun rise the next morning, she felt Jesus comfort her in her "mess."

Rodgers insisted that she did not go from lesbian to straight, but from a mess to someone walking with Jesus. Before, her worth rested in whether she was attractive to other women, but now her worth lies elsewhere. While she admitted that she still has "same-sex attraction," she claims that her heart has changed profoundly.

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The next testimony came from Christopher Yuan, who shared a story of family heartbreak, crime, incarceration, and religious conversion. Yuan told the audience about how he lived as a gay man, eventually coming out to his parents. Horrified, his mother told him that he must choose between his homosexuality and his family. Later, Yuan's mother spoke with a minister, who gave her a pamphlet. Afterwards, she and Yuan's father converted to Christianity and reconciled with their son.

Meanwhile, Yuan became a fixture in the gay club scene, immersing himself in drug use and drug dealing. On the screens at the front of the room, he shared photos of his old life from gay clubs, where shirtless men were prominent. Eventually, Yuan was expelled from graduate school. His mother insisted that Yuan converting to Christianity was more important than earning his doctorate, but he was uninterested.

After the doctorate debacle, Yuan moved to Georgia, where he continued to indulge in promiscuity and drug dealing. Although he was distant from his parents, his mother would frequently send him Christian-themed cards, which he threw away. When they visited him in Atlanta, he kicked them out of his home for "radiating Christ." Before he left, his father gave him a Bible, which Yuan promptly threw in the garbage.

Yuan's mother was undeterred. She recruited one hundred "prayer warriors" to pray for Yuan, while she herself beseeched God to do whatever it took to lead her son to God. Additionally, she fasted ever week and interceded on her son's behalf in her prayer closet. The lingo Yuan used -- "prayer warriors," "intercession," and "prayer closet" -- sounded like New Apostolic reformation language, leading me to wonder if his mother was an Apostolic Christian.

According to Yuan, God intervened in a harsh but effective way. One day, Atlanta police and drug enforcement agents intercepted a drug shipment and arrested him. He was eventually sentenced to six years in prison for his drug-related crimes. Tragedy befell Yuan when he learned that he was HIV positive from the prison nurse.

While in prison, he passed by a garbage can, thinking that the garbage represented his life at the time. Sitting on top of the garbage was a copy of Gideon's New Testament, which reminded him of the time he threw his father's Bible in the trash. Interpreting this as a meaningful portent, Yuan took the New Testament with him to his cell and read it. As he continued his study of the Bible in prison, Jeremiah 29:11 became a meaningful passage for him.

Yuan felt conflicted about the Bible's stance on homosexuality, but eventually stopped identifying as gay after an exchange with a prison chaplain went sour.
"The last thing that I was holding onto was my sexuality. As I was reading the Bible, I couldn't get around the fact that God loved me, but I also came across those passages which seemed to condemn that core part of who I thought I was, my sexuality. So I went to a prison chaplain and asked him his opinion on this issue, and to my surprise this prison chaplain actually told me that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality, and he gave me a book off his shelf and he said, 'This book explains that view.' So naturally, with much curiosity, I took that book in the hopes of finding Biblical justification for homosexuality. I had that book in one hand and the Bible in the other, and let me tell you, from a purely human perspective, I had every reason in the world to accept what that book was claiming to justify the way I had been living, but God's indwelling Holy Spirit convicted me that those assertions from that book were a clear distortion of God, his word, and his unmistakable condemnation against homosexual behavior. I couldn't even finish that book. I gave it back to the chaplain."
Yuan concluded that he could either live as a gay man or as a Christian, choosing the latter and adopting a life of abstinence. God's unconditional love did not equal unconditional acceptance of supposedly sinful behavior, he argued.

Eventually, Yuan's prison sentence was shortened from six years to three years. After his release, he enrolled at Moody Bible College, where he is now earning a ministry doctorate. As he concluded the story of his long journey, he defined "change" in vague and noncommittal terms, much like other Exodus International voices had.
"As confusing and controversial as this issue is that affects people, there's only but one answer, and that's the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It's the Gospel that is going to bring lasting change, maybe not change the way that we expect or hope of just having no problems in life ... but it's a hope that is not of this world. It's a hope that even through difficulties, it's a hope that even struggles and temptations that we can still have joy and we can still have power."
Yuan's ending words may have been intended as reminders that Exodus International will not necessarily cure LGBTQs, and that the path they offer to LGBTQs will not be pleasant.

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Rodgers and Yuan's testimonies contained many of the same elements I've heard in other "ex-gay" personal stories: family dysfunction, sexual trauma, promiscuity, drugs, and crushing unhappiness. While neither speaker claimed that said traumas caused their homosexuality, the implication seemed to be that homosexuality was entangled in pain and unsavory behavior. The idea that one could be LGBTQ and live a happy, healthy life was not considered.

I want to be absolutely clear. I am not necessarily disputing that painful things happened to Rodgers and Yuan. I wish them both healing and strength in confronting the painful events of their pasts. Rather, I'm arguing that said traumas have been woven into an anti-LGBTQ narrative in which healing is equated with rejecting one's sexuality.

As with other Exodus International voices, Rodgers and Yuan framed homosexuality and Christianity as diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive. LGBTQ status is imagined as a spiritual impediment, a false identity, and an anchor in sin. Not only does such an approach make it impossible to envision healthy sexuality for LGBTQ persons, it also makes it impossible to reconcile spirituality and sexuality into wholeness. In short, Rodgers and Yuan propose an unhealthy version of Christianity that ignores the need for personal wholeness.

Stay tuned for part III. To read additional commentary about Rodgers and Yuan, visit the following links.

Broad Recognition: The Nonsense of Christopher Yuan

Truth Wins Out: Exodus Ex-Gays Charge Ahead with Plan to "Transform" Gays

Commentary Tidbits

Infidel753: The Democrats Raise the Stakes

Salon: From “slut” to speaker: Sandra Fluke's unlikely journey culminates with a speech at the DNC

Religion Dispatches: Manufactured Outrage Over ‘Godless’ Democratic Platform

Think Progress: Conservatives Bash Sandra Fluke’s Convention Speech, Parroting Limbaugh’s Sexist Attacks

Right Wing Watch: CWA: If Sandra Fluke Just Spent Less on Beer, She Could Afford Her Own Birth Control

Lez Get Real: Evangelical Super PAC: Vote Romney Or You’ll Be Gay Married

Time: Chuck Norris Makes His Own Political Ad, Warns Evangelicals About Barack Obama

Huffington Post: A Gay Dad Sounds Off: 10 Reasons Why Conservative Christians Should Be Fighting for Gay Marriage

News Tidbits

CNN: Democrats update platform with Jerusalem, God reference

Washington Post: Religious freedom debate off the Democratic convention floor

New Jersey Today: Lawmaker Announces Effort To Ban Controversial Practice Of “Conversion Therapy” For Minors

Sydney Morning Herald: Gay slur sparks Gillard boycott of Christian event

Sydney Morning Herald: Exclusive Brethren GP banned for prescribing gay 'cure'

The Religious Right Around the Globe: Students Complain in Norway

The Oslo International Bible College (OIBC) in Norway is an English-language vocational college that offers training in church and organizational leadership, mission and humanitarian work, and creative communication. Recently, the school has come under fire from dozens of students over allegations of threats and religious pressure.

According to the Norwegian newspaper Universitas, 70 students have accused management at OIBC of harassment and threats. According a letter sent by 70 OIBC to the Norweigian National Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (Nasjonalt Organ for Kvalitet i Utdannigen or NOKUT), students have accused college staff of forcing them to speak in tongues, accusing students of having the "spirit of the devil," and claiming that some students engage in "witchcraft." Students also claim that they felt pressured to attend religious services and felt stigmatized if they attended other churches on Sundays. The Local reports that NOKUT has met with college management to discuss the issue and awaits the results of an investigation by the Norweigian Ministry of Education.

In an interview with Universitas, OIBC founder Henrik Larsen admitted that dozens of students could have had such experiences, but also expressed doubts that signatories knew what they were signing. (Via Google Translate)
"I have asked myself how this could happen. And I asked the student council if they could figure this out. I have heard that those who signed the letter did not read the whole letter before signing. When you look at some of the complaints so it is also possible that 70 students have experienced all these things."
These allegations are worrisome. Let's hope the investigation gets to the bottom of the matter.

Hat tip to the Local. To learn more about OIBC, visit their website at www[dot]oslointernational[dot]org