I’ve disagreed several times with ex-gay blogger Karen Keen, who seemed a bit too unskeptical of obvious wrongdoing by certain Exodus International leaders and ministries, a wee bit too tolerant of harm done to most former ex-gays for the supposed benefit of a few.
However, I give Keen credit for not only acknowledging, but also agreeing with, key concerns about Exodus International’s keynote role last week in a Uganda antigay conference.
Keen writes at length about the conference and Exodus’ responsibilities. I encourage readers to view Keen’s entire article; here are some excerpts.
Keen begins with an excellent summary of the problem:
There were several problems with this conference, including Ugandan Christians supporting laws to imprison gay people, the failure of the American speakers to denounce this harsh penal code, and the suggestion by one speaker to require court-mandated therapy in lieu of imprisonment. As a result of my concerns, I sent a letter to Exodus International president, Alan Chambers, and the Board of Directors asking them to publicly clarify their position on the criminalization of homosexuality and forced therapy. While Exodus was not a sponsor of this event, nor directly involved, the fact that an Exodus board member played a prominent role requires an explanation. To their credit, I received a prompt response from Mr. Chambers. I was not given any definitive details, but it appears position statements may be issued in the future. Though, no timeline was given or promised.
Keen writes and then discusses the following bullet points for Exodus and its critics:
Do Your Homework: It is very easy to make quick judgments about a situation without deeper investigation. …
Ironically, despite his extreme views, [Scott Lively] actually made statements at the Ugandan conference that may have sounded progressive to his African audience. Per an eye-witness representing the pro-gay organization SMUG, Lively stated that gays who are acting out in private should be left in peace. He also told conference participants to leave people alone who don’t want to change. But instead focus on fighting open promotion of homosexuality. He also said that criminalization should be tied to treatment rather than imprisonment. If these statements are accurate it suggests Lively is not so much in favor of forced therapy as he was offering the Ugandans a less harsh alternative to imprisonment. Nevertheless, he seems to support the criminalization of homosexuality and he did, in fact, suggest court-mandated therapy for those convicted. This is a frightening prospect given history’ use of electric shock treatment for those who are gay. Who knows what the Ugandan government would consider viable treatment. In any case, such forced therapy has no real hope of being effective.
Lively’s position, as presented by Keen, is self-contradictory: Prosecute gay people, force ex-gay therapy upon them, and condemn gays to life imprisonment if the forced ex-gay therapy doesn’t work. But leave people alone? Furthermore, I’ve seen no indication that Lively suggested a live-and-let-live attitude, and in fact that has never been his modus operandi, given his efforts to accuse all gay people of complicity in pedophilia, the Holocaust, and whatever other atrocities will fuel public hatred of gay people.
The second speaker was Caleb Lee Brundidge, a representative of International Healing Foundation. In news reports Brundidge was criticized for his involvement with the discredited group, Extreme Prophetic. This ministry, among other things, engages in “mortuary ministry” to raise the dead. However, Brundidge did not speak at the conference as a representative of Extreme Prophetic. Rather he shared his testimony of coming out of homosexuality‚Äîa typical testimony one might hear at any ex-gay ministry. Nor am I particularly concerned that Brundidge believes, as did the early Christians, that some people can be raised from the dead through prayer. While there are problems with Extreme Prophetic, this appears irrelevant to the conference and merely used as a form of character assassination to further portray the Ugandan conference as weird.
Despite Keen’s rejection of critics as character assassins, the concerns of Christian pro-exgay pundit Warren Throckmorton and of Christians within the ex-gay watchdog groups are valid: Brundidge’s particular brand of ex-gay counseling is a form of self-styled witchcraft and exorcism. While I personally have no objection to pagan religious practices, Brundidge’s brand of worthless ex-gay magic gives him no reputable role within a Christian-themed conference that supposedly offers credible, humane, and effective solutions to Africans — parents, in particular.
However, Brundidge’ involvement with Richard Cohen’ International Healing Foundation is a concern. Exodus International has publicly disavowed IHF stating: Exodus International does not endorse the work of Richard Cohen or the methods utilized in his practice.
That claim is no longer accurate. Since distancing itself from IHF, Exodus has since reconciled with the foundation and various Exodus ministries promote the disbarred Cohen’s brand of “therapy.” Cohen also remains in high standing with Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays.
So, why did an Exodus board member speak alongside a representative of a ministry Exodus has disavowed? The issue is further complicated by the fact that board member, Schmierer, seems to support IHF as indicated by a link he provides to the ministry on his website. Exodus would certainly benefit from more cohesion among its staff and board members about whether are not they believe IHF practices can be “detrimental.”
The third speaker, Exodus board member Don Schmierer, of His Servants focused his presentation on basic Reparative Therapy concepts. …
Overall, I have little complaint about Schmierer’ presentation except that it does not provide the whole scoop. Supporters of reparative theory often fail to inform audiences of all possible etiologies for homosexuality. Likewise, they do not reveal the low conversion rates. Christian psychologists Yarhouse and Jones found only 15% (after a four year period) experienced a shift to heterosexual attraction. The majority of individuals are not going to “repair” their sexual orientation despite practicing all the advice of reparative therapists. This needs to be acknowledged. To provide false hope that most people can be cured of homosexual attraction is grievous and deceptive. It also keeps people from addressing how we can actually support individuals who are not going to experience desired change. Furthermore, I have concerns about a European psychoanalytic worldview being transplanted to Uganda without any consideration for how African cultural dynamics influence family and sexuality in that country.
I agree to some extent, however, I believe Keen is still too tolerant of ex-gay political activists like Schmierer who proclaim the lie that homosexual attraction is always caused by bad parenting, when in fact sexual attraction is rarely determined by parenting. Keen continues to tolerate Exodus officials’ lies which harm a majority of now-former ex-gays and their parents in order to benefit a few individuals whose sexual attraction was influenced not by true sexual orientation, but by childhood abuse or neglect.
Be Culturally Aware. Perhaps one of the primary problems with this conference is that it tried to impose American ideology on Ugandan culture. Uganda is not America. Its one thing for Lively to say the things he does in the United States where gay people are not threatened with imprisonment. Its quite another to bring that same rhetoric to a country where even pastors have posted the names, addresses and photos of gay people on a website, exposing them to potential violence and arrest. …
The harsh attitudes in Uganda toward gay people, the way the AIDS epidemic has shaped responses to sexual activity, and the societal use of shame to effect change are only a few cultural factors that need to be considered before Americans on either side of the debate start telling Ugandans what to do.
Those are good points that are likely to be ridiculed by conservatives who fundamentally disrespect cultures and contexts other than their own.
Don’t Mix Ministry and Politics: I strongly support anyone’ right to be involved in the political process. Those who take part in public policy on issues of homosexuality are not automatically bigots simply because they are advocating for their views (though the manner in which they lobby or the type of action recommended may be bigoted‚Äîby either side). Nevertheless, one cannot successfully minister to a gay person while simultaneously lobbying against him. One cannot assure a gay person he has dignity in one moment and accuse him of preying on children in the next. This is exactly what happens at conferences like the one in Uganda.
That basic truth — “One cannot assure a gay person he has dignity in one moment and accuse him of preying on children in the next” — has been repeatedly and deliberately shunned and sidestepped by Exodus leadership, and by Randy Thomas in particular.
Listen Well, Communicate Well. Despite requests for clarification for almost two weeks, Exodus has not publicly responded to concerns about the conference. … Not only is the gay community concerned, but also members of the ex-gay community. The criminalization of homosexuality and forced therapy are serious issues. To be silent at a time like this is not prudent.
Ex-gay attitudes such as “Don’t believe everything you read” at watchdog sites expose the speaker’s desire to deny reality — simple, important, confirmed facts — when reality conflicts with a cherished but unstable, self-contradictory, and ultimately indefensible ideology. It is unfortunate for them — and their counselees — that some ex-gay leaders choose to confine themselves to an echo chamber of self-affirmation and denial. Such attitudes have become regrettably common elsewhere: They are a key reason for the failure of local and national government agencies to respond to Hurricane Katrina, the catastrophic failure to secure and rebuild Iraq, the failure of the Bush Administration, and — if things don’t improve — the failure of the Obama Administration to change course regarding catastrophic bailouts and runaway federal debt.
Sincerely listening to others is common courtesy. Responding to people is respectful. This is about basic communication skills. Ignoring people is not a good leadership tactic. Nor is it good PR.
That was a valid point. However:
If Exodus is not ready to make a position statement at this time, perhaps they might consider saying: “Hey, we’ve heard your concerns, we are taking them seriously and we want to spend some time thinking and praying through them before we give an official response. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.”
Given the brutality that Exodus affirmed in Uganda, I regret to advise that such an apathetic response — prolonged passive prayer in the face of an imminent March 15 campaign of antigay violence and vigilantism that one actively aided and abetted — would be considered a disingenuous reaffirmation of the violence.
At this late date, renewed antigay violence in Uganda may be unavoidable — and that is attributable directly to two Exodus officials’ collaboration with Uganda’s Stephen Langa and America’s Scott Lively in a conference that affirmed and launched a March 15 campaign of vigilantism, prosecution, re-education, and imprisonment.