Tonight’s presentation of “Pray Away the Gay?” on the Oprah Winfrey Network was not horrible — it was respectful and sensitive to all sides — but nor was it balanced.
The first 40 minutes of the program were devoted largely to journalist Lisa Ling’s encounters with a series of ex-gays who admitted facing long struggles against their sexual orientation. Her interactions were frequently supervised and steered by Exodus personnel.
The final 20 minutes, and portions of a live call-in program that followed, portrayed sexual-minority people of faith. Among them were Exodus co-founder Michael Bussee, his same-sex partner, and participants in a gay-affirming Christian camp affiliated with The Naming Project — living ordinary lives with integrity.
As far as they went, the documentary and call-in show portrayed both gay Christians and ex-gays with sensitivity. And we’re grateful to Bussee and The Naming Project for presenting viewers with a positive alternative to the Exodus lifestyle of shame, denial, and deceit.
But throughout the program and call-in show, no references were made to Exodus’ ongoing political and social warfare against sexual minorities. The result for viewers was a false impression that Exodus minds its own business and engages in no dishonesty, harassment, or violence toward gay people.
The program’s first segment prominently featured Exodus’ Minnesota leader Janet Boynes, who is simultaneously the liaison of an Exodus-affiliated church and the head of a self-named shell organization, Janet Boynes Ministries, which houses Boynes’ associations with antigay political extremists. When antigay people seek an Exodus-affiliated church in Minnesota, Exodus refers them to Boynes and just a few other member activists.
On Ling’s program, Boynes rationalized the work of local ex-gay ministries. Boynes served as Ling’s liaison to a young and unhappy ex-gay man named Christian.
At least 15 minutes were devoted to following Boynes and her protégé; not one mention was made of Boynes’ recent work alongside Bradlee Dean (a kill-the-gays youth punk rocker/preacher) in Minnesota; Boynes’ ties to WallBuilders leader David Barton, who calls for gays to be imprisoned; or Boynes’ support for Rep. Michele Bachmann, who equates all gay people with pedophiles and demands that gay workers in Minnesota be fired and left unprotected from hate crimes.
In a live call-in program that followed the documentary, callers were given no opportunity to identify and question Boynes’ political activism. Nor was any mention made of Exodus’ misrepresentation of scientists and their studies of sexual orientation. And no references were made to Exodus’ role in co-launching the Uganda campaign for a kill-the-gays law.
Lisa Ling is a sincere and professional woman who is sympathetic to gay people of faith and the cause of equality. However, she appears to have sold out journalistic objectivity in order to obtain the cooperation of Exodus, which has become reluctant in recent years to talk with media representatives that question its political warfare.