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Misty Irons: The Failure of Ex-Gay Ministries

Guest blog by Misty Irons. Misty describes herself as: a “straight, married with three kids, homeschooling, evangelical Christian of the Reformed variety.” She has been writing and blogging about Christianity, and the place of gays and lesbians in the church and society for many years. Her husband Lee is a former pastor who is currently pursuing an academic career in New Testament Studies. Misty received a B.A. from UCLA in 1990 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies (a layperson's degree) from Westminster Seminary California, in 1996. Misty blogs at: More Musings on Christianity, Homosexuality and the Bible.

Conservative evangelicals may want to believe that Alan Chambers' apology back in June of this year — and the unanimous decision by Exodus International's Board of Directors to shut the organization down — are all about caving in to the pressures of the "homosexual agenda." But for those of us who've been following the ex-gay movement over the years, it's just the last bastion to fall amidst an avalanche of evidence and testimony that ex-gay ministries don't work.

Back in June 30, 2007 I attended
the first Ex-Gay Survivor Conference in Irvine, CA where I was with a gathering of people who testified not only to the failure of ex-gay ministries but the spiritual and psychological devastation such ministries cause. I had already been aware of the non-success of reparative therapy, that was nothing new. But being at this conference showed me that ministries like Exodus International were simply churning out a growing army of credible witnesses against its claims of orientation change. It would only be a matter of time before that number would reach a critical mass. Something was going to give, and with Alan Chambers' announcement about the closing down of Exodus International, it looks like that moment has arrived.

To be clear, this is not a case of ex-gay ministries producing both the success stories and the not-so-successful stories, with the not-so-successful ones grabbing more media attention. I'm in my thirteenth year of knowing gay and lesbian Christians and talking to them about their experiences, and I've never met a single person who credibly testified to having a successful orientation change. What's more, I've never even met someone who knew someone who had such a testimony.

I'm not talking about ex-gay poster boys and girls who are willing to testify to some type of "change" loosely defined. There are plenty of people around who talk glowingly of their "diminishing desires," opposite-sex marriages, and of leaving behind "the lifestyle." What I'm talking about is a credible orientation change from homosexual to heterosexual.

Shall I be more specific? A credible example of orientation change would be a man, who once could only get physically aroused by looking at naked men, who has changed so that he can now only get physically aroused by looking at naked women. Not only is the girlie porn giving him a physical response, but it has become a temptation. He may even be sneaking onto the Internet at night to look at it. Now if this accurately describes our transformed guy's behavior, then I would be willing to knight him a bonafide heterosexual male. Anything short of that is just a big pile of so-what.

When you hang out with a lot of gay Christians and hear them talking amongst themselves, you discover that going through an ex-gay phase in life is like a running joke with them. Been There, meet Done That. It is like being at a reunion of war veterans. How many years were you in it? How badly were you traumatized? How are you doing now? There are some who try to defend ex-gay therapy a little, saying they weren't too traumatized and they did grow spiritually from it. Then there are others who were so hurt they won't even discuss it. The one conversation you never hear is people reminiscing about their amazing experience of finding out what real heterosexual feelings are like.

You can say that I'm hanging out with the wrong crowd, and to be fair there are still plenty of ex-gay Christians out there who are true believers in the miracle that awaits them. But for these ex-gay loyalists, I find that the story is always about being on a journey toward a great hope. Maybe orientation change hasn't happened for them yet, but they have faith that they are well on their way, and what right do you have to take that hope away from them?

A conversation between ex-gays and ex-gay survivors reminds me of the sticky interaction between teenagers and their parents. A teenager who is just starting out on the journey of life has hopes and aspirations. He or she feels a bit touchy about having his or her decision to become, say, an art major criticized. He or she doesn't want to hear a lecture about "when I was your age" or "someday when you're older you'll understand." The parents, on the other hand, have been down that road already. They remember what it's like to have rosy ideals and remember also the disappointment of shattered dreams. They don't want to rain on their teen's party, but they don't want to have to say "I told you so" years down the line either. What can you do about a person with such aspirations except to let them continue on the journey and find out for themselves where it leads? The problem with this analogy is that it does break down at one point, which is that it isn't too hard to find successful art majors who have proven their parents wrong.

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