|The article below
widely on the internet and in email lists, so this is notice that I am
full credit to the writer and the publication where it first appeared.
essay below appears at the
end of my novel The
Salvation Mongers, published in June 2000, and it's too bad
just as relevant today as it was when it was written. My opinion, but
purportedly ex-gay, John Paulk (see article to the left) is a deeply
individual, whose self-loathing has taken on a kind of twisted
Why else would he still be trying to convince people he's no longer
Even the religious-right organization who featured him as their poster
in their ads two years ago have dropped him as an embarrassment. None
this is pretty, and despite our desire to just ignore all this
we do so at our peril. Like it or not, gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals, and
people are the targets of an unrelenting hate campaign...
|Ads Renew 'Ex-Gay'
Debate Rights Groups Oppose Ministry to Change Orientation
By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer—Monday, October 21, 2002; Page A04
The last time John Paulk came to Washington, he admits, it ended very badly.
Paulk had been the most famous success story of the Christian ex-gay movement, which seeks to persuade gay men and lesbians to accept Jesus and renounce homosexuality. He had appeared on "60 Minutes," "Oprah" and the cover of Newsweek.
But on Sept. 19, 2000, he was spotted and photographed at a gay bar near Dupont Circle -- proof, according to his opponents in America's culture wars, that at least part of his vaunted conversion was phony. In the ensuing scandal, he was forced to resign as chairman of the largest ex-gay ministry, Exodus International.
Now Paulk, 39, is coming back to Washington -- and letting the city's gay community know in advance. He is seeking to tell his side of what he was doing in one of the capital's best-known gay bars that day two years ago. He is promoting another representative of the ex-gay movement, Amy Tracy, a former press secretary at the National Organization for Women, who says she used to be a "radical feminist lesbian activist" and now is none of those things.
Most of all, Paulk is trying to drum up an audience for a Nov. 2 session of Love Won Out, a traveling revival meeting of ex-gay preachers sponsored by Focus on the Family, the Colorado-based ministry of radio evangelist James Dobson.
In the latest salvo between the ex-gay movement and gay rights groups, Focus on the Family is running a full-page advertisement featuring Tracy in today's Washington Post and has submitted an advertisement featuring Paulk to the Washington Blade, the nation's largest gay newspaper.
Paulk, who describes himself as a former "drag queen and homosexual prostitute" now married to a former lesbian, is manager of Focus on the Family's homosexuality and gender division. He said in an interview that he was "delighted" that the Blade had agreed to print the ad. But William Waybourn, president of Window Media, owner of the Blade, said Friday the text was still under evaluation and had not yet been accepted.
"We're looking at it. I don't want to censor the ad, but at the same time, I want to make sure the ad is correct and that it does not mislead anyone about this group's true aims," Waybourn said.
David Smith, communications director for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, said he was disappointed that The Post and the Blade would consider printing advertisements for "a movement that is clearly dangerous to the mental health of gay people." Although it "goes right up to the line in terms of First Amendment protections," Smith said, "it's almost like advertising cigarettes."
At its Love Won Out conferences, Paulk said, Focus on the Family promotes the view that "homosexuality is a developmental condition -- in other words, it is not genetic in origin, nor is it just some arbitrary choice that someone makes. There are identifiable root causes."
Speakers at the conferences also maintain that "homosexuality is not anything God wishes for someone or that God would look favorably upon, and it is definitely changeable," Paulk said.
The position of Human Rights Campaign and other gay rights organizations, in contrast, is that "there is a growing body of evidence to suggest there is a biological basis" for sexual orientation and that "so-called reparative therapy, or attempting to change one's orientation, can be very harmful," Smith said.
Amid these widely divergent views, Paulk's behavior is a prime exhibit for both sides. In the text of the ad submitted to the Blade, he maintains that he went into a gay bar two years ago only because it was a place where he felt at home.
"What the activists say is, Aha, you were caught! See, you're still gay! My answer is no, I'm not still gay, but at a low point in my life, I went back to a place where I felt comfortable," he said. "From time to time, if I have a homosexual temptation or thought, it's up to me what to do about it. It's like a fly that lands on my shoulder. I can flick it off or I can let it stay."
Smith said Paulk "deserves some credit for gumption" in publicizing his return to Washington, "but there isn't a gay person in America who doesn't know why he was in that bar."
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
The Salvation Mongers 2000—The Real Thing
I do not know of any physical violence that has occurred within the ministries of the ex-gay movement—either past or present. Yet, during the same time that such ministries have been operating, there has been increasing violence against gays, lesbians, and transgendered individuals by hate groups and hate-filled people. A step-father kills his gay step-son, just because he doesn’t like his step-son’s homosexuality; a gay college student is robbed, pistol-whipped, and tied to a fence post to die, because one of the attackers was allegedly propositioned by him and suffered "gay panic"; a gay soldier is bludgeoned to death in his sleep with a baseball bat, because his attacker is embarrassed to have lost a fair fight to a gay man and doesn’t think gay people should be allowed to serve in the United States military. Such hate crimes are increasing, yet across the country, legislators refuse to pass hate-crimes legislation because they don’t think homosexuals deserve "special rights." Moreover, religious organizations are in the forefront of the move to prevent such legislation, at the same time adding to the hate-rhetoric by claiming that it’s the homosexuals in the country who have a frightening and dangerous "gay agenda."
But they go even further, because they have an agenda of their own—nothing less than the extermination of homosexuals, themselves. Is that too blunt? Too disturbing to consider? Too reminiscent of the "Jewish Solution" in Nazi Germany of the 1930s and 40s? Perhaps it is too far-reaching to make such a claim; certainly no right-wing religious organization with a real voice in this country would admit to such an outrageous program of extermination. No, these organizations simply want to deny housing, jobs, protection of civil liberties, and marriage to homosexuals. And during the AIDS epidemic, when gay men were dying by the thousands of this affliction, it wasn’t beneath Pat Robertson and others to declare that it was God’s fitting punishment.
Further, the right-wing Christian organizations eschew any responsibility whatsoever for causing the increase in gay bashing. Yet they are silent when vicious murders actually occur, claiming instead that they love homosexuals and only want to save them. Again, I do not say that ex-gay ministries are responsible for the rise in violence against homosexuals. But I believe that whatever spawns the ex-gay ministries also spawns the hate groups; and I believe that "whatever is behind it" is the view held by the religious right that homosexuality is always a sin, is "unnatural," and that it ought to be a crime to "practice" homosexuality.
Also, ex-gay ministries are often sponsored by the very same right-wing religious organizations that hold this negative view of homosexuality. It is, indeed, from the pulpits and pamphlets of the most right-wing churches that comes hateful rhetoric and spiteful agendas against the homosexual and their sympathizers. Again, I believe that hate groups take their inspiration from such religious organizations.
The Salvation Mongers
To illustrate my point, I wrote The Salvation Mongers to represent the physical violence done to homosexuals in the name of Christianity, or in response to the hateful rhetoric of the religious right. I based the incidents of violence in my novel on actual events that have taken place within the last thirty years in the United States and elsewhere, incidents I read about or witnessed in the real world. For example, the "death of the spirit" demonstration in my novel was inspired by the real-world religious leader, Jim Jones. He sentenced two men to a "spiritual death" when they were caught having sex in his late 1970s cult; they were locked together inside a coffin for 24 hours, which was on display in the compound for all to see. Another example of a real-world incident in my novel came from Anita Bryant’s "Save Our Children Campaign" (SOC), which took place in 1977 in Dade County, Florida. The genesis of the Bryant anti-homosexual campaign was an attempt to overturn gay-positive measures that had been adopted in Dade County. Threats of violence were made against homosexuals during the same time that the SOC campaign was active. Bumper stickers on cars in that area advocated "Death to Homosexuals!" and urged: "Kill a Queer for Christ!" In the novel, these slogans are written in pig’s blood on the inside walls of the tent where the ex-gay recruits sleep and spend several hours each night before lights out reading their bibles or praying.
The rhetoric of Bryant’s plea to "save our children" was quite shrill, characterizing homosexual men and women as child molesters. Since homosexuals cannot have children, the argument went, they have to recruit other people’s children into the homosexual lifestyle. In all fairness to the SOC campaign, I feel certain that individuals from the lunatic fringe displayed such bumper stickers and were probably not condoned by SOC. But today, religious leaders have gone much farther than the SOC campaign. Although none publicly call for the death of homosexuals, they’ve dropped the distinction between loving the sinner and hating the sin.
One example is a Baptist minister, Fred Phelps, out of Kansas, who makes it his business to appear at the funerals of AIDS victims and at gay churches with signs that read: "God hates Fags!" In the most well-publicized activity of this minister, of course, was his unseemly and hateful appearance at the funeral of the Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard, who was robbed, beaten, and crucified by two young men who had lured him out of a bar, themselves claiming to be gay. Then there are the more accepted lunatics like Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network. Smiling into the camera with the happy face of repression, Robertson blithely announces that natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, are sent by God to punish homosexuals and the communities that protect the rights of its gay citizens. Yet, not a word was whispered about God’s wrath on that bastion of fundamentalist Christianity, South Carolina, when it was battered by hurricanes and flooding in 1999. If nothing else it shows that God is wildly democratic in His targets. If San Francisco goes under because it harbors homosexuals, South Carolina goes under because it harbors religious fanatics—and many of the religious-right organizations.
Today, in fact, the religious right blames the gay-rights movement for the breakdown of civilization, itself. How such a movement actually destroys society is not made clear.
Another theme in The Salvation Mongers is the way in which the characters deal with the question of whether or not homosexuals can become heterosexuals. The ex-gay ministry I created is only a mirror held up to actual ex-gay ministries that have arisen and have operated within the United States since Anita Bryant’s 1970s crusade.
Treatment Options and Attitudes Toward Homosexuality
To understand why ex-gay ministries fail to convert their recruits, it is a good idea to understand the narrow range of dynamic options (treatment methods) available and core concepts held by the ex-gay ministries when attempting to bring about change within the homosexual. Treatment options are based on "reparative therapy" from the field of psychology, or some form of multiple-step program, based loosely on the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program. The steps are tailored to fit the core concepts of the ministry. One core concept most ex-gay ministries have in common is the idea that they "love the sinner, but hate the sin." I assert that the very human leaders within the ex-gay ministries cannot draw such precise lines between hate and love and that they sometimes hate the sinner as much as the sin. Another core concept shared by most ex-gay ministries is the necessity of embracing the Christian concept of Jesus as Savior, and expecting God through Jesus to cure homosexuality. One of the other mainstays of the ex-gay ministries is that homosexuality is always a sin, without exception, based on the literal and "inerrant" Holy Bible—more clearly a sin, without exception, in The Good News version, however, than other versions, where the word "homosexual" is inserted into biblical text. Curious since "homosexual" is a nineteenth-century construct. For example, the word "effeminate" becomes "homosexual" in the Good News Bible, yet it has also been interpreted to mean one who is an out-of-control womanizer.
Perhaps the most dangerous (and cult-like) core concept many ex-gay ministries share with their religious-right sponsors is that Jesus, the Christ, often speaks with them—albeit two thousand years after his death and from "off-world," as it were. It is also curious but telling that the words from Jesus and God spoken to these modern-day religious leaders sound suspiciously like their own hate-filled rhetoric. Their view of scripture is narrow and therefore incomplete because they discount how other religious organizations (middle-ground to liberal) have come to grips with the issue of homosexuality, supposedly using the same scriptural referents as do those on the right. One does not have to speak with Jesus through some divine internet to know that the Jesus of the Bible might not want to cure or kill homosexual persons, although given the time in which Jesus the man lived, he just might have considered it a sin (as a waste of seed, perhaps) and told them to go and sin no more. But we have no way of really knowing what Jesus might have done, since he never addresses the issue. This lack of "policy" by Jesus, therefore, makes it necessary for us to either believe that modern-day ministers of the religious right have a direct line of communication to Jesus (which I assert is highly doubtful) or that we are thus left to make sense of the issues ourselves.
The Dark Side of the Ex-Gay Ministries
Beneath the seemingly benign core concepts of most ex-gay ministries, there is a dark side that is common (if not universal) among the ministries. It is an unacknowledged, toxic by-product, which poisons the psyche of homosexual men and women when they seek a "cure" of their homosexuality. In many cases, these individuals are worse off after going through the ex-gay programs than before (one disillusioned ex-gay reportedly emasculated himself after failing to overcome his homosexual nature by pouring acid on his genitalia). When the ex-gay recruit fails to rid himself or herself of homosexual desire, there is an increase in self-loathing and a greater feeling of isolation. To minimize both the self-loathing and the sense of isolation, most ex-gay ministries encourage praying partners and regular attendance at ministry sessions with other ex-gays. The ex-gay’s social world eventually narrows to a few single-thought companions. They commit themselves to a daily regime of denial of their homosexual feelings and seek to sustain their religious conversion. Or they wrestle honestly with these feelings (believing that homosexuality is a sin) and accept celibacy as their only alternative to being cured. But celibacy is a cheap solution for the so-called ex-gay. In no way does it mean that the homosexual individual has been fundamentally changed—only that his or her behavior is restricted, even if the urges are still present. It is disingenuous and cruel for those in the ex-gay ministries to sell this as a real cure for homosexuality.
In my estimation, what really happens to homosexual individuals seeking a cure is that they suppress many natural impulses. But if they give in (on occasion) to these same feelings, they will likely blame their behavior on demonic influences. This suppression can cause true psychic disconnection from one’s inner self. Individuals thereby give up free will when engaging in homosexual acts, and blame it on Satan or some other influence beyond their power to control. Without accepting true responsibility for their own actions, these individuals might continue to "engage in homosexual acts," yet (with a straight face) claim to be ex-gay.
But most striking about the ex-gay movement and something I sought to illustrate in The Salvation Mongers is what self-loathing homosexuals do to themselves—and to others as their surrogate selves. Self-loathing homosexuals organized many of the ex-gay ministries and recruited other self-loathing gay men and women. For an ex-gay ministry to wield influence over its members, the members must be willing to embrace any program, any doctrine—using almost any method—if it promises to "cure" them.
Prior to the ex-gay ministries, psychiatrists and doctors on the fringes of the medical profession held out the same cruel hope of a "cure" to which self-loathing homosexuals went for help. Some homosexuals willingly subjected themselves to barbaric medical treatments; among these is lobotomy (a long metal object much like an ice pick is inserted into the eye socket and rammed into the frontal lobe of the brain, where it supposedly scrambles the homosexual sex drive); some were even castrated. Like celibacy, the cures of the psychiatric and pseudo-medical professions were fake but much more violent. Lobotomy and castration killed the person’s ability to feel—period.
While there are dozens of ex-gay programs active at any given time within the United States, a few examples of some of the more widely known ministries will serve to characterize the methods and activities of their less well-known counterparts.
Exodus (later called Exodus International) was founded in 1976 by two homosexual men, Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper. Their ministry used the psychologically-founded method known as reparative therapy. And even though this ministry still exists (in fact has well over a hundred sub-ministries under it in the United States, alone, it should be known that the founders, themselves, failed in their attempts to become ex-gays and, after three years in the ministry, dropped out and became lovers. They claimed that rather than curing the homosexual individual, Exodus only succeeded in exacerbating members’ feelings of guilt and personal failure. And even though the psychiatric community has eschewed the use of reparative therapy to cure homosexuality, Exodus International continues to use it and extol its efficacy.
A man by the name of Guy Charles, who founded "Liberation in Jesus Christ," has become a former ex-gay, as has Roger Grindstaff of "Disciples Only." Grindstaff was also a consultant to "Teen Challenge." If his methods failed to cure him, one can only grieve that the teenagers who sought his help were likewise disillusioned and wasted their formative years fighting, rather than learning to understand and celebrate their true nature. John Evans of "Love in Action" and Jim Kasper of "EXIT" are also former ex-gays. The point is that, as of today, in 2000, many hundreds of members and many leaders within the ex-gay ministries have become disillusioned with the ex-gay movement.
Even current leaders sometimes worry aloud about the ineffectiveness of their ministries. Yet leaders within the ex-gay movement continue to grasp tightly the idea that a change in behavior makes one ex-gay which, itself, is based on the erroneous premise that affectional and sexual attraction is a choice. Even if they know they are not really offering heterosexuality, their followers are often deluded into accepting celibacy as a "cure." The leaders then report that their members are ex-gays, and convince them that, "by committing themselves to Jesus," as one ex-gay leader put it, "the converts take on the heterosexuality of Jesus as their own"—even while admitting that their converts really have few heterosexual responses or feelings.
It is therefore not surprising to me that while my work, The Salvation Mongers, is fictitious, the experiences of the ex-gays in real ministries do not differ much from those in my fictional account.
In summary, self-loathing homosexuals still subject themselves to years of self-torture and heartache; some commit suicide; others choose self-mutilation; but most self-loathing homosexuals just fail to actually convert from homosexual to heterosexual and continue to live tortured private lives. These are the ones for whom The Salvation Mongers was written.
© 2000, 2002 Ronald L Donaghe
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