Reflections on Some Exodus Ads

“Question Homosexuality” was the theme of an Exodus ad campaign which started a couple of years ago. (ad 1 , ad 2 ) At first I found that exhortation (and similar statements like “I questioned homosexuality”) somewhat baffling. It didn’t seem to me that homosexuality is the sort of thing one questions. One might question homosexual people, or particular theories and views about homosexual attractions. But “question homosexuality?” That looks like a category mistake to me.

It seems that the heart of the message is supposed to resemble that famous bumpersticker slogan “Question Authority.” Homosexuality is the new Authority, the stodgy creature of political correctness, and young, vibrant, thoughtful exgays and their allies are challenging that authority and subversively questioning it. Independent free-thinking nonconformists like Alan Chambers and Randy Thomas could not be cowed by homosexual activist dogma, and through their intrepid questioning uncovered the truth: Change Is Possible.

Well, bully for them I suppose, but I know that I did not take up an exgay path because I was cool enough to rebel against and question the liberal mainstream and its presumptions. Rather, I took up an exgay path because I encountered Jesus Christ, submitted my life to His Lordship, and followed what I believe He was calling me to. Judging by their testimonies on the Exodus website, it seems that it was the same for Thomas and Chambers. But that's not the impression one gets from their stories as presented in their “I Questioned Homosexuality” ads, linked to at the beginning of this post. Not a single mention of God or Christ or faith graces the ad versions of their stories. It’s all self-motivated and self-empowered. They simply found homosexuality unsatisfying and abandoned it to pursue a more satisfying hetero life, which they achieved with hard work, perseverance, and a little help from Exodus. Just another variation on the American Dream.

They imply that it is the same for the tens of thousands of exgays “just like” them. Well, they had better not be counting me!

I am not exgay because homosexuality is so terribly bad, because I “questioned” it and found it wanting. No, I am exgay because Jesus Christ is so unbelievably, amazingly good! The pivotal choice which set me on an exgay path had nothing to do with the relative merits of heterosexuality vs. homosexuality; rather, it was “Will I follow Christ (as best as I can understand how) or not?”

The more recent “Unhappy? Gay?” billboard campaign was even more distressing to me. It suggests that the exgay life is a joyously gratifying experience of self-satisfaction: Being exgay will make you happy. Come on, don’t you want to be happy?!?

Whenever I hear that sort of rhetoric, my jaw just drops. I did not become exgay because I was unhappy or disillusioned with being gay. My decision to pursue an exgay path had nothing to do with self-fulfillment, and everything to do with self-denial. It was the scariest and most painful decision of my life at the time. It had nothing to do with looking for a better life for myself, and everything to do with dying to myself and all that I knew, that Christ might live in me. It was about walking by faith, and not by sight.

It’s a good thing, too, because if I had pursued an exgay path out of a search for worldly happiness and an easier life, I’m absolutely certain I would have given up at some point during the four years of incredibly difficult struggle (and the subsequent two years of somewhat reduced difficulty) that I went through before experiencing the slightest hint of attraction change. Here’s a little of what I experienced during those years:

  • Clinical depression (I had struggled with this earlier when I was gay-affirming, but it came back with a vengeance when I took up an exgay journey)
  • Self-injury
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • A dead-end relationship that I couldn’t resist despite my beliefs, that caused much pain for all parties involved
  • Sexual struggles of mindboggling intensity, leading to pornography problems and a masturbation addiction that I had never had before going exgay.
  • Enormous amounts of emotional turmoil inflicted by myself and others trying to dig up the “roots” of my homosexual attractions–dredging up painful memories, wallowing in them, and exaggerating them to make them even worse, also putting stress on my relationship with my parents
  • Profound soul-weariness, wondering each day how I was going to make it through another day.
  • Fear of a long life of singleness, of growing old alone.
  • Grieving the absence of romance and loving relationships in my life, as well as the loss of gay friendships
  • Desperate and constant arguing, begging, and pleading with God for release

I could go on, but I’ll stop there. Suffice it to say that for me, embarking on an exgay journey was not about lifestyle enhancement. Yes, God has blessed me richly with a fulfilling marriage to a wonderful man, and with great happiness, but these were not the goals for which I took up this path. If they had been the goals, I would have given up a long time ago.

So frankly I find it somewhat insulting when others present the exgay journey as a path to worldly personal fulfillment. For me it was a difficult, painful journey that I undertook out of a love for God and a desire to please and glorify Him.

It might be wonderfully convenient (for those who want to use exgays’ lives as a political argument) if the exgay path had nothing to do with God and faith and dying to self, if it were simply about opening one’s eyes to some universal unhappiness of gay life and making the switch to a more enjoyable straight life instead. But that wasn't the reality of my journey, and I don't think it was the reality of the journeys of most of the tens of thousands to whom Exodus refers in their ads.


10 Responses to Reflections on Some Exodus Ads

  1. grace says:

    This is one of the best things I’ve ever read. Thanks for writing it and sharing the reality of your journey in Christ.

  2. ck says:

    Excellent points. What I find interesting is how the Exodus crew seems to hedge on the question of whether only Christians can change. On one hand, it is the power of Jesus that provides the grace necessary for change. On the other hand, therapy and ‘scientific’ statistics are primary on their site.

    Now, I understand that, on their theology, God uses means–however, it seems like they should admit that only Christians have the ability to change orientation (after all, homosexuality is often interpreted as a sign of damnation….) and that the possibility of ‘change’ isn’t for everyone. Or, if it is something that everyone can do through therapy, well “What’s God got to do with it?” to paraphrase Tina Turner.

  3. Grace, thanks for the encouragement! 🙂

    ck, I agree completely. It seems to me that Exodus’ position on that subject is incoherent. I had a stub for a future post in my brainstorming file entitled “So Do We Need Jesus or Not?”, but I like “What’s God got to do with it?” much better so perhaps I will just steal that and give you a nod. 🙂

    Is homosexuality often interpreted as a sign of damnation? I’ve heard that view from Fred Phelps but not anywhere else that I can recall. But maybe I just don’t travel in the right circles.

  4. ck says:

    dm, you’re right, Exodus isn’t saying homosexuality is a sign of damnation. It is other groups–my lazy passive voice made my statement misleading. They do say Exodus cites homosexual tendencies as one of many disorders that beset fallen humanity. which, though it doesn’t equate homosexuality with damnation, does equate it with fallenness. The question of whether one can have ‘homosexual tendencies’ and be saved…? Not sure.

    I looked up Exodus’ “What We Believe” (where the above quote is from) and found this:

    Exodus affirms reorientation of same sex attraction is possible. This is a process, which begins with motivation to, and self-determination to change based upon a personal relationship with Jesus Christ

    Now, consider if someone made the same statement from the pulpit of an evangelical church, about another sin, such as anger.

    Turning away from the sin of anger is a process which begins with motivation to change based on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It requires self-determination to change, based upon a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

    Actually, you may hear that. However, there are quite a few churches where they would scream “Pelagianism!” (OK, maybe not that, but definitely “Works-righteousness!”). It turns Jesus Christ and the ‘personal relationship’ (which is found where in the Bible?) with him as a motivation for an individual’s actions. Perhaps one’s salvation isn’t coming from one’s works–but it is definitely misconstruing the way grace operates.

    Obviously I’m speaking out of a Reformed theological background. Still, most evangelical Christians are pretty focused on God’s grace.

    Also, a side note–Exodus International is supposedly now Exodus Global Alliance. Why does Exodus International still have their own site? It’s confusing….in fact, the doctrinal statements on the two sites are overlapping, but has this added:

    EXODUS upholds redemption for the homosexual person as the process whereby sin’s power is broken, and the individual is freed to know and experience true identity as discovered in Christ and His Church.

    This statement seems different (or at least complementary to?) the above statement about the ‘personal relationship.’ But they still have that section above in their “Healing Statement.” Confusing…same words, different presentation and emphasis.

    Oh, and finally…

    “What’s God got to do (got to do with it)?
    What’s God but a second-hand emotion?
    What’s God got to do (got to do with it)?
    What’s God once the therapist’s spoken?”

  5. ck says:

    Or, better “Who needs the Lord once the therapist’s spoken?”

    (My rhythm needs some help…)

  6. abiding says:

    “a difficult, painful journey that I undertook out of a love for God and a desire to please and glorify Him.”

    Would only more in the church proclaim this. I have found the “make your life better” message of Christianity to be a wide spread cancer in the Christian church. Somehow we miss helping one another find our selves in the hands of a Living God. Where the fire of His Holiness compels us to worship, to follow, to leave all. When we find that our “better life” in Christ still ends with ourselves being incomplete this side of heaven we easily question our decision to believe, instead of remembering who we follow. Good post.

  7. abiding says:

    p.s. Thank you for the candid revelations, I hear the honorable beauty of your journey with Christ. It offers a glimpse into the realities of being in Him.

  8. Abiding,

    Yeah, it frustrates me in general, not just about this issue. So much Christianity I see is about how if only you will ask Jesus into your heart, He will get you MORE and BIGGER and BETTER of everything you’ve always wanted.

  9. SMH says:

    Just wanted to say that as a heterosexual Catholic woman who has given up contraception, your thoughts resonated with me. Many of those who promote giving up contraception try to tell you that you should do this because you’ll have a better marriage and sex life and everything will be so much easier for you. But the real truth is you do this for love of Jesus and your spouse, because you believe in His vision of sexual love and marriage as a reflection of the self-giving of the Trinity. If you do it for any other reason, you will be sorely disappointed, because living a chaste life, whether heterosexual or homosexual, married or unmarried, is never easy. Blessings and peace to you.

  10. Hi SMH,

    Thanks for your thoughts and perspective on this. As a Protestant, I don’t know much about the anti-contraception messages, what sort of reasons they give for it. So it’s interesting to see that people treat it in the same way, trying to dress it up with promises of a worldly goodie-bag of blessings.

    I don’t doubt that God blesses faithfulness and obedience richly, although I don’t think that always looks the way we expect it will. And I don’t doubt that, in the end, God’s ways are best, that He loves us and His laws are for our good–although I don’t think His purposes and reasons are always as easy to see as some people suggest. But if we try to follow Him with that sort of mercenary approach, doing things for the worldly benefit they’re supposed to bring us, rather than ultimately for the love of God, I think it’s a recipe for disaster. Because, like you say, it’s never easy. And when the going gets tough, if we’re in it just for ourselves and what we can get out of it, we’re going to start scratching our heads and asking “Why am I doing this?”

    Blessings and peace to you too!

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