CNN’s 3-part feature this week addresses the harm and scientific inaccuracy of therapies that attempt to control an individual’s gender identity and sexuality, but this weekend, those ideas will be rehashed at the Exodus Freedom conference. Exodus International is the largest umbrella group for ex-gay ministries, including the infamous Love In Action ministry with its residential “ex-gay camp.” Couched entirely in Christian-based beliefs, these therapies have no reputable scientific support; major psychological and sociological organizations all reject them outright as harmful. Nevertheless, conference attendees will reinforce these bogus ideas over the next three days. Here is some of the junk science, mythology, stigma, and fear-mongering that will be promoted at Exodus Freedom:
WORKSHOP: “A Basic Understanding of Male Homosexuality: The media and others have misrepresented male homosexuality as a pre-determined, biological condition. This session examines the true nature of how male homosexuality develops and it outlines the family dynamics that can lead to the development of same-sex desires.”
REALITY: By “others,” speaker Ricky Chelette (a Baptist Minister) means “the entire field of mental health.” Science long ago concluded that sexual orientation is enduring and “a complex interaction of environmental, cognitive, and biological factors.” Proponents of ex-gay therapy often suggest that male homosexuality is somehow caused by smothering mothers, distant fathers, and not conforming to norms of masculinity. No research has ever confirmed any of these notions.
WORKSHOP: “Homosexuality: A Case of Mistaken Responses: This workshop serves to encourage those struggling with same-sex attraction and those who desire to encourage the strugglers. This session will present recent statistics regarding behaviors and discuss some of the baseline foundations of same-sex attraction and homosexuality from a Biblical view and offer practical steps for the daily victory.”
REALITY: The modern conception of sexual orientation only came about in the 20th century. While many have interpreted various passages in the Bible as judgments on same-sex behaviors, it offers no understanding whatsoever on same-sex attraction or identity as we understand it today. It’s also likely this workshop will cite risky behaviors (like drug use, suicide attempts) as being caused by a person’s sexuality as opposed to the stigma they experience for it.
WORKSHOP: “Understanding Gender Confusion: This workshop will take a look at the underlying causes of Gender Identity Disorder. We will investigate some of the reasons, whether they are real or perceived, and how to minister to someone who struggles in their God-given gender.”
REALITY: Gender is a social construction that reflects biology; it is not caused by it. Just as George Rekers caused irreparable mental harm to “Kraig” by forcing him to comply with gender norms, ex-gay groups ignore research on gender identity and encourage people who are transgender to reject their identities.
WORKSHOP: “Beyond Homosexuality: Embracing Biblical Femininity: What does it mean to be a woman…or feminine? Does that word alone send shivers down your spine? It’s no wonder! The world is full of mixed messages and most are not very appealing prospects. Even the church can be unclear in its definition and guidance. We will look to God Himself for answers and discover what it means to be a godly woman in a fallen world.”
REALITY: Ex-gay therapies for women are similar to those for men in regards to enforcing gender norms, but for women, that message is largely about submission. Just as they believe over-bearing mothers are responsible for boys turning out gay, so too do they believe women who are too assertive are responsible for their own same-sex attractions. Thus, ministries for women challenge not only their sexual orientation as lesbians, but their gender equality as women.
WORKSHOP: “Hurting Parents: Dealing With Our Own Pain: Parents’ anguished cries and sobs at hearing the words, ‘I am Gay’ is heart wrenching. Will the anguish of hopelessness that has saturated your heart turn into hopefulness? Will you experience grace again? Learning how to deal with your own pain.”
REALITY: Parents are strongly encouraged to reject their children’s same-sex attractions, largely because Exodus wants their business. Studies show that such rejection is a very strong indicator for long-term health risks for those children, including suicide attempts and illegal drug use. Under the guise of “help,” encouraging parents’ negative reactions to a child’s coming out is ensuring a greater struggle for that child.
WORKSHOP: “Freedom from the Cycle of Sin: Freedom to See: Sexual temptation can seem to hit us powerfully out of nowhere. But in truth, everyone who struggles with habitual sexual sin follows an observable, predictable cycle. In this workshop, you’ll learn how to uncover and break this cycle in your life. You’ll also hear how Christ’s heart ultimately is to transform us to see people rather than objects, and to love rather than lust.”
REALITY: Rather than recognize individuals’ struggle to find cohesion with their true sexual orientations, ex-gay ministries regularly use the language of “sex addiction” to explain the behavior of people who betray their heterosexual marriages to engage in same-sex behaviors. This workshop is not about resisting sin; it’s an exercise in repression.
These six workshops represent just a sampling of the harmful, oppressive ideas that continue to be perpetuated by ex-gay groups. More importantly, the idea that sexual orientation can be changed continues to be the underpinning of all mainstream opposition to LGBT equality.