The media continues to be excited by the fact that Exodus International — the world’s largest umbrella organization of ex-gay therapy ministries — is no longer going to practice conversion therapy. The group’s head, Alan Chambers, conceded that gay people can’t actually change their sexual orientations and that they should stop trying. Both the New York Times and NPR picked up on the story on Friday, describing a “rift” in the ex-gay movement as the evangelical community takes a “more open view of homosexuality”:
NYT: [Chambers] said Exodus could no longer condone reparative therapy, which blames homosexuality on emotional scars in childhood and claims to reshape the psyche. And in a theological departure that has caused the sharpest reaction from conservative pastors, Mr. Chambers said he believed that those who persist in homosexual behavior could still be saved by Christ and go to heaven.
NPR: But Chambers at Exodus International says conversion therapy does not help. Rather, it damages, because it makes people feel sinful for their natural inclinations. Worse, he says, the church can make people feel like outcasts. “I believe we’ve been hypocritical,” he says. “I believe that we have looked at the issue of same-sex attraction differently than we look at anything else.”
But both of these stories, like others before them, bury the crucial question: If Exodus is no longer going to offer reparative therapy, what is it going to offer? At the bottom of the NYT piece, Chambers says that “many Christians with homosexual urges may have to strive for lives of celibacy.” NPR admits toward the end of its story that “Chambers compares same-sex attraction to adultery or pride,” believes that “homosexual acts are a sin because the Bible calls for heterosexual marriage,” and says that “gay Christians must either be celibate, or if they want to marry, it must be with someone of the opposite sex.”
Sin, celibacy, and fake marriages do not constitute progress from ex-gay therapy. The difference between “don’t be gay” and “don’t act gay” is merely semantic, negligible in practice and unsupported by any scientific research. Exodus-affiliated groups are still working to instill internalized anti-gay stigma while erasing the existence of any kind of sexual orientation diversity. Their desire to not do harm is admirable — and with this change, they may in fact do less harm — but that doesn’t change the fact that anything short of sexual orientation affirmation is still harmful.
Box Turtle Bulletin’s Jim Burroway attended the Exodus International national conference last week and believes that “there really are significant changes afoot at Exodus.” But when ex-gay groups first formed in the 1970′s after homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness, they targeted people with “unwanted same-sex attractions” with a goal of encouraging the “unwanted” and discouraging the “same-sex attractions.” It’s unclear if Exodus can exist without those priorities, which calls to question whether any change that isn’t the end of the organization itself could truly warrant praise.