Purporting to report the news

Anybody got a crazy uncle who really drives you nuts?

You try, for about half a second, to put on a fake smile and tolerate him. But through your sarcasm and mannerisms, you make it clear how you feel about him.

My poor analogy aside, that’s my impression of a recent front-page story in the Asheville Citizen-Times about an Exodus International conference in that North Carolina mountain town:

ASHEVILLE — Can homosexuality be “cured”?

Those attending one conference here this week say yes. Those attending a conference being held to refute the first gathering say no.

Nor, the latter group says, should gay people be portrayed as needing to be cured, even if they could be.

Exodus International, which purports to help people transform from homosexual to heterosexual, kicks off its four-day International Freedom Conference today at the Ridgecrest Christian conference center in Black Mountain with the theme “The Reality of Grace.”

In response, members of the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and their allies will hold a simultaneous conference with panel discussions, guest speakers and exhibits at Tressa’s on Broadway Street and at First Congregational United Church of Christ on Oak Street.

The countertheme of that conference is “The Reality of Will and Grace: A Refutation of the Ex-gay Movement.”

Which purports to. That choice of language tells  you pretty much all you need to know about the tenor and direction of this report.

Keep reading, and as the reader who submitted the link to GetReligion noted, six paragraphs are clearly focused on explaining Exodus’ position. Contrast that with 12 paragraphs devoted to the other side. The same reader pointed out:

The refuting conference levels many charges at EI: they attack the vulnerable, don’t listen to science, misuse scripture, are a front for political activity – how does EI respond to that, and to other charges laid at their door? They are only given space to respond to the political charges.

The story notes that 800 people were expected at the Exodus event. No attendance estimate is given for the other conference.

From the piece:

Dye asserted that Exodus International works from a position that homosexuality is more like an addiction than a sexual orientation, often using a “cure” model based on 12-step programs such as those used in Alcoholics Anonymous.

“The problem there is that the American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association and all of the other leading professional organizations do not view homosexuality as a mental illness or an addiction, but rather a natural expression of the person,” Dye said. “Once again, you’re attacking vulnerable people.”

As the reader pointed out, Exodus’ response to such claims would have been interesting — and, well, responsible journalism.

I’m not overly familiar with Exodus, but I did include it in a 2009 piece I wrote for Christianity Today on the clash of reparative therapy vs. sexual identity therapy in evangelical circles. In that piece, the ministry’s founder defended his belief that homosexuals can change:

Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, said it is wrong to assert that sexual orientation cannot change as a result of therapy.

“That flies in the face of the testimonies of tens of thousands of people just like me,” said Chambers, a married father of two who credits God and counseling for helping him leave a homosexual lifestyle. “That’s not to say that you can flip a switch and go from gay to straight.”

Quality journalism demands a healthy dose of skepticism. The problem with the Asheville coverage is that it’s not really a news report. Rather, it’s an editorial disguised as front-page news.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Those interested in the “cure” debate should also note the language in that NYTs magazine story the other day, previously discussed by MZ.

    The Times piece is here.

    MZ’s commentary (on other aspects of the piece) is here:

    The key quote from the gay writer:

    Had part of me come to “save” my old friend from the clutches of the Christian right? Though I don’t doubt that sexual attraction can evolve, I was skeptical of Michael’s claim of heterosexuality — and I rejected his argument that “homosexuality prevents us from finding our true self within.”

    The concept of sexual orientation or attractions “evolving” is very close to what I have heard advocated in the one or two times I have covered stories that involve Exodus. I have never heard anyone voice a kind of “cure” scenario, in the sense of instant healing or something. The only Exodus leaders I have interviewed find the “cure” language highly simplistic and offensive.

    The “evolving” language above is, ironically, closer to reality.

    The other journalism issue is, as Bobby has nailed it, obvious: Where is the other side of the debate, expressing it’s beliefs in its own language in response to hard questions?

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The media very rarely gives any glimpse of the reason why some professional organizations involved with mental health issues stopped regarding those who get involved in homosexual activity as having a psychological disorder, addiction, or just simply a moral failing in the same category as a heterosexual who has serious trouble controlling his (or her) adulterous impulses.
    The change came about NOT because of some new startling research discoveries (the search for a Gay gene has mostly been abandoned) but because of the equivalent of political log-rolling at various organizational meetings or conventions organized by Gay caucuses and activists.
    Consequently some members quit those organizations and started their own groups which have received little or very negative coverage from the media.

  • Bram

    The same kind of story Deacon John tells about the mental health profession could be told about religious groups who’ve changed their teachings on homosexuality in recent years. There have been no theological breakthroughs in the religious realm that brought about those changes anymore than there were any psychological breakthroughs in the mental health profession that brought about the changes there. No theological breakthroughs, no psychological breakthroughs, only political — and purely political — breakthroughs on the part of homosexual activists — breakthrough abetteds, of course, by lapses of intellectual rigor in both the psychological realm and in certain theological realms. The back-story of this history ought to be included in editorials … I mean, reports … like this.

  • Mcleland

    Looks like comments are turned off on the article on their website, but that they have comments turned on for many other news articles. I can see both sides of that argument, but interesting that they decided to leave them off for this one.

    Also interesting was the sidebar, which gave some of the scheduled events of the “counter conference” but no schedule information for the one from Exodus International.

    One thing I don’t understand: who is sponsoring the “counter conference?”

  • http://epablumlaudanum.blogspot.com/ AaronS

    Mcleland – Ridgecrest is a conference center and Exodus may not have events open to the public. I wouldn’t read too much into that. Asheville is a very activist community and a counter conference of just about anything can be organised easily, even by individuals.

  • dalea

    Mcleland asks:

    One thing I don’t understand: who is sponsoring the “counter conference?”

    The Gay and Lesbian Community is sponsoring the event. The story does not go into enough detail on how this works, probably because the story is very convoluted.

    Over the last decade, the LG community has moved into a more confrontational position with exgays and especially with Exodus. One form this confrontation has taken is holding dueling confrences near any Exodus event. The central person in putting these together is Wayne Besen, of the blog Truth Wins Out. Wayne is the main anti-Exodus campaigner in the GL community, but not the only one. Wayne will put out an announcement of an upcoming Exodus event and ask for volunteers to put up an opposing event. At this point most of the GL online media publicize the call. Blogs such as BoxTurtleBulletin, ExGayWatch, JoeMyGod, Towleroad etc carry the news. At this point, activists in the particular area offer to take up the task.

    Then the emails begin. I received hundreds about one such conference. Groups sympathetic to GL concerns begin to mobilize, the counter conference takes shape. These vary from location to location, but usually the NASW, UCC, UUA, MCC, various faculties and professional associations participate. …


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