Stop me if you’ve heard this one before

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before October 1, 2019

The story of every “ex-gay ministry” begins exactly the same way and ends exactly the same way. This is how they all end:

That video shows a man named McKrae Game, who spent decades running Hope for Wholeness, an “ex-gay ministry” in South Carolina.

McKrae Game is gay.

He was gay when he received counseling from a therapist who assured him he could overcome his same-sex attractions.

He was gay when he married a woman and founded what would become one of the nation’s most expansive conversion therapy ministries.

He was gay when thousands of people just like him sought his organization’s counsel, all with the goal of erasing the part of themselves Game and his associates preached would send them to hell.

For two decades, he led Hope for Wholeness, a faith-based conversion therapy program in South Carolina’s Upstate. Conversion therapy is a discredited practice intended to suppress or eradicate a person’s LGBTQ identity through counseling or ministry.

… In June, Game publicly announced he was gay and severed his ties with the organization.

Now, the man once billed as a leading voice in the conversion therapy movement is trying to come to terms with the harm he inflicted while also learning to embrace a world and community he assailed for most of his adult life.

Game’s outfit was one of hundreds formerly affiliated with Exodus International, the largest “ex-gay ministry” and network of such ministries, which was founded in 1976 and ran until 2012. That’s when Exodus ended this same way — with it’s president and founder, Alan Chambers, coming out as gay, admitting the utter failure of Exodus’ “ex-gay” mission, apologizing for years of cruel dishonesty, and “trying to come to terms with the harm he inflicted while also learning to embrace a world and community he assailed for most of his adult life.”

Exodus held its annual conference on the campus of my college when I was a student there in the late ’80s. Classes at Eastern mostly shut down over the summer while the school rented out its dormitories and facilities to a wide variety of conferences. I worked for the campus food service during the summers, so I served three meals a day and shared a campus for a week with a couple hundred members of this “ex-gay ministry.” I did not meet any actual ex-gays during that week.

Exodus chose to hold its conference at Eastern partly because it helped them land Tony Campolo as a speaker for one of their prime-time plenary sessions. I snuck into that lecture because Tony is a great preacher and storyteller. I don’t think his message that night was what Chambers and the other organizers were expecting.

Campolo basically pleaded with the group to do then what they would eventually do in 2012 — shut down, apologize, and stop hurting people. He cited multiple studies showing that five years out or 10 years out, no “ex-gay ministry” could point to any examples of LGBTQ folks who had turned heterosexual. It just doesn’t happen. Sure, they might point to a handful of bisexual folks who had married people of the opposite sex, but that didn’t mean what Exodus seemed to think it meant. The “hope” of “conversion” that Exodus was peddling was just a lie, and that lie was harming people.

Campolo, alas, ended his lecture/sermon by urging Exodus to recognize the difference between orientation and behavior. He was, back in the 1980s, still advocating lifelong celibacy as the “biblical” mandate for lesbians and gays. (It took him quite a few more years, but he’s gotten better on that. He should’ve listened to his wife a lot sooner. So should I. Peggy was right.)

But Exodus couldn’t hear or accept what they heard in that session because, like every other “ex-gay ministry,” the effectiveness of their work had never had much of anything to do with why they existed. They exist, rather, mainly for rhetorical reasons. They exist because without them a certain kind of anti-gay Christian argument falls apart.

And because so many anti-gay Christians are still making that same argument, new “ex-gay ministries” are still being founded to support it. None of them “works.” But they don’t have to work, they only have to pretend to work convincingly enough and for just long enough for the anti-gay Christians to be able to point to their existence and reassure their followers not to worry about having to account for the fact that LGBTQ people actually exist in the world. No one is really LGBTQ, this argument says, they’re just sinners who need prayer and Jesus and maybe some kind of hack “therapy.” And then — voila! — they’ll stop existing and we won’t need to worry about how their existence threatens our pat view of how we’d prefer the world to be.

The long history of complete failure of all such groups to produce “ex-gays” only further serves this dishonest argument, as it’s easily spun into evidence that LGBTQ people aren’t just sinners but particularly obstinate sinners who are uniquely excluded from divine grace.

And yes, that’s just as cruel and callous and evil as it sounds. But given the choice between clinging to their pat arguments and being cruel and callous and evil, they go with the latter.

So why did McKrae Game’s “Hope for Wholeness” exist in the first place? Because this particular anti-gay argument needed it to. It’s mission and claims weren’t ever true, but pretending they was true for as long as they were able allowed the argument to continue limping along for another seven years after the collapse of Exodus.

And because these anti-gay Christians desperately need to prop up their argument even after the fall of Hope for Wholeness, another “ex-gay ministry” will quickly be founded to take its place. The argument requires such lies and that demand creates its own supply.

That’s how and why they all start. And we already know how and why they all end.



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