Next week, I begin a ten state speaking tour in Chicago to discuss the harm of “ex-gay” programs. In preparation for the events, I’m analyzing videos of “ex-gay” activists. Even after studying these groups for more than a decade, I’m still amazed how studiously they manipulate language to minimize their culpability in hurting clients and deflecting charges of consumer fraud.
One particular video by Exodus International’s president, Alan Chambers, is indicative of the diabolical manner in which “ex-gay” organizations prey on vulnerable people.
In his presentation to students attending an “ex-gay” conference, Chambers relies on old-fashioned lies about gay life to dissuade people from coming out.
“Homosexuality will disappoint you,” Chambers says to the eager audience. “Not just because I say so, because there are a lot of people who say so.”
The absurdity of this statement is apparent. There are millions of people who are not pleased how their romantic lives have turned out – and it has nothing to do with their sexual orientation. Of course, such rhetoric works specifically on those who are paralyzed with fear about being gay. The message Chambers sends to such individuals: What’s the point of coming out? You’ll just be miserable anyway. So, aren’t you better off being miserable for God, so at least you will get into heaven when you die?
For clients conflicted with the idea of being gay and Christian, Chambers forecloses the option by saying, “In God’s word it says, this isn’t what I created you for….this is a counterfeit of my best.”
Chambers tells his audience in the video there are physical consequences to coming out, so they shouldn’t even put a toe outside the closet, lest an entire leg follow.
“Don’t defer hope by getting involved in homosexuality or continuing in homosexuality,” Chambers says. “It is deferring hope and it will make your heart sick.”
What Exodus does is turn logic on its head. The clients are largely feeling sick because they fear rejection and have been subjected to discriminatory institutions that consider gay people sinful and sick. This destructive message is reinforced by Exodus, which has lobbied to keep discrimination perfectly legal, while disseminating the belief that homosexuality is perverse and demonic. While Exodus is central to these clients’ heart sickness and pain, the group diabolically presents itself as the answer to the “problem.”
Like any slick salesman, after clearly stating the problem, Chambers offers himself as the solution. Well, sort of.
“For the last 15 years I’ve been coming to the Exodus conference — God is here,” Chambers tells the desperate audience. “He will meet your need, if you trust him. If you ask him to do something in your life, he’ll do it. It may not be exactly the way you wanted it to be done. It may not be exactly what you think he was going to do. Or, in the time that you expected him to do it. But he’ll do something in your life.”
Chambers is essentially saying, God is in the building, so we did our job getting Him through the door. The rest is up to you – because if you trust God you will see results. Exodus then covers its behind by obfuscating the nature of the alleged change and the timetable for transformation.
The most impressive touch comes when Chambers appears to go out of his way to be “honest” with his audience.
“You can find healing here, not because this is Exodus International and we cure people, because we don’t,” Chambers says, as if he is being frank. “We simply stand up here as facilitators in a process and point to the only one who can help you. The only one who can save you. The only one who can heal you.”
This is calculated candor at its finest. Chambers is pulling off the neat trick claiming his organization can heal you at the same time he is saying Exodus is powerless. However, he does manage to establish Exodus as the necessary middleman for such a sexual transformation to occur.
Finally, Exodus reduces its version of God into a petty, mean-spirited tyrant who likes to watch people in agony beg for mercy.
“If your heart is sick, let him know. He already knows, but he wants to hear from you. He wants you to say, ‘God, I can’t do this…Heal my heart. Change my heart. Give me a new perspective. New desires.”
The tragic part is there is no “help” coming – just false hope peddled by Exodus. It is at this delicate point where clients often experience grave psychosocial damage. And, since God doesn’t offer receipts for unanswered prayers, Chambers never has to give the unsatisfied customers their money back. It’s the perfect scam.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”