A Thoughtful Comment
We here at Stand Firm believe we have some of the best commenters in the blogshere. Every once in a while a comment touches us so deeply that it deserves a thread of its own. Reformed Wanderer posted a response on the Exodus International thread that is indeed worthy of further reading.
I wanted to at least respond to you. I hope some of this does make sense and addresses your concerns. Please forgive me where I do go off the rails…
One of the things about Exodus that I found maddening, even before two years ago, was that there was a distinct unevenness across the Exodus network. Some of it was borne out of its nature: a network of self-standing ministries with a variety theological viewpoints (e.g. Lutheran, Episcopalian, charismatic, Baptist, etc.) coming from the leaders’/sponsors’ backgrounds and leading to a variety of viewpoints and directions on what to do for those seeking freedom from sexual sin. Sometimes even the words used by everyone carried different meanings.
That diversity in thought and approach in itself was not the problem, but you did have some ministries take a “discipleship” approach, for example, while others would be more “name it and claim it.” Is either one wrong? Maybe or maybe not. One person could find a particular approach helpful and the next not at all.
Looking back, the dysfunctional ministry I first went to (mercifully not in existence anymore) was rather odd. It was essentially one guy who claimed to have come out of a promiscuous gay lifestyle, had sought help, was now a married father with two children, and who had basically hung his own shingle. I have no reason to either doubt or believe his story, but that was what he said. While he had met Exodus’ requirements to have a spiritual covering (i.e. a formalized connection with a local church) and a board powerful enough to make independent decisions about the ministry (including the power to remove the director), it was in practice a one-man show.
At first it was thrilling to be in that ministry. The leader stated that if you just attended for about 18 months to two years, you’d be fine and be out of the lifestyle. (In retrospect, I should have run right then.) But there’s a very specialized camaraderie that comes from being around people “just like you” who were first publicly talking about things we hadn’t dared talk about before. There were poor boundaries in the ministry structure and among those whom it attracted (mainly sexual abuse survivors). We had an unwritten “checklist” of things to avoid, but no real way to work through becoming healthy. Anything that threatened the camaraderie was met with shaming. And with poorly formed boundaries, I didn’t know how to form healthy relationships. For example, I fell into having a crush on one member (though I didn’t want to) while also having to fend off very cloying and dependent behavior from yet another member. It was a mess. Throw in the depression I was experiencing and it was just an awful disaster. I had to leave because that environment was so toxic.
If that were my only Exodus experience, I could very well have come to the same conclusions that you have. So believe me, even though I see things differently, I’m not dismissing what happened to you. If you will, please allow me to share what happened afterwards.
I had been seeing a professional Christian counselor (LCSW) and continued to see him. He had already diagnosed me with dysthymia (a generally low-level “unipolar” form of depression). And I had fallen deeper in during my time with that ministry. Now, I don’t blame the ministry for the depression; looking back, I already had several undiagnosed episodes in high school and college. At the time, I was simply lifting the tightly shut lid off of a boiling cauldron of my psyche, and that needed to be done in a safe, careful environment. Unfortunately, that ministry was not that kind of environment.
So, for about 18 months, I saw my counselor every week, my psychiatrist every month for medication review, and I switched to the evening service at church about twice a month (my “crush” and I had the misfortune of attending the same church - it was my way of avoiding overlapping circles of friends). And it took a long time, but in working through those issues with my counselor, they started to become resolved, and I improved. I took this very seriously as I knew the depression could kill me.
After this 18 month “sabbatical” from group socialization, and after the depression had lifted, I started taking baby steps out again. I rejoined Sunday School and started attending sessions at Regeneration. The difference between the two ministries was like day and night. Regeneration was led by people with a pastoral heart. They were careful to explain boundaries to us, to respect our confidentiality, and they knew none of us were perfect and that missteps would happen. And the focus was on developing our relationship with God, learning who we are in Him, and only then addressing mistaken ways that we had viewed ourselves and our relationships with others. I found it striking that in the Living Waters course (one of the things we did), we didn’t deal with overtly sexual issues for about three months, an only after we had addressed ways that we had been wronged, and then ways we had wronged others. It was often very deep, very moving, and very difficult at times. Painful things were brought up. But one thing I learned at this time through various sources was not to avoid the pain, but to allow it to teach me what was broken, and to allow God to work for my healing. You see, avoiding pain had just allowed me to run from my problems, not confront them and resolve them - one reason I had recurring depression.
Perhaps the best description between the two ministries is the following comparison. While I was at each, a group leader had a significant fall (in the realm of looking at pornography as I recall). In the unhealthy ministry, he was made to apologize to all of us in the large group - almost groveling, really. It was quite uncomfortable to watch and I felt embarrassed for him and a bit put off actually that I was forced to be part of it. Regeneration dealt with things very differently when it happened there. The other group leaders took the “fallen” one aside at the beginning of the evening, found an empty room, and together prayed with him through confession. At the end, they asked him what if anything he saw or heard after confessing his sin. His answer: “Nothing. It’s like it’s not even there.” Afterward, they came and joined the large group and we started our evening with worship as normal. If that group leader the next week had not told his small group (i.e. mine) what had happened, I wouldn’t have even known what had happened.
To wrap up (this has become rather lengthy…), my comment about whether the “tent was even Alan’s to fold” was that Exodus International had been built over the years by many people’s donations of money, time, and prayers. The last couple of years Alan as acted as if it were his own organization to do with as he wished. Just as I was disappointed that Exodus was impotent in disciplining that unhealthy ministry’s lack of true oversight over the director, I am also disappointed that the national office of Exodus had become a coven of yes-men around Alan. Voices that differed with Alan were marginalized to the point that resignation was the only viable option. If Alan had really experienced a change in heart and parted from the organization, I’d be disappointed perhaps, but not feeling that he’d actually stolen and destroyed something that not only didn’t belong to him, but had been built on donations to a ministry.
I also have not been involved in Exodus in any way since 1999. Perhaps the way I wrote the comment made me seem closer to all this, but I’ve been watching as an interested observer from afar.
And I apologize that even after all this, I haven’t even touched reparative therapy. I may tackle this later if I do. I can’t speak to your experience; but I can comment on what I encountered. I never went through therapy merely to change my orientation, so I cannot comment directly about that aspect of reparative therapy. But I am also reminded of something I heard early on from Alan Medinger, the founder of Regeneration. The ministry attracted two kinds of people: those who wanted to change their sexuality, and those who wanted to get closer to God. The latter made it, and the former did not. If all you want to do is change your sexuality, you will probably fail. There comes a point in this process where it is not about sex at all, but how you view God, yourself, and that relationship and how you relate to others. I had to give up dear things and dreams I never expected to, and they were not necessarily sexual in nature. But I got something immeasurably better. I have Jesus. I am His and He is mine.
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