By Jay Chakraborty
Exodus International is one of the largest organizations in effect today which promotes and encourages abandonment of “the gay lifestyle” in youths as well as adults. Born of the ex-gay movement, the group’s mission statement reads “mobilizing the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality.” The organization has ministries across the nation as well as Canada. In Asheville, North Carolina Exodus has a thriving ministry where many parents from across the east coast send their kids in order to receive what is believed to be treatment for homosexual behavior. Exodus maintains a heavy emphasis on conversion according to many who attend, and while the organization remains tacit on its conversion success, testimony of attendees indicate that both conversion (whether or not said conversion is perceived or actual is debated by the American Psychiatric Association and failure to convert are common. The Christian-based organization exists today and holds annual conferences all over the world.
In 1973 Frank Worthen conceived Love In Action, a ministry for homosexuals. Three years later at a conference organized by Worthen, an alliance of ex-gay associations formed under the loosely cohesive umbrella group Exodus at what would be its first annual conference. Throughout the 1980’s members of Exodus ministries pursued endeavors outside of the USA such as in Australia, where Peter Lane founded Liberty Ministry, as well as in Europe and Brazil where psychologist Esly Carvalho and Christian activist Johan van de Sluis also founded various others.
Exodus North America sponsored an International Ex-Gay Summit, which was held in San Diego in the June of 1995. It was at this conference where the various ministries agreed on homogenizing under Exodus International, so as to facilitate ex-gay philosophy more easily and effectively throughout the world. The Summit also resulted in the formation of the Exodus International Advisory Council, which eventually became the Exodus International Board. Since the Summit, the other major change in the organization came in April of 2004, where the organization heads the Exodus Global Alliance as a world-wide ministry.
The ministry has been the subject of intense scrutiny by psychologists, medical professionals, and gay advocates alike. Nevertheless, the ministry remains strong and thousands of individuals willingly seeking therapy and conversion from homosexuality attend Exodus' conferences annually.
The ‘Ex-Gay Movement’ is a social emphasis on homosexual conversion, anti-gay legislation, and is contextualized by the Christian philosophy that one can be saved from the sin of homosexuality. The movement, inter-denominationally Christian-based, emphasizes the benefits derived from conversion therapy. Ministries such as Exodus International affirm that through suppression of same-sex desire and acknowledgement of demonology--the involvement of demons in the creation of homosexual erotic desire--one can be converted to become heterosexual.
Interview of Aaron Jarman, Former 'Patient'
Aaron Jarman, a young hair stylist living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and from Kinston, North Carolina is a former attendee of Exodus International’s Asheville ministry. Jarman went to Exodus in July of 2005 when he was 16—Jarman is now 23—and maintains that the decision to attend the workshops was something he willingly and whole-heartedly made. “I was very, very spiritual and I wasn’t as religious as I would have liked to have been at that time…I was naïve so I thought religious was a good thing.” When asked why he made the decision to attend Exodus International, Jarman says earnestly “everyone was telling me being gay was wrong, and so I wanted to change…I wanted to be true to my faith.”
His sentiments on his experience at the ministry were considerably mixed. Jarman admits that he always felt that the organization was “phony,” nevertheless he tried extremely hard to follow through with the workshops and ultimately abandon his homosexuality for heterosexuality. “It was a safe place…it was the most supportive...everyone was so helpful and understanding.” “I guess they figure that if they’re aggressive they’d scare everyone away.”
The primary emphasis of Exodus’ efforts is in conversion, according to Jarman. “The emphasis was definitely on ex-gay…they had pins that said ‘ex-gay is ok.’” For Jarman the process of conversion didn’t work and resultantly, like others who attended, he faced a major crisis of faith “Exodus did the opposite of what it was supposed to do because in that it didn’t work for me so I ended up losing my religion. I didn’t believe in Christianity after that because it didn’t work—and I honestly tried.”
TIME Magazine Article, October 2005
In 2005 TIME Magazine published a cover story which looked into the world of gay teenagers today, naming the issue “The Battle Over Gay Teens.” The issue examined the ex-gay movement (in ministries such as the one in Asheville, NC—the cover photo is of an ex-patient at the Asheville ministry) and cast dark light on efficacy of conversion therapy. “It’s important to note that nearly all mental-health professionals agree that trying to reject one’s homosexual impulses will usually be fruitless and depressing-and can lead to suicide according to Dr. Jack Drescher of the American Psychological Association.”
Many of the statistics brought out in the TIME article were considerably shocking and brought negative attention to organization. Only “an average of 13% of young people with same-sex attractions would prefer to be straight.” TIME covered the stories of patients who attended Exodus' workshops such as Corey Clark (Asheville ministry) and Zachery Zykowski (California).
Exodus Scandals & Backlash
Exodus International has been subject to additional scrutiny because of several scandals which came to light throughout its development. Primarily the scandals involved homosexual ministers who reverted to homosexuality while working with Exodus. The scandals proved to be heavy blows to the organization because they undermined the veracity and efficacy of the conversion philosophy the ministry preaches.
One such example of a scandal was the case of Gary Cooper and Michael Bussee--two key figures in the original founding of Exodus International. Both Cooper and Bussee were counselors at ex-gay ministries in California, however it was soon discovered that the two men had, while representing Exodus in travel, affections for one another. The attraction was so strong that both Bussee and Cooper left Exodus, affirmed their relationship publicly, divorced their wives for one another, and got married. At an Ex-Gay Survivors conference soon after Bussee formally apologized for his significant part in the formation of Exodus International.
Other scandals were not as explicit, however the significance of the digression from Exodus' goals had similar impacts. John Evans, co-founder of Love In Action (which was the embryonic stage of Exodus) left the organization after his best friend Jack McIntyre committed suicide. McIntyre killed himself after conversion failed for him and the despair was too much for him to handle. Upon leaving, Evans worked to counter the effects of conversion therapy in youth who survived Exodus.
Numerous other scandals have been brought to light, each resulting in backlash against the organization. Although Exodus has made no comment on the scandals, advocates argue that the scandals have significant meaning with regards to the fruitlessness of conversion therapy.
3. "Our History," Exodus Global Alliance (http://www.exodusglobalalliance.org/ourhistoryc87.php)
4. "Our History," Exodus Global Alliance (http://www.exodusglobalalliance.org/ourhistoryc87.php)
6. Gerber, Lynne "The Opposite of Gay: Nature, Creation, and Queerish Ex-Gay Experiments" Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions Vol. 11, No. 4 (May 2008) (pp.8-30)
7. Jarman, Aaron. "Interview with Aaron Jarman." Personal interview. 27 Mar. 2012.
8. Cloud, John. "The Battle Over Gay Teens." TIME Magazine 10 Oct. 2005: 42-51
9. Cloud, John. "The Battle Over Gay Teens." TIME Magazine 10 Oct. 2005: 42-51