Since its beginnings in the 1970s, the ex-gay movement has engaged gay advocates in a battle of testimonies. Transformed ex-gay leaders are the best argument for their movement. Likewise, those who’ve left the ex-gay movement in despair and disgust are the best counterargument. The debate continued this June, when Exodus International held its 32nd annual conference in Irvine, California, featuring dozens of speakers and seminar leaders who have quit homosexuality. Down the road outside the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, a news conference featured three former Exodus leaders saying “ex-gay” is a delusion.
An older, wiser ex-gay movement is certainly clearer about what it has to offer. Early hopes for instant healing have given way to belief that transformation occurs through a lifetime of discipleship.
Tanya Erzen, a professor at Ohio State University, spent 18 months studying New Hope Ministry, a live-in program led by the Worthens in San Rafael, California. Though unsympathetic to ex-gay goals, Erzen came to empathize with the people she met. In Straight to Jesus: Sexual and Christian Conversions in the Ex-Gay Movement, she describes their view of change.
“Ex-gays undergo a conversion process that has no endpoint, and they acknowledge that change encompasses desires, behavior, and identities that do not always align neatly or remain fixed,” she writes. “Ex-gay men and women are born-again religiously, and as part of that process, they consider themselves reconstituted sexually. â¦ In the words of Curtis [one of the program’s participants], ‘Heterosexuality isn’t the goal; giving our hearts and being obedient to God is the goal.’ â¦ Desires and attractions might linger for years, but they would emerge with new religious identities and the promise that faith and their relationships with one another and God would eventually transform them.”