Date: Thu, 4 Mar 1999 22:28:12 EST
Subject: Baltimore City Paper: Story on the Ex-Gay Ministries

1. BALTIMORE CITY PAPER The Other Side of the Rainbow; Behind the Curtain of Ex-Gay Ministries (continued)


In any Christian ex-gay setting, there are several givens: Homosexuality is not part of God's plan. God intended man to be with woman, and only within marriage. The law is handed down through the writings in the Old and New Testaments, and those writings are to be taken literally. I witnessed no coercion, no force in any of the ex-gay settings I visited. Neither did I see any debate or disagreement. Everyone present, it appeared, wanted to be there. And everyone, it appeared, was convinced. "You have to have a Christian conviction or a Judeo-Christian conviction that [homosexual behavior] is wrong" to escape it, says Anthony Falzarano, executive director of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (P-FOX), a Washington, D.C.-based support group for those who have loved ones struggling with homosexuality. Those with that conviction, he says, "are the ones that make it."

But interpretations of Scripture vary widely. Theologians from many mainstream denominations and many Christians, some of whom came out of ex-gay ministries and into happy, productive lives as gay people, hold opposing views of God's plan, of the Creator's intention for people's sexuality.

A few weeks after the Regeneration retreat, I have lunch with the Rev. R. David Smith, pastor of MCC-Baltimore, and his partner of 13 years, Mike Barnard. Smith heads a congregation of about 120 that includes heterosexual as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered individuals. Some 30 or 40 of his congregants, he says, were at one time involved in "change" programs. Of his work with these people, he says, "I get to help put broken lives and spirits back together."

"The hardest thing is that ex-gay ministries often send people away from God," Smith says. "The first time I met someone from one of the ministries is when I was at MCC-D.C. [in Washington]. What I noticed was that this man had such a fear response to God. He was very afraid of God's anger and wrath to the extent that he was basically paralyzed around religious language. It seemed really tragic that something that is ostensibly supposed to bring people closer to their faith would make someone turn away from God. I've kept up with him over the years, and he's out of the church again. He just can't accept that the God who hates him really loves him.

"In a way, there's almost a deprogramming that people have to go through in order to hear again that God loves them and that there's more to their relationship with God than God wanting to change their sexuality," Smith continues. "There's more to their journey than they've been led to believe. People obsessed with changing their sexual orientation miss out on the other growth opportunities that are given to them as Christians."

Smith says some people come to MCC to give God one last chance. "So many of the ones who survived ex-gay ministries walked away with the message that God does not love them, that they are sinners," he says. "Part of my job is to help them see that God gave us our sexuality as a gift. God loves us as we are. We are all sinners, but not because we love people of the same sex."

Officially, the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, the 30-year-old denomination to which MCC-Baltimore and more than 300 churches worldwide belong, preaches that Christian faith should rest not in a particular clergyperson or church, but in a relationship with Jesus Christ and what is taught in the writings of the Bible. MCC teaches that much of Scripture is misinterpreted by those who don't understand the context of the times in which incidents recounted in the Old and New Testaments occurred, or who forget that the stories in the Bible were passed along as oral narratives long before they were written. The true meanings of words employed and translated (or mistranslated) over the centuries can and have been skewed over time, MCC holds, and the intentional or unintentional biases of the storytellers, writers, and translators may have gone into words that many take as gospel.

Is homosexuality a sin? Smith says no. He points to the primary Bible verses used by fundamentalist Christians to condemn same-sex relations. "In general, these prohibitions have to deal with situations involving idolatry, pagan practices, and temple prostitution. Or you see situations where men are sodomized by heterosexual men for the purpose of humiliation or rape. Those are the sins," he insists. "The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is used a lot- again, you have a rape situation, along with inhospitality to strangers. Hospitality was an important thing in those times. Inhospitality is the sin, not homosexuality, and the story has nothing to do with committed, loving relationships."

This, according to Joe Dallas, is a theology of lies. The founder of Genesis Counseling, an ex-gay ministry in Orange, Calif., Dallas has written three books, including A Strong Delusion, a rebuttal of the MCC doctrine. It's a philosophy the former pro-gay activist knows well-he once worked as a staff member of a Metropolitan Community Church. In his essay "Responding to the Pro-Gay Theology," Dallas is sharply critical of a view of Scripture that redefines homosexuality as being God-ordained and morally permissible: "The pro-gay theology is a strong delusion-a seductive accommodation tailor-made to suit the Christian who struggles against homosexual temptations and is considering a compromise. Some who call themselves gay Christians may be truly deceived into accepting it; others might be in simple rebellion. What compels them to believe a lie we cannot say. What we can say is that they are wrong . . . dead wrong."

Christopher Camp, who studied theology in Bible college and spent the better part of a decade trying to convince gays to become heterosexual, fires back, "I'm not intimidated by people using the Bible [against gays]. I've got Greek and Hebrew lexicons here too, hon. I know the meanings of words just as much as they do. I'm working from the same stuff they're working from-if they choose to take [the argument] as far as I do, and I doubt most of them are. I understand their arguments up one side and down the other.

"The majority of the people involved in the [ex-gay] movement are very sincere and they're good people who mean well," Camp continues. "They would give you the shirts off their backs. They'd give you all their money, and even put you up in their houses for free. They'd feed you and take care of you as one of their own. But they're wrong."

And, he argues, they're committing a grievous sin. "The apostle Paul condemns going against one's own nature, which is another way of saying, 'To thine own self be true.' That's a saying that, because of their cultural blinders, many in the movement refuse to see. I hate to see the incredible amount of human wreckage that has taken place, is taking place, and will continue to take place because of groups trying to force people to go against their own nature. By doing that, these groups are encouraging people to actively sin against the God who created them. And they're sinning too-no matter how nice and sincere they are."


The first Bible-study session at the Regeneration retreat is followed by a fellowship period. Many of us warm ourselves by a roaring fire, sipping coffee or hot chocolate and eating snacks. Others gather around Lani Bersch's book table to peruse works by noted Christian authors such as Joe Dallas, Leanne Payne, current Exodus International executive director Bob Davies, and Frank and Anita Worthen, names I hear constantly in conversations both formal and informal on the topic of freeing oneself from homosexuality.

I meet an interesting assortment of people, all of them really nice. Two men and a woman came to the convention from Liberty University, the Rev. Jerry Falwell's college in Lynchburg, Va. They are cheerful, clean-cut kids who seemed very excited to be there. One of the men, let's call him Victor, is struggling with same-gender desire; his girlfriend and a male friend, presumably heterosexual, came along to support him. The girlfriend is studying to be a nurse.

"Liberty is more than a Bible college now," she chirps in the way I remember speaking when I was in college 20 years ago. She, of course, is a fundamentalist Christian-"but not stuffy," she insists. I can't imagine her being so-she is a nice young woman, obviously bright and enthusiastic and fun to be around.

Victor's girlfriend is also very committed to the idea of spreading the word that gays can change. "There's just so much good we can do for those people to bring them to Christ," she says earnestly.

"What about gay Christians?" I ask. "They already believe they are building relationships with Christ."

"I wish them well - God really loves them," she replies. "But they're being deceived into the pit of Hell."

Finally, the moment I have waited for and dreaded arrives: My roommate finds me. She introduces herself; I'll call her Becky. She isn't at all what I imagined - she is 30, and attending a small Bible college in South Carolina. In stark contrast to the preppy Liberty trio, she wears a hippie dress similar to those I see at Deadhead gatherings, and has a silver ring in her nose.

Becky and I share stories in the privacy of our room. Her tale is a compelling one.

"I come from a background of Christianity," she begins, "but fell into drugs and the occult. My struggle was with gender identity; I didn't want to be a girl, didn't want to be a boy. I was pretty androgynous. I've dealt with a lot in that area, but I've never been in the [gay] lifestyle, praise God."

Her journey led her to a church in Missouri, a Christian church that was, shall we say, untraditional: "It was pretty modern - it made use of a lot of spiritually sound Dead music and U2."

I mention that I am a Deadhead, which surprises her. "Aren't you worried about the looseness, the drugs?" she asks.

"Nah. I decide what I do, and I can easily go to a show, love the music, and be totally sober," I say. "There are a lot of positive messages there, if you listen for them. How about 'Uncle John's Band': 'Ain't no time to hate'?"

She smiles - we've bonded. We find another thing we have in common - prayer ministry. I help run the prayer ministry at my church, and when Becky mentions her deep yearning to become a prayer counselor and minister to people suffering from "brokenness," I tell her a little about my work. As I speak, her face begins to literally shine - we've found common ground in our work for God.

Without a doubt, Becky believes. We get into the topic of homosexuality, and I quickly learn the exact nature of her beliefs. She says she believes in strong moral standards. She sees no compatibility between Christianity and drug use or even many popular song lyrics. She admits she's pushed away many parts of her old life so she can "fill up on God." But she struggles, and because of the war raging between her commitment to God and her gender identity, she says she's determined to do what God wants. Her resolve is admirable, but I find myself taken aback as I watch her tremble while speaking of her devotion to doing God's work and God's will. The 11:30 P.M. curfew has long passed when we finish talking and turn out the lights. I lie awake, jotting down notes in the dark, and wondering at all I've heard and seen.

I wake from a short, fitful sleep and hear the words from one of my favorite hymns, "I Stand in Awe of You." It's Becky; she's in the shower, singing a medley of Christian standards in a gloriously rich voice. After I've had my turn in the bath, she nails me: "You know, you don't speak Christian-speak."

After turning, I'm sure, 18 shades of red, I haltingly explain that I speak conversationally so as not to scare off people new to Christianity. In my ministry, I deal with folks who may be new to the faith or have been out of the loop for a number of years. If the goal is to communicate effectively, I say, using the flowery speech of many fundamentalists - including the hard - core Regeneration faithful - just doesn't work in some situations. If those listening don't understand what I mean, they tune out, and I miss an opportunity to spread Jesus' message. "It's the Word that's important, not the words. You know?"

"I am so glad we're roommates," she says. "I can learn so much from you!"

And I learned so much from her.

Over the breakfast table in the Potomac Park cafeteria, Becky, Beth, the Liberty kids, and I are discussing the issue at hand while devouring pancakes and sausage patties. I ask Beth, a veteran of quite a few Exodus and Regeneration events, why she continues to come to the conferences.

"For the community," she explains, "for someone I can talk to about . . . this."

"Is it like getting a booster shot?"

"Yeah," she says, nodding her head. "Sometimes, you need that."

The first of the day's three Bible-study sessions begins with Judy Johnston leading us in praise and worship singing. Bob Ragan offers up a prayer to the Creator, giving thanks, as he had the night before, for being delivered from his sexual addictions and leading us through Psalm 85, a prayer for restoration:

[Y]ou have forgiven the guilt of your people; you have covered all their sins. You have withdrawn all your wrath; you have revoked your burning anger. . . .


Transformation Ex-Gay Christian Ministries (TCM) was founded 10 years ago by Anthony Falzarano, who recently vacated his post as TCM's executive director and men's minister to focus on P-FOX. Both organizations-along with the St. Augustine's Sexual Healing Bookstore, which sells Christian material-are housed in a tidy four-story building in downtown Washington.

I telephone TCM for information on attending its support group. "Are you seeking to recover from lesbianism?" a male voice asks. "I have some questions."

"Have you accepted Jesus Christ and are you trying to break free from lesbianism?"

"I can honestly say I've been thinking about lesbianism for a long time." "Hallelujah!" the man says. "I'll connect you with our director of women's ministry - be sure and ask for Marjorie."

A few moments later, I hear the ebullient voice of Marjorie Hopper, who is happy to answer my questions about the prospect of change.

She tells me her story - she had been "in the lifestyle" for 43 years and "I've been free for 17 years." She tells me how her mother committed suicide, how she'd been in and out of relationships with women and was distressed that none of them turned out to be long-lasting. Realizing that something was missing from her life, she discovered Jesus Christ. "I've been free ever since."

I ask if she is married.

"No, I'm a bit past the age for that, but I'm still hoping!" she says. "Some of us are called to singleness. I ran a healing ministry in British Columbia and was just hired here. You could say I'm married to ministry. And that's fine, because the Lord is my beloved."

Tuesday nights are set aside for the weekly TCM support group; Hopper gives me the address and time and asks if I would be free for the next session, the following evening. I quickly assent.

"We also like to do individual counseling sessions so we can get to know you. Can we set something up?"

The week after the support-group session, Hopper and I meet in TCM's offices. I immediately tell her I'm skeptical about the notion of homosexuality being a sin. I belong to a Metropolitan Community Church, I say, and I've seen living proof that gays and lesbians can have committed, monogamous, healthy relationships and a strong commitment to God.

Hopper, an imposing and impressive woman whose youth and vigor belie her sexagenarian status, rises to the challenge. "But surely you know you can't be both gay and Christian," she says. "It is God's intention that man and woman be together to reflect the relationship between Him and His church."

For the better part of an hour, we go back and forth, discussing Scriptural passages. Hopper is good-natured but adamant in defense of her position. I respectfully deflect leading questions I think are designed to get me to agree with her. I finally bring the spirited and friendly debate to a halt: "I'm sorry. I just don't see that it's sinful, and I'm not going to say it is without believing it."

"Well," she says, smiling, "let's talk about you, then. Why can't you see yourself ever getting married to a man again?"

"Because I don't like men," I say, probably a little too harshly.

"You don't like men?"

"Actually, I do like men. I love men. My best friends are men," I explain- it's just that I prefer having relationships with women.

"H'm. Perhaps you were created to be for God alone," Hopper says. She then asks about my relationship with my father.

"I love my father." I do, very much, and he loves me deeply.

"I suppose you didn't get along with your mother, then."

"My mother and I have our moments, but we're very close." And we are. In many ways, my mom is my hero.

"I see." Hopper's brow wrinkles. "Were you molested as a child?"


"Tell me about your brothers and sisters."

"I have one brother; I adore him."

"Ah, I see - you identified with him? Wanted to be like him?"

"No," I say, truthfully.

"What sort of things did you like to do as a child?"

"I loved playing third base, was pretty good at it, too. . . ."


"But I also had one of the best Barbie collections among my friends. And I used to build and collect dollhouses. I always wanted to save them for my daughter."

"I see. Now, I don't follow the notion that women have to wear dresses and such," she says, pointing at me. I am dressed in my requisite jeans, sweater, leather jacket, and faux Doc Martens low tops.

"It's cold out and this is comfortable," I say. "I can also do the dress, hose, and heels thing and look fabulous."

"I'm going to have to think about this a bit," she says. Apparently, I don't conform to any of the established reparative-therapy theories that homosexuals usually come from dysfunctional families or have suffered emotional trauma. We talk a bit more - and then I sense the light bulb flicking on in Hopper's head.

"Are you familiar with Lucifer?" Hopper asks.

Of course, I reply. Lucifer is another name for Satan, according to Christian belief, an archangel who wanted to be equal to God. Being that there can only be one God, Lucifer was cast out of heaven.

"Ever since, he's been trying to get back at God, and he'll do anything to do it," Hopper says, her eyes shining, a huge grin on her beaming face. "You've been duped by Satan to believe woman and woman is in order. You've been duped by Satan to get back at God."

Looking at the clock, I see I've been there for more than two hours. I have to run back to Baltimore for a previously scheduled meeting.

"I've really enjoyed this," Hopper says with a wide smile. I have too, and tell her so. Before I leave, the older woman prays over me, asking God to give me wisdom and healing. I wish her a warm farewell and dash to my car. My first thought is, I have to call Mom.

Part two of "The Other Side of the Rainbow" will appear in next week's City Paper.


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