Why I am not in favor of ex-gay ministries – quotes from the book “Torn,” by Justin Lee, executive director of the Gay Christian Network

29 Jan

Homosexuals Anonymous

“Homosexuals Anonymous began its life as a part of Quest Learning Center, an institution founded by Colin Cook promising ‘freedom from homosexuality.’  Cook, a married-with-children ex-gay “success story” who developed the Homosexuals Anonymous program, wrote in 1982 that ‘a change in orientation is [not] a requirement for acceptance with God or entrance into the fellowship of the church’ but that ‘the orientation may be healed,’ that ‘freedom from homosexual drive…is a real possibility,’ and that ‘all who desire it may realize their inborn…heterosexuality.’

Four years later, Cook was forced to resign when a number of his male clients came forward to charge that Cook had been sexually molesting them in the course of therapy, telling them it was to help desensitize them to male stimuli.  Cook finally confessed to inappropriate behavior, but told a reporter the next year that he had managed to overcome that impulse, and that 99.99% of his same-sex fantasies were gone.

Eight years later, The Denver Post reported that Cook was still engaging in sexual contact and phone sex with his male counselees.  Cook’s theories on orientation change continue to influence ex-gay groups today.

Exodus International

Michael Busse and Gary Cooper were two of the original co-founders of Exodus International, an ex-gay referral organization that today is the largest ex-gay ministry in the world.  Both were married with kids…Together, they traveled across the country, speaking to excited Christian audiences and telling them that, yes, it was possible for gay people to become straight.

In 1978, when psychological researchers contacted their ministry for an opportunity to interview some ex-gays and see whether orientation change was really possible, Bussee and Cooper combed through files of about 300 members, narrowing the list to 30, who, in their opinion, had changed.  Of those 30, the researchers found 11 who agreed to talk to them and whom they identified as having successfully ‘changed to heterosexuality’ based on their self-descriptions.  Only 5 of the 11 claimed to have gone from exclusively homosexual to exclusively heterosexual, however; the others all admitted to continuing homosexuality in some form.  Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper were two of the five successes.

It was shortly after that study, on a plane on the way to another speaking engagement, that Bussee and Cooper broke down and confessed to each other that they were both still gay and had fallen in love with each other…their marriages did not survive.  

John Paulk

John Paulk, the chairman of the board of Exodus International and the head of the Homosexuality and Gender department of Focus on the Family, had written a book called Not Afraid to Change:  The Remarkable Story of How One Man Overcame Homosexuality.  In it, he told how he had changed from a promiscuous drag queen living a sex-and-party lifestyle to a heterosexual family man with a wife and son.  Together with his wife, Anne, he loudly proclaimed that such change was possible for anyone who wanted it, and the two of them appeared on national talk shows and were on the cover of Newsweek in 1998.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later that the truth came out.  John was on a business trip in Washington, D.C., when a gay activist recognized him at Mr. P’s, a local gay bar.  Witnesses claim that John lied about his identity and flirtatiously tried to buy a man a drink, leaving hurriedly when another activist arrived with a camera to get his picture.  When confronted later about the incident, John claimed he hadn’t known it was a gay bar, and that he only went in to use the restroom.  He later confessed that that was a lie, but he claimed he didn’t have any inappropriate motives for going to the bar.  After the incident, he was removed from his position at Exodus, but he continued to serve as the homosexuality specialist for Focus on the Family.

Over a year later, Focus on the Family president James Dobson cited John Paulk in his book Bringing Up Boys as the best proof that gay people can become straight.  “Prevention is effective,” wrote Dobson.  “Change is possible.”  Immediately after using John as a shining example of orientation change, Dobson bolstered his argument with a quote from a psychologist about the reality of such change.  That psychologist was George Rekers – the same man who would find scandal in 2010 for hiring a male escort as a travel companion.


Stories like these – and there are many of them – make me sad…When I think about John Paulk, I think of all the pain in his life that led him to the ex-gay movement, all the years of self-deception as he tried to play the role of the straight husband and father, and all the hurt, he, his wife and his family must have experienced when the truth was revealed.  He’s not a villain; he’s a human being who surely thought he was on the right path despite occasional slipups.  I think, too, of all the individuals, families and churches who heard him speak about the reality of his change, and who made life-altering decisions for themselves and their loved ones based around the belief that if John Paulk had become straight, anyone could become straight.  I think about the stories of Christians who killed themselves in despair when they were unable to change and the parents who disowned their children for self-identifying as gay.  I think about the damage so many Christian churches have done to so many people because they misunderstood what was really happening and ended up pushing people away from God.”

quoted from pp. 87-91 of the book Torn, Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate, by Justin Lee, executive director of the Gay Christian Network

I just finished reading this pro-gay book and I highly recommend it!


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