The Real Changes Taking Place: The Changing Definitions of “Cure”

In olden days — not so very olden either — this practice
was painted as the blackest of all possible sins. Anyone who practiced
it was pretty sure of hell. Our grandfathers, including our medical grandfathers,
if they did not avoid all reference to it, taught that it was not only a
dreadful sin, but that also it had physical and mental consequence which
were terrible; these consequences being regarded as the just punishment
of God for human wickedness. It was said that the victim of this habit
invariably brought disease upon himself and that if he did not speedily
check it he would go mad…. The only hope of cure held out was said to
lie in the exercise of the victim’s will assisted by religious exercises
of prayer and Bible reading.” — Leslie Weatherhead, “The Mastery
of Sex Through Psychology and Religion,” 1931.

The Rev. Leslie Weatherhead, a British Methodist in a Congregationalist
pulpit, was one of the pioneers in attempting to integrate psychology and
religion. In his day, he was considered a “liberal” or “enlightened”
voice on matters relating sexuality to spirituality, as his above words
on “Masturbation or Self-Abuse” might indicate. The “Methodist
Recorder” predicted, “without fear of exaggeration it can be said
that tens of thousands of young people will be deeply grateful” for
Weatherhead’s book.

In that essay, Weatherhead also stated: “Fortunately, most of what
was held to be true in regard to masturbation, physically, psychologically,
and theologically, we now know to be vulgar nonsense.” He noted that
a “psychologist says that 99 per cent of those who have given him their
confidence practice it, and he suspects the hundredth of concealing the

We should by now, however, know better than to think that Weatherhead
was particularly enlightened. He went on to claim that “some [men
and women] achieve complete mastery [over masturbation] … Quite recently
I have had the joy of curing — apparently completely — a boy who masturbated
several times daily for eight years and a girl in whom the practice had
been a daily one for nearly fifteen years.”

By what means did Weatherhead have such “joy of curing” masturbators?
His recommendations ranged from the psychological (urging patients to recognize
masturbation as “the misuse on selfish levels of an instinctive energy”),
to the religious (“Simply soak the mind with thoughts of Christ”)
to the physical (recommending circumcision of all uncircumcised masturbators,
avoidance of “heavy meals late at night,” and sleeping with coverings
that were “as light as possible” in a bed that was “not too

It should not be surprising how many parallels exist between this approach
to masturbation and the various, supposedly enlightened approaches to homosexuality
popular today among evangelicals, fundamentalists, and charismatics. [Footnote:
In his own chapter on homosexuality, Weatherhead simply referred his readers
to his chapter on masturbation, though he did say that the sodomy laws were
“both cruel and useless.”] As was the case with Weatherhead’s
“ex-masturbator” process, many (though not all) leaders of what
is commonly known as the “ex-gay movement” are attempting to move
away from the really outlandish misinformation of previous generations.
In both movements, we see a move from ignoring a taboo topic to a revolutionary
recognition if it as a widespread phenomenon — even within the churches
— requiring a change in perception. We see a seemingly greater compassion.
But we see, too, simplistic solutions in the misuse of prayer and Bible
reading. And we see the naive reporting of “cure” on the basis
of instant evaluation of alleged change, rather than on long-term follow-up
studies. We see testimony of “ex-masturbators” and “ex-gays”
as narrowly reported by their world-be deliverers. We see recommendations
that the behavior be redefined, that thanks be given for a “freedom”
not yet actually attained. We see recommendations for avoidance and silly
suggestions for distraction, repression and denial.

Make no mistake about it — changes undoubtedly do occur in the “ex-gay”
movement. But in my extensive study of “ex-gay” phenomena over
more than a decade convinces me that the changes are turnover in testimonies,
personnel, promises, definitions, expectations and claims, not changes in
sexual orientation and behavior. As even “ex-gay” movement promoter
Sharon Kuhn has admitted in Campus Crusade’s “Worldwide Challenge”
magazine, “most [“ex-gay”] ministries to Christian homosexuals
soon die out.”

The degree of “enlightenment” among modern-day evangelicals,
fundamentalists, and charismatics varies widely. This is especially the
case with many heterosexuals who desperately want to believe in the “ex-gay”
movement. Some persons continue to propose “cures” that are downright
stupid. Out of Dallas a “Chaplain Ray” has issued advice on “How
Homosexuals Can Change.” He says that homosexuals should “Keep
active. Work. Exercise. Involve yourself in as much wholesome group activities
as possible.” This Rambo-like prison chaplain also believes that homosexuals
would have been “healthier emotionally and psychologically if they
had been involved in the rough and tumble games and fights of the children
on the playgrounds.”

Some evangelicals continue to claim that complete change to heterosexuality
is possible for the gay man or lesbian. For example, Kenneth Gangel, of
Dallas Theological Seminary, claims that the “propensity can be changed
by the power of Jesus Christ.” He says that those Christian leaders
who do not propose complete change “stop short of the real power of
the gospel.” (He cites as his evidence the testimony of a man who
has now left the “ex-gay” movement and who, in the testimony cited
by Gangel, readily admitted that he continued to masturbate thinking of
“fond wishes” for homosexual activity.)

And Leanne Payne, a heterosexual charismatic who runs Pastoral Care Ministries,
calls all same-sex sexuality “a sexual neurosis” (contrary to
the diagnostic classification of the American Psychiatric Association).
She defines homosexuality as “a condition for God to heal” and
says that, as such, “it is (in spite of the widespread belief to the
contrary) remarkably simple.”

Among other evangelicals, such views are waning. Five years ago, “Christianity
Today” splashed across its cover: “Homosexuals CAN Change.”
Two years later, that magazine’s editor, Kenneth Kantzer, admitted that
“The evidence is clear that such a turn [from homosexuality to heterosexuality]
is often not very successful,” though he demanded that all lesbians
and gay men “try to turn from your homosexual orientation” or
at least “exercise self-control…refrain from homosexual practice…and
live lives of sexual continence.”

Eastern College sociologist Tony Campolo admits that “ex-gay”
claims “always fall through” on close examination. He even acknowledges
the probability of a “biological basis for homosexuality” and
thus says that we “cannot expect such a person to change his orientation.”
But Campolo, too, advocates celibacy for men and women whose orientation
is homosexual.

Increasingly, some evangelicals are moving all the way to the postion
espoused by Evangelicals Concerned, supporting a realistic integration of
same-sex relationship and biblical faith. As early as 1978, Richard Quebedeaux
observed in “The Worldly Evangelicals,” “Right and center
evangelicals may continue to say ‘no’ to homosexual practice explicitly
and homosexual orientation implicitly; but it seem likely that left evangelicals
will finally come out closer to Ralph Blair than to Anita Bryant.”

Nonetheless, perceived “causes” and “cures” of homosexuality
are still quite confused and confusing among most evangelicals, fundamentalists,
and charismatics. It does not, of course, take much beyond chutzpah to
posture righteousness indignation and promise “freedom from homosexuality,”
especially if the one who makes the promise is a heterosexual who says it
is really up to God to heal. It requires quite something else to offer
an effective way out of homosexual orientation. And no matter what they
claim, it is obvious that nobody is delivering on deliverance.

THE CLAIMS of “ex-gays” themselves also vary considerably. Many
frankly admit that, contrary to Payne’s claims, “healing” of homosexuality
is not “remarkably simple.” They know from their own experience
what daily and even hourly struggles they are up against. In a recent interview
in the “St. Paul Pioneer Press,” “ex-gay” leader Jeff
Ford of Outpost says that he still wrestles with his own homosexual urges,
admitting he is not “cured,” and that he doubts that “anyone
has shed their homosexual orientation” through the “ex-gay”

Similarly, Frank Worthen, the director of “Love In Action,”
warns in a recent issue of his newsletter, “When the sun [comes out]
and the clothes [come] off, [‘ex-gays’ have] a full blown problem.”
He admits that even “during the winter months,” the “ex-gays”
have only “a measure of victory.”

He confesses, “One of the most difficult battles ex-gay men and
women face is working through attractions we often have to members of the
same sex.” He notes that “ex-gays” are often sexually attracted
to persons they see while out shopping or at church but says that it is
especially hard when “ex-gays” are sexually attracted to “someone
we work with or are required to interact with on a regular basis.”
Worthen, who is now married to a woman, suggests that other “ex-gays”
should, “if possible, cut down the number of times you are seeing the
person. Using the telephone rather than visiting the person helps.”
He advises that “ex-gays” seek out “the physically unattractive.”
Finally, Worthen says that “ex-gays” “should not just beat
yourself…every time you feel attracted to another.”

Another “ex-gay” has this to confide to the readers of “The
Presbyterian Survey”: “I have a hope that I will someday have
a heterosexual orientation, or meet a woman who will help me find one.
But my hardened, cynical side insists that the future for me will consist
of celibacy, and a decreased sexual tension. Nevertheless, the tension
will remain with me until death. That’s what I think the future will be

Some “ex-gays,” however, actually deny their experience. Daniel
Roberts of Homosexuals Anonymous (also known as Quest) says that homosexuals
are all mistaken even in thinking of themselves as “homosexuals.”
According to his pseudo-Freudian interpretation, homosexuality is really
“an ambivalence toward the same sex rather than love for the same sex.”
He says that such ambivalence leads to genital behavior when it is “misinterpreted
as erotic.”

Other “ex-gays” redefine terms to suit themselves. Joanne
Highley of L.I.F.E. Ministry says that Christians must “see homosexual
orientation for what it is — a lie. We are,” she insists, “truly
heterosexual” in the first place. With such flip-flop argumentation
she finds it easy to promise “a transformation of one’s orientation”
(though we might ask what the need is for such a “transformation”
if the homosexual orientation is really just “a lie” all along).
At any rate, she says that such “transformation of one’s orientation”
is done through a “change of identity — recognition of being a new

NO MATTER what they over-claim in promoting their movement, careful examination
of most of the claims of the “ex-gays” — at least in their fine-print
disclaimers — shows far more modest promises. Some of their stories of
so-called deliverance’s don’t even focus on sexual orientation or behavior,
offering instead illogical “proofs” of change. For example, in
an article entitled “Showing Homosexuals A Way Out” and published
in the conservative United Methodist magazine, “Good News,” reporter
James Robb relates the testimony of a man who “was once a practicing
homosexual. Now he’s set up in ministry.” How that man’s change of
career automatically proved any change in sexual orientation of behavior
is never demonstrated. In another issue, “Good News” has printed
the testimony of “A Former Homosexual,” now a “musical evangelist.”
But a close reading of the testimony indicates that, however more musical
he might have become, this “former” homosexual’s homosexuality
is continuing in the form of repeated homosexual temptations.

Another evangelical magazine, “Message,” has published the
“ex-gay” testimony of Tim Youngblood. He claims, “After
accepting Christ I began changing.” But what began changing? “The
way I moved my hands and arms changed. Even my walk changed. My voice
lowered. My laugh changed.” He doesn’t say that his desire for men
changed. He doesn’t say that he now desires women instead of men, sexually.
Youngblood advises other “ex-gay” men to “find a Spirit-filled
man of God who is secure in his own self image … You need someone to go
to when things get difficult.” How is this not a description of homosexual
attraction? He warns the “ex-gay”: “Allow yourself the
freedom to fail. …You’re going to stumble.”

“Christian Life” magazine has published an article, entitled
“I Was Delivered from Lesbianism,” about Darlene Bogle. Now a
“leader of singles” at an Assembly of God center, Bogle says that
she was “demonically indwelt” by lesbianism but that when she
“took authority over the spirits of homosexuality in the name of Jesus
and served them their ‘vacate-the-premises-immediately’ papers they had
to leave.” Evidently, however, her lesbianism did not leave with the
demons. She asks in the article: “Did all the struggles leave overnight?

While at first “ex-gays” may make outlandishly false claims
about their own “change” experiences, they almost always soon
become more honest and modest in their claims. All of the early movement’s
leaders who claimed to be personally “ex-gay” have now dropped
out: Guy Charles of LIBERATION in Jesus Christ, Roger Grindstaff (also
known as Roger Dean) of Disciples Only and a consultant to Teen Challenge,
John Evans of Love in Action, Jim Kasper and Mike Bussee of EXIT at Melodyland,
Greg Reid of EAGLE, Rick Notch of Open Door, and many others. Alan Mediger,
executive director of EXODUS, the “ex-gay” umbrella organization,
acknowledges “that his group has had problems with ministry leaders
who return to a gay lifestyle…and that when an ex-gay is trying to help
a struggling homosexual, the temptation to fall is great.”

This “exodus” of “ex-gay” leaders does not, however,
prevent some Christian publishers from continuing to distribute, and even
advertise, these persons’ previous testimonies of deliverance. Today, many
of those who lead the “ex-gay” movement have never been homosexual
(e.g., Leanne Payne, Robbi Kenney of Outpost, and Ron Highley of L.I.F.E.).

And, apparently, those “ex-gay” persons who do continue to
help lead the movement often still struggle with the conflict between their
desire to purge themselves of homosexuality and their deep-felt need for
same sex relationships of some sort. Andy Comiskey, founder of the “ex-gay”
Desert Stream at John Wimber’s Vineyard asks in its newsletter, “How
do we [“ex-gays”] sort out sinful desires from legitimate needs
for same-sex friendship?” He continues, “Perhaps we’re fearful
of falling hopelessly in love with another of the same sex. We detach ourselves.
On the other hand, we can rush unwisely into friendship and find ourselves
enmeshed in an emotional and sexual death grip.”

COMISKEY’S CONCERNS have been a constant battle in the “ex-gay”
movement, where the biggest worry at every “ex-gay” convention
is that the ‘ex-gays” will “fall” during the convention.
As ex-“ex-gay” leader Rick Notch has put it, “You pick a
prayer partner the first night of the convention, you pray with him the
second night, and by the third night your prayers are answered.” Don
Baker, in his recent book, “Beyond Rejection: The Church, Homosexuality,
and Hope,” acknowledges that even after a prescribed Bible-memorization
program, “deliverance from homosexuality is a slow, agonizing process
with the ever present fear of falling at any time” into protracted
homosexual behavior.

In short, leaders of the “ex-gay” movement seem to be scrambling
to find any substantial proof of success in their efforts. For many, this
has meant carefully defining (or redefining) very limited goals.

A couple of years before “ex-gay” leader Greg Reid dropped
out of sight, abandoning his EAGLE (Ex-Active-Gay-Liberated-Eternally) ministry,
he admitted, “There have been many [ex-gay] failures… Ex-gay testimonies
are touted before they are ready, many, in fact, don’t even have a genuine

…Evangelicals and gay Christians alike are looking for a ‘perfect record’–
and heterosexuality to boot. Ex-gays play right into that destructive game.
The scriptural standard is NOT ‘are they reoriented’ or ‘have they fallen.'”

Robbi Kenney has issued the following directive to other remaining leaders
in the movement: “Know what you are offering. … You are NOT offering
heterosexuality… [but] the power to come into celibacy.” She even
advised, “avoid calling them ex-gays.”

This past year, leaders of various “ex-gay” groups, including
Love in Action, Homosexuals Anonymous, L.I.F.E. Ministries, and Mount Hope,
conducted a winter conference in New York City. They repeatedly stressed
that the “ex-gay” promise was not one of change from homosexual
orientation to heterosexual orientation but rather one of either demanded
celibacy or heterosexual marriage (which was recommended to be arranged
by a third party and in which genital acts might or might not eventually
be added to friendship with someone of the other sex).

In summer 1985, EXODUS held its ninth convention. Of 54 conference participants
polled, 23 preferred not to use a noun to describe someone “freed from
homosexuality.” Instead they said that such a person was “struggling
with homosexuality” — a “fallen angel.” Phrases such as
“set free” and “delivered” were said to be “theological
terms [that] often misrepresented the process of change which most ministries
teach.” Ambiguous, non-sexual terms such as “new creation,”
“image of God,” and “sanctified” were used to define
what is meant by “being changed.” To be “ex-gay,” said
Doug Houck, founder of the Christian Reformed-backed Metanoia Ministries,
does not even mean “a complete elimination of homosexual behavior:
homosexual contact, masturbation, buying/reading pornography, etc.”

But how was this convention covered in the evangelical press?
According to a news feature in “Christianity Today,” there were
at the convention “living testimonies that practicing homosexuals can
become heterosexuals.” Such backtracking from the editorial enlightenment
shown three years ago at “Christianity Today” clearly points
up the continuing ambivalence of evangelicals when faced with evidence they
don’t want to believe.

Conservative Presbyterian Richard Lovelace has also displayed this ambivalence.
Not long ago he repeatedly referred to EXIT of Melodyland as the “ex-gay”
organization that was “most successful in bringing persons out of the
homosexual lifestyle.” Now that the cofounders of EXIT have exited
into “the homosexual lifestyle,” however, he pushes Homosexuals
Anonymous, calling the approach used by its leader, Colin Cook, “an
authentic theological masterpiece…a jewel…a theological pearl…a silver
bullet against evil.” Interestingly, Lovelace neglects to mention
that Cook is a Seventh-Day Adventist, a fact that many of his conservative
Presbyterian readers might well dislike.

At any rate, the “masterpiece” Cook is said to have produced
is based on the idea that God accounts the “ex-gay” to be “heterosexual”
even though “God knows” that he or she still is not heterosexual.
According to Cook, the “ex-gay” must claim the belief that “God
charges to your account all of Christ’s … heterosexual wholeness.”
It’s a “charge,” not a “change.” And so, of course,
Cook must admit that the homosexual “feelings remain.” But without
any evidence or explanation, Cook suddenly announces on the last page:
“In time, 80 to 90 percent of the strength of homosexual feelings will
pass away.”

Where does he get these figures? And when will the “homosexual
feelings… pass away”? When the homosexuals themselves pass away?
Cook admits in a recent interview in the “Philadelphia Inquirer”
that he has no records by which he can speak of “success levels.”
Indeed, in “Ministry”, a Seventh-Day Adventist publication, he
says, “Many Christians, battling with a homosexual problem, hope one
day in the vague future finally to arrive at heterosexuality by the gradual
process of God’s righteousness working within them as they have faith.”
But, according to Cook, this “is a wistful hope” and “Biblically
false.” The Cook approach “focuses itself on a wholeness, a righteousness
(and hence a heterosexuality) outside of itself and in the person of Another,
namely Jesus Christ. This wholeness and heterosexuality of Christ the homosexual
accepts as his own.” Cook says that this, then, “ends the search
for heterosexuality within himself.” he says that “ex-gays”
must then praise God “for our new unseen identity.”

Such a “transformation” is hardly “a theological pearl…and
a silver bullet.” Rather it’s junk jewelry and a blank.

By the winter of 1987 Cook was ousted for having sex with male counselees
over the past six years. Investigation by Seventh-Day Adventist sociologist
Ronald Lawson has uncovered evidence from 14 young men who complained of
sexual pressures from Cook during counseling sessions to become “ex-gay.”
Cook says he is “coming to admit to a level of delusional thinking
that I have let myself be deceived by.”

As is true today of the older approach to “self-abuse,” the
“ex-gay’ approach would be comical if it were not so tragic. In several
more decades, the views of the Cooks and Lovelaces will be but amusing footnotes
of a less enlightened generation. But those who, because of these unenlightened
moralists, will have forfeited a rewarding intimacy for the true self-abuse
of isolation, enforced celibacy, and even promiscuity will be beyond the
ability to enjoy God’s earthy gift of sexual closeness. Whether male or
female now, they will then be where, like the angels, they “neither
marry nor are given in marriage.”

Article Reprinted With Permission.