The Reorient Express
Attention: Do you suffer from unwanted homosexuality? Do your urges violate Leviticus 18:22? Do you wake up in the middle of the night wishing you were straight?
Well, wish no more. Thanks to this not-so-exclusive offer from Exodus Ministries, you can eliminate the sin of same-sex attraction in as little as six months! Just look at what awaits you in the exciting world of heterosexuality:
A happy disposition without the expense of designer drugs.
Plus, when you die, you won't go to hell!
Exodus has helped thousands of gays worldwide repair their sexual brokenness and find the comfort that comes only from walking in God's intended path.
Just listen to Christopher, 37, who loved his Exodus experience so much that he now volunteers to help others. Christopher, from southwest Houston, has been gay-free for years and loving it. He can hang out with dudes without wanting to kiss them. His religion prohibits premarital sex and he's never slept with a woman, but he knows that when the time comes, he'll really be into it.
"I haven't had a relationship yet, but the desire which at one point was so repugnant is now a very pleasant option," he says. "If God were to provide me with a wife at the time that He sees fit that would be a very wonderful part of life, I hope."
Wonderful, indeed. That's because, unlike gay sex, heterosexual sex involves love.
"When you look at it, heterosexual sex can bring forth life," Christopher says. "Your wife and you are intimate. The Bible says that you're one person, really In my experience, with gay sex, it was always 'What can I get out of it?' It's about me, it's about my orgasm, my fix, my sexual high. The intimacy is nothing more than just the flesh whereas heterosexual sex, it's more heart, more soul, more spirit."
No matter the reason for your homosexuality, be it the result of molestation, an overbearing mother or a disconnect with Dad, you can be made whole again.
What? You don't believe in the power of Exodus? Well, take a look at formerly gay Exodus president Alan Chambers. He's married and has a kid. His photo is part of Exodus's new multimillion dollar ad campaign, and he doesn't look gay at all.
Why not give Exodus a shot? Michael Newman has led an Exodus-affiliated ministry in Houston for 19 years. If he can't straighten you out, no one can.
What do you have to lose -- besides homosexuality?
From a full page ad in the Los Angeles Times, July 23, 2004:
A handsome, vaguely Matt Damon-looking man smiles below a bold-faced banner reading, "I Questioned Homosexuality." Then, in italics below: "And when I discovered a way out, I took it."
The man's name is Randy Thomas, and he used to be gay. He's now the spokesperson for Exodus's North American headquarters in Orlando.
He's one of the faces of the new Q&A campaign designed to revitalize Exodus's presence in mainstream media, as well as recover from the embarrassing public relations debacle of a former spokesman photographed walking out of a D.C. gay club called Mr. P's.
It's a soft sell, an ingenious campaign that doesn't cram hellfire and brimstone down anyone's throat. The slogan is "Change is possible. Discover how." Hardly anything to get riled up about.
Thomas is a particularly effective spokesperson, a guy who can flip the script and appear to make Exodus the victim of misunderstanding and intolerance.
"It's not our goal to make anybody do anything," Thomas says from Orlando. "We present our lives and our opinions and, you know, people will come and ask us for those things We're here, this is our lives, if you are of like mind, we'd be glad to help you. If you're not of like mind, will you tolerate what you can't accept?"
Exodus formed in 1978, partly in response to Christian groups who were ordaining gay ministers and writing improbably titled books such as The Lord Is My Shepherd and He Knows I'm Gay. After a rocky start -- two male founders ditched their wives and ran off with each other -- Exodus ministries quietly popped up across the country.
The thesis is that homosexuality isn't the worst thing imaginable, but it's a sin, like adultery. And you can't live in sin and accept Christ's gift of eternal life. So therefore you've got to change -- but it's much easier to stop screwing around on your spouse. In that situation, you're not asked to reorient your sexual desire.
Of utmost importance to Exodus's approach is the lack of research showing whether homosexuality is a product of nature or nurture. The American Psychological and Psychiatric associations say there's not enough research pointing to one or the other.
In the case of men who seek help from Exodus, many say they were physically or sexually abused by other men at an early age. Many say they lacked a bond with their father, or with any other males. This need for male affirmation is eventually sexualized, and, in many cases, these men are wrapped up in a lifestyle they never wanted.
But, says Exodus, instead of offering them an out, contemporary American culture tells these men to celebrate their homosexuality. Happy, successful homosexual characters populate prime-time TV and popular music. Everywhere these lonely, depressed gay-men-by-default turn, they're told that this is the way they are and there's nothing they can do about it.
Michael Newman was one of those men. Now, as an "ex-gay" man, he counsels them.
"I represent a large number of men and women who were discontent with being limited and being forced into that mold related to homosexuality, just based solely on emotions or feelings, and wanting to find congruence with our personal belief system," he says.
A precocious child, Newman first suspected he might be gay at three and a half. That's when his sister was born. Naturally, she sucked up a lot of the attention, "so I needed to be the perfect child to let my mother have all the time she needed with my sister," he says.
Meanwhile, his dad worked long hours at a factory. All the other males Newman knew were on TV and in the movies, and they pretty much spent their time shooting each other.
By his estimation, women had it easier.
From his childhood vantage point, Newman says, "women stayed at home, took care of babies, and they got to spend the money. And so I saw very little advantage in being male."
Newman spent his early years sucking at sports and enduring schoolyard taunts. He says he never was attracted to the boys in his school, he just admired their confidence, their ease with the girls, their ability to throw a spiral. At 13, he found a girlfriend, only to have his heart broken a month later when she dumped him. That's when he committed his life to Christ.
That worked for a good six years, until he found himself stumbling drunkenly through the French Quarter with "a big city slicker from Memphis." Newman was a college student at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge out for a good time in New Orleans. But, as usually happens with the toxic combination of alcohol and Bourbon Street, he made an error in judgment.
The city slicker came on to Newman. Newman acquiesced.
"It was not a wonderful experience, and there were questions immediately," he says.
Panicked, Newman flipped through the Bible for some quick damage control. Had he really sinned? If so, how badly? Was it irreparable?
The Bible pretty much sums up homosexuality, or at least the male version, with a few terse verses in Leviticus: "Thou shall not lie with mankind as with womankind: It is abomination."
Thus, Newman was in the unenviable position of harboring sexual desires that ran counter to the religion he embraced. Jesus offered acceptance, followed by eternal life. Men offered orgasm, followed by Satan's minions. But some choices look easy only on paper.
It's 9:30 on a Sunday morning, and the Reverend Dwayne Johnson is giving his congregation a pop quiz: How many remember the name of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10?
The hundred or so people in Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church in the Heights are silent. They're either stumped or convinced their pastor is a lunatic. Johnson wears his parted black hair close to his scalp. Big, square-framed glasses sit upon a broad face. Black robes with a rainbow stole cover a somewhat short, heavy-set body.
"The truth is, no name is given," Johnson says. Zing!
No names are given, either, for the people who helped the apostle Paul escape Damascus's heavily guarded gates in a basket. Fast-forward about 1,900 years, and head west from Syria to Queens, where Kitty Genovese is raped and stabbed to death outside her apartment building. In the course of the 32-minute crime, the killer leaves and returns twice. Thirty-eight witnesses hear or see the attack and fail to call the police.
Johnson's point here is that we're all part of the body of Christ. We're all different, we all have our special talents, but we're all supposed to help one another. Our help, or lack thereof, can make a big difference.
"There is a shortage of the gift of helps," he says, purposely pluralizing: There are all kinds of help. Each one of us can help in our own way. It's fine that we're all different, as long as we all contribute.
At this point, it might be relevant to mention that Johnson is gay. Many of the people in the pews are gay, and the choir well, the choir is definitely gay. For the last 22 years, RMCC has welcomed people of all races and sexual orientations. They started with small gatherings in homes, eventually outgrowing a series of modest sanctuaries, until they moved into their large 11th Street facility. The church is part of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, which, according to its Web site, consists of 300 churches in 18 countries.
Johnson, a Lubbock native, was ordained in 1987 and has been RMCC's head minister since 1996. In his late teens, he dated women and almost got married before coming out his first time. When he was a 20-year-old college student in Kansas City, he went to a meeting with a Christian group that professed to convert homosexuals. Johnson knew something was up when the group leader suggested they take a walk in a park afterward and then gently massaged the back of Johnson's neck. Johnson remembers the guy saying, "Sometimes we have to help each other get through this God would understand."
Johnson quickly went back into the closet.
"I believe it's based on internalized homophobia," Johnson says of such ministries. "And a lack of education and understanding. I don't think that they work. I think that's what happened with Paulk."
This last is a reference to former Exodus spokesman John Paulk, who used to be known as Candi, one of Columbus, Ohio's most flamboyant drag queens. A photograph of Candi, a striking curly-haired brunette, still exists online. Paulk also earned $80 an hour as a prostitute for an escort service.
By the late 1980s, Paulk ultimately found God, got rid of Candi, got married, and in 2001 got caught walking out of Washington, D.C.'s oldest gay bar.
Johnson came out for good when he was 24. Shortly afterward, he began an eight-year relationship with a man who died from complications related to AIDS.
"These organizations are setting people's lives back," Johnson says. "Rather than people getting to the truth of who they are, they're creating something dysfunctional and false. It's shame-based, and, ultimately, I think it's a slap in God's face. It's saying, 'You did such an awful job that I've got to change what you've created.' What does that say about God?"
But what about Leviticus?
Johnson subscribes to a school of thought that believes those oft-cited verses deal with homosexuality in the context of pagan ritual. The Hebrews, it's thought, wished to separate themselves from other groups who indulged in homosexual sex in honor of other gods.
In the midst of this homosexuality talk, Leviticus lays out a few more dos and don'ts, including slavery (okay); sex during menstruation (not okay); and dwarfs (they aren't allowed near the altar -- seriously).
Furthermore, the Hebrews had a vested interest in multiplying, Johnson says. That's why masturbation and coitus interruptus are also sins.
"At that time, any kind of sex that did not lead to procreation was suspect in their culture," he says. "Basically, they came up with codes for survival."
While Johnson wraps up his service, Pastor Todd Williams is getting ready for his Sunday worship, another "gay-friendly" congregation, although one with a decidedly different look.
Williams, who stepped down as the leader of an Alvin church after coming out, holds weekly services in Montrose's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center. He and his wife divorced three years ago, after 11 years of marriage and two children. Williams lives with his daughter; his son lives with his ex-wife.
Williams and a few of his faithful Alvin church members formed New Covenant Christian Church two years ago with a mission, he says, to welcome everyone to God's table.
"What did Christ say about homosexuality?" asks Williams, a balding, wide-eyed man with a goatee and a permanent smile. "Absolutely zero. He said, 'I was hungry and you gave me food,' you know, 'I was cold and you clothed me.' He didn't say, 'You were gay and I had nothing to do with you.' "
For Williams, groups like Exodus "might as well change the sky from blue to green." What's more important, he says, is that they aren't as tolerant as they would have people believe.
"We're not in the business of changing people," he says. "God changes people. We don't."
New Covenant's meeting room is small, with just three rows of chairs set close to a podium. A huge coffee pot and a box of doughnuts rest on a small table by the door, an especially welcome treat for the many Montrose street kids who slowly trickle into the room.
It's an odd assortment of folks. Or, as Williams says, "I would like to think that this is the place where Christ would hang out."
The first row includes a lesbian couple with an infant; the second includes an impeccably dressed older woman whose husband is away at his high school reunion; the third row includes kids who look like they haven't changed clothes in weeks. Some of these kids are clearly just there for the coffee and doughnuts; they're gabbing to one another while Williams delivers a speech about Martin Luther King Jr. But most of the kids are quiet and respectful.
At the end of the service, the 20 or so congregants hold hands in a circle that expands across the entire room. Williams invites them to share their news, good or bad, so that the rest may pray for them. One man asks everyone to pray that he can keep his brand-new job; one woman prays for the safe return of her husband, an army medic in Iraq; a young pregnant woman bursts into tears before she can conjure up her words. Her friend beside her tells the group that the woman, three weeks ahead of her due date, has already gone into labor.
Sobbing and red-faced, the mother-to-be says she's dreading going to the hospital for a test. The group members trip over each other to offer solace. The lesbian couple, it seems, can provide real relief. One of the women cocks her head down to the tiny sleeping infant nestled between her impossibly broad shoulders.
Mother tells mother-to-be that her baby was three weeks premature, and damned if she isn't the healthiest little thing.
In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and some professionals grew upset.
No psychologist is more outspoken than Encino, California's Joseph Nicolosi, a therapist and president of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). A collective of medical doctors, psychologists, sociologists and laymen, NARTH professes to provide the scientific argument behind the ex-gay movement. Through their Web site, they present a plethora of research devoted to reparative therapy, a controversial process used to turn homosexuals straight.
The psychiatric association, in its official statements on homosexuality and reparative therapy, explained why homosexuality was dropped from the DSM: "For a mental condition to be considered a psychiatric disorder, it should either regularly cause emotional distress or regularly be associated with clinically significant impairment of social functioning. These experts found that homosexuality does not meet these criteria."
Reparative therapy, however, is predicated on the belief that the APA eliminated homosexuality as a mental illness only to appease powerful pro-gay activists. This left homosexuals who wanted to be treated specifically for their sexual orientation in the lurch, according to NARTH.
"These are the men and women who -- despite having some homosexual feelings -- believe that humanity was designed to be heterosexual," writes Nicolosi, who did not return phone calls from the Houston Press. "Homosexuality will never define 'who they really are. '
"The major professional groups -- the American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association -- (the 'APA's') -- have abandoned these people. Today, gay activists speak for the APA's on subjects related to homosexuality."
NARTH has elected to speak on behalf of those abandoned homosexuals, and it appears to have some reach. The association has collected an overwhelming amount of data and has fiercely battled what it sees as a biased popular opinion.
Its Web site overflows with studies and criticism showing how homosexuality is unhealthy, often deadly and -- like autism, schizophrenia and left-handedness -- biologically erroneous.
One of NARTH's latest examples of the effectiveness of reparative therapy is a 2003 study conducted by psychiatrist Robert Spitzer, one of the driving forces behind the decision to drop homosexuality from the DSM. Spitzer, a professor at Columbia University, has since changed his mind.
Published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Spitzer's study consisted of interviewing 200 gay, devoutly religious volunteer test subjects over the telephone, effectively circumventing random sampling. In order to qualify, the initial 247 volunteers had to be enrolled in some sort of reparative therapy program and had to rate the level of their same-sex desires on a scale of zero to 100, with zero being exclusively heterosexual and 100 being exclusively homosexual. Spitzer accepted those who rated themselves at least 60. Spitzer asked them 114 yes-or-no or scaled-rating questions about such topics as "percentage of masturbation episodes featuring homosexual fantasies" versus those with hetero fantasies; and frequency of exposure to gay porn.
Spitzer did not claim his study proved that reparative therapy was a cure-all, but he said the volunteers' responses indicated that some gay people can definitely change. Eleven percent of the men and 37 percent of the women reported a complete conversion.
Spitzer wrote that the study "clearly goes beyond anecdotal information and provides evidence that reparative therapy is sometimes successful."
Like the APAs, NARTH doesn't pretend to know where homosexuality comes from, but the studies on its Web site point to patterns. In males, for example, the boy usually detaches from his father at an early age, leaving him without a positive male role model. By the time the boy reaches adolescence, he has been saturated with societal messages tolerating and even encouraging premarital sex. Eventually, the boy sexualizes his understandable need for male affection.
"Much distress is caused simply by his way of life," writes Harvard- and Yale-educated physician and NARTH contributor Jeffrey Satinover. "He also lives with the guilt and shame that he inevitably feels over his compulsive, promiscuous behavior."
But, Satinover continues, he can enter the path to healing, where he might "relate aright to woman, as friend, lover, life's companion, and God willing, mother of his children."
It's the last part, God willing, that might raise an eyebrow. Seldom in scientific research does the Supreme Being make an appearance. But He makes a few cameos in NARTH-related research, which somehow always dovetails into the same philosophies espoused by the religious right.
Nicolosi is a member of Exodus's speakers bureau, and Satinover believes there is a code embedded in the Bible that proves the existence of God. Those in the ex-gay movement point to Satinover's book, Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, as a completely objective study, somehow missing Satinover's fundamental premise that homosexuality is "but one of the many forms of 'soul sickness' that are innate to our fallen natures."
Last March, NARTH co-sponsored a full-page ad in USA Today featuring shiny, happy ex-gays. Other sponsors of the ad included Exodus, Focus on the Family, Parents & Friends of Ex-Gays and JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality).
NARTH's ties to the religious right are what the American Psychiatric Association is talking about in its position statement on reparative therapy: "The potential risks of 'reparative therapy' are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient."
It's difficult to discern where NARTH-approved science ends and religious rhetoric begins. Discussion of reparative therapy does not seem to exist outside the confines of religion and the ultimate consequence of hell. Newman and other religious counselors in Houston are unaware of any secular psychologists in Houston who offer reparative therapy.
John Vincent, the director of clinical psychology training at the University of Houston, says he's not aware of evidence supporting NARTH's and Exodus's claims for reparative therapy.
"We of course have influence over our behavior," Vincent says. "One can choose not to be sexual, either heterosexually or homosexually. So to the extent that this organization encourages people to change their behavior, I guess if they wanted to do that, they probably could. I don't think that means their underlying impulses [are] necessarily altered all that much."
Vincent says he's treated gay clients unhappy with their orientation.
"I certainly have worked with many gay individuals who would prefer not to be gay," he says, "and the work there usually has to do with helping them learn how to accept that aspect of who they are as people, as opposed to beginning with the assumption that this is something that's inherently wrong with them and they ought to change that."
Ultimately, Vincent says, sexuality is fixed -- and probably at an early age.
Reparative therapy, he says, is "a little bit like asking somebody who's straight, 'Would you be interested in going to therapy to learn how to become gay?' "
One of the worst problems with the reparative therapy debate is that, while the rift between conservative Christianity and scientific research makes great fodder for the media, the many kids and adults struggling with homosexuality are ridiculed or, even worse, forgotten altogether.
The fact is that coping with same-sex attraction is all too real a burden for some people, regardless of their religious beliefs.
Christopher, an ex-gay man who asked that his real name not be used, was never a holy roller -- but that didn't mean he was any less fearful, ashamed and angry.
Growing up, he was never able to connect with boys. He was bright, sensitive and bad at sports -- a deadly trifecta in the schoolyard. Sissy, faggot, queer -- he heard them all.
"I never really wanted the sex part, but I wanted the friendship and the inclusion," he recalls. "But by the time you're a teenager, you know, everything's sexualized at that point. So I figured that's how I was going to have to get it."
But he never acted on his desires until college at Stephen F. Austin University.
"Sex is all around," he says of college. "You live with so many guys and you shower with them and you brush your teeth with them and you shave with them, you know. It's a lot more intimate in the dorm rooms than in high school."
Serendipity stuck Christopher with a gay roommate, and after a semester's worth of flirtation, they had sex. The guilt and fear were immediate and deep. He couldn't eat or sleep. He never slept with his roommate again, but when he returned to Houston after college, he got involved in gay nightlife right away. He says he discovered the "bars and the bookstores and all that assorted junk, but it just never fit."
Sick of his life, Christopher tried to remove all gay influences, cutting himself off from his friends and fighting all temptation.
"By the end of the sixth year, I was nuts," he says. "I hated people I was mad at God -- 'Why did you do this to me? Why did you make me this way?' If I could just get rid of God and people, I'd be okay."
He eventually came out to a church singles minister who referred him to Newman. After going through the Exodus program, Christopher says, he's happy, hopeful and whole.
"We're not telling anybody that they have to [come]," he says. "People who come to Exodus-type ministries come not because society is telling them that they have to be straight. Just the opposite is true today, where in the world, homosexuality is celebrated People who come to us are people who have a religious conviction that they believe what they're doing is wrong."
Doug Upchurch felt he was wrong, too.
Upchurch, 36, was born again at age 15, after attending an Amy Grant concert with his Methodist church youth group. He wanted to be a minister, but he also found himself attracted to men. He knew he had to ditch the latter to obtain the former.
While at Baylor University, Upchurch went to church regularly and tried to reorient his sexuality himself. He failed miserably. As a last resort, he fasted for two days and asked two ministers to exorcise the Demon of Gayness from his soul.
"It was about an hour-and-a-half-long session where these two ministers were just yelling at me, basically, even though it was prayer in their minds," says Upchurch, who now lives in Austin. "It was the end of my senior year, and I didn't want to leave without giving this every final chance I could have."
The exorcism didn't work. He moved to Houston and was disappointed until he discovered Newman and Exodus Ministries. He joined a support group and initially was impressed with Newman.
"I looked up to Michael," he says. "We all did, for the most part, because he was one that was held up to have finally done this, he had beat it We looked up to him almost like a big brother."
But he soon felt more out of whack trying to "repair" his sexuality than living with it. He felt more alienated from God than ever.
"It's like, God won't accept you fully unless you get through this it doesn't get any higher motivation than that," he says. "That was the hard part for me; that's why it took me 12 years, and why it takes some people longer or never, is that, for me to have said it's okay for me to be gay, I had to also say everything I believed about God is not right and I have to reinvent my spirituality."
Newman's ministry, which worked to help Upchurch give up his gayness, wound up making him give up God.
"It's a huge sacrifice," he says. "You're giving up so much of your life. I can't imagine how Michael, if he ever even did come to the place where he realized that he was still gay I can't even imagine how he would come out and say that, because his whole life has been built around this image now It's like the walls would fall down."
Upchurch shares his life today, as he has for the past nine years, with the same man. And three dogs.
Christopher, happy with his hard-won heterosexuality, waits for Mrs. Right.
Todd Williams and Dwayne Johnson preach the gospel every Sunday.
Newman and Exodus Ministries spread the word of sexual wholeness throughout the world.
God could not be reached for comment.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.