The demise of the ex-gay Christian network Exodus International has been followed by legislation in some states to ban “conversion therapy,” in one instance as “consumer fraud.”
In addition, a number of prominent figures who testified of being freed from same-sex attractions, including John Paulk of Focus on the Family’s Love Won Out ministry, have reverted to their old life.
In 2012, then-Exodus President Alan Chambers renounced “conversion therapy” as not only ineffective but harmful. A year later, he shut down Exodus and apologized for causing “pain and hurt.”
And now, with a Millennial generation increasingly accepting of homosexuality, some evangelical pastors and leaders apparently now accede to “once gay, always gay.”
Paulk’s former wife, Anne Paulk, a former lesbian, is not one of them. She now leads the Restored Hope Network, a coalition formed from the local ministries, pastors and counselors that broke off from Exodus in 2012.
“My big challenge for those within the body of Christ is: Do you no longer believe that Jesus transforms lives?” Paulk told WND in an interview.
Her network rejects the term “conversion therapy,” describing it as “an ideological term used by the GLBTQ activist community and their supporters who seek to link compassionate spiritual care and talk therapy with horrible, clearly disreputable practices.”
Paulk also contends many have conflated “reparative therapy” –championed by the late Joseph Nicolosi of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality – with ministries that rely on the power of God, “compassionate” pastoral care and Christian discipleship.
Her network’s website explains reparative therapy “was never a theologically based therapy, nor was it intended to be.” To be considered a reparative therapist, Restored Hope points out, “one would have to be certified and trained by Dr. Nicolosi who passed away in early 2017.”
Nevertheless, contrary to the current political and cultural trend, the network notes, Nicolosi “supported the rights of men and women who wanted to leave homosexuality.”
Restored Hope members and affiliates focus on one-on-one, small group and large group laity and pastoral care. They use terms such as “talk therapy” and “change allowing counseling” and do not employ “shaming, nudity, pornography, promiscuity, aversion or abusive ‘techniques.'”
Paulk observed that issues “related to sin” so often are addressed with “behavioral modification.”
But the Gospel of Jesus Christ, she points out, is rooted in the belief that personal transformation is a supernatural work of God that begins with a person acknowledging his or her insufficiency.
“We’ve experienced a radical change of feelings and behavior and identity, and we know other people can experience that,” she told WND.
“If they believe they can, they’ll step through that door, surrender all and find that God is more than faithful to walk alongside them, whether they continue to struggle to some degree or not.”
Paulk said Chambers’ stated goal, from the beginning, was to eliminate Exodus, but he succeeded only in shutting down the umbrella organization’s headquarters.
“Faithful Exodus ministries continue to bring people out of homosexuality and into wholeness in Christ,” she said.
“There is a whole generation of young people whose sexual integrity has been compromised. And they are leaving homosexuality upon encountering the Holy Spirit, God himself,” Paulk said.
One example, among many, she said, is Luis Javier Ruiz, who survived the massacre of 49 people at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando in 2016.
“I should (have) been number 50,” Ruiz wrote on his Facebook page. “But now I have the chance to live in relationship and not religion, not just loving Christ but being in love with Christ and sharing his love.”
Ruiz has participated in Freedom Marches, events held across the country in which former transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay men and women tell their stories of transformation through the power of the Holy Spirit.
“In my case, I really don’t struggle with same sex attraction anymore,” Paulk said. “It’s been many years, and I’ve worked through a whole lot of things that kept me stuck in that, including sexual abuse.”
She acknowledged, though, that her story is not everybody’s.
“For some people, they may continue to struggle,” she said. “What we’ve found is, we can equip people with ways to handle temptation, ways to think about life, ways to evaluate friendships, ways to keep healthy boundaries in friendships, so they don’t step over those lines and begin to trigger temptation.”
But if temptation comes, she said, “we know how to equip them to stand strong.”
The best way forward, said Paulk, is “to have a compassionate Christian counselor walk alongside in a support-group type setting for a long time.”
Some argue that they still believe in the power of Jesus Christ to change lives but have concluded that same-sex attractions are immutable.
“There simply isn’t evidence to prove that someone are born gay,” Paulk maintained.
She pointed out that even the American Psychiatric Association removed from its literature the “born gay” philosophy.
While there may be some traits that correlate with homosexual attractions, correlation doesn’t prove causation, she argued. In studies of twins, people with identical genes, there is a very low correlation.
“People are not born with the essential character of being gay, an inherent part that cannot be transformed,” she said.
She noted that Dean Hamer, a geneticist and author known for his research on the role of genetics in sexual orientation and human behavior, recently was quoted in Gay Advocate magazine stating there is no “gay gene.”
‘Full court press’ on Christian counseling
Paulk acknowledged that in the popular culture and politics the gay-rights movement is succeeding, largely through “brilliant marketing” over the past two decades.
In their 1989 book “After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90s,” authors Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen concluded the movement had lost the battle for the American soul.
In Paulk’s words, they responded by “rebranding the gay cause featuring pretty individuals who look like the boy or girl next door, making them appear to be victims, and enlisting straight people to defend them.”
“It’s worked beautifully,” she said.
Particularly, at the moment, in California, where “the full court press is on the counseling industry.”
California banned “conversion therapy” for minors in 2012, and 13 other states and the District of Columbia followed suit. A bill proposed in the California legislature last year went further. It would have designated paid “conversion therapy” services as a fraudulent business practice under the state’s consumer protection law.
The message, Paulk said, is that “anyone who helps somebody with their own stated goals in the area of sexual purity is a horrible person.”
She said activists already believe they’ve won the battle among professional counselors and now are focusing on the church.
Pastors should beware, she said, explaining that under the California bill, AB 2943, a pastor could have faced punishment for engaging in typical counseling.
“If somebody comes to the church, and they are tithing, and they want counseling to leave homosexuality, or say they do, they could come back to that church if the law had passed and say, ‘Well, I paid money, there was an exchange of money, and I expected for them to not do this so-called fraudulent practice of helping us align with our faith, and therefore I am going to sue them.'”
Amid strong opposition from churches and religious groups, the bill’s sponsor, Democratic state Rep. Evan Low, withdrew it last August.
But Low, who identifies as gay and leads the state Assembly’s LGBT caucus, is expected to reprise similar legislation.
“The church,” said Paulk, “must stand up for compassionate truth that the Gospel offers hope to everybody – including those who deal with same-sex attractions – or she gives way to the efforts of the gay community.”