Exodus in Asheville

A New Day for Exodus in Asheville:

The Premier Antigay Ministry Breezes into Town

Originally printed in Out in Asheville, July 2008

By James Dye

Exodus is coming to Asheville and it’s not the Otto Preminger film of the book by Leon Uris.  No, the Exodus that will be encamping beneath our Mt Sinai is Exodus International, that organ of the conservative faithful charged, allegedly by God, with converting the world’s homosexuals into church-going, Republican-voting, and perpetually smiling heterosexuals.  But, as the angels said to the shepherds outside Bethlehem, be not afraid.  It is with love—and with the organisation’s peculiar mix of bad science and worse theology—that the Exodites will spay or neuter you.  From July 15th until the 20th, they’ll be debating in Asheville just how best to do that in an upbeat conference they’ve entitled “A New Day.”

Exodus’ mission statement is “Mobilising the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality.”  It is telling that the statement is an incomplete sentence utilising a passive construction.  The Exodites “believe the [s]criptures of the Old and New Testament are the inspired [w]ord [o]f God, the final doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction for right living.”  From a review of the group’s materials, it is evident that “right living” is a heterosexual lifestyle.  With carpeting.

The Exodus website features a woman’s head, doubtless meant to portray an erstwhile lesbian, who exhibits excellent dentition and has, through the group’s ministrations, discovered not only God but Mary Kay Cosmetics.  A face like that, paralysed in such a terrible rictus, is clearly enjoying missionary-style, heterosexual coitus in accordance with the divine plan.  Beneath her happy—but certainly not gay—visage are Exodus’ FAQs.  First up on the list: “Is there a connexion between homosexuality and predatory behaviour, like pædophilia?”  Exodus proceeds not to presume that such a nexus exists, but methinks the lady ends up protesting too much and ultimately can’t resist taking a dig at Catholic priests.  Although an ecumenical movement, Exodus isn’t Roman Catholic.  Nor does it really go out of its way to disabuse us of the notion that homosexuality and pædophilia aren’t synonymous.  It just doesn’t say that in so many words.

Exodus had to remove its response to the next question, to which its painted Jezebel directs the reader, “Is there a connexion between life expectancy and homosexuality?” The website notes that this answer was pulled due to “the inaccuracies surrounding the research of Paul Cameron.”  Paul Cameron is a psychologist who was dropped from the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1983 for noncoöperation in an ethics investigation.  His response, “Neener, neener,” was that the APA couldn’t drop him because he had already quit.  In 1996 the APA’s Canadian counterpart took similar action against Cameron, with the notation that he “consistently misinterpreted and misrepresented research on sexuality, homosexuality, and lesbianism.”  The title of one of Cameron’s pamphlets, “Murder, Violence, and Homosexuality,” fairly sums up the direction of his research. It is unclear when Exodus finally got around to distancing itself from this maverick psychologist, but the reference to him still clings to the organisation’s website.  The elder gods have flown, but their temples remain.

The next few stops on the ex-lesbian cruise director’s itinerary provide nebulous, noncommittal answers to the important questions “Is AIDS God’s judgment against homosexuals?” and “Is homosexuality a threat to the family?  To America?”  Without actually saying it, Exodus leaves it to the reader to conclude that the answer is yes.

But it is with a resounding “No!” (that sports an entirely unnecessary exclamation point) that the bodiless het-woman answers that most frequently asked of frequently asked questions, “Did God design some people to be homosexuals?”  The site describes the so-called genetic theory as a “tragic myth” and paints the organisation’s own experts as if they were Old Testament prophets, howling in the wilderness.  Lost in this effusion is the answer to, well, if God didn’t do it and it isn’t genetic, why are there homosexuals?  Exodus says it has something to do with choice and how everyone is inclined to some type of sin or other, but mostly the image of those Old Testament prophets in the desert takes centre stage.

In debunking the genetic theory, the website goes so far as to quote Aldous Huxley: “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”  It is an interesting choice, Mr Huxley, considering that his good friend was the fabulously homosexual Christopher Isherwood, on whose stories the musical Cabaret was based.  Moreover, Huxley’s wife was notoriously bisexual, an inclination that the author of Brave New World not only knew about but actively encouraged.  The reader will pardon this bawdy digression into Mr Huxley’s bedroom, but it certainly begs the question, what are they reading over at Exodus?

Further down the list, beneath the aforementioned grinning sapphist who found Jesus, one reads, “What can my church do to address homosexuality?”  After suggesting that pastors decry the peccatum sodomiticum from the pulpit, the Exodus website makes known that it has “literally hundreds” of books and brochures that can be acquired (i.e. ‘bought’) and placed for sale (i.e. ‘sold’) in church bookstores (no self-respecting house of God should be without).  If, like Christ, one overturns these latter-day moneychangers’ tables, one will find that creature that Jesus himself confronted, the servant of both God and Mammon.  Mammon, one quietly learns, is never very far from Exodus International.

Mind, the Exodus website doesn’t mention the price for any of its services, only for its myriad “solid, biblical” books.  If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.  Delving somewhat deeper, however, the intrepid researcher might stumble upon Tom Murray’s exposé, the film Fish Can’t Fly, in which Exodus appears with all its greedy capitalism on display.  Conversion to heterosexuality isn’t cheap, nor are the Exodites particularly philanthropic.  Doing God’s work is expensive, and it doesn’t come with a warranty. Using a method of evasion that would make politicians blush, Exodus, without ever defining what success really is, only boasts a 30 to 50% success rate, based on figures that studies suggest.  Clicking on the link to these studies, one gets the notification “Resource not found,” with several possible explanations, including that the file could have been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable.

Exodus’ most celebrated failure is John Paulk.  After a meteoric rise from lowly drag queen and male escort to chairman of the board of Exodus International, Paulk married, sired three children, and co-wrote, with his wife Anne, a book on the ex-gay movement.  Then, in 2000, he fabulously crashed into Mr P’s, a Washington, DC, bar catering to a gentleman clientele.  Paulk, whose form and figure had only two years previously graced the cover of Newsweek, resigned from Exodus in disgrace.  His marriage to Anne remains intact, however, and she is still on Exodus’ speakers’ bureau. Exodus maintains that John Paulk has not reverted to homosexuality but notes that he did opt for a career change after the unfortunate incident at Mr P’s.  Mr Paulk is now a caterer.

The severed head of the smiling woman formerly known as Sappho also hovers over the Exodus web page devoted to the group’s theological perspective.  In true Exodic fashion, the page contains many words, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.  It does take the pains to list the condemnatory biblical passages from both the Old and New Testaments but does little to illuminate beyond that.  It concedes that Jesus himself never said anything about homosexuality but balances this by stating that he also never mentioned paedophilia, wife-beating, or drug abuse.  One should hasten to add that the Christ never said anything about car-jacking or global warming either.  Because Exodus knows that homosexuality is a sin—and doesn’t have to explain how it knows this—it necessarily follows that Jesus would condemn it.  For Exodus, homosexuality is a sin, to be homosexual is sinful.  Heterosexuality, while it certainly embraces not a few sins, is not sinful per se.  In the cosmos that Exodus has creatively designed, homosexuality and heterosexuality are apples and oranges, as opposed to comparable fruits.

To Exodus, sin and crime are the same thing.  Certainly the classical languages on which the group relies support this.  When the Bible was written, moral codes were based on sacred, not sæcular, authorities; a judiciary that did not rely on holy writ was still many centuries off.  With the Enlightenment and the novel idea of separation of church and state, it became necessary to analyse wrong-doing in a manner that favoured logic over religion.  Slowly, the courts concluded that biblical proscriptions against sodomy were an unsound basis for law and ruled accordingly.  With that obstacle out of the way, it became possible to legalise gay marriage, first in Massachusetts and more recently in California.  This movement mirrored one that had already taken place in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, South Africa, and Canada.  With the First Amendment and its dual guarantees of freedom of expression and freedom of religion still in place, Exodus and its ilk see their stranglehold on American morality eroding.

As a New Day dawns over Asheville, the Exodites will meet in their conference space to pray and to strategise, to count their ill-gotten moneys, oblivious to the harm they’ve caused, and will doubtless smile the smiles of contented heterosexuals, heterosexuals who have no need for bodies beyond what is absolutely necessary for procreation.  But they must know that they walk on shaky ground.  They have lost John Paulk and Paul Cameron, the one-time glitterati in their firmament.  The California marriage decision is a sobering reminder for them that their position is not as secure as it once was.  They will see, too, that not every Christian congregation here is in agreement with them.  As they look around this city in the mountains, they will see a viable lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community that is the shimmering rhinestone on that Bible Belt they hold so dear.  That community is not in want of and does not need Exodus’ overpriced services and predatory behaviour, its peculiar science grounded in self-loathing, or its benighted theology that does not question its own precepts.  Therefore be gone, Exodus, before someone drops a house on you.

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