Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Ex-Gay Survivor Conference: final reflections

Some final thoughts on the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference I attended on June 30. While the organizers were not shy about going public with the media in challenging the claims of Exodus and other ex-gay ministries in the week leading up to the conference, I couldn't help but notice that the conference itself was a surprisingly low-key event. In the opening remarks, the Exodus Conference (which was being held concurrently just a few blocks away) was referred to only briefly as "our brothers and sisters meeting down the street." Then we went straight into an activity that encouraged survivors to reflect upon both the positive experiences they had while in ex-gay ministries, as well as the negative ones that they needed to heal from.

I found a similar tone of restraint in the seminar I attended led by Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin. Burroway presented a history of the ex-gay movement, played tapes from actual ex-gay conferences, and gave his critique. Yet he also pointed out that current Exodus president Alan Chambers has been speaking much more honestly than past leaders about the ex-gay experience, calling it a "life of self-denial . . . till the day we die" and even being critical of the term "ex-gay." Burroway said Chambers was "taking a real honorable stance on this" and members of the audience expressed encouragement at this news.

I later mentioned to one of the conference organizers how impressed I was by the respectful tone that everyone, especially the leaders, had demonstrated throughout the day. He told me they had all worked hard to ensure that the atmosphere would be one of healing and reflection to serve the needs of the ex-gay survivors. They did not want the time to be overrun by bitter activism and political agendas.

I think I made a remark about how I had half expected people to demonize the other side. Because I remember he told me, "As much as I'm tempted to demonize them, I try not to go there. Because if I treat them the same way they've treated me, then that doesn't leave me anywhere. I would have made no progress."