Three ex-gay ministers dined with former ex-gays during the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference last week.
The three ministers were Scott Kingry, director of Where Grace Abounds, Sonia Balcer, director of Safe Passage, and the independent Karen Keen, who appears prominently in the movie God & Gays: Bridging the Gap, which was shown at the conclusion of the conference.
At her blog, Pursue God, Keen writes:
As we munch on bok choy and shrimp, Scott, Sonia and I listen to stories and concerns regarding ex-gay ministry. Our goal is not to criticize or argue, but to take the concerns seriously and learn how ex-gay groups can improve their ministries. Valid points are made, and I promise to share their feedback with Exodus director, Alan Chambers.
Keen provides an accurate, balanced and thoughtful account of conference events that I attended:
- the number of attendees at one plenary session (130);
- the sincerity of Soulforce executive director Jeff Lutes as he reflects on those who have been injured by ex-gay ministries;
- the Chalk Talk, a workshop in which former ex-gays covered a wall with feelings about their ex-gay experiences.
I did not attend the conference workshop devoted to the Bible, which was led by the Rev. Mel White and the Rev. Nancy Wilson, and so I cannot vouch for Keen’s recollection of White’s admonition to “refrain from discussing the Bible with conservative Christians because fundamentalists have no interest in sincere dialogue.” Nor can I vouch for what seems to be recollected as an over-reliance by Wilson on Biblical passages about eunuchs. I heard from one attendee that this recollection is selective and misses the points being made by White and Wilson.
However, while I don’t know “Laurie,” Keen’s next statement rings true at least in its depiction of the spirit of the survivor’s conference:
After the workshop I conclude my Survivor Conference experience by having lunch with Laurie, an old Bible college buddy I unexpectedly run into at the conference. I haven’t seen her in 10 years, and I am delighted to catch up on her life. During our senior year of college, we were referred to the same ex-gay ministry, Portland Fellowship, along with another student. We drove the 2 hour round trip in her pick-up truck and, when asked by classmates, referred to our weekly jaunts as a “bible study.” In many ways my lunch with Laurie captures the essence of the Exodus Conference and the Survivor Conference– friends who have chosen different life paths.
I confess to some skepticism regarding Keen’s innocuous description of the Exodus conference, but as someone who witnessed polite interaction among an ex-gay-affiliated attendee from Courage, as well as a mix of evangelical, mainline, and non-Christian conference participants, I do believe the choice of different life paths was well-represented within the survivor’s conference itself.
Keen’s article does not have the happy ending that XGW readers might seek — reconciliation and agreement:
I realize I was drawn to the Survivor Conference because I love these people. In some impossible way, I long for camaraderie and unity with ex-ex-gays with whom I have shared so many of the same life struggles and pain. Yet, at the end of the day our roads lead us apart, and I wish it wasn’t so. I leave the Survivor Conference knowing it will be my last ex-ex-gay conference. I feel an ache in my heart—the kind of sadness that comes when breaking up with a lover. Even when irreconcilable differences are clear, and parting is the most honest thing to do, the loss is still felt. I want to take my friend by the hand and walk her down the same path I am traveling, but I know I can’t.
Differences may be irreconcilable, but I confess I fail to see that as a reason, by itself, to end discussion.
I drive back to Concordia University and rejoin Exodus for the evening general session. I listen as the 800-strong crowd passionately sings, You are the everlasting God, the everlasting God. You do not faint. You won’t grow weary! And, my heart finds comfort.
Similar songs were sung at the churches that numerous ex-gay survivors attended on Sunday morning. And so while it’s surely a good thing that Keen finds comfort among her own people, I believe that the common Leader of the Christian gays and ex-gays calls both groups to something More: unity in one Body, not division among different uncoordinated body parts.
I’d like to back up for a moment, to Keen’s participation in the Chalk Talk.
Not knowing the identity of its author, I photographed Keen’s inscription on the wall of remembrance for ex-gay experiences. Here it is:
First safe place to open up and come out of denial.
That’s one statement that could just as easily have been written by a former ex-gay.