CHANGING GAYS AND LESBIANS:
"EX-GAY" AND "TRANSFORMATIONAL" MINISTRIES
Note about terms:
The language in this essay may appear stilted. This is to avoid confusion.
Different people assign various meanings to the terms "homosexual," "heterosexual,"
and "bisexual." For example, conservative Christians generally define "homosexual"
in terms of behavior. A homosexual is a person who is sexually active with member(s) of the same gender.
Others define "homosexual" to be a person with a homosexual orientation.
They are sexually attracted to members of the same sex; they may or may not act
on these feelings.
Rather than use the ambiguous term "homosexual" we will often use the
rather awkward but more specific phrase "person with a homosexual orientation."
Christian beliefs about changing homosexuals:
Because conservative and liberal Christians approach
the Bible with different assumptions, they arrive at very separate beliefs about
many social issues. The nature of homosexuality is one example:
||Conservative Christians generally believe that Bible is inerrant. They conclude from the approximately six
main biblical passages referring to homosexuality that God hates
homosexual behavior. They also believe that God will often answer the prayer
of a sincere, born-again believer. Thus they logically conclude that
any saved Christian gay or lesbian who sincerely
prays to be converted to heterosexuality will be able to successfully
make the transition with God's help. Many see 1 Corinthians 6:11 as proof
saved homosexuals will be transformed and become heterosexual. Many conservative
Christian "ex-gay" or "transformational" ministries have been established
to help gays, lesbians, and bisexuals seek to become heterosexual.
These ministries generally see
homosexual behavior as abnormal, unnatural, chosen, changeable and
hated by God. |
is important to realize that conservative Christians generally
interpret terms like homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality
differently from other groups. Behavior, not sexual orientation, is
the key. Thus:
||A bisexual person who was once involved in one or more same-sex
relationships is considered to be a homosexual. That same person
who goes to a Christian ex-gay ministry, remains a bisexual, but decides to stick with
opposite-sex relationships is judged to now be a heterosexual.
Such individuals are
often cited as successfully having been cured of their homosexuality;
they are "ex-gays."
||A homosexual individual who was involved in same sex
relationships and decided to become celibate is similarly regarded
as having been cured -- as being no longer a homosexual.
||Liberal Christians interpret the same
biblical passages differently. Some see the Bible as condemning
homosexual rape, ritual homosexual activities in Pagan temples, homosexual
prostitution, heterosexuals engaging in homosexual sex, and men
sexually abusing boys. But they see the Bible as essentially silent
on same-sex committed relationships. They view a homosexual
sexual orientation as normal, natural, unchosen and unchangeable for a
small minority of adults, and as accepted by God. They, like mental health therapists, gays,
lesbians, human sexuality researchers, etc, interpret terms like
homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality to be descriptions of a
person's sexual orientation. |
As a result of these diametrically opposed beliefs about sex and the
Bible, conservative and liberal Christians typically take opposite views
about programs of therapy, counseling and prayer which are intended to convert
homosexuals to heterosexuality:
||Many conservative Christian "ex-gay/transformational" ministries have been established
to help gays, lesbians, and bisexuals seek heterosexuality. They
promote these programs as effective and safe.
||Some religious liberals have rejected all attempts to change
people's sexual orientation, including reparative therapy, as being
ineffective, frequently dangerous to clients' mental health, and potentially
Since no meaningful long term studies on these ministries, there is little
hope that this division of beliefs will ever be harmonized in the near future.
Religious groups promoting change for homosexuals:
In the past, researchers attempted to change sexual orientation
through psychotherapy, aversion therapy, nausea producing drugs, prayer, castration,
injections of estrogen, LSD, hypnosis, electric shock, brain surgery, breast amputations, etc. All failed. These methods were largely abandoned by
the mid-1970's. However, Outrage!, a British support group for lesbians and
gays, recently found it necessary to ask the Royal College of Psychiatrists to
renounce aversion therapy and instruct its members to halt "the use of all
therapies that attempt to cure homosexuality." 1
As noted above, most conservative Christian groups in North America believe that homosexuality is an unnatural, deviant, sinful disorder, condemned
by God. Homosexuality itself is something that needs healing. Some have created
specialized "transformational ministries" (a.k.a. "ex-gay
ministries") to help "cure" gays and lesbians. 2
This movement started in the early 1970's. It has expanded
greatly in recent years because of the efforts of some large Fundamentalist
Christian groups to publicize ex-gay ministries. The
Internet has also fueled the movement's rapid growth.
In 2000-MAY the GayChange Webring listed 36 Internet web sites run by such ministries.
3 It has since gone offline.
The ministries use a number of techniques to try to help gays and lesbians to
||Some use reparative therapy, which is a mainly
secular counseling technique in which the gay or lesbian attempts to form a
non-sexual, close relationship with a person of the same gender.
||Others concentrate on prayer, meditation, one-on-one counseling, group
counseling and religious conversion/salvation to
change gay and lesbian behavior.
International is the largest and probably the most influential of
these groups. They have stated that "freedom from homosexuality is
possible through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and
Lord." The group "upholds heterosexuality as God's
creative intent for humanity, and subsequently views homosexual expression
as outside God's will."
The original goal of most of these ministries was to convert gays and lesbians
from having a homosexual orientation into heterosexuals.
Increasing numbers of these ministries now realize that such conversions are impossible (or
essentially impossible). They have abandoned attempts to change their clients'
sexual orientation, and
concentrate on changing behavior. They now try to persuade homosexuals to
remain celibate and bisexuals to confine their sexual relationship(s) to members
of the opposite sex.
Some leading ex-gay ministries are listed below. With the exception of Courage,
all appear to be very conservative Protestant in philosophy:
||Courage is a Roman Catholic group with about 15 centers in North America.
They share with Protestant ex-gay/transformational ministries the
belief that homosexuality is pathological, and not a natural, normal
sexual orientation. However, unlike many of the other ministries, Courage
does not claim that gays and lesbians' sexual orientation can be
changed. They recognize that adult sexual orientation is fixed. They
teach that the only valid path for homosexuals is to seek celibacy.
||Evergreen International Inc. is a Mormon treatment center, founded in
has 13 branches in the US, Australia and Canada. They believe "that individuals
can overcome homosexual behavior and can diminish same-sex attraction, and is committed to
assisting individuals who wish to do so." They claim a 30% success rate.
||Exodus International North America was created in 1976-SEP by a merger of many
"ex-gay" ministries. It includes many ministries, churches, agencies and
individuals as members. Exodus currently has about 75 ministries in the US, and has a
presence in Asia and Europe. 4,5 Their pamphlet
"Exodus: A Way Out," offers "Freedom from
homosexuality, not through a method but a person, the Lord Jesus Christ!" Many
ministries (e.g. Breaking Free, Cross Over, Regeneration, Straight Ahead Ministries, Straight Path
Ministries) are affiliated
with Exodus." To form a bona fide chapter, a ministry
must be active for two years, and its directors -- if they were gay --
must have abstained from their 'former lifestyle' for two years."
They claim a success rate in excess of 70%. 14
||Homosexuals Anonymous (HA) has chapters: 38 in the U.S., one
in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia Canada, and one in Canberra, Australia. It
was formerly known as Quest. They have created a 14
step program that is similar to Alcoholics Anonymous' 12 step recovery
program: five steps are taken from AA; the other nine came from
"Colin," one of HA's co-founders. Group support meetings are
held weekly. Their FAQ section states "that there is no such
thing as a homosexual, only men and women, created by God
heterosexually, who because of the broken world we live in, are
confused over their sexual identity." 17
||Love in Action: This is a residential program located in
Memphis, TN. About 10 men, aged typically 21 to 50, live together in a
large farmhouse, attempting to become ex-gays. Most clients spend 13
to 18 months in the program.
||New Direction for Life Ministries of Canada: This evolved
from a Bible study group for gays and lesbians in Toronto. Formed in
1985 as New Bebinnings Ministries, its name was changed to the present
one in 1990. It appears to be the main Transformational Ministry in
Canada. They describe themselves as "A pro-people organization
offering Christian support to men and women choosing to leave homosexuality,
and equipping the church to minister effectively and compassionately."
||P-FOX On 1996-OCT-9, the Family Research Council announced the creation of
their new organization Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays. 13More
||Transforming Congregations was a ministry
of 40 United Methodist Churches in 1997-OCT. By 2000-MAY, it
had grown to 76 churches. They
support gays and lesbians who want to try to change their orientation. 7
They "affirm the
Biblical position that God loves all persons, that homosexual practice
is one sin among many and that the Holy Spirit is available to
transform all persons - including homosexual persons."
Mainline and liberal religious groups:
In a fact sheet directed to educators, the American Psychiatric
Association has stated:
"The most important fact about 'transformational ministry' is
that its view of homosexuality is not representative of the views of all
people of faith. Many deeply religious people and a number of religious
congregations and denominations are supportive and accepting of lesbian,
gay, and bisexual people and their right to be protected from the
discriminatory acts of others. For example, the following organizations
have endorsed passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which
would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation:
American Ethical Union, American Friends Service Committee, American
Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, Church of the Brethren, Church
Women United, Dignity/USA, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church
in America, Hadassah, WZOA, The Interfaith Alliance, Jewish Women
International, National Council of Churches of Christ, USA, National
Council of Jewish Women, North Georgia United Methodists, Presbyterian
Church (USA), Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Unitarian
Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, United Methodist
Church, Women of Reform Judaism, Young Women's Christian Association."
"Although 'transformational ministry' promotes the message that
religious faith and acceptance of gay, lesbian, and bisexual sexuality are
incompatible, that message is countered by the large number of outspoken
clergy and people of faith who promote love and acceptance." 11
In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Association,
American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of
Teachers, American Psychological Association, American School Health
Association, Interfaith Alliance Foundation, National Association of School
Psychologists, National Association of Social Workers and National
jointly issued a similar document titled: "Just the facts about sexual
orientation." 15They describe
transformational ministries as representing only one part of Christianity --
those faith groups which view homosexuality as outside God's will, and
incompatible with the Christian religion. They cite other denominations as
supporting equal rights, and protection against discrimination, for gays and
Specific overtures, statements and motions by religious groups on
reparative therapy are rare. One that we have found is:
||1999: Presbyterian Church (USA): Three presbyteries, from New York
City, Chicago and Genesee Valley initiated a overture that would have
the General Assembly direct
each of its agencies to
"refrain from supporting, implementing or sponsoring therapies or
ministries which attempt to alter a person's sexual orientation."
One presbytery initiated an opposing overture to "affirm the right to
those in conflict with their sexuality to freely seek non-coercive
therapy for the purpose of overcoming their same-sex desire, and
support such persons in their desire for psychological wholeness and
personal sanctification." The General Assembly passed a
motion in 1999-JUN: "that no church should insist that gay and
lesbian people need therapy to change their orientation, nor should it
inhibit or discourage those who are unhappy with or confused about
their sexual orientation from seeking therapy they believe would be
helpful. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) affirms that medical
treatment, psychological therapy, and pastoral counseling should
conform to recognized professional standards." 16
Unfortunately, they did not specify what "recognized
professional standards" are. Criteria recognized by NARTH
are quite different from those recognized by the American
Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, and
many other large professional mental health associations..
Five "myths about ex-gay ministries" considered:
Bob Davies, executive director of Exodus North America, spoke at
OneByOne luncheon on 2001-JUN-12. It was held in conjunction with the 213th General
Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) . 19 OneByOne is a participating member of the
Presbyterian Renewal Network -- a conservative reform movement within the
OneByOne's purpose is to support gays and lesbians who are "struggling with sexual brokenness"
and "are in conflict with their
sexuality." This includes,
but is not limited to, counseling gays and lesbians. 20
Davies listed the the top five false myths that he feels are spread about Exodus
and other ex-gay ministries:
Ex-gay ministries are a fraud. Evidence available to us indicates
that ex-gay ministry personnel are certainly sincere and dedicated in their
work. But a case can be made that they may not completely level with their clients. For example, consider Exodus:
||Their advertising implies, but does not state implicitly,
that individuals with a homosexual orientation can change and achieve a
heterosexual orientation. Yet, from their 25 years of experience in the
field, they must know that the chances of an adult's genuinely changing
their sexual orientation is nil (or almost nil). The only option that
they can ethically offer clients with a homosexual orientation is
lifelong celibacy. But they do not mention this in their advertising and
||Their Policy on Homosexuality states: "Christ offers a healing alternative to those with homosexual tendencies.
EXODUS upholds redemption for the homosexual person as the process whereby
sin's power is broken, and the individual is freed to know and experience true
identity as discovered in Christ and His Church. That process entails the
freedom to grow into heterosexuality." 21 (Emphasis
ours) By now, Exodus must have realized that this option is not
available to persons with a homosexual orientation. Only individuals
with a bisexual orientation have any chance of abandoning same-sex
behavior and choosing an opposite-gender sexual partner.
||Exodus typically assess the goals
that the client wants to achieve, and then works with the client towards
goals. However, it is apparent that ex-gay ministries do not give some
clients sufficient information so that they can make an informed choice. For example, a gay
or lesbian who establishes a goal of changing their sexual orientation to
heterosexual is not necessarily warned that such conversion is either
impossible or virtually impossible to achieve. She or he is not
generally informed that the best they can probably hope for is to remain
Methods such as shock treatment are employed: This seems to be a
hoax. Decades ago, researchers tried aversion therapy, castration, breast
amputation, etc., in their unsuccessful attempts to change individuals' sexual
orientation. We have heard rumors of shock therapy being still used by
unethical medical professionals in a few secure facilities for gay and lesbian
youth. We have heard rumors of shock therapy at Brigham Young University in
Salt Lake City, a Mormon institution. But these are only rumors and have
never been substantiated. We have seen absolutely no evidence that conservative Christian
ex-gay ministries use these fraudulent therapies.
Persons do not come forward of their own volition but are forced.
This also seems to be a hoax.
Some gay or lesbian youth are probably heavily pressured by their parents to
attend meetings at an ex-gay ministry. However, the overwhelming
percentage of clients are adults who seem to be self-motivated and quite anxious to change
People actually get worse. From our conversations with clients and
former clients of ex-gay ministries, we have concluded that many, perhaps
most, get better -- that is, they move forward towards achieving their goals.
Many sexually active clients with a homosexual orientation enter Exodus with
the goal of becoming celibate, and some are successful. Many persons with
a bisexual orientation are successfully able to reach their goal of confining
their relationships to members of the opposite sex. Some clients enter an
ex-gay ministry with their goal of changing their orientation from homosexual
to heterosexual. All, or essentially all, fail. But that can be a positive
experience. Some will then conclude that they have tried everything to change
their orientation. They can now give up trying, and learn to accept themselves
for what they are. Unfortunately, when some homosexual clients find that they
have failed to change their sexual orientation, they become deeply depressed.
A few commit suicide. Professional mental health
organizations caution gays and lesbians against therapies designed to try
to change their sexual orientation. They view such therapies as ineffective.
They are concerned about the potential for serious depression and suicidal
Ex-gay ministries have a hidden, or political, agenda. This seems
to be another hoax. From our
discussions with ministry staff, volunteers and clients, we have concluded
that personnel in these ministries are dedicated and sincere Christians.
Their energy is directed at working with and helping their clients. It is
the larger conservative Christian ministries, which do not offer individual
counseling, that commit a major part of their effort into achieving
political goals -- organizations like Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, Concerned
Women for America, etc. Their agendas are not hidden; they are well
Related essays on this web site:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"Aversion Therapy - Letter to the Royal College of Psychiatrists,
" Outrage!, at:
"Christian Ex-gay ministry hosts Chicago conference,"
Charisma. Online at Maranatha Christian Journal, at:
A list of web sites in the GayChange Webring is at:
Exodus International of San Rafael, CA, has a "Christian
Resources about Homosexuality and AIDS" page with articles on
homosexuality from a conservative Christian perspective, a book list,
lists of organizations, list of local chapters of Exodus
International and Homosexuals Anonymous. See: http://www.messiah.edu/
Elizabeth Gilbert, "Queer and Loathing", Spin
Magazine, 1996-JUN (a profoundly sad article describing an Exodus
International convention attended by lonely, longing people convinced
that God hates their sexual orientation)
Evergreen International is a support group for Mormon gays
and lesbians. They promote celibacy for homosexuals. See: http://members.aol.com/evergrn999/abouteg.html
Transforming Congregations' home page is at: http://www.transformingcong.org/
The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) has a home
page at: http://www.narth.com/
- As of 1999-APR, NARTH can be reached at: 16633 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 1340, Encino, CA
91436-1801. Phone: (818) 789-4440. Fax: (805) 373-5084
"Homosexuality starts as a developmental disorder that can end
with therapy," PCUSA NEWS, 2000-JUN-27; news release GA00064.
"APA Online: Public Interest: Just the facts about sexual
orientation and youth: A primer for principals, educators and school
personnel," See: http://www.apa.org/
Kim Mills, "Mission impossible: Why reparative therapy and ex-gay
ministries fail," Human Rights Campaign, at: http://www.hrc.org/pubs/
PFOX: Parents & Friends of ex-gays has a web site at http://www.pfox.org/
"HRC's Ray of Light Project: The Ministries," at: http://www.hrc.org/
"Just the facts about sexual orientation," can be read
at: http://www.glsen.org/ This
is an Acrobat PDF file. You can obtain a free software to read these files
"The Consultation, Issues 2000, Number 10," at: http://www.theconsultation.org/
Homosexual Anonymous has its home page at: http://members.aol.com/
New Direction for Life Ministries has a home page at http://www.newdirection.ca
Emily Enders Odom, "Top five myths about ex-gay ministry dispelled by
Exodus North America executive director," Note #6612, PCUSA NEWS,
OneByOne's home page is at:
"About Exodus: Policy on homosexuality," at:
Copyright © 1997 to 2006 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2006-APR-09
Author: B.A. Robinson