Camping it Up?

The London Times yesterday ran a feature about the recent Exodus Conference in North Carolina. You can read it here. This is one of the opening paragraphs that sets the scene:

Exodus is one of the ministries of the so-called “ex-gay” movement, a controversial fundamentalist Christian campaign that encourages gay people to renounce their sexuality. This, its annual conference, promises “an amazing week of breakthroughs, transformations and healings”. A Christian rock band begins to play and the 800 men and women who moments earlier seemed to have only awkwardness in common begin singing and clapping in unison. Eyes closed, they raise their hands above their heads, uplifted by the hope of being reborn.

Where to start? The problem with Lucy Bannerman’s piece is that she betrays her non-objectivity from the start. The language of "renounce their sexuality" displays very clearly that Lucy believes that sexual attraction isn’t a fluid thing, and that the very idea that someone might see a (dramatic) change in their sexual orientation is simply beyond her radar. This combined with the use of emotive language – for example, the North Carolina based Freedom Conference is described as an "ex-gay boot camp", which is a bizarre way to describe a gathering that not only includes men and women struggling with issues of sexual attraction and identity, but also pastors and counsellors – delivers a critique that is less interested in getting inside the real human stories and is more concerned with a sensational headline. Her use of expressions like "evangelism psychotherapy" demonstrates that she hasn’t even done her basic groundwork (the word she is looking for is "Evangelical", not evangelism – a religion reporter who doesn’t even know the difference between "evangelical" and "evangelism" isn’t off to a good start in anybody’s books).

That isn’t to say that Bannerman doesn’t put her finger on one or two of the more unfortunate aspects of ex-gay ministries. She is absolutely right to comment on the perceived goal of such ministries:

Each evening, a roll-call of “former homosexuals” hold up their husbands and wives like kitemarks of their newfound heterosexuality. We are told repeatedly that marriage is evidence of healing. Stereotypes are the ex-gay currency, and the heterosexual ideal is practically ringed by a white picket fence.

This visual display of victory seems to contrast with the words of Alan Chambers, the current Director of Exodus:

“The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality,” says Chambers, sagely. “It’s holiness.”

There are also examples given of some more questionable seminars on offer:

The timetable is packed. A class on “True Femininity”, which concludes cryptically that true femininity “is the ability to receive”, would probably have reduced Germaine Greer to tears. Another features an Angela Lansbury lookalike who manages to link her gay ex-husband’s death from an Aids-related illness to his father’s links with the “Serbian mafia”.

Bannerman shares some of the journey of her room-mate (though Bannerman’s criticism of the sharing of rooms at the conference strikes me as odd, as though she’s suggesting that it’s simply impossible to keep your pants on in the presence of anybody of the same sex that you are attracted to) but these aren’t ever really followed up and explored. Rather, they are presented in a format that is designed to cast scorn upon her decisioning:

Back in her room, Michelle has had an epiphany. “I’ve realised that I’ve been looking for satisfaction in all the wrong places – food, drugs, sex,” she says, firmly. “My homosexuality is just one of many things to come from this place of pain, and all it gave me was a heart full of ache"

If the Exodus experience seems far-fetched – the sort of thing that could happen only in America – then think again.

Perhaps for me though, the most disappointing part of the piece was the failure to engage with anybody in the UK who has had a positive experience of these kind of ministries. While Bannerman was happy to talk to Jeremy Marks whose Courage ministry did a complete volte-face on the issue a few years ago, given that the piece was finished off by Ruth Gledhill (the Times’ wonderful religion correspondent and blogger), and given that Ruth is fully aware of myself and my availability to comment on these issues, the blatant failure to speak to anybody in this country who has seen dramatic changes in their sexual attraction through this kind of approach (and other approaches) is at best a journalistic failure and at worst, an obvious and unfortunate sign of the bias of the author.

The final paragraph of the piece sums up the myopia of Bannerman’s approach:

Packing her suitcase, Michelle feels that she has found an answer. “To focus on sex is missing the point,” she says. “It’s not about gay or straight. It’s about holiness and my relationship with Christ.” She wants to marry but admits that she may never be attracted to men. “Then it means I’ve been called to singleness.” And lifelong celibacy? “I’m surrendering to God’s way.” And she leaves, ready to face a new life in which love and sex are reduced to the sound of elevator music.

One is left wondering that if Bannerman feels that any life would be empty and pointless without sex, and that one cannot love in any meaningful way without coitus, then perhaps she needs to book herself into chatting with someone about that, and maybe this time she won’t need to lie about her reasons for being there.

67 Comments on “Camping it Up?

  1. And yes, I do insist on an age limit. This is the case in all civilised societies, and the fact that no age limit is specified in Scripture is neither here nor there: we don’t simply lift our moral code out of the Bible, even if some people like to imagine that they do. As the Dutch theologian Harry Kuitert puts it, “people knew about good and evil long before there was a Bible.”

  2. “If you can explicitly demonstrate from Scripture how the sexual union of two men signifies an action of Christ then you might have a case.”

    I don’t need to demonstrate any such thing. I believe that a gay relationship is good precisely for what it is. If anyone else wants to look for some anagogical justification in Scripture, then let him or her do so.

  3. I don’t draw my ethics from Harry Kuitert, and I certainly wouldn’t dream of quoting him as though he were an infallible authority or oracle, but I think he’s right on this point.

  4. Peter – you say “The argument that HLM is making is one of consent. The acceptance of someone’s sexual orientation has nothing to do with the issue at hand” – but nowhere in her first post did she mention consent. She said, “Why not just accept people for who they are and not focus on who they love? God is Love and He made me lesbian”. It seems to me that she is arguing about acceptance of sexual orientation (and sexual acts flowing from it) – I still don’t see where the consent/underage sex thing comes into that.

    John Foxe – will reply later when I’m at home…


  5. Blair,

    If HLM is arguing that we should just let people have sex with who they want (which is what I think you’re accepting she is saying) then how is that not a question of consent? What is the difference between “we should just let people have sex with who they want” and “we should just let people have sex with who they consent to have it with”?


    You’ve just demonstrated why this conversation will get nowhere. I draw my ethics from the Scriptures – you are happy to look to other, contradictory, sources. That is the real difference between us – our attitude to God’s revelation.

  6. Dear William,

    as true as Kuitert’s comment is, ‘we’ do now have a Bible and ‘we’ do draw our morality from it. If you don’t, then we have a bigger issue to deal with as is clearly the case if you do actually think Jesus had sex with his disciples.

    The Foxe.

  7. Peter, I usually respect most of what you write, but I take issue with one of your comments about Ms. Bannerman’s article in the Times. You wrote: “There are also examples given of some more questionable seminars on offer.”

    I sat in on another of the workshops she “reported,” the one called “Overcoming Shame and Guilt.” In addition to describing the presenter – a personal friend of mine – in an extremely snarky fashion, Bannerman also ommitted the crucial conclusion to the “strange practical exercise” she observed. The whole point was that participants exchanged the “derogatory nametags” for those containing words of affirmation, acceptance and grace. A symbolic reenactment of God’s welcome and a repudiation of some of the judgmental attitudes SSA folk have experienced in the Body of Christ. Bannerman either left early and therefore didn’t get the full picture, or she just didn’t “get it,” or (my belief), she was deliberately misleading her readers. Either way, I don’t believe a bit of anything else she wrote in the article. The fact that you gave her even a small amount of credibility is quite troubling.

  8. Hello again Peter and all,

    just to add to another of the many strands here – Peter and William, you mentioned Jeremy Marks. Might be worth noting his own words about his marriage:
    “During the early years of the Courage ministry, in common with many other evangelicals, Jeremy was unable to reconcile his own homosexuality and Christian faith, believing that you must shun the one to pursue the other. In those days, the way ahead for gay Christians seemed limited to celibacy or marriage. Therefore, for some, to consider marriage was to pursue a welcome alternative to the probability of lifelong celibacy.
    “So, Jeremy married his wife Bren in October 1991 – not as a triumphal statement of a gay man becoming straight but rather providing, above all, mutual love and companionship”. (From Courage’s website)
    Peter, you say above that, “If HLM is arguing that we should just let people have sex with who they want (which is what I think you’re accepting she is saying)…”. I’m not accepting that she’s saying this. Her first post doesn’t argue that people should be allowed to have sex with who they want, but that God made her lesbian and she should be accepted as such: “Why not just accept people for who they are and not focus on who they love? God is Love and He made me lesbian”. I still don’t see how the consent / underage sex thing arises out of this. I do accept your argument that consent is not the only criterion or arbiter in discernment about relationships – but I don’t think anybody on this thread has been arguing against that point.

    in friendship, Blair

  9. John Foxe, thought I’d post again to reply to you (am trying to break the habit of mile-long comments…)

    You say you “cannot see that James Alison’s quote reflects scriptural reality”. I’d like to put to you something drawing on Romans 1. Doubtless you’re aware that in v22-23 Paul says, “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man….”. v24 continues, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts…” (quoting from the NIV). So it could be said that, given this text, same-sex desire is one result of idolatry – hence it could also be thought that recognition and worship of the true God would lead to heterosexual desire. I’m not saying this is my position, just hazarding that from a conservative viewpoint this might be a consistent position to hold (and also suggesting that James Alison’s quote isn’t so out of tune with “scriptural reality”). This is also why it seems pertinent to me to ask what it means that a majority of people’s orientation does not change (the results of Stanton and Yarhouse’s study suggested that, if I remember rightly).
    You also said, “Growth in holiness for someone with homosexual desires does not necessarily equate to becoming heterosexual because the opposite to sinful sexual desires is either to express them within marriage or to be celibate. Celibacy is thus the path of holiness for those unable to feel heterosexual desires, just as it is for the many heterosexual Christians who are single”. The first sentence reads a bit oddly to me – one might have expected the opposite to sinful sexual desires to be holy sexual desires, that there might be some transformation (though I do note that you said “not necessarily”). I realise that could sound a bit simple or naive, or that “growth in holiness” is straightfoward – and I fully accept that it ain’t. And yet… Also, I would challenge the “just as it is” of the next sentence – “those [Christians] unable to feel heterosexual desires” and single straight Christians aren’t in the same position. The latter don’t have the stigma that the former are likely to, and do have the hope of marriage which the former don’t, on this view.

    Slightly surprised by some of your last paragraph – particularly the phrase, “a matter of the will”. If you’re willing to answer, do you experience or have you experienced your own sexual desires like that, that you could will to change them (I am assuming you’re straight by the way)? You said you nearly typed, “unable or unwilling to feel heterosexual desires”… well, I am willing to experience heterosexual desires, but I don’t.

    High time I stopped – sorry for any lack of clarity.

    in friendship, Blair

  10. Karen,

    Thanks for that clarification. To be honest, I didn’t really have a problem with that part of the article. It was the Serbian mafia that intrigues me!!!!

  11. Peter Ould
    October 9th, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    If HLM is arguing that we should just let people have sex with who they want (which is what I think you’re accepting she is saying) then how is that not a question of consent? What is the difference between “we should just let people have sex with who they want” and “we should just let people have sex with who they consent to have it with”?

    I never said any of that at all! Why do you keep trying to put words into my mouth? Are you that insecure in what you believe? I never said a single solitary word about sex and certainly a 13 year old with an adult is a form of abuse whether the child appears to consent or not. You are making an unfair judgment on and about me that is not your job to do at all. So now I am going to put words in your mouth that you appear to imply . You have the right to condemn me simply because I said that I am a lesbian. You then say that I condone or approve of child abuse.

    My feeling is that you are not God and might not even be one of God’s little lambs and I will not allow you to condemn me to hell because you don’t have the right to do so in the first place and in the second place I don’t think that you want to accept anyone who doesn’t believe exactly as you do. You have misquoted, tried to bait me, and condemned me. You have lost all respect that I might have had for you. All I asked you to do was accept me as a child of God  without worrying about whom I love. And you never even bothered to acknowledge that. Instead you chose to attack . . . over and over and over.

    Galatians 3
    Faith or Observance of the Law
     1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? 4 Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? 5 Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?
     6 Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”[  7Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. 8The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
     10All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” 12The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.” 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 14He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
    The Law and the Promise
     15Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.
     19 What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator. 20 A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one.
     21Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
     23Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
    Sons of God
     26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

    I do belong to Jesus because by the law of grace and the sacrifice He was for me, I am perfect in the eyes of God. I accept the promise, the blood, the grace, the forgiveness, and the Father’s love for me. I will pray for you Peter.

    This little lamb says “Baa baa baa” all the way to her Heavenly Home.

  12. HLM,

    You need to slow right down. I didn’t say that you approved of sex between adults and minors. All I did was quite correctly point out that the logic of your argument was “Why can’t you just accept me”, which is an argument based around consent – “why can’t I be allowed to do what I want to do, what I consent to do”. All I did was apply the same logic to another relationship and challenge you (and others) whether you would be happy to accept such a relationship.

    Neither have I “condemned you to hell” for being a lesbian. In fact, the Bible says didly squat about sexual orientation, but it has a huge amount to say about sexual activity.

    If you want to come onto this blog and debate what I’ve written then you need to accept that I am going to pick you up on what you write and press you on your arguments. I’m sorry if your response to that was to feel that we were implying all kinds of opinions and preferences upon you – we weren’t, we were simply challenging the axiomatic basis of what you have written.

    So the next move from you is either:

    i) to respond to the idea that your validation of your sexual activity is by consent, and to show that it’s not
    ii) to recognise that your argument about the validity of your sex life *is* based around consent, but to show how that is different to the equal consent shown in another relationship that you (and I and most of the readers of this blog) find immoral.

    What we’re saying is this – you need to think through the arguments you are presenting for the morality of your sexual relationship, and you need to be consistent in how you apply them, not just to yourself but to others.

  13. HLM I’m sure you can speak for yourself but…

    Peter – “All I did was quite correctly point out that the logic of your argument was “Why can’t you just accept me”, which is an argument based around consent – “why can’t I be allowed to do what I want to do, what I consent to do”. ”

    ‘Why can’t you just accept me’ is not an argument based around consent – you still haven’t shown the link between those two things, how the one follows from the other. Surely if anything it’s an argument that, ‘this is who I am, this is my nature; I should be accepted as such’. Issues of consent (or even ‘doing what i want’ don’t directly follow from that, it seems to me. Nobody’s been arguing that consent is the only criterion – I don’t understand why you keep returning to that point, or why you feel the underage sex analogy is appropriate when discussing whether 2 same-sex adults should have a sexual relationship, and whether this can point towards God in any way.
    Anyhow, sorry. I’ve been argumentative and quite snippy this week and i don’t think it’s always been helpful. HLM I’m not trying to speak for you….. though that does raise the question, why post this…
    in friendship, Blair

  14. Blair,

    Let’s take the “this is me, accept me as I am” argument. If that is what HLM is arguing then she still has to deal with applying the same logic to a sexual relationship between a minor and adult. The adult says “This is me – I like to have sex with children”. The child says “This is me – I like to have sex with people much older than me”.

    We’re still left in the same place – a sexual morality based upon consent and choice, unless of course HLM is arguing that sexual activity *must* naturally follow from sexual desire and that one has no control over not only who one is attracted to but also who one actually has sex with?

  15. What you seem to be totally leaving out of consideration here, Peter, is the matter of harm. A man might say, “This is me – I like to strangle women”. The answer has to be, “Sorry, you can’t be allowed to do that, no matter how much you want to – even if you can find women who will consent to be strangled.”

    It’s on this principle that we don’t allow adults to have sex with children (whether male or female), even if some children are willing to let this happen. Some people may say, of course, that you can’t prove that adult-child sex always causes harm. No, you can’t, but you don’t need to. You only have to know that it causes harm often enough to justify forbidding it.

    Can consensual gay sex between adults be regarded as being in the same category as strangling women or sex with children, albeit far less serious? My answer is very definitely “no”.

  16. Why are you still talking about sex and consent? I was talking about love, not sex and self acceptance, not murder. We are instructed to obey the civil laws of the places we live in and to pay our taxes. In most places child sex is against the law as is strangulation. Your logic makes no sense Peter Ould and seems very perverted to me and you are still trying to put words into my mouth that I did not say and have repeatedly denied saying those things.

  17. “On what basis do you decide that strangling someone, even if they consent, is immoral?”

    Well, Peter, I just believe that it is, although I can’t prove it, and I’m sure that nearly everyone would agree with me – and that doesn’t prove it either.

    I’m certainly not going to quote any text from the Bible to support my view – even if I could think of one which specifically addresses the point, which I can’t – because I would still think that it was wrong even if I had never heard of the Bible or if I were an atheist. I agree with the late Revd Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (alias Lewis Carroll) when he wrote that “the ideas of Right and Wrong rest on eternal and self-existent principles, and not on the arbitrary will of any being whatever.”

  18. Evening all.

    Peter, I’ve 2 responses to your last-but-one post. The first is the slightly nit-picky one that your examples don’t quite parallel what Happily said. She didn’t say, ‘this is me – I like to have sex with other women’, but, ‘this is me – I’m a lesbian’. She didn’t identify herself by an action, unlike your examples. (If we’re talking of strangulation, HLM you might want to strangle me for taking over somewhat ;)  ) So it could be said that your examples are a little off the mark.
    (And I still don’t see how it follows from accepting a person for who they are, that one must accept any consensual relationship – accepting a person for who they are isn’t a catch-all justification for an action).
    My second response is, OK, even if your examples are sound, there’s the question of why we should take what people say at face value. Someone may well say, ‘this is me – I like having sex with children’ but apart from anything else, this is a pathology according to psychological / psychiatric organisations. If someone says, ‘this is me – I’m gay / lesbian’, this isn’t deemed pathological. And no, before you object, I’m not saying that’s a complete or knockdown argument, or the only criterion to apply – but the discernment of the relevant professionals must have a place, surely?
    (You went on to say, “unless of course HLM is arguing that sexual activity *must* naturally follow from sexual desire”. Can’t see any sign of that in her posts).

    I’m not denying that there are other sources to draw on for moral discernment – such as Scripture. But I don’t think anyone else on this thread has been either. 
    Interesting looking back over the many turns this thread has taken – we’re some way off the subject of the original post! Out of interest Peter, have you seen Ex-gay Watch’s post on the Times article? Am aware XGW’s probably not your very favouritest website, but Dave Rattigan’s piece there is pretty critical of Lucy Bannerman’s story. His penultimate paragraph: “I’d like to have seen Bannerman dig a little deeper. She confirms a lot of what we’ve seen before, but doesn’t reveal much new. I’d also like to see British journalists digging into the ex-gay movement in the UK, instead of trotting out the usual American suspects time and again. A substantial survey of what’s happening in Britain has yet to be written”. There’s sharper criticism earlier in his post too.

    in friendship, Blair

  19. Peter!!
    I love it!
    (This is the by-product of the move away from the rational to the emotional. How is it that language has eroded so?)

    I am just writing to reassure you that you are not the only one who sees clearly that HLM is arguing that consent is its own morality.
    That is the most logical reading of her post in plain English. Maybe he does not recognize the assumptions behind what she is saying. 

    It is very easy to mistake the “satisfied” feeling behind you having stated something (i.e. “There! I said it!”) you wanted to say, as evidence of the logicity of what you are saying. In other words, just because you feel someting strongly “deep inside” does not make it logical.

    Why not just accept people for who they are and not focus on who they love? God is Love and He made me lesbian. Who am I to deny what God made?

    Now, am I the only person to see a contradiction here?

    Isn’t being a lesbian (according to this definition) about “who [one] love[s]”? 
    To me then, this reads:

    “Why not just accept me for who I am–a lesbian–and not focus on the fact that I am a lesbian.”

  20. “And how does one discern what those eternal or self-existent principles are?”
    That, Peter, is the mystery of Good and Evil, one to which neither theologians nor philosophers have come up with a definitive solution. I would agree with Harry Kuitert, however – and this doesn’t in any way commit me to his views on the Incarnation – that “Morality doesn’t come from the Bible but from the light of nature”; that “one doesn’t need to be a Christian to know the difference between good and evil”; and that it would be absurd to conclude “that non-believers don’t know the difference between good and evil.”
    Since you have yourself brought up the subject of paedophilia, let us take the following concrete example. A few years ago I heard on the radio a young man being interviewed who admitted to having sexually abused his little four-year-old sister when he was in his early teens. The interviewer said, “Now you must have known that that was wrong.” The young man replied, “Yes, I did.” No appeal was made here to the Bible or to any religious beliefs, nor was any such appeal necessary. Whether or not the young man had any religious beliefs at all, he knew that it was wrong.

  21. I want to suggest that if the young man had grown up in a culture where it was perfectly normal to have sex with children, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. That’s my point – he knew it was wrong because he lived in a society that had decided such an activity was incorrect, and society can change its mind. There has to be some kind of higher basis to ethics than simply social constructs.

    Take for example the case of some tribes in Polynesia where pubescent boys leave their mothers, go and join the other boys in the boys’ hut and there they engage in sodomy. This is boys aged around 12 engaged in sodomy with 18 year olds. No one thinks its wrong. No one has any objections because as far as they’re concerned, that’s what you do. To go to one of the 18 year old boys and ask him “Now you must have known that was wrong” would make no sense. Of course he didn’t know, everybody else around him did the same thing and thought it was moral.

    We live in a society today in the west that has changed its mind on sexual morals. How do we know that the current sexual morals are correct? Who are we to tell a society where *everybody” engages in sex with people underage that they ought to know better? On the basis of human wisdom and discernment we have no right at all.

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