Back to Bondage | The Restored Hope Network Exits Exodus | Pt. II

In September 2012, I attended the inaugural conference for Restored Hope Network (RHN) at Sunrise Community Church   in Sacramento, CA. The forming committee for RHN  had been gathering for several months in response to the belief that Exodus International was straying from its roots.

When they concluded that their differences with Exodus were irreparable, several Exodus member ministries resigned and formed their own umbrella ministry claiming they had been called to go back to the roots of Exodus to do ministry work to those that identify as gay or gay Christians.

This is a complicated topic, and will be presented as several posts. In his keynote address entitled “Back to the Future,”  RHN forming committee member, Frank Worthen, framed the split from Exodus International. RHN had been birthed in an effort  to “reestablish what we thought we had established 37 years ago.”

Please read all the sections. They support one another and, together form an overview of my perspective of the dynamics of what has happened and is happening in the traditional Christian church ministry to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

The series:

Back to the Start | The Real Roots of Exodus

Back to Bondage | The Restored Hope Network Exits Exodus

Back to the Closet | Restored Hope Network on Homosexuality

Back to Relationship | Gay Christians in the Church

 ______________________________________________

Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, the largest Christian ministry for homosexuality, recently began a public move away from the popular “change is possible” slogan that had been in use by the organization for almost 20 years.

I was in the audience the night he appeared on a discussion panel at the Gay Christian Network (GCN) Conference.

Alan Chambers, Exodus

Chambers admitted:

“The majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them have not experienced a change in their orientation or have gotten to a place where they could say that they could never be tempted or are not tempted in some way or experience some level of same-sex attraction.”

He had previously stated that he would indeed see gay Christians in heaven on the Lisa Ling “Our America” show.  Both these incidents created a groundswell of dissatisfaction with Chambers as the leader of Exodus.

Division Begins

Several member affiliates under the Exodus umbrella group began expressing concerns with Chambers’ admissions and direction. The first voice of “prophetic distress” was “sounded” by Stephen Black (FIrst Stones Ministry, OKC) when he confided in Andy Comiskey, Founder of Desert Streams Ministries (DSM) and the Living Waters program, about his concerns.  Both men agreed that there appeared to be “significant confusion” at Exodus. And thus, the rallying of other dissatisfied Exodus member ministries and supporters was triggered.

These ministry leaders and supporters started talking together and writing public statements and letters of concern about Alan Chambers and his leadership of Exodus.

Robert Gagnon

Both Dr. Robert Gagnon  and Andy Comiskey  published public documents outlining their concerns and differences with Chambers.

Gagnon’s concerns center on Chambers’ willingness to extend the grace of eternal salvation to those in “unrepentant homosexual practice.” If a person has “genuine faith,” posits Gagnon, there will be “a transformed life through the power of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”

Part of that transformed life, Gagnon teaches, is no longer being identified as “homosexual” or living “unrepentant, egregiously immoral lives.” Gagnon states repeatedly that Chambers had shifted to a more gracious stance to “inoculate Exodus and himself from the intemperate reactions of strident homosexualists.”

Comiskey views sexual orientation change “as a reasonable goal for Christians with SSA (same-sex attractions) who are earnestly seeking Him (Jesus) and who are willing to do the hard work of resolving their gender disintegration through Christ.” Cominsky further believes that “the new creation” in Christ involves “reconciling with one’s true heterosexual self.” Comiskey views celibacy as a “concession” and the effort should always be to attain heterosexuality.

The  client “change” Comiskey states, is a combination of spiritual submission coupled with “the good of reparative therapy and its underpinning in developmental psychology.” Comiskey ended his public letter calling for the resignation of Chambers by suggesting Chambers “Pray more and Facebook less,” because “those overcoming same-sex attraction are inclined to narcissism and its wounds.”

Andy Comiskey, Desert Streams & President of RHN

Forming Committee Gathers

Over a period of several months including seventeen 1-1/2 hour phone calls, members of the forming committee of the Restored Hope Network either left Exodus or stopped supporting it. These RHN forming committee ministries and people were: Frank Worthen, one of the original board members of Exodus,now retired, who returned to provide guidance; Dr. Robert Gagnon, conservative theologian; David Kyle Foster, Pure Passion TV; Michael Newman, Christian Coalition Reconciliation Ministries; Annette and Andy Comiskey, Desert Stream Ministries; Stephen Black, First Stone Ministry; and Anne Paulk (wife of John Paulk and one half of the “miracle ex-gay couple” that was married and the subject of much media attention in the late ‘90s.

Publicly Expressed Concerns about Exodus and Alan Chambers

In Worthen’s opening statements at the RHN Inaugural Conference, he told the gathering in a mocking tone, that he had “heard Exodus saying change was no longer possible” and he was “heart broken this year” by that statement. He then asked for those of us who have experienced change as a result of submission to Jesus to stand. Everyone stood. He said, “So where is the 99% that did not change?” and the audience responded with applause. (Worthen was referring to Chambers claim that 99.9% of people in Exodus had not changed.

How manipulative! While Chambers was referring to sexual orientation change, Worthen simply stated, “change.” The desired result was achieved. One hundred percent of us had “changed” and Chambers was proven wrong.

Speakers at the inaugural Restored Hope Network Conference made several public statements referencing Chambers and his leadership:

  • In the end times there would be “false teachers and those that do not believe in judgment. Those leaders would be immoral and divisive.” The context here was certainly about Alan Chambers, but his name was not said in this sentence.
  • Alan Chambers had been “warned about his divisiveness and the sexual immorality to which he is contributing.”
  • Ezekiel 13:1-3 was quoted at least twice as the warning given to Chambers. These verses speak about false prophets.
  • Exodus was seen as “top heavy”  in leadership and staff and subsequently “unfamiliar with the needs of the people on the ground doing the ministry work.”
  • Exodus was viewed as centralized and controlled by “one personality” over the past ten years. “Jesus, after all,” we were reminded, “did the work with no paid staff, media appearances or pandering to public opinion.
  • The original call of Exodus had eroded and there was a need to return to that call.
  • There was a need to truly (although it was hard) forgive  Alan Chambers and Exodus for “losing vision and purpose.”
  • There would be no attempt to communicate with Chambers. Although there would be some maintained connections to the Board and member ministries within Exodus, Chambers himself would be “disfellowshipped.”

The forming committee of RHN clearly felt strongly that Alan Chambers was taking Exodus away from the original intent of the organization and away from the will of God for the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

[Refer to “Back to the Start | The Real Roots of Exodus” for the history of EXIT/Exodus. The original intent of Exodus was simply to show love and reach out to the the gay community in evangelism. The continuous reference of RHN’s leadership to a return to the perceived roots of Exodus is not accurate.]

The Inaugural Board of RHN

RHN Board

In the two days preceding the public inaugural conference, the RHN Board of Directors was elected.  There were discussions about structure, bylaws, policy, other legal matters and marketing.To create the final board, forming committee members Newman, Foster and Annette Cominsky stepped down.

Andy Comiskey (Desert Streams Ministry) was elected President; Stephen Black (First Stones Ministry) was chosen as Vice President; Ron Smith (New Hope Ministries) became Secretary; and Jason Thompson (Portland Fellowship) was selected as Treasurer. The Board was rounded out by Anne Paulk and Robert Gagnon.

The Red Flags of Restored Hope

Robert Gagnon is arguably the most anti-gay theologian in the U.S. He actively disregards both the LGBT community, and certainly gay Christians.  He has a dismissive style that is disrespectful to those who disagree with him.

Immediately after the conference, Gagnon posted this on his Facebook page:

Gagnon is indeed a Biblical scholar, but his contempt for LGBT people is hardly containable in his communications.

Stephen Black recently made the personal introductions needed for a pastor in Oklahoma City to bring Scott Lively there for a three-day speaking and preaching engagement.  Lively holds severely anti-gay views.  Only a handful of American churches invite him to speak. Vouching for the credibility of Lively most certainly defines the veracity of Black’s theology and dogma.

Anne Paulk is one-half of the “poster couple” for conversion from homosexuality to heterosexuality. The Paulks were on the cover of Newsweek magazine in 1998 as the role models for the “you too can change” campaign pushed by the conservative religious right. They were proof that a former lesbian and a former gay man  could indeed be united in traditional marriage.

Paulk mentioned her marriage once publicly during the conference saying, “I never thought I would be married and the mother of three sons.”  It is rumored that the couple is separated. I do not celebrate the end of any marriage; it is a painful experience.

Anne & John Paulk

I do however find it quite disingenuous  to present a positive image of the success of the “former lesbian” and “former gay man” successfully united in traditional marriage.  Dozens of what I would term “mixed orientation” (one homosexual and one heterosexual spouse) couples were present in the audience. By omission, Paulk presented a false goal; I see this as a failing in honesty.

The Prayer over the RHN Conference Members

Stephen Black may have been the most gifted speaker at the RHN conference. He offered his testimony and recalled a prophetic word to inspire the group in his closing message, “Raising Up a Healing Army.”

Stephen Black, First Stones & RHN V.P.

Black said that Dave Wilkerson, a well respected preacher and favorite of conservative Evangelical Christians, had given a prophecy several years ago foreseeing “ex-homosexuals” being raised as a “healing army” in the church; recall, this was the title of the closing mandate for the conference. It was not an afterthought or insertion. I got quite uncomfortable as Black merged together prophecy-givers and a few snippets of various prophecies into an appealing and empowering directive. My “whoa-dar” went “BING!” I could be gracious and attribute the mash-up to “ignorance,”but that is not what I sensed. The message, given to the “less-than” and sexually broken people, “ex-homosexuals,” placed them in the midst of God’s essential end time plans.

First, Wilkerson said no such thing. What he did say was that a sign of the end times would be the ordination of gay and lesbian people in the church.

It was actually Benny Hinn who said: “A tidal wave of revival would usher in the last great move of God. This will begin not in large churches, but in the living rooms of His people who were considered a plague by the church. God will use homosexuals to speak forth His truth!”  (TBN 2/28/89)

Hinn did not say ex-homosexuals, he said homosexuals.  If Black wishes to affirm Hinn’s words, he will also need to affirm that the “healing army” God is “raising” is gay people. Gay Christian people. Not ex-gay people, not formerly gay people, not same-sex attracted, heterosexual people, but gay people.

In closing, Comiskey and Black lead the group in a prayer to be those people,”the healing army” that would be a great and unifying force “to stand against unspiritual teachers in the turbulence and confusion and division in the church.” By misusing and misquoting a prophetic word to suit his purposes and paradigm, Black did, indeed, rally the troops.

I stepped into the hallway and listened at this point; in integrity, I could not join the manipulative blessing and group prayer that God would bring this “inevitability” about.

Conclusion

Netto & Kathy

Ten years ago, I held similar beliefs to those of the Restored Hope Network. I had no gay friends in my closest circle. That began tochange when I began hiking with a lesbian. Through relationship  I began to put aside the stereotypes I held as truth about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

A growing number of relationships with LGBT people caused me to revisit the verses I was so sure I understood about LGBT people, and LGBT Christians in particular.

The deeply flawed and wholly unscientific  view RHN holds about what it means to be LGBT, supports a “you cannot be gay and Christian” theological belief system.

As Exodus, under the leadership of Chambers, acknowledged a less primitive anecdotal view of same-sex attractions, it forced the organization to revisit policy statements, theological positions, and their understanding of the effects of reparative therapy.  Those in the Restored Hope Network were not in agreement with the outcome.

Frank Worthen

Frank Worthen, one of the first Board members of Exodus in 1976,  was also on the forming committee for the Restored Hope Network. Considered the “expert,” Worthen called his keynote message on the Friday night of the conference, “Back to the Future.”  He intent was to invoke a call to go back in time to the launch of Exodus so that RHN might be able to move forward into a future that did not include the damaging effects they were sure Chambers had initiated.

Listening to the RHN leaders and conversation for over twelve hours, it did indeed feel like a trip back in time. Back to a time of chains for LGBT people that would now bind them in forty-year-old, long-ago-dispelled, junk psychological notions. Back to a time of bondage. Until they change, they are told, God cannot love them and damns them to hell. Back to a time of heterosexual marriages for LGBT people. Back to a time of community-imposed celibacy and loneliness , permeated by the unrelenting aspiration to be fully heterosexual.

At the inaugural conference for the Restored Hope Network, it was not the restoration of hope that I was listening to; but rather,  the suppression of hope.

Hope deferred does make the heart sick.

PART III : Back to the Closet | The Restored Hope Network on Homosexuality

_______________________________________

Brief Summary of Theological and “Cure” Differences

PART III : Back to the Closet | The Restored Hope Network on Homosexuality


Comments

comments

Post Author

This post was written by who has written 180 posts on .

So we have two opposing groups. One draws logical consequences from their deep Christian faith to conclude that reparative therapy and transformational ministry will convert LGBTs to heterosexuality with some personal effort. The other looks at 37 years of experience with a failure rate approaching 100% and a ever-lengthening trail of coffins containing the bodies of LGBTs who couldn’t cope with that failure and gave up hope that “it gets better.”

At least one of these groups is behaving irresponsibly. To determine what change is needed requires dialogue. Where is the dialogue? Where are the advocates for dialogue? Where are the true pro-life advocates?

[Reply]

Kathy | Canyonwalker Reply:

If this is an actual question and not rhetorical, I can help with that answer having interacted, or TRIED to interact, with RHN.
They are NOT open to ANY conversation about the issue. They see it as a “what does light have to do with the darkness?” thinking. After I wrote this, I invited any/all of them to a Gay Christian Network conference or conversation and they REFUSED.
RHN is in a bubble and is not open to ANY other conversation with the humility needed to find truth.

[Reply]