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. It 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 “re-establish 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.
It is ironic that the keynote address for the newly formed Restored Hope Network (RHN) given by Frank Worthen was entitled “Back tothe Future.” Worthen wanted to frame the recent split from Exodus International as the desire of the RHN forming committee to “re-establish what we thought we had established 37 years ago.” Disappointed at the direction Exodus was taking under President Alan Chambers, the group believes God is calling them back to the beginnings.
What were the beginnings and the original mission of Exodus?
The group that arranged the first conference, which became Exodus, was EXIT, a grassroots support group operating from the 1-800 help hotlines at Melodyland, Anaheim, CA. Michael Bussee, one of the founders of EXIT, and later Exodus, says, “We were disturbed that there were support groups for all kinds of issues and nothing for gay people, so we began to field the calls coming in on the hotline from gay people and do the follow-ups. All we wanted to do was reach out, affirm and evangelize them. No one was telling them that God loved them. That is what EXIT/Exodus began as. There was no junk science or politics attached it.”
Michael worked the hotline while studying for his degree as a counselor. When a call would come in from a gay person, he noticed the other phone attendants were not handling the calls well. “They were trying to exorcise demons out of people or they told the callers they were probably molested. I knew all this was wrong, from not only my own story, but from my education,” said Michael. After seeing the only resource on homosexuality in the sizable Melodyland bookstore was a quite demeaning Chick Tract portraying gay people as pedophiles, out of a need to be more loving, the EXIT group became a bit more formalized.
For the three years, from 1973 to 1976, EXIT (Michael, Gary Cooper and Jim Kaspar) did hotline counseling, prayer groups, Bible studies, follow-up phone calls and workshops. After noticing a book in the Melodyland store “The Third Sex” by Kent Philpott, Michael realized there were other people doing Christian work with the homosexual community; it was time for them to gather and meet one another. Michael arranged the first conference and 66 people arrived in Anaheim.
This was the beginning of Exodus. It began as an outreach to the gay and gay Christian community with safety, spirituality and evangelism. Frank Worthen, from the RHN forming committee, was one of the conference attendees.
Before they left Anaheim, the group decided to form a board for future yearly get-togethers. Michael, Jim Kaspar (of EXIT), Frank Worthen, Robbi Kenney (Outpost) and Ron Dennis who had a small ministry in Nevada were elected to the board. Gary Cooper, who years later became Michael’s partner and husband, was a founder, but not on the board. Gary was not yet “out”.
Politics and Reparative Therapy Try to Get into Exodus
From 1976 to 1979, while Michael was involved with Exodus, there was no call for reparative therapy, no introduction of faulty, non-scientific junk psychology, no joining with political causes. They remained faithful to the original direction: reaching out in love, evangelizing and providing mutual support to gay people.
During this time, in 1977, Anita Bryant galvanized her “Save the Children” Campaign to repeal an anti-discrimination legislation in Dade County, FL. Based on her Christian beliefs of the sinfulness of homosexuality, she warned people that homosexuals were recruiting and molesting children. Bryant began joining forces with conservative Christians and asked that some board members of Exodus join her to bolster the campaign. They declined. Politics was not part of the Exodus 1.0 mission. Support and evangelism were.
Exodus was also approached in the formative years by Dr. Joseph Nicolosi who was a clinical psychologist. Nicolosi later was a founding member of National Association for Research and Therapy for Homosexuality (NARTH). He wanted to associate with Exodus to support his work and refer him clients. Michael, recalls looking at Nicolosi’s work on reparative therapy and, even then knowing it was junk science. Exodus 1.0 declined any association with Nicolosi.
The core intent of Exodus 1.0 remained intact for awhile. They referred people to ministries that offered support and a safe place for gay people to grow in Christ and help them deal with the destructive behaviors that often came along with shaming and hiding their orientation. Homosexuality was treated like “any other sin”.
Michael Bussee Leaves Exodus
Two incidences triggered Michael’s resignation from the Board of Exodus. On a trip to a speaking engagement near NYC, he and another speaker, went to Times Square. It was the seedy version of Times Square at the time; it was filled with peep shows and adult book stores. The other leader took Michael directly to the back corner of his favorite bookstore to pick up some gay porn.
Michael was beginning to lose confidence in the approach and messaging of Exodus. He knew he was still “struggling”, but the other leader had professed publicly have been “healed”.
Michael was also falling in love with a co-leader and co-EXIT/Exodus founder, Gary Cooper, who later became Michael’s partner. In 1979, Michael left Exodus, knowing that much of the purity and change people were professing, was only a public myth.
Reparative Therapy Enters Exodus
Another inaugural ministry under the umbrella of affiliates in Exodus 1.0 was Love in Action (LIA) lead by Frank Worthen, the keynote speaker in September 2012 for the newly formed RHN. LIA was a program that combined theology, celibacy and behavioral modification to “cure individuals of their sinful addiction to homosexuality.” One of the co-founders of LIA, John Evans, left the group when his best friend committed suicide disappointed with his failure to expectantly convert to heterosexuality.
Evans later went on to denounce LIA, saying:
Over time, Worthen and others affiliate ministries began to change the direction and philosophy of Exodus. They began to align with reparative therapy counselors and embraced those beliefs. The causes of homosexuality were said to be:
- the overbearing mother/distant father model
- the sexually abused child
- willful turning from God
Contrary to what Exodus was now believing and teaching, all the clinical science were indicating otherwise and, as early as 1973, the American Psychological Association (APA) declassified homosexuality as a disorder; it was reclassified as a normal variation on human sexuality.
Exodus then began aligning with political actions that discriminated against gay people in the late 80’s and 90’s. The original intent of Exodus 1.0 had gotten smothered.
Was the Exodus 1.0 ministry “from God”?
None of us knows the heart and mind of God with assurance. I have been following Jesus for almost thirty years. I know God’s patterns
in my life; I know how He provides and guides. Most often, provision will be supplied for me as I need it. Answers. People. Direction.
It is within my scope of what I do know of God to conceive that He was arranging safety nets and harbors for His gay children at a crucial time in the history of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. They were coming out of imposed shame and internalized discrimination.
Michael Bussee and two other men, Gary Cooper and Greg Reid, did hear God when they were moved to begin ministry work to gay people at Melodyland. It was 1973, the same year the APA declassified homosexuality. Shame was lifting, people were starting to step out of dark and destructive places.
In a simple place, God was moving his servants to do the most simple of actions: tell people that God did indeed love them. EXIT/Exodus 1.0 did not have all the answers; they had not even “figured out” why people were gay. They had not tried to reconcile the verses to their sexual orientation. But, they did understand the need for good and positive actions, and they did them.
I do believe that the Holy Spirit of God breathed His life and His blessing into EXIT/Exodus 1.0 . I do believe that God’s anointing was on EXIT/Exodus 1.0 as it began. Very quickly however, people began to use the various ministries for their own purposes and it became a destructive force in the lives of people already wounded by families, churches and society.
The Bondage of Exodus
They should have combined what was starting to be understood about gay people from science and relationship. It would have helped them dig into reconciling theology sooner. When people are brave enough to lay aside what they think they know, they will often be forced to revisit verses they are so sure they understand.
Exodus as it grew, tried desperately to hold a severely flawed psychological myth together with a Holy Book. The unholy marriage birthed a destructive, manipulative, demanding lie to which people could not adhere.
It caused people to turn from God in “their” failure, it made people angry with a version of God who made it so impossible. And it caused unimaginable depression, substance abuse and other destructive behaviors because people were never good enough for families, ministries and “god”.
Some clients did navigate the way and toe the line. That is not the record of the overwhelming witness. Most often, it was destruction that Exodus and programs like it caused.
When Alan Chambers began admitting in early 2012 that he had not seen orientation change during his time of service in Exodus, it forced him to also revisit his theology. As a result, he began to lead the organization in a more gracious approach to ministering to gay Christians.
Those in RHN left Exodus believing Chambers was leading the organization astray. In fact, Chambers was leading the organization back to its roots, back to its calling.
Programs like RHN will fail. They operate in psychological dark ages that are needed to support a threatening theology LINK. They are not going back to “what we thought we established 37 years ago.” They are going back to the deviation of the calling.
God called Michael Bussee, Gary Cooper and Greg Reid to begin a prayerful, loving, supportive outreach to His gay children in 1973 at Melodyland. I believe that got severely off track even in the early years. However, under Chambers leadership, Exodus was beginning to navigate a way back to grace. That move is seen as heresy to the RHN crowd so they split away.
We are far better informed on what it means to be LGBT now than in 1976 when Exodus was established. Most of us have gay friends. Many of us are blessed with wonderful gay Christian friends in whom we see the Spirit of Christ. And others of us are in relationship with partnered gay Christian friends doing ministry work and pastoring.
The leaders of the Restored Hope Network, however, have remained isolated, away from this education and purposefully denying the opportunity for relationship and understanding. They have chosen to remain intentionally blind to the witness of the life and spiritual growth of gay Christians in affirming faith communities, while ignoring the damage done to those who have suffered in ministries under the umbrella of Exodus. And in order to create the Restored Hope Network, they had to deny the truth that mental health professionals discovered forty years ago — that homosexuality is a normal variation of human sexuality..
If the founders of the Restored Hope Network had really wanted to “re-establish what we thought we had established 37 years ago,” that would have been quite simple; no board or bylaws needed. Just go tell gay people that God loves them.
Love never fails; the Restored Hope Network will.
[Many thanks to Michael Bussee, a dear friend and Board member of Canyonwalker Connections for the information about the beginning day of EXIT/Exodus. Michael, you and Gary and Jim did hear the call by God to go and love and evangelize His LGBT children. People took what the Spirit breathed on and changed it to a destructive tool. Thank you for all you have done and continue to do today for the LGBT community in and out of the church.]