Church Hosts Conference on 'Ex-Gay' Therapy

The controversial idea that counseling and therapy can overcome homosexual tendencies is at the heart of what's called the "ex-gay movement." Proponents of ways that gays and lesbians can be "cured" recently held a conference in Phoenix, Ariz.

The notion has been in the news recently, in connection with the former pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado. Ted Haggard resigned from the church in November, after his relationship with a male prostitute became public.

He has been meeting with leaders of the church, and one of them said recently that Haggard "is on the road to recovery."

Bethany Bible Church in Phoenix recently held an all-day event called Love Won Out, sponsored by Focus on the Family. Some 800 people attended the event. The essential message is that homosexuality can be overcome through therapy and devotion to Jesus Christ.

That was the theme put forward by Alan Chambers, one of the speakers at the event.

"You know what, God did an amazing work in my life and I am so proud every day to be a living, breathing example of his grace, and his mercy and his transformation," Chambers said in a talk titled "Help for Those Who Struggle."

About 75 men and women were in the audience to hear Chambers, who acknowledged his own past. "The truth is, I used to be gay," he said at one point. "Big whoop."

Chambers is president of Exodus International, an umbrella group for many Christian ex-gay ministries. He says more and more people who are uncomfortable with their same-sex attraction are seeking what some in the ex-gay movement call "reparative" therapy.

"Cure is not a word that I would ever use," Chambers said. "Certainly that's not what we're advocating with regards to homosexuality. But we are saying is that it is a condition that people have found freedom from, they have changed."

Clinton Anderson directs the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns Office in Washington, D.C., for the American Psychological Association. The APA says so-called "conversion therapy" is not supported by science.

"We have the concern first of all that the therapies have never been adequately demonstrated to be safe or effective," Anderson says, "and that the promotion of such therapies contributes to the climate of prejudice and discrimination in this country."

But leaders in the ex-gay movement say thousands of Americans are now living as former-homosexuals, and that each person should have the right to decide for themselves what is best.

At the conference, about a hundred protestors stood outside, chanting. Many say they find the conference offensive, and that gays and lesbians shouldn't need to change who they are, regardless of their religion.

Pennie and Mark Vatcher of San Diego made the 350-mile drive to hear the testimonials, taking along their son Brett Vatcher, 16, who says he's knows he is gay.

"I did not want to come at all," he says, laughing. "But I guess, you know, I have no choice because my parents, you know, they control my life."

Brett's parents are both devout Christians; they say they just want what's best for their son. They're considering therapeutic programs that they hope will help Brett become heterosexual. His mother, Pennie, says the conference was inspiring.

"Even though my son right now at this point is not desiring to be anything following the Lord," she says, "I believe seeds are planted today, and I have the faith that it's going to be growing, watering through his life and one day he will accept Christ."

Brett says he listened with interest to the formerly gay speakers and found their stories compelling. But, standing next to his mom and dad, Brett admits he's not interested in any kind of therapy.

"Don't tell my parents but no; I know I'm gay, and like, their stories are really inspiring but I know this is me and I don't really want to change."

Brett's dad, Mark, said the conference taught him he needs to learn he needs to love his son... unconditionally.

"Absolutely," he says, "love him forever."

But he also says the weekend renewed his hopes that one day his son will become straight.

From member station KJZZ, Rene Gutel reports.

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