Will Exodus International's exit affect Mormon gay support group?
The departure of Exodus International, which has apologized for its efforts to change a person's sexual orientation from gay to straight, has some gay Utah Mormons asking: What about Evergreen?
After all, Evergreen Resources, formerly Evergreen International, once referred gay Latter-day Saints to such "reparative" therapy but says it has discarded the controversial practice.
Michael Ferguson, a University of Utah doctoral student in bioengineering, is one of four gay men who filed the first lawsuit against those performing "conversion" or "reparative" therapy.
The men underwent the treatment at a New Jersey center called JONAH, Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing.
"Over time, it has become increasingly clear that the practice of SOCE (sexual orientation change efforts) is little more than misrepresentations and deceptions," Ferguson wrote in an email. "Exodus International has set an impressive example of accepting responsibility for the damage they have done, with a commitment to cease and desist. In short, they model repentance. The writing is on the wall those who employ SOCE must either follow the example of Exodus International or sacrifice any remaining integrity for a bankrupt practice."
The men are suing under New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act, which protects people from deceptive, false or fraudulent business practices, alleging the conversion therapy, which could cost more than $10,000 annually, caused depression and other harm when they were unable to change their sexual orientation.
The New Jersey lawsuit describes some of the four men undergoing the following as part of the treatment:
• Removing all their clothes during sessions.
• Intimately hugging other patients and older counselors of the same sex.
• Hitting an effigy of the client's mother with a tennis racket.
• Attending gyms more often in order to be nude with "father figures."
• Undergoing mock locker-room scenarios.
Ferguson attended a weekend retreat with other LDS friends who were gay or dealing with "same-sex attraction." He and others see Evergreen, founded in 1989, as an organization analogous to Exodus, though the former works mainly with Mormons.
David Pruden, Evergreen's president, explains his group does not conduct any therapy itself, but now refers people to "mentors" and other resources for dealing with "same-sex attraction."
Although Evergreen is not affiliated with the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Pruden said his organization follows the faith's publication dealing with gay members called "God Loveth His Children."
LDS leaders teach that same-sex attraction isn't a sin, but acting on it is. They also oppose gay marriage.
Pruden said he has known Exodus International President Alan Chambers for about 15 years and that about a year ago, he noticed Chambers going through a "personal crisis." Chambers has visited the Beehive State to speak at Evergreen conferences.
Chambers posted an apology on the Exodus website for the harm that he had caused lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and their families.
"I am sorry for the pain and hurt that many of you have experienced," Chambers wrote. "I am sorry some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt when your attractions didn't change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents."
Pruden did not see the Exodus' closure affecting Evergreen.
"The Evergreen philosophy is different, and this is where theology makes a difference," Pruden said. "He's an evangelical Christian and very heavy on grace and lighter on works.
"Within LDS theology of course, faith informs our worldview and strengthens, but Christ does not intervene from financial problems or illness. ... We need professional resources."
Salt Lake City resident Jahn Curran said he believes a similar apology should come from Evergreen, especially because he struggled for decades with LDS Church teachings and his gay sexuality. He said he did everything a "good Mormon Boy" should do: attending church-owned Brigham Young University, returning from his Mormon mission and marrying a woman in an LDS temple.
But when Curran continued to struggle with his attraction to men, he was referred by LDS Family Services to Evergreen, participating for three years in what he described as "reparative" therapy. Curran went on to work for five years at Evergreen.
"There was no 'praying away the gay,' per se," Curran said about his therapy, referring to a popular phrase used against Exodus. "That was not how my cognitive therapy worked. In essence, it was suppressing and avoiding because there is not any therapy to cure my homosexual orientation."
Curran was especially critical of Chambers since the Exodus leader held himself up as an example: a self-identified gay man who is married to a woman. Curran tried the "therapy," but it did not stick and he eventually divorced his wife.
"It's not really fair to say all gay men are on the same spectrum," said Curran, referring to the Kinsey Scale, which uses a range from 0 (exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (exclusively homosexual), with many people falling in between.
Another support group for gay Mormons, Affirmation, has encouraged LGBT Latter-day Saints since its 1978 founding to live lives of integrity and faith, while exploring issues related to being gay and LDS, but has never endorsed reparative therapy.
"Many members of Affirmation have tried reparative therapy," Randall Thacker, Affirmation president, said in a statement. "Some found it helpful in their coming-out process, but the majority have found it damaging. None have found that it actually accomplished what it was supposed to accomplish. So we are grateful for this public acknowledgment and apology from [Exodus] that has probably done more than any other to promote approaches to homosexuality that most of our members find harmful."
Curran agreed and is now in a "happy" relationship with another man.