(Weekly Column)

Only a day before “ex-gay” leader Alan Chambers admitted that praying away the gay doesn’t work, the Southern Baptist Convention was working to expand its ex-gay ministry program. The once slavery-loving church, hired Texas pastor Bob Stith as its National Strategist for Gender Issues, with the goal of promoting ex-gay programs within the denomination.

A church spokesperson told the Associated Baptist Press that the grandiose sounding strategist role “has been a culmination of many years of planning and praying.” Well, as we are often reminded, God works in mysterious ways. The SBC press release barely cleared the media fax machines when Exodus International’s President Alan Chambers told the Los Angeles Times, that he still, at times, (like when he’s awake or dreams) has attractions to men and “by no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete.”

This acknowledgment mirrored his infamous quote in my book, Anything But Straight: “Put me in a bathhouse,” said Chambers, “Would I find people attractive or would it stir me? It probably would.”

If Exodus doesn’t actually turn gay people straight, then what’s the point of the organization? How do they justify their million-dollar budget and staff of twelve when the church money might be better spent on helping the poor?

At its root, the “ex-gay” ministries are support groups designed to offer strategies to keep people out of gay establishments or relationships that they desperately want to be in. In the old days, this was simply called being in the closet. But Exodus figured out that misery likes company and that they could profit by creating a communal closet where self-loathing and sexually frustrated homosexuals could whine to each other about their unhappiness.

To rationalize such a racket, Chambers is reduced to chronic dissembling and offering circular logic to justify his job. Last week, for instance, he told the Orange County Register, “Today, I am a far different person. Not that I don’t struggle, but my life has changed. I certainly don’t have the desire to be involved in homosexuality. It has no power over me.”

In one sentence he says that he has a “struggle.” In the next sentence, he contradicts himself when he offers, “I certainly don’t have the desire to be involved in homosexuality.”

What exactly does that mean? If Chambers is struggling, then he obviously has the desire to be with a man. What else is he struggling over, whether to drink caffeinated or decaf coffee in the morning? And the larger question is, why not just come out and end a worthless struggle that modern biology increasingly proves is fruitless.

Still, Chambers statement was a step in the right direction. The next step should be for him to summon the courage to consistently deliver this message to fundamentalist audiences. This is particularly difficult because right wing political groups pay his bills and they prefer Exodus be portrayed as a miracle mill. To date, Chambers has been nothing short of a Genie, bowing at the feet of the religious right and panting, “your wish is my command.”

Earlier this month, for example, Exodus ran deceptive radio ads on fundamentalist radio recruiting victims for its annual conference that promised “sudden, radical and complete” transformation. Caught with his pants down (maybe the wrong analogy) Chambers apologized unconvincingly, spinning the debacle by swearing the bogus ads were really intended to implore church leaders to radically change the way they treated homosexuals.

Even more disturbing is Exodus’ absurd Sky Angel Network television show “Pure Passion,” which is the most amazing display of gay bashing with a smile ever recorded. In the show, Exodus panders to the lowest common denominator, instilling shame in gay Christians. The hosts repeatedly call homosexuality “perverse” and declare gay people to be “sexually broken.”

What is particularly galling is that after Exodus steamrolls a person’s self-esteem lower than an ant’s underbelly, the organization then shows up with offers of “help.” It never occurs to Exodus that they are the problem, not the solution.

Equally disconcerting is a new “compromise” being brokered between misguided gay activists and a few ex-gay therapists. They are inventing therapy guidelines that supposedly “help” a patient align religious values and sexuality – even if this means celibacy.

Exactly how naive and out of touch are these people? To suggest that there is a healthy way to counsel gay people to go from puberty to the grave without sex or the opportunity for loving relationships is wishful thinking, if not cruel quackery, of the worst order.

The truth is, there is only one fool-proof therapy model that offers gay people a legitimate chance at fulfillment and happiness – it is called “coming out.” The alternative is to create conflicted minds like that of the Exodus President, who by virtue of his convoluted statements, clearly lives in psychological torture Chambers.