Lisa Ling, a self-admitted "severe gay rights activist," was much tougher on Christians who hold fast to the traditional teachings against homosexual behavior on the Tuesday episode of her series on the Oprah Winfrey Network, "Our America." Ling wondered if ministering to homosexuals with this belief system "cause more harm than good." By contrast, she was sympathetic of a camp for teenage homosexuals where "they can feel accepted as both gay and Christian."
At the very beginning of her hour-long program, Ling featured the annual conference of Exodus International, an interdenominational ministry that preaches "freedom from homosexuality" for people who have same-sex attraction. As she headed into the conference, she stated that "I just want to go into this with the intention of trying to understand why people believe what they believe, and that's it." The journalist gave a similar line during a February 22, 2011 online interview, but then made the following admission:
Now, it was very difficult for me [because] some of my best friends are gay and my husband and I are both severe gay rights activists but we really just wanted to understand. What I actually found in the case of the Exodus movement is while I don’t agree with them, the Exodus of today is not actively out trying to convert people. They’re basically saying if you don’t want to live a gay lifestyle, we can help you. Quite honestly, if that’s your prerogative if you fundamentally think being gay is wrong and you don’t want to live and be who you are, that’s your prerogative. My issue is when the church or anyone condemns people over what they think the Bible says or what they believe the Bible says.
This bias came out early in the hour when Ling noted that "rumors have always surrounded them [Exodus International]: of coercion, bible-bashing, and brainwashing that leaves people psychologically damaged." It also came out when she interviewed the president of the organization, Alan Chambers:
LING: I'm sure many people have said, 'This guy's living a lie. He's denying who he really is.'
ALAN CHAMBERS, EXODUS INTERNATIONAL: I'm denying the power that those things had over me. You know, people say, 'Once you're gay, you're always gay. You can't break free from that.' That's not true. The fact of the matter is, I'm not defined by those fleeting temptations that I might or might not have. I have chosen to live my life through the filter of my faith, rather than the filter of my sexuality, and as I lived my life through the filter of my faith, my sexuality changed. That's not a lie. That's the truth.
LING (voice-over): I have to ask myself, why? Why can't Christians like Alan Chambers accept being gay? Why do they have to try so hard to change?
CHAMBERS: I didn't say homosexuality was wrong. God did. God said it was less than his best.
This skeptical/questioning attitude towards Exodus and similar ministries manifested itself again as she interviewed Ethan, an attendee of their annual conference:
LING: If you never get married to a woman and have a family, is celibacy- are you comfortable with that being your existence?
ETHAN, EXODUS CONFERENCE ATTENDEE: Mm-hmm. It's something that, hey, if that's what God wants me to do for the rest of my life, and if I die a single, celibate man, then so be it.
LING (voice-over): This is how far some are willing to go. They'd rather give up sex altogether and accept a lifetime of resisting temptation than be gay. But I wonder what kind of toll that choice can take. Could it cause more harm than good?
The journalist was the toughest with Janet Boynes, who founded a ministry that aims at changing the sexual orientation of homosexuals, and was once practicing an open lesbian lifestyle herself:
LING (on-camera): So, you think that people can, who are living a gay lifestyle, that they can just turn it off?
JANET BOYNES, JANET BOYNES MINISTRIES: You can. I mean, Lisa-
LING: Really, you can?
BOYNES: The only thing I can't turn off is the color of my skin. But you can change from gay to straight. Is it easy? No, but it's a process.
Ling later confronted Boynes concerning a homosexual man named Christian, who had turned to her and her ministry for help in escaping the lifestyle:
LING: Having spent a little bit of time with him, I can't really envision him with a woman. I think he's very effeminate and seems very gay, quite honestly. Do you think he can eventually get there?
BOYNES: With Christian, I think he is attracted to women. It's not natural for two women to be together, or two men. We weren't made for that. We were made to be different and multiply.
LING (voice-over): Marriage to the opposite sex and children: it seems to be what most of the people I've met so far are striving for, what the Bible tells them is natural. I can't help but wonder, is it about accepting God's will or denying who you really are?...
LING (on-camera/voice-over with footage of Christian): We just came back from hanging out with Christian. He's trying so desperately hard to repress the person that he has been for most of his life. I guess it's challenging to watch someone feel like he has to do that, because it really did feel like he's sort of tormented by it. But by the same token, he seems extremely resolute in his desire to, one day, have a wife and kids, and follow along the path that he believes God wants him to take.
During the last 20 minutes of her program, the Oprah Winfrey Network host looked at a summer camp run by Christians who find nothing wrong with homosexual behavior. It was apparent from the start that she was much more receptive to their mission:
LING (voice-over): On an island in Minnesota, a group of teenagers are starting their own journey of faith and identity, and this couldn't be more different from what I've seen so far. For one week out of every year, this island is home to a group called The Naming Project. It looks just like any other summer camp, but there's a big difference. The camp was co-founded years ago by Jay Wiesner, a gay Lutheran pastor who had his own painful experience trying to change his sexuality. For 10 years, he prayed to be straight, dated women, and even got engaged.
JAY WIESNER, THE NAMING PROJECT: It never worked, and it only made me more broken and more hurt and more confused. It was finally being able to say, 'I'm not God, and I'm not going to be able to change this,' and that's when I finally felt reconciled with myself as somebody who is gay and Christian.
LING: Jay helped create this place for kids who are trying to find that same kind of reconciliation, a place where they can feel accepted as both gay and Christian. My first glimpse takes me by surprise. The Naming Project is the first Bible camp of its kind- perhaps the first place in history- where worship sessions come after a diva contest. Almost every camper here brings a story of rejection and judgment.
Ling also tossed softball questions at Michael Bussee, who helped start Exodus International back in the 1970s and now "regrets his role in creating it":
LING (voice-over): Not far from where Exodus International held their annual conference, former founder Michael Bussee is living happily with his partner, Scott.
LING (on-camera): Some evangelicals would say that you two two are living a- living in sin and living a sinful life.
BUSSEE: I know.
LING: Does it feel like that?...
LING (voice-over): When Michael walked away from Exodus, he let go of the idea that homosexuality was sinful. He left the ex-gay ministry, but held on to his faith.
BUSSEE: There are two things that are true about me: I am gay and I am Christian. To try to deny either of those causes a split that is just unbearable. In embracing both those things, that I know and love God and I know that I'm gay, I've finally found a sense of wholeness that I never had before.
LING (on-camera): What do you think God thinks of you?
BUSSEE: I don't think God has a problem with me being gay. I believe he created me gay. I believe that God is a god of incredible diversity. It's always struck me that he didn't stop at one type of butterfly or one type of bird. There's a tremendous variety in nature, and I believe that being gay is part of that variety.
The host actually admitted later in the online interview that she struggled to be objective in putting together the program:
How do you turn off your own judgments and prejudice on a topic so you can be completely objective?
LL: I actually am very candid with people. I do my best to be open-minded but I told everyone at Exodus…everybody knew where I stood. When we first started trying to get an interview or trying to get into an Exodus conference we got rejected multiple of times. It wasn't until I called and had a conversation with them a couple of times and I said 'Look, I can't promise anything obviously but you have to trust that I just want to understand and I'm not going to condemn you. That's all I want to do.' They trusted it enough to let us come in and I respect that.