About a year before Exodus closed, the Restored Hope Network (RHN) formed out of a theologically and culturally driven split within the Exodus Member Ministries networks. Every once in a while, someone will ask me what they are doing, which isn’t much nowadays. The only “new” ministries they add are old Exodus ministries.
|Exodus International||Restored Hope Network|
|117 Member Ministries||32 Member MInistries|
|41 Licensed Counselors||4 Therapist Affiliates|
|93 Churches||8 Pastoral Affiliates|
RHN’s “pastoral” form of conversion therapy is dying out, and other manifestations of the same toxic theology are displacing them rapidly. Regardless, the threat RHN represents still exists. So let’s begin…
In 2012, a few RHN leaders told me they broke away in part to “restore” the original vision of Exodus. I do not believe their idealized version of Exodus ever existed, but that didn’t stop them from cursing (gossip, back-biting, bearing false witness) and punishing us (trying to turn our friends and the church at large against us). It was the worst non-profit version of a horrible denominational split I ever experienced. All that for simply telling the truth that people do not change, gays can be born-again and almost lost their minds when they learned we closed Exodus down instead of handing it over to them. I believe RHN has taken the worst of Exodus’ faults and made those the pillars on which they have built their network. They have taken what is terrible and called it good while damning the good (i.e., ending conversion therapy and affirming LGBTQ+ people) as evil and broken. Here are some ways they personify all that was wrong with Exodus:
- Self-promotion/Self-Preservation – Often, RHN’s messaging has a “You do need Jesus… and I know Him better than you do about this issue, so you need our specific help…” You have what they believe is a problem they can only solve through “the power of Christ.” Which then looks like they say it looks like instead of reality. The truth is, you can be a happy, healthy whole LGBTQ+ person of faith. You don’t need to fix a problem that exists anywhere except in that cult’s mind.
- Political Activism: Adapting exgay testimony to conform to religious right political goals – especially marriage, adoption, and transphobic efforts. Also, by increasingly working to limit LGBTQ+ equality in the name of “religious freedom.”
- Complaining about science/culture (on or off-topic) – Click-baiting/media-driven negative attention-seeking to increase RHN’s visibility. They love criticism because it brings attention they desperately crave. Fake persecution also pulls in the dollar bills to help the poor persecuted (hardly) exgays.
- Assumed Authority/Leadership – Some core RHN leaders assume authority and expertise to tell others what behaviors and beliefs should be evident in a “true” Christian and their understanding of homosexuality. They say pretty much everything not in line with their conclusions is not an authentic expression of faith. Therefore, your disagreement is not valid and is evidence of continued “brokenness” and sinful ways of thinking. RHN’s authority is assumed in many cases because they can present a personal story well, not necessarily because of any verifiable training with proven and consistent results.
- Condescending Denial and curses disguised as “concern” and prayer: One RHN Founder, Stephen Black, I have been told, consistently prays for the destruction of my flesh at the hands of satan for my “soul to be saved” on Judgment day. Other leaders talk about how bad of a leader I was even though they loved me enough to speak at their conferences and try to get on the stage at ours. Once someone questions what is happening, they will gossip, assume the worst, and believe their assumptions are fact. Smiles and pats on the shoulders publicly, but rampant gossip and self-righteous judgment with terrible consequences privately.
- Parent shaming: Their network of non-professionals and four therapists will try to explain how the family dynamics work to make people gay. They will turn families inside out and against each other when, in many cases, dysfunctional dynamics don’t exist. It creates a false problem with a false fix that makes people feel better about “working out their sanctification.” In reality, all that is accomplished is damage, destruction, and sometimes deadly consequences. You are gay whether your family is functional or not. The dysfunction, if it exists, is because we are human, not because we are gay. The two are not intertwined.
- Participant Shaming: what should come naturally to an LGBTQ+ person like attractions, longings, drives, the pursuit of happiness is all shunned as “sin.” God forbid you participate in self-pleasure, or you will have to confess to your small group, church group, and mentor. There you will have to “repent” with weeping and embarrassment while trying to find some “biblical legitimate need” to pin and work on, a need that will be defined and manufactured for you instead of affirming that all of that is simply natural and God-given.
I am not a big RHN fan. I could go on and on with the above bullet-point list. I am sure they don’t care what I think. But, I do care about how I believe RHN contributes to the stigmatization and religious bullying of LGBTQ+ people of faith and in our broader communities/country. Once my blinders came off, I realized that any organization based on religious idealism conceptualized by cultural bigotry turns faith into a pseudo-intellectual product and capitalizes upon it. That then becomes a worldview and only breeds self-loathing, envy, and disastrous relational consequences. This horrible approach to the issues is promoted as “God’s promise” Or “God’s Best.” When, In truth, I believe RHN is just a cult that abuses everyone from top to bottom and grieves the heart and Spirit of God, leaving nothing but victims in its wake.
Talking with and seeking the opinions of others with various views is excellent; go for it! However, I do not believe ex-gay ministry networks are beneficial or necessary. I think they are disastrous in the short term and especially over time as they rope you in with increasingly alarming consequences. Those who follow Christ, Jesus, our Good Shepherd, are genuinely enough to lead people through their journey and process regardless of where we are or where we think we should go. We don’t need an exgay conversion group infused application of the gospel. We are ill-served by a spoon-fed “we have the answers for you” type of faith. We only need Jesus and can trust in Him for our ability to think, pray, and reason for ourselves.
He loves His LGBTQ+ children; don’t ever let anyone rob your faith and tell you otherwise.
Regardless of what you believe about ex-gay ministry networks or this issue as a whole, I genuinely wish you nothing but peace, joy, love, and many blessings. Oh, and if you run into RHN, please run away.