To start this series of posts, here is a definition of “gaslighting” that I really appreciate.
Gaslighting is a colloquialism, loosely defined as making someone question their own reality
The term may also be used to describe a person (a “gaslighter”) who presents a false narrative to another group or person which leads them to doubt their perceptions and become misled (generally for the gaslighter’s own benefit), disoriented or distressed. Generally, this dynamic is possible only when the audience is vulnerable, such as in unequal power relationships, or when the audience is fearful of the losses associated with challenging the false narrative. Gaslighting is not necessarily malicious or intentional, although in some cases it is.Wikipedia
Recently I have watched a series of videos from my former mentor Joe Dallas that are incredible; incredibly manipulative. I would link to them, but I don’t want to drive any traffic to the videos because I am sure he would love the view count to rise. However, if you are interested, you can do a simple search on YouTube.
In two videos, he and Anne Paulk, both former Exodus leaders, and Anne is currently a network leader in conversion therapy (in its exgay “pastoral” form). They do a ninja-level performance of gaslighting critics. They specifically target people like myself who were as high, or higher up, in the ranks of Exodus but eventually came out of the Church closet to accept ourselves as LGBTQ+ people. Joe and Anne do not care for us denouncing and speaking out against the destruction we had been a part of in the Exodus world.
They lit a LOT of gas in their videos.
So many topics that are meant to minimize dismiss, rewrite history, blame, scoff with concerned looks and soft tones, and ignore reality. While at the same time trying to puff themselves up, sell their resources, and push out a false narrative of spiritual maturity and faithful obedience.
Plus, their version of Exodus and its history is pure fantasy. The Exodus they describe never actually existed. I know because I was a part of Exodus from 1992 (as a participant) to 2013 (as the Executive Vice President of Exodus when we closed it down). And from 2002 till 2013, I was way more involved in the inner workings of Exodus than either of those two. So their ignorance and gaslighting must be addressed. Much of this will be addressed in my memoir next year, but some things I don’t want to wait on addressing in this fashion as my hope is it may help some people.
“They gave up too soon…”
One very effective and harmful gaslighting technique is to blame those of us who left that cult as “giving up ‘the race’ too soon.” Meaning that we didn’t hold to their beliefs literally until we die and go to heaven; we somehow just “gave up.” As a result, they believe we didn’t have the spiritual ability or maturity to withstand temptation, and as a result, Anne said we slide and “slither” back into sin.
The truth is, I don’t know a single one of us who eventually came out who did so by caving in or giving up. I fought very hard for my faith and life. I read many books, talked to many people across the spectrum of belief, cried out to God … for years… before accepting the truth that Jesus, not Satan, was actually leading me out of the closet to embrace an honest life. I won’t say I am more spiritually mature than Anne or Joe imply. I don’t know their heart or the condition of their soul. But I will say that I was “spiritually mature” in all the ways and programs that Exodus member agencies taught me to interpret my spiritual experiences. I was a true believer, but it was also my literal job to know every ministry and program (Exodus and the exgay movement at large).
And I did. Still do.
From firsthand personal and professional experience, I know that the “spiritual maturity” lauded at Exodus is nothing but being able to force-fit talking points and create confirmation bias in every circumstance. It is dangerously formulaic. Rinse and repeat until you believe the platitudes you are taught to recite. Then as you move from one resource to another and see the same toxic ideology on repeat, that’s called indoctrination. That’s not spiritual maturity; that’s performance, rewarded behavior modification, and delusion.
I am spiritually mature enough to see that now. What we did give up was having other people tell us what to think and believe; and telling others what to think and believe. We also gave up equating confirmation bias as God’s “T”ruth and personal epiphanies.
We didn’t go back; we grew forward and found our own footing in reality. Instead of passively accepting a toxic ideology, we pressed into and fought for the truth. Exgay ideology crumbles in the light of reality because it is not based on faith as it claims. Instead, it is based on the cultural stigma underlying badly interpreted scripture versions. Instead of paying lip service and going through the motions, we found true love. That is who led us out of darkness, not into it.
I didn’t wake up one day and say, “I think today I will just go jump into a big pile of naked men and see what happens.” But, while I have never had that experience (not really looking to have it), that is what many of the older and younger exgay leadership would like people to think about those of us who have embraced an honest life. They would like you to believe that we are only doing this because we would rather have thoughtless pleasure and rampant selfishness instead of what we have discovered; faith and honesty can and do thrive together.