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Originally published Sunday, June 19, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Faithful split over whether gays can, should change

Robert Taylor first felt attracted to boys when he hit puberty. As a teen he got hooked on gay porn, and in college had a one-night stand...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Robert Taylor first felt attracted to boys when he hit puberty.

As a teen he got hooked on gay porn, and in college had a one-night stand with another guy. But it wasn't until he fell for a straight male friend that he realized "I didn't want to be gay."

He sought help from Metanoia Ministries, one of several so-called "ex-gay" ministries nationwide that claim to turn people away from homosexuality and toward heterosexuality.

Today, Taylor, 40, is president of Metanoia. He moved recently from Tacoma to Florida with his wife of 10 years and their two children.

Ron Poindexter of Seattle, an executive assistant at a locally based philanthropic foundation, also wanted to lose his desire for men.

Upcoming conferences


Love Won Out

Billed as a conference "promoting the truth that homosexuality is preventable and treatable." Sponsored by Focus on the Family. 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., June 25, Northshore Baptist Church, 10301 N.E. 145th St., Bothell. Open to the public. Registration and information: www.lovewonout.com.

Love Welcomes All

Billed as a conference in response to Love Won Out and "a recognition that a very different view exists on ... the topic of homosexuality." Sponsors include Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and Evangelicals Concerned. 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., July 9, Newport Presbyterian Church, 4010 120th S.E., Bellevue. Open to the public. Registration and information: www.lovewelcomesall-wa.org.

But even after seven years of therapy and participation in several ex-gay ministries, his sexual orientation didn't shift. "It was just years and years of working toward ... a dead end.

"Every time I felt attraction toward men, I felt bad about myself. That's the message the ex-gay ministries promote. And it's very harmful."

Those conflicting viewpoints on whether homosexual orientation can — or should — be changed will be voiced at two conferences in the Seattle area in the next few weeks.

On one side are those like Taylor, who believe that God created men and women to be heterosexual, and that homosexuality is largely a coping mechanism for emotional damage that can be healed through faith in Christ.

On the other side are those like Poindexter, 43, a member of Evangelicals Concerned, a nationwide group for gay and lesbian Christians. Poindexter believes it's harmful to claim homosexuality can or should be changed, and that therapies to try to change people are based on unsound psychology.

Besides, he says, not all Christians believe homosexuality is a sin.

Exactly what causes some people to be gay has been the subject of endless debate. Scientific studies are showing there is a biological component — such as genes or hormones — to homosexuality. But researchers don't dismiss the possibility that social factors may also play a role.

Science also has not proved whether or not homosexuality is changeable. But there is ample evidence showing that change is extremely difficult, said Dr. Jack Drescher, chairman of the American Psychiatric Association's committee on gay, lesbian and bisexual issues.

Most mainstream health organizations — including the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Medical Association — oppose or are critical of efforts to change a person's sexual orientation, saying to do so could be harmful.

"Our bottom line and that of the mainstream mental-health community for the last 30 years is that homosexuality is not an illness and therefore does not need to be changed or cured," said Rhea Farberman, a spokeswoman with the American Psychological Association.

That does not deter Alan Chambers, president of Orlando, Fla.-based Exodus International, a nationwide network of ex-gay ministries that includes Metanoia. His bottom line is that, regardless of cause, homosexuality is not what God wants for humankind.

Chambers doesn't discount that biology could be a factor in homosexuality. But it would be no more a justification for living a gay lifestyle, he said, than a genetic predisposition for alcoholism is for heavy drinking. "Genetics or biology is not supposed to have tyranny over free will."

Taylor agrees. "The choice isn't how you got there. The choice is will you stay or will you leave?"

Support groups

Local churches offer guidance to people conflicted over their homosexuality

On a recent Monday evening, five people gathered at Peace Assembly church in Tacoma to facilitate a meeting of Metanoia, which takes its name from a Greek word in the New Testament meaning to repent and change.

Most meetings include time for worship, small group discussions, and instruction using curricula developed by Metanoia or such groups as Kansas City, Mo.-based Desert Stream.

Metanoia was founded in Seattle in the early 1980s and based in Tacoma until its president, Taylor, moved to Florida. With some 13 groups in Washington and about four in Florida, it's among the smaller ex-gay ministries.

Metanoia partners with local churches to provide support groups for what they call strugglers — people conflicted over their homosexuality — and the relatives of strugglers. They also minister to those experiencing "sexual brokenness" — pornography addiction or either gay or straight sexual addiction.

Churches or those interested in starting a group get training software from Metanoia. Typically, support-group leaders are not psychologists or licensed counselors but lay people.

In addition to referring strugglers to such support groups, Metanoia also often refers them to registered counselors, Taylor said.

Metanoia teaches that there may be many causes of homosexuality, but that there are common elements in almost all the people they've worked with.

Those elements may include sexual abuse at a young age, a distant relationship with the same-gender parent, or rejection by one's peers — harmful situations that make a person feel abandoned or unloved.

Those painful emotions then trigger numbing behaviors — using alcohol or drugs, or turning to homosexual or other sexual behaviors, Taylor said.

Metanoia claims not to cure, but rather to heal, by offering a supportive environment for people to talk openly about their pain — some for the first time — and by laying their wounds at the foot of the cross.

Part of the process, say such ministries, is separating oneself from the identity of being gay or lesbian, and recognizing that continued homosexual behavior is a choice, not an innate identity.

One's innate identity, they say, is as a child of God.

They don't claim that homosexual desires will never come back. "It's just like we tell a person working on alcohol abuse," Taylor said. "We don't know how much of the struggle God will leave with you so that you're dependent on him." But "working on the soul reduces the desire."

Taylor, who said he became a Christian at age 5, believes his homosexual behavior stemmed from a male relative who showed him pornography when he was child, and the separation of his parents when he was 11.

All these years later, having gone through Metanoia, Taylor says he still feels some desire for men. "It's not a light switch, a gay-to-straight thing," he said, but rather a process of deciding to become whole.

Charles Passantino, a burly 58-year-old property manager from University Place, is a facilitator of the Metanoia group at Peace Assembly. He had an emotionally distant father, he said, and was molested by a neighbor man when he was 7.

After high school, he said, he lived in the Bay Area, hanging out in gay bars and having anonymous sex with men, and occasionally with women. Raised Catholic, "I knew it was wrong," but he was also angry then, and rebellious.

He stopped having gay sex after recommitting to Christ and meeting Jennifer, now his wife of 23 years. But he still felt attracted to men.

That began changing several years ago, he said, when they went to a Christian counselor who told him that God saw and loved him just as he was when he created him, and not as he'd come to see himself — as "a gay slut."

He can still find men attractive. But "now I'm able to go 'pfft.' I can't imagine what the person would have to be like to be worth a second look."

He and others involved in Metanoia contend that most churches don't know how to deal with sexual issues. They disagree with the contention of some liberal churches that homosexuality is not a sin. But they also don't agree with some conservative churches that see it as the most contemptible of sins. And they say other churches avoid the subject altogether.

Metanoia leaders also say that while what they do has become politicized, they themselves are not political. They say they're not standing on street corners badgering every gay person to change.

"If they want to overcome it, we're here," said Lucinda, a 49-year-old teacher from Tacoma and a Metanoia facilitator who also asked that her last name not be used.

"A lot of gay people don't struggle with it. I'm OK with that."

Wrong message

"I put everything into trusting these people,

and they were wrong"

But even though such ministries cater to the willing, they are based on unsound psychology and can be destructive, said Poindexter of Evangelicals Concerned, the group for gay and lesbian evangelicals.

He says there is no proof that homosexuality results from factors such as poor parenting. In fact, he says, being told that led him to unfairly blame his father. "Can you imagine what kind of awful low that must be for parents?"

"The message is the problem," he said. "You're told you have to change.... You're told you can change."

Poindexter, who lives with his partner of 11 years, said he realized he was attracted to guys when he was 12. He became a Christian in high school, and when he asked friends how to deal with his same-sex desires, "they said: 'We don't know what to tell you, but we know this is not what God wants for you.' "

He moved to Seattle from Eastern Washington 19 years ago after hearing about Metanoia, and for the next seven years he went to therapy. A lot of healing did take place in those years, he said.

It was the first chance he'd had to undergo counseling, the first time he had a supportive community to talk to about painful issues. "That was huge," he said.

He even went to Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, intending to become a church pastor and believing his sexual orientation would shift.

But when he visited a woman he'd been dating off and on for about seven years, he realized he wasn't attracted to her — that despite all those years of trying not to be gay, he was still attracted to men.

"I put everything into trusting these people, and they were wrong."

He came to believe that ex-gay ministries are damaging. People tend to seek such ministries, he said, because their friends, families or churches don't accept them as they are.

"You go in the hopes that you'll change so you can be acceptable. When that doesn't happen, then you have nowhere else to go," he said. Ex-gay ministries "lead people down a path that promises an outcome that is very rarely, if ever, accomplished.... People get very despondent."

Poindexter began meeting other gay Christians. He studied Bible passages often cited as condemning homosexuality and found "it wasn't as simple as I thought." He came to believe that he could be both gay and Christian.

Indeed, about 200 local, mainly Christian and Jewish leaders support Religious Coalition for Equality, which advocates for gay rights and is a sponsor of the Love Welcomes All conference.

"All this is a matter of belief," said Stephen Jones, a pastor at Seattle First Baptist Church and coalition co-chair.

"Their belief is being gay is bad. Mine is that sexual orientation — gay or straight — is a gift from God."

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com

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